Velu Thampi Dalawa
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Velayudhan Chempakaraman Thampi (1765–1809) was the Dalawa or Prime Minister of the Indian kingdom of Travancore between 1802 and 1809 during the reign of His Highness Maharajah Bala Rama Varma Kulasekhara Perumal. He is best known for being one of the earliest individuals to rebel against the British East India Company's supremacy in India.
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Velayudhan Thampi was the son of Sri Kunjumayitti Pillai and his wife Valliyammai Pillai Thankachi. He was born on 6 May 1765 in the village of Kalkulam, in Thalakulam Valiyaveedu, around 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) from the town of Nagercoil in the present day Indian state of Tamil Nadu, then a southern district of Travancore State. He came from a family that held the high title of Chempakaraman for their services to the state by Maharajah Marthanda Varma. Velayudhan Thampi, better known as Velu Thampi, was appointed a Kariakkar or Tahsildar at Mavelikkara during the initial years of the reign of Maharajah Bala Rama Varma. His full name was "Idaprabu Kulottunga Katirkulatu Mulappada Arasarana Irayanda Talakulatu Valiya Veetil Tampi Chempakaraman Velayudhan..".
Rise to Dalawaship
Bala Rama Varma was one of Travancore's least popular sovereigns whose reign was marked by unrest and various internal and external political problems. He became rajah at the age of sixteen and fell under the influence of the corrupt nobleman Jayanthan Sankaran Nampoothiri from the Zamorin of Calicut's kingdom. One of the first atrocities of his reign was the murder of Raja Kesavadas, the then Dewan of Travancore. Sankaran Nampoothiri was subsequently appointed Dewan or Prime Minister assisted by two other ministers. The state treasury was soon empty due to corruption so it was decided to collect money by ordering the tahsildars (district officers) to pay large amounts of money which were determined without any reference to the revenue of the districts. Velu Thampi, the Tahasildar of a southern district, was ordered to pay Rs. 3000 to which he responded that he needed three days to pay. Velu Thampi returned to his district, gathered the people and an uprising ensued. People from all parts of Travancore united to surround the palace and demand the immediate dismissal and banishment of Jayanthan Sankaran Nampoothiri. They also demanded that his two ministers be brought to a public place then undergo flogging and have their ears cut off. The punishments were duly carried out and the two ministers were put in jail at Trivandrum. Velu Thampi was later appointed the Dalawa of Travancore.
Career as Dalawa
After Velu Thampi became Dalawa of Travancore he faced serious opposition from two relatives of the late Raja Kesavadas who sought assistance to get rid of him from their associates in Bombay. These letters were intercepted and presented to the Maharajah in a negative light and he ordered the immediate execution of the two men, Chempakaraman Kumaran Pillai and Erayiman Pillai. Having cleared the way, Velu Thampi became Dalawa with no opposition. The Madras Government sanctioned his appointment within a few months.
Velu Thampi was not an able statesman like Ramayyan Dalawa or Raja Kesavadas, his immediate two predecessors. He was of rebellious nature. Within three years of the death of Raja Kesavadas the country was plagued with corruption and various problems caused by the banished Namboodiri Dalawa. Velu Thampi resorted to harsh punishments with a view to improve the situation. Flogging, cutting off of ears and noses as well as nailing people to trees were some of the punishments adopted during his term as Dalawa. Nevertheless, his harsh measures produced results and peace and order were restored within a year of Velu Thampi's accession to the Dalawaship.
Intrigues against Velu Thampi
The Dalawa's undue severity and overbearing conduct resulted in resentment amongst his colleagues, the very same people who had assisted his rise to power. A conspiracy was formed against him under the influence of Kunjunilam Pillai, a powerful Travancore cabinet official who succeeded in getting the Maharajah to sign a royal warrant to arrest and immediately execute Velu Thampi Dalawa. The Dalawa was at Allepey when he received news of the conspiracy and immediately hurried to Cochin to meet the British Resident, Major Macaulay, who had become a good friend. Macaulay had already received evidence that Kunjunilam Pillai had a major hand in the murder of Raja Kesavadas and hence he armed Velu Thampi with a small force of British soldiers and sent him to Trivandrum to investigated Kunjunilam Pillai's conspiracy. Pillai was found guilty of murder and conspiracy and punished accordingly. With this obstacle removed, Velu Thampi regained his former influence.
Mutiny of the Nair troops
The armies of Travancore consisted mainly of members of the Nair group of castes. Velu Thampi's 1804 proposal to reduce their allowances was met with immediate discontent. The troops believed that the idea had come from the British and immediately resolved to assassinate both Major Macaulay and Velu Thampi. Velu Thampi fled once more to Cochin to seek refuge with Macaulay. The Nairs marched to Trivandrum with a ten thousand strong army of sepoys and demanded that the Maharajah immediately dismiss the Dalawa and end any alliance with the British. Meanwhile, the Resident and the Dalawa collected forces at Cochin and, assisted by the Carnatic Brigade, marched to Trivandrum and put an end to the mutiny. Several of its leaders were executed in the most gruesome manner. One Krishna Pillai, a commander of a regiment, had his legs tied to two elephants which were driven in the opposite direction, tearing him to pieces.
