Velu Thambi Dalava, India's early fiery freedom fighter from Kerala

Indian postal stamp.Mar 30,

Velu Thampi, a great patriot from

The southern part of India had a plethora of daring freedom fighters long before the first war of independence - War of independence (Sepoy mutiny) of 1857. Several regional rebellions against foreign rulers were staged prior to 1857, for example the uprisings of chieftain Veerapandya Kattabomman, Velu Nachiar, Marudu brothers of Tamil Nadu. Towards the end of 18th century and  the beginning of 19th century there were notable revolts in Kerala - Cochin, Malabar and Travancore.  Prince, Kerala Varma, Pazhassi Raja, Velu Thampi Dalava of Travancore  Paliath Achan of Cochin took the initiative and revolted against the British.  All these  revolts  were suppressed by the British and the rebels were hanged and left on the gibbet in public places to instill fear in the future rebels. This shameless act was counter productive and in its wake, the number of rebels multiplied and the natives were determined to put an end to unjust and oppressive rule. Velu Thampi's contribution in preserving the independence and sovereignty of his native soil  from foreign power was of immense value. Betrayals and intrigues might have facilitated his defeat against the foreigners, but his clarion call for freedom was an important event in pre - 1857 India.

Velayudhan Chempakaraman Thampi  alias Velu Tambi (1765–1809), son of Sri Kunjumayitti Pillai was the Dalawa  or Prime Minister  between 1802 and 1809 in the  Indian kingdom of Travancore under Maharajah Bala Rama Varma Kulasekhara Perumal. Because of their long  and close association with the ruler, the family had been honored with the  title  of Chempakaraman. Velu Thambi  was  born on 6 May 1765 in the village of Kalkulam, near Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu; it was formerly in  Travancore Princely  state. Beginning  his carrier as the  Tahsildar at Mavelikkara under the reign of Maharajah Bala Rama Varma, he  gradually grew in stature by dint of hard work, administrative ability and astute diplomacy. He was one of earliest rebels against the British   and their unjust interferences in the internal affairs  of local ruler, besides siphoning out a large sum of money from the king under the pretext of military assistance to put down the internal rebellions.
Statue of Velu Thampi Dalawa Secretariat, 
 Thiruvananthapuramen. Kerala.

Unfortunately the 16 year old young ruler, Bala Rama Varma was not popular as he was a mere puppet in the hands of corrupt nobleman Jayanthan Sankaran Nampoothiri from  the Zamorin of Calicut's kingdom. His rule saw the foul murder  of Raja Kesavadas, the Dewan of Travancore and his place was taken over by Jayanthan. Because of misrule and poor management  the  coffers in the treasury saw bottom dollars. To beef up the poor revenue and to tide over the financial constraints, the  Tahsildars were forced to deposit higher revenue irrespective of nature of income from their respective areas. Through the efforts of Velu Tampi, the corrupt Jayanthan Sankaran Nampoothiri was removed from dewanship and his associates were  punished later.

 Velu Thampi Dalawa's ancestral house,

Above image: Thalakulam Valiyaveedu. Velu Thampi Dalawa's ancestral house in Thalakulam. 200 years old, poorly maintained by the state government. Photo: Saraswathy Nagaraja. plan is underway to restore it. by the government........

With support from Madras Presidency, Velu Thambi took full control of the state and with extreme, sometimes inhuman  punishments - flogging, cutting of ears, etc., he eliminated corruption and misconduct in the government offices. As for public offenders, no mercy was shown to them. It is true his punishments were harsh and inhuman  and in about a year time peace and tranquility returned to the kingdom and the people gave a sigh of relief.  

He introduced popular reforms and saw to it the people's grievances  and needs were redressed. At the same time, he wanted to improve the quality of life of the people  living there, so, he paid  attention to social and civilian matters. He  built  schools at many places, roads and canals and judicial courts.  Primary education was made compulsory.  He introduced land tax based on gross yield.

Because of his  continuous harsh treatment of minor offenders and overbearing nature, a section of powerful  people did not  like him and, at one point of time with approval from the ruler, they  wanted to eliminate Velu Thambi. While  at Alleppy, upon hearing the conspiracy,  he  sought the help of Major Macaulay, British Resident at Cochin. With his help and a small army he went back to Trivandram and put down the rebels. The conspirator Kunjunilam Pillai  under whose instigation the Maharajah signed an order to eliminate Velu Thambi, was punished accordingly. Thus Velu Thambi regained his power and status.

The treaty with the EIC signed by Maharajah Dharma Raja Rama Varma in 1795 was revised in 1805. The treaty stipulated more British  Indian troops stationed in Travancore to quell external and internal threats for consideration in the form of annual tribute. That time the financial position of the state was precarious. Unhappy as he was about the poor financial situation,  Velu Thambi proposed to reduce the size of army and lower the salary of soldiers  in order to improve the revenue. So, the helpful Nair army had to be disbanded. The army  mainly made of Nair caste  revolted against this new move. When the situation went beyond control,  he again approached Macaulay for help and later the revolt was successfully put down.  However Macaulay demanded more money as tribute for maintaining the British India army and for helping Velu Thampi to put down the Nair rebellion against him.  

Velu Thambi was dead against the British officer putting his nose into the internal matters  of  the kingdom. At one stage, the Maharani  Arumana Amma, a noble woman  spoke to Velu  and revealed the palace truth that the British resident and the ruler himself wanted to remove Velu Thambi for good. Never knowing the financial trap set by the British, the ruler wanted to retain his royal status, titles and money power. Whereas, for the British hawks, elimination of Velu Thambi would   pave the way  for almost total control  over the kingdom directly. 

At Kundara on January 11,1809, Velu Thambi  made a fiery  proclamation (called Kundara proclamation) against the British, their atrocities and their motive to take over the kingdom. He asked the people to take to arms against the British and drive them out. His eloquence and emotional speech impacted  the natives and they rose against the foreigners in unison.

Velu Thambis' several encounters with the British did not succeed because they had better artillery power, strategies  and back up in the form of reinforcement.  At one point,  the resident and Dewan  Kunju Krishna Menon escaped from  Bolghatty Palace. In a fierce battle on January 15, 1809 between the British and Velu Thambi, at last Velu had to withdraw  and flee to Trivandrum because of betrayal  by a section in his huge army. His brave fighting  against the enemies  was of no avail. In many battles against the British, treachery and treason,  among the Indian troops were a menace. The Maharajah himself turned against the rebellion and the Nair forces were defeated.  After the fall of Padmanabapuram fort and Udayagiri, the valiant Nair forces lost their morale and left for home. Chased by the Maharajah' troops,  at last Velu Thambi  was caught near Bhagavati temple at Mannadi.

Wishing not be taken alive by the ruler's troops and be  executed,  Velu Thambi went inside the temple and committed suicide. His body was moved over to Trivandrum and  exposed on the gibbet on the Kannammoola hill - a despicable act. The British failed to respect a  dead man who had held powerful positions in the kingdom.

As a mark of respect and honor of a great patriot and son of the soil, the  Kerala  government built  a memorial of Velu Thampi Dalawa, a research center, a museum, a park and a statue at Mannadi near Adoor. A lasting tribute to a man of valor and wisdom who fought the British till his last breadth.
Come  January 11, 2016  will  mark the 207th anniversary of the Kundara Vilambaram, very first call of revolt against wily British made by Velu Thambi.