The MADRAS Regiment is unique as one comprising of members of communities who had roots in the Southern regions of India , the early origins of its soldiers go back to those from the great empires and kingdoms of Chalukyas, Hoysalas, Pallavas, Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas and Bahminis, who ruled various parts of South India till the end of 18th Century AD. Alongside them, ranked famous warriors like Maharaja Marthanda Varma of Travancore, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan of Mysore, Katta Bomman of Tamil Nadu and Maharaja Krishna Devaraja of the Vijay Nagar Kingdom. Amongst these rich and powerful ancient Dravidian kingdoms in Southern India, the Cholas overtook the others and grew to mighty proportions. The soldiers of the MADRAS Regiment are the direct descendants of these martial races known for their valour. The MADRAS Regiment’s history is closely interwoven into the fabric of almost two centuries of India’s pre Independence history. The 255 years old MADRAS Regiment, was the first unit raised by the East India Company, marking the beginning of the process which, over the next few decades, formed the Indian Army, the most formidable of forces of the British Empire, which made decisive contributions to victory in many campaigns, including World Wars I and II. Post Independence, it is the Indian Army, which has maintained that Independence and integrity of India.
The 9th Battalion, the MADRAS Regiment’s oldest unit, was formerly known as the Nayar Pattalam, Nair Army or Nair Brigade. This militia, raised in 1704 at Padmanabhapuram as bodyguards for the Maharajah of Travancore, defeated the Dutch forces in the Battle of Colachel. True to its name, Nayar Pattalam remained an exclusive domain of Nair clansmen till the 1940s, when non-Nairs were permitted to join it. This Nayar Army became part of the Indian Army as the 9th Battalion of the MADRAS Regiment in April 1951.
In 1748, Major Stringer Lawrence, a veteran of action in Spain, Flanders and the Highlands, was hired by the East India Company to take charge of the defence of Cuddalore. The Madras Levies were formed into “companies” and trained to become a disciplined and fierce fighting force. Ten years later, Lawrence raised the MADRAS Regiment, forming the several Companies of Madras Levies into two battalions. The 2nd Battalion of the MADRAS Regiment was raised in 1776 as 15th Carnatic Infantry at Thanjavur and underwent many changes of nomenclature thereafter. Robert Clive was one of the many well-known British officers who commanded this regiment, which fought the Carnatic wars of South India.
The origin of the MADRAS Regiment dates back to December 4, 1758, when two battalions were raised under Col. Robert Clive consequent to the siege of Fort St. George by the French. The Madras Infantry expanded to 16 battalions by 1765 and subsequently to 52 battalions in 1826. These battalions had various names, like the Madras Infantry, the Madras Native Infantry, the Madras Pioneers and the Carnatic Infantry.
The Madras Native Infantry spearheaded the storming of Seringapatam Fort in the Fourth Mysore War in 1799. On September 23, 1803, British forces with battalions of the Madras Native Infantry, supported by a Madras Cavalry unit under Major General Arthur Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington), defeated the Peshawa Army in the Second Maratha War in the Battle of Assaye (now a desolate ruin near Akola in Nagpur). In recognition of its services, an insignia of the Assaye Elephant was awarded to the Madras Native Infantry. After Independence, the Assaye Elephant replaced the King’s Crown in the crest of the regiment. The MADRAS Regimental Centre was first raised as 36 Madras Battalion at Thanjavur in 1794.
Eventually, when the British annexed the Indian subcontinent, it was largely with the help of MADRAS Regiment sepoys. The advent of British rule and the merging of the Presidency armies into a British Indian Army led to the reorganization of erstwhile regiments. The irony, or what perhaps amounted to the stupidity of the British, is explained by the so-called ‘Martial Races’ theory.
By the end of the 19th century, recruitment was confined to certain social classes and communities principally those in the northern border areas and Punjab. The narrowing recruitment base was a response to the Sepoy Mutiny and reflected the needs of prevailing security requirements. The bulk of the rebels in the Bengal Army came from the Indo-Gangetic plain while those who remained loyal were mostly from Punjab. The experience of the mutiny also gave rise to a pseudo ethnological construction, the concept of “martial races” in South Asia. The popularisation of this notion was widely attributed to Frederick Sleigh Roberts, Earl of Kandahar, Pretoria, and Waterford; Roberts was an India-born veteran of the British forces that put down the Sepoy Mutiny and was the commander-in-chief of the British Indian Army from 1885 to 1893. Roberts believed that most martial races were located in north-western India. He regarded Bengalis, Marathas and southern ethnic groups as lacking in martial virtues. Their war propensities, he contended, had dissipated because of the ease of living and the hot, enervating climate of these regions. Roberts’ views profoundly influenced the composition of the British Indian Army in the last decades of the 19th century. For example, when the Bengal Army was reestablished in 1885, its new units were drawn from Punjab. In 1892, the army policy was changed significantly. Units were no longer raised on a territorial basis but along what was referred to as “class” lines. In effect, the regiments admitted only those with similar ethnic, religious or caste backgrounds. Between 1892 and 1914, recruitment was confined almost entirely to the “martial races”. These modes of recruitment and organisation created a professional force shaped profoundly by caste and regional factors to ensure loyalty to the British command. The procedures also perpetuated regional and communal ties and produced an army that was not nationally based.
