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Friday, September 12, 2014

Exciting new find of Chinese coins in Kollam - Numismatic Study by Beena Sarasan

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The city of Kollam ( Quilon,'Ku-lin' in Chinese history) witnessed history being made on its shore recently. Now a minor cargo port, efforts were being made to deepen the waters to allow ships with larger draught to berth in the Kollam port. The suction dredger was bringing up muck from the bottom of the channel and depositing it on shore, to be removed to some landfill. Then, suddenly, someone noticed in January 2014 that the muddy slurry contained priceless artefacts including Chinese potsherds and coins. There was a virtual 'gold rush' on the Kollam coast for several days, until the district administration intervened and brought some order. The suction dredger did not disappoint; it continued to disgorge hoards of Chinese coins.







Mrs. Beena Sarasan, an authority on South Indian numismatics has studied the Chinese coins unearthed in Kollam and has produced an attractive monograph, entitled 'Chinese Cash in "Ku-lin" - Vestiges of Kollam's maritime history'. She has studied the particular features of each type of coin which extends from Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) through Southern Tang kingdom, Northern Song dynasty, Southern Song synasty, Jin dynasty and Yuan dynasty. She has also described in detail the significance of the indigenous Chola coins (kasu) found along with the Chinese hoard and analysed the details of the Chinese coins discovered  a year before from the nearby Sasthamcotta Lake, consisting again a mix of Tang and north and south Song era.
Viewed from the broader canvas of relations between India and China, we notice a break in the 11th Century, according to Buddhist traditions. It seems the last Indian monk ( named Che-ki-siang) went to China in 1053. The last Chinese monk to have arrived in Bodhgaya was recorded to be in 1033. However, relations between China and south India followed a different trajectory. Commercial relations which started during the Tang period continued uninterrupted throughout the Song period.
We find evidence of this in one of the largest hoards of Chinese coins discovered in Thalikettai village of Mannargudi taluk, Tanjavur district in Tamil Nadu, in 1944. It brought to light 1818 coins which represented an unbroken series of coins from Sui period (585 AD) to the end of Song period (1275 AD).
Much of the evidence relating to Chinese trade in the west coast of India is obtained from Chinese sources, like Mahuan's account and the transcription of Ming stelae. Researchers like Prof. Karashima have unearthed some evidence from extensive collection of potsherds gathered from the sandy coast. The importance of the present Kollam finding should be considered in the light of this. It is for the first time that a hoard similar to the 1944 Thalikettai hoard of the eastern coast has now been found in the western coast which was dominated by the Ku-lin port.
Chinese records of the 12th Century, like Zhou Qufei's Lingwai daida ( 'Information on What is Beyond the Passes') described how Chinese sea-faring traders who were planning to go to Dashi ( the Persian Gulf) had to change to smaller boats in Kollam.
Another interesting fact relates to the determination of Kublai Khan, the founder of the Yuan dynasty to conquer and subdue Ku-lin. His attempts present a contrast to the subsequent voyages of Zheng He under the Mings. Yang Tingbi, as the emissary of Kublai Khan visited Kollam in 1280 and sought its submission. Having failed in the mission, Kublai again sent Yang Tingbi to Kollam, this time accompanied by Hasaerhaiya (Qasar Qaya) who had been given the grandiose title of 'Commissioner of the Pacification Office (in charge of) Kollam'. Bad weather forced this second expedition to land in Kayalpattanam. The Chinese enquired there about the land route to Kollam, but the local officials refused to reveal it to the Yuan entourage. The disappointed emissaries returned to China, yet again.
Kublai Khan refused to give up. Yang Tingbi was himself appointed the Commissioner of the Pacification Office and sent on a third mission to Kollam which reached in 1285.( The monograph gives a slightly different version, quoting from Yuan shish).
The author of this monograph has described the features of each of the coins, beginning with the Kai Yuans which belonged to the inaugural series of Tang dynasty (618-907). The crescent shaped mark on the reverse of the Kai Yuan coins is attributed to the finger nail mark of Empress Wende who had inadvertently stuck one of her nails into the wax model of the coin which was first presented to her. As a mark of reverence, the crescent mark was reproduced in all the Kai Yuan coins!
Of all the dynasties, the Kollam collection has the least number of coins belonging to the Yuan period, represented only by one large 10 cash coin in Mongol script. This may look anomalous, as we saw above that there was hectic activity during Kublai Khan's regime. But, as explained by the author, paper money printed on cotton or mulberry bark was made popular during this period and this probably accounted for the scarcity of Yuan coins.



