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Sunday, December 31, 2023

The Zamorins' Life in Exile (1766 - 1795). Manorama Thampuratti and Dharma Raja

 Although we conventionally adopt 1766 as the year in which the Zamorin era eclipsed, the seeds of the decline and fall of this power started as early as the 1720s when the Dutch defeated the Calicut forces and enforced a humiliating treaty surrendering Chettuwa and Pappinivattam in 1718. The loss of Chettuwa was rankling, as it was vital for Calicut's communication with the South. 

But the gradual enervation of the pillars of governance which began with the dismissal of Thamme Panicker from the Calicut court continued in later years with the defection and later withdrawal from the Calicut court of Mangattachan and the open rebellion of his two commandants, Alipparamban and Mapranam and culminating in the unfair dismissal and execution of Tharakkal Warrier, the chief of armory of the Zamorin.

The new Zamorin who ascended the throne in 1741 was the first of the adoptees from Neeleswaram to ascend to the throne. The young Zamorin was, however, distracted by petty disputes like the appointment of managers for the Trippayar temple and ceremonial duties like the conduct of Mamankam (1743) while war clouds were forming on the horizon. Before he could attend to more serious issues, the young Zamorin passed away in 1746. 

He was followed by the impetuous Eralpad who opened up several fronts of conflict with the Moplas of Eranad, the Vazhunnavar of Kadathanad, and the Dutch trying to retrieve the land that his predecessor had ceded in the 1718 surrender. The climax was when the Zamorin forces reached Arookkutty 'which commanded the only passage leading to Travancore from Cochin. When the Zamorin's army arrived there , they found the enemy prepared to oppose their landing. Led by Rama Ayyan, the Travancoreans successfully resisted every attempt made by the Calicut Nayars, and finally compelled them to retire'. (KV Krishna Ayyar, The Zamorins of Calicut, page 221).

This senseless adventurism culminated in the Zamorin being forced to sign another humiliating treaty with the Dutch on 6th March 1758, surrendering Mathilakam, Puthenchira, Chettuwa, and Pappinivattam and paying Rs.65,000 as war indemnity. Within a couple of months after signing this treaty, the Zamorin died, leaving a whole range of unfinished business to the new Zamorin who was clearly unequal to the task. His accession coincided with the desertion of Mangattachan and his trusted lieutenants, Alipparamban and Mapranam. When the combined forces of Cochin invaded the Zamorin territory in 1762, the only option with the incompetent Zamorin was to surrender Alangad, Parur and Trichur. As this coincided with the invasion from the east by the forces sent by Hyder Ali, the Zamorin accompanied by the Valiya Thampuran of Patinhare Kovilakam travelled to Padmanabhapuram and concluded a treaty with the Travancore maharaja agreeing to pay a sum of Rs.16,000 as reparations and also submitting all his disputes with Cochin to the mediation by Travancore. 

Meanwhile, the Mysore ruler was knocking on his doors, seeking implementation of the treaty of 1756 which was the outcome of another foolhardy venture, this time against the Palghat Raja. When Hyder realised that the Zamorin did not have the resources to pay any amount towards the promised reparation of Rs.12 lakhs, he marched towards Calicut. When cornered on all sides, the helpless Zamorin commits suicide, after sending his family first to Ponnani and then to Paravur which was Travancore territory.

We have very little knowledge of how the Zamorin family fared in Travancore where they spent close to three decades. How were they treated by their erstwhile foes but now treaty partners, albeit unwilling. How did the family members who had hurriedly shifted to the Travancore territory fare?

 Calicut Heritage Forum has been scouting around for a scholar who would be able to fill this gap in the Zamorin's history. We were fortunate to identify Dr. M G Sasibhooshan, archeologist, iconologist, historian, and the foremost expert on temple murals to speak to us on the above subject. 

Dr. Sasibhooshan's speech can be listened to here: For those who may not fully follow his speech in Malayalam, we give a summary below: 

When the ruling Zamorin set fire to his palace and self-immolated in 1766, it was a rare occurrence in Kerala’s history. While it was a sacrifice on his part, it was to some extent thoughtless on the part of the Zamorin to have betrayed the trust and loyalty of his soldiers who were thrown at the mercy of the enemy. The particular Zamorin who committed this unthinkable act was an adoptee from the Nileswaram Kovilakam. He probably did not understand the history of the Zamorins. He committed many other blunders also. He dismissed Tharakkal Warrier (who was the head of the artillery of his force) and executed him through his soldiers. Another huge blunder was to plan and celebrate a Mamankam when the whole world knew that Haider Ali was on the verge of attacking Calicut.

The Zamorin family sought refuge in Travancore and was welcomed by the Maharaja of Travancore. They were housed in a peaceful palace in Kunnathur, near Quilon. 

The Zamorin family adjusted to the new circumstances very well without complaining. They accepted the changed life. The men in the Zamorin family had first reached Trivandrum, most probably by sea. It is conjectured that Chovvakkaran Moosa who was a leading trader of Calicut had helped the male members to reach Trivandrum by sea. The family had stayed in Thampanoor in Trivandrum before they shifted to Kunnathur.

