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Category Archives: Tamil Nadu

Vellore – ‘Fierce and Fain’

The summer sun shone on the pains of Vellore. Dust clouds rose up to the commands of the fickle breeze. Grass and shurbs  dried to hay in the heat. The Fortress of Vellore gleamed like a pearl in the barren plain. The reflected sunlight from the moat gave it a sparkling silver outline. A stray goat wandered about and decided to quench its thirst in the murky waters of the moat. An arrow shot from the ramparts put an end to its hydrophilic dreams. Mutton was on the day’s menu.

There was silent but constant buzz around the fort. Whispers were passed about. The sepoys looked at their new uniforms with disgust. Leather tops and round hats. They looked were against their tradition. The sepoys were ordered to wear the new uniform and shave their beards.

Inconcievable. The sepoys thought the new uniforms and laws were made to insult them and their religion. The sepoys complained about the uniforms and refused to shave their beards. Their protests fell on deaf ears. Every soldier with a beard and without an uniform was tied to a post and given 90 lashes.

This new law was the final snowflake on the mountain-top. It fell on the suppressed anger of the sepoys. Something rumbled and something gave way. It was an avalanche of rage. The sepoys decided to sink their theeth in the heels of the East India company.

After Tipu Sultan had died. His sons and daughters were brought from Srirangapatanam and imprisoned in the garrisoned Fortress of Vellore. The wedding of Tipu Sultan’s daughter, in 1806,  gave the sepoys a perfect excuse to get together and plan the mutiny.

On the night of the wedding, under the cover of chaos and celebration, the cry of revolution rose from the ramparts of the fort. A bonfire was lit from the highest towers of the Fort. A signal for the mutineers. It was a bonfire of the new uniforms. The 1500 strong garrison rebelled against their British overlords.

Fire and gunpowder rained upon the British officers, dunk in the festivities of the wedding. The fireworks in the sky were overshadowed by the gunshots on the ground. Blood stained fort walls. More than a hundred British soldiers were killed in mutiny. In the chaos of the mutiny, Gillespie, one of the British officers, slipped away. he jumped into the moat, swam across the muddy water and escaped to the British garrison at Arcot.

Unaware of this, the sepoys were celebrating their victory. Wine flowed freely. Cheers and Chants made round. The guardsmen at the Fort door had a little too much of the wine and they forgot to lock the Fort gates down.

Once informed of the mutiny at Vellore, the British cavalry rode forth swiftly to Vellore. They covered the 35 km distance in two hours. They rode down the unlocked gate of the Fort and unleashed Hades on the celebrating sepoys. Within a couple of hours, all the mutineers were either dead or in chains. Canons and firing squads sounded the entire day. Retribution was swift and certain. The Fortress of Vellore was back in the hands of the East India Company.

Thus ended the first ever Indian mutiny against the East India Company.

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The hot and barren town of Vellore is still dominated by the Fort and its serene moat. The wide ramparts and the tall walls provide a daunting obstacle to any attacker. The fort was used by the British to imprison Tipu Sultan’s sons and daughters.

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The Sepoy Mutiny at Vellore was a prelude to the greater and more famous Revolt of 1857. The controversial dress codes were revoked after the mutiny.

In the poem ‘Gillespie’ by Sir. Henry Norton, depicts the escape of Gillespie and the muster of the cavalry of Arcot. The link for which is provided below.

http://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/sir-henry-newbolt/gillespie/

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Posted by on October 31, 2014 in Tamil Nadu

 

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The Battle of Sadras

The French admiral watched the horizon from the deck of his ship, the Héros. Nine. Nine British ships between him and glory. A large wave broke at the hull and spattered his face with spray. He wiped his face with a silk napkin. He sent word to the captains of his fleet to meet him in his war-cabin.

It was 1782. The French supported the Americans in their struggle for Independence, much to the chagrin of the British. The Dutch also allied with the French inspite of British threats. The echoes of the dispute found their way to India where the British forces were capturing French and Dutch outposts along the Coromandel coast. The French dispatched Admiral Balli de Suffren, with his fleet to keep the British forces at bay.

French Admiral – Bailli de Suffren

The Admiral’s fleet had eleven ships of the line, seven transport ships filled with troops, and a corvette to escort the transports They set sail from Brest and had planned to siege the British stronghold at Madras. The Admiral had found the British fleet, under the command of Sir Edward Hughes anchored at Madras and had turned south. He wanted to land his troops at the Dutch colony at Sadras and attack the British troops from the land. The British raised their anchors and set sail after Suffren. Both the navies faced each other at Sadras.

