|Veera Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja|
|Prince regent of Kingdom of Kottayam|
Painting of Pazhassi Raja by Raja Ravi Varma displayed in Pazhassiraja Museum, Kozhikkode
|Full name||Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja|
|Titles||Kerala Simham, Chandrakula Vira, Shaktan Rajah, Vira Pazhassi|
|Born||3 January 1753|
|Died||30 November 1805(aged 52)|
|Predecessor||Vira Varma (elder)|
|Successor||Vira Varma (nephew)|
|Part of a series on the|
|History of Kerala|
Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja (also known as Cotiote Rajah or Pychy Rajah) (3 January 1753 – 30 November 1805) was one of the earliest freedom fighters in India. He was the prince regent of the princely state of Kottayam or Cotiote in Malabar, India between 1774 and 1805. His struggles with English East India Company is known as Cotiote War. He is popularly known as Kerala Simham (Lion of Kerala) on account of his martial exploits.
Pazhassi Raja was a member of the western branch of the Kottayam royal clan. When Hyder Ali of the Kingdom of Mysore occupied Malabar in 1773 the Raja of Kottayam found political asylum in Travancore. Pazhassi Raja, the fourth prince in line for succession to the throne during this period, became one of the de facto heads of state surpassing several of his elder royals. He fought a war of resistance on Mysorean army from 1774 to 1793. On account of his refusal to flee and resolve to fight invaders, people of Kottayam stood firmly behind the Raja who had not abandoned them in their hour of misfortune. Raja's troops were drawn from ranks of the Nambiar, Thiyya and also the tribal clans like Kurichias and Mullukurumbas.
In 1792, after the Third Anglo-Mysore War, English imposed their paramountcy in Kottayam in violation to their earlier agreement of 1790 which recognised independence of Kottayam.Vira Varma, to whom Raja was a nephew, was appointed by the East India Company authorities as the Raja of Kottayam. To meet revenue target fixed by Company authorities, Vira Varma ordered exorbitant rate of tax to be collected from the peasantry and this move was met by a mass resistance led by Pazhassi Raja in 1793 who was opposed to surrender to English right from beginning. In 1796, the Company made an attempt to arrest Pazhassi Raja, but he evaded capture and instead fought back using guerrilla warfare. After a string of serious setbacks, the Company sued for peace in 1797. The conflict was renewed in 1800 over a dispute on Wayanad and after an insurgent warfare lasted for five years, Pazhassi Raja was killed on 30 November 1805 in a gun-fight at Mavila Todu near Kerala-Karnataka border.
- 1 Kingdom of Pazhassi Raja
- 2 Resistance to Mysore occupation (1773–1793)
- 3 Resistance to British rule
- 4 List of Raja's supporters
- 5 Raja's death
- 6 Forest Forts of Pazhassi Raja
- 7 In popular culture
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
Kingdom of Pazhassi Raja
Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja was born in the Padinjare Kovilakam of Purannattu Swarupam- the royal clan of the kingdom of Kottayam. This Padinjare Kovilakam (Western Branch) of the royal dynasty was located at Pazhassi. Thus, the origin of the name Pazhassi Rajawas pronounced as Pychy Rajah by the early British. The name Cotiote Raja comes from the British anglicising the name Kottayam to Cotiote. The kingdom of Kottayam covers what is today the Thalassery taluk (1000 km2) of the Kannur District and Wayanad district along with Gudalur and Panthalur taluks of the Nilgiris District and some parts of Kudagu.
As a royal clan, Purannattu Swarupam had three branches, a western branch or Padinjare Kovilakam at Pazhassi near Mattannur, an eastern branch or Kizhakke Kovilakam at Manatana near Peravoor and a southern branch or Tekke Kovilakam at Kottayampoil near Koothuparamba.
Resistance to Mysore occupation (1773–1793)
Pazhassi Raja's warfare with Mysore troops can be divided into two phases based on the rulers of the kingdom of Mysore. First phase lasted from 1773 to 1782 during this time Mysore ruler was Hyder Ali. Second phase extended from 1784 to 1793 and during this phase he fought troops of Tipu Sultan, son and successor of Hyder Ali:
Resistance to Hyder Ali (1773–1782)
In 1773, Hyder Ali marched into Malabar for the second time, for non-payment of tributes from the Rajas (kings) of Malabar as agreed after war in 1768. Most of the Rajas of Malabar, along with many Naduvazhis or vassals fled to seek political asylum in Travancore. Princes and younger noblemen who refused to flee the invasion organised resistances. The Malabari partisans made excellent use of the wooded hills that covered most of Malabar during this rebellions.
In 1774, at age of 21, Pazhassi Raja took over the throne to replace his uncle who had fled to Travancore. He vowed to resist Hyder Ali's troops, and stayed on in Kottayam where he gathered a force and began a guerrilla battles against the troops of Mysore as he had neither guns or troops enough to face them in an open battle. He set up a large number of bases in the nearly impenetrable forested mountains of Puralimala and Wynad and repeatedly inflicted severe minor losses to the Mysore army in Kottayam as well as in Wynad.
