Ravi Varma of Padinjare Kovilakam

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Ravi Varma
Born 1745
Mankavu, Calicut
Died 1793 (aged 48)
Cherpulassery, Palakkad
House Padinjare Kovilakam
Religion Hinduism

Ravi Varma Raja (1745–1793) was a Samanta Kshatriya warrior prince of the Royal House of Zamorins from Calicut who fought a two-decade long revolt against the Mysore Sultanate under Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan between 1766–1768 and 1774–1791, and later the British East India Company in 1793.

Hyder Ali's invasion of Malabar in 1766 was met with stiff opposition by the local Nairs, who led by the Zamorin of Calicut, rose up in rebellion against the oppressive policies implemented by his regime. During Hyder's third invasion in 1767, as the Mysorean army was approaching the city gates, the Zamorin sent all his relatives to safe haven in Ponnani and immolated himself to avoid the humiliation of surrender and forced conversion to Islam. His nephew and successor, Kishen Raja continued the war until 1774, when he fled to Travancore. The abrupt end of the 600-year reign of the Zamorins created a leadership vacuum in the kingdom of Calicut, which resulted in the Eralppad (second-in-line successor to the throne) Raja Krishna Varma's assumption of the throne. Together with his nephew Ravi Varma and a small band of Nair warriors, Krishna Varma swore revenge against Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. The ensuing insurgency struggle against the Mysorean army lasted until 1791.

Krishna Varma appointed Ravi Varma as the Commander of the armed forces of Calicut and for two decades repeatedly thwarted all efforts by Hyder and Tipu to subjugate his kingdom. Ravi Varma has the distinction of being the first Malabar prince to rise up in 1788 against the forced conversions and deportation of Nairs to Seringapatam conducted by Tipu. He was a key figure in the anti-Mysore uprising in southern Malabar. After 1792, he broke his longstanding alliance with the British, and waged war against them. He was captured by the British in the following year, and died in captivity at Cherpulassery. His nephew, also named Ravi Varma, was also arrested by the British and died in prison the same year.

Family background[edit]

Born in the kingdom of Calicut in 1745, Ravi Varma belonged to the Padinjare Kovilakam (Mankavu Palace), of the Zamorins Royal Family (Nediyirippu Swarupam), which had been ruling the Kingdom of Calicut for the last 600 years.[1] The incumbent Raja of this family was popularly referred to as Zamorin or Samoothiri.[1] Unlike his more famous contemporary and close personal friend Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja, the prince-regent of Kottayam, very little is known about the personal lives of Ravi Varma Raja and the other princes of the Padinjare Kovilakam.[2]

Rise to prominence: First war with Hyder Ali (1766–1768)[edit]

In 1767, as the Mysorean army edged closer to the outer reaches of Calicut, the Zamorin sent most of his relatives to safe haven in Ponnani and to avoid the humiliation of surrender, committed self-immolation by setting fire to his palace, the Mananchira Kovilakam.[2][3] His Eralppad Kishen Raja, continued his fight against the invading Mysorean forces from South Malabar. He marched to Ponnani and then Tanur, and forced Hyder's troops to retreat. By the time he had fled to Travancore in 1774, Kishen Raja had managed to force Hyder Ali to cede many parts of Malabar to local rulers, who were supported by the British East India Company.

The Mysorean invasion of Malabar had forced most of the royal Nair households to flee to Travancore, where they were helped to rehabilitate themselves by Dharma Raja. With most of royals in exile, the young princes of Padinjare Kovilakam took charge. Their immediate goal was to oust Mysorean garrisons from Calicut.[4]

Krishna Varma was the eldest man of this western branch – but it was his abler and more active nephew Ravi Varma who took greater role in military affairs. This uncle and nephew together with their junior male relatives prepared for war.

