The Ettuveetil Pillamar (Lords of the Eight Houses) were a group of nobles from eight Nair Houses in erstwhile Venad in present-day Kerala state, South India. They were associated with the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram and the Ettara Yogam. Their power and wealth grew until Marthanda Varma (1706–1758), the last king of Venad and the first king of Travancore, defeated them in the 1730s.
The Eight Houses
The Ettuveetil Pillamar were known according to the villages in which they resided and all held the title of Pillai. The Eight Lords were Kazhakoottathu Pillai, Ramanamadhom Pillai, Chempazhanty Pillai, Kudamon Pillai, Venganur Pillai, Marthandamadhom Pillai, Pallichal Pillai and Kolathur Pillai. Kazhakkoottam and Chempazhanthi lie to the north of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city, while Venganoor lies to the south, between Balaramapuram and Kovalam.
Ettuveetil Pillamar were the leaders of the land and ‘tharakootams’ known as ‘Arunootavar’. (the military setup of Nairs) established for maintaining law and justice in Venad. They were the Governors of provinces of the country. They had the power to exercise control over the king also. They gradually grew from ordinary landlords to powerful chiefs and allied themselves with the Ettara Yogam. The Ettara Yogam ('Council of Eight and Half' or 'King's Council of Eight'), an association consisting of the Pushpanjali Swamiyar, seven Potti families, one Nair noble and the King of Venad administered the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple of Thiruvananthapuram. The lands and properties of the temple were divided into eight parts and each was placed by the Yogam under one of the Pillai as governor. They soon started opposing the king openly and bringing more and more Madampis or nobles under their influence.
Aim of the Eight
The Ettuveetil Pillaimar, aided by the Ettara Yogam, became the supreme power in Venad to such an extent that the sovereign needed their permission even to construct a palace for himself at his capital. With so much power in their hands they wished to do away with the Royal House. The earlier chroniclers of Travancore history state that their chief intention was to extirpate the Royal House and convert the state into a pseudo-republic under their control, and eventually under a monarchy under one of themselves. With this in mind they plotted and assassinated Maharajah Aditya Varma by poisoning him and set the Palace on fire.
After Aditya Varma's assassination his niece Umayamma Rani became the regent. The Pillamar approached her with condolences and vowed to support her. But within a year, five of her six sons were drowned under suspicious circumstances, probably at the instigation of the Pillamar, in the Kalippankulam pond.The surviving eldest son, now the only heir to the throne, could not assume power as per the matriarchal traditions of Kerala. (Due to the absence of females the family could not be perpetuated.) Umayamma then adopted a cousin, namely Kerala Varma, into the house but soon he was assassinated as well. She then adopted one boy and two girls from the Kolathunadu Royal House, the cousin family of the Venad House, from the family called Pally Kovilakam in 1684 just before her regency closed and her surviving son Ravi Varma became king. He adopted in 1689 two princesses and princes from Kolathunadu including Rajah Rama Varma.
The Eight lords and Marthanda Varma
Marthanda Varma, the last king of Venad and the first king of Travancore. was born in 1706 to the younger of the two adopted princesses of 1689. Right from his childhood he had to live constantly in hiding, due to the Pillamar. Several assassination bids were made on his life. In 1728 an assassination attempt was made on the life of his sister and her son, the later Dharma Raja. However it was in 1729, when the Rajah Rama Varma, died that actual war was declared.
The late Rajah left two sons, Padmanabhan and Raman Thampi and a daughter Ummini Thankachi. These children of the late king known as the Kunju Thampis now staked claim to the throne, in spite of the prevailing Marumakkathayam law (which said that a king would be succeeded by his sister's eldest son). Recognizing a dangerous foe in the intelligent and decisive Marthanda Varma, the Pillamar supported the Kunju Thampis. They furnished them with enough money and men to seek aid from the Pandyas of Madurai. However Marthanda Varma managed to avert war by bribing away the Pandyan army. Soon after this Padmanabhan and Raman Thampi were captured and killed at Nagercoil Palace. (It may be stated that according to a popular folklore, Marthanda Varma's enmity towards the Kunju Thampimar was because of their refusal to allow him to marry their sister. It is said that Ummini Thankachi killed herself after the execution of her brothers to escape Marthanda Varma.)
The Pillamar were initially deterred by the fate of the Thampis, for they did not expect Marthanda Varma to kill his own cousins. However, soon after this, they plotted once again to murder the king but intelligence of this reached the king. On the day of the Arrat festival when the murder was to take place, Marthanda Varma appeared with an escort strong enough to cow down the Pillamar. But having received proof of the intention of the Pillamar to murder him they were all rounded up and tried soon after this.