The author has catalogued all the available coins and  given a scholarly analysis of the significance of the coin hoard and the detail of each of the coins. As Prof. M.G.S. Narayanan has said in the foreword, 'Mrs. Beena Sarasan is to be congratulated for making such a detailed study of the excavated materials in such a short time in the light of available historical literature....I am sure that the present monograph will provide a solid foundation for other volumes to come.'
We are sure that the recent revival of interest in studies about Malabar- China relations among Indian and Chinese scholars will find the present volume of great interest in reconstructing the glorious era of cooperation for mutual interest which marked the maritime trade during the early medieval period.
In the end, we would request the author to  catalogue and study the collection of 15 Chinese coins (tentatively identified as belonging to the later Manchu Qing dynasty 1711-1850) which are with the manuscript library of Calicut University. These coins were discovered in 2007 by Dr. Liu Yinghua, a Chinese scholar of Sanskrit and Ayurveda who was then studying under Prof. C Rajendran of the Sanskrit Department of Calicut University. Dr. Liu noticed that the metal pieces used to tie the manuscripts were in fact Chinese coins. How these coins came to British Malabar and to the Namboodiri illam from where most of the palm leaf manuscripts were procured,  should make a fascinating study.

Chinese Cash in "Ku-lin": Vestiges of Kollam's maritime history, Ms. Beena Sarasan, (2014) Published by the author. Price: Rs. 1000 (USD 30). Author can be contacted at beenasarasan@gmail.com

References:
1. India and China - A Collection of Essays  by Prof. Prabodh Chandra Bagchi; compiled by Bangwei Wang and Tansen Sen (2011), Anthem Press, India
2. The Formation of Chinese Maritime networks to Southern Asia, 1200-1450, Prof. Tansen Sen
https://www.eastwestcenter.org/fileadmin/resources/education/asdp_pdfs/Sen_Jesho_49.4_1_.pdf

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Calicut Bank Limited

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T.M. Appu Nedungadi (courtesy: wikipedia)
Calicut can take legitimate pride as the city that gave birth to the first private sector commercial bank to be set up in South India - the Nedungadi Bank. The versatile genius of Rao Bahadur T.M. Appu Nedungadi could recognise the future of Calicut as the commercial centre of Malabar at a time when its importance as an export hub had all but vanished. Thus Nedungadi Bank came to be established in 1899. However, the Bank came to be incorporated only in 1913.
The claim of being the first bank to be incorporated goes to the Calicut Bank Limited which was registered in Calicut in 1908. The Bank prospered and had at one time 13 branches in British India, one branch in Cranganore (which was in the Cochin State) and an overseas branch in Colombo. Its issued capital was Rs. 2,77,280 divided into 27,728 fully paid shares of Rs. 10 each. After 30 years of successful functioning as a commercial bank, disaster struck in the form of a run on the bank forcing it to draw its shutters on 16th August 1938. (It was around the same time that the Travancore National and Quilon Bank also suffered a run and had to be liquidated, although there were political reasons also for the failure of that bank.)
The Directors of the Bank filed before the court a scheme of voluntary liquidation on 19th August 1938. The proposal meant that depositors would get only two annas to the rupee of deposit at maturity; another eight annas to the rupees would be payable in the next 4 years; two annas would be converted to shares of the bank and the remaining four annas would be written off.
This was opposed by one Devani Ammal and others who filed a petition for compulsory winding up.  Mr (Justice) Gentle of the Madras High Court appointed M/s Fraser and Ross as  provisional liquidator. The picture brought out by the liquidator was alarming : the company's liabilities amounted to Rs. 15,58,830 and its realizable assets to Rs. 10,52,955 leaving a deficit of Rupees 5,05,874.
The report further revealed the culpability of certain directors, their friends and relations who had obtained advances from the bank to the extent of Rs. 5,19,372 of which Rs. 4,54,611 was considered to be irrecoverable.  The figures reported did not include the details of two branches at Cranganore and Colombo which did not send any statements. Inquiries by the liquidator brought out another shocking fact - a sum of Rs. 17,000 had been withdrawn by the manager of the bank from the funds at Cranganore and Colombo even after the liquidator had been appointed.
The Court also found that  the directors and their friends had received large advances from the company and most of these advances are considered to be irrecoverable. Another factor which weighed with the Court was that the management had not placed all the facts before the depositors and there was also a possible attempt by some directors to mislead the shareholders and other interested parties. Considering all these factors, the Court concluded that only a compulsory winding up would bring out the culpability of the directors and officers and protect the interest of the customers.

