Open main menu

Marthanda Varma (born Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma; 1705 – 7 July 1758), known as the Maker of Modern Travancore, was ruler of the Indian state of Travancore (Venadu) from 1729 until his death in 1758.[2] He was succeeded by Rama Varma ("Dharma Raja") (1758–98).[3]

Marthanda Varma
King of Travancore
Marthanda Vurmah Maha Rajah.png
A depiction of Marthanda Varma in A History of Travancore from the Earliest Times (1878) by P. Shungoonny Menon
Reign1729 – 7 July 1758
PredecessorRama Varma
SuccessorRama Varma ("Dharma Raja")
BornAnizham Thirunal
Died7 July 1758 (aged 53)
Regnal name
Sri Padmanabhadasa Vanchipala Maharajah Sri Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma Kulasekhara Perumal
FatherRaghava Varma, Kilimanur Palace[1]
MotherKarthika Thirunal Uma Devi, Queen of Attingal[1]

Travancore under Marthanda Varma made a deliberate attempt to consolidate its power by the use of Indian Ocean trade.[3] In early 18th century, the kingdom desperately needed to keep external supply lines open and to build-up well-organised military machine. These schemes were put into practice by Marthanda Varma.[3]

Marthanda Varma is also known for crushing the Dutch imperials at the Battle of Colachel in 1741. He then adopted a European mode of discipline for his army and expanded his kingdom northward (to form what became the modern state of Travancore).[2] He built a sizeable standing army of about 50,000 men, reduced the power of the nobility (on which kings of Kerala had earlier been dependent for battles), and fortified the northern boundary of his kingdom (Travancore Lines).[3] His alliance in 1757 with the ruler of Kochi, against Kingdom of Calicut, enabled the kingdom of Kochi to survive.[2]

It was also the policy of Marthanda Varma to offer assistance to Syrian Christian traders as a means of limiting European involvement in ocean trade. The principal merchandise was black pepper, but other goods also came to be defined as royal monopoly items (requiring a license for trade).[3] Thiruvananthapuram (formerly Trivandrum) became a prominent city in Kerala under Marthanda Varma.[4] In January, 1750, Marthanda Varma decided to "donate" his realm to Sri Padmanabha (Vishnu) and thereafter rule as the deity's "vice-regent" (Sri Padmanabha Dasa).[5][6]

Marthanda Varma's policies were continued in large measure by his successor, Rama Varma ("Dharma Raja") (1758–98), who went on to successfully defend Travancore against the Kingdom of Mysore.[3]


Early lifeEdit

Marthanda Varma was born in 1705 to queen Karthika Thirunal, the Queen of Attingal, and Raghava Varma of Kilimanur Palace.[1] Queen Karthika Thirunal - an adoptee from northern Kolathunadu ruling family - was the senior queen of Attingal at the time.

At the time of Varma's birth, Trippappur Swaroopam (Thiruvithaamkoor) was a small chiefdom extending from Edava in the north to Aruvamozhi in the south. The power of the king was very weak, due to the influence of the local land lords (Ettuveetil Pillamar) and the barons (Matampimar). The powers of the ruler were also to a great extent curbed by the Council of Eight and a Half (Yogakkar), the managing committee of Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Thiruvananthapuram. The rivalries of European powers like the Dutch and the English made the situation more complex.[7][page needed]

According to 19th-century Travancore court historian P. Shungoonny Menon, the then 14-year-old Marthanda Varma advised chief Rama Varma that the latter should sign a treaty with the state of Madurai Nayaks in order to check the power of the nobles and other rebellious chieftains. It is also known that the prince advised the chief to sign a treaty with the English East India Company.[7]

Expansion of TravancoreEdit

Varma's reign was one of constant warfare, against opponents both inside and outside his territory.[8] After crushing the power of the Ettuveetil Pillamar,[clarification needed] Marthanda Varma turned his attention to the neighbouring petty chiefdoms. In 1731, the port of Kollam (Quilon) - which was ruled by a branch of Venad family to which Marthanda Varma also belonged - was defeated and its last chief was made to sign a treaty allowing the annexation of his chiefdom by Travancore after his death. The chief was brought to Trivandrum and lodged almost as a state prisoner in the Valikoikkal Palace. A contingent of Travancore army under Dalawa Arumukham Pillai was stationed at Kollam.[7]

Marthanda Varma next turned his attention towards the little chiefdom of Marta and seized it. The neighbouring chiefdom of Kayamkulam - sensing an imminent invasion by Travancore - soon allied itself with the Kochi, Purakkad and Vadakkumkur. The Kayamkulam chief was also successful in rescuing the Kollam chief from his Trivandrum prison. The allies built new fortification and strengthened their defences against the threat of Travancore. The Dutch East India Company also professed to support the war effort. The subsequent invasion of Marta by the Kayamkulam chief signalled the outbreak of the war. The Travancore army seized Nedumangadu and Kottarakkara and prevented the joined forces of Elayadathu and Kayamkulam. Travancore Prime Minister Ramayyan then lead an expeditionary force to capture the city of Kollam. But, he was forced to withdraw without accomplishing his mission.[7]

