The Economics of Portuguese trade

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Portuguese and Malabar Pepper

Two things triggered this article. One was a recipe for picked eggs from Sharaboji 2’s Tanjore kitchen, dating back to the 18th century which I tried recently. A very interesting but alien tasting dish made of ingredients which we still use regularly, but in differing proportions. As I was munching the eggs, I wondered how this really spicy dish was a favorite of that king with 3 wives and 24 concubines (as you can imagine another article is on the way). Then again, the other day Ramu Ramakesavan, a history enthusiast and blogger asked a question about the commercial aspects of the trade between the Portuguese and Malabar and posed a question about the fairness of it, i.e. if not the people of Malabar had been amply compensated and if so how. He was also wondering why I had stated that the Portuguese had plundered Malabar for over 250 years. As it was a very interesting question (Unfortunately a number of anglicized school text books emphasize the glory of Vasco Da Gama’s landing at Kappad) I thought that I should provide an elaborate answer. As I do so, let me also refer the reader to my article in Pragati on globalization which will provide a better perspective. The paragraphs which follow provide a general overview of a couple of hundred years in a few pages, so it was quite challenging. So here goes…
Until Pero Da Covilha (See my article linked) reached the shores of Calicut, a full eight years before the Vasco De Gama and his ships reached Calicut to change history, the Portuguese did not really have firsthand information on the wealth of spices in Calicut. What they knew was bits and pieces from earlier traders and travelers to the Indies and the Orient. Perhaps, it was Covilha who laid the very keel for the ships journey; however like most spies, for he was one, Covilha received no public credit for his work. Pero Da Covilha and Alfonso de Paiva, great friends themselves, were dispatched by King John II, to record the routes and happenings at various places in the Malabar area and primarily to find the mythical land of Prestor John. As Peter Koch notes - Calicut at that time was one of the richest ports of the world. It was the commercial hub for Arab Muslim and Asian traders. Fleets of junks from China and the Indies sailed to its crowded ports, and once docked, unloaded their abundant cargoes of precious gems, silks and spices that were to be sold at destined local markets. Anxiously awaiting their arrival were numerous Arab traders willing to pay a handsome price for just about any goods shipped from the orient. Once purchased, these were shipped through the Persian Gulf or Gulf of Aden, and from there, they were distributed to markets in Africa, Middle East and Europe. Pêro da Covilhã, while in Africa, noted and informed Paul II that if the extreme south tip were rounded by Portuguese mariners they could easily reach Calicut from Sofala or Malindi and take possession of the spice trade. In ten years’ time, this observation by Pêro da Covilhã would convince Vasco da Gama to sail from the east coast of Africa directly to Calicut. Covilha concludes his report to Dom John 2 thus - “The majority of the spices leave Calicut for Cairo, crossing the Red Sea. From Cairo they go on to Venice. If one day we want to take on this trade for ourselves, we simply have to block the Moorish ships’ access to the Red Sea.”

Then came Vasco Da Gama and his policy of using violence and force to usurp the trade from the Muslim Arab traders. It was not a question of peaceful coexistence or fair trade which Calicut was famed for, but forcefully obtaining a monopoly. The Zamorin refused and the Portuguese were never to create an amicable settlement with the Zamorin, though some periods of peace can be found during studies. He was followed by an even crueler Cabral and later the slightly better statesman viceroy Albuquerque. The initial period was full of battles between the Zamorin and the Portuguese with the latter asserting their might with heavy guns on their ships and with the cavalry they carried. The rivalry between the Zamorin and the Cochin King was cleverly manipulated by the Portuguese with the latter providing resources and facilities for the Portuguese to settle down in Cochin (also partly in Northern Kolathunadu) and conduct their trades. However even these periods are characterized by continued battles between them and other kings (as well as the Zamorin) in an effort to consolidate their hold on the resources that the people of Malabar possessed, that being spices, especially pepper. After they had conquered Goa, the Portuguese entrenched themselves there, but laid an iron fence on the western seas with their Cartaz – permit system and fighting vessels, disallowing any private ocean trade between the Malabar shores and the red sea ports, which trade which had been in vogue since time immemorial. Using force to effectively control the trade and the sea trade routes also helped the Portuguese determine and fix the purchase prices for the pepper and other articles. Their naval armadas were of course disrupted with some regularity by the Kunjali marakkar led paros (unfairly termed corsairs by the west) who were supported by the Zamorin, but in the large picture, they were nothing more than a nuisance to the Portuguese.

