The Reflective Indian

India – History and Society – for those who wish to think and learn for themselves

The Dutch and Pulicat

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Pulicat is a small fishing town to the north of Madras (Chennai) on the Coromandel Coast (the East Coast of peninsular India). Ignored and forgotten in modern India, Pulicat has a long and interesting history. A history that most Indians, even those living about 50 kilometres away in Madras remain unaware of.

Pulicat was an important sea port even two thousand years ago. Cartographers in Europe including Ptolemy acknowledged it as an important port, one of the few major ones in South India. It served as the port from which trade with other parts of South East Asia took place. The Chola, Pandya and Chera empires traded with the Malay peninsula and Jakarta from the shores of Pulicat.

With the advent of the Arab fleets and maritime trade, Arab settlements took place in the 9th century and the town was often considered as a muslim settlement. Later, the Vijaynagar kingdoms of peninsular India relied on Pulicat for their sea trade, making it a provincial capital.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Pulicat, reportedly in 1502. Over the next 60 years, the numbers of Portuguese increased significantly. and at one point in time there were perhaps over five hundred families. Due to political circumstances, the growth of Goa and conflicts, the Portuguese numbers started decreasing towards the end of the 16th century.

In 1605, the Dutch started getting a foothold in Pulicat. By 1616, Pulicat was the capital of Dutch Coromandel. A series of battles with the Portuguese and the local rulers took place. However, by 1633 a settlement had been reached and Pulicat remained in the control of the Dutch thereafter. It flourished for several reasons, including due to the local slave trade. It is estimated that over 30,000 slaves made their way from Pulicat to various parts of Ceylon and South East Asia as part of Dutch trade. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was the first truly incorporated Multinational Corporation in the world. After the Portuguese domination of the Indian trade in the 16th century, the Dutch East India Company took over and dominated the 17th century. It was only at the end of the 17th century that the British East India Company started to assert itself.  

The administrative records of the VOC numbering about 25 million pages found in different parts of the world including Jakarta, Chennai, Colombo, Cape Town and The Hague are considered to be the largest collection and archive of an account of modern history.

Amongst the many towns and ports that came under the Dutch banner were Cochin (Kochi) and Cannanore in Kerala, Surat in Gujarat, Masulipatnam (Machulipatnam) in modern coastal Andhra Pradesh and Chandanagore in Bengal. 

In 1690, the Dutch moved their capital to Nagapattinam, further south on the coast. Declining trade, the emergence of the Mughal domination of the Deccan, the kingdom of Golconda, the rise of the British and the settlement of Madras, and devastating famines led to a decline in the relevance and population of Pulicat. However, the Dutch did make Pulicat their capital once again in 1784. However, the focus of the Dutch had very much shifted to other parts of the globe. In 1825, the Nawab of Arcot signed away Pulicat to the British. This brought an end to Dutch Pulicat.

Today, Pulicat has the ruins of the Arab, Portuguese and Dutch settlements. A Dutch cemetery remains under the care of the Archaelogical Survey of India. A smaller Portuguese cemetery has recently been recognised and restored to some extent.

The links below provide further information:

Unesco VOC

TANAP VOC – the online archive

The painting of the Dutch off the Coromandel Coast is from Wikimedia Commons.

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This entry was posted on January 6, 2013 by in South India and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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