Marthanda Varma

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This article is about the 18th century Indian king. For other uses, see Marthanda Varma (disambiguation).
Anizham Thirunal Veerabaala Marthanda Varma
Maharaja of Travancore
Marthanda Vurmah Maha Rajah.png
Reign 1729–1758
Coronation 1729
Predecessor Rama Varma of Venad
Successor Dharma Raja
Born 1706
Died July 7, 1758 (aged 52)
Regnal name
Sree Padmanabhadasa Vanchipaala Maharajah Sree Anizham Thirunal Veerabaala Marthanda Varma Kulasekharaperumal
Father Kilimanur Koyi Tampuran
Mother Junior Maharani Karthika Thirunal Queen of Attingal
Religion Hinduism
Dutch commander Eustachius de Lannoy surrenders to Marthanda Varma after the Battle of Colachel. A modern depiction at Padmanabhapuram palace, Kanyakumari
A depiction of Marthanda Varma performing Thulapurusha Danum from A History of Travancore from the Earliest Times (1878) by P Shungoonny Menon
Marthanda Varma making over the kingdom to Padmanabha Swamy from A History of Travancore from the Earliest Times (1878)

Anizham Thirunal Veerabaala Marthanda Varma (1706 – 7 July 1758) was king of Travancore from 1729 until his death in 1758. He was the only Indian King to beat the European armed force at the 1741 Battle of Colachel against the Dutch.[1] He contributed substantially to the expansion of his ancestral domains by annexing several neighbouring states and unified the entire south of Kerala.

Early life[edit]

Anizham Thirunal Veerbaala Marthanda Varma was born in 1706 [2] to the Junior Queen of Travancore, Maharani Karthika Thirunal and Raghava Varma of Kilimanur Royal House. Travancore (Trippappur Swaroopam) then, a small principality extending from Edava in the north to Aruvamozhi in the south. According to historians, within this small kingdom the power of the king was only nominal then, due to the power of the nobles known as Madampis, chief among them being the Ettuveetil Pillamar or the "Lords of the Eight Houses". The powers of the ruler were also to a great extent curbed by the power of the Ettara Yogam, the Managing committee of the great Pagoda of Padmanabhaswamy in Trivandrum. It was into these conditions, where the sovereign was powerless under the refractory nobles of the state, Anizham Thirunal was born in 1706. According to Shangunny Menon, the then 14-year-old Anizham Thirunal advised Maharajah Veera Rama Varma that the latter should sign a treaty with the Madurai Nayaks in order to check the power of the nobles and other rebellious chieftains. After being pleased by the maturity and administrative talent of his nephew, Maharajah Veer Rama Varma anointed the 14-year-old Anizham Thirunal as the "Prince of Neyattinkara". But due to the opposition of the nobles, Marthanda Varma had to flee the capital for the safety of places such as Kottarakara, Kayamkulam etc. where he is narrated by historians, to have lived in difficulty for many years, travelling from one place to another to escape his enemies.[3]

King of Travancore[edit]

In 1729 at the age of 23, Marthanda Varma ascended the throne of Venad and went on to crush Dutch expansionist designs at the Battle of Colachel in 1741. He then adopted a European mode of discipline in his army and expanded the Venad domain into adjoining regions. He organized a substantial standing army, reduced the power of the Nair aristocracy (on which rulers of Kerala had been dependent militarily) and planned to fortify the northern limits of his kingdom,which actually was done by his successor Rama Varma at the Travancore line.[4] Travancore under Maharajah Marthanda Varma was one of the few kingdoms in India determined to consolidate their power by the use of maritime means. The control of trade was also seen as crucial in the statecraft of the period. It was also the policy of Marthanda Varma to extend patronage to the Syrian Christians, the large trading community within his domains, as a means of limiting European involvement in trade. The key commodity was pepper, but other goods also came to be defined as royal monopoly items.[5] The city of Trivandrum became prominent under Maharajah Marthanda Varma.[6] His alliance in 1757 with the ruler of Cochin against the Zamorin of Calicut, enabled Cochin to survive. Marthanda Varma's policies were continued in large measure by his successor and nephew, Rama Varma, who went on to successfully defend Travancore against the Kingdom of Mysore.[5]

The Attingal queens[edit]

The women of the Travancore Royal Family were popularly referred to as the Attingal Queens with the municipality of Attingal considered their ancestral home. Historians such as V. Nagam Ayya, A. Sreedhara Menon and others note that Attingal was never a separate Kingdom but comprised the estates and provinces given to the royal women by the male head of the family in his role as king. As the kings of Travancore were the sons of Attingal queens, the latter were held in high respect by the royal family as well as the public. This respect and high status led to the wrong notion that Attingal queens were once sovereigns, which was further compounded by the writings of many foreign historians and travellers. Even if they had any power, it was taken away by Marthanda Varma. Many Attingal queens misused their status and signed potentially dangerous treaties with foreign forces, without consulting with the reigning Travancore kings. Marthanda Varma, anticipating the threat to the kingdom's security, removed the powers of the Attingal queens permanently and brought them under the complete control of the king. Thus, the Attingal queens lost all private rights in family properties with their power limited to the role of supervisors of such properties.[7][8]