Note: The above details have been culled from various reported court cases published in the Indiakanoon website. There are several gaps in the story ( who were the promoters, directors etc.) which readers may be able to fill in.)


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Monday, June 30, 2014

The Elephant Race in Guruvayur - where myth intersects history

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Get set, ready, go!
Guruvayur temple was being managed by the Zamorin of Calicut ( in association with Mallisseri illam) till the State Government took over the management of the temple in 1971. The temple is known for its strict adherence for the tantric rites as much as for its unique rituals. One of the interesting rituals is the elephant race on the first day of the temple festival which falls on pushya star in the Malayalam month of Kumbha (falling in the 3rd or 4th week of February).
How did the elephant race begin? There is a story which relates this ritual to the rivalry between Zamorin and the King of Cochin. It seems Guruvayur was once under the Trikkanamathilakam temple and did not own any elephants. The practice was for the elephants which were paraded in the Trikkanamathilakam temple festival to be loaned to the Guruvayur temple where the festival was usually held a couple of days later. 
There was once some misunderstanding between the authorities of the two temples and Trikkanamathilakam temple authorities wanted to teach the smaller Guruvayur temple a lesson by not sending the elephants for the festival. The elephants were tethered at the Trikkanamathilakam temple after the festival there. 
Apparently, the elephants managed to break the iron chains at night and ran all the way to Guruvayur temple, with their bells clanging and reached the temple well before the time for the ezhunnallathu  (the ceremonial procession of the deity). In order to commemorate this event, an elephant race is conducted on the first day of the annual festival in Guruvayur. Further, the morning ezhunnallathu on the first day is conducted without elephants - the only day when the priest carries the idol and walks around the temple, unlike the usual ritual of the priest riding an elephant with the idol.
the race in progress
Trikkanamathilakam temple was destroyed by the Dutch in 1755 and it was no longer a rival to Guruvayur which prospered by the day and has now more than 50 elphants housed in the majestic Punnathoor Kotta. However, only about half a dozen selected elephants are allowed to participate in the race (for reasons of safety) which starts from the Manjulal banyan tree and ends inside the temple after taking a round of the main shrine. The winning elephant is treated royally and has the privilege of carrying the idol for that year.
When did this strange custom begin? Is there any truth in the legend that it was started due to the denial of elephants to Guruvayur by Trikkanamathilakam management? There are no records available.
However, in a recent issue of Bhakthapriya (March 2014), some historical documents have been reproduced. (These documents belonged to the Zamorin's palace in Thiruvachira, Calicut and have now been recovered and preserved thanks to the perseverance of Dr. N.M Namboodiri, the renowned toponymist).
There is an entry dated 7th January 1928 which is a letter, detailing the preparations needed for the annual festival, from the Manager of Guruvayur Temple to the Zamorin: "... the temple elephant Padmanabhan having dead, we have no elephant for the ezhunnallath. We do not usually hire elephants for this purpose and it is difficult to get big elephants without payment. There are four fairly grown up elephants in this neighbourhood under the ownership of Punnathur and Ullanatt Panicker. We hope these elephants will be made available. We have written to some others including Kothachira mana. However, these elephants coming from outside need to be fed and their mahouts paid salaries. The estimate sent herewith includes these additional costs also."
Notice that there is no mention of either the Anayottam or the ritual of an ezhunnallathu without an elephant. More significantly, some 86 years ago, Guruvayur temple had only a solitary elephant and the temple authorities were reluctant to get elephants from outside, as they had to be paid for.
It is clear that the ritual of Anayottam was not there even as late as the second decade of the 20th Century.
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Friday, June 6, 2014