In the years that followed the age of discovery, the Portuguese amassed fortunes with the sales of the produce from Malabar and enriched Lisbon and the royalty as well as the Fidalgos of Portugual (Of course others also profited, be they the Danes, the early English and Fuggers of Germany). The peaceful coexistence in Calicut was not a given anymore and the prospect of justice even more difficult to enforce. While we will come to the specifics later, one must note that the purchases were made at a price which in theory was unacceptable, not in practice enough to cover the large expenses by the Zamorin in holding fort and keeping a military balance with the Portuguese as well as the rivals in the South and the North. Also it must be borne in mind that the many wars meant forceful removal of a lot of wealth, personnel, costs of reparation as well as destruction of infrastructure and cultivation. After a while when things became difficult, the traders simply moved out of Calicut and moved up north to Mangalore and Goa, where the masters were. (Many of those aspects are covered in the large number of articles in Historic alleys, tabulated under the Category – Malabar Portuguese).
As the spice trade progressed, the colonies of Portugal increased and became richer commercially. As is evident, by 1511, the Portuguese had wrested away control of the spice trade of the Malabar Coast from the Muslims and Arabs and as it continued, on until the end of the 16th century, the Portuguese monopoly on the spice trade to India was exceptionally profitable for them. Did Malabar prosper? No it continued to be what it was, though not suffering from poverty and while the social structure remained mostly in place, with each war that transpired, the suzerain’s debts increased and finally the feuding Malabar North, Center and South parts including Cochin, fell prey to the Mysore Sultans when the social fabric and economic strength were ripped apart and thrown into utter disarray. Those shreds never came together, ever again. Was it so destined, would it have happened even otherwise? I do not know – perhaps…

Let us go back to the early days, the period April – August is when the monsoon winds brought sailing ships to Malabar. That was when the markets of Calicut bustled with wares, be they spices or textiles, be they copper or iron ingots. The ships would dock and the traders speaking many a language came in to discuss and finalize (or pick up pre-agreed quantities) deals to fill their dhows and ships. Some were bound (later in the year actually) eastwards; some westwards to the Gulf ports or the Red sea ports. Those would disgorge their contents in the Arab ports where much of the produce would make their way overland on camels to Alexandria to be again laden into ships bound for the European ports. Each step meant multiplication of the cost and eventually the lowly pepper corn, cultivated as a parasite plant on Malabar trees would be equivalent to its weight in Gold – thus getting the name black Gold. When the Portuguese saw the difference between the cost and the Venetian price and later discovered the sea route around the Cape of Good Hope, they saw the easy pickings. Initially Gama expected that the Zamorin would side with them (because they believed initially that he was a Christian) and expel the Arabs from the lucrative trade, but as we know he did not. They also actively encouraged and developed Cochin as a rival to Calicut. Here you must keep in mind that Calicut by itself was not the producer of the articles for trade (except perhaps pepper from the interior, coconuts, coir & arecanuts); it was a major port where fair trade was promoted and a place where security was assured by the Zamorin’s forces. The port was well connected overland and water to the interior parts of Kongnadu and other parts of Vijayanagara. What was exported out in the 15th century? Pepper of course, but also ginger, coconuts, cloth, arecanut, coir, cardamom, sandalwood, rice (from Orissa) and in return imported or bartered Gold, silver, copper, silk, horses, aromatics and so on. To get an idea, the most expensive import was a horse which cost as much as 800 cruzado, i.e 9,000 Calicut panams, a lot of money.
The rest is history. Let us now turn those pages ….

