British India: The Princely States--Travancore Kingdom

Figure 1.--This photo shows a Nair girl from Kerala in 1914. The Nair (Nayar) are a complicated group of Indian castes foundprimrily in Kerala. The Nair were historically involved in military conflicts, inckuding conflicts with the British. The serpent is widely worshipped by the Nair, believed to have originated as a Dravidian custom. Many Nair oare of dark complexion and thius commonly od lower caste grouoings. Laws and social conventions enforced Hindu docrine in the medieval Travancore Kingdom. The women of lower castes were forbidden to cover their tops in the presence of higher castes individuals. As a result, they usually went shirtless. Under the British Raj such laws were gradually abolished, but still in the early-20th century many low caste women continue to follow the traditional customs. Many Indians are today very critical of Britain and the Raj and Britisj imperialism, There is much to criticise, but we find many Indians refuse to recognizethe positive aspects of the Raj.

Indian history was very complicated before the arrival of the Europeans because the subcontinent was divided into a large number of kingdoms and principalities often at war with each other. The arrival of the Europeans (Dutch, English, French, and Portugese) only added to the competing forces. The Mugul Empire still existed, but was a shadow of its former self. The princly states both fought the Europeans and allied with them. Even after th Bitish emergd as the dominnt force on the continent, many princely states continued to exist. These were states that had alied with the British or were willing to accept British dominance. These states existed all over the subcontinent and varied grealy in size and importance. Most of the princely states had histories which pre-dated the Europeans. One of the most important devloping just as the the British were beginning to become an importnt player in India and ultimtely outst th French. This was the Travancore Kingdom, a Hindu feudal kingdom (untill 1858) and then an Indian princely state. It was based at Padmanabhapuram (Thiruvananthapuram). The Kingdom at its peak comprised much of southwestern India (southern Kerala, Kanyakumari district, and southern Tamil Nadu).


The Travancore Kingdom was based at Padmanabhapuram (Thiruvananthapuram). The Kingdom at its peak comprised much of southwestern India (southern Kerala, Kanyakumari district, and southern Tamil Nadu). Travancore and Venad before it was situated at the extreme southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. Travancore had three destinct climatic regions: the eastern highlands (rugged and cool mountainous terrain), the central midlands (rolling hills), and the western lowlands (tropical coastal plains). The tropical lowlands is one of the warmest regions in the world, just north of the Equator.


The Kingdom of Travancore was a former Hindu feudal kingdom (till 1858) and than an Indian princely state within the Raj. It took its name from theruling Travancore Royal Family. King Marthanda Varma (1729–1758) founded the Travancore Kingdom. His base was the Kingdom of Venad. He launched a military cmpaign from Thrippappur. This was part of the territory ruled by the branches of the Venad royal family. The dynasty traced their roots to the Ay kingdom and the Later Chera kingdom. Medieval Indian history is very cimplicated because there was no unifiedInduan nation, but a gret diversity of states, some were large, but many were small principalities. The origins of the Tranvancore Kingdom lay in India's medieval hitory.

Ay Kingdom

The Ay were the earliest known ruling dynasty in southern Kerala. At their peak they controlled the territory from Nagercoil in the south to Thiruvalla in the north. Their capital was at first Aykudi. This was the Sangam age. Later it was moved to Kollam (late-8th century). the resurgent Pandyas increasingly pressured the Ays leading to a subtantial decline (7th and 8th centuries). The Ays were, howver, still a force in southern India Through the 9th century).

Waring Southern Iron Age Kingdoms: Chernas, Cholas, and Pandyas

As Ay power declined, Venada on the southern perifery of the Ay Kingdom was seized by the Second Chera Kingdom. The Chera (Kerala Putras) together with the Chola and the Pandyas were the three principal warring Iron Age kingdoms of southern India. The subsequent invasion of Venad by the Cholas resulted in the destructio of Kollam (1096). The Chola then destroyed the Chera capital, Mahodayapuram. The Chera king, Rama varma Kulasekara, as a result moved his capital to Kollam. The decline of the Cherna led to the rise of Venad as an indeoendent kingdom.he Chera dynasty also known as Kerala Putras, Chera[5] was an ancient dynasty in India, ruling over an area corresponding to modern-day western Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Together with the Chola and the Pandyas, it formed the three principal warring Iron Age kingdoms of southern India in the early centuries of the Common Era.

