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Police in Travancore

Click to See Larger ViewThe Travancore State formally came in to existence in the middle of the 14th century,but there is no detailed historical description available on the working of the Police system until the 18th century. Historical evidence discloses that the country was divided into many small kingdoms, which were ruled by Desavazhis assisted by Nattukoottam. There was no central or apex authority to govern the autocratic functioning of the  Desavazhis. During the period of King Marthandavarma (1729- 1758) , the need for an enhanced armed force to maintain the law and order system was found necessary. King Marthanda Varma engaged the services of “ Marava Force” to suppress local rebellions from time to time. The duties of the Police were carried out by the above said Armed Forces. The written records regarding the structure, strength and various other details on the armed Forces in the Erstwhile Travancore are available from 1757 AD onwards. They reveal that the Kingdom was divided into various divisions and several new posts such as “ Sarvadhikaryakar”, “ Karyakar” and “ Pravarthyakar” were created. These officers were responsible for enforcing the law and order. They were also responsible for judicial functions. All major law and order issues , cases of murder, robbery and theft were handled by the above said local authorities with the active participation of the local people.

In the kingdom of Travancore, the Veluthampy Dalawa’s revolt of 1809 upturned the administrative system and Umminy Thampy was appointed as Diwan on 18th March,1809.Till 1809 , there was no separate police force in Travancore. It was in that year that Dewan Ummini Thampi ( 1809- 1811 ) framed the nucleus of a force named “ Kaval” with 200 men,. but the persons in the force had neither qualification nor training. He also set four courts in order to maintain law and order. Later Colonel Monro became the Resident in 1811. He dismissed these courts , and temporarily became the custodian of law and order. When he was appointed as the Dewan, he brought the police force strictly under his control. His first reform act was to increase the number of the Police Men from 200 to 500. The Police personnel were entrusted with the task of maintaining law and order and also the power to apprehend the criminals.  It was also made mandatory that all the criminals must be handed over to the custody of the Police only.

Click To See Larger ViewNair Brigade

The Nair Brigade was the army of the erstwhile kingdom of Travancore in India. Nair is a community in the region, who were responsible for the security of Travancore. King Marthanda Varma's (1706 - 1758) personal bodyguard was called as 'Thiruvithamkoor Nair Pattalam' (Travancore Nair Army). The Travancore army was officially referred as the Travancore Nair Brigade in 1818. In the early days, only Nairs were admitted in to this brigade. Later, the unit was expanded and several sub units were formed. The name - Nair Brigade, remained unchanged, even though Non Nairs were also admitted in to this brigade. The army was involved in many services during peace time. The Headquarters of the brigade was in Thiruvananthapuram.


History of Nair Brigade

The history of Travancore Police is all mixed up with the History of Nair Brigade, which was formed during the reign of Marathanda Varma. Historical documents about this army are available from 1757 onwards. But it was in 1830 that the name Nair Brigade was given to the Travancore Army. The total strength of the Army was 5000 in 1870. The King had nearly one lakh Nairs and Chekavans under his control. Given military training , they wielded bows and arrows, swords, spheres etc. One portion of the force was known as Karnatic Brigade. In 1826 the Police force was entrusted with the duties of the Army. Consequently the strength of the Police was increased and its efficiency was enhanced.

The historical documents about the early activities of the Nair Brigade which was actually formed as an auxiliary to the Army, were not available. In 1819 when the structure of the Army was reformed, the Nair Brigade assumed the duties of the Police. Guarding the prison, observing the prisoners, preventing smuggling, protecting palace, castles, and courts, assisting the revenue officials in collecting revenue, finding out culprits etc. were the duties.They also functioned as the orderlies and guards of the civil Officers. In addition to this they worked in temples during festival seasons. Later the Nair Brigade was dissolved in the Indian Army. The body guard, which was the part of the Travancore state force was later dissolved in the Police Force.


Other Interesting Facts

  • The area where the Travancore Brigade was settled came to be called as Palayam, which means army settlement. The area is still called so, even though it has changed to a market.
  • The Muslim Cavalry soldiers of the Nair Brigade of Travancore, who had settled in Sasthamangalam and Vattiyoorkavu, built an impressive mosque in Vattiyoorkavu.
  • The famous Pazhavangadi Ganapathi Temple in Thiruvananthapuram was owned and maintained by the Travancore Brigade. This temple is now owned and maintained by the Indian Army, after the integration of Travancore Army with the Indian Forces.
  • The first batch of State Forces of Cochin Kingdom was also called as the Nair Brigade in 1940. The Brigade's name was changed in 1945 by Kerala Varma and allowed non-Nairs also to be admitted in his army.


However, the most notable reform was introduced during the time of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal (1829-1847). As an important measure, in 1835 the first law in respect of Police was enunciated and thereby the Tahsildars became Police authorities and were empowered to deal the petty cases and refer serious offences to Zilla courts. In 1854 when new revenue divisions were formed The Dewan Peishkar became the Superintendent of Police in addition to his duties and functions. The Tahsildars thus became the heads of Police in the Taluks The divisional Sub Magistrates and Police Amins also were there to look after the affairs in addition to the Taluk Sub Magistrates. Other officers charged with magisterial and Police functions in addition to special revenue duties were the Commercial agent at Alappuzha, the Sperintendent of Cardamon Hills, the Conservator of Forests and the Superintendent of the Central and Southern Coffee districts. For the purpose of assisting the Magistrates and Sub Magistrates there existed certain officers in the name of Extra and Assistant Extra Police Officers and Police Inspectors.