When threatened from the sea, the rulers of Malabar had no idea how to confront it, nor did they recognize the far reaching consequences. In all of previous history threats had come only by land and wars were fought honorably. This was a different enemy and only the Moplahs and Arabs recognized the threat. It took a while for them to convince their Hindu counterparts, but by then it was too late, not that they had a solution anyway. By 1550 Cochin had surpassed Calicut in terms of port trade. The Chinese had stopped coming to Calicut, and the Arab ships had no more opportunities to play their trade. Cochin on the other hand was flourishing. The city was bustling with many a trader, Portuguese married casados as well as mixed blood mesticos. Private traders were trying to get into the Portuguese state monopolized trade networks and their Portuguese parentage as well as a two decade experience with the locals was coming of use. With the Portuguese forming their base in Goa, Cochin or Cochim De Baxio became a center for Casado commerce. These Portuguese descendants had started direct trade after taking care of the spice sourcing themselves and paying a small rate of duty (3 ½ -6 %) to the Cochin Raja as compared to that levied by the Eastado da India. The Zamorin tried to retaliate and bring a balance by fighting Cochin for supremacy, but the Portuguese came to the support of Cochin many a time, with small forces but superior firepower. Also by then the method of blocking Calicut with flotillas enforcing the need for cartazes was starting to work. As days went by, the Kunhali supported guerrilla warfare in the seas became effective and Arab ships started to filter in and out, but a larger effort to marshal Turkish and Egyptian support to rout out the Portuguese failed, with the result that the position of Calicut at the fore of ocean trade finally declined with rapidity. Cochin was to follow quickly for they were then just a feeble royal power propped up by the Portuguese and surrounded by enemies.

But by 1600 the fortunes of Cochin also declined and Kanara pepper exports had doubled those of Malabar pepper. The compensation of being to send a ship of their own to Lisbon also did not quite work out for Cochin, for their link with Bengal (Cotton and other goods) had also been broken by then. Many of the Casados and mesticos started to move out and back to places like Bombay and Goa. The trade centers had thus moved from Calicut to Cochin to Goa and Bombay.
The sourcing - Ma Huan was the first to document a system in which ‘big pepper-collectors’ toured the countryside to purchase the spice and gather it into interior Nair storehouses. The foreign merchant’s resident in Malabar’s port cities mostly purchased the pepper from these middlemen. This system continued on till the sixteenth century, despite Portuguese efforts to establish direct trade relations with the cultivators. These pepper collectors perhaps moplahs, gathered to themselves all the pepper and ginger from the Nayres and husbandmen, and ofttimes they purchased/contracted the new crops beforehand in exchange for rice, barterable material such as clothes which they stored at the go downs near the sea.

The economics - To put it simply, pepper was purchased at 2.5 cruzados per quintal. This same quintal of pepper in Europe fetched 50-80 cruzados or more at times, which meant a great profit even after considering shipping and infrastructure costs. In 1500 the Calicut price per bahar was 360 panams and so the sale at the new fixed cost meant a loss of 200 panams per bahar to the local traders. This was obviously the reason why the local rulers and the Arab traders retaliated fiercely, for their livelihood was at stake.
One of the interesting inputs we get to look at is that the Portuguese income in 1506 was about 350,000 ducats out of which 300,000 were spent on internal expenses. That left about 50,000 for the eastern explorations. The cost per ship was about 12,000 and considering about 10 ships per annum, it works out to 120,000. Thus the annual outlay was 170,000-200,000 ducats out of which a fourth was advanced from the royal treasury while the rest came from Florentine or German financiers.

Nevertheless, it was called the spice alchemy whether they acquired the spices by force (initial forays) or as in later days by a monopolistic purchase at fixed prices, unaffected by demand and sold it at gold prices. Later when the trade became more private run, the financiers had to pay 30% of the sales price to the Casa Da India.
But what were the average annual volumes? Kieniewicz ‘s paper provides a good summary. Starting at 1.5million kilograms or 1500 tons, it averages to 2,000 tons per annum until 1600. Out of this about a third reached Lisbon and the rest to other ports. By 1515 Lisbon was getting close to 1400 tons. Malabar production was fluctuating around 5000 tons, and Lisbon’s consumption was thus only a third of what was produced, with the other parts going to China, the east coast and various other inland destinations, bypassing the Portuguese controls.

