Friday, October 23, 2009

Travancore connection to the Second Anglo-Afghan War


I was amused to see a news item in an English daily about Indians now joining the British Army to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. They are entitled to sign up as Commonwealth nationals. It is further informed that there were more than 80 Indians in the British army as of March 2009 which obviously may have increased considerably by now.

The report says that Sharat S. Mulchandi, 18, from Karnataka, is undergoing army cadet training at home and plans to join a British infantry regiment when he flies into the UK. 'Pakistan is a breeding ground for terrorists, it's dangerous for India. We will never forget what the fanatics did last year in Mumbai,' The Sunday Express quoted, him, as saying.

Afghanistan and adjoining areas had always been a constant problem for the British Empire over centuries. By 1877, the British in their quest for expanding the empire had grown very suspicious of Russia, which encroached on to its north-west Indian border. The British preferred a friendly Amir in Afghanistan as it was a buffer zone to the British territory. In 1878, the Amir, Sher Ali Khan, was opposed to accept British influence and was inclined towards the Russians. While a Russian mission was invited to Kabul, he refused a mission from the British and denied entry to General Sir Neville Chamberlain. Thereupon, the British decided to invade Afghanistan and the conflict is known as the second Anglo-Afghan war (1878-79). Though none of the contestants could be said to have won the war, the British forces emerged victorious in many encounters. However, they failed to install a British ambassador at Kabul but crowned an Amir who was acceptable to their Asian interests

The then viceroy in India, Lord Lytton, of course sought financial and military help from the ruling princes of India who wholeheartedly gave the support by offering to send contingents of their state forces for the Afghanistan campaign.

Travancore too jumped the bandwagon as proved through the following letter dated 13th November 1878, addressed to Mr.J.C. Hannyngton, the acting resident by the then Diwan Nanoo Pillay on behalf of Ayilyam Thirunal Rama Varma Maharajah (1860–80).

Ayilyam Thirunal


My dear Sir,

On an occasion like this when a misguided frontier chieftain is disposed to treat with untimely the friendship of the British government which other princes have learned from the experience of years to value of their tower of strength and source of peace and prosperity to their states His Highness the Maharajah feel it His duty to express to His Excellency the Viceroy through proper channel the feelings of distress and pain with which he regards the conduct of the Amir. Such an expression of feelings on the part of the princes while assuring His Excellency of the devoted loyalty and readiness to rally round the imperial throne, should the need arise, may be of use also in dispelling hopes which any designing power may have been deluded into building on their weakness of their allegiance.

His Highness deeply regrets the infatuation which leads the Amir into a contest with a power like the British and hopes the deluded prince may yet appreciate the forbearance which in the confidence of their strength they are extending to him to bring him to reason. But, should a war be necessary to maintain the dignity of the Empire and the complications arise which may require its resources to be supplemented His Highness the Maharajah will only be too glad to have the opportunity of proving his fidelity to this ancient alliance by aiding to the best of his means in any direction in which His Excellency the Viceroy may be please to command feeling that His Highness’ interests are bound up by the stability and honour of the Empire.

Taken under the powerful protection of Her Most Gracious Majesty it has not been necessary for His Highness to maintain a large military force, but such as our Nair brigade is, a Contingent could always be held ready for service under the British flag. His Highness has just learned with much gratification from Major Caulfield the Commandant that the men have volunteered for such service. The British subsidiary force located in the State also could be withdrawn if necessary till peace is restored.

I am commanded to request you to be so kind as to convey the purport of this communication to His Excellency the Viceroy in the most acceptable manner with the expression of His Highness’ sentiments of high consideration and respect.

I remain,
Sd/ N.Nanoo Pillai

J.C.Hannyngton Esq.,
Acting British Resident.

Ref: Archives of the Government of Kerala)

Though many Madras Native Infantry regiments (4th, 11th, 25th and 30th) participated in the campaign with distinction, my searches reveal that the Nair Brigade –one among the Madras Infantry regiments- did not march to Afghanistan.