Once true Raja of Kottayam had fled away, a three royals rose to power in Kottayam. Nephew of escaped Raja named Vira Varma and his nephews, Ravi Varma and Pazhassi Raja now took over reigns of government. Vira Varma was a skilled in political intrigue and manipulation whereas Ravi Varma was too incompetent to play any serious political role and hence his role only was nominal. Pazhassi Raja become most powerful figure in Kottayam, much to chargin of his uncle Vira Varma. Hence Vira Varma played a series of power games with aim to check growing clout of his nephew. So relations between Vira Varma and Pazhassi Raja was one of enmity right from onset.
Military situation was grim for Pazhassi Raja and his troops – in 1774, Coorgs had joined hands with Hyder Ali on promise of being gifted Wynad and a large Coorg army camped in Wynad to help Mysore troops. In 1776, Hyder Ali re-installed Hindu Raja in Chirakkal and latter joined Mysore war effort to crush Pazhassi Raja. This triple alliance which lasted till 1780 reached nowhere near defeating Kottayam army.
During his long war with the Mysore and then the English East India Company, Pazhassi Raja increased his sphere of influence significantly eastwards as far as the outskirts of Mysore. His men regularly looted enemy treasuries and sandalwood from southern Karnataka and his enemies could do little to check these raids. This enabled him to lay claim on a great chunk of the Mysore district – as far as Nanjangod in east. Also Pazhassi Raja and his men frequently raided the domains of neighbouring Rajas in northern Malabar and Coorg to harass the enemy regiments posted there and he was often supported by local population of those territories. Along with this he had close ties with Ravi Varma and Krishna Varma, who were princes of Calicut and popular rebel leaders of southern Malabar.
Siege of Thalasseri
Thalasseri or Tellicherry in late 18th century was a harbour-fort which was held by British East India Company as a factory. Value of Tellicherry as a naval base meant that her capture could seriously impact British naval situation in West Coast. Also rebels in North Malabar bought arms and ammunition from British in Tellicherry. So if Hyder could capture this fort, he could in a stroke cripple both rebels in North Malabar as well as British military power at a regional basis.
So in 1778, Hyder’s vassal, the Raja of Chirakkal, besieged Thalasseri and enforced an economic blockade-under orders from Hyder himself. The British factors at Talassery armed Pazhassi Raja’s men to enable them to recover Kottayam from the Mysorean occupation army. This move by the British ensured that the Chirakkal army was now at risk of being struck in the rear by Pazhassi Raja’s force. The Chirakkal troops began to retreat. But Pazhassi chased and devastated the Chirakkal army, and then marched to Kottayam where he obliterated the Mysorean occupation and over-ran all of Western Kottayam. But at this critical moment when the Mysorean army in Malabar could have been destroyed by a joint action on the part of British and the Rajas, the British factors at Talassery were instructed by the Governor not to upset the nominal peace with Hyder.
Thus the British decision not to exploit the victory at Thalasseri was exploited by Mysore. The Chirakkal army reinforced by a Mysorean contingent under Balwant Rao marched into Kottayam. Pazhassi’s men, though secretly supplied with arms and ammunition by the British, could not hold or defeat this huge host and soon the Kottayam army was forced to disperse after a fight. Then the Mysore-Chirakkal army captured Kadathanad and installed a puppet Raja who joined hand with Mysore. In 1779, a huge Mysore-Chirakkal-Kadathanad army besieged Thalasseri. Pazhassi Raja sent a force of 2000 Nairs to aid British defence of Thalassery-and this enabled factors to hold on successfully.
By end of 1779, Sardar Khan, the Mysorean general was sent to Thalasseri to bring the siege speedily to a successful conclusion. Sardar Khan knew that it was Pazhassi Raja’s help that enabled the British to resist him and so he opened negotiations with Pazhassi – his offer was the restoration of Mysore occupied territories of Kottayam if Pazhassi would ally himself with Mysore and pay an immediate tribute of 500,000 rupees. It was well beyond the capacity of Kottayam to raise so huge a sum in so short a time. But Pazhassi did his best to pay Sardar Khan [probably in hope that latter would make concessions] and 60,000 rupees was paid to the latter. But Khan was not satisfied and rejected Pazhassi’s request that his possessions in Malabar be restored. This greedy and tactless approach of Sardar Khan's made sure that there was little chance for Mysore to capture Thalasseri. Kottayam army became far more stronger with their major victory in 1779 at Kalpetta (Wynad) where whole Coorg army of 2,000 was surrounded and decimated by Pazhassi Raja's troops.Destruction of Coorg army in Wynad enabled Raja to throw a whole new army into contest at Thalasseri.
In 1780, Pazhassi Raja proposed a plan to the British to break the Mysorean siege of Thalassery: he and his men would strike the enemy in the rear from the east as the British came out of the fort and struck the Mysorean line in front. Both armies would effect a junction that would split the enemy into two. The Mysorean and allied troops could then be routed easily. But it was only in 1781 that the British understood the value of this plan and their Bombay authorities agreed to it. An operation was carried out as per Pazhassi's plan; it ended with the destruction of the Mysorean forces. Sardar Khan himself was killed. What followed was a rebellion in Kottayam by the Nayar militia led by Pazhassi Raja. Soon, the Mysoreans were ousted.