But as we saw in previous discussions, Antwerp cartels came into play, the royal house of Lisbon racked up large debts and by 1543 the debt rose to the tune of 2 million cruzados. They got around it by changing the rules. Also the budgeting system was set up in such a way that the expenses were to be offset by the income from duties, cartazes and so on in India while the trade profits were booked by the Lisbon royalty. This system failed mainly because of the rising costs of maintaining their presence in India and extreme corruption in Cochin and Goa. By 1570 the royal monopoly was disbanded and it was redrafted in such a way that all ships had to stop at Lisbon and pay an 18-50 cruzados duty per quintal of spices.
By 1607, as the Portuguese grip weakened, the Malabar costs had gone upto 7-9 cruzados per quintal. Some 5,000-10,000 people migrated from Portugal per annum to Indian shores in the years 1500 -1700, and each profited personally as well, with at least two thirds returning back. Nevertheless, the net profits declined due to increasing costs and corruption. From 250,000 or more cruzados per annum of royal profit, it declined to under 90,000 cruzados towards the end of the 16th century. However the national incomes rose and the Portuguese creditworthiness in the markets remained high. In hindsight, one could argue that their profits would have improved had they practiced a more peaceful coexistence in Malabar and Goa and this might have resulted in reduced costs of infrastructure. As it happened, the expatriate Portuguese in Goa whiled away most of that money, but that story of decadence is best narrated another day.

The toiler who tended to the pepper vines in Malabar did not prosper in the succeeding years, decades and centuries, nor did the Nair and Namboothiri land holders. The Moplahs were affected severely as their livelihood was under threat and after their relationship with the Zamorin and the Hindus were affected following the Kunjali debacle, their turmoil increased further. The Zamorin’s owing to his continued warring with Cochin racked up large debts and his power in this fragmented city declined steadily till he was virtually bankrupt and eventually his domains were gobbled up by the marauding Mysore sultans. Malabar never prospered after the 16th century whereas the Portuguese as we saw improved their per capita incomes.
Interestingly, around 1500, India's economic output was around 40% and larger than all of Western Europe and 100 times larger than the economic output of Portugal. But by 1600, the gap with Western Europe was only around 10% and the gap with Portugal was still huge. An interesting though approximated and empirical graph created from a research letter by JP Morgan’s Michael Cembalest (with due acknowledgements and thanks) and shows contextual GDP growth since the time of Jesus. Take a look at the passage of time and India’s fortunes.

Now we can go back to the starting para of my article on the Casa da India and understand my vexation.
It was as if fate decreed it in return for the plunder of Malabar for 250 years. A deeply religious Lisbon, locked in rituals like the inquisition, then Europe’s 4th largest city, was planning a merry start of the All Saints day on Saturday 1st, Nov 1755. As the sleepy city woke up, a massive earthquake (9.0R) shook Lisbon for all of 10 minutes, bringing it down to dust and then proceeded to light it with fires which burned for a whole week destroying much of what she had made with the trade money. The city which was defined thus – “He who has not seen Lisbon has seen nothing”, was not visible any more. Many tens of thousands of people were killed and their fortunes destroyed, bringing the once proud country rapidly to its knees with a thud, for perhaps it was the wrath of God!

But that was another era. The cultivators if there are any left, and traders of Malabar never learnt the economics of trade if you look at the situation today. According to Indian Spices Board, as the country shipped 26,700 tons of pepper in 2011-12, exports fell to 16,000 tons in 2012-13 with pepper selling at a rough cost per kilogram of 4US $ in the world market. Global pepper production peaked in 2003 with over 355,000 tons and Vietnam today is the world's largest producer and exporter of pepper, producing 34% of the world's pepper. Other major producers include India (19%), Brazil (13%), Indonesia (9%), Malaysia (8%), Sri Lanka (6%), China (6%), and Thailand (4%). Even that second place is under threat. But then again, everything has changed, like the taste of food. Today in developed countries, taste is dictated by large companies like America’s McCormick. Their spice chambers and technological innovation centers decide how much of spices go into flavor mixes used in the food industry. The easy to cook, easy to eat and easy to buy dishes or mixes eventually decide the taste of food you eat. And in this humdrum world, the spicy pepper is no longer king; I read that dried Capsicum has finally taken over the perch in that 600 year race and so, one day, not so far in the future, my friend, Malabar pepper chicken may end up as a memory from the past..
The political Economy of Commerce Southern India – 1560-1650 - Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Malabar and the Portuguese- KM Panikkar
The pepper wreck – Filipe Vieira de Castro
Twilight on the pepper empire – AR Disney
Foundations of the Portuguese empire – Baily W Diffie & George D Winius
Profits from Power- Frederic Chapin Lane
The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice - Michael Krondl