A Breakthrough History of Nedunganad

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Nedunganad is a patch of land which once extended from Kalladikkode hills in the east to Kunnamkulam/Chavakkad in the west between the Bharathappuzha and Toothappuzha rivers. It had only a brief existence as an independent principality - perhaps from 11th to 13th centuries. It was conquered first by Valluvakkonathiri and in the 14th century by Zamorin. Nedungadis ruled the place with Cherpulasseri as their capital. As with many other principalities, internecine conflicts led to its disnintegration. It was particularly poignant in the case of the Nedungathiri of Nedunganad, as he had sought the help of the Zamorin primarily to contain the growing might and arrogance of the four Nayar families. Instead, the Eralppad overran the province through his triumphant march (Kottichezhunnallaththu) which was celebrated annually as a commemorative event.
We knew only bits and pieces of these legends till an avid cultural historian, Mr. S. Rajendu has recently presented a cogent history of Nedunganad in his pioneering effort Nedunganad Charitram - pracheenakaalam muthal A.D. 1860 vare (A History of Nedunganad - from the earliest times to 1860 A.D.)
Rajendu has mixed historical documents (some of them published for the first time) with local legends as supportive evidence and has cleverly woven a cultural history of the area which had a rich tradition centred around temples and a few Nayar swaroopams. 
The earliest document which mentions Nedunganad is the Nedumpurayurnattu Tali  inscription which has been dated at 900 A.D. This is an original discovery by the author and testifies to the antiquity of not only Nedunganad, but other neighbouring areas like Palakkattucheri, Pallippuram, Eashanamangalam and Vengannur.  
Some of his observations make interesting reading. For instance, it is a matter of record that the Zamorin invaded Valluvanad primarily to gain access to the rich paddy lands, as Calicut was chronically deficit in rice. But, the Zamorins' weakness for the broken rice of Chunangad is an interesting aside. It appears that even today, the palppayasam offering at Guruvayur Temple uses this particular rice.
Again, when the Nedungathiri approached the Zamorin for his help in suppressing the Nayar chieftains of his province (Kavalappara Nayar, Thrikkiteeri Nayar, Vattakkavil perumpada Nayar and Veettikkadu Kannambra Nayar), Zamorin was not very keen, as his forces had been over-committed. Nedungathiri then noticed the Eralppad who was standing nearby and pointing out to him suggested that this fellow (iyaal) could be sent instead. It was obvious that the Eralpad did not like the form of address and he showed his displeasure as soon as he had reached Thootha river, heading a small army. He was incensed that Nedungathiri had not made proper arrangements for lunch for his army. Meanwhile, the Nayar chieftains saw this as an opportunity to deflect the invasion and had arranged a sumptuous lunch. All the three Nayar chieftains (except Kavalappara who had a standing army and was in some way connected to the Cochin dynasty) surrendered to the Eralpad. Ultimately, Zamorin's forces overran Nedunganad and established Eralpad's headquarters in Karimpuzha.
The book is an invaluable collection of old records including memoirs of persons like Vidwan Kovunni Nedungadi, recollections of family history handed down from generation to generation, a description of a Kottichezhunnallaththu which took place more than a hundred years ago (the description of how the Eralpad boards a train from Calicut to Pattambi and alighting there, proceeds to head the procession of the army lends an air of incongruity),  Nedunganadan versions  of Keralolpathi and Kerala Mahatmyam and some original inscriptions which the author has discovered through patient research. 
We strongly commend this book as a pioneering effort to record the history of Nedunganad.
(Nedunganad Carithram by S. Rajendu, pp. 616+64; published by Sri K Sankaranarayanan, Madhavam, Kayinikad Temple, Perintalmanna 679322) Price Rs. 475/- The author can be contacted at  rajendu@gmail.com

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Founding the empire in Malabar - some early hiccups

