Friday 1 November 2019


It is very rare in the history of the world that an Asian power has defeated an European force anytime.Barring defeat of Russia by Japan in 1905 which stunned the world,I was not aware of similar episodes.But one of the recent  whats app forwards I had received gave me a hint on Battle of Colachel in which forces of an Asian king defeated none other than the Dutch forces!I do not know why, but it boosted my own morale a lot to know that it happened right here in India, that too around present capital of Kerala State!!

In 1741 the Dutch maritime forces, the most dominant colonial power of that time was defeated by forces of Marthanda Varma, ruler of the Kingdom of Travancore. Height of the irony of the episode is that the Dutch naval commander  De Lannoy who was caught live as a prisoner, served the kingdom of Travancore as a trainer of the forces who later became trusted commander-in- chief of kingdom for 37 years during which many annexations were carried out!

This unparalleled leaf of history is obviously little known in Dutch or European historical chronicles. I am afraid that even in historical texts of India basically carved out by erstwhile British colonialists hardly this is mentioned or very briefly covered.It is sad that Indians are still depending on 'Macaulayite' curriculum which was designed to  pump into our veins  the wrong notion  that Europeans are superior!This reminds me of an African proverb which says that 'until lions have  own historians,tales of hunt always glorify the hunters'.Now it has become the turn of lions in India.....


                   Painting depicting surrender of commander of V.O.C.forces at Colachel   /Plaque o.f V.O.C 

What motivated colonists to come to India...
We all know that it was for pepper, the 'black gold', that European powers wanted to find a sea route to India and Indies in the 14th century.They wanted to 'out smart' the Arab traders who were doing the intermediary role of trading spices  through Indian ocean between India and Egypt (Alexandria) without announcing India is the source of origin.

By that period,royal powers of Portugal,Spain,The Netherlands, France and Britain were encouraging professional seafarers and colonists.They were ready to accept the dictated terms of professional colonists citing risks, to find a sea route to India/ Indies.Countries such as Germany,Sweden,Belgium,Italy,Denmark also entered in the list of colonists later.If one thinks that the intention of the royal powers was  restricted to find a sea route  only to trade with the East decently, it is far from truth.They always had three aims mainly: by trade or not, to fetch the wealth of unknown lands, take the natives as slaves to their countries if possible, or keep them as slaves in own country and export their religion.The poor,rich or royal but cultured Indian could have never comprehended these malicious intentions those days.They always welcomed visitors wholeheartedly, while preferred not to venture out of the country for religious restrictions.In short, a vast, rich and resourceful India with hundreds of kingdoms within who were fighting each other, was a sitting duck for the colonists to plunder!

Emergence of VOC.
Ever since Vasco da Gama became successful in finding such a route in 1497 the Portuguese had the upper hand in  procurement of pepper and other spices from Asia. Initially they were managing the trade by Casa Da India, the royal trading house founded in 1500.By 1600 East India Company (EIC) was formed by a group of merchants in London which was chartered by Queen Elizabeth I in competition to Portuguese and Spanish interests.Soon in 1602 Dutch East India Company was formed by The Netherlands, named as VOC in short in Dutch, the full name is a bit difficult to read-Vereenigde Oostindisclye Comapagnie.It is considered to be the earliest successful international corporation in the world and first formally listed public company. With the back up of a fleet of 100 naval vessels and  forces, the Dutch VOC wanted to monopolize spices trade along with other products like silk,tea,rice,soybean, sugarcane etc. and establish colonies.They were empowered to build forts in foreign colonies, keep armies,  wage wars and negotiate with local rulers. VOC flourished from day one of formation.Investors in the company made a fortune.So also The Netherlands. VOC was a state within state.

VOC gets consolidated in Indonesian archipelago, enters India but...
Once VOC got established in Indonesia and Ceylon with trading posts in Japan,China, Bengal in India and elsewhere,they wanted to take their share of controls for procurement of pepper from coasts of Malabar.But some of the kingdoms of Malabar coast were already in trade with Portuguese or British. Once Kingdoms of Cochin and Calicut had fallen online,Dutch Governor Gustaff Willem Van Imhoff who was stationed at Ceylon wanted Kingdom Travancore too their way to monopolize the trade of pepper and other spices.Marthanda Varma who was on throne did not heed to Dutch requests initially which turned to be commands later.The king wanted to continue to do spice trade with the British(EIC).To make matters worse Marthanda Varma overran some of the principality like Kayamkulam with whom the Dutch had trading relations!

The VOC decided to use military pressure on the king to subdue him to dictated terms.In spite of such a warning also the King of Travancore stood his stand.

Battle of Colachel....
In August 1741 under command of Eustachius De Lannoy forces of VOC reached Colachel, few kilometers away from the capital of Kingdom of Travancore. Though VOC had superior artillery firearms power, tactical decisions of the King who directly commanded the war along with his Prime Minister Ramayyana Dalawa    with the back up of the well trained Calvary had beaten the VOC forces.Commander De Lannoy along with other 24 Dutch officers were taken as prisoners.

De Lannoy becomes trainer and later Commander- in-Chief of Travancore.. 

Even though De Lannoy was taken a prisoner, the king was impressed with war tactics he had performed.In turn as days went by, De Lannoy also started admiring the ways of the king and the land.That could be the reason when the king offered the position of trainer of his army, De Lannoy readily agreed.

Over the years,De Lannoy reorganized the Travancore forces on European lines, introduced gun power and fire arms to the forces.He was made as commander-in-chief who masterminded and built many forts at strategic positions which proved very helpful in the following years. De Lannoy annexed a number of local principalities to the kingdom.King Marthanda Varma died in 1758 but De Lannoy continued to serve the kingdom until his death in 1777.

Tombs of De Lannoy along with that of his wife and son can be seen at the church attached to Udaygiri fort even now.


Writing about the end of own life, that too after knowing that it could happen any time is hard to write for anyone. I am not an exception. ...