|The pillar commemorating the Battle of Colachal|
The pillar was not much to look at; a grey column of stone, with a plaque at its base. It stood on a sandy, scrub-filled lot, flanked by a water tank and a crumbling building sprouting a banyan tree. Several hundred metres away, on the other side of a sandy knoll, was the Arabian Sea.
Appearances, though, can be deceptive. Unassuming it certainly is, but the pillar marks a very important event in the history of the erstwhile kingdom of Travancore and, indeed, the Dutch empire — the Battle of Colachal.
It was somewhere in this area, in August 1741, that Travancore's army commanded by Marthanda Varma routed Dutch forces led by Eustachius De Lannoy.
For Marthanda Varma, arguably Travancore’s greatest ruler, the victory at Colachal was one large step towards consolidating his rule over southern Kerala. For the Dutch, writes historian A. Sreedhara Menon in A Survey of Kerala History, “… the battle of Colachel shattered for all time to come their dream of the conquest of Kerala.”
|Ruins of the chapel in which De Lannoy is buried|
The canny statesman that he was, Marthanda Varma was able to charm De Lannoy and some of his Dutch aides into joining Travancore’s army. De Lannoy spent the next 36 years of his life serving Travancore — training local soldiers in European military tactics and shaping the kingdom’s military strategies.
It seems he never returned to the Netherlands and when he died in 1777, was buried within Udayagiri fort not too far from Colachal. The story of De Lannoy’s Travancore years though, is a tale for another day.