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Calicut City today
After the defeat of Tipu Sultan, East India Company became the undisputed rulers of Malabar province (barring Wayanad for which they had to wage another war). However, the establishment of undisputed sovereignty over the new land took a while. The British had only the Bengal model to follow and decided to adopt the permanent settlement pattern, although the Zamindari system was alien to the Malabar psyche. The fact that Malabar was initially under the Bombay province and was later transferred to the Madras Presidency also delayed the setting up of a regular administrative structure. This led to multiple roles for the limited number of civil servants who were put in charge of bringing the new province under the Company rule. 
Understandably, this had led to some anomalous situations when Company officials also doubled up as private traders (much after the Company had forbidden private trade by its employees). We bring to light a decree of the Calicut Court in Original Suit No.9 of 1826 which had to deal with such a situation.
Calicut Court was then called the Court of Sadar Adaulat (Provincial Court in the Western Division).  Mr. A.D. Campbell, the Registrar and Judge was called upon to decide a dispute between Kallingal Rarichan (perhaps the descendant of K. Kunhikoru) and one Mr. John Fell Esq., late Conservator of Forests and Commercial Agent in Malabar of the Bombay Government. 
Mr. Fell had been appointed by the Bombay Government on the 3rd of June 1814 to be "Conservator of the Forests and occasional Commercial Agent in Malabar". It appeared that the late Kallingal 'Kunhiakoroo' owed a sum of Rs. 11, 44, 300 on account of advance paid for supply of pepper to the Bombay Government.
The lower court had upheld part of the claim and had ordered the recovery of Rs. 1, 21, 658. The case itself was a routine civil dispute which would not have merited attention but for the 'obiter dicta' by the learned Judge which throws light on the practical issues in setting up a new administration in Malabar. The Judge observed thus:
A few remarks are necessary before entering on the items of account, upon which the parties are at issue. ...the judges cannot in silence pass over the obvious incongruity of a public officer, on behalf of the Bombay Government founding a formal complaint in a public suit instituted on their account on the fact of the late Kallingal Kunhia Koroo having ' engaged to the supply the quantity of pepper required by the Government', when his Vakeel expressly admits that it was two distinct persons named Poker and Bapu respectively who entered into those engagements and that the said deceased was merely the surety for them.
... besides the pepper transactions on account of the Bombay Government into which Mr. Fell entered with the late Kallingal Kunhia Koroo and which alone forms the subject of the present suit, it is evident both from the pleadings of Mr. Fell and the testimony on record that he entered into extensive private dealings with that person and even traded privately with the deceased in pepper at the very period the engagements to the Bombay Government whom Mr. Fell represented, were in operation. 
It is possible that the learned Judge was emboldened by the fact that by the time of the judgment, the administrative control of Malabar had passed from Bombay Government to Fort St. George Government at Madras.

( We are grateful to the District Judge, Calicut for providing access to the court archives).
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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hyder and Tipu - Part 2

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Tipu Sultan from outlookindia.com
We had, in the previous post, written about the invasion of Hyder and Tipu and the testimony of Vella Namboodiri. From the responses received we notice that many of our esteemed readers have accused Tipu for his various violent acts in Malabar. We realise that it was a mistake to club together  Hyder and Tipu  while discussing Vella's History  as the latter dealt with only the author's encounter with Hyder. 
We seek to remedy this by quoting another testament which has come to light only recently and sheds some new light on Tipu's acts in Calicut. Outlookindia.com has, in its issue dated 25 April, 2013, published an article by Francois Gautier ( the author of Rewriting Indian History) titled 'The Tyrant Diaries'.
