Marthanda Varma (1706 - 1758) was the son of the Rani of Attingal. He inherited the throne of Venad, a small principality on the southern tip of peninsular India, from his uncle, as per the matrilineal system of inheritance. However, Pappu Thampi and Raman Thampi, sons of the deceased king, conspired with the nobles Ettuveetil pillamar (nobles of the 8 houses) and the religious heads - the Ettara Yoggakaar (8 and a half yogam), to assassinate him. He escaped from the capital city of Padmanabhapuram to the loyal city of Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), taking the the help of local people. Collecting forces, he destroyed both the feudal nobles and his cousins and exiled the Yogakkar from the land.
A shrewd tactician and a brilliant general, he signed a treaty with the English East India Company in 1723, in his capacity as the crown prince. On assuming the throne in 1729. Assisted by his able minister Ramayyan Dalawa, Marthanda Varma raised a well trained army from the local people of Venad. He started on his campaign of expansion and started conquering the neighboring kingdoms. Many of these were allies of the Dutch East India Company and they declared war on Marthanda Varma. The battle began when a force of Dutch marines under the leadership of a Flemish commander, Captain Eustachius De Lannoy (also spelt D'lennoy) were sent to Travancore to secure a trading post from the Raja. They landed with artillery in Kulachal (Colachel), then a small but important coastal town, and captured the territory up to Padmanabhapuram, the then-capital of Travancore. The arrival of the Raja's army from the north forced the Dutch to take up defensive positions in Kulachal, where they were attacked and defeated by the Travancore Nair forces, the key element of the Raja's personal army, known as the Travancore Nair Brigade or locally known as the Nair Pattalam. This unit was later integrated into the Indian Army as the 9th Battalion of the Madras Regiment in 1954. Some twenty eight Dutch soldiers were taken prisoner. After the defeat, the commander Captain Eustachius De Lannoy joined the Raja's army in return for his life being spared, and served in it for over two decades as Valia Kappithan (commander-in-chief) and received the status of a Madambi (Nair noble).He stayed at Udayagiri Kotta till his death. A pillar of victory which gives details about the war still stands near the coast of Kulachal.
Following the defeat of the Dutch and the capture of Admiral D'lennoy at the battle of Colachael in 1741, Marthanda Varma continued his expansion and annexed all the princely states right up to Kochi in 1746. An invasion from Rettipalayam through the Aramboli Ghat was stopped and Marthanda Varma secured the Eastern border as well. Marthanda Varma renovated the 8th century old Sri Padmanabha temple of Trivandrum, and on January 3rd 1750, he dedicated (tripaddidhanam) his new kingdom to Sri Padmanabha and ruled as the servant of the deity, with the title Sreepadamanabhadasa.
He is known as "The maker of modern Travancore" for developing a small kingdom into a powerful state.