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Suffren put his napkin away and peered at the map. The cannons in the sea fort at Sadras would prevent the British from landing. It seemed like the battle would be easy. The French had the wind on their side and had the numerical advantage. But he knew that the British Navy was force not to be taken lightly. They were the masters at sea-battles.

Suffren realized that he was hampered by the need to protect the transport ships containing the troops. He had to safely get them away from the conflict. He detached his corvette to protect the transport ships and decided to draw Hughes away from them. Suffren thought the British would chase his fleet while leaving the transport ships to land the troops safely. The troops would then wreck havoc from land.

The plan was going perfectly. The British fleet had turned their attention towards Suffren and his ships while the transport ships were making way towards the coast.  The wind was against the British and they were unable to engage in a battle with the French. The sun was setting across the Indian coast. The sea shimmered in orange. He made sure that the watch-outs were in their post and went to sleep in his cabin with a smile on his face.

The French Admiral woke up next day to chaos. His crew was running amok on the deck. The British fleet was nowhere to be seen. Under the cover of the night, they had changed direction and were now pursuing the transport ships. Suffren yelled in frustration. He gave the order to set sail and give the chase.

By late afternoon, he caught up with the British ships. The battle lines were drawn and the canons were readied. Suffern lead the charge in his ship, Héros. The tide was high and waves made manoeuvrability difficult. Héros caught up with a British ship. It rained cannonballs and hell on it. The British ship was no match for the French speed and could not outmanoeuvre. The sailors jumped off the deck as the burning ship sank to his watery grave.

Satisfied with his attack, Suffren looked around to see how the rest of the battle was going. His eyes widened with horror. He wiped the salt out of his eyes to see if his eyes were deceiving him. They were not.

Only five of his ships had followed him in the battle. The other six had moved back and were watching the battle from the sidelines. He made his messenger to signal the other ships to join the battle. Two out of the six ships reluctantly joined the battle. The other four disobeyed the order and remained at the sidelines. The French Admiral threw his sword down in fury. If he got out alive out of this, he would make them pay. Dearly.

The angry Admiral, turned his attention towards the battle. Sir Hughes ship, the Superb, was making way towards him. He yelled at his crew to charge at the British ship. If he was going down, he would go down all guns blazing.

The Admiral stood tall among the smoke, salt and screams. The two ships passed each other by with their canons tearing wood and flesh apart. Once the smoke cleared, Suffren surveyed the damage. He was surprised to see his ship still standing. The hull and the mast were still intact. A creaking noise caught his attention and he looked back. It was the mast of the British ship crashing. They were not so lucky. The canon-ridden British ship raised the white flag of surrender.

That night Suffren sat silently on the ramparts of the Sadras fort and looked across at the silent sea. There were no more canons and smoke. Only the sound of waves caressing the shore. The broken British fleet had set sail to Triconamalee for repairs. His fleet also had suffered damages and undergoing repairs at the Dutch port.

His thoughts were broken by the sounds of footsteps. He turned around. He saw the captains of the ships who had refused to join in the battle, brought in chains.

“Tie them to the canons and fire”, he said as he stood up and walked to his cabin.

 

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After the Battle of Sadras, the Frech troops who were escorted by Admiral Suffrens, joined forces with the Dutch and Hyder Ali against the British spawning the Second Anglo-Mysore war.

Sadras, once a busy Dutch sea-fort and a naval colony, is now a tiny fishing hamlet, a stones throw away from Kalpakkam nuclear power-plant. The ruins of the sea fort still stand towering high along the sea shore, though much of its glory lost. It is easy to lose track of time waking along the ramparts watching the tall grass that now covers the fort, bend and twist in the sea breeze.

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The entrance to the sea-fort at Sadras

 

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The ramparts and the sea beyond it.

 

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Remains of a staircase which now lead to nowhere.

 

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2014 in Tamil Nadu

 

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Gingee – ‘Troy Of The East’

The Nawab slowly drank the wine from his cup. The commanders of his army lowered their eyes. The seige was not going according to the plan. It had lasted seven years. He had thought that capturing Gingee from the young Raja Tej Singh would be easy. Only seven hundred men were with Raja Tej Singh and they had defended the fort for seven years against Nawab’s twenty thousand strong army. The Nawab threw the cup down in anger.

The Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb had captured the famous Gingee fortress from the Marathas and handed it over to his Rajput general, Raja Swaroop Singh. After the death of Aurangazeb, the Mughal empire crumbled. The Deccan sliped like butter from the Mughal fingers. The Mughal governor in the Carnatic, the Nawab of Arcot declared his independence, but Raja Swaroop Singh refused to accept his sovereignty. He swore fealty to the Mughal emperor in Delhi, but the Mughal army was too far and too busy to pay his request any heed.

The fortress of Gingee was just 90 kilometers away from Arcot, the Nawab’s capital. It was fabled to be the greatest fortress in the country. Even the great Maratha, Chhatrapati Shivaji, called it the ‘most unassailable fortress’. Its location and strong defenses tempted the Nawab. Raja Swaroop Singh died of a fever and his fifteen year old son, Raja Tej Singh was crowned king. The Nawab had decided to strike the hot iron.

Unfortunately, the siege wasn’t going well.

‘Unassailable’.

The fortress was living up to its name. It stood on top a hill with seven layers of battlements surrounding it. One solitary path wound around the mountain and it was overlooked by archery towers. The top of the fortress could only be reached by crossing a tiny drawbridge built, over a rocky chasm, hundreds of feet deep.

The Marathas were ingenious folks, they had tied ropes to monitor lizards, climbed the rocky walls of the fortress and captured it. The Nawab decided to try the same trick, but Tej SIngh’s men were ready. They trained their kites and falcons to swoop down and snatch the lizards from the rocks. The Nawab cursed the blasted birds.

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(The drawbrige on the top of the hill)

The hot summer sun was beating down upon the land. It had not rained for the past two years and the river Palar had run dry. Drought had hit Arcot and Gingee. Rebellion was breaking out in the kingdom. An army living off the land during a drought didn’t go well with the local people.

Inside the fortress too the situation was bad. Tej Singh had only 700 men. Most of his men were twice as old as him, but they respected him. They were even ready to die for him. The food stores had run out and there was no water either. The fortress was strong enough to withstand an army, but not a famine.

The king put on his iron armour and mounted his favorite horse, Bara Hazari – The winged horse of heaven. Not a word did he utter, but his men knew. Seven hundred pairs of feet turned and followed him on the dusty path. The beats of a lonely drum was the only sound. Vultures were circling in the skies knowing that the time of their feasting was near. Raja Tej Singh had heard tales of his Rajput ancestors’ bravery from his grandmother. He was now going to write his own. His helm bit into his forehead. He looked up to the harem quarters, he could feel his young queen’s eyes looking at him. He closed his eyes and muttered a silent prayer for strength. He pulled the reins of his horse and broke into a gallop.

When the drawbridge was lowered, the king saw a lone horseman in a wedding dress standing outside. It was Mohammad Khan, his best friend. He had walked out of his own wedding and had come to help. Tej Singh jumped off his horse and hugged him.

The small army galloped down. The hillside resounded with the old Rajput war cry.

Life is cheap. Honour is not.

The Nawab was not expecting an attack. His army was out searching for food and water when the gates of the fortress were thrown open. Cannonballs fizzed into the Nawab’s army. The Nawab’s elephants stampeded in the noise and crushed  his own men. By the time the Nawab’s army could regroup, Tej SIngh’s men had penetrated deep into their formation.

Blood and glory followed the Rajput sword. None of the Nawab’s soldiers could keep up with the winged horse of heaven. One of the Nawab’s horsemen galloped towards the Nawab with a lance. Just before he could run into Tej Singh, a bolt of green lightning passed them by and the horseman slid off his saddle. Headless.

It was Mohammad Khan. Tej Singh held out his sword to thank him. Mohammad Khan barely raised his sword in acknowledgement when a stray arrow pierced his neck. He fell down in a pool of blood.

Tej Singh jumped off his horse and rushed to his dying friend. He took Mohammad Khan in his lap. He looked at his friend, who had come to help him out in the battle even on his wedding day. Tears streaked his dirt-stained face. Mohammad Khan gave a slow smile. The light went out form his eyes. Tej Singh’s scream was swallowed by the noise of the battle.