According to the author, an old trunk kept in the attic of a flat in Paris contained the diary of Francois Fidele Ripaud de Montaudevert, who was part of Tipu's army which had invaded Calicut in 1797-99. The trunk belonged to a descendant of Ripaud and was discovered in December 1988 after her death. 
Ripaud had faithfully recorded his experience as an adventurer and of the times he served Tipu's army. He had enrolled as a sailor at age 11 and, after many adventures, had reached Mauritius where he got married and settled down.  When he heard of Tipu and his expeditions, he sailed from Mauritius to Mangalore and met the Mysore ruler to offer assistance. Tipu who had already been trained by French officers in the employ of his father, jumped at the idea and gave Ripaud credentials to recruit a French force to assist him.
 Following the return of Ripaud to Mauritius with the credentials, Malartic, who was the Governor of Mauritius  put up on 29 January 1798 a public proclamation asking for volunteers to join an expedition to travel to Mysore to assist Tipu in his resistance to British encroachment in South India. Approximately 100 men were recruited, and they left for India on the French frigate La Preneuseon 7 March 1798.
Although the French mercenaries were warmly welcomed by Tipu and were treated very well, disillusionment soon set in. As Ripaud wrote in his diary dated 14 January 1799,  “I’m disturbed by Tipu Sultan’s treatment of these most gentle souls, the Hindus. During the siege of Mangalore, Tipu’s soldiers daily exposed the heads of many innocent Brahmins within sight from the fort for the Zamorin and his Hindu followers to see.”
Ripaud was particularly shocked by the treatment meted out to the people of Calicut during Tipu's invasion. This was what he recorded in his diary: “Most of the Hindu men and women were hanged...first mothers were hanged with their children tied to their necks. That barbarian Tipu Sultan tied the naked Christians and Hindus to the legs of elephants and made the elephants move around till the bodies of the helpless victims were torn to pieces.  Temples and churches were ordered to be burned down, desecrated and des­troyed. Christian and Hindu women were forced to marry Mohammedans, and similarly, their men (after conversion to Islam) were forced to marry Moha­mm­edan women. Christians who refused to be honoured with Islam were ordered to be killed by hanging immediately. "
Another entry of Ripaud relating to Calicut, reads: “To show his ardent devotion and steadfast faith in the Mohammedan religion, Tipu Sultan found Kozhikode to be the most suitable place. Kozhikode was then a centre of Brahmins and had over 7,000 Brahmin families living there. Over 2,000 Brahmin families perished as a result of Tipu Sultan’s Islamic cruelties. He did not spare even women and children.”
As noted by Gautier, these events had been corroborated by Father Bartholomew, the Portuguese traveller, in his Voyages to East Indies.( We concede that there is a serious problem with the dates of Gautier's narrative. Tipu had surrendered Malabar to the British after the treaty of 1792, and there was no way that he could persecute the Hindus of Calicut in 1798-99. However, we have left the dates as such, hoping that either Gautier will re-check the dates or someone may challenge the dates and maybe even the authenticity of the diary)
Disgusted by these barbaric acts, Ripaud left Srirangapatnam and left for France where he enrolled in the navy and fought the war against the British. He was killed on 23 rd February, 1814. According to Gautier, 'Even the British, his arch enemies, gave a 21-cannon salute to this brave adventurer, once Tipu Sultan’s ‘Great White Hope’.
Much of the narrative defending Tipu against charges of fanatic barbarism was that these stories were invented by the British historians to defame the patriotic Mysore ruler and to drive a wedge between two communities. But, here we have the testimony of an ally who has faithfully recorded his sense of revolt at the atrocities as these were being committed by forces he was fighting along with. There is apparently no reason to disbelieve this account. 