Modernisation of Travancore Police

Till 1881, the work of the Police was combined with that of the Magistrates. Actually, such a combination was found objectionable in principle and was most convenient in practice. The Indian Police act in 1861, which was made applicable to the British India, had attracted the attention of several provinces.  In Travancore, Dewan Rama Iyengar was appointed for preparing a report on the basis of the Indian Police Act.  Thereafter, the Travancore Police was reorganised on the basis of Rama Iyengars's report and the process was completed in 1881.The following were the important recommendations of Rama Iyengar .


  1. The Police force should be separated from Magistracy
  2. A Superintendent should conduct the administration of the Police under the direct control of Maharaja.
  3. Certain criteria should be adopted for the recruitment of Police personnel.
  4. They should serve in any part of the country.
  5. If necessary, a village Police force may also be maintained in addition to the Police force.

On the basis of this report a law was passed in 1881 on the lines of Madras Police Act. Thereafter , the Travancore Police was reorganised and  the Police Department was started under the leadership of O.M.Bensly, the first Superintendent of Travancore Police.  He held the post for thirty years and he is regarded as the Father of Travancore Police.

As a result of re-organization certain changes occurred in the department. For example, literacy, good conduct and physical fitness were made compulsory for recruitment. Three Inspectors and nine Head Constables were appointed by transfer from the British Police and The Mysore Police. The new recruits were educated people and as a result of this the  percentage of educated people in the Police Force increased in due course. Rules were also issued for training and posting of  the personnel. The system of conducting examination for promotion was also introduced. Consequently,quality of the force increased. Police stations were opened in the high ranges like Peerumade and Devikulam. Further, certain duties formerly entrusted with the Nair Brigade also were assigned to the Police force.

The re- organization, which started in 1881,was completed in 1882. At this time the force consisted of a Superintendent, 2 Assistant Superintendents, 42 Inspectors ( in various grades ), 8 Sub Inspectors, 160 Head Constables, 1890 Constables. It shows the tremendous development of the department. in modern times. The members of the force were enlisted from all classes with due regard to age and physical fitness and placed under the immediate control of the European Superintendent, O. H. Bensely. As a result of the re- organization a complete separation of the Police and the Magistracy was effected and a clear line of demonstration was drawn between the judicial functions of the Magistrates and the preventive and detective duties of the Police.

 In 1910 F.S George became the Superintendent of Police and  he  was succeeded by C.B Cunningham. During his tenure the Department underwent further reorganization in 1919.The designation of the Superintendent of Police was changed and renamed as the Commissioner of Police. The entire administration of the force in Travancore was entrusted upon the Commissioner.      Mr. Cunningham was appointed the first Commissioner of Police.

During the period of William. H. Pitt who was the Police Commissioner of Travancore in 1921, the Criminal Intelligence wing was started in the Police Department. After the 1881 reform, an Armed reserve Police started functioning in the Police Head quarters. They were given regular practice sessions.  During the time of L.A.Bishop, he appointed an Assistant Superintendent to study and report on the necessity of refining the jurisdiction of Police Stations, determining the power of the force and establishing out posts in different places. The practice of keeping station crime history sheet started. This helped a lot in identifying criminals. A Forensic Bureau was established in Thiruvananthapuram in 1900. L. A. Bishop caused the introduction of several modern methods in order to help the Police in investigation. Narayana Pillai, who was successive Police Commissioner, also introduced several far-reaching reforms in the Police setup.


In 1939 there was a major reorganisation of the Police System and the post of the Inspector General of Police was introduced.  Mr. Khan Bhahadhur Sayid Abdul Karim Sahib Suhrawady was appointed as the first Inspector General of Police of the Travancore State.  The strength of the Police Force during 1939 is shown below:     

Inspector General of Police


Deputy Inspector General of Police


District Superintendents of Police


Assistant Superintendents of Police




Head Constables


Police Constables



In  1939, Significant changes were made in the General Executive Wing, Criminal Intelligence Wing, Reserve Force, Special Police ,and Traffic Wing. The total strength of the Police personnel in 1947 was 3626. N.Chandrasekharan Nair was appointed as Inspector General of Police and he took charge on 21st of August, 1948. He continued as Inspector General of Police even after the merger of Travancore and Cochin in1952 and he was appointed as the first Inspector General of Police after the formation of the  Kerala State in 1956.




Reputation of Travancore Police

Sir. Madhava Rao in his Administration report of 1042 M. E (1867 AD) praised the Police system, commenting that “A very high degree of security of persons and property has now been attained in Travancore. Men and women, the latter with costly ornaments, can travel by the highways night and day without apprehension”.

The Travancore State Manual by T. K . Velu Pillai ( 1882- 1950 ) , first published in 1940 mentions that only literate people were recruited in the Police force. Men of high education are frequently chosen to fill places in the subordinate ranks. The document further states that prominent persons like Mahatma Gandhi have been so much impressed with the discipline and courtesy generally exhibited  by the force that they have thought it right  to give them high compliment by comparing them with the London Police.


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