Rama Varma Sakthan Thampuran (1751 - 1805)

Sakthan Thampuran was born in 1751, in the Vellarapilly Vadakke Kovilakam to Ambika Thampuran and Chendose Aniyan Namboodiri. Ambika Thampuran died soon after, leaving behind her three-year old son, and Chittamma Thampuran assumed her role as the mother to the young boy, giving him the pet name, 'Sakthan'.

In 1715, the Raja of Cochin, Rama Varma, adopted from the Chazhiyur Family that he belonged to, two girls - aged twelve and six - as the Princesses, and Veera Kerala Varma and Ravi Varma as the fifth and sixth Princes of the Cochin Royal Family. From the youngest Princess, a continuous Matrilineal line of inheritance can be traced to the present day. In other words, she is the sole female ancestor of the present Cochin Royal Family members. The famous Raja, Sakthan Thampuran, was the first grandson of this known ancestor. Sakthan Thampuran’s maternal aunt or Chittamma had two daughters and a granddaughter known as, Ikkavu Thampuran. Ikkavu Thampuran had four daughters and these daughters’ lineage is the foundation for the four thavazhis of the Cochin Royal Family as we know of it now.

Around the period of Sakthan Thampuran's birth, the Cochin Royal Family consisted of Raja Rama Varma who died in 1763, Elaya Raja who died as Raja Rama Varma in 1775, and the First Prince Kerala Varma who died in 1790 as the Raja. There were two female Thampurans also, one being Chittamma Thampuran. This period of time has been covered very vividly and elaborately by Puthezhath Rama Menon in his book ‘Sakthan Thampuran’, which was first published in 1942. A brief, but authoritative, account on the same period of time in history, was also given by C. Achyutha Menon in his book, the ‘Cochin State Manual’. Both these authors were able to review and summarize the records that are available, even now, in the Dutch Archives, the British Archives and in the Madras Archives.         During the time of Sakthan Thampuran’s childhood, the fortunes of the Cochin State were at its lowest ebb. Consolidation of power in Travancore, the territorial expansion going on under the leadership of King Marthanda Varma from 1730 to 1740, the waning influence of the Dutch and the final large-scale invasion of the Zamorin had dwindled the fortunes of Cochin to an all-time low. A new treaty with Travancore in 1760, instigated and enabled by the Minister of Cochin, Paliath Komi Achan II, facilitated the defeat of the Zamorin once and for all, after centuries of intermittent war between the two perennial contenders since the time of Cheraman Perumal.

Co-operation between Travancore and Cochin resulted in the construction of ‘Nedumkotta’, also called the ‘Travancore Lines’, to ward off invasion from the north. The 1760s and 1770s were dominated by Hyder Ali Khan who invaded and ruled over Malabar and parts of Cochin. In 1766, when Sakthan Thampuran was the de jure Elaya Raja, but still de facto, which resulted in Cochin having to yield to Hyder Ali Khan without a struggle.         In 1769, Sakthan was asked to take charge of Cochin at the recommendation of Raja Rama Varma of Travancore, Adrian Van Moen - the Dutch Governor and Paliath Komi Achan, with the consent of the ailing Cochin Raja. Sakthan was only 18 years old then.  Hyder Ali Khan and his successor Tippu Sultan, treated Cochin with friendly consideration. Cochin had to pay a yearly tribute of 25 per cent of the revenue. Sakthan’s political and diplomatic skills proved to be of significant value in inducing Tippu to maintaining a friendly relationship with Cochin. Of course, the designs Tippu had against Travancore was a major deciding factor. Several letters were exchanged between Sakthan and Tippu. They also had multiple conferences in Palghat. Sakthan suggested the ingenious plan of Tippu sending emissaries directly to the Travancore Court for making Travancore a tributary of Mysore. Travancore replied that they were affiliated with the English East India Company, and hence it was impossible to be a tributary of Tippu Sultan. Tippu’s persecution and atrocities in Malabar eventually convinced Sakthan Thampuran to seek an alliance with the English East India Company.

The Powney Treaty was signed only after the English declared war against Tippu. The treaty, which was composed of 9 articles, was signed on the 6th of January, 1791. The salient points were :   1. The Company will recover the possessions and territories under the Sultan, which were wrested from the Raja.   2. The Raja, while in possession of these territories, will become a tributary to the United English East India Company by paying a tribute.   3. The Raja shall exercise complete and unconditional authority over the territory, under the acknowledged sovereignty of the English East India Company.