The Eight were either killed or exiled after sufficient evidence of conspiracy and murder was procured. Their houses were dug up (Kulamthondal - a common punishment of the time) and all their assets and armies seized by the victorious Marthanda Varma. Their women and children were sold to the fishermen of the coast as slaves.[page needed] The two palaces at Thiruvananthapuram, known as Ramanamadhom and Thevarathu Koikal were constructed from the wood and material of the palaces of the Pillamar. The Travancore State Manual written by scholar V. Nagam Aiya concludes by saying,
|“||Thus ended the long tale of crime and bloodshed committed by the lawless band of Ettuveetil Pillai and the Madampimar who molested the land for a period of two centuries and more||”|
Later historians, with many more records available, have disputed the traditional stories, which were based on legend and folklore. While there is no doubt about the existence of anti-royal nobles before Marthanda Varma, as well as frequent conflicts between the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple managers and the king, many of the events of the past were found to be entirely false.
The temple lands were managed by a group of nobles known as Madathil Pillamar, often mistaken for the Ettuveetil Pillamar. Earlier historians stated that the King had no authority over the temple and the Ettara Yogam and Pillamar were outside his control. However temple documents show that it was the king who appointed the highest dignitary of the temple, known as the Swamiyar. In fact, the authority of the king is considered to have been greatly valued for the records show the Yogam applying to the king for permission in trivial matters such as appointment of Temple sweepers. Another contradiction found is in the fact that the Pillamar influenced the tenants of the temple lands. However the temple lands all lay to the south of Thiruvananthapuram where there were other influential nobles, whereas the bulk of the Pillamar lived to the north. Records show clashes between Temple managers and the king's men but in none of these are the Pillamar mentioned. Another contradiction lies in the statement that since the 16th century the kings were mere puppets of the Yogam and Pillamar. During this period the Venad kings won victories over the mighty Vijayanagar Empire and the Thirumala Nayaks, which, it is asserted, could not have been possible under a puppet king.
A major disagreement is registered regarding the aim of the Pillamar to extirpate the royal family. Even if they succeeded in killing the Royal family at Thiruvananthapuram, there were the other collateral branches at Nedumangad, Kottarakara and Kollam, places where the Pillamar had no following. It may be noted that all these branches participated in the meetings and management of the Temple and hence were active in Thiruvananthapuram also. In the document of 1730 regarding the execution of the Pillamar the name used for the conspirators is Ettuveetil Madampimar and not Pillamar. Besides, of the eight Pillais, only Kazhakoothathu Pillai and Kulathur Pillai are mentioned, the remainder being totally different individuals. The remaining six families are not mentioned at all, and it is improbable that the King who personally made investigations would let any of them go free.
Further important revelations made by the documents of the Temple are with regard to Aditya Varma and Umayamma Rani. The Temple records which refer to minor events such as appointment of sweepers in the temple have not stated anything on the palace of Aditya Varma being burnt down. Also the story that Aditya Varma was poisoned to death is positively disproved, for the temple records clearly state that Aditya Varma died at Padmanabhapuram in the Darpakulangara Palace and was cremated at Thiruvattar. The King had died a natural death. Another significant fact that has come to light is that Umayamma Rani had no children at all and hence the story of the murder of her five children is disproved. The Royal family consisted only of Umayamma Rani, a Senior Rani and Ravi Varma, the son of the Senior Rani. In fact, Umayamma had two adopted sons from 1677 who were however not in the line of succession. However the stories of the assassination attempt of Marthanda Varma's sister in 1728 etc. are true, having occurred, at the instigation of, not the Pillamar, but the Rajah of Kayamkulam, a traditional enemy of Venad.
Thus many of the crimes for which the Pillamar are said to have been punished were positively disproved. It is clear that there did exist refractory nobles of immense power and that Marthanda Varma did put an end to their authority and made that of the king supreme, but most of the stories about the Pillamar were found to be false.
- Aiya 1906, p. 311.
- Aiya 1906, p. 304.
- Aiya 1906, p. 310.
- Aiya 1906, p. 313.
- Aiya 1906, p. 259.
- Aiya 1906, p. 334.
- Aiya 1906, p. 337.
- Aiya 1906.
- Aiya 1906, p. 338.
- Sreedhara Menon, Kerala History
- Aiya 1906, p. 206.
- Aiya 1906, p. 207.
- Aiya 1906, p. 208.
- Aiya 1906, p. 209.
- Aiya 1906, p. 211.
- Aiya 1906, p. 216.
- Aiya 1906, p. 219.
- Aiya 1906, p. 226.
- Aiya 1906, p. 260.