Having equipped their forces with the help of the French and the English Companies, Travancore renewed a military operation against the chief of Kollam. In the campaigns that ensued the ruler of Kayamkulam was killed (1734). But the defence of the Kollam continued under the leadership of the brother of the deceased chief and Travancore forces were forced to fall back once again.[7]

Travancore's next campaign was against Elayadathu Swaroopam (Kottarakara). When the chief of Kottarakara who was kept in solitary confinement in Trivandrum died in 1739 Marthanda Varma refused to recognise the claim of the senior female member to succession. The princess fled to Tekkumkur where the chief gave granted her asylum. At this juncture, the Dutch Governor of Ceylon Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff sensed an opportunity to involve further in the pepper politics of Kerala. In 1739 van Imhoff arrived in Kochi, took up the cause of the female ruler of Kottarakara and protested against the annexation of that chiefdom by Marthanda Varma in a meeting between the two. In 1741 the Dutch reinstated the female ruler of the Kottarakara against the wishes of Marthanda Varma, who attacked the chiefdom and defeated the combined Kottarakkara - Dutch forces before finally fully annexing the chiefdom to Travancore while the female ruler fled to Kochi.[7]

Battle of Colachel (1741)Edit

The chapel at Udayagiri Fort, Kanyakumari. Eustachius de Lannoy's tomb is located in the chapel cemetery

Travancore then launched a series of raids on the Dutch forts in the area and captured them all. In retaliation, a Dutch artillery force landed at Colachel from Sri Lanka and conquered up to Kottar. The Dutch forces then advanced against Kalkulam, Travancore's capital. Marthanda Varma, who was then in the north of his state promptly marched his forces to the south and arrived at Kalkulam just in time to prevent its fall to the Dutch.[7]

In the following battle at Colachel (10 August 1741), the Travancore forces won a resounding victory over the Dutch. More than twenty Dutch were taken as prisoners of war from Colachel. Among them was Eustachius de Lannoy, who attracted the king's special notice. Eustachius de Lannoy, commonly known in Travancore as the 'Valiya Kappittan' (Senior Captain) was entrusted with the organisation and drilling of a special regiment, which he did to the "entire satisfaction of the king". De Lannoy was raised to the rank of general in Travancore army and proved of considerable service to Marthanda Varma in subsequent battles.

Marthanda Varma realised that Dutch power in the region stemmed from their flourishing trade at the port of Kochi (Cochin). He set out to conquer the major spice-producing areas and seize the Kochi hinterland to deny the Dutch access to these trade goods. After declaring a state monopoly on pepper in Travancore in 1743, between then and 1752, the king annexed multiple spice-producing areas including Kollam, Kayamkulam, Thekkumkur, Vadakkumkur and Purakkad to Travancore thereby delivering a serious blow to the commerce of the Dutch.[9] A treaty was concluded between Marthanda Varma and the Dutch East India Company with both parties "agreeing to live in peace and friendship". It was signed at Mavelikkara on 15 August 1753.

Following the expulsion of the Dutch, Marthanda Varma now turned his attention once again towards Kayamkulam which continued to seek help from the Dutch. In 1742, Travancore forces attacked Kayamkulam possessions at Kollam and fought the Kayamkulam army led by Achuta Warrier and chiefs from Valiya Kakkanadu Madhom. Although Travancore was defeated at this battle, Marthanada Varma reinforced his army with cavalry brought in from Tirunelveli before mounting an attack on Kayamkulam, which led to the final defeat the chiefdom. A treaty known as the Treaty of Mannar was signed, under which Kayamkulam became a tributary state of Travancore. However, by 1746, the Kayamkulam chief once again showed signs of rebellion and when his conspiracies with the northern chiefdoms such as Kottayam, Changanassery, Kochi and Ambalapuzha came to the attention of Marthanda Varma, Kayamkulam was annexed by a final battle in which the chief fled to Kochi.[citation needed]

Thiruvithaamkoor now extended from Kanyakumari to Kayamkulam in the north. Following this, Ambalapuzha, Kottayam and Changanassery were also annexed to Travancore by 1753. The principality of Meenachil was also annexed. In 1753 the tributary states of Kochi collectively known as Karappuram and Alangad were ceded to Travancore. In 1755, the ruler of Kozhikode was also defeated at a battle in Purakkad. He was supported by the armies of some other local chiefs. This made almost all the chiefs of Kerala prostrate before the power of Marthanda Varma who was ably assisted in his military conquests by Ramayyan Dalawa, later prime minister (1737-1756) of Travancore.[10]