Rebellion to Oust Tipu Sultan (1784–1793)
By 1782, Kottayam was once more a free land. But by the Treaty of Mangalore  after the Second Anglo-Mysore War, the British recognised Tipu Sultan's sphere of authority in Malabar. Thus with its only valuable ally lost, Kottayam was ready to become a vassal state of Mysore. Once more, as Sardar Khan did in 1779, Mysore exacted an exorbitant rate of tribute. Although Ravi Varma, the elder brother of Pazhassi Raja agreed to pay 65,000 rupees per year, Mysore demanded 81,000 rupees. The hiked rate of tribute meant greater hardship for the peasantry [largely Tiyar/Izhava] who had suffered from years of foreign occupation. So Pazhassi Raja took up this issue and decided to launch a mass resistance struggle once more.
What angered Pazhassi Raja even more was that his brother Ravi Varma who paid visit to Tipu Sultan in 1786 for peace talks was forced to sign a treaty which ceded Wayanad to Tipu Sultan. Pazhassi Raja decided not to let Tipu enjoy Wayanad in peace and kept up a guerrilla warfare that constantly harassed Mysore troops in Wayanad and neighbourhood. War in Wayanad lasted for seven years – till 1793 – when the last of Mysore garrisons were expelled from soil of Wayanad.
By the end of 1788, Pazhassi Raja’s hatred of Tipu had shot up on account of the latter’s policy of forcible conversion. So he strengthened his ties with British on one hand and with fellow rebel chiefs and princes in Malabar on other hand. Not surprisingly, Tipu sent an army under a French general named Lally with a genocidal mission—the extermination of the Nair caste from Kottayam to Palakkad – as Tipu was determined to end the menace of Nair rebels in Malabar who had foiled all attempts of him and his late father Hyder Ali to subjugate and exploit Malabar. But in 1790, Tipu abandoned the war in Malabar as the war in Deccan drew his attention. Pazhassi Raja joined the British with a force of 1500 Nairs to capture the Mysorean stronghold in Katirur (near Talassery). After Katirur, Pazhassi Raja and his troops moved south-east and captured the Kuttiyadi fort from Tipu’s men. Thus once more the whole of Kottayam was in the control of Pazhassi Raja. In 1790, the British recognised Pazhassi Raja as the head of Kottayam instead of the original Raja who was in refuge at Travancore. Raja agreed to pay 25,000 rupees as tribute to the British. But his struggle with Mysore troops continued in Wayanad till 1793 when he freed that land also.
But by the Treaty of Seringapatam (1792) signed between the British and Tipu after the latter failed in Third Anglo-Mysore War, Malabar was ceded to the British. The British then began to work for establishment of their supremacy in Malabar. This was where the British and Pazhassi Raja had opposite opinions – Pazhassi Raja helped the British not because he was ready to accept British sovereignty but because he wanted his country Kottayam to be a free land.
Pazhassi Raja was disturbed when he heard about the terms which British put forward to Rajas of Malabar in 1792 because British had signed a cowl with him in 1790 which promised to respect independence of Kottayam. The summary of the British terms in 1792 were as follows:
- The Raja to be able to rule as before but British to control him “in case of oppressing inhabitants”.
- A resident to be appointed to enquire about “complaints of oppression”.
- Two persons on the part of the British and two persons on the part of the Raja to make valuation of land revenue of Kottayam.
- The Tax to be paid by each subject to be ascertained.
- The Raja’s tribute to be settled in October 1792 according to the appearance of crop.
- The British share of the pepper to be delivered at a price fixed by the British in December 1792.
- The remainder of the pepper to be bought only by merchants appointed by the British.
These terms converted monarchs to mere agents of the British. Rajas were now stripped of their right to rule as they willed; they also lost control over their economies.
Kottayam was represented by Vira Varma, uncle of Pazhassi Raja during talks with British in 1792. Vira Varma concluded treaty with British by which he accepted all terms and conditions put forward by British.
Resistance to British rule
Pazhassi Raja resisted British imperialism from 1793 onwards till his death in 1805. He fought two wars to resist British intervention in the domestic affairs of his kingdom. From 1793–1797 he fought over the question of the management of Kottayam and from 1800–1805 over the issue of who was to be master of Wynad. British called their wars with Pazhassi Rajah as Cotiote War. The British offered rewards for information about the whereabouts of Pazhassi Raja (3000 pagodas), Vira Varma Raja (1000 pagodas), and Ravi Varma Raja (1000 pagodas).
First revolt (1793–1797)
Pazhassi Raja was not on good terms with his uncle Vira Varma, Raja of Kurumbranad. In 1793, foxy Vira Varma who had surrendered Kottayam to British back in 1792, convinced British Commissioners to let him collect tax in Kottayam. He calculated that a good collection might please the British and that that would let him seize all of Kottayam. Needless to say, Pazhassi Raja was angry at this British move. He felt betrayed. After all he was the only Raja in Northern Malabar to have helped the British consistently in the war with Mysore.
Vira Varma Raja was a real crook – on the one hand he undertook to collect tax in Kottayam directly and on the other hand he instigated Pazhassi Raja to oppose the British. Moreover, the British assessment was harsh and beyond the peasants' capacity to pay. They resisted its forcible collection by the agents of the British, and Pazhassi Raja took up their cause. As seen before, Raja was deadly opposed to extortion of the peasantry.