Military career[edit]

According to historians, Marthanda Varma was not only a shrewd tactician and a great king but also an able military general. After crushing the power of the feudal lords, he turned his attention to the neighbouring states. In 1731, Quilon or Kollam, which was ruled by a branch of the Venad family was defeated and its last king was made to sign a document allowing the annexation of his kingdom by Travancore after his death. Until that time Quilon was to be a Venad tributary. Marthanda Varma next turned his attention towards the Kingdom of Kayamkulam, which had allied with Quilon in attempt to prevent the growth of Venad. In 1734, several battles were fought against Kayamkulam and Quilon without any decisive effect. In the final battle of that year the Rajah of Kayamkulam was killed and succeeded by his brother who soon sued for peace and hostilities ended for the moment. Following the expulsion of the Dutch, the Maharajah now turned his attention once again towards Kayamkulam which continued to seek help from the Dutch. In 1742, Travancore forces attacked Kayamkulam possessions at Quilon and fought the Kayamkulam army led by its commander Achuta Warrier and army heads from Valiya Kakkanadu Madom. Although Travancore was defeated at this battle, Marthanada Varma reinforced his army with cavalry brought in from Tirunelveli before mounting an attack on Kayamkulam, which led to the final defeated the kingdom. A treaty known as the Treaty of Mannar was signed, under which Kayamkulam became a tributary state of Venad. However by 1746, the Kayamkulam Rajah once again showed signs of rebellion and when his conspiracies with the northern kingdoms such as Kottayam, Changanassery, Cochin and Ambalapuzha came to the attention of Marthanda Varma, Kayamkulam was annexed by a final war in which the Rajah fled to the Kingdom of Cochin. Travancore now extended from Cape Comorin to Kayamkulam in the north. Following this, Ambalapuzha, Kottayam and Changanassery were also annexed to Travancore by 1753. The principality of Meenachil was also annexed. In 1753 the tributary states of Cochin collectively known as Karappuram and Alangad were ceded to Travancore. In 1755, the Zamorin of Calicut, the most powerful king in Northern Kerala was also defeated at a battle in Purakkad. He was supported by the armies of some other local kings. This made almost all the kings of Kerala prostrate before the power of Marthanda Varma who was ably assisted in his military conquests by Ramayyan Dalawa, later his Prime Minister and Dewan of Travancore.[9]

Battle of Colachel and its aftermath[edit]

Main article: Battle of Colachel

In 1734, Marthanda Varma annexed the Elayadath Swaroopam or Kottarakkara Kingdom, which was ruled by a related queen who was pensioned off. In the same year, the Quilon Rajah died and Kayamkulam annexed the possessions of that king against the wishes of Marthanda Varma. The Kayamkulam Rajah had the support of the Rajah of Cochin and the Dutch. The Dutch Governor of Ceylon, van Imhoff, asked the king to cease hostilities against Kayamkulam, to which Marthanda Varma remonstrated that the Governor need not interfere in affairs that did not concern him. In 1739 Van Imhoff arrived in Cochin and in 1740 took up the cause of the Rani of Kottarakara and protested against the annexation of that kingdom by Marthanda Varma. In a subsequent interview with the Maharajah, relations between the Dutch and Travancore became further strained. It is said that when the Dutch Governor threatened to invade the territories of Travancore, Maharajah Marthanda Varma gave an effective reply that he would invade Holland if the Dutch misbehaved in Malabar. In 1741 the Dutch reinstated the Queen of the Kottarakara Kingdom against the wishes of Marthanda Varma, who attacked the kingdom and completely routed the Dutch army before finally fully annexing Kottarakara to Travancore while the Queen fled to Cochin and received a pension from the Dutch. The decisive Battle of Colachel, resulting in the complete eclipse of Dutch power in Kerala. Though the Battle of Colachel was fought between 10–14 August 1741 peace with the Dutch was only concluded and ratified by the Batavian Government in October 1753. More than twenty Dutchmen were taken as prisoners at the Battle of Colachel. The prisoners were treated with kindness, so they were glad to take service under the Maharaja. Among them were Eustachius De Lannoy and Donadi, who attracted the Maharajah's special notice. De Lannoy, commonly known in Travancore as the 'Valiya Kapithan' (Great Captain) was entrusted with the organization and drilling of a special regiment, which he did to the entire satisfaction of the Maharajah. De Lannoy was raised to the rank of general and proved of considerable service to Marthanda Varma in subsequent wars.[1]


