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Selfless service

REBECCA CHANDY

Pomp and glamour marked the tercentenary celebrations of the 9th Battalion of the Madras Regiment.


When my niece went to Udaipur to attend the Tercentenary celebrations of the 9th Battalion of the Madras Regiment (Travancore) on April 1, I did not attach much significance to it. A war widow whose late husband had raised the 27th Battalion of the Madras Regiment, she attended its major events whenever possible. But this time she returned with a stamp released by the Department of Posts, Government of India, to mark the occasion. The stamp captivated me because it depicted a glorious event in the history of the 9th Battalion — a capitulation by the commander of the Dutch forces to the Maharaja of Travancore whose army had routed the foreign forces in the battle of Colachel in 1741. A pillar of victory, which immortalises the victory of the Travancore Army, is also seen.

I realised that these soldiers had been raised a few years before 1704 as personal bodyguards of His Highness the Maharaja of Travancore. At that time many European countries had begun trade relations with India. The Dutch were among the earliest and they had established trading centres on the West Coast and in Bengal.

In 1741, an expedition was sent to Travancore under a Flemish officer Captain Eustance De Lenoy to gain a trading centre there. He assembled his forces at Colachel, a small but important seaport town to invade Travancore. Marthanda Varma, the Maharaja of Travancore and his forces, the present 9th Battalion of the Madras Regiment, met the invading army. In the fierce battle that ensued Marthanda Varma defeated the superior Dutch forces. Captain De Lenoy was captured. It is said that the Maharaja made him kneel before him as he petitioned for his life. The stamp however, does not portray that. It shows him standing before the majestic figure of the maharaja seated under a ceremonial umbrella with his sword close at hand. A ship riding the waves in the background shows that it is a seaport. The Maharaja agreed to spare the Dutch captain's life on condition that he joined his army and trained his soldiers on modern lines. He did that. The Travancore army was organised as the first battalion of Colonel Daly's Carnatic Brigade in 1749 and was successful in the annexation of various small principalities thereafter.

The Travancore army was not disbanded although it was reorganised several times in the intervening years and was redesignated as the first Battalion, Travancore Nayar Brigade. But times changed. It was the 1930s, the British Crown ruled directly most of the rest of India. They entered into loose alliances with many of the states in India by which they maintained a residency in them. Travancore was one such state. This meant that the army could be modernised. Under the Indian state forces Scheme, the army was merged with the state forces and renamed the First Travancore Nayar Infantry.

They have continued to serve the country with valour and have won many medallions in recognition of their selfless service to the country. And now the Department of Posts has also acknowledged their gallantry and service.

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