Hyder's policy of torture and financial extortion of residents of Zamorin country also caused widespread resentment among masses and this drove people into arms of rebels. Mysorean exploitation thus gave birth to an 18-year cycle of reprisals and revolts.[MGS and Logan]

During monsoon of 1766, whole of Zamorin domain rose in revolt but were disastrously defeated at Putiyangadi near Ponnani after which they chose to fight only guerrilla warfare. To crush the rebellion, Hyder unleashed a reign of terror in which he murdered as many as 10,000 people in Zamorin country. But that proved to be of no use as rebels led by Ravi Varma once more rose up in 1767 and Hyder's army of some 15,000 men were trapped inside their stockaded camps across Zamorin country. [Logan]

, a prince seventh in line of succession,

The rebellion in the southern Malabar was led by Ravi Varma.[5] He also helped 30,000 Brahmins flee to Travancore.

In 1768, Hyder pulled out his troops from Zamorin country as well as from all of Malabar since they were on verge of defeat. Also Hyder was threatened with imminent attack by Marathas and Nizam and so withdrew from Malabar. Hyder restored possessions to Rajas on condition that they pay him tribute. [Logan]

During the 1780s, Ravi Varma Raja, the Eralppad of Calicut led a successful rebellion against the Mysore forces. Though Tipu conferred on him a jaghire (vast area of tax-free land) mainly to appease him, the Zamorin prince, after promptly taking charge of the jaghire, continued his revolt against the Mysore power, more vigorously and with wider support. He soon moved to Calicut, his traditional area of influence and authority, for better co-ordination. Tipu sent a large Mysore army under the command of M. Lally and Mir Asrali Khan to defeat the Zamorin prince at Calicut. It is believed that Ravi Varma Raja assisted several members of the priestly community (almost 30,000 Namboothiris) to flee the country and take refuge in Travancore, to escape the atrocities of Tipu.

Ravi Varma helped the British defeat the Mysore Army and in return was promised full powers over Calicut. But after the defeat of Tippu Sultan, the British reneged on the promise. An irate Eralppad and his nephew, Ravi Varma Unni Raja II (Ravi Varma Unni Nambi) stabbed the Dewan Swaminatha Iyer (who later recovered with the help of English doctors) and fled to Wynad, where they joined the guerilla army of Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja. Ravi Varma Raja I died in the guerilla warfare, while his nephew committed suicide upon capture by the British.

Six year peace (1768–1774)[edit]

So the new Zamorin who was in exile came back and took power in 1768 and princes of Padinjare Kovilakam were eclipsed till 1774. Zamorin Raja learnt little from past disasters—instead of building up his military force to meet Mysorean threat or paying tribute to Hyder to purchase peace and safety, he did neither. Instead he plunged his country into another war with Cochin – this was also last war between Cochin and Calicut. [Iyer]

Second war with Hyder Ali (1774–1779)[edit]

In 1774, once more Hyder's troops invaded Malabar and Zamorin Raja fled to Travancore and thus princes of Padinjare Kovilakam once more rose to prominence. Krishna Varma became overall head and Ravi Varma the commandant of rebel force. Ravi Varma's rebels made shrewd use of forested and mountainous landscape that covered most of Zamorin country. [Iyer]

Ravi Varma moved capital away from vulnerable Calicut and Ponnani to Kalladikode in Nedumganad province (Modern Ottapalam taluk) his military headquarters. They also took war into enemy territories in Coimbatore district [one of richest parts of Hyder's domain] which they looted and devastated in retaliation to Mysorean reprisals.[Iyer and Buchanan]

In November 1788, the Mysorean forces under Hyder's son Tipu Sultan attacked Calicut and captured the Karanavappad of Manjeri.[6] Their assaults were met with resistance by the Nairs of Calicut and southern Malabar led by Ravi Varma and other princes of the Padinjare Kovilakam.[6] Tipu sent 6,000 troops under his French commander, M. Lally to raise the siege, but failed to defeat Ravi Varma.[6]

