The Battle of Padmanabham was fought on July 10, 1794 between the English Colonel Pendergast, sent by the Governor of Madras, John Andrews, and the Raja of Vizianagaram kingdom. Pusapati Vijayarama Gajapathi Raju II or Pusapati Chinna Vijayaramaraju refused to submit to the extortionate demands of the English East India Company. For several decades the Company had interfered grossly in the affairs of the kingdom and the extortionate demand of Peshkash was the last straw that led to the battle.
The battle lasted no more than an hour and a half and cost the company only thirteen soldiers. The Company army was thoroughly trained and equipped, whereas the king had only a hastily assembled army of volunteers from the district around his capital city and no firearms.
Until the date of the battle, the domain of the Pusapati royal family of Vizianagaram included a large part of the northern Circars with a formal claim upon Masulipatnam. After the battle the domain of Vizianagaram became an administrative division of the Company territories in India. And the raja of Vizianagaram was reduced to the status of a zamindar. With a minor domain around Vizianagaram town. This was the last show of national defiance in the Telugu land for several decades to come.
It is interesting to note that Alluri Sitaramaraju, the hero that raised a massive tribal insurrection against the British rule in the early 20th century was from the same town.
Summary of the history of the region and the battle
Vijayarama Gajapatiraju I, also called Pedda Vijayaramaraju with his capital at Vizianagaram took French help to evict the Bobbili family from their domain. The rivalry between the families was more than a century old. The Battle of Bobbili resulted in a tragic massacre that perhaps the Raja did not foresee. Whether the Raja exulted or grieved at the turn of events, we do not know. But he himself would not last long after. Three days after the battle, the Raja was assasinated by the General of the Bobbili army, Tandra Paparayudu.
The immediate successor of Vijayaramaraju I was Ananda Gajapatiraju. Ananda Gajapati strongly suspected the French in this assassination. He invited English collaboration to evict the French from the Northern Circars. The acting Nizam of Hyderabad, Salabat Jung decisively turned to the English side after the English side won in the Battle of Condor (Chendurti) on the 7th of December 1758. The French commander fled to Masulipatam (Machlipatnam) and was eventually evicted from there in April 1759. This forms a significant point in the history of the English rise in India.
The English had made a treaty between equals when they allied with the Vizianagaram kingdom. But after the successes at Condor and Masulipatam, they declared that the treaty was not endorsed by the directors in London, so it was invalid abinitio. This was nothing new in the history of the English East India Company or for that matter any other imperialist venture to arrive upon Indian shores.
Ananda Gajapatiraju did not last long after. He passed away in 1760 from small pox. With the conquest of Bengal, the English were already a major power in India. But had not quite consolidated their position elsewhere. And had Ananda Gajapati continued he might have been a serious challenge to English power in the Northern Circars and perhaps radically altered the course of events not only locally but also over the rest of the Carnatic, and perhaps even over the wider region of the Deccan.
Ananda Gajapatiraju was succeeded formally by Chinna Vijayaramaraju or Vijayarama Gajapatiraju II, a son of Vijayarama Gajapatiraju I by adoption. He was a minor as of the date of his accession. And the English either directly appointed a Diwan or closely influenced the event. Seetaramaraju, the step brother of Vijayaramaraju II became the Diwan and defacto sovereign of the kingdom. He subdued the many tribes and Zamindars of the region and made the Vizianagaram kingdom the primary principality of the region. However Chinna Vijayaramaraju the titular head, was much diminished in his own domain. And the kingdom of Vizianagaram though rapidly consolidated it’s primacy in the region , was much disliked by the subjects for the terrible oppressions that it brought upon the land.
In 1793 eventually Chinna Vijayaramaraju forced Seetaramaraju to retire to Madras. However this was a fleeting restoration of the legitimate power in Vizianagaram. In Madras, Seetaramaraju appears to have advised the English to press heavy demands of Peshkash from Chinna Vijayaramaraju, with a view to ruin him. The Raja of Vizianagaram refused these demands. His independence lasted perhaps not even a few months. The Company’s army located in the vicinity invaded the city on the 2nd of August 1793 and forced the king to flee. The king abandoned his palace and took refuge in the jungles near the capital city. There he endeavoured to raise an army of volunteers from the jungle tribes.