In 1793, Pazhassi Raja made sure that no tax was collected in Kottayam by the British – as a mark of his protest. He also threatened that if British officials did not give up their enumeration of pepper vines, he would have the vines destroyed. Local British authorities, however, debated with Raja and soon both discovered Vira Varma’s dirty games. So the British put forward a solution acceptable to the Raja by which 20 percent of gross revenue would go to Raja and another 20 percent would go for the temples' expense. No tax would be imposed on temple property in the immediate future.
In 1793, Tipu’s Vakils protested to the British that Pazhassi Raja, who was a British tributary, had overrun most of Wayanad, still under Mysore. Soon the Raja was supreme in the Wayanad Plateau.
But the Governor General unwisely revoked the agreement in 1794 and gave Kottayam to Kurumbranad Raja on a five-year lease. The Raja was truly angry at this decision and decided to retaliate by ruling his country as per customary law. The year before the lease was concluded the Raja had provided asylum to a Nayar noble, Narangoli Nambiar belongs to the Iruvazinad royal clan, who had been declared an outlaw by British for the murder of three men who had killed his kinsman. The Raja’s kind treatment of Nambiar irritated the British. The British also became angry that the Raja impaled two robbers as per customary law. British planned to arrest Raja for 'murder', but gave up the idea as the Raja had a bodyguard of 500 well armed Wayanad Nayars.
In 1795, even after a year Vira Varma Raja got Kottayam on lease, he was not able to collect tax in Kottayam-thanks to his nephew Raja’s determination. So British troops arrived in Kottayam to help Vira Varma’s tax collectors, but Pazhassi Raja’s men resisted them with success.
In 1796, orders were issued from Bombay to collect tax arrears for 2 years in Kottayam. For British no more pretexts were needed to arrest Raja. 300 men under Lieutenant James Gordon marched from Talassery and seized Raja’s fortified house at Pazhassi-but Raja fled four days earlier to Manattana [near Kottiyur]. Gordon plundered the palace where traditional treasure of Raja was kept. Raja was angry at this loot and sent a letter to Supervisor at Talassery.
Raja was also angry that one of his former general named Pazhayamviden Chandu had become an agent of Kurumbranad Raja and what angered him even more than that was that this turn-coat had the audacity to boss him with Vira Varma’s and British blessings. Raja shifted his HQ to Purali Range and then into Wayanad. Raja then blocked all British communications between Wayanad and Low Malabar through Kuttiyadi Pass. The British retaliated by cutting all communications between Raja and Low Malabar. But as they did not have enough troops to chase him they waited for reinforcements.
The British commandant was Colonel Dow, whom Raja knew well during Siege of Thalassery. So Raja thought that this old friend might help him mediate with the British government. Raja offered to give up the struggle provided he was pardoned and his treasure and house restored. The Colonel and Raja being old soldiers hated needless bloodshed and so he forwarded Raja’s request to Commissioners, who though they were bitterly opposed to Raja’s independent style, agreed to the Colonel’s suggestion as there was a risk that Raja might ally with Tipu.
So Northern Superintendent ordered the restoration of the Raja's house [but not treasure], and the Raja's pardon was confirmed by the Bombay and Supreme Governments. But the orders of government were communicated to the Raja via Vira Varma – which meant that uncle Raja took care not to report to his nephew that the British had agreed to his requests. Uncle Raja had a vested interest in war between the Company and his nephew Pazhassi Raja.
Vira Varma also removed Kaitheri Ambu, a favourite noble and general of Raja, from home administration of Kottayam. Ambu along with followers went to Kannavam [also spelled Kannavath and Kannoth], where he planned and executed a mass resistance with people’s support, which made sure that Vira Varma could make no tax collection in Kottayam. But Ambu acted clearly on guidance of Raja, who felt expulsion of Ambu was another of his uncle’s conspiracies to undermine him.
Raja feared that British planned to seize him [not knowing that their truce terms were kept blocked from him by his uncle] and retreated into depths of Wayanad. British troop build up in Wayanad also accelerated his doubts. However Raja was still eager to avoid a war and came to meet Northern Superintendent with a bodyguard of 1500 armed Nayars. Vira Varma Raja was also ordered to be present. Pazhassi Raja’s main demand was that Kottayam must be under his rule-a demand his uncle was not ready to accede.
British Commissioners' attitude also was arrogant-they were already prejudiced towards Raja and so were blind towards Raja’s logical argument that Vira Varma had no business in Kottayam. As talks broke down, Commissioners' issued a threat proclamation in Kottayam that if those Kottayam men in service of Raja does not desert him and come home, they would be declare enemies and their properties would be confiscated. But this proclamation had little effect in Kottayam where resistance to British-Kurumbranad rule became stronger.
British, to their horror, found out that a large number of Vira Varma’s troops had deserted to join ranks of resisters and Vira Varma himself was not much interested to help British-after all his aim was to create a flare up between his nephew and British for sake of pure self-interest.
Raja then visited to Mysorean commandant at Karkankotta in 1796 and in 1797 held an audience with old enemy Tipu in Mysore who posted 6000 men at Karkankotta to aid Raja in case of war and also to supply ammunition to rebels. He also began to collect troops and armament. War was imminent. 1200 troops and artillery under Major General was sent by Bombay Government to deal with Pazhassi. British also began to set up outposts in Kottayam and sent more troops to Wayanad.