Note: this is a superficial study and I have deliberately skimmed the surface to keep the lay reader’s interest. If I got into the price fluctuations and so many other cost factors, the reader would be induced into a deep slumber.

For more details on that interesting world chart, read this three part article

Some Currency rates for better understanding
Calicut panam = 26 reis, Cochin panam 22 reis
Parados or Xerafim = 300 reis, Cruzado 360-400 reis
Cruzado = 0.86 ducat – 11 gm gold = 15 panam

Ramayyan Dalawa

Posted by Maddy Labels: , ,

That crafty minister

If you were to study the successful reign of Marthanda Varma, you will quickly notice that there was one person who faithfully tended to him and guided him through those hectic days. In fact that person had been around even before MV took the throne, rightly or wrongly, from his uncle Rama Varma. The shrewd man was not only a Shakuni and Chanakya rolled in one, but also a very able administrator. Krishnan Raman or Ramayyan, that was his name, of Tamil Brahmin stock, was a good cook and a person of stern behavior, great logical outlook and acute intellect. Well, if you were to look at his story, you would be surprised at the involvement he had with the illustrious king, and not only that but you will also come across a large number of anecdotes attributed to him and retold even today. He is also considered to be the inventor of the Malayali dish Aviyal or what is sometimes termed as Ramayyar kootu in Travancore.

For a Sanketi Brahmin, travel and resettlement is nothing new, as they were Smarta Brahmins who originated from Tirunelveli and moved to all the nearby regions in search for work and patronage. One such person was Rama Iyen or Ramayyan who came to Travancore from Irunkanti, near Rajamannarkoil in Tirunelveli. He was born in 1713 in nearby Valliyur which was part of the Venad kingdom. From there the family moved to Aruvikkara closer to Kalkulam where prospects of employment with the royal palace was bright. Rama Varma, whom we talked about earlier was the king and the young boy was introduced to the palace by his uncle’s father in law Rama Sastrikal who incidentally was a court Pundit.

Many stories abound about the manner in which the young man or kuttipattar was introduced to royalty. The first is about his using care in trimming a flickering lamp wick after ensuring that a second wick was first lit and held as standby.  The king who was observing all this noted the careful method adopted and asked Sastri to leave the boy in the palace and thereafter appointed him into royal service as a petty clerk (pakatasala rayasam). A second version states that he was employed as a boy servant at the Vanchiyoor Attiyara Potti’s (one of the ettara yogam) house where the king once went for dinner. The flickering wick story comes into play again and as there was no brass wick trimmer at hand, and since it is a sin to trim a wick with one’s hand, Ramayyan pulled out his gold ring and did the needful. The king noticing this had the boy transferred to the palace. A third version is related to a clerk writing a nittu (writ). The clerk after finishing his nittu read it to the king and obtained his signature. Ramayyan who had been observing the clerk told his uncle that what the scribe wrote & subsequently read out were not the same and that some falsification had been done. The writ was reexamined and the king seeing the error dismissed the clerk and questioned Ramayyan how he knew as the boy himself had not the occasion to read or study the finished writ. Ramayyan explained that he was following the movement of the clerks hand and figured out the text in his mind. Following this exhibition of mental clarity, he was absorbed into palace service.

