The Dutch, at the point of time they tried to gain a military foothold in India, were one of the most powerful colonial entities in the world. However, comparing with how they fared in India military makes one wonder what exactly went wrong with us Indians. The Dutch, unlike the Portuguese, were not able to make heavy inroads into India and just attempted to step into their shoes – those who saw the Portuguese were more wary and ready of the Dutch. The complete enterprise of the Dutch in Malabar can be viewed through the prism of just two battles – Breaking of the Fortifications of Pappanivattam and the Battle of Colachel. Both of them are actually a climax of their attempts to secure the pepper supply routes to Cochin and Kayamkulam.
Dutch entered Malabar in 1604. Seeing their potential use in crushing the Portuguese, the Zamorin of Calicut gave them permission to build a fort at Ponnani. The Dutch, however, avoided conflict till 1661 where they helped the Zamorin take Palliport and Cranganore. However, they left before the conclusion of the action. Before leaving, they made a pact with the Zamorin to have a monopoly on pepper trade and help Zamorin get Cranganore and other areas. In 1663, without the help of the Dutch, the Zamorin took the Portuguese fort of Cochin ending their enterprise in the Malabar. Now, the Dutch showed their true colours. They identified that it’s easier to step into the shoes of the Portuguese than to honour the pact with the Zamorin.
They took the side of the Cochin and refused to cede Vaipin and Cranganore. After a Dutch raid on Thiruvanchikulam in 1664, the Zamorin escalated it into a full blown war by 1666. Dutch lost Cranganore in 1670, Dutch got it back in 1673 and peace was confirmed in 1678. The Dutch are not to stay idle and this time, by placing an unpopular person on the Cochin throne in 1691, they tried to create a rupture between Calicut and Cochin but seeing the situation out of control with an open rebellion against their protégé, the Dutch went to the Zamorin to salvage the show. In 1701, the king died and the new one on the throne declared to be crowned in the ancestral crowning area of Calicut, which is under Calicut. The Dutch supported him. The result was another Calicut invasion the next year. By 1707, Kodasseri was taken and by 1710, Chetwai with terrible losses to the Dutch. In 1716, the Dutch attempted to take the Calicut front lines at Pappinivattam but failed. A relief force was summoned from Batavia and with it’s help, Pappinivattam was taken and the Dutch advanced till Urakam where they called for Zamorin’s surrender with the terms being surrender of Pappinivattam and Chetwai, dismissal of the field commander and expulsion of the British.
In spite of this victory, their position was tenuous and they, generally played a moderating role on Cochin except for the Dutch support to Valluvanad where the Dutch forces were crushed at Inamakkal in 1752 and everything ceded to the Dutch was taken.
The formal meaninglessness of Dutch position came during Martanda Varma’s invasion of Cochin – Cochin asked for Calicut and Dutch help and the Dutch refused to interfere because Martanda Varma also crushed the Dutch.
The Dutch interference in Travancore affairs started, ironically, as a supporter of Cochin in the war between Quilon and Travancore. Quilon, without consulting Travancore, adopted a Princess of Kayamkulam in 1731. Martanda Varma, seeing it as a military alliance against him, invaded Travancore. Quilon was annexed and the king was kept as prisoner in Trivandrum with the Kayamkulam adoption cancelled. The king of Kayamkulam asked Cochin to help him in this fight against Travancore. Parallel to this, he connived with the arrested king of Quilon to escape. Quilon was put under siege but to no avail. There was a counter invasion with Kayamkulam invading Kallada and Mavelikara. Travancore responded by invading both Quilon and Kayamkulam simultaneously in 1734. The king of Kayamkulam was killed leading his army but his brother who succeeded him conducted the defence with vigour. Understanding that Cochin and the Dutch are not coming to his help, the king sued for peace.
At the moment, the king of Quilon passed away. The Dutch jumped in, at this point of time, supporting the claim of the king of Kayamkulam for the Quilon throne based on the nullified adoption of 1731. The Dutch Governor based at Cochin asked Martanda Varma to stop all aggression against Kayamkulam and Quilon, which Martanda Varma didn’t bother to heed. The Dutch Governor of Ceylon visited the area to investigate and sent a report to Batavia in 1739 stating Martanda Varma is becoming too powerful to be comfortable and that he should be cut to size to maintain a balance of power. In defiance to Martanda Varma, in 1741, they installed the Crown Princess on the throne of Elayadathu which Martanda Varma annexed to Trivandrum fearing mis-governance after the demise of the previous king. The Travancorean invasion was a complete disaster for the Dutch enterprise and the Princess of Elayadathu escaped to Cochin. All the Dutch forts in Travancore were then taken. The king, then, turned his eyes towards Kayamkulam. Watching for the opportunity, the Dutch invaded from Ceylon, marching till Ernaiel. All lands between Colachel and Kottar fell to the Dutch and Padmanabhapuram was threatened. The king rushed to Padmanabhapuram and pushed the the Dutch back. In the famous stand off at Colachel, the Dutch were completely defeated without much effort on 31 July 1741. Formal peace was concluded by 1748. It’s a different thing altogether that the field commander of the Dutch, had to switch sides and help modernize the Travancorean army in order to avoid imprisonment.
The king, then, moved North to conclude the action which he was forced to call off due to the Dutch threat in the South. In 1742, the combined forces of Kayamkulam and the Dutch successfully prevented the Travancorean army from taking the Dutch Fort of Quilon. Reinvigorated by this success, the Kayamkulam Raja laid siege to Killimanur only to be defeated again by the Travancorean forces. The badly bruised Dutch and Kayamkulam forces retreated back to Quilon. Within days, Kayamkulam itself fell and was forced into vassalage. The king of Quilon, now, conspired with the Dutch and challenged Travancore in battle, only to have his kingdom annexed. Next fell Kayamkulam and Ampalapuzha, ending the Dutch enterprise in Travancore. This was formalized by the Treaty of Mavelikkara.
And with Calicut and Travancore breathing down the neck of the Dutch from opposite directions, there is nothing much left for them, except to become a truly business enterprise before selling of their stake in India to the British and vacating the country in 1825.
All this is a very interesting read. But, that’s not what I am interested at - I am interested at the distances. The major marches in these military enterprises are Pappinivattam to Urakam(20 km), Quilon to Killimanur(40 km – field advance, may be 25 km) and Colachel to Padmanabhapuram(15 km). Are we seriously saying the Dutch were able to march no more than 20-30 km in spite of receiving reinforcements from all over Asia? Another important fact is Martanda Varma’s army was able to cover the distance from Quilon(135 km) to the succour of Padmanabhapuram before the Dutch were able to achieve anything meaningful. The Portuguese were almost in the same state and the British and French are not much different. So, what exactly happened because of which these military non-entities occupied India and ruled for more than 150 years?