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History written in gold – The Tarangampadi gold foil

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(by K.R.A. Narasiah)

At the recent Prof. Anan-tha­krishnan Endowment Lecture at the Roja Muthiah Research Library, Prof. P.S. Ramanujam, a professor in optics at the Technical University of Denmark, spoke on his passion, the history of Tarangam­padi (Tran­que­bar) during Danish rule. He particularly focussed on the Gold Leaf Agreement ­between the Danes and the ruling Nayak, dated 1620.

While researching into ­archival material regarding the Danish East Indian colonies of Tranquebar and Serampore, and palm leaf collections in Denmark, he found this April 1620 letter written on a gold foil, 40 cm long and 25 mm wide, which invited the Danes to trade from there. The foil was signed by Raghunatha Nayak in Telugu, though the text itself was in Tamil. The text was later translated into Danish and German by C. T. Walther in 1741.

Ramanujam read out the text in the gold leaf which is a prized possession of the ­National Archives in Copenha­gen. It stated,

“We, the Royal Highness Srimad Raghunatha Nayak: send this message to the ambassador of the King of Denmark, on the 22nd day of Chitrai in the year Raudri. We are prospering here. Kindly despatch the news about Your Highness’ prosperity. We are pleased to learn the news of that place brought to us by Captain Roeland Crape and the Holland General. Since we have agreed that we should not draw a distinction between Your Highness and ours and have agreed to live as one, we have honour­ed the Holland General and Captain Roeland Crape with palanquins and permitted the subjects of that country to come and settle here. We order the creation of a port named Taran­gampadi here and allow the export of pepper to that country as it is not available there. We have given appropriate warning to the Portuguese against the trouble they caused to Roeland Crape, fined them 12,000 pon and have issued orders to them not to interfere with your ships. We have sent back the general. Since we have ordered that this place should be made suitable for the residence of Captain Roeland Crape, he is now resi­ding there.

“As it has been resolved that we should not entertain distinction between our country and yours, we order that the people from your country could come and settle in this place. Please arrange frequently to send us rare objects from that country. We are sending with this garments two big pitambarams (silk garments), a hanging carpet, two upper garments, four painted carpets, two jamutad swords, a dagger with lion-handle, another dagger and four Singaram bows.”

The signature of the Nayak is on the lower right hand side of the foil and sprawls across several text lines which surround it. This seems to indicate that Raghu­natha Nayak had signed first, and the text was filled up later. The text of the foil starts with “Raudra year, Chittirai month, 20th”; this will correspond to the current Gregorian date of April 16, 1620 (Indian Chronology, L. D. Swamikannu Pillai).

The second line of the text starts with “ulandeesu chenne­ralum, Rulangkalappai karpitha­rum..”; Rulangkalappai refers to Roeland Crappé and karpithar is Captain. Ulandeesu Chen­naral refers to a General from Holland. Who this General was, we do not know. Walther translated the date as “Raudra 2nd April”. Later citations claim this date to be “2nd April 1621”. These dates, according to Ra­ma­­­­­nujam, could not be correct. It is obvious from the text that Tranquebar was given to the Danes, but through Roe­land Crappé. The text states that a port called Tharan­gam­padi has been established with a view to the Danes setting up a trade centre there.

According to history, Ta­ran­gampadi is a port town established by Kulasekhara Pandian in the 14th Century on the Coromandel coast. After agreement between Raghunatha Nayak and the Danish king, Christian IV, the town became a trading post of the Danes and remained in their hands until 1845, when it was sold to the English.

When Kulasekhara Pandian established the port town in the 14th Century, it was called Shadanganpadi. Ramanujam says that this can be seen from an inscription in the Masila­manai Temple there.

Ramanujam explains the way the Danes entered the area. In December 1619, Roeland Crap­pé of Denmark captured a few small Portuguese vessels carrying arecanuts and rice in the seas north of Sri Lanka. The Portuguese, however, lay in wait, and wrecked his ship. Crappé, along with 12 others, managed to swim ashore and were given asylum by Raghu­natha Nayak in April 1620. Ove Gedde, who was commanding a Danish fleet, contacted Roe­land Crappé, who invited him to visit the Nayak at Tanjore. This resulted in a treaty between Raghunatha Nayak and Christian IV. Gedde left Tran­quebar on February 13, 1621 and reached Copenhagen on March 4, 1622. Roeland Crappé became the first ‘Governor’ of Tranquebar.

Ramanujam explains that historians of a later period have misinterpreted the contents of the golden foil as THE treaty written in Tamil. It is not – it is a letter of friendship written by the Nayak. In the Danish National Archives, there is another translation of the gold foil dating to 1791, which has been overlooked by all historians. This translation corresponds to Ramanujam’s with the exception of the year which is mentioned as Nala. Nala corresponds to 1616!

Ramanujam concludes that the main treaty between Raghunatha Nayak and Ove Gedde was signed on November 19,1620. One copy of the treaty written on parchment in Portuguese, which was then the main language for trade, is in the National Archives in Copen­hagen. This treaty bears the original signature of Raghu­natha (which can be compared with the gold foil). After Ove Gedde came home, the treaty was ratified by Christian IV; however, the ratification was never sent back to Tanjore. It is also believed that there was a treaty in “Mallabarisk” (Tamil) too. Ramanujam does not believe this to be true; he thinks that this is a misunderstanding caused by those who mistook the letter on the gold foil to be a treaty.

Ramanujam says that there are two more letters on gold foil, but these were written much later, between 1620 and 1636.

According to Ramanujam, approximately 60 documents in Modi (Marathi) script are there in the Danish National Archives. These are documents written by the Maratha rulers at Tanjore to the Government in Tranque­bar. All these documents have been translated.

A dubash who was prominent at one time, Daniel Pullei (Pillai), wrote more than a hundred ­letters in Tamil addressed to one Piragasam Pullei. These are in the Copenhagen Archives as are letters from one Vira­raghava Ayyangar and a Gulam Muhammad, who served as ­intermediaries between the Raja of Tanjore and the Danish Government and also as asses-sors at the Black Court. Their letters document local history, such as the invasion by Tippu Sultan.

(More details about the documents at the National Archives can be seen on www.tharangampadi.dk)

Courtesy: http://www.madrasmusings.com/history-written-in-gold.html

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