Marthanda Varma (1729-1758) unified the erstwhile state of Travancore
strong enough to stem the Dutch
advance in India. The resourceful Ramayyan Dalawa (prime minister) and able commander Delannoy helped him modernize his army, fortify strategic points of his kingdom and initiate reforms to help his land prosper while checking dissent. The reign of Marthanda Varma is marked as the golden age of Travancore dynasty.
Marthanda Varma had to overcome formidable challenges in the form of opposition from ‘Ettuveettil Pillamar’ (eight mighty chieftains) who supported the rival claimants to the throne, Pappu and Raman Thampis, the sons of King Ravi Varma. Once he ascended the throne, he strengthened his forces and annexed the petty states near his kingdom and gradually advanced through offensives and tact to become one of the three major kingdoms in Kerala state, which scenario prevailed till the formation of independent India.
One of the highlights of his military campaigns was the victory over the Dutch forces at Colachel in Tamil Nadu in 1741. Despite lacking the modern weapons of the Dutch, Marthanda Varma’s strategies so impressed the Dutch commander Eustchices Delannoy that he joined Marthanda Varma and attained renown as ‘Valia Kappithan’ (Chief Captain). This defeat, the first of a western power by any Asian state, sealed the fate of Dutch ambitions in India.
After expanding his kingdom, Marthanda Varma surrendered his kingdom—‘Thrippadidanam’ (surrender at the holy feet)—to Lord Padmanabha (Lord Vishnu) at Thiruvananthapuram whose temple he renovated. He continued to rule as the envoy of the Lord and earned the title of ‘Sri Padmanabha Dasa’ (servant of Lord Padmanabha), passed on to his successors.