In 1794 matters came to a head. The Company sent a small force from Madras to seek and subdue the king. A brief battle ensued at the temple town of Padmanabham between Vishakhapatnam and Vizianagaram. A more forlorn resistance could scarcely have been imagined. The king was felled in the first volley by the English muskets. And the rest of the army of less than 1200, was killed, captured or scattered in less than an hour of battle.
The Battle of Bobbili took place in January 1757. This marked a high point of the French power in the Carnatic. However Vijayarama Gajapatiraju, the native prince who invited French help in the battle, was assassinated by the General of Bobbili shortly after the battle. His immediate successor was Ananda Gajapatiraju. Ananda Gajapatiraju rapidly consolidated his position of strength in the large domain of the Vizianagaram kingdom.
He always suspected French complicity in the assassination of Vijayaramaraju. And in 1758, he invited English assistance to evict the French. This was effected at the Battle of Condore (Chendurti near Rajamundry).
Ananda Gajapatiraju passed away in 1760 from small pox. Chandrayamma the widow of Vijayarama Gajapatiraju I, adopted Venkatapatiraju, (1748 – 1794) and named him Chinna Vijayaramaraju. Chinna Vijayaramaraju became the soverign of the kingdom. However he was a minor and the English intervened and appointed Sitaramaraju as the Diwan. Sitaramaraju was also a close relative of Chinna Vijayaramaraju. Perhaps the son of another queen of Pedda Vijayaramaraju, though not entitled to the throne by custom.
The succession of the adopted prince and also the Diwan of the state was acknowledged by both Salabat Jung, the claimant to the throne of the Nizam, and also the English. Vizianagaram was to pay a sum of close to three lakhs of rupees to the Nizam as annual tribute.
Court intrigues in Hyderabad and also the preoccupations of the English elsewhere gave a period of respite to the Vizianagaram kingdom. And from 1760 to 1767, the kingdom ran almost without any intervention of either the English Company or even the Nizam. And Sitaramaraju started a program of annexation and subjugation of the surrounding zamindaris and tribal territories with active assistance from the Marathas.
However in 1765, the English obtained a firman from the Mughal emperor, Shah Alam, at Oudh. This firman assigned Bengal in perpetuity to the English as Diwani. There appears to have been no formal mention of the southern provinces in the firman. The Mughal emperor had little authority even around Delhi let alone over the Deccan. But the English Company made large public processions of the firman even at their forts and factories in the Carnatic.
The French had already been subdued and merely permitted to stay as traders at the mercy of the English. And the English were very much on the ascendent. Though they still had some serious challengers that they would battle for the next several decades.
From that date several treaties and adjustments were made between the English and the Nizam. And eventually in 1767, the Northern Circars and indeed much of the Carnatic were done over to the English Company.
And from that date they demanded tribute from the Raja of Vizianagaram. In 1767, the first tribute of Rs. 3 lakhs was paid by Vizianagaram to the English.
Masulipatam which remained with the Vizianagaram Zamindar since its conquest from French in 1759, was now transferred to the English Company.
In 1768 and 1769 there was a major insurrection in the Vizianagaram hills.
The tribal areas, such as Parlakimidi, Ganjam, Mohiri, Gunsuru, and Pratapagiri (etc.) were under 20 zamindars. They owned 34 forts and had roughly 35,000 troops. Some of the castles were in the hills (called Manyam ) near Vizianagaram.
These several Zamindars were violently subdued by Sitaramaraju. Therefore, the defeated Zamindars had retreated to their hill fortresses. Many of these Zamindars revolted against the oppressions and impositions now arsing from the new claims of the English Company.
The zamindars and tribes around the region recognised and acknowledged Chinna Vijayaramaraju as their king. Whereas the state was now firmly in the hands of Sitaramaraju who violently subdued the entire area and sternly extracted a tribute far in excess of the established custom and ability of the people, in service of a foreign power.
In the event, Sitaramaraju procured aid from the English Company to quell the uprising. Many of the Zamindars were either killed or imprisoned. Sitaramaraju now consolidated his position and ruled very cruelly.
It will be important to note that the king of Bobbili, Chinna Ranga Rao too was imprisoned and then forced to flee to Bhadrachalam. This too was during the reign of Sitaramaraju.
He continued to rule long after the coming of age of Chinna Vijayaramaraju. It will be informative to identify documents of this period, but there is little doubt that this was much more than mere personal rivalry between Sitaramaraju and Vijayaramaraju. Sitaramaraju was the usurper supported by the English and Vijayaramaraju was the legitimate king who was forced into the background by Sitaramaraju with the support of the English Company.