The young king looked around with bloodshot eyes. The Nawab’s army had surround him and his men. He slowly mounted on his horse and whispered ‘Death’ in its ears. The horse seemed to understand and raised its forelegs. His men rallied around him. There was no noise. No trumpets, no drums, no war cries. There was only a whisper which was louder than any cry.

“Death”.

They were no longer fighting for victory.

~

The Nawab surveyed the battlefield in the light of the setting sun. The red hue of the dusk mingled with the blood on the battlefield. Raja Tej Singh and his 700 men had died, but they had inflicted massive casualties on his army. Half his army was either dead or dying. He looked at the arrow-riddled body of Tej SIngh on a funeral pyre. Near him was the pyre of his faithful horse. A priest was lighting the pyres and chanting a prayer. Tej Singh’s young queen had slumped on the ground and was sobbing into her saree. The Nawab looked at her. She was pretty and would make a good addition to his harem. The young queen looked at the Nawab and seemed to understand his thoughts. She stood up wordlessly and jumped into the orange flames of her husband’s pyre as sati.

The Nawab slowly walked back to his tent. If this was victory, why did it taste so bitter.

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(The fortress of Gingee)

Gingee is located near Villupuram in Tamil Nadu. It is a small town situated in a barren plain, overshadowed by the tall fortress. The hills look like some giant had once lived in this land, collected rocks together and put them up in a pile.

Gingee was one of the greatest fortresses in India, impressing even Shivaji. The Nawab of Arcot did capture the fortress; but the siege, Tej Singh’s attack and the drought left his power in tatters. The weak Nawab found himself caught in between the clashes of the rising powers in the Deccan. The British, the French and Tipu Sultan. The Nawab lost Gingee to the French who took the fortress’ treasures to Pondicherry. The English later captured Gingee from the French. The British called Gingee, ‘the Troy of the East’. Gingee lost its former charm under the British and became a small, idyllic, agrarian village.

The fort complex is massive. It has three separate forts on three hilltops. The largest of the three is called Rajagiri, which was used by Raja Tej Singh. It is an imposing citadel built on the top of a 800 feet hillock. The base of the hillock has a fortification wall with a dried up moat.

When I visited Gingee, the fortress reminded me of Minas Tirith from The Lord of the Rings. Both have seven layers of defenses with the gates for each level situated in a different direction from the next level. The top has a tiny drawbridge which leads to the crown of the hill.

Raja Tej Singh is still famous among the local people who call him Raja Desingu. People sing ballads of his bravery, his faithful friend Mohammad Khan and his winged horse of heaven. Quite a few shops here are named after him and even a college. It is amazing to find a Rajput king loved by a people so far away from his home.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2013 in Tamil Nadu

 

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‘Arcot’ – The Reason We Speak English

The soldiers looked at their young captain with awe. They had not expected twenty-six year old Clive to capture the fortress of Arcot, but he had defied all odds and managed it. He was now standing on top of the ramparts, surveying the fort’s defenses.

Robert Clive was a scribe, a writing clerk who kept records. He had been kicked out of the house for being ‘naughty’ as a child. He joined the East India Company and was sent to the British Fort St. George at Madras to copy texts and tally accounts. But then, destiny had other plans for him.

Muhammad Ali, the Nawab of Arcot and an English ally, was hiding in Trichy. His capital city, Arcot, was captured by Chand Sahib, a French ally. The French army marched out of Pondicherry, to lay seige to the Rock Fortress of Trichy and dispose off the Nawab for good. The Nawab begged the British governor at Madras for help. Trichy was far away. Help would not reach there in time to counter the French army.

Clive, the governor’s scribe, suggested that they attack Arcot and distract the French, instead of sending the British army to Trichy. The governor appointed the young scribe as a captain and sent him to Arcot, with a mere 100 soldiers, 120 sepoys and 3 guns.

The small troop and the lack of heavy artillery meant that Clive’s company could move quickly. He made his troops do forced marches. The garrison at Arcot scattered when the Clive made a surprise attack at night. Clive captured Arcot without losing a single man.

The Arcot fortress was weak. The walls were low, the towers crumbling and the moat dry at places. The mile long wall was too large to be defended by the feeble British force. The governor of Madras promised two artillary guns, but they would take time to arrive. Clive sent most of his force to escort the artillary guns.

Seeing the troop movement, Chand Sahib’s 2000 men attacked the fortress to claim it back. With a mere 70 men and darkness for cover, Clive managed to repulse the attack and hold on to the fort. Chand Sahib’s men fled the next day when the artillary guns arrived.