Sakthan Thampuran was thus invested with all that sovereign power and ruled Cochin with an iron hand, very similar to the rule of Marthanda Varma. He was a prolific letter writer and wrote several letters to the Dutch authorities, the Governor of Bombay, Jonathan Duncan and Tippu Sultan. In 1998, the Kerala State Archives published the Bulletin, a compilation of many of his letters on various issues, written to various recipients.  In addition, there are hundreds of letters written to the Dutch authorities, many of them unpublished. A few samples have been presented here :

1. Excerpt of the letter from the Raja of Cochin to Governor Van Angellbeck received on the 30th of December, 1790. 'As we are, at present, in want of some money, we have apprised you of our desire to take it from the Canarin Pagoda since there was an agreement made in the year Kollam 947 M.S.A.D, 1772, between our ancestor and Governor Moens that we should not impose upon the Canareens any new orders or Taxes which may be contrary to former usage and especially not to take any money from the Pagoda neither to appoint its Elders or Priests nor to dismiss them without the consent of the Honourable Company, we therefore request you, in these extraordinary circumstances as we were obliged to incur heavy expenses for the protection of our country against Tippu Sultan, having experienced considerable loss by the late invasion of his troops, to assist us and to grant the Company’s consent that the Canareen Pagoda contribute a reasonable sum of money towards it, and we do hereby further promise not to demand in future any more money from the Pagoda and to act towards the same and the further arrangements, as are already stipulated.' In the margin was impressed the Seal of His Highness.
[Translated from the Dutch copies.]

2. Excerpt from Sakthan Thampuran’s letter to Prince Orange, the main Stratholder in 1790, currently archived in the Dutch Palace Library, Den Haag, Netherlands. [Copied from the original in May 2006.] 'Salutation from Rama Varma, the most senior Raja of Perumpadappu to the most famous Prince Orange Highness. On the basis of the long standing trust, relationship and co-operation between the Hon. Dutch Company and the ancestors of our Swaroopam, we want to intimate you about our troubles and related difficulties and make the Commissioners aware of the same. You must have realized from letters, the plight of the people in Fort Cochin who are under the jurisdiction of the Dutch. I believe that you, of kingly demeanour, endowed with truth, respect, intelligence and strength, would wish our Swaroopam to keep our territories and position and to enable that you would send warships and arms to the Malayalam Coast. I pray that our relationship and mutual trust will increase day by day and I await a reply with news and hope you are enjoying good health and happiness. Wishing you a long life.' [Signed and Sealed]

3. Letter received from Jonathan Duncan, the Governor of Bombay.

[Several letters were exchanged by Sakthan and Duncan, the latter in the role of Governor of Bombay and later as a Commissioner before giving back the territories under Mysore to the Cochin State.] Letter from the Honourable Governor of Bombay, Jonathan Duncan to the Raja of Cochin. Dated the 9th of April, 1800 or 29th Menom 975 M.S. 'Four letters under your Seal have since my last to you, by General Stuart, reached me, and though contrary to the Usage and practice observed, by all the Princes of India in their correspondence with the British Government, neither the date nor even your signature is affixed to those letters; I shall nevertheless in the present instance, waive this informality; as I sincerely wish, to convince you, not only of the impartiality, the candid intentions and generous proceedings of this Government towards you, but also of the erroneous motives, and ill-grounded apprehensions, that I have reason to suspect, have principally influenced your conduct in your late attempts to make several manifest encroachments upon the ascertained rights of Government, premising, that, in the same manner, as it is beneath the dignity of a Prince of your caste and descent to assert claims against the clear tenor of solemn treaties.
  The next object, immediately connected to the foregoing, is your attempt to send out vessels without passports from the Fort, and without manifesting the cargo or paying customs for it, which you still presume to defend in your letters to me; to which I can only observe, that no such privilege was granted, or guaranteed to you in any treaty, your ancestors made with the Dutch Government.'
  [Duncan’s letter was a typical representation of how the British Administrators wrote memoranda and letters. Long sentences with punctuations galore and strict formality was the style back then.]

Sakthan Thampuran was getting used to dealing with the British, who were very different from the Dutch. He was well-versed in various of the previous treaties and was always willing to argue in favor of his point of contention. The numerous arguments he put up against Jonathan Duncan and the latter’s counterpoints are interesting reads. Ultimately, he was sincere in his compliments about Duncan, for his thoroughness and impartiality.