It was from the stock of Madras Regiment that Madras Sappers, 16th Light Cavalry and 4th Field Regiment were raised and all of them have performed commendably in pre and post Independence wars and conflicts. All other arms of the Indian Army as well as Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Assam Rifles and other para military forces are well represented by all South Indian communities, yet again disproving the flawed “martial races” theory propagated by British of the colonial era.
The Madras Battalions were among the first to be deployed in World War I, with the 63rd Battalion sailing for East Africa right at the outbreak. The 75th Battalion was stationed in Aden where it engaged in “several sharp brushes with the enemy”. The 73rd, 79th, 80th, 83rd and 88th Battalions took part in the Mesopotamian Campaign. During World War II, the battalions of the regiment were part of the war in Burma (1942-45) and Indonesia (1945-46). The First Mysore Infantry (now 18 Madras) was part of intense action against the Japanese at Kota Bharu in December 1941 in Malaya (now Malayasia). Travancore state battalions made significant contributions to the Allied War effort in which lst Travancore (now 9 Madras) moved to Hong Kong as part of the occupation forces and 2nd Travancore (now 16 Madras) was deployed in West Asia as part of the Persia and Iraq Force. The 4th Battalion distinguished itself in the fierce fighting that ensued in Tamu, Burma, in March 1944.
The main building of the Centre, Shrinagesh Barracks – erstwhile Wellington Barracks -is one of its kind in India and has been a very sought-after location byIndian film-makers. Designed to quarter 54 non- commissioned officers and 820 rank and file and enclosing a large parade ground, it was constructed from 1852 to 1860 under the supervision of Captains Francis and Reilly with the aid of troop- labour. Teak was brought from the forests of Wayanad (now in Kerala) and stone, like other materials, quarried nearby. The total cost of the construction was approximately Rs 25 lakhs. The first regiment to occupy the Wellington Barracks was the 74th Highlanders. The MADRAS Regimental Centre moved to Wellington in February 1947 and was thus the first Indian Regiment to occupy Wellington Barracks, renamed in the process of Indianisation as “Shrinagesh Barracks” in honour of former Army Chief General S.M. Shrinagesh, the first Indian Colonel of the Regiment.
In 1947, 1, 2 and 4 Madras ( WLI) were actively engaged in Jammu & Kashmir operations and earned the Battle Honours of Tithwal and Poonch. In 1951, the state forces of Travancore, Cochin and Mysore were integrated with the regiment and the battalions were designated as 9 Madras (Travancore), 16 Madras (Travancore), 17 Madras (Cochin) and 18 Madras (Mysore). The 4 Madras (WLI) sailed overseas to Congo in April 1962 as part of the Indian contingent on a United Nations peacekeeping mission. Six battalions of the regiment saw intense action in the Indo-Pak conflict in 1965 and were conferred the battle honours “Maharajke” and “Kalidhar”. During the December 1971 conflict with Pakistan, 6 and 16 Madras Battalions played a vital role in the Shakargarh sector, earning the battle honour “Basantar.” The 26 Madras unit earned the battle honour “Siramani”. The 3 Madras unit was the first battalion of the regiment to be deployed in Siachen Glacier in 1987-88 and has the unique honour of having served there twice. So far, seven battalions have served during Operation Pawan and eight battalions of the regiment, including one Territorial Army battalion, were deployed in Sri Lanka.
The 4 Madras (WLI), as part of the Indian Brigade, reached Congo and played a major role in Operation Lufira, resulting in the fall of Jadotville in 1962. The 2 Madras Battalion served in the United Nation mission in Lebanon in 1999-2000 and the 26 Madras Battalion served as part of the United Nation Forces at Congo in 2007-08. In 2001, the regiment’s Republic Day contingent won all seven trophies, an unparalleled achievement.
Nine battalions of our regiment have held the fort at the World’s Highest Battlefield ‘Siachen Glacier’. In the second half of 1987, Indian Army was deployed in Sri Lanka under ‘Operation Pawan’, where eight battalions of the Regiment were deployed. Five battalions of the Regiment have served as part of United Nations Missions at Lebanon and Congo till date.
The author Lt Col Anil Bhat VSM
(Retd) is the Associate Editor of Salute.
He had received his commission in 19
MADRAS of Madras Regiment