  • Use of maritime outlets: Marthanda Varma made a determined bid to consolidate his authority by the use of Indian Ocean spice trade.[11] The control of ocean trade was crucial for the statecraft of 18th century India.[11]
  • Royal monopoly: a number of commodities such as black pepper were defined as royal monopoly items. These items required a state license for trade in Travancore.[12]
  • Aristocracy: Marthanda Varma reduced the power of the aristocracy in Travancore. Kings of Kerala had earlier been dependent militarily on these powerful community of nobles.[13]
  • Patronage to Syrian Christians: To limit the Colonial involvement in trade, Marthanda Varma extended his patronage to the influential trading community.[12]
  • Period of Marthanda Varma also saw construction of a number of dams, channels and other irrigation projects.[14]
Krishnapuram Palace

Culture and religionEdit

Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum was re-created as the gigantic structure of today and new state ceremonies such Murajapam, Bhadra Deepam and others were introduced by Marthanda Varma. The main Vishnu idol of the shrine, which was mostly destroyed in a fire during his predecessor Rama Varma's time, was also re-constructed. He also created Ottakkal Mandapam as well as the Sheevelippura. Out of the seven floors of the temple gopura, five were finished during his reign.[15]

Thiruvananthapuram (formerly Trivandrum) became a prominent city in Kerala under Marthanda Varma.[4] As a result of the annexation of neighbouring chiefdoms, the artists and scholars from these places migrated to Trivandrum, turning it into a cultural centre. Marthanda Varma gave patronage to different temple art forms including Koothu, Padhakam, Kathakali, Thullal and Koodiyattam. Noted artists such as Ramapurathu Warrier and Kunchan Nambiar amongst others served as his court poets.[15]


In January, 1750, Marthanda Varma decided to "donate" his realm to Sri Padmanabha (Vishnu) and thereafter rule as the deity's "vice-regent" (Sri Padmanabha Dasa).[5][6]


Ramayyan Dalawa, prime minister and a close friend of Marthanda Varma, died in 1756. Marthada Varma died two years later in 1758.[16] He was succeeded by his nephew Rama Varma ("Dharma Raja").[3][16] Marthanda Varma's policies were continued in large measure by Dharma Raja (1758–98). He also went on to successfully defend Travancore against the aggression of the Kingdom of Mysore.[3]


  1. ^ a b c Mheshwari, S Uma. Thrippadidaanam. Mathrubhumi Books. pp. 41–53. ISBN 978-81-8265-947-6.
  2. ^ a b c "Kerala". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013 [1].
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "India". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013 [2].
  4. ^ a b "Thiruvananthapuram". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013 [3].
  5. ^ a b Chaitanya, =Krishna (1983). A History Of Indian Painting : Pahari Traditions. Abhinav Publications. p. 88. GGKEY:Y12G5FWSUHB.
  6. ^ a b Aswathy Thirunal, Gauri Lakshmi Bai (1998). Sree Padmanabhaswamy Kshetram. Thiruvananthapuram: The State Institute Of Languages, Kerala. pp. 168–170, 179–180, 595–602. ISBN 978-81-7638-028-7.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Menon, A. Sreedhara (2007). A Survey Of Kerala History. DC Books.
  8. ^ Kooiman, D. (1992). "State Formation in Travancore: Problems of revenue, trade and armament". In Heesterman, J. C.; Van den Hoek, Albert W.; Kolff, Dirk H. A.; Oort, M. S. Ritual, State, and History in South Asia: Essays in Honour of J. C. Heesterman. BRILL. p. 600. ISBN 978-9-00409-467-3.
  9. ^ Sharma, Yogesh (2010). Coastal Histories: Society and Ecology in Pre-modern India. Primus Books. pp. 83–84. ISBN 978-93-80607-00-9.
  10. ^ Menon, A. Sreedhara. A Survey Of Kerala History. pp. 224–228.
  11. ^ a b "India". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013 [4].
  12. ^ a b "India". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013 [5].
  13. ^ "India". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013 [6].
  14. ^ Menon, A. Shreedhara. A Survey Of Kerala History. pp. 225–227.
  15. ^ a b Gauri Lakshmi Bayi, Aswathi Thirunal (1998). Sreepadmanabhaswami Kshetram. Thiruvananthapuram: The State Institute Of Languages. pp. 152–168. ISBN 978-81-7638-028-7.
  16. ^ a b Gauri Lakshmi Bayi, Aswathi Thirunal (1998). Sreepadmanabhaswami Kshetram. Thiruvananthapuram: The State Institute Of Languages. pp. 178–179. ISBN 978-81-7638-028-7.
Marthanda Varma
Born: 1706 Died: 1758
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Rama Varma
(as King of Venadu)
King of Travancore
Succeeded by
Rama Varma (Dharma Raja)