Clive’s ploy worked in distracting the French from Trichy. The French army turned towards Arcot. Chand Sahib’s men joined the advancing army. Chand Sahib’s son, Raza Sahib lead the army. Clive and his 300 men set to task, strengthening the Fort.

A 4000 men strong French-Indian army lay siege to the Fort. In the night, Clive made a daring move. He attacked the siege force and tried to steal their French guns. The plan almost backfired. Clive barely escaped with his life and lost 15 men in the misadventure.

Clive made no mistakes thereafter. Small British company successfully repulsed the siege for 50 days. A Maratha captain, Morari Rao, was impressed with the British bravery and promised to send them help in return for payment. The payment got delayed in the English bureaucracy. When Raza Sahib heard about the Maratha captain’s offer, he offered Clive terms and promised him a gift if he surrendered. Clive declined. The attackers fell upon the fortress with renewed frenzy, but the British held strong. Raza Sahib’s men fell by tens and dozens at the hands of the British. Chand Sahib’s elephants ran amok in the gunfire, trampling down his own men. The attackers gave up and retreated. They had lost hundreds of men while Clive lost only four. Cheer rang though the British contingent

The French defeat at Arcot signaled the decline of the French presence on India and the rise of the British. The British reinstated Muhammad Ali as the Nawab of Carnatic. The Treaty of Paris signed at the end of the Battle of Arcot gave the British right to most of the Indian territories.

The siege of Arcot made Clive famous throughout Europe. A British scribe with a handful of men had repulsed an attack by the French army. Clive was presented a sword by the British Prime Minister. His military career took off from that point.

Ten years later, Clive returned back to India and lead the British to victory in the battle of Plassey. That established the military supremacy of the East India company in India.

Arcot is now a small town on the Chennai-Banglore highway. Quiet and rustic, scattered with mosques and minarets. People stop over here on the highway for its famous Arcot biryani. The Fortress of Arcot is all but disappeared except for it gates.

(The Delhi Gate, Arcot)

Known as Delhi gate, the broad gate stands at the outskirts of the town. The dry bed of the river Palar lies across it. A forgotten stone plate mentions that it was once a part of Clive’s fortifications.The ground around it is scattered with fallen structures, paying tribute to the fact, that they were the reason we speak English today, and not French. Whether that is a good thing or not, I leave that for you to decide.

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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Tamil Nadu

 

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‘Padmanabhapuram’ – God’s Own City

Some kings are warriors, like lions riding into the battle, making the enemy tremble with fear just by their presence. They are dangerous, but even more dangerous are kings who fight with their minds. The tacticians. They stay behind the curtains and move their pawns one step at a time, always keeping an eye on the big picture. King Marthanda Varma was of the latter kind.

Fate had never been kind to Marthanda Varma, but kings like him controlled their own fate. He was born into the last surviving house of the legendary Chera dynasty. Once among the three great kingdoms of South India, his family now ruled over a tiny kingdom stretching from modern day Kanyakumari to Trivandrum. Even in their kingdom, the king’s title was nominal. He had no army under him. The real power belonged to the madampis, the court nobles and the ettara yogam, the managers of the Padmanabhaswamy temple.

When Marthanda Varma came into the picture, the political and social situation in the kingdom was at the verge of collapse. The heir of the throne according to the matriarchal Travancore system, he had to kill his cousins, who tried to usurp the throne from him. Problems, both internal and external, haunted the king as he sat on his wooden throne at Padmanabhapuram, the city of the god. Even though he wore the crown, the Ettuveetil Pillaimar, the Lords of the Eight Houses, were the true rulers of the land. The Eight Lords had supported the claims of his cousins over the crown and Marthanda Varma had an axe to grind with them for that.The other Kingdoms of Kerala were falling in quick succession to the European powers. The Portugese had taken over Calicut and Cochin was under the Dutch. The spice trade of Kerala was attracting other European powers like flies on a jaggery. The shrewd king wasn’t going to sit around and watch.

