Pazhassi Raja Kerala Varma – A Forgotten Hero of Bharat

Borrowed with thanks from “Know Your Bharat”

Pazhassi Raja Kerala Varma (3 January 1753-30 November 1805) was one of the earliest freedom fighters in Bhārat. His struggles with the British East India Company are known as the Cotiote War. He is popularly known as ‘Kerala Simham’ (Lion of Kerala) on account of his martial exploits.

He was the only person to defeat Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington in a war. Wellesley defeated Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo (this battle is so famous that “meeting one’s waterloo” has become an idiom for a very powerful person meeting with failure). Wellesley was also the general who defeated and killed Tipu in the fourth Mysore War.

Wellesley was so inspired by Pazhassi Raja’s war tactics that he adopted methods of guerrilla warfare used by Pazhassi Raja to defeat Napoleon’s armies in Spain.

Walter Ivor, a member of Court of Directors (of East India Company), who had taken part in negotiations with Pazhassi Raja in 1797 notes that British losses that year in Cotiote War exceeded British losses in Third Anglo-Mysore War.

According to British chroniclers, the war waged by Pazhassi Raja was the longest anti-British resistance struggle in Bhārat, and forest warfare waged by the Raja had no parallel in history in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Bhārat. British military command always wondered at the logistics of Raja’s army. How he organized supplies for his several thousand strong armies remained a puzzle for them.

To fight overwhelmingly superior enemies, Raja imparted military training to his peasantry wholesale and recruited them into his military force. This military policy of wholesale militarization was novel in history of pre-modern Kerala.

British losses were severe in terms of men and ran into several thousands. Death toll was particularly high with officers of commissioned ranks. So high were the losses suffered by Bombay army regiments that operated in North Malabar that they had to be withdrawn in 1803 fearing that further losses would cripple Bombay Army as a respectable body of troops.

Raja shared all the troubles of his ordinary soldiers during war and took part in all major military action exposing himself to personal danger. On account of these attributes, he commanded great respect of his troops.

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