Afghan campaign Medal (1878-80)
Private Puckajeerao Chowan of 5th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry
From the medal collections of Murali


Diwan Nanoo Pillay(1877-80) served Travancore under Ayilyam Thirunal Rama Varma Maharajah (1860–80). He was a consummate administrator and served the Maharajah during the times of his troubled relations with his brother in law , Kerala Kalidasa Kerala Varma Valia Koil Thampuran who had to be subjected to confinement at home for a period. Diwan Nanoo Pillay handled the issue admirably and diplomatically when the Ranee- Maharajah’s sister – created a scene at the Palace objecting the Valia Koil Thampuran, her husband, being taken away by the police for home confinement at Mavelikkara.

John Child Hannyngton I.C.S, British Resident at the courts of Travancore and Cochin was a Sanskrit scholar and expert on Malayali culture. Apparently he had married from India. His Anglo-Indian grandchild EK Janaki Ammal was the first woman to gain a PhD in Botany in the United States; in 1938. She later became Professor of History at Madras and was the first Director of the Central Botanical Institute, Lucknow. She was also the founder of ethno-botany in India.

As Resident, Hannyngton was signatory to the Periyar Lake lease agreement dated 1st Jan 1886, between the Maharajah of Travancore and the British Government . Interestingly, the lease was for 999 years!

Incidentally, Ram a reader writes to me the following as a comment about my post “Some Royal Correspondence” in which I had mentioned Hannyngton. “I have been reading your most interesting and well written blogs on your ancestors. John Child Hannyngton, who was the resident (4 times), stationed at Travancore, and who is mentioned by you, is my ancestor, I have his letters written to my great grand father E.K.Krishnan with me.”

Shom also wrote thus: Interesting, especially the Hannyngton part. We are Indian descendants of his sojourn in Tellicherry: Acting Judge of Small Cause Court, Tellicherry. 1867: Sub-Collector, Bellary; Acting Collector and Magistrate, Malabar; Judge of Small Cause Court, Tellicherry. 1868: Acting Civil and Sessions Judge, Tellicherry; afterwards at Calicut. 1869

I presume that Ram and Shom are blood related.

Dubai, 23rd October 2009.


agp said...

Nice post. I was under the impression that the Anglo-Indians are offsprings of Europeans with christian women of Indian origin. But your post reveals that there were marital relationships between Europeans and Hindu women and the children from such communion followed Hindu religion(at least in their names) . An interesting topic for further research.

Anonymous said...

interesting article. However a correction wrto Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Thampuran: He was first imprisoned for two years until 1877 at the prison in Alappuzha. It was only later, on the entreaties of his mother, Pooramnnal Deviamba Thampuratti, that the Maharajah allowed him to be kept under house arrest at Harippad, not Mavelikkara.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you, agp. As you rightly observed, I too had this general misconception. However, the incidences of Europeans marrying Hindu women, and the offsprings sticking on to hinduism were noticeably less.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you, Manu for the comment and for correcting me. I knew that he was under house arrest in Ananthapuram palace at Harippad and mentioning it as Mavelikkara was an oversight. But,your clarification about the imprisonment at Alleppey is informative as I have not read much into it.

Maddy said...

Very interesting indeed, when some knowledgeable readers tie loose ends up, it becomes complete, like the reader who commented on how the ettuveetil pillamar and Pantalayani kollam are connected!!

Anonymous said...

Yes he was first treated as a state prisoner, the Maharajahs decision being ratified by the British government. He was actually involved in a conspiracy, with Visakham Thirunal and Dewan Madhava Das, against the Maharajah. Ayilyam Thirunal could not arrest his brother. He also couldnt mete out a severe punishment to the Dewan for he was popular in Madras. So he vented out all his anger on Kerala Varma. Visakham Thirunal famously made up with his brother only a week before he died. But the Maharajah was clear in that till his last breath Kerala Varma should not set foot in Trivandrum. Coming back to the actual imprisonment, he was first allowed to remain in Trivandrum "at Poojapura or Maduvankunnu" and permitted to meet the Rani once a week. When a letter by him against the Maharajah was discovered, he was sent to jail for conspiracy and then Harippad etc etc.