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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan: Tyrants or Heroes? A Testimony from Vella Namboodiri

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Courtesy: NDTV.com
It is customary for all states to participate in the Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi with colourful floats and tableaux. The best float is awarded a prize by the President. Usually, this is a tame affair with babus  from the states supervising the making of the floats which cover such exciting themes like the Indira Awas Yojana, Rajiv Drinking Water Mission and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme!
However, this year the tableau presented by Karnataka Government drew flak. It showed Tipu Sultan with a drawn sword. There were strong protests from some who consider Tipu a communalist who tried to destroy Hinduism and Christianity in parts of Mysore and Malabar. There were equally strident voices describing Tipu as a patriot who dared to take on the might of the East India Company and had even struck up an alliance with the French government. 
The Mysore invasion had seen the beginning of the end of the Zamorins of Calicut. Arguably, the Zamorin was himself responsible for his plight, as Palghat Raja had to invite Haider Ali in 1756 to protect his kingdom from the expansionist ambitions of the Zamorin. The Zamorin had to retreat and promise to pay the Mysore army a sum of Rs.12 lakhs as reparation.
Hyder ascended the Mysore throne in 1761 and one of his first acts was to march to Malabar where he was assisted by the Ali Raja of Kannur to subjugate the local rulers of Neeleswaram and Kadathanad before marching to Calicut. The Zamorin who had promised the war reparation of Rs.12 lakhs had passed away and the new ruler was not a particularly strong person and enjoyed little local support among the royal family (as he had been adopted from Neeleswaram and was looked upon as an 'outsider'). Nevertheless, he tried to ward off Haider's invasion by negotiating peace in the Eralpad's palace at Ananthapuram (Panthalayini-Kollam). He even offered all his treasures and property, but Haider would not settle for less than a crore of Rupees as penalty for the default in payment of war reparation. When negotiations failed, the Zamorin had to set fire to his arsenal in Kottapparamba Palace and commit suicide, after sending off the family to Travancore.
 Haider felt cheated and decided to recover his ransom by looting temples in Malabar between Calicut and Ponnani. He then retreated to Mysore after appointing Madanna, one of his experienced revenue officers as the civil administrator with headquarters at Calicut. 
Many a Malabar temple was destroyed by Haider and his forces, ably supported by the forces of Arakkal Raja. Traditional accounts of this rampage attributes religious motives; in fact Tipu's campaigns would clearly show that he behaved as a religious fanatic in his mission of converting as many Hindus to Islam as his army could lay their hands on. But, was Haider Ali also a fanatic? 
Many historians of Malabar would affirm that all the temple destruction could only mean one thing - that he wanted to destroy Hinduism systematically.
The period between 1755 and 1780 was one of extreme disturbance and mayhem as far as Malabar was concerned. It had not seen peace ever since the Zamorin's ill-advised march against the Palghat Raja. It culminated in the suicide of the most powerful ruler of the region. While opinions - often coloured by caste/religious/ ideological prejudice - can differ, eye witness accounts seldom deviate from the facts.
Fortunately, we have such an eye witness account in the manuscript now known as 'Vella's History'. Vella Namboodiri was born in 1709 on the southern bank of the Bharathappuzha. His illam finds mention in the Keralolpathi and must have been one of the ancient Namboodiri families. He was one of the ooralars of the Panniyur Varahamoorthy Temple. He witnessed Hyder's first invasion when he was around 55  years, although he committed his story in writing later when he was around 70 or so. However, he records the events graphically and with the objectivity of a historian.
Zamorin had presided over the Mamankam which was held in 1765 Dec-1766 January. This was conducted under the shadow of foreign invasion, as the Calicut ruler and his advisers knew of the impending attack by Haider. Zamorin appointed one Kaalatt Gopala Pisharoti as the Thalachennavar  of Ponnani and got ready for the inevitable showdown with the Paradeshi.
We get a pen portrait of Hyder from Vella namboodiri who called on the 'Nabhav' (as he described Hyder) when the invader was camping at Trikkavu Temple. He gives a graphic account of his first meeting: the Nabhav was standing near the well inside the quadrangle of the Trikkav Temple facing east, his one leg resting on a stone. He was wearing a headdress, coat and trousers of superior cloth. A stone-studded ring shone on the little finger of his right hand. When Vella approaches him and salutes, he returns the greetings. Nabhav leads Vella to the southern courtyard of the temple where a place has been decorated with clothes and cushions. Nabhav asks Vella to be seated with him on the dais. Then they converse on various topics, with Hyder asking searching questions on how much wealth the neighbouring temples had and where the wealth was hidden.
After the conversation which lasted for more than an hour (three nazhikas, according to Vella), Hyder sends him off with a gift of clothes, a bundle of betel leaves and an arecanut. He also arranges for the escort of Vella to his illam in Thirunavaya.
According to Vella, what irked Hyder was the revolt which some Nairs and the young princes of the Zamorin palaces had engineered as soon as Hyder had departed from Ponnani. On Hyder's return trip, he was ruthless with the men who had led the revolt and their properties. He also pillaged the temples, including the Thirunavaya temple, although Panniyur temple was spared.
What is striking in Vella's account is that he clearly states that on his first visit, Hyder's objective was only to recover the amount of reparations that the Zamorin had promised him. He had been cheated out of this by the Zamorin ending his life. He was left with no alternative but to plunder the temple wealth to make good the promised amount.  But the foolish acts of Zamorin's descendants in attcking Mysore army when Hyder had left the territory in the care of Madanna, had incensed Hyder no end. His second trip was, thus, to wreak vengeance on the rebels. In a striking statement displaying the objectivity of a historian, Vella comments: One does not know who is to be blamed for all this disaster! He does not rush to judge events and people.
Vella's History is a landmark not only in Kerala's historical records but also of Malayalam prose. Traditionally, the origin of Malayalam prose is attributed to the Christian missionaries who had published extensive evangelical literature. However, all this was at least 70 years after Vella's History. The quality of the prose and directness of his style set apart Vella's work not only from the early evangelical literature with its strained translation of English into Malayalam, but of some of the later prose writings of Kerala writers.
We owe this discovery of Kerala's pioneering historian to Sri M.T. Narayanan Nair (the elder brother of writer M.T. Vasudevan Nair who had retained a manuscript copy of Vella's History. The credit for compiling and publishing this work goes to the eminent toponymist and Malayalam professor, Dr. N.M. Namboodiri. Regrettably, no English translation of the work has been attempted so far. We sincerely hope that the publishers (Vallathol Vidya Peetham) will make available an English translation for the benefit of wider national and international audience.


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