Monday, January 3, 2011

No more an unsung hero

Chempil Arayan who lost his life on December 29, 1808,

can be credited as the first freedom fighter of 

Travancore. PRATIMA ASHER writes about this unsung hero. 

The Bolgatty Palace which was the residence of Col. Colin Macaulay, the British Resident, from where he managed to escape in a boat when Chempil Arayan attacked the place.

THE KUNDARA Proclamation of December 29, 1808, issued by Velu Thampi Dalawa, the Minister of Bala Rama Varma, Maharaja of Travancore, has often been cited as representing an epoch-making beginning in the struggle for emancipation from the British. It has been historically classified as a part of the first phase of India's struggle for Independence.
The prelude to this proclamation was marked by various episodes of intrigue and treachery. In those times when justice and punishment could be cruel and merciless, it is often not easy to arrive at value judgement regarding personalities who occupied the main stages of history. But alongside these acts, history also provides us with fascinating glimpses of men and women who plunged into the arena, leaving behind vignettes of bravery and courage.
One such is Chempil Anantha Padmanabhan Valiya Arayan Kankumaran, Velu Thampi Dalawa's chief, who according to his descendents, was the first person to respond to the call of the proclamation and was martyred in the struggle against the British. C. P. Rana, one of his descendents, provides some background information on this courageous figure.
According to Rana, his ancestor fought against the British at Cochin Fort. Available glimpses of Chempil Arayan reveal that his courage was not momentary and various exploits of valour have been noted. The Chempil Arayan is credited with having broken into the British Resident, Col. Colin Macaulay's premises at Ponjikara. The Resident managed to escape in a boat provided by the head of the Cochin navy. It is said that Chempil Valiya Arayan got together his followers and raced through the backwaters of Travancore in `odi' boats to search for the Resident, an expedition that was followed by a thorough search of the Valiya Arayan's home at Thailamparambu.
There is a story of the Chempil Arayan's encounter with Col. Macaulay in an incident in which the former tried to save the lives of his fellow countrymen who were imprisoned by the British. He was taken prisoner and condemned to be hung for treason. Allegations were heaped on him, but no torture seemed to shake the Chempil Arayan. He went to the extent of retorting to Col. Macaulay's charge (of having been involved with the sinking of some Englishmen in the Palluruthy river), with the statement that if he were free he would be happy to make a present of the Resident's head to the King of Travancore. Macaulay, it was reported, was initially very incensed, but later found it difficult not to be moved by his prisoner's courage and bravery and set him free, on the payment of a ransom.
This narrow escape from the gallows did not diminish the courage of Chempil Ananth Padmanabhan Valiya Arayan Kankumaran and according to his descendants, he again responded to the call to stand up against tyranny by sacrificing his life on December 29, 1808.
According to C. P. Rana, there are seven families today who claim descent from this illustrious ancestor and they are in Punnapra, Udayanapuram, Panamgadu, Thickody and Kainakary village.
Since 1970, attempts have been made to establish Chempil Anantha Padmanabhan Valiya Arayan Kankumaran as the first freedom fighter of Travancore State.
It must be mentioned in this context that many momentous events took place on December 29, 1808, and these events are worthy of further attention by seekers of historic accuracy. While the Kundara Proclamation of Velu Thampi Dalawa at Kollam was to inform the people of the consequences of the additional levy of Rs. 2 lakhs imposed on Travancore by the British Company, there were almost simultaneous insurgencies at Cochin and Kollam, where British troops were attached
These almost simultaneous insurgencies centring on the intrigues in Cochin and Kollam, in which figures like the Paliath Achan played a leading role, have also to be investigated in further detail. This is only possible when one takes into consideration the roles played by the figures of the time that are less well known today such as the Chembil Anantha Padmanabha Valiya Arayan Kankumaran.
Very often obvious facts are not always representative of the entire truth and often a small ray of light on people like the Chempil Arayan might lead to interesting discoveries. The lives of valorous souls such as the Chempil Arayan surely merit more attention.