Ramayyan proved himself to be a great asset to the palace. There is a mention of his brilliant redrafting of a reply to the Nawab of Carnatic and subsequent promotion to the post of Samprati and the gift of a house at Kalkulam in 1726. During this period he cemented his friendship with the young Marthanda Varma and curiously distanced himself from his family, ensuring singular attention to the young Yuvaraj. His family (wife and brother) continued living at Aruvikkara and it appears that he was miffed with his brother as he had refused to give one of his two sons to Ramayyan for adoption. That was reason enough to cut himself off from his family or so it is stated. But this was good for the royals, for his unstinted support and brilliance ensured victories for MV. He rose through the ranks, to Kottaram Rayasam and after Tanu Pillai’s death in 1737, to the post of Dalava (Dewan in later days) or Sarvadhikar. Not only was he the prime minister, but he also held the defense portfolio. The 19 years he spent in this position were full of problems, not only with respect to the accession of MV to the throne, but also with respect to negotiations with the European powers, wars with neighboring states, expansion of the Travancore kingdom and continuous threat to his own life from the Ettara yogam members, the Ettuveetar and many other petty chiefs of the locality.

He was certainly different, for in his steadfast support for his patron king, he employed every bit of trickery, treachery, cruelty and guile and when it came to scheming, planning and execution, he was supreme. Many of the acts he carried out can be questioned now, but at that point of time, he had just one aim, to keep his king’s needs and desire above all, not even bothering about his own caste or its strict Smartan requirements as well as what is termed as local tradition or nattunadappu.

One of the accounts details how he hit back at the Suchindram (recall our Abhirami and the Ilaya Thampi story) Brahmin trustees who were supportive of the Abhirami family. He had no qualms in destroying their houses and driving them away and ensured that a large amount of land controlled by the Suchindram trustees was reallocated to Marthanda Varma.

In those troubled days when MV was on the run, he was always accompanied by Ramayyan. Ramayyan helped organize the irregular army comprising the maravers and pathans, as well as a group of Nairs who supported the yuvaraja. He was instrumental in forcing many of the recalcitrant chiefs (madampies, temple trustees and pillas) to pay up any tax arrears due to the new king. Later when the treasury had a surplus he ensured in return, a number of development projects in Nanjenad. He was also very much involved in the struggle with the ettuveetar and the various intrigues which we talked about in earlier articles. Careful planning and scheming by Ramayyan ensured victory and solidification of MV’s seat at the palace. His role as military chief between 1730 and 1755 is much talked about, and that was the period when the Travancore kingdom expanded.

In 1731, the Quilon rajah allied himself with the Kayamkulam raja, in opposition to the wishes of Marthanda
Varma, signaling the opening of a new frontier in opposition to the Yuvaraja. The opposition was quickly snuffed, the Quilon rajah displaced and his kingdom taken over by a show of force, thereafter alarming the neighboring Kayamkulam king. He quickly sought assistance from the Cochin raja and their combined forces fought the Travancore army stationed at Quilon. MV rushed reinforcements from his capital, but the Quilon-Kayamkulam forces were in the meantime fortified with Dutch support and this stopped the Travancore king in his tracks, but only for a while. The Quilon king, now emboldened took over Mavelikkara, a property of the Travancore king, enraging the latter. With arms supplied by the British, the Travancore army led by Ramayyan went into attack mode again. The Cochin Raja quietly withdrew from the main fray, providing only support from the background, but the courage of the Kayamkulam forces ensured a protracted battle which was not going too well for the Travancoreans. It was Ramayyan who now came up with the idea of bringing in his Maraven and Tamil Palayakkar mercenaries, after promising ample compensation and titles. He also assumed the title of chief commander of the Travancore forces. Soon, decisive battles headed by Ramayyan met with success leaving Quilon and Kayamkulam still independent. Following this Ramayyan was promoted to the Dalawa post in 1737.

As a Dalawa, he did much in the renovation of the Padmanabha temple and Padmatheertham as well as many other improvements and the architecture of the Trivandrum as we know today. He also ensured that the Travancore king was vested with supreme powers and all kinds of monopolies.

In fact, the Kerala state records mentions that the first land survey was carried out by Ramayyan. He was instrumental in levying taxes, though one might say that much of it was excessive and only meant to fund the wars fought by MV. The expenses were huge as MV had to bring in a lot of mercenary soldiers with promises of good compensation as well as elevation to Nair status. As we saw, even traditional marava robbers were brought in to staff the new army. He was instrumental in developing mavelikkara and kayamkulam and today you can see the Krishnapuram palace built by him. Also the concept of state monopoly of trade was brought in by him, but we will get to the details later.