In early 1797, Nayar militia rose all over Kottayam and British outposts were trapped in a true state of siege. Partisan bands became active all over Kottayam and harassed reinforcements and supply convoys. Same was the case in Wayanad where British troops that moved out of safety of block-houses risked being way-laid by Kurichia bowmen. British suffered good loss in terms of men, ammunitions and stores in these ambuscades.
Victory at Periya Pass
This event was the most important in the whole war. In 1797, Colonel Dow & force marches into Wayanad. His plan was to block Periya Pass and then crush a large rebel force in Kannoth once their retreat is blocked.
Reinforcements under Lieutenant Mealy were to reach Dow at Periya, but on way they were severely harassed by a force of Nayars and Kurichias and suffered a casualty of 105 men. So instead of Periya they retreated to their original base.
Dow’s troops suffered chronic shortage of supplies and so Dow applied for reinforcements and re-supplies to be sent under Major Anderson of Bowles' regiment. But as Mappila guides of Anderson deserted at last moment. That caused a delay in journey of Anderson-a delay that had fatal consequence for British.
Dow then received news that Tipu had sent sepoys to aid Raja as Tipu considered British entry into Wayanad a violation of Seringapatam Pact. Dow decided that he will go to Talassery to consult authorities there and to plan a greater operation to deal with troops of Raja and Tipu simultaneously in Wayanad. He left with a small band of men but was ambushed on way by Raja’s men aided by Mysorean sepoys but Dow escaped unhurt.
Day after he left, British force of 1100 under Major Cameroon in Periya decided to descend into Kottayam via Periya Pass as their supplies have exhausted.
But what they did not know was that Raja who learnt of true state of British army laid a trap for them-he ordered troops lay concealed in camouflaged stockades built on both sides of pass. Once the whole British force entered the narrow pass, hidden troops were to pounce on their enemy who must be caught unawares.
Plan worked well and what followed was great slaughter of British. Had it not been for arrival of Major Anderson’s force the following day, hardly any would have survived due to lack of medical care. Most of enemy were killed and all their guns, ammunition, baggage and cattle were plundered along with Union colours. Senior British officers like Major Cameroon, Lieutenant Nugent, Lieutenant Madge and Lieutenant Rudderman were killed in action.
Around this time, Commissioners took a decision on advice of Swaminatha Pattar, a Tamil Brahmin who was minister of Zamorin that sowed the eventual downfall of Pazhassi Raja. They decided to raise an irregular force of local traitors to harass Pazhassi Raja. This force was a fore-runner of the infamous Kolkar, who became infamous for their sycophancy to British and cruelty to resisters and people.
A brief introduction to Swaminatha Pattar-He is an arch rogue who helped to consolidate British rule in Calicut. Though he was Zamorin's representative to British, he betrayed his master and worked secretly to deliver kingdom of Calicut to British. Ravi Varma who led resistance to Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan became so furious at this betrayal that he along with his nephews tried to assassinate him in 1793. But the attempt failed and British arrested Ravi Varma who had fled to Wayanad to join hands with Pazhassi Raja. Ravi Varma and his nephews were imprisoned and died in mysterious circumstances – believed to be poisoned by authorities.  What impact would death of Ravi Varma of Calicut made of Pazhassi Raja is anyone's guess, but it is likely that his fear and suspicion of British only shot up after these events in Calicut in 1793.
But for time being, Raja was in a strong position. On account of British disasters, Bombay Government sent a Committee of Government composed of men of highest ranks-Commander-In-Chief Lieutenant General Stuart and Governor Jonathan Duncan. They decided to make peace as they were anxious that guerrilla warfare in a mountainous and forested terrain could last long and that Raja might join forces with Tipu or French. They also decided that Kurumbranad Raja Vira Varma should be ousted form administration of Kottayam. Rajas of Chirakkal and Parappanad acted as mediators in negotiation between Raja and British and a peace pact was signed between Pazhassi and British in 1797.
The Treaty of 1797 agreed on following points:
- Pazhassi Raja was to be 'pardoned'.
- He will be returned his treasure.
- He will be provided an annual allowance of 8000 rupees.
- He will be given back his confiscated house at Pazhassi.
- Ravi Varma, elder brother of Pazhassi Raja will be head of Kottayam.
A pardon and restoration of property was also extended to Narangoli Nambiar of Iruvazinad.
Thus Raja’s efforts of four years ended in a political victory. Peace dawned after four years of antagonism and war.
Tipu Sultan in his letter to French government notes with glee that British had lost 1,000 European soldiers and 3,000 native sepoys in four years of war between British troops and Kottayam army.
Second revolt and death (1800–1805)
After fall of Tipu, Wayanad fell to British. They sent a Mysore Commission to seize Wayanad and planned to annexe it to either Canara or Coimbatore. But as Wayanad was a traditional possession of Kottayam Raja and that Pazhassi is in control of this region since 1793, Pazhassi correctly saw move was an encroachment on his country’s ancient provinces. Raja retaliated by collecting a large force of Nayars which was now supplemented by Mappilas and Pathans, latter being ex-soldiers of Tipu who became unemployed after Tipu’s death.
