On July 31, 2021, I was on my way to Thiruvananthapuram from Kanyakumari to deliver the Kolachel War Victory Memorial lecture at Kavadiar Palace, the seat of the erstwhile Travancore rulers. As the road work was underway, we had to take a detour. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we had to pass through Kolachel, Iranyavu and other historic places. It is nothing short of a divine coincidence that I could visit Kolachel War Memorial, which otherwise I would have missed. The Madras Regiment every year conducts a wreath-laying ceremony to pay respects to the brave soldiers who fought against the invaders and defeated them. By the time I reached, the ceremony was over.
So far so good. But what pained me was the sheer neglect meted out to the site, which, ideally, would have been a national memorial. It was here that then mighty Dutch army (it was considered to be superior to the British army) was defeated lock, stock and barrel through inventiveness and infallible strategies of the Travancore army. History took a new turn here.
In this context, I am reminded of a photo-exhibition that I witnessed sometime ago. The exhibition was held to showcase the anti-colonial war. The very first exhibit placed at the entry was that of the Battle of Plassey, happened 16 years after the Kolachel war. Siraj–ud–Daulah, the reincarnation of Aurangzeb, had the pride of place at the exhibition, as if he was the first person to fight and lay down his life for independence. Was it a war at all? Was Siraj–ud–Daulah an independence struggle icon? A fanatic ruler and a psychopath, he ran away from the battlefield leaving behind the soldiers at the mercy of Lord Clive. Still, Daulah is projected as a freedom fighter. This is because Islamists and agenda-driven Leftists are fond of celebrating Bharat’s failures.
As Swami Vivekananda has rightly put: “The histories of our country written by English (and other Western) writers cannot but be weakening to our minds, for they talk only of our downfall. How can foreigners, who understand very little of our manners and customs, or religion and philosophy, write faithful and unbiased histories of India? Naturally, many false notions and wrong inferences have found their way to them…” Swamiji exhorted the true nationalist historians and history students:”….Now it is for us to strike out an independent path of historical research for ourselves, to study the Vedas and Puranas and the ancient annals of India, and from these make it our life’s sadhana to write accurate, sympathetic and soul inspiring histories of the land. It is for the Indians to write history. (The life of Swami Vivekananda by his Eastern and Western Disciples. Second edition. Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1960; pp. 213-14; pp. 214)
Our ‘Distorians’ are not ready to think about the Indian victories, let alone writing or celebrating them. That’s why they keep on trying to belittle our victories. Kolachel is a case in point. If a patriot speaks high of King Marthanda Varma and the strategic genius of prime minister Ramaiyyan Dalawa and the heroics of the Hindu fishermen, they would immediately retort with demeaning comments on the king and the brave fighters. They would say things like – ‘Kolachel was never a war at all, it was only a minor skirmish’. They neglect the unity among the Kerala principalities to fight against the European as well as political Islam’s advent. The political situation after the weakening of the Chera dynasty which was ruling the whole south from Mahodayapuram was pathetic. The fourteen Swaroopams which became independent started aligning with foreigners even at the cost of their own kith and kin in the neighbouring principalities. Marthanda Varma Maharaja was not trying to amass wealth. If that was the case he wouldn’t have surrendered everything at his command at the lotus feet of Padmanabha Swami as ‘Thrippadi Danam’. He showed the whole world how to treat prisoners of war (PoWs). After defeating the Dutch army he had arrested so many Dutch soldiers including their Admiral De Lannoy and assistant Odoni. But their demands were met with compassion. Every day their well-being was enquired from Maharaja’s palace. He never tried to convert them to Hinduism. Instead, they were allowed to continue with their religious life. This humanitarian behavior towards the enemy soldiers by Marthanda Varma has happened 208 years before the Geneva Convention in which the western world started addressing the issue seriously.
Marthanda Varma’s driving principle (Aapta Vakayam) was ‘Dharmosmi Kuladaivatam’ means Dharma is the deity of this dynasty. He was continuing the Hindu Dharmic principle of ruling like Sri Rama. Valmiki had defined Rama in this way ‘Ramo Vigrahavaan Dharma’ (Rama is the personification of Dharma). Sri Rama himself had clearly stated why he was taking weapons with him during his hermitage life. This is the duty of Raghu kula to destroy Adharmic elements. ‘Nishichar hiina Mahi’ (to foster an earth devoid of demons) — that’s the traditional practice of Raghu kula.
रघुकुल रीत सदा चल आई, प्राण जाई पर वचन न जाई (To ensure the continuity of traditions, to keep the word at the cost of even life)
Marthanda Varma was perfectly following Rama Dharma in other words Hindutva. Maybe that would be the reason for our eminent Distorians’ antipathy towards Marthanda Varma.
When we take a closer look at the two wars, we can see that Travancore’s response to the vanquished soldiers was more sensitive and civilized while Daulah’s response was cruel and brutal. It is very sad that despite being the only one instance in history where a European Navy was defeated by an Asian country, our students are not taught about it. On the contrary, Marxist historians saw to it that a hero’s aura is thrust upon a rabid Islamist like Daulah whose policies led to the defeat in the battle of Plassey. He had divided the society on caste and communal lines. While Daulah ran away like a trembling mouse from the battlefield, Marthanda Varma led his soldiers from the front, despite inferior weaponry and resources.
So, the question before us is – should we celebrate a hard-earned victory our brave men achieved, or should we drill into the minds of our children stories of our defeats? After all, whom should we make our icons will define our character and our identity.