Marthanda Varma realised that Dutch power in the region stemmed from their flourishing trade at the port of Cochin or Kochi. He set out to conquer the major spice-producing areas and seize the Cochin hinterland to deny the Dutch access to these trade goods. After declaring a state monopoly on pepper in Travancore in 1743, between then and 1752, the Maharajah annexed multiple spice-producing areas including Quilon, Kayamkulam, Thekkumkur, Vadakkumkur and Purakkad to Travancore thereby delivering a serious blow to the commerce of the Dutch.[10]

Cochin's dominance of the Kerala spice trade would later be usurped by Alleppey or Alappuzha.

Treaty of Mavelikkara[edit]

Main article: Treaty of Mavelikkara

The treaty was concluded between Maharajah Marthanda Varma and the Dutch with both parties agreeing to live in peace and friendship. It was signed at Mavelikkara on 15 August 1753.

Administrative Reforms[edit]

Besides decisive military victories, Marthanda Varma brought about administrative reforms within the state revenue, budgetary and public works sectors amongst others. He also instituted a new knighthood for his loyal officers known as Chempakaraman Pillai, re-organized the commercial sector and monopolized the spice trade. Mavelikkara became the centre for trade and commerce. New roads and inns were opened throughout the kingdom with military outposts created statewide for the protection of the people. Water transport from Varkala to Cochin was implemented under Marthanda Varma while he also renovated the Padmanabhapuram Palace and built the Krishnapuram Palace. He also made villages the most basic sector of the kingdom and created a post known as the Mandapathu Vathilkkal, similar to the later tehsildar. Marthanda Varma paid special attention to improving agriculture in the kingdom. The southern-most district of present day Tamil Nadu, Kanyakumari was the southernmost part of Travancore. The portions of land lying east of Nagercoil town, called Nanjil Nadu was considered the granary of Kerala due to its extensive cultivation of paddy rice. The fertility of this area was only due to the irrigation facilities introduced by Marthanda Varma. His edicts on the subject of irrigation issued between 1729 and 1758 fill several pages in the Travancore Land Revenue Manual by R.Mahadeva Iyer. Only due to the digging of new canals for irrigation during his reign, the single-crop paddy fields of that area became double-crop fields, almost doubling their production. Pallikondan Dam, Chattuputhoor Dam, Sabari Dam, Kumari Dam and Chozhanthitta Dam, all on the River Pazhayaru in the vicinity of Nagercoil, were constructed by him and are still operational. Near Bhoothappandy, Chattuputhoor Dam was constructed and a new channel named Puthanaaru was dug from it to irrigate the Thovala areas. Puthan Dam, built by him near Padmanabhapuram, provided drinking water to that area.[11]


The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple was re-created as the gigantic structure of today and new state ceremonies such Murajapam, Bhadra Deepam and others were introduced by Marthanda Varma. The main idol of the shrine, which was mostly destroyed in a fire during his predecessor's time, was also re-constructed using saalagramaas imported from Nepal. He also created Ottakkal Mandapam as well as the Sheevelippura. Out of the seven floors of the temple- gopuram, five were finished during his reign. As a result of the annexation of neighbouring places, the artists and scholars from these places migrated to Trivandrum, turning it into a cultural centre. Marthanda Varma gave patronage to different temple art forms including Koothu, Paadhakam, Kathakali, Thullal and Koodiyaattam. Noted artists such as Ramapurathu Warrier and Kunchan Nambiar amongst others served as his court poets.[12]


Despite his ruthless diplomacy and military exploits, Marthanda Varma decided to dedicate his realm to Sri Padmanabha or Vishnu and thereafter rule as the deity's vice-regent.[13] The dedication took place on January 3, 1750 and thereafter he was referred to as Sree Padmanabhadasa Vanchipaala Maharajah Sree Anizham Thirunal Veerabaala Marthanda Varma Kulasekharaperumal. Subsequent kings of Travancore took the title of Sree Padmanabhadasa and ruled the kingdom as servants of Vishnu. This important donation of the Kingdom to the Temple was known as Thripadidaanam. Travancore as a whole, thus became the property of Sri Padmanabhaswamy, the deity of the Travancore Royal family or in other words "God's Own Country". The title of Sree Padmanabhadasa was prefixed to the name of every Travancore King while the women were Sree Padmanabhasevinis. In order to be eligible for the title of "Sree Padmanabhadasa", certain rituals had to be completed. On the first birthday of every royal male, the child would be placed on the 'Ottakkalmandapam' of the Sree Padmanabhaswami Temple and holy water from the temple would be sprinkled on the baby. Only after completion of this ceremony was the royal child proclaimed as "Sree Padmanabhadasa" in a ritual known as Adimayidal. Female royals also underwent the Padiyettam ritual, which was conducted only after their 'Pallikettu'. Only those male and female members who completed these ceremonies were allowed in the temple affairs and were also provided respect as well as the titles associated with temple as well as the royal family[14]