British Government at Madras appointed Major General Arthur Wellesley as British army commandant of Mysore, Canara & Malabar- He planned a double pronged move from Malabar Coast and Mysore into Wayanad and began preparations for that end. Raja observed Major General-latter had brought reinforcements and building roads in Wayanad and outposts across rebel country. In response, Raja also recruited numerous men which so alarmed Wellesley that latter even wanted to kidnap kith and kin of rebels so as to check Raja’s recruitment.
Raja learnt that Wellesley had left to Deccan on a military mission-Raja who understood that Major General’s absence is a great chance swiftly made his move. He marched across Kuttiyadi Pass and below he made a junction with Unni Mootha Mooppan, a Walluvanad Mappila leader & his men and soon several great nobles like Kampuratt Nambiar of Iruvazhinad, Peruvayal Nambiar and Kannavath Sankaran Nambiar also joined Raja with their men.
By monsoon of 1800, rebels who controlled all of country-side of Kottayam threatened to overwhelm British outposts in Kottayam. Wellesley sent a large force under Colonel Sartorius to recapture rebel held Kottayam. But the plan could not be carried out as there were not enough troops in Malabar. Wellesley advised Commissioners to stop all communications with Wayanad so as to starve Raja of supplies. But shortage of troops also meant this plan too remained on paper. By the time, Wellesley decided to smash Raja by a double drive from Malabar Coast and Mysore into Wayanad, Manjeri Athan Gurikkal an Ernad Mappila leader along with his followers agreed to support of Raja.
By 1801, a large British force of over 10,000 men swarmed all over Kottayam and Wayanad and they blocked all passes that linked Wayanad with Malabar. Before so large numbers, rebels thought wise to go under-ground for time being. Raja also found that he could no longer contact his supporters in Southern Wayanad and Southern Malabar. Raja became a wanderer in forests but even then, to surprise of British, he ruled out compromise it seems he understood that there was no alternative to full freedom.
Raja had six close aides and 25 musketeers in his wanderings. First he went north via Payyavur along montane forests of eastern Chirakkal to rally support. But British were on his trail but failed to catch him. Raja then visited his secret bases in Kottayam and then moved into Kadathanad and into jungles of Kurumbranad. British were angered that where ever he went, nobles supported him in secret and decided to punish them for their help to rebel Raja.
As a part of terrorisation, Peruvayal Nambiar who was arrested was hanged. British also threatened brutal penalty and confiscation of property for all those rebels who failed to surrender in six weeks time. But a pardon was also issued for surrendered rebels. But none of these threats and temptations worked and Raja was still at large. But some of his chief supporters were arrested of whom Kannavath Sankaran Nambiar was most famous. Kannavath Sankaran Nambiar and his son were hanged too and their property was confiscated.
The tree on which Nambiar and his son was hanged was preserved until recent past. But then the tree fell away. It stood at Chittaripparamba junction near Koothuparamba.
Following murder of Kannavath Nambiar, a deceptive calm descended on North Malabar-calm before storm. Collector Major MacLeod believed that war was over and went ahead with exploitation program. He immediately declared a total disarmament of Malabar and threatened those who kept arms with death penalty. He also doubled the rate of tax and ordered a reassessment of tax of whole Malabar in a mere forty days.
All these 'reforms' paid back in 1803 when Malabar was on verge of revolt as people were pushed to wall. MacLeod tried to calm this with corrective measure-He cancelled all his 'reforms' and old system was reinstated. But it was too late for Wayanad where Raja’s men were prepared for a rebellion.
Capture of Panamaram Fort
The first major event was the capture of Panamaram Fort. Edachena Kungan Nair planned the operation and was helped by 150 Kurichia bowmen under Talakkal Chandu. Fort had 70 men under Captain Dickenson and there was a large force of 360 men under Major Drummond only a few miles away in Pulinjali. So if Major came to help Captain in time Kurichia force would be overwhelmed by gun-fire and numbers. But Kungan and Chandu decided to take risk.
Whole garrison was slaughtered in the surprise attack led by the two generals and they lost only 5 dead and 10 wounded. Dickenson himself was killed. Rebels got 112 muskets, six boxes of ammunitions and 6000 rupees. They also destroyed the whole fort.(The remains of the fort can be seen now near Panamaram High School).
Wellesley was enraged at this rebel audacity and dispatched 500 men to retaliate. But by then rebel victory had roused all of Wayanad and Kottayam. Edachena Kungan, hero of Panamaram success, went to Pulpally shrine and issued a proclamation to people to join Raja’s war. 3000 men volunteered. They were posted at Valliyurkav at Mananthavadi, Motimjarra [?], and Edappally and 100 of them under brother of Kungan posted themselves at Periya Pass and 25 men were posted at Kottiyur Pass. Rebel outposts were set up en route from Dindimal to Valliyurkav. The rebel army was mostly composed of archers and sword men, but some had muskets.
Edachena Kungan Nambiar led an attack on a British detachment headed from Mysore to Mananthavadi. Harassment began once this force entered Wayanad till it reached a stream between Manathavadi and Bhavully [?] river. There they were blocked by a rebel force entrenched on opposite side of stream. But to ill luck of rebels a reinforcement which had caught up with blocked British army outflanked the rebel entrenchment and took a large number of prisoners. All these prisoners were disarmed and marched to a road where they were murdered.