The king signed a peace treaty with the rulers of Madurai and the British. The Eight Lords were enraged by the move and hired assassins to kill the king. The king barely escaped with his life. The murder attempt gave the king a golden opportunity. He had the Eight Lords either killed or exiled for treason and took over their property and armies. This move prompted many of the nobles to call for the nonrecognition of Marthanda Varma‘s kingship. Every other person in the kingdom was putting forward their stakes for the crown. In the face of mutiny among his ranks and advancing Foreign powers, the king played a masterstroke. He walked into the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram and crowned the god as the king of the state. He took upon the title of Padmanabhadasa, the slave of the god, a steward who would rule the kingdom in the god’s name. The temple and its management came directly under the Padmanabhadasa. With that one swift stone, the king killed many birds. The king’s relatives who were putting forward their stakes for the crown found themselves competing against a god for the crown and backed down. The temple management which was proving to be a thorn in the king’s flesh was abolished. The temple guards provided an added boost to his army. Kerala is even today known as “God’s own country” because of Marthanda Varma’s coronation of Padmanabhaswamy.

With the internal problems settled, the King turned his eye outwards. He annexed the nearby kingdoms of Kollam and Kottarakara. He then turned his eye towards the kingdom of Kayamkulam. Kayamkulam was under the protectorate of the Dutch. The Dutch ambassador warned Marthanda Varma to leave Kayamkulam alone or the Dutch would annex Travancore. The angry Varma threatened to take his army to Europe and annex Holland if the Dutch interfered in their affairs.

With diplomacy failing, the king prepared for war. The Dutch navy approached the Travancore shores at a fishing hamlet called Colachel. The king made the fishermen from the village to hold their oars and stand on the shore. The Dutch Navy thought they were soldiers and got confused. In a short and swift battle, the Travancore army overhauled the Dutch. The Dutch admiral laid his arms in front of the king and was taken prisoner. For the first time in the Indian history, an Indian king had kicked an European power in its coccyx. Kayamkulam fell to Travancore and all land south of Cochin came under Marthanda Varma. With the fall of the Dutch, the entire black pepper trade was came under the control of the Travancore kingdom.

Marthanda Varma was too clever to be lulled into a false sense of security after his victory over the Dutch. He knew there were other European powers, waiting for him to make a false move. He set the Dutch admiral – Eustachius de Lennoy free and appointed him as the General of his army. The Dutch admiral, in gratitude for the kindness, took up the post. The Dutch General modernized the Travancore army. The king moved his capital from Padmanabhapuram to Thiruvananthapuram. He signed a treaty with the British, which kept the kingdom safe from the British crown till it seceded to the Indian Union in 1947.

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(The Surrender of the Dutch East India Company)

Colachel, the site of the famous battle between the Travancore army and the Dutch is now a small fishing hamlet. It is hard to imagine that the historically significant battle was fought there, among the fishing nets and boats. The only sign of the battle is a victory column, with the Travancore emblem of a conch with two wings on top, stating that Eustachius de Lennoy had laid his arms at Padmanabhadasa Marthanda Varma’s feet at that spot.

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(The Victory Pillar at Colachel)

Padmanabhapuram, ‘The city of the god’ is now a small village on the Trivandrum-Kanyakumari highway. The king’s palace still stands tall in a forgotten majesty.The Padmanabhapuram palace is open to public and is located at Thuckalay. Though the town is now a part of Tamil Nadu, the palace and its complex is under Kerala. The palace is a perfect example of kerala architecture and wood work.

The Gowdiar palace at Trivandrum is closed to the public as the desendants of the Travancore royal family still live there.

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(The Padmanabhapuram Palace)

The Udayagiri fort is situated 1 km away from the Padmanabhapuram palace and used to be the garrison for the Travancore army. It is now under the Forest department and has a small zoo inside it. The tomb of Eustachious de Lennoy is also inside the Udayagiri Fort.

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(Eustachius de Lennoy’s tomb)

The Padmanabhaswamy temple is in the heart of Trivandrum. It was recently declared the wealthiest place of worship in the world after a treasure chamber was rediscovered under it. The royal family still bears the title ‘Padmanabhadasa‘ and runs the temple trust.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2013 in Kerala, Tamil Nadu

 

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‘Gangaikonda Cholapuram’ – The City of the Chola who brought the Ganges.

King Rajendra Chola – I sat on the Chola throne for the first time as Yuvaraja, the crown prince, under his father’s rule. He inherited a mighty empire from his father, King Rajaraja Chola – I. Along with the empire, he also inherited his father’s wars. The Chola empire was plagued by wars and rebellions. In the North, they were at war with Kalingas, the Western Chalukas and the Eastern Chalukas. In the South, their arch-enemies, the Pandayas were turning out to be a splinter in the throne. Even in Lanka, which his father had recently occupied, the Sinhalese king was fighting for his freedom. The yuvaraja rose up to the challenge. He took command of he Chola Army. The Chola Army crushed all the rebels under his leadership. The Chola flag, a pouncing tiger, fluttered in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kalinga and Lanka.