Alliance with the British
The Treaty signed with the British East India Company by the popular Maharajah Dharma Raja Rama Varma in 1795 was revised in what is known as the Treaty of 1805 (according to the English East India Company's policy of "Subordinate Isolation") after the insurrection of the Nair troops in Travancore. It increased the British Indian force stationed in Travancore and the amount of money to be paid as tribute to the British, though the expenditure of the State in maintaining its own standing army was drastically cut. This was the main change brought about in the Treaty of 1805.
Velu Thampi's Position
Travancore was at that time, owing to all its internal problems, facing a heavy financial crisis and the ratification of the Treaty by Velu Thampi created serious discontent as it increased the dependence of Travancore on the British and also made it indebted to the English Company. In spite of being fully aware of the financial crisis in Travancore, the Resident Major Macaulay pressed Velu Thampi for immediate payment of the large amount of tribute and the expenses of putting down the mutiny of the Nair troops. The Maharajah meanwhile wrote to the Madras government for the recall of the Resident and appointment of a new Resident which was denied. But this news made the Resident more obstinate against Travancore and he pressurised the Dalawa for payments immediately.
The Dalawa was now disillusioned with the British whom he had considered a friend and who considered any "aggression on Travancore as an aggression on themselves" as per the previous treaties. His discontent was first given vent to by the assassination of the ambassador of the Resident in the court. The Maharajah had communicated his discontent with the Dalawa to this ambassador, a certain Subba Iyen, and this information was known to the Maharajahs wife, Arumana Amma, a noblewomen of the Arumana Ammaveedu family. She was a lady of influence, who apparently communicated Royal secrets to the Dalawa, and she informed the Dalawa of the Maharajah's intention to dismiss him, with support from the Resident. This increased the anger of the Dalawa against the British. First the Resident demanded for impossible amounts of money and now he had started interfering with the internal affairs of the state.
Affairs in Cochin
Just as in Travancore affairs in the neighbouring Kingdom of Cochin was also of great confusion and distaste against the Resident. The Rajah of Cochin had retired to a small village near Alwaye while the kingdom was actually run by his powerful minister and relative, the Paliath Achan Govindan Menon. Paliath Achan wanted the assassination of a powerful and trusted aide of the Rajah, a certain Nadavarambathu Kunju Krishna Menon (whose daughter later married Ayilyam Thirunal Maharajah of Travancore), who was protected by the Resident. This increased the hostility between the Paliath Achan and the Resident who started interfering in the internal affairs of Cochin as well, incurring serious displeasure from the Paliath Achan.
Velu Thampi's Insurrection
Velu Thampi Dalawa and the Paliath Achan, Govindan Menon, met and decided on the extirpation of the British Resident and end of British supremacy in their respective states. Velu Thampi organised recruits, strengthened forts and stored up ammunition while similar preparations was made by the Paliath Achan in Cochin. Velu Thampi applied to the Zamorin of Calicut and to the French for assistance, but both did not acknowledge the request. The plan of the Paliath Achan and Velu Thampi was to unitedly attack the Fort of Cochin and murder the British Resident Major Macaulay and Kunju Krishna Menon. Another force was appointed to attack the British garrison at Quilon. This was in the year 1807. This battle is known as Battle of Quilon.
The Resident realised the object of the simultaneous preparations on Travancore and Cochin and immediately wrote to the Madras government for reinforcements. The British 12th Regiment and two native battalions were ordered to aid the Resident. Velu Thampi pretended great alarm at these preparations and begged permission to resign his office and retire to Malabar in the British territories. The same was agreed upon and on 28 December 1808 Velu Thampi was to be escorted to Malabar. The intention of Velu Thampi however was to divert the Resident's forces away from Cochin in which he succeeded.That night a body of about 600 men, with 200 each under the captaincy of Paliath Achan from Kochi, , Vaikom Padmanabha Pillai from Alappuzha and Kunjai kutty Pillai from Alangode, surrounded the Residency at Bolghatty Palace and surprised the Resident, who was under the impression that the menace of Velu Thampi was finally over. The Resident and Kunju Krishna Menon however succeeded in escape and reached Quilon. Velu Thampi ordered his Nairs to attack them at Quilon.
The Nayar troops attacked the Subsidiary force of the British at Quilon. In spite of greater numbers, the troops were not organised and lacked communications with a leader and hence for the night on 30 December 1808 the British Indian troops under Colonel Chalmers held their ground. The Dalawa collected a force of three thousand men and again attacked the British Indian troops on 15 January 1809. The British organised their Indians armies strategically and had better artillery support enabling them to repulse the attack by the Nair warriors. The British Indian regiments in Cochin were attacked by the Paliath Achan but here too he was repulsed. In all these battles, the British were helped by treachery within the Dalawa's camp which forewarned them of the Dalawa's battle plans.