Ramayyan Dalawa's death in 1756 caused Marthanda Varma great pain. Not only had Dalawa been his minister but also his friend. The king's health began to deteriorate thereafter and he died two years later in 1758. Before his death, Marthanda Varma summoned his nephew and successor and gave his final instructions. These mainly concerned maintenance of all the poojas and ceremonies as well as other matters concerning the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple without attempts to meddle with them. Another instruction was that the expenses of the state should never exceed its revenue while no infighting in the royal family was to be ever allowed. Within a short time of these final instructions, the king died at the age of 53.[15] Before he died, Marthanda Varma's last words to Dharma Raja emphasised the importance of a continuing relationship with the British:

"That, above all, the friendship existing between the English East Company and Travancore should be maintained at any risk, and that full confidence should always be placed in the support and aid of that honourable association.[16]"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Srinivasan, Rajeev. "The Battle of Colachel: In remembrance of things past". Rediff On The Net. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Ludden, David. India and South Asia: A Short History. Oneworld Publications, 2013. p. 118. ISBN 1780741081. 
  3. ^ Menon, P. Shangunni (1994). History Of Travancore. Thiruvananthapuram: The State Institute Of Languages Kerala. 
  4. ^ "Kerala". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013 [1].
  5. ^ a b "India". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013 [2].
  6. ^ "Thiruvananthapuram". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013 [3].
  7. ^ "Early in his reign Marthanda Varma assumed direct control over the so-called Attingal 'Queendom'. This was not an annexation or conquest, but "the amalgamation of Travancore with Attingal". The theory that the Ranis of Attingal exercised sovereign powers is incorrect. The fact is that in political matters, the Ranis exercised no sovereign rights. Any grant of rights over immovable property by the Ranis required the King's previous assent or subsequent confirmation for its validity. The so-called Queendom of Attingal had its origin in the 5th century when two Princesses were adopted into the Venad family and the revenues from certain estates in and around Attingal were assigned to them. Since then, the female members of the ruling family of Travancore had come to be known as Attingal Ranis. It was only the male children of these Tamburatties who could inherit the throne. When Marthanda Varma decided to assume direct control over the estates of Attingal, he was not interfering in the affairs of a sovereign State. As the head of the royal family and the ruler of the State, he had every right to interfere in the affairs of a part of his kingdom. The Rani had neither territory nor subjects. What she possessed was nothing more than the control over the revenues of the estates, powers she exercised were delegated to her by the sovereign of the State."Kerala District Gazetteers Trivandrum by A. Sreedhara Menon, pages 190 to 192
  8. ^ Supreme Court, of India; N Ojha (28 November 1991). "Revathinnal Balagopala Varma vs His Highness Shri Padmanabhadasa ... on 28 November, 1991". 
  9. ^ Menon, A. Sreedhara. A Survey Of Kerala History. pp. 224–228. 
  10. ^ Sharma, Yogesh (2010). Coastal Histories: Society and Ecology in Pre-modern India. Primus Books. pp. 83–84. ISBN 978-93-80607-00-9. 
  11. ^ Menon, A. Shreedhara. A Survey Of Kerala History. pp. 225–227. 
  12. ^ Gauri Lakshmi Bayi, Aswathi Thirunal (1998). Sreepadmanabhaswami Kshetram. Thiruvananthapuram: The State Institute Of Languages. pp. 152–168. ISBN 978-81-7638-028-7. 
  13. ^ Chaitanya, =Krishna (1983). A History Of Indian Painting : Pahari Traditions. Abhinav Publications. p. 88. GGKEY:Y12G5FWSUHB. 
  14. ^ Aswathy Thirunal, Gauri Lakshmi Bai (1998). Sree Padmanabhaswamy Kshetram. Thiruvananthapuram: The State Institute Of Languages, Kerala. pp. 168–170, 179–180, 595–602. ISBN 978-81-7638-028-7. 
  15. ^ Gauri Lakshmi Bayi, Aswathi Thirunal (1998). Sreepadmanabhaswami Kshetram. Thiruvananthapuram: The State Institute Of Languages. pp. 178–179. ISBN 978-81-7638-028-7. 
  16. ^ Aiya, V. Nagam (1906). Travancore State Manual. Travancore Government Press. 
Marthanda Varma
Born: 1706 Died: 1758
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Rajah Rama Varma
(as Raja of Venad)
Maharaja of Travancore
Succeeded by
Dharma Raja