Venad Kingdom

Venad was a feudal state of medieval India locted at the tip of the Indian Subcontinent. It was ruled by the rajas, known as the Venattadis. Raja is a Sanskrit term for a monarch or princely rulers, generally used for arelatively small principality. Venad until the late-11th century, was not an independent kingdom, but a small principality in the Ays Kingdom, seized by Cherna. Rama Varma Kulasekara was the last emperor of Chera dynasty. Historical detaols are fragmentary, Eama Varma appears to be the founder of the Venad royal dynasty and kingdom. The title of Chera kings, Kulasekara, was retained by the rulers of Venad. As a result, the end of Second Chera dynasty was the beginning Venad as a independent principality (12th century). The two branches of of the Ay Dynasty (Thrippappur and Chirava) merged into the Venad royal family, This estanlished the tradition of designating the ruler of Venad as Chirava Moopan and the heir-apparent as Thrippappur Moopan. Chrirava Moopan trafitionally had his residence at Kollam, the Thrippappur Moopan resided at his palace in Thrippappur. He was vested with the authority over the temples of Venad kingdom, especially the magnificent Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple.

European Colonial Struggle

The Portuguese effort to establish mariime trade routes with the East finally became possible when Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Goo Hope (1488). Shortly after Vasco de Gama becan the European contact with the East when Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut (modern Kozhikode). For reasons of geopgraphy, the Portuguese trading posts was primarily in the southwest, Goa south to Malabar/Kerala. The Arabs resisted, but the decisive battle of Diu (1509) gave the Portuguese mastery of he Indian Ocean. The Dutch arrived next and challenged the Portuguese. The Dutch-Portuguese War (1602-61) was an extended conflict between the United Provinces and the Portuguese Empire over the new highly profitable trade routes and colonies. The conflict primarily involved the Dutch companies invading Portuguese colonies in the Americas, Africa, India and the Far East. The Dutch seized many of the Portuguese trading posts along the siutheast Malabar coast, but were also active along the eastern coast as well as Ceylon/Sri Lanka. . Portugal and the Nethererlands were small countries. Neither had the capability of colonizing India. Nor were they capable of defending their Indian trading posts from larger European powers. This would be decided by he English nd French durig the Seven Years War (1756-63). The developing Travancore Kingdom would side with the British..

Early Travancore History

King Marthanda Varma (1729–1758) founded the Travancore Kingdom with a military campaign expanding the Venad campaign. He ws the first powerful Venad ruler. Next Travancore confronted the Dutch, one of the European owers vying for control of India. The Dutch were established along the southeastern coast. As a result, the Travancore-Dutch War (1739–53) broke out. The issue was largely settled at the Battle of Colachel (1741). Traancore forces defeated the Dutch East India Company. The War would continue for a decade, but the result was a the end of Dutch influence in India. Travancore captured Dutch admiral, Eustachius De Lannoy. He subsequently played a role in modernizing the Travancore army by introducing modern European firearms and artillery. The Muslim states of North Africa aftr their imperial ambitions were ended by the Spanish Reconquista, resisted European imperialism for centuries. Travancore was the earliest example of an Asian state defeating a European power militarily. A factor in the eclipse of both Dutch and Portuguest power was hat both were small Eropean powers. Control of India would become a struggle btween Britain and France. Travancore estblishd itself as the most powerful state along the southern Malabar Coast (the western or Arabian sea coast). This is now the Kerala region (southwestern India) by defeating the Zamorin of Calicut the Battle of Purakkad. They were fellow Hindu Nair rulers of the medieval Kingdom of Kozhikode along the Malabar Coast. Ramayyan Dalawa, the Dewan or Primeminister of Travancore played a key role in the expansion of the Travancore Kingdom. Travancore often allied itself with with the British East India Company in military conflicts with neighboring states.