Going through the various letters he has written, which were published by the Kerala State Archives and the ones included in his biography by Puthezhath Raman Menon, his greatness as the Raja of a small Kingdom and a leader in the annals of the history of Cochin has been established. Myths and legends over a period of two hundred years have already immortalized the Great Sakthan. But there is so much more to document, study and analyze about this extraordinary Raja.           Treaty concluded with the Raja of Cochin in 1791

Perumpadappu Valiya Rama Varma, the Raja of Cochin, having solicited an alliance with the Honorable United East India Company, which the Honourable Governor in Council in Madras has accepted of, on condition that the said Raja shall throw away all of his allegiances to Tippu Sultan, and become a tributary to the said Honorable Company; Mr. George Powney, on behalf of the Honourable Governor in Council of Madras, has settled with the said Raja, this Treaty, which consists of nine Articles.

I. It is agreed that Raja Rama Varma of Cochin shall not swerve from the conditions of this treaty, and shall faithfully adhere to them without diminution or reserve.

II. That the Honourable Company’s forces shall assist Raja Rama Varma in recovering the possessions wrested from him by Tippu Sultan, and shall render him independent of him.

III. That upon the time when the said possessions or districts which are underwritten are recovered; Raja Rama Varma shall be given full possession of them.

Names of the districts that were wrested from the Raja by Tippu Suthan

1. In the District of Nandevalam, the following Dependencies :
1.1. Mookanapooram   1.2. Irinjalacoodel   1.3. Kodashery     1.4. Maperanum     1.5. Pooducadoo  
2. In the District of Paravattany, the following Dependencies :
2.1. Treshour   2.2. Paravattany   2.3. Paragom     2.4. Parumanum   2.5. Yenamakel   2.6. Chettalepolley  

3. The District of Tallapilly  

4. The District of Moohlurkarah  

5. The District of Parattoo Veedu    

6. The Village of Tekkemangalam    

7. The District of Kawoolpar    

8. In the District of Palgautchery, the following hills :
    8.1. Temmalapooram   8.2. Vadamalapooram  

9. Between these Districts :
  9.1. Kodagara Nadu   9.2. Naledesam
10. In the Districts of Chetwai and Manapooram :
  10.1. Padanittaulum   10.2. Kanrah     10.3. The Village of Cranganore     10.4. Trevangekadum Church     10.5. Yada-Turtie  

IV. That upon Raja Rama Varma, being in possession of the above-mentioned districts, shall become a tributary to the Honourable United East India Company, and shall pay to the Representative or Delegate of the Honourable Governor in Council of Madras, a yearly tribute, in the following manner : for the first year he possesses the aforementioned districts, Seventy Thousand Rupees; the second year, Eighty Thousand Rupees; the third year, Ninety Thousand Rupees; and the fourth year, One Hundred Thousand Rupees; and everafter, the last-mentioned sum (Rupees 1,00,000) shall be annually paid by him. The yearly tribute shall be made in equal quarterly payments.

V. That in the event of any claim being preferred by any Raja to the places and districts mentioned above, within a span of five years after the date of this Treaty, it shall be entitled to a fair and impartial discussion, and be subject to the final decision of the Honourable English East India Company’s Government.

VI. That in consideration of a Treaty, which subsists between the Honourable Dutch East India Company, and the Raja Rama Varma of Cochin, the Honourable Governor in Council of Madras, not wishing to enter into any condition which may not be compatible with the spirit of the Treaty, subsisting between the above-mentioned parties, it is agreed that Raja Rama Varma shall become tributary to the Honourable East India Company only for those Districts, and place before recited, which were in the possession of Tippu Sulthan, and for which the said Raja paid him tribute, and with which the Honourable Dutch Company have no concern.

VII. That Raja Rama Varma shall exercise complete and uncontrolled authority over the afore-mentioned possessions, under the acknowledged sovereignty of the Honourable English East India Company.

VIII. The Honourable English East India Company relying on the constancy and firmness of Raja Rama Warma’s alliance and vassalage, and his continuing faithful to these engagements, it is agreed that no further demands shall be made upon him, and he shall receive that protection to which he is entitled, as the Honourable English East India Company always give to their faithful tributaries and allies.

IX. It is agreed that this Treaty shall be considered to have effect from the time (25th of September, 1790) Raja Rama Varma regained possession by power of the Honourable Company’s Arms’ of the districts and places wrested from him by Tippu Sulthan, and that from that period the said Raja shall commence to pay the tribute mentioned in the Fourth Article of this Treaty.
COCHIN, The Mark of the Raja.

6th of January, 1791.