When the yuvaraja wore the Chola crown in 1014 AD, he was the ruler over the entire Deccan. His navy held the Islands of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In his treasure chambers were the crowns of the Pandayas and the Sinhalese. The young Chola king was not satisfied. The minstrels sang of his father, Rajaraja Chola, and called him the greatest Chola king. The Chola Temple in Thanjavur was a testament to his greatness. But Rajendra Chola had different plans. Plans to overshadow even his late father’s glory.

The river Cauvery was the Chola lifeline. It flowed through the heart of their empire, through their capital, the city of Thanjavur. The Temple that his father built towered high over the city skyline. Priests, ministers and bureaucrats walked hurriedly through the wide streets of Thanjavur, going about their business. The city was his father’s pet project. The Chola port, Kaveripattinam, was situated at the mouths of the river Cauvery. It brought merchants from all over the world. Fair skinned Romans, bearded Arabs and diminutive Chinese strolled on the dusty the streets, selling their merchandise. Trade flourished under the Cholas. The Chola Empire was at peace. But the young Chola king grew restless. He wanted more. He wanted the holiest of all rivers. The Ganges.

He set his eyes North. The king himself lead the army. Under king Rajendra Chola and his General Araiyan Rajarajan, the Chola army laid waste to the land. The Kalingas, the Vengi and the Odda kingdom fell before the Chola might. The only the Pala kingdom stood between the Chola and the Ganges. In one of the bloodiest wars of that time, Rajendra Chola‘s army defeated the Palas and king Mahipala lay his crown at the young king’s feet. Rajendra Chola, tired from the battle, walked into the river Ganges. The current was strong but the Chola was not bothered. He cupped his hands poured the water of the Ganges as a sacrifice to Lord Shiva, his protector. He took on the title – ‘Gangaikonda Chola’, the Chola who brought the Ganges.

With the Ganges under him, Rajendra Chola looked east. He had heard tales from the merchants of Kaveripattinam of vast lands over the sea, filled with riches. He strengthened his Navy and sent it on a expedition to conquer the lands of the east. The Chola Navy did not disappoint their king. They proved to be the strongest naval force in the Indian Ocean. The kings of Burma, Indo-China, Malay Penisula and the Indonesian Archipelago accpeted the Chola’s as their overloads tribute to King Rajendra Chola, under the glooming naval threat. All land around the Bay of Bengal belonged to the Cholas. During Rajendra Chola‘s rule, the Bay of Bengal was called ‘The Chola Lake‘.

At the height of Rajendra Chola’s power, The Chola Empire held its sway over the Deccan, Bengal, Burma, Indo-China, Malay Penisula, Singapore, Andaman-Nicobar Islands, Lakhsadeep Islands, Maldives and Srilanka, making it one of the largest empires to ever rule India.

(Chola Empire under Rajendra Chola-I)

After defeating the Pala kingdom, King Rajendra Chola came back south, bringing with him water from the Ganges. He built a new city and called it ‘Gangaikonda Cholapuram’ – The city of the Chola who brought the Ganges. He built a Shiva temple in the city, rivaling the one his father built in Thanjavur. He built a 22 km wide artificial lake near the city. He shifted the Chola capital from Thanjavur.

He named his son, Rajadhiraja Chola, as yuvaraaj and sat back on his throne, listening to the minstrel sing of his deeds.

The glory of Rajendra Chola’s city, Gangaikonda Cholapuram is now all but lost. The once mighty Chola capital is now a small village situated on the highway between Neyveli and Kumbakonam. Local people now call the place Jayakondam. The Royal palace, the city buildings are all one with the dust. The only proof that the place was once the capital of one of the might Chola Empire are the Shiva temple and the Lion well.

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(Shiva Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram)

(The Lion Well)

The Shiva temple is built along the lines of the one in Thanjavur. One of the most beautiful sculptures adoring the wall is the one of Shiva placing a crown on the Kings head. Clean lawns surround the temple premises. The place is now a world heritage site and thankfully the city of one of the greatest kings of India is not completely lost in the tides of time.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2013 in Tamil Nadu

 

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