Tipu Sultan, the erstwhile ruler of the kingdom of Mysore and one of the most satanic, tyrannical rulers, have been maliciously, depicted as a brave and benevolent ruler, by the Darbari historians. The ‘Tiger of Mysore’, as he has been christened by these historians, was nothing more than a wimp, who gave away his two sons Shahzada Abdul Khaliq Sultan Sahib and Shahzada Muiz ud-din Mohammed Sultan as ransom to the British to save his own skin, while signing the peace treaty of Srirangapatnam in 1792 with them.
Even before Tipu Sultan was defeated and killed by the British East India Company in 1799, he had to face a humiliating defeat in the hands of the Hindu ruler of the kingdom of Travancore in 1789 in the Battle of Nedumkotta – a battle which might as well be called as Tipu’s Waterloo.
Tipu Sultan assumed power in 1782 after the death of his father, Hyder Ali, who himself had usurped power from the Wodeyar dynasty of Mysore- the ones who had given him shelter and a position in the kingdom’s military. After becoming the Sultan of Mysore, Tipu set upon the mission of crushing all dissent and annexing kingdoms. When he attacked the Karnataka coast and the Kodavas of Coorg, he made it sure to put them at the age of his sword and convert them to Islam, not sparing the slain soldiers even. His tales of plunder continued as he turned his attention to the Kerala coast in 1788, razing down Calicut, burning temples and churches and converting the captured Hindus ad Christians into Islam. The saga of Tipu’s bigotry was never narrated by any of the historians, Indian or foreign. The accounts of the terror unleashed by him on his captives and subjects, specially those subscribing to a different faith, are available from his letters and instructions to his Army commanders and through the writings of his court historian, Mir Hussein Kirmani. Quite expectedly, hundreds of thousands of refugees flocked to Travancore, a kingdom founded by Martanda Varma, half a century earlier, to escape extreme persecution by Tipu’s Army and imminent death.
The above provided Tipu with an excuse to invade Travancore. Travancore had remained as a thorn in the flesh of Tipu’s father, Hyder Ali, who had set upon himself the task of conquering entire Kerala to control the spice trade and to claim Kerala’s wealth. Malabar was captured by Hyder Ali by means of multiple invasions between 1761 and 1778.
In 1766, Calicut fell and it’s ruler, the 117th Zamorin sel immolated fearing capture by Tipu’s Army. Tens and thousands were killed or rendered homeless during all these wars. The refugees flooded Travancore for a safe stay under a benevolent hindu ruler. It was now Travancore’s turn to face the brutal Mysore Army led by Hyder Ali. However, what stood between Hyder Ali and Travancore was a Wall, which was built with clay, mud and laterite and reinforced with stones and granite. It was protected by a 20 feet deep and 16 feet wide ditch with a hedge of thorny shrubs placed beyond it. It was always well stocked and garrisoned. It had citadels, underground tunnel networks, barracks, arsenals and supply depots.Such a wall served as a better defense against modern seige guns and mines and was indeed the greatest barrier against Travancore’s Northern enemy, Mysore. The said wall is the Wall of Nedumkotta or the Travancore lines located in the modern day Chalakudy Taluk in the Thrissur district of Kerala.
The Nedumkotta Wall was constructed by the Dutch Commander of the Travancore Army, Eustachius De Lannoy, who was inducted into the ranks of Travancore’s military after he was defeated in the Battle of Colachel (1741) by Martand Varma and he bent on knees to accept defeat against the mighty hindu ruler. He was a brilliant strategist and builder. Hence it was not surprising that the successor Martand Varma, Dharma Raja Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma, his nephew, entrusted him with the task of a constructing a formidable wall to keep the enemies of Travancore at bay. The construction of the wall commenced in 1762 and was completed in 1775. The wall was comparable to The Great Wall of China but was only more recent and smaller in dimensions than the latter.
De Lannoy breathed his last in 1777 and his immediate successor did not match up to his grit, valour or strategic skills.Hyder Ali took this oppurtunity to plead and later coax Travancore to submission. But Dharma Raja Varma was unrelenting leading to Hyder Ali’s ire forcing the latter to consider invading Travancore. Dharma Raja cited his alliance with Mysore’s nemesis, the British East India Company and the Dutch (whom they had earlier defeated in battle) to discourage Hyder Ali from invading Travancore. This led to Hyder Ali’s ire and he proceeded to invade Travancore. However, even before reaching the Wall, he had to turn back towards Malabar to quash a rebellion there. After that he invaded the Carnatic in 1780, setting off the 2nd Anglo – Mysore War. He had planned to invade Travancore once he was done with the British. But Travancore remained a distant dream for Hyder Ali as he died of a carbuncle on his back in 1782. His successor, Tipu struck a deal with the British to end the war in 1784. He now started gathering his troops and regrouping with the intention of annexing Travancore and realizing his father’s unfulfilled dream.