Besides, British reinforcements arrived in Wayanad from all directions. But British could find rebels nowhere.
The rebels now concentrated in Kottayam. In 1802, they raided a supplies convoy near Kottiyur. British were frustrated by Kottayam people’s total lack of co-operation. To add to their trouble, in 1803, a rebel force took to field in Kurumbranad* & Payyormala* and people were sympathetic to rebels. Kungan marched towards Pazhassi to wipe out the British outpost there but had to retreat, though British suffered serious losses. Soon rebellion spread into Chirakkal where armed bands of partisans launched operations and often fought British openly. Raja’s army by end of 1803 was ranging as far as Kannur and Thalasseri.
[*Both in northern and eastern parts of modern Calicut District]
In March 1803, a rebel force marched as far as Calicut and captured Sub-Jail where they killed all guards and seized their firearms and ammunition. They also released prisoners, many of whom joined ranks of rebel army. This was too much for MacLeod and he resigned immediately after this event.
In 1803, Wellesley left for Europe, after three years of inconclusive war with Pazhassi Raja, later destined to become Duke of Wellington, vanquisher of Napoleon at Waterloo.
In 1804, a large British army arrived and 1200 Kolkar were also ready for action. Most importantly Thomas Hervey Baber, a cunning man was appointed as Sub-Collector. It was he who crushed Pazhassi's Revolt forever. It is indeed ironic that what a military genius like Wellesley could not attain, was achieved by Baber – said to be just a 'civil servant.' Baber had both a personal motive – to avenge the death of his friend Major Cameron, the first husband of his wife Helen Somerville Fearon at the hand of Pazhassi Raja on 9 January 1797 at Periya Pass. Baber became a civil servant to protect the interests of a small but influential group of merchants that included his in-laws – the Inglis and Money families of Bombay. It is noteworthy that Baber's son Henry Fearon Baber married the Granddaughter of George Harris, 1st Baron Srirangapattam and the nemesis of Tipu Sultan.
In 1804, a huge rising led by Kalyat Nambiar [a powerful Chirakkal noble but Raja’s sympathiser] and Raja’s men in largely forested eastern Chirakkal was crushed by British. If there was large and long revolt warfare in Chirakkal, it would have immensely profited Raja. Though there was a lot of supporters of Raja in Chirakkal, as revolt collapsed fast as rebels opted for open confrontation instead of time honoured guerrilla warfare. Another cause for failure of revolt was treacherous Kolkar also served their White pay-masters well.
So once more rebel force had retreat to Wayanad. They were hotly chased by British who had 2000 Sepoys and 1000 Kolkar. A reward of 3000 pagodas was offered for Raja along with 1000 Pagodas for Edachena Kungan and bounties were put on heads of 10 other associates of Raja.
But rebels, mostly Kurumbas, struck at Churikunji [?] in Wayanad. Though they had to withdraw, they had devastated their enemy. That year, a party of Kolkar nearly caught Raja but he escaped thanks to timely warning of a Kurumba guard.
But monsoon and brutal climate of Wayanad soon aided Raja. Of 1300 Kolkar only 170 were not sick by October. Raja and Edachena Kungan organised a large force of Kurichias and Kurumbas at Pulpally shrine and positioned them to as far as Kurichiyat. Also effort of Kungan to rally Nayar nobles of Wayanad to support Raja’s war-effort had also succeeded.
British for past couple of years did not have to suffer loss on a scale of Periya in 1797, but matters were not easy for British at all. Even in Kottayam which had become quiet might explode once more and a large rebel force with Raja as head was still at large. But one must remember that the whole revolt is a one man show as Wellesley himself remarked once-“We are not fighting 1000 men [Raja’s army] ... but one man ... Kerala Varma.”-Raja’s end would mean end of revolt.
Betrayal and Death of Raja
T.H. Baber went to Mysore to direct operations himself and began a large search for informants and traitors. True, British themselves admit that they did not get lot of informants as locals were devoted to Raja, but some of those few informants proved devastating to revolt-one of them a Chetti, found out where Raja had camped and informed Baber who took to field with 100 Kolkar and 50 Sepoys.
[But it must be added in this context that had Pazhayamviden Chandu not given British a full and clear picture about inner workings of Pazhassi military force, British could not have destroyed Pazhassi Raja. Pazhassi Raja's war machine was an enigma for British before autumn of 1805. But since recruitment of turncoat Pazhayamviden to British imperial service in 1800, British fully understood their elusive enemy – and consequences were fatal for Pazhassi Raja and his cause. But to his credit and to credit of his followers and subjects, he gave a bloody five-year fight to British across Northern Malabar.]
There is one school of thought that blames Pazhayamviden Chandu as solely responsible for fall of Raja and end of his revolt. Pazhayamviden worked with British military authority as an "adviser" like Pallore Eman, but in reality spied for Raja. But in autumn of 1805 Pazhayamviden decided to betray all military secrets of his master for a large sum of money.