Next came the standoff with the Dutch who feared that the combination of the British and the Travancore sovereign would threaten their commercial activities. Van Imhoff tried threatening the king with an invasion, but it had no effect(Interestingly according to Shungoony Menon, Marthanda Varma made a counter threat that he would then be forced invade Europe with his vanchis (country boats) and fishermen!). A war resulted and while the Travancore forces were initially successful in routing the Dutch, Dutch reinforcements from Ceylon wreathed havoc when they landed. They then proceeded to Kalkulam to take over the palace. Marthanda Varma quickly contacted the French in Pondicherry and signed a treaty with them for support. The full-fledged confrontation with the Dutch happened soon after, headed by the king and Ramayyan and success followed at Colachel. That was how and when the king met De Lannoy who was to become one of his trusted lieutenants and get known as the Valiya kapitan. I had provided more details of the affair in the article Tipu’s waterloo and will in the culminating article cover De Lannoy in more detail.

Eustachius De Lannoy was soon appointed as Ramayyan’s assistant and was involved in wars that followed with Kayamkulam, Quilon and Kilimanoor. The Kayamkulam Raja sued for peace in 1742 following which Varma and Ramayyan set upon Kottayam and Vadakenkoor. Finally the Dutch also agreed to discuss a peace treaty which was brokered and headed by Ramayyan. This did not work out even after three meetings and efforts as the Dutch were able to continue keeping the supply line open with Kayamkulam for the articles of trade such as pepper. In the meantime the Kayamkulam Raja again rebelled and Ramayyan was sent to quell it, but the Kayamkulam king finally seeing no means to win a war, quietly escaped to Trichur after moving all his treasures out of the palace. The Dutch finally forced into a corner, signed and ratified the Ramayyan peace treaty in 1753. Next in Ramayyan’s trove of victories was the one involving the Ambalapuzha raja and his poison arrow wielding archers. Soon to follow was Changanaseery (thekankoor) but here Ramayyan was faced with a group of Telugu Brahmin mercenaries working for this king. It was expected that Ramayyan would stop as killing of Brahmins was not the said thing. The unflinching Ramayyan directed De lannoy to drive them out and that was done without any further qualms. With that, all land upto the Cochin territory had been annexed by Marthanda Varma with Ramayyan’s help and leadership.

The Cochin raja was now in a quandary for he was sandwiched between two aspiring chieftains, Marthanda Varma in the south and the Zamorin to the north. The Paliyath Menon now conspired with all the petty kings who were against the Travancore king and planned to wage a final battle, again this was foiled by Ramayyan and De lannoy. Ramayyan was now camped in Cochin and as he was planning to make his final surge, the Cochin king sent his abject apology to Marthanda Varma which was formally accepted. Nevertheless as accounts show the people in the Kayamkulam area had no plans to accept the sovereignty of the Travancore king. Both Marthanda Varma and Ramayyan were now a bit troubled as it appears that the resurgent Zamorin had entered the fray in support of those kings. And here is where Marthanda Varma makes the terminal mistake of writing to Hyder Ali for help. Hyder agreed and deputed forces down south, but soon after the Travancore king wrote to him stating that help was no longer needed, as the situation had been sorted out, thus irritating the Mysore Sultan.

There were many other incidents following that, like the Tinnavelly affair, the fight against the Zamorin at Cochin, but during a period of peaceful sojourn, Ramayyan together with De Lannoy proceeded to fortify the Travancore border. In addition, Ramayyan started to build up the commercial infrastructure following a land survey and establishment of godowns as well as a royal monopoly on pepper and such spices for trade. Chowkies for levying duties on transport of material for trade were established along the way. Pandakasalas for salt manufacture were constructed, and finally a system of budgets and balances instituted. For the first time in the history of Travancore, a decision was made to control expenditure in proportion to income and a budgeting system called Pathivu Kanakku was established. The fort at Trivandrum, the sheevelipura as well as the royal palace within the fort were constructed under his supervision. As we see today, many of his edicts (termed Ramayya sattams) related with commerce, excise, budgets and taxes later became so woven into the fabric of the history of Travancore, but there were also many a decision that could be called wrong such as imposition of taxes on lower castes such as the poll tax.

