Velu Thampi Dalawa

Velayudhan Chempakaraman Thampi (1765 - 1809) was the Dalawa or Prime Minister of the Indian kingdom of Travancore between 1801 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 British supremacy in India.

Early life

Velayudhan Chempakaraman Thampi was born in the village of Kalkulam to Sri Kunjumayitti Pillai and his wife Valliyamma Pillai Thankachi in 1765, near the town of Nagercoil in present day Indian state of Tamil Nadu which then comprised a southern district of the Travancore country. He came from a family that had been honoured with 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 for the same district during the initial years of the reign of Maharajah Bala Rama Varma.

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 problems to the state [Travancore State Manual by Nagam Aiya] . He became King at the young age of sixteen and came under the influence of a corrupt nobleman known as Jayanthan Sankaran Nampoothiri from Calicut, in the Zamorins kingdom. One of the first acts of atrocities during his reign was the murder of Raja Kesavadas [P. Shungunny Menon. History of Travancore. Page 245.] , the existing Dewan of Travancore.Sankaran Nampoothiri was then appointed as Dewan (Prime minister) with two other ministers. Due to corruption, soon the treasury was empty. So they decided to collect money by ordering the Tahsildars (District Officers) of the districts to pay large amounts of money which they determined without any reference to the revenue of the districts. They were called to the palace and told to pay the amount. Velu Thampi who was the Tahasildar of a southern district was called and ordered to pay Rs.3000 to which he responded asking for three days time. Velu Thampi returned to the district gathered the people together and there was an uprising. People from all parts of the State joined together and surrounded the palace demanding an immediate dismissal of Jayanthan Sankaran Nampoothiri and banish him from the country. They also demanded that his two ministers to be brought to a public place, flogged and cut off their ears. The punishments were immediately carried out and the two ministers were put in jail at Trivandrum. Later Velu Thampi was appointed the Dalawa of Travancore. [P. Shungunny Menon. Thiruvithancore Charitram. (History of Travancore). Page 245-251.]

Acts as Dalawa

After Velu Thampi became Dalawa of Travancore he faced serious opposition from two relatives of the late Raja Kesavadas who applied for help to get rid of Velu Thampi from their associates at Bombay. These letters were intercepted and presented to the Maharajah in a negative light, who ordered the immediate execution of the two men, Chempakaraman Kumaran Pillai and Erayiman Pillai. Having cleared his way, Velu Thampi became the Dalawa facing no more 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 situations in his country. Flogging, cutting of the ears and nose, nailing people to trees etc were some of the punishments adopted during his reign as Dalawa. The harshness however had its effect and peace and order was restored within the state within a year of Velu Thampi's accession to Dalawaship [Travancore State Manual by Nagam Aiya] .

Intrigues against Velu Thampi

The undue severity and overbearing conduct of the Dalawa resulted in resentment amongst his own 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 cabinet official of Travancore 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 got intelligence of the conspiracy and immediately hurried to Cochin to meet the British Resident Major Macaulay who was a good friend of his now. The Resident had already received evidence that Kunjunilam Pillai had a major hand in the murder of Raja Kesavadas and hence he, arming Velu Thampi with a small force of British soldiers, deputed him to Trivandrum where the conspiracy of Kunjunilam Pillai was investigated. Pillai was found guilty of murder and conspiracy and accordingly punished. With this obstacle removed, Velu Thampi regained his former influence once again [Travancore State Manual by Nagam Aiya] .

Mutiny of the Nair Troops

The armies of Travancore consisted of the Nairs and when in 1804 Velu Thampi proposed a reduction in their allowances, the same was met with immediate discontent. The troops believed that this proposal was at the suggestion of the British and immediately resolved in the assassination of both, the Resident Major Macaulay as well as the Dalawa Velu Thampi. Velu Thampi fled to Cochin again to his friend, the Resident as the Nairs marched to Trivandrum in a strong army of ten thousand sepoys and demanded of the Maharajah the immediate dismissal of the Dalawa and ending of 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 Treat of 1805 after the insurrection of the Nair troops in Travancore. It increased the British force stationed in Travancore and the amount of money to be paid as tribute to the British. This was the main change brought about in the Treaty of 1805 [Travancore State Manual by Nagam Aiya] .

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 indebted it 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 [Travancore State Manual by Nagam Aiya] , 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 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.

The Resident realised the object of the simultaneous preparations on Travancore and Cochin and immediately wrote of the Madras government for reinforcements. His Majesty's 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 English territories. The same was agreed upon and on 28th 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 armed men led by the Paliath Achan, 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 escaping and reached Quilon. The disappointed Velu Thampi asked his troops to attack them at Quilon.

The Nair troops meanwhile attacked the Subsidiary force of the British at Quilon. In spite of greater numbers, the troops were not organised and lacked a leader and hence for the night on 30th December 1808 the British under Colonel Chalmers held their ground. The Dalawa did not lose heart. He collected a force of thirty thousand men and again attacked the British on 15th January 1809. The British organised their armies strategically and the Nair sepoys were finally repulsed. The British regiments in Cochin were attacked by the Paliath Achan but here too he was defeated.

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 who felt now that Velu Thampi was his only true friend. Wholesale butchery of foreigners took place in Travancore, thereby disgracing the cause of the rebellion. The British realised that the Dalawa was now desperate.

Rebellion Quelled

Colonel Leger came from Madras on 6th February 1809 and camped on the Aramboly pass. He 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 British 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 losing heart dispersed, the cause of overthrowing the British yoke, being forgotten. Velu Thampi himself fled from Trivandrum touching at 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 British. The Maharajah had joined hands with the British for his capture under the influence of Ummini Thampi, a government official. However the Dalawa was not taken alive. In the Temple he asked his brother to cut his throat, which on being refused, he did it himself. Velu Thampi thus passed away in the Mannadi Temple. His brother surrendered and was taken to Quilon and executed there. Velu Thampi's body was taken to Trivandrum and exposed on a gibbet. The man who informed the British of the Dalawa's whereabouts received an award of Rs. 50,000 from the British. 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 touching at Tuticorin many of them committed suicide.

The Paliath Achan

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 12 years. He was then taken to Bombay and remained a prisoner there for 13 years, finally passing away at Benares.

ee also

* Travancore
* Thampi
* Raja Kesavadas
* East India Company
* Paliath Achan
* Kingdom of Cochin


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