Raja Kesavadas (1745-1799; Sanskrit keśavadāsa) was the Dewan of Travancore during the reign of Dharma Raja Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma. He is well known for his planning skills and administrative acumen. He was the master mind in developing the Alappuzha town.
A statue of Raja Kesavadas
Raja Kesavadas was born as Kesava Pillai at a small hamlet called Kunnathur village Southern Travancore, in Kanyakumari district on March 17, 1745 in the erstwhile Kingdom of Travancore. Although he had little formal education, knowing his abilities in mathematics, Puthukkada Chettiyar, a wealthy merchant from Palliyadi, appointed Kesava Pillai as his accountant. Later he was appointed as the apprentice of Pokkumoosa Marickar, a leading merchant and exporter. Pokumoosa was very faithful to the Maharaja of Travancore, Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma and during a visit to his palace Kesava Pillai accompanied him. The maharaja was impressed by the skills of Kesava Pillai and he was appointed to the Travancore palace.
In Royal Service
When Tippu Sultan of Mysore attacked Travancore, Kesava Pillai was the commandant of the state army. Travancore army fought against the Mysore force under the leadership of Kesava Pillai and Tippu was forced to retreat.
Recognizing his victory over the Mysore, the Karthika Thirunal Maharaja of Travancore appointed Kesava Pillai as Diwan of Travancore. He was glorified by the British Governor Mornington, by the title Raja in appreciation of his administrative talents. As Diwan, Raja Kesavadas was responsible for shifting the capital of Travancore from Padmanabhapuram to Thiruvananthapuram.
- Development of Alappuzha port
His all time contribution is finding an ideal location and constructing a well planned port city at Alappuzha. He found Alappuzha as the most suitable, because of the geographical and oceanic reasons. He constructed two parallel canals for bringing goods to port and offered infrastructural facilities to merchants and traders from Surat, Mumbai and Kutch to start industrial enterprises, trading, and cargo centres. Alappuzha attained progress and became the financial nerve centre of Travancore during his time. The port was opened in 1762, mainly for the export of coir-matting and coir-yarn. Kesavadas built three ships for trade with Calcutta and Bombay, and alleppey afforded a convenient depot for the storage and disposal of goods produce in the east.
- Construction of MC road
- Opening of Chalai Market
Chalai Market was officially established towards end of 18th century by Raja Kesavadas with an intention to make this bazaar a central point for the supply of commodities to the Travancore kingdom. Killi and the Karamana rivers nearby were used to carry goods from different parts of Travancore state.
His tenure of Diwan ended with demise of Dharma Raja Karthika Thirunal in 1798. Balarama Varma, his successor aged fourteen became the crown prince who was too young in the hands of Jayanthan Sankaran Nampoothiri. Raja Kesavadas was proclaimed as a traitor and kept under house arrest which helped Jayanthan Sankaran Nampoothiri to usurp the post of Diwan. Later his family assets were confiscated and was poisoned to death on 21 April 1799.
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