 Karthika Thirunal Maharaja was a romantic and led the life of a libertine. He fell in love with Manorama Thampuratti, a princess of the Zamorin family. She was already around 30 years old then and had been married to a Namboodiri from Beypore. She also had two issues in that marriage. But the romance between Karthika Thirunal and Manorama Thampuratti flourished. At first Manorama Thampuratti (along with other women of the Zamorin household) was housed in Karimpinpuzha Palace. Later, Manorama Thampuratti was shifted by Karthika Thirunal to the Ennakkat Palace so that he could be closer to her. The romance was not just physical. The Maharaja was bowled over by the intellectual prowess of the lady who had written a commentary on Proudha Manorama at the age of 19.

When the Zamorin family shifted back to Calicut after the defeat of Tipu in 1790, Karthika Thirunal advised Manorama Thampuratti that Calicut was not fit for her stay. He financed the purchase of an abandoned palace at Venkitakotta in Kottakkal and housed her and her children in Kottakkal. Thus was the Kizhakke Kovilakam re-located to Kottakkal. The son of Manorama Thampuratti became an Eralpad. He was responsible for the revival of the mural tradition in Malabar. Painters like Sankaran Nair and Bharatha Pisharoti decorated the Siva temple of Kottakkal.

The Zamorins led a leisurely life in Travancore and even invited artistes of Ottanthullal and Kathakali and staged performances. As many of the rulers of Travancore claimed lineage from Kolathiri dynasty through their women, the Zamorins, Kolathiri dynasty and even Kadathanad rulers did not feel that they were in an alien land. Kadathanad dynasty sought refuge in Changanassery palace.

Much of what Dr. Sasibhooshan spoke was news to many of us who knew very little of this period in the history of the Zamorins. However, some of our members raised a few issues about some statements. 

Firstly, the statement that Karthika Thirunal financed the acquisition of the Venkitakotta land and the construction of the Kizhakke kovilakam for Manorama Thampuratti requires documentary support. Apart from this, it is highly unlikely that Travancore treasury, struggling to meet the demands of war reparations and compensation from the East India Company would have spared money to build a kovilakam for the Calicut princess. Raja Kesava Das who had an iron hold of the treasury (and of Dharma Raja) would not have allowed such extravagance. 

Secondly, our presumption that no records exist for the period of Zamorin's exile is being questioned. N M Namboodiri in his book Samoothiri Charithrathile Kanappurangal (page 15) records that there is an entire volume in the Kozhikkodan Granthavari dealing with the events during the period the Zamorins were living in exile in Kunnathur kovilakam. We hope someone will access this little treasure to unravel the missing decades in the Zamorin story.


  1. An excellent start to the study of the missing period, if I could call it that. While the talk gave a peep into the Zamorin's days in exile, much more study is required, and at first look the Kunnathur sojourn was of no real relevance to the history of Calicut. The old Zamorin just wanted peace and quiet, and let the Ravi Varma's take care of the action. The story of manorama and the Dharmaraja has already been recounted in some detail in one of my earlier articles from 2015.
    I have been hoping to complete the Kunnathur story as well, and Dr Sasibhooshan's talk did lead me into one additional source. So, keep an eye out for an upcoming article which will provide more detail. The Granthavarai which NMN mentions should be around in Vallathol Vidyapeetam, guess it needs to be transcribed...

  2. I forgot to add - the Venkatakotta was captured by the Zamorin from the Kuruvayur Mussad, after the valluvanad battles, which established the Zamorin's supremacy and dates back to the 14th century. This was where Manorama and her entourage went to after leaving Ennakad. It was not acquired for her by Dharmaraja. The Kovilakom site mentions the following

    Kottakkal or Venkitta Kotta (the white forte) as it was known was part of the kingdom of the Valluvathyris which was looked after by Karuvarur Moosad, one of the Valluvathiri's power full ministers till the Zamorin captured in 14th century. When the Zamorin sent a messenger to the Moosad who was locked him into compact and killed. Angered by the Zamorin sent his "Moonnalpad" who was from Kizhakke Covilakam , who killed the Moosad and captured Kottakkal. Pleased with this , the Zamorin gifted half of the conquered territory to the Moonalpad. but it was remained a remote village hardly used by the family till 1798.

    In 1774, when the Mysorians invaded Kozhikode, the Kizhakke Covilakam family fled to Ennekkad, near Alappuzha where a palace specially provided by Maharaja of Travancore. When Tippu ceded Malabar to the British, the family came back and settled in Kottakkal in 1799. Thus Kizhakke Covilakam started at Kottakkal around 1799.

  3. Thank you for enlightening us about a tragic chapter in Kerala history. I always wonder why Zamorins did not build a good European trained army just like Marthanda Varma did in Travancore. Instead they wasted their money on rituals like Murajapam. Ultimately they and their subjects paid dearly for these follies.

  4. Thank you, Jay, for going through our post and commenting.
    Zamorin was not a traditional king like the maharaja of Travancore. He was focused on external trade and the revenues that he got from it. It is true that he did not have a standing army, but at the same time, he appointed chieftains (mostly from the Nair caste) who acted as local satraps of provinces called Cherikkal. These chieftains were responsible for collecting revenues on behalf of the Zamorins and also for raising small armies which could be commandeered by the Zamorin in times of need.


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