Since the end of 1745, Martanda Varma was apparently suffering from some illness, which made him more and more reliant on Ramayyan Dalawa, who as explained previously reformed taxation and successfully introduced several monopolies. With all the needed completed, Marthanda Varma dedicated the kingdom to the lord and Ramayyan moved to the commercial headquarters, that being Mavelikkara where all the natural produce was concentrated. By now it was 1750 and the king had become more of a religious person for presumably the past actions had caught up with him. Another six years passed, and we find that the able Dalawa Ramayyan has taken ill and is sinking with death looming close. Marthanda Varma is devastated and deputes his nephew Rama Varma to check what he could do, but Ramayyan only expresses his one lasting regret, asking for nothing else.

When the Prince Rama Varma reached Mavelikara, he found the Dalawa sinking and on being informed of the Maharajah's wishes to perpetuate his name, Rama lyen said with his characteristic modesty: "I disclaim any personal right to the proposed honour. I was merely the instrument in my Royal master's hands. Although I have accomplished all my aims I am only sorry that I was not permitted to conquer and annex Cochin."

Ramayyan passed away at the comparatively young age of 43. The Anjengo Factors recorded in their Diary that Ramayyan breathed his last at Mavelikkara on 1st January, 1756. After the death of his wife, it appears that Ramayyan consorted with a Nair lady. Upon his death people found that he has amassed no wealth and had expressed no death wishes. The only departing request he made to the king was to take care of this Nair lady’s wellbeing. Ramayyan Dalawa's family of 2 sons and 1 daughter moved back to Pudukotta after his death. Author Sethu Ramaswamy incidentally claims some ancestral connections.

The Maharajah Marthanda Varma and Ramayyan Dalawa were more than just King and minister to each other. King Marthanda Varma, his Diwan Ramayya Pillai Dalawa, along with De Lannoy's military skill, together were a force to reckon with in the South. Tara Sankar banarjee hints that the so-called greatness attributed to Martanda Varma by other historians, who always depicted the king as invincible, is silently challenged by Madhava Rao who hints that it was the Machiavellian strategy of Ramayyan, the General of Marthanda Varma, who saved the honor and greatness of the master in his wars with Kayamkulam. As is reported, they were intimate friends (like Chandragupta Maurya and Chanakya), so much that after the death of Ramayyan the Maharajah went into a deep depression and started losing health himself. It is recorded that he pined for his minister, friend and companion and died within two years after Ramayyan’s death, in 1758.

The Ramayyan curry that he is credited with was apparently made for MV when he was suffering from a stomach upset. It comprised ground coconut, curry leaves, curds, some jaggery (normally not a part of Avial), green chillies, other vegetables and yam. Today it is known as the avail which is almost a state dish.

Many legends are attributed to Ramayyan, it is rumored that the king once offered half of his kingdom to this trusted deputy, making him a king of that part. Ramayyan refused stating that he was a Brahmin and it’s the duty of Kshatriyas to rule (a little clarification is needed here – even Marthanda Varma was a Samanthan Kshatriya and did a Hiranya Garbha ceremony to attain the Kshatriya caste position towards the end of his career). He is also credited to providing shelter to poor Brahmins in the fort area where the temple provided them with means of livelihood. But his enmity with the local Nampoothiris is also well known, especially those in Kayamkulam, who were replaced later with Kolathunad potties. Ramayyan is also credited with the removal of the Sree chakkara bhagavathy idol from Kayamkulam and reinstation at Trivandrum (This was done to remove the powers that protected Kayamkulam kings).

For two years following his death, Travancore had no Dalawa. Ayappan Pillai acted in that position and received the appointment only after the death of Marthanda Varma. Ramayyan’s younger brother Goplayyan did become a dalawa though, some years later.

The simple but crafty self-cooking Brahmin had done enough for the kingdom of Travancore and it was many years later that another decided to emulate him, Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer…

A History of Travancore from the Earliest Times - P. Shungoonny Menon

Rise of Travancore: a study of the life and times of Marthanda Varma - A. P. Ibrahim Kunju.