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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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‘Qila Mubarak’ – The Queen of Hearts

Razia sat warily sat on the throne of Delhi. The first woman to become a Sultan. The men of the court were not comfortable with that notion. She felt a thousand eyes staring at her. Six months ago, the same people rejected her claim to the throne and made her brother Sultan. They were now bowing before her. Her brother had been a bad ruler. he had spent his days either in his harem or drinking wine. They had assassinated him and reluctantly made her the Sultan of Delhi.

Razia proved to be an efficient ruler. She dressed like a king, wore no purdah and wore a turban. She was wise in her judgments and was loved by her people. She even lead her armies into war, riding atop an elephant. She was also a shrewd politicians. She managed to make the rebel factions fight among themselves to oblivion. She refused to be addressed as Sultana, the wife of a Sultan, but only responded to Sultan Razia.

The nobles and courtiers of the court did not like to bow before a woman. They were waiting for her to make a mistake. Like hyenas in the grass, waiting for the buffalo to slip. Razia was careful not to fall into their hands; but no one can tame the human heart.

She first saw him in the kitchens. A slave. His name was Yaqut. The queen felt her cheeks redden when she saw him. She wished she had worn a purdah so that the others didn’t see her blush. She ordered hat the slave be made her personal servant. The queen and the slave became close, meeting in secrecy at the banks of the Ganges. She even promoted him to the be the superintendent off stables.

The hyenas scented blood. When the nobles and the provincial governors heard about their queen’s affair, they took up arms. She had disgraced the throne by falling in love with a slave. The clouds of war gathered over Delhi. The rebels, lead by Malik Altunia, the governor of Bathinda, clashed with the queen’s army. In the battle, Yaqut, the slave who loved the queen, was killed. Razia was taken prisoner and imprisoned in Bathinda’s Qila Mubarak. To escape death, Razia agreed to marry Altunia.

Razia and Altunia were waylaid by a troop of Jats on their way to Delhi and were killed near Kaithal in Haryana.

Qila Mubarak still stands tall in Bhatinda. In the center of the town,with wide walls and silent courtyards. The queen spent her days in captivity inside here. The gurudwara inside lends an added charm to the calmness of the fort.

The fort was also visited by the Guru Gobind Singh.

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Posted by on February 14, 2013 in Punjab

 

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‘Aayi Mandapam’ – A tale of a King and a Prostitute

King Krishnadevaraya, the ruler of the prosperous Vijayanagara empire, ruled over the Deccan. His empire stretched from Karnataka to Kanyakumari. One day, the king set out from his capital at Hampi and went on a tour of his kingdom.

While traveling through Pondicherry, a trading city and a sea port on the eastern coast of his empire, a beautiful building caught the king’s eye. The king looked with amazement at the building’s architecture and it carvings. The religious king thought it was a temple. He knelt on the street and bowed down before it with folded hands.

The people around looked at the king with surprise. There was a stunned silence. The young men and women were hiding behind their elders and giggling. A wise old man walked up to the king and asked him, “Your Majesty, why are you bowing down in front of a brothel?”

The king looked up in horror. He caught the old man by his throat and demanded an explanation. The old man croaked, “Sire, this is a brothel. It is run by a prostitute called Aayi”. The king loosened his grip. The old man collapsed on the street.

The embarrassed king roared with anger. He ordered his soldiers to bring the prostitute to him and tear the building down from its roots. The soldiers got hammers and axes and started demolishing the brothel.

The prostitute, Aayi, was brought to the king in chains. She fell on the kings feet and asked for mercy. She begged the king to spare the house, but the king’s ego was deeply bruised. He did not listen to her. Aayi, in a desperate plea, asked the king, the permission to break down the house herself. The king agreed.

The prostitute broke down her beautiful house and in its place dug a water tank for the people around. The place was known as Aayi Kulam in her memory.

Years later, the French made Pondicherry their capital in India. The French town on the sea shore faced an acute water shortage. All the wells they dug had only salty water. The French King, Napolean III, sent an architect, Monsieur Lamairesse to sort out the problem. The architect built a 5 km long tunnel from Aayi Kulam to a park in the French part of the town. The French king heard about the story behind the water tank was was deeply impressed. He ordered the architect to build a monument for Aayi. The monument was built in French architectural style at the center of the park

The Governor of Pondicherry sent a letter to the French king thanking him for sending the architect, Mon. Lamairesse. The King told him to thank Aayi and wrote that she deserved a monument.