Anonymous said...

I just clarified my information: Kerala Varma was not in a government prison. He was confined in Alleppey Palace, an old building constructed by Rajah Kesava Das in the late 18th century. Confinement was solitary and although he was in a palace, all the indignities meted out to common prisoners was accorded him as well. Very often even the food for him was consumed by the jailer and so general conditions were very bad.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thanks, Maddy. You are absolutely right. Readers with scholarly information and interesting observation can add much to tie various loose ends and to bring out the truth.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear Manu,Your recordings are correct. Now, I remember the malayalam book, Keralavarma Devan , a brilliant biography of the great man written by P.K. Parameswaran Nair an equally adept scholar. This book has detailed accounts of the circumstances that led to the imprisonment of Kerala Varma.

I must thank you specially for the information contained in your last noting.

kind regards,

AWomanFromKerala said...

I stumbled on this blog and was surprised and proud to read this letter. Diwan Nanoo Pillai was my grandmother's grandfather which of course makes him my great great grandfather. I have a photograph of his painting in my bedroom. Thank you for this posting. I feel so proud to be his great grand daughter!

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you Mrs.Rukmini Pillai. I appreciate your comments and am happy to note that you are the great great grand daughter of the great Diwan Nanoo Pillay.If you have not already read the book, Kerala Varma Devan, a biography of Kerala Varma Valia koil Thampuran by the scholar PK Parameswaran Nair, you may please read it. It gives the vivid account of Diwan Nanoo Pillay's dexterous handling of the incident involving the deportation of the koil thampuran from the palace under the Maharajah's orders.

Apart, I am quite appreciative of your blog and about the stellar services in which you involve wholeheartedly for the society.

with kindest regards,

Murali RamaVarma said...

Mrs.Rukmini Pillai: Could you be so kind as to send me a scan of the painting of Diwan Nanoo Pillay?

kind regards,

AWomanFromKerala said...

Mr Murali Rama Varma,
Thank you for letting me know about the book ‘Kerala Varma Devan’ and for the kind words of appreciation for my blog. I have sent a copy of the photograph of the painting of my great great grandfather Diwan Nanoo Pillai along with some photographs of his home in Neyyoor, the family temple where he email.
with regards, Rukmini Pillai

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you, Mrs.Pillai for very kindly forwarding the photographs which I value very much. With hearty new year greetings,

ഒരു മലയാളി said...


Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear Malayali,

Devan Padmanabhan was appointed the Diwan of Travancore by Ranee Lakshmi Bayee on the 15th of Mithunam month ME 989. I shall send a copy of the Royal Decree to your email address.

Unfortunately, I have not seen a painting of his. As you know, photography came much later.

kind regards,

ഒരു മലയാളി said...

Dear Murali Rama Varam,
I hope you are well, if you could send me a copy of Royal Decree then I will be very proud to have as am his offspring

Thanks & Regards

ഒരു മലയാളി

Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear Malayali,

I am delighted to know of your connection to the former Diwan. Please advise me your email address to send you the copy of the royal decree along with some other details of Devan Padmanabhan,who was a friend of Col. Munro.

kind regards,

ഒരു മലയാളി said...

Dear Sir

My email id is,eagerly waiting for Royal Decree

with love

Kiran Prasad Nair

chatachi said...

Dr V Sankaran Nair
We could gather valuable information about Dewan Nanoo Pillai, from the biography authored by K.R. Elankath.
The house in which he lived in Neyyoor is similar to the one found in Talakkulam, preserved in memory of Dewan Veluthampi. The neyyoor house is in a dilapidated condition. I am using this opportunity to appeal every one concerned to rescue this house from demolition. Only a unified attempt of all concerned can save this unique house from destruction.

Notre Dame Cathedral and my visit of 2006

It was with much agony that I read about the devastating fire at the famed Notre Dame cathedral and the damages thereof. To me, the Notre...