Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Travancore Cochin State Forces

Lt.Colonel Mohanlal receiving a memento from Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma


The latest news on the renowned Malayalam actor Mohanlal commissioned to the Madras Regiment of the Territorial Army as Lt.Colonel and his visit to the Kowdiar Palace to pay tributes to the erstwhile ruling family of Travancore has evoked considerable interest about the military past of this state.

Travancore and Cochin were larger princely states in the south, besides Mysore which maintained independent armed forces. Two Travancore infantry battalions were integrated into Madras regiment after the states merged with the Indian union and were called 9th (Travancore) and 16th (Travancore) battalions of the Madras regiment. Likewise the Cochin battalion became the 17th (Cochin) under MR.

Major-General Sri Chithira Tirunal H.H. Maharaja Bala Rama Varma of Travancore, GCSI, GCIE was the Col-in-Chief of Travancore State forces from 1924-1949 and of the Travancore-Cochin State Forces for the period 1949-1954.

The military history of Travancore is quite interesting.

Though the birth of the Nair Militia could be traced to the beginning of the 11th century due to the socio economic conditions of the times, the army on modern lines evolved only during the dawn of the 18th century.

The 9th (Travancore) battalion was raised in 1704 at Padmanabhapuram (now in Kalkulam taluk of Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu) as Travancore Nayar Infantry to be the personal bodyguards of the Maharajah Ravi Varma (r.1684-1718). It was on the forefront of the Colachel war of 1741 in which the Dutch were completely defeated by Maharaja Anizham Tirunal Marthanda Varma (r.1729-58), the founder of modern Travancore. Captain Eustachius De Lannoy, who was captured as a Prisoner of War in the famous Battle of Colachel was appointed by Marthanda Varma as the Senior Admiral (Valiya Kappithan) and he modernized the Travancore army by introducing firearms and artillery. From 1741 to 1758, De Lannoy was in command of the Travancore Forces and he was involved in annexation of many small principalities like Vadakkumkur, Thekkumkur, Kottarakara Kayamkulam Ambalapuzha, Kottayam,Changanacherry,Meenachil and Karappuram for the Maharajah.

Raja Kesavadas was the Diwan of Travancore (1788-98) under Dharma Raja and he contributed sizably to the modernization the Travancore army by procuring weapons from the Carnatic Nawabs, the Dutch and the English. He increased the number of European officers in the army and ensured the support of the British.

The Mysore invasions towards the end of the 18th century had definite effects on the military organization of Travancore. In 1795, a treaty was entered between the HEIC and the Rajah of Travancore on mercantile affairs and the defence of the country.

In 1817, J.Munro, Resident of Travancore took initiatives to form a disciplined Nair brigade assisted by Captains Mc Leod, Daly and Sheridan. The first and second battalions of the brigade had enlisted 1000 Sepoys each.

A report by Subedar Major Kumaran Thampi of the Nair Brigade dated 27th April 1854 regarding the Militia of Travancore –both ancient and modern- makes interesting reading and can be seen in the book “Socio Economic background of the Military history of Travancore “ by Dr.Krishnan Nadar, which was his PhD thesis .

In 1935, the Travancore State joined the Indian State Forces Scheme and the battalion was named 1st Travancore Nayar Infantry, Travancore State Forces. The unit was reorganized as an Indian State Infantry Battalion by Lieutenant Colonel H S Stewart who was appointed Commandant of the Travancore State Forces. In 1940, the battalion left for Padmanabhapuram and arrived at Military Station, Cannanore. The battalion served overseas in the 1940s. In 1945, Major General Parameshwaran Pillai was appointed GOC, Travancore State Forces. In the same year, the unit was asked to move to South East Asian Command. In Hong Kong, the unit was assigned the task of guarding Japanese prisoners of war, airfields and docks. It also looked after the repatriation of POWs to Japan. The unit left Hong Kong, disembarked at Madras and arrived at Trivandrum on 31 January 1947 (http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/ARMY/Regiments/9Madras.html)
The 16th (Travancore) battalion was raised in 1819 as the Travancore Nayar Infantry during the reign of Gowri Parvathi Bayi (r.1815-29)

The 17th (Cochin) battalion traces the origin to the Perumpadappu dynasty from the 15th century and is one of the oldest units. It came to be known as Nayar brigade with strength of 10 officers and 400 men with its function restricted as ceremonial guards at the Palace. It was reorganized as Cochin State force during WW II with one infantry battalion and one garrison company.

Shown below is the photo of the India Service Medal (1939-45), awarded to a Sepoy of the Travancore Cochin State Forces. This medal was instituted in 1945 and awarded to the Indian forces for three years' of non operational service in India


India Service Medal awarded to

1909, Sepoy Narayanan Asari
Travancore Cochin State Forces.
(From the collections of Murali)


Palakkad, South India,28th July 2009.