Another reason for Tipu’s interest in Travancore was the treasury of wealth belived to have been stored in the famous Padmanabhaswamy Temple, which were under the control of the royal family of Travancore. Tipu had plundered several hindu temples earlier on with a similar intent of laying his hands inside the temple vaults and loot the treasures stored therein.
Tipu Sultan, hellbent on annexing Travancore by hook or by crook, proceeded towards Nedumkotta from Coibatore with his troops on 29th December, 1789. Travancore, meanwhile, purchased two strategic forts of Canganore and Ayacotta from the Dutch, in preparation for the impending war with Tipu Sultan and the deal for the same was finalized by the dewan of Travancore, Kesava Pillai and Dutch merchants, David Rabbi and Ephraim Cohen, under the observation of the ruler of Travancore, Dharma Raja Varma and the Dutch governor, John Gerard van Anglebeck. Travancore also had a treaty with the British East India Company, under which two battalions of the company Army would be stationed at the Travancore-Cochin border to fend off the Mysore Army. The alliance , at that time, was considered prudent with a comparatively lesser evil (or so it was felt at time) to fend off the bigger enemy, the brutal and bigoted Tipu Sultan. Kesava Pillai was appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of the Travancore Army, thus giving him an oppurtunity to prove his aggressive leadership and his qualities as a master strategist.
Tipu’s troops, consisting of 14,000 soldiers and 500 local muslims took control of a large portion of the right plank of Nedumkotta. However, the troops now, had to cross the 20 feet deep and 16 feet wide ditch to take control of Nedumkotta and proceed towards Travancore. Tipu ordered his men to fill the up the ditch with bales of cotton to enable his troops to cross the same. However, with heavy firing being done by the Travancore Army, there was danger of the bales catching fire.Unable to fill up the ditch, Tipu ordered his soldiers to march forward through a narrow passage, a strategically wrong decision that backfired as a group of two dozen Travancorean military personnel, led by Vaikom Padmanabha Pillai ambushed the enemies halfway. Around of few dozen soldiers of the Mysore Army died of direct gun fire, which created terror and panick amongst the rest of the others causing them to fall into the ditch and die. Their Commanding Officer, Semal Beg was also killed causing more chaos amongst the few surviving ranks. The reinforcements sent by the Mysoreans were prevented from merging with the main contingent by a batch of the Travancore regular army. Tipu himself fell into the ditch on the corpses of his soldiers. He was saved by some of his stronger soldiers, who raised him on their shoulders, thus enabling him to climb the wall of the ditch. However, Tipu tried twice to climb the parapit, failing to do so and falling both the times, thus crippling him for life. Hurt and humiliated, the arrogant tyrant finally managed to clamber up, aided by his loyal soldiers and escaped in a palanquin. He vowed to remain in his tent till such time that the formidable wall was conquered.
After the initial defeat, the Mysore Army regrouped and finally managed to break through the Nedumkotta lines, forcing the Travancore Army to make a strategic retreat to the far side of the Periyar river to prevent the Mysoreans from progressising through the river. The stiff resistance by the Travancore Army finally fended off any further victories by Tipu’s Army because with the advent of the monsoons, the Periyar river was flooded preventing the Mysoreans from crossing it.While the Army of Tipu Sultan waited at Alwaye for the floods to abate, the British East India Company declared war on them, aided by the kingdom of Travancore. Faced with the such challenges as epidemics of cholera and malaria, the stiff resistance by the Travancore Army and the British Army, Tipu Sultan was forced to retreat. Thus, dream of capturing Travancore remained unfulfilled thanks to the grit and resilience by the Travancore Army.
The Battle of Nedumkotta thus holds aloft the saga of valour, strategic genius and determination of a Hindu Kingdom, Travancore in successfully fending off the constant attempts at invading and annexing their kingdom by the bigoted Islamic rulers of Mysore, Hyder Ali and his son, Tipu Sultan – a tale our leftist historians refused to tell us in order to hide the might of hindu kings from modern day Indians so that Hindus would keep feeling apologetic and remorseful of their religious identity and look upon with awe at our invaders. Tipu Sultan, on the other hand, has been portrayed as a freedom fighter by the same historians because his adversaries were the British, who subsequently became the enemy of the entire nation. Tipu’s rivalry with the British had nothing to do with patriotism but with his own desire for ruling over vast territories of land, while tormenting the populace who lived therein and looting & plundering the same. Had he been a patriot or a freedom fighter, he would not have reached out to the French and the Ottoman empire of Turkey to help him fend off the British. It is apparent that he sought help from foreign powers to help fight another foreign power.
However, given all of the above, it is pertinent to pay obeisance to the hindu ruler of Travancore, Dharma Raja Varma and his able Army Commanders, Kesava Pillai and Vaikom Padmanabha Pillai , who handed over a humiliating defeat to Tipu’s men in the Battle of Nedumkotta, which commenced on this day 232 years ago. The day will be observed as Kerala Hindu Resistance Day.