In light of above points, it will not be far fetched to believe that Chetti who guided British troops to Raja's hideout mentioned by Baber in his letter could be a servant or agent of Pazhayamviden Chandu.
On 1805, 30 November, Raja and retainers were camped near close to Karnataka on shore of a stream named Mavila or Mavila Tod [not far from Pulpally]. Raja and party were caught by surprise and an intense but short fight followed. Six rebels were killed. One of the earliest rebels to be killed was Pazhassi Raja.
Given below is an account of final moments of Raja-
"The night of 29 November 1805 was surprisingly hot and humid in the jungles beyond Wayanad. A small army of rebels from Malabar had crossed over to the Mysore side and was holed up there, hidden from the British. None of them could sleep properly and there was a sense of unease."
"The following morning, their leader, Kerala Varma, was up early. It was an important day for him, his mother's death anniversary. He bathed in the Mavila Thodu, and finished his prayers. He discussed strategy with his men for a while, and then they formed a protective circle around him as he sat on the bank and the ceremonies began. Suddenly, in the middle of the rituals, they found themselves surrounded by the English army under Sub-Collector Thomas Harvey Baber."
"Bullets were fired and the men scattered. His men pleaded with Kerala Varma to escape, but he refused. In the ensuing confusion, a bullet caught him in the chest. With a prayer to Sriporkali, his clan deity, he collapsed on the bank. His men stood helpless, watching the end of their only hope of freedom."
But evidently, wounded Raja did live long enough for a few more minutes to raise his loaded gun and then tell Canara Menon, an East India Company minor official, not to come too close to his dying body and pollute it. Raja's contempt and sarcasm for a man who chose to serve unclean foreigner is evident. But it also showed his uncompromising stand towards collaborators and foreign invaders.
List of Raja's supporters
Among his supporters were:
- Kannavath Sankaran Nambiar (Raja’s Minister)
- Kaitheri Ambu (Raja’s brother in law, also directed Raja’s operations in Kottayam)
- Pallur Eman Nair
- Thalakkal Chandu (Kurichia-aide of Kungan/Hero of Panamaram)
- Edachena Kungan (Directed Raja’s operations in Wayanad/Hero of Panamaram)
- Neeli (Kurichia girl who served in Raja's bodyguard – famed in folklore as tough fighter).
The precise nature of Raja's death is controversial. Folklore insists that he committed suicide by swallowing a diamond ring to avoid capture after he was wounded.
T. H. Baber's version was that it was a clerk named Canara Menon who killed Raja. Raja is said to have shouted to Menon who approached his body as he lay dying, "Don't defile me, traitor!"
W. J. Wilson, who wrote on the history of the Madras Regiment, credits Captain Clafam and his six sepoys for killing of Raja. This third version of Raja's end is more likely as Baber was not on good terms with military authority throughout the Pazhassi War. He is alleged to have credited Menon so as to deny credit to Clafam and his superior Colonel Hill.
Forest Forts of Pazhassi Raja
In his decades long war to oust invaders, Rajah developed an elaborate system of cantonments and forts in jungly and mountainous part of his country.
Four of them are most important – granite fort on Purali range [modern Muzhakunnu] which was built by his ancestor Harischandra Perumal over a thousand years ago. He had another granite fort at Manatana. In Wynad, he had a great fort in Mananthavady which was reported to have ability to house his whole army of 6000 men. He also had a stronghold in Todikulam near Kannavam which belonged to his supporter Kannavath Sankaran.
Of all his strongholds, none survive today. Only ruins of Purali fort survive today. It is today a heap of granite boulders. Only a tank still survives today. A nearby black-stone cave where Raja once lived can still be found.
In popular culture
A 1964 Malayalam film titled Pazhassi Raja was based on his life. It was directed by Kunchako and starred Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair as Pazhassi Raja. Prem Nazir, Sathyan etc. played other major roles. The film was a failure in the box office. The movie has many songs composed by the R. K. Shekhar, father of A R Rahman.
The 2009 Malayalam film Keralavarma Pazhassiraja depicts the life of the Raja. The film was directed by Hariharan and written by M. T. Vasudevan Nair. The political situation of the time is portrayed from different viewpoints, and the locals are treated sympathetically in this film.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pazhassi Raja.|
- "Pazhassi Samarangal", K.K.N Kurup, 1980
- Wayanad – Its People and Traditions by C. Gopalan Nair
- Buchanan, Francis (1807). A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar. London: T. Cadell & W. Davies / Black, Parry & Kingsbury. – in three volumes.
- Calicut University Text for paper Kerala History and Culture Distance Education MA History 2007 by Prof. SS Warrier
- Evolution of Kerala History and Culture, Prof. T. K. Gangadharan, 2004, Calicut University Central Cooperative Stores Ltd, No.4347, Calicut University 673,635
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- Foretold Mathrubhumi
- Supplementary Dispatches of Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley [Ed], 1859
- "Mathrubhoomi" Daily, 5 October 2009, Kannur Edition
- B. Vijayakumar (14 December 2009). "Pazhassi Raja 1964". The Hindu. Retrieved 27 December 2010.
Fischer-Tiné, Harald; Mann, Michael, eds. (2004). Colonialism As Civilizing Mission: Cultural Ideology in British India. Anthem Press. ISBN 9781843310921.