More than a decade before the date of the battle the Board of Directors in England took serious note of the gross misbehaviour of the Madras Presidency with regard to the Vizianagaram principality. The documents in possession of the Vizianagaram family attest to this dark period.
The company was convinced that the continuance of the predominant position of Vizianagaram would be detrimental to its larger interests and deicide to degrade it to an inferior status. To their designs, the machinations of Dewan Sitaramaraju, step-brother of Chinna Vizayaramarju, to whose care the just and pious ruler committed the affairs of his principality, came handy.
Sitaramaraju was a man of high ambitions and abilities and soon assumed the position of a default ruler. No doubt, he greatly added to the power and extent of Vizianagaram but in so doing overrode the sentiments to the people and the interests of the neighbouring Zamindars and lost their good-will. Chinna and the interests of the neighbouring Zamindars and lost their good-will. Chinna Vizayaramaruju though realised the harmful results that would follow the high handed policies of the elder brother and Dewan, could not get rid of him as the latter was constantly backed by the corrupt officials of the Madras Presidency.
The policy of the Madras Presidency did not go unnoticed. The Court of Directors took strong exception to its actions and in their letter dt. 10th January 1781 wrote to the Presidency,
“Our surprise and concern were great on observing the very injurious treatment, which the ancient Raja of Vizianagaram received at the hands of the Presidency. Inspite of his representations and entreaties, you in the most arbitrary and unwarranted manner appointed his ambitious and intriguing brother Sitaramaraju as Diwan. For, however necessary it might be to adopt measures for payment of Company’s tribute, no avowed resistance to the Company’s authority could warrant such a treatment of the Raja”.
Governor Ramboldt was recalled. Even the House of Commons in their resolution dt. 25th April 1782 censured the policy of the Madras Presidency.
“That the Governor and the majority of the council of fort. St. George did by menace and harsh treatment compel Vizayaramaraju to employ Sitaramarju as Diwan and the gross ill-treatment, which he received at the hands of the Presidency were humiliating and unjust and cruel in themselves and highly derogatory to the interests of the East India Company and the honour of the British nation”.
Eventually in 1793 Chinna Vijayaramaraju forced Sitaramaraju to leave the kingdom with an appropriate pension. Sitaramaraju was not to stay content with this turn of events. And he persuaded the English Company that the vizianagaram kingdom was worth much more revenue and must be made to pay such an increased sum.
The template for acquisition of native territories by the company was well established by that date. The English would make demands that the native princes could not accept or fulfil. And then the English would either evict the prince or take over large parts of his territory. Even more insulting doctrines of acquisition were to come later.
The Presidency now demanded a radical increase in Peshkash to rupees Eight and Half Lakhs from Vizianagaram. This demand was a transparent design to cripple the state and depose the king. The king protested and demonstrated that he owed no dues to the Company. And all the earlier dues to the Company were regularly and dutifully paid. The Presidency however had made up its mind. It was going to depose the king.
The Company promptly marched upon the capital city and captured Vizianagaram on August 2, 1793. The people of the state stubbornly opposed this outrage and refused to pay taxes to the English administration.
The Company ordered that Vijayaramarajunu must retire to Masulipatam with a pension of Rs 1200. However, Vijayaramarajunu refused the orders and he fled to the jungles around Padmanabham. Almost an year later the British troops attacked, defeated and killed Chinna Vijayaramarajunu in a brief battle at Padmanabham with essentially negligible losses.
The Rajah of Vizianagaram and 1174 warriors fought a brave and forlorn battle for the cause of national independence. A war memorial was built at the site by the state archaeological department. <<citation / photographs>>
After the death of Vijayaramaraju, his son Narayanababu found shelter in search of Makkuva village. The konda doras and sardars supported him. In the end, he compromised with the British, and agreed to pay 5 million peskas. A sum that would have crippled the state for a very long time.
After the English occupied Vizianagaram, they released many Zamindars held in prison by Sitaramaraju. They renewed the zamindars lands but deprived them of most of their autonomy.
By 1802 they established a system of heavy but stable taxation called the permanent tax system for zamins.
The king of Vizianagaram, resolved to concentrate upon developing his much diminished domain into a center for the fine arts and education. Vizianagaram has ever since remained the center for the arts and education in the Telugu region of the Madras Presidency. This fame continues to this day. Many famous artists and