Kurup Kunchupiratti gave up his life to save the life of Marthanda Varma

It was in 1741 AD that the Dutch navy bowed down to the might of Travancore and its ruler Marthanda Varma. The defeat at Colachel eclipsed the power of the Dutch East India Company and promptly strengthened British East India Company’s grip on the Indian subcontinent.

The ‘Victory Pillar’ at Colachel, and the iconic painting of the Dutch Captain Eustachius De Lannoy kneeling before his vanquisher are the only memorials we have to remind us of the glorious chapter in Indian history.

It was for the first time in history that a European force was defeated by a native princely state of India. In the course of time, we tend to forget things and it is unfortunate that most of us have forgotten the sacrifice of several martyrs who offered their lives for the motherland.

Kurup Kunchupiratti, a name that should have been engraved in golden letters, would have faded into oblivion if not for C.V. Raman Pillai’s epic work Dharmaraja (1913). Being the personal guard and a loyal servant of Marthanda Varma, Kurup accompanied his master to the war front. He was killed by a treacherous cannon shot, which was aimed to take off the King’s head.

Let us listen to T.R.S. Thampi (b.1930), a direct descendant of Kurup. “Kurup Kunchupiratti was born in 1709 AD at Thekkaepoomukhattu Veedu, situated in Eraniel. My mother, in her younger days, had seen the remains of the great tharavad. The stories of the sacrifice and fidelity of Kurup was always the centre of discussion in family circles.”

On the fateful day of the war, when the Dutch navy came with ships carrying artillery anchored at Colachel, Kurup was with the King. Marthanda Varma who camped at Colachel ordered his attendants to open the window for he himself wanted to inspect the ships. Kurup, who was beside the King, sensed danger and rushed to stop and push his master away from the window. To quote C.V.: ‘the wicked gang that lay in waiting, like the crane that waits for fish, for the head that wore the crown from the day we built the palace, opened like thunder their fiery gun mouths to smash the head that offered itself instead of the lord and master of the Chera land.’

The King himself held the body of his trusted warrior, who fell like ‘the tree burned by lightning.’ The dead body was wrapped in silk and was taken to Thekkaepoomukhattu Veedu. Marthanda Varma accompanied the procession. Even when the grave news spread, preparations were made to formally receive the King. Kurup’s mother, with tears rolling down her cheeks asked the King, ‘Why, my dear son?’ for which the King replied, ‘From now, I am your dear son, my mother.’

According to T.R.S. Thampi, the King himself supervised the cremation of Kurup and fasted that day to pay respects to the departed soul. “Later, he placed our family under his special care and conferred on us the title ‘Thampi’ and ‘Thankachi’. Later Raja Kesava Das, the Dewan, married the niece of Kurup Kunchupiratti,” says Thampi.

C.V. Raman Pillai, as a child, had heard his mentor Nankakoikkal Kesavan Thampi, the karyakkar, a descendant of Kurup and Dewan Raja Kesava Das, narrate the story of the sacrifice. Pillai incorporated the story in his historical novel Dharmaraja.

(This article is based on an interview with T.R.S. Thampi)

(The author is a conservation architect and a history buff)