We, the President and Council of Fort St. George, by virtue of the authority vested in us by the Governor General in Council of Fort William in Bengal, do acknowledge the within copy of the Treaty between the Honourable East India Company and the Raja of Cochin, and declare it binding upon all the said Company’s settlements in India, and have signed and sealed the same in Fort St. George, the 2nd February of the Christian Era. (Signed) W. MEADOWS. (Signed) CHARLES OAKELEY. (Signed) JOHN HUDLESTON.

The Raja, prior to Sakthan Thampuran's rule, died in August, 1790. This caused a delay in signing the Treaty.   Sakthan Thampuran was extremely pleased with the conditions in the treaty and was not going to accept anything less. He was contentious with the final decisions of the Commissioners who adjudicated for the English East India Company. The details provided by Achyutha Menon can be summarized as follows :

After Sakthan Thampuran signed the treaty with Mr. Powney who was representing the East India Company in 1798, the contentions between the two parties regarding certain districts and places that were assigned to Cochin continued. According to the treaty, the British gave to Cochin, the territories Tippu had usurped from Cochin. This included Mukundapuram, Irinjalakuda, Kodassery, Mapranam, Puducaud, Thrissur, Paravattani, Perumanam, Enamakal, Chittilapilly, Thalappilly District, Ollurkara, Perattuveedu and the village of Thekkemangalm. Tippu had occupied Kavalappara. But the Kavalappara Nair claimed it for himself since the members of his family were feudal chiefs from 1718 onwards and was considered as an 'amsham' of Valluvanad with divided loyalties between Zamorin and Cochin. Cochin had helped Kavalappara in a prior war. He opted to merge with the British Residency and as a result, Sakthan Thampuran ended up losing that territory. Similarly, the Raja of Palghat reclaimed the hills of Thenmalapuram and Vadamalapuram.

There was no contest regarding Kodakara and Naludesam. The District of Chetuva was claimed by the Dutch East India Company and Article VI was probably inserted in the treaty for this reason. The Chetuva Islet was leased to Cochin for rupees 40,000 for a few years. Cranganore had often been under the Zamorin and the Dutch. But when questioned by the British Commissioners, the Raja of Cranganore opted to go with Cochin. The British then disregarded the Dutch claims. Parur, Alangad and Kunnathunadu were once ceded to Travancore by the treaty of 1761 by Cochin. But Tippu had occupied these territories. Therefore, Travancore claimed them and British granted that request. Sakthan Thampuran argued that they were ceded to Travancore by his ancestors for the help rendered by Travancore to push the Zamorin back up to Pukkaita. But since Vanneri, which was on the south side of Pukkaita was not recovered from the Zamorin, Cochin should not have ceded those territories back to Travancore in the first place. But this argument was challenged and found to be baseless, and the territories were granted back to Travancore. So this was the way the territories captured by Tippu in Malayala Nadu was divided between Travancore, Cochin, and Madras Presidency. Obviously, this was one of the major reasons for Sakthan’s disenchantment with the English.

Sakthan Thampuran was always critical of the provision in a prior treaty giving control of the Konkinis and the Latin Christians to the Dutch. With the new alliance with the British and the waning influence of the Dutch the Raja started extorting money from the Konkinis and the Christians and those who refused were punished, in some cases even by death. The Dutch tried to rescue their wards by attacking the Palace at Mattanchery. The Raja was ready to besiege the Cochin Dutch enclave. But for British agent Powney’s intervention, open hostility was quelled. In 1795, the British literally ousted the Dutch. Though the Dutch requested help from the Raja on the basis of their  longstanding friendship, Sakthan saw the writing on the wall and offered no help. Those who wanted to leave Dutch Cochin were asked to go to Bombay. Many preferred to stay in Cochin.

From the time of the appointment of Colonel Macaulay as the first British Resident of Travancore and Cochin, Sakthan Thampuran’s relationship with the British had deteriorated rapidly. But, he had assessed the amazing power of the British and had cautioned his would-be successors to not alienate the British.

Another caution that Sakthan had conveyed to his successors was to alienate the Paliath Achan, and to not make him the adviser and minister. It was previously mentioned that the feudal properties were forcibly returned to the State after the last war with the Zamorin, in order to curb their influence. Many of the Paliath properties at various locations in the State of Cochin was thus lost to the Paliath Estate. The first noble of the Cochin State status was questioned by the Raja. Sakthan also considered the Paliath Achan then, to not be mature enough.

In 2005, a symposium was held at Tripunithura and it is available for viewing in the video gallery. The Symposium 2005 is presented in 5 parts.

CLICK HERE to view