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Aayi’s monument is still present in Pondicherry. It is flanked by important buildings like the French consulate, the secretariat and the Governor’s bhavan. Built in Greco-Roman style, it is located at the center of a circular park. On top of the monument is a French fleur dde lis.

A stone plaque written in traditional Tamil and Latin, pays tribute to Aayi’s deed and thanks her for providing water for the people of the town.

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Posted by on February 11, 2013 in Pondicherry

 

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‘Qutb Minar’ – The Slave who became a Sultan

Qutb-ud-din Aibak sat in his canopy, watching his slaves work in the hot Indian sun and laying the foundation of his pet project – the Qutb Minar. He remembered the time when he was one of them, a slave. The Afghan crown on his head felt uncomfortable. It once belonged to his master, but now he was his own master. A wave of his hand and servants appeared before him with fruits and sherbet. He wasn’t a slave anymore. He was the Sultan-e-Hind.

Qutb-ud-din was born to Turkish parents in Turkestan. When he was a boy, a merchant took him to Nishapur and sold as a slave in the local market. He stood there in the hot sun, wearing a sackcloth gown. His back itched but he was unable to reach it because of the chains. A local Qazi, had pity on the young boy and bought him.

The old Qazi was a kind man. He treated the boy with love. He taught him the Quran and provided him military training with his own sons. The young slave’s luck didn’t for hold long. The old Qazi passed away in his sleep on a cold winter night. The Qazi’s sons were jealous of the young slave. They took him to the market in Ghazni and put him on sale again.

A young chieftain bought him from the slave market. Mohammad of Ghor, they called him. The young slave worked hard in Ghori’s camp and rose through the ranks. The military training that his old master had given him helped him in his rise. Mohammad Ghori was a shrewd Emir. He recognized that the slave had great potential and elevated him to the post of an army captain.

After Mohammad Ghori defeated the Hindu king, Prithviraj Chauhan at the battle of Tarain. He made Qutb-ud-din Aibak the leader of his army in Hind. Aibak lead his army to victory after victory over the local Rajput kings. He even captured the legendary City of Djinns, Delhi. Ghori appointed him the viceroy of Hindustan when he went back to Afghanistan to quell an attack from Persia.

Ghori never came back to Hindustan. He was assassinated by the blind Prithviraj Chauhan in an archery contest. Aibak rushed to Afghanistan to mourn his master’s death. He stabbed the grave of Prithiviraj Chauhan in despair and poured sand over his head in grief.

Ghori’s empire splintered with his untimely death. Aibak got the kingdom of Hind. He moved his capital from Lahore to Delhi. He received his master’s crown. He became the first Sultan of Delhi.

Qutb-ud-din Aibak wanted to showcase the Islam might to the people of Hindustan. He built the first mosque in India and named it Quwwat-ul-Islam, the might of Islam. Near the mosque, he started construction of the Qutb Minar, the tallest tower in world at that time.

Unfortunately, Aibak never saw the Qutb Minar completed. Four years into his rule, he had a polo accident and died. His successor, Iltutmish finally completed his pet project. The tower could be seen from miles away, towering over the mystical city of Delhi.

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The Qutb Minar, can still be seen towering over the Delhi skyline at Mehrauli. The five storeys of the tower are all built in different styles. The first three storeys are built with red sandstone and the upper two are storeys are built with marble and sandstone. The inner staircase is now closed to tourists after a stampede that killed many children.

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In the minar’s courtyard, there is an iron pillar which has interested metallurgists for ages. A legend states that if a person can hold his hands behind the pillar the djinns of Delhi will grant him his wish. A fence now prevents people from doing that.

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(The Iron Pillar)

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2013 in Delhi

 

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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.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/ee/De_Lannoy_Surrender.JPG/300px-De_Lannoy_Surrender.JPG

(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.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6b/De_lannoy_Tomb_-_Burial_Site.JPG

(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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