Seems Kerala has no plans to return Velu Thampi Dalawa's 200-year old sword to Delhi

The Dalawa himself had a very chequered history.
Seems Kerala has no plans to return Velu Thampi Dalawa's 200-year old sword to Delhi
Seems Kerala has no plans to return Velu Thampi Dalawa's 200-year old sword to Delhi
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A few weeks after the Kerala government announced that it would return Velu Thampi Dalawa’s much-famed sword to the National Museum in Delhi, the culture minister has told Deccan Chronicle that no decisions have been taken in this regard till now.

The showstopper at the Napier Museum in Thiruvanthapuram had been with Kerala on lease for the past four years. The state archaeology department’s attempts to renew the lease for another year were stone-walled this time around, the newspaper had earlier reported.

“We have not yet decided when to return the sword.  We are extending its lease annually and so far we have kept it for four years.  When the state archaeology department tried to extend its lease by one more year, the National Museum authorities replied in the negative,” the official had told the newspaper.

But who was the sword’s well-known master?

Velu Thampi was born in 1756 in the village of Kalkulam, close to Nagercoil in present-day Tamil Nadu.

In 1801, he became Dalawa (Prime Minister) for the state of Travancore and was later recognized to be one of the first rebels against the British Raj. Historians in the state believe that his efforts are largely unrecognized by contemporary history.

The Dalawa himself had a very chequered history. Known to crush his opponents with fear and use ingeniously cruel torture methods on those who broke the law, some of his ways were too graphic to even find mention in the Travancore State Manual published in 1906.

“He was cruel and vindictive in his actions. His utmost merit lay in the fact that he was a strong man and inspired dread,” it says.

The book also explores his methods of torture.

“His favourite modes of punishment were: imprisonment, confiscation of property, public flogging, cutting off the palm of the hand, the ears or the nose, impalement or crucifying people by driving down nails on their chests to trees, and such like, too abhorrent to record here.”

Though the Dalawa was seen as a young king who was forced to emulate the oppressive ways of his predecessors to fill the empty coffers and to enforce the law with an iron fist within his state, he was credited with establishing many reforms like schools and local courts in every locality.

The Dalawa was initially on friendly terms with the British, but after the British short-changed him in the Treaty of 1805, he turned against them.

Why the furore over the sword?

In 2009, when the Department of History at the University of Kerala asked the National History Museum in Delhi about the Dalawa’s sword, they received a curious reply. It was on the lines of “there is nothing of the sort in the museum”.

After the intervention of the erstwhile Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the museum acknowledged its presence and possession. Local historians decried that it had not been given its pride-of-place in Delhi.

Sunday, June 20, 2010 was the day the sword made its return to its home-state on loan from the centre and has been there since. It is also known to be one of the star attractions at the Napier Museum.

This was also not the first time that the sword was ‘lost to history’.

After defeat and betrayal circled him, the Dalawa escaped Thiruvananthapuram in February 1809. The royal family of Kilimanoor hosted the absconding Dalawa and in return, he presented his battle-sword to the family. The Dalawa ended his life within weeks though, and the sword was missing from public view until 1957.

It was in that year that a member of the Kilimanoor family admitted having the sword and gave it to then President Rajendra Prasad. It then made the National Museum its home for 53 years.

The sword itself:

The 200-year-old sword is known to taper at the end and has shallow grooves on the side which is flat.

Experts believed this helped in causing minimal friction and resisted the sword’s hilt and blade becoming slippery from blood during combat. The grooves are also believed to help make the sword lighter without compromising on its strength.

The sword’s hilt is made out of brass and silver strips adorn it. Its pommel (rounded knob on the end of the handle of a sword) also contains a hole for a lanyard (rope meant to secure something) which aided it in not getting lost during battle.

Interestingly, its scabbard has not yet been found. 

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