Tipu Sultan: The Tiger of Mysore

Tipu Sultan (1750-99) was known as the Tiger of Mysore. The Kingdom of Mysore was the powerful kinfdom od siuthern India bordering on Travancore. Tipu was a talented tactician and innovator and as awar leader a serious threat to both Travancore and the British. He adopted western methods and arms to both conquer neighboring states and drivethe British out of Indiua. to ensure that his forces could overwhelm his Indian rivals and match the British forces sent against him. Tipu was the eldest son of Hyder Ali, the ruler of Mysore. He was born and raised at Devanhalli. His military training bgan at age 15 years when he began accompaning his father on aggresive militry campaigns. Hyder Ali achieved some success in expanded his realm. He allied with the French who helped train and supply his army. This enabled Hyder to conquer the Marathas, the rulers of the Carnatic and other Indian powers. Mysore in the process thus came into conflict with the British who were allied with several of the rulers Hyder attacked. This lead to the a struugle for control of southern India and two wars to decide the issue--the First and Second Mysore Wars (1767-69 and 1780-84). Tipu Sultan attacked Tavancore by invading Kerala. The result was te Third Anglo-Mysore War, in which The British assited Travancore defeat Tipu.

The Raj

The Raj was formerly established after the Great Mutiny in the mid-19th century, but by the beginning of the19th century, the Bristish having defeated the French and French allied states had a dominant position in India. Velu Thampi Dalawa, the Dewan of Travancore stahed an armed rebellion during the Napoleonic Wars in Europe (1808). Although heavily commited to fighting Napoleon, the British helped put down the rebellion. The Travancore Kingdom came to have a high status as part of the British Raj. The king or maharaja was entitled to a 19-gun salute, the second highest honorific salute among the honorary gun salutes that were granted by the British Empire to honor the heads of the princely states. The Travancore Kingdom took arange of progressive steps aimed at modrnizing both society and the economy. The Kingdom wa considered by the British to be one of the best administed of the princely states. There were accomplishments in education, political administration, public work, and social reforms.


In the Travancore Kindom, lower class women were not allowed to wear clothes that covered their breasts. This convention continued into the British Raj and it disturbed the missionries (19th century). The Kingdom generally sided with the British in the various wars with their neigbors. Thus he British had considerabkle influence. During the Raj, substantial numbers of lower class people embraced Christianity. This provided a level of upward social mobility that was restricted by Hinduism. Christian women influenced by the missionaries wanted to cover their breasts. That caused a violent reaction among the majority Hindus. Colonel John Munro, British dewan in the Travancore court, issued an order granting permission to women converting to Christianity to cover theit tops (1813). In 1859, under pressure from Charles Trevelyan, the Madras Governor, the king of Travancore issued a law proclaiming the right for all low class women to cover their breasts (1859). It was still common in the early-20th century to see women going shirtless in Kerala.

Independence (1947)

As independence approached, Chithira Thirunal, the last king or maharaja of of Travancore, issued the Temple Entry Proclamation (1936). He abolished the ban on low-caste people entering Hindu Temples. C.P. Ramaswami Iyer, Chithiral's Prime Minister ordered a ruthless suppression of the Punnapra-Vayalar uprising organized by the Communists. After World War II, Britain announced plans to grant India independence which because of Muslim concerns necesitated at the same time the partition of the Raj. King Chithira decided to declare Travancore independent (June 18, 1947). The new Goverment of India was not going to accept the independence of the princely states. Tense negotitions followed between Diwan C. P. Ramaswami Iyer and the Indian Government representatives. Ultimaltet the King decided on joining the Indian Union (July 23, 1947). Travancore and India moved to accelerate union. The Communists attempted to assasitate the Diwan, hoping to seize power before union (July 25, 1947). Travancore and the princely state of Cochin merged forming the the Indian state of Travancore-Cochin (July 1, 1949). Later Travancore-Cochin joined with the Malabar district of the Madras State (modern Tamil Nadu) (November 1, 1956). This formed the modern state of Kerala.


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Created: 1:53 AM 5/13/2015
Last updated: 10:04 AM 5/7/2018