Velu Thampi then went to Kundara where he made his famous proclamation in January 1809 urging the people to fight the British. The proclamation had its effect and the whole country rose like one man against the British. This was now a desperate game being played by Velu Thampi. He exploited the religious orthodoxy of the people by making them believe the British were Christian missionaries. The proclamation even influenced the Maharajah at Trivandrum. Wholesale butchery of foreigners took place in Travancore, thereby disgracing the cause of the rebellion. The British realised that the Dalawa was now desperate.
Colonel Leger came with Indian troop reinforcements from Madras on 6 February 1809 and camped on the Aramboly pass. The Maharajah who never openly supported the rebellion, now turned against it under the influence of Ummini Thampi, who was a government official and later went on to become the Dalawa of Travancore. Together with the Maharaja's troops, Col. Leger entered Travancore the next morning and attacked the lines of the Nair troops near the Palamcottah fort. The Nair troops were defeated and the Dalawa himself fled to Trivandrum. Having secured entry into Travancore the Maharajas's and British troops now moved into the interior and within a few days the two important forts of Padmanabhapuram and Udayagiri also fell into their hands. Meanwhile at Quilon where the Nair troops were planning yet another final attack heard of the fall of these forts and lost heart and dispersed to their homes. The allied army camped on the outskirts of Trivandrum in Pappanamcode.
Velu Thampi himself fled from Trivandrum to Kilimanoor where he called on the Royal family there. After staying there for the night, he proceeded northwards but was overtaken in the Bhagawati Temple at Mannadi where he was surrounded by the Maharaja's troops. However the Dalawa did not wish to be taken alive. In the temple he asked his younger brother to cut his throat, which request on being refused, Velu Thampi swallowed his diamond ring which lead him to death . Velu Thampi died in the Mannadi Temple. His body was brought back to Trivandrum and gibbeted on the Kannammoola hill.
His brother surrendered and was taken to Quilon and executed there. Velu Thampi's body was taken to Trivandrum and exposed on a gibbet. Velu Thampi's ancestral home was razed to the ground and his relatives after being flogged and banished, were taken to the Maldives when, while at Tuticorin, many of them committed suicide.
Velu Thampi failed militarily against the British Indian Army even though he commanded a well trained army armed with muskets and artillery organised on European military system with 3000 men and 18 guns. Large sections of the warrior Nair caste [which had nearly 80,000 males of conscription age in Travancore] and the common people supported the Dalawa. At the height of power, Velu Thampi, though a good administrator, was stern and tough, and thus alienated some nobles and officials of the crown. The East India Company entered in a treaty with the Maharaja of Travancore, offering their troops to ward off internal and external threats. Though this meant that the Nair army who had fought for the crown during the Third Mysore war would be disbanded, the Maharaja signed it because the treaty helped him maintain his throne, taking away a threat to his rule from future local rebellions because he could call up the English East India Compan's army to put down civil uprisings. And the Maharajah could save the money needed to maintain a standing army and this was an added incentive to his decision to sign the treaty. This treaty of Subordinate Isolation was used by the East India Company in other princely kingdoms in India.
The Travancore army mainly consisting of Nairs who fought so well in defence of Nedumkotta against Tipu Sultan's army in 1790, was the first native force to defeat a colonial power in Asia - the Dutch East India Company in Travancore-Dutch war. The army consisted of athletic troops who had to pass a very tough selection procedure to join, and were trained in the European model of warfare by "Valiakappittan" Eustachius De Lannoy. However, Velu Thampi himself had disbanded most of the States's Army following the mutiny against him in AD 1805. Velu Thampi may not have realised a number of his supposed friends were planning to betray him and that the Maharaja, who was notorious for his weakness of character, would not hesitate to sacrifice his former Dalawa to normalise relations with the East India Company.
In memory of the courage of Velu Thampi Dalawa, the Kerala State Government instituted a memorial, a research center, a museum, a park and a statue at Mannadi near Adoor. Another statue of Velu Thampi Dalawa can be found in front of the "old secretariat" of Kerala in Trivandrum.
Following the end of Velu Thampi Dalawa, the Paliath Achan without any support left surrendered to the British. He lost all support from the Rajah of Cochin, who wished to get rid of the Paliath Achan who was the actual ruler of Cochin and recover his position under subordination of the British. Govindan Menon, the then Paliath Achan was first deported to Madras, where he was kept prisoner at Fort St. George for twelve years. He was then taken to Bombay and remained a prisoner there for thirteen years, finally dying at Benares.
The sword that was used by Velu Thampi Dalawa to fight against British imperialism, was kept with the Kilimanoor royal family, for about 150 years. It was presented in 1957, to India's then president Rajendra Prasad by a member of the royal family. On 20 June 2010 it was brought back to Kerala and was placed in the Napier Museum (Art Museum)Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
A commemorative postage stamp on him was issued on 6 May 2010.
- Dewan Velu Tampi and the British - B. Sobhanan - Google Books
- Travancore State Manual by Nagam Aiya
- P. Shungunny Menon. History of Travancore. Page 245.
- P. Shungunny Menon. Thiruvithancore Charitram. (History of Travancore). Page 245-251.
- Aiya 1906, p. 424.
- A place in history
- "Stamps - 2010". Department of Posts, Indian government. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
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