By 1779, Hyder had enough of war with Ravi Varma and invited him for talks to his camp in Calicut. But some unusual troops movements around the guest-house where he was staying roused his suspicions that Hyder was planning to arrest him and so he left immediately to Kalladikode.[Iyer]

Struggle with Tipu Sultan (1774–1791)[edit]

In 1782, Ravi Varma's men recaptured all of Zamorin country and even helped British to capture forts of Calicut and Palghat. But in 1784, Tippu got Malabar back by Treaty of Mangalore and once more Ravi Varma had to deal with Mysorean troops. [Logan and Iyer]

Tippu bribed Ravi Varma in hope that he will give up war and submit to Mysore authority. But Ravi Varma's dream was independence of his country and restore her former prestige. So he kept up irregular warfare to harass Mysore army of occupation. But even so, prospects of peace became brighter by 1788 when Krishna Varma even visited Tippu in Calicut for peace talks. Krishna Varma sent an agent for peace talks. [Iyer]

Tippu's promise was restoration of Zamorin country to Zamorin Raja on one condition – Zamorin must help him conquest of Travancore. Tippu even sent a large sum to Krishna Varma to bribe him. But even so Varma refused to agree. Some account says that his refusal was because of Tippu's forcible conversions.[Iyer]

Tippu angry at his failure in negotiations unleash a wave of savage religious persecution and Ravi Varma and rebels rose up and seized whole of Southern Malabar and marched and captured Calicut in 1788. Even though a Mysore army under French general Lally recaptures Calicut same year, Ravi Varma and his rebels still dominated most of Zamorin country.[Logan and Iyer]

In 1789, Tippu came with a vast army and Ravi Varma and men were forced to flee to forests. Towns and villages were seized by Tippu's troops but they reached nowhere in jungle warfare with Ravi Varma and his partisans. [Logan]

In 1790, Tippu invaded Travancore only to be checked by Dharma Raja's troops and this provoked British to attack Mysore in retaliation [Travancore was under British protection as per Mangalore Treaty]. Soon rebels of Malabar also joined hands with British. [Logan]

Battle of Tirurangadi[edit]

In 1790, a British force of 2,000 men under Colonel Hartley landed in South Malabar to deal with Mysore army of 9,000 Sepoys and 4,000 Moplays. Ravi Varma rushed to aid with 5,000 of his best Nairs and that helped to turn tide in favour of British. [Buchanan]

Colonel Hartley in his letter to Governor-General Charles Cornwallis stated that this victory was of decisive importance to British success in Third Anglo-Mysore War.[7]

Fallout with the British[edit]

Ravi Varma and his uncle Krishna Varma aimed to restore independence and greatness to their kingdom. But they were angered when faint hearted Zamorin Raja in exile agreed to terms that made Calicut a dependency of British. They were even more angered by the fact that it was Swaminatha Pattar, prime minister of exiled Zamorin Raja who persuaded latter to surrender to British.[Refer Ravi Varma below]

From their stronghold in Nedumganad, Ravi Varma and his men contacted Pazhassi Raja and his partisans. He even sheltered a large number of Pazhassi fugitives and even began to collect tax from Zamorin country without British permission. He warned Swaminatha Pattar not to betray his country to British any more and even threatened death if latter did not mend his ways.[Refer Ravi Varma below]

British soon accused Ravi Varma of conspiracy to undermine British rule and warned that severe punishment would be given to Ravi Varma and nephews if they harmed the traitor Swaminatha Pattar or if they tried to rule the country without asking British permission. British government asked Ravi Varma to pay 100,000 rupees immediately.[Refer Ravi Varma below]

War against the British[edit]

In 1793, Krishna Varma died at Karimpuzha in Nedumganad. But Ravi Varma decided to war with British and so he contacted Pazhassi Raja and Moplay malcontents of Southern Malabar along with discontented princes of Palghat and even with his old enemy Tippu Sultan for joint action- his aim was to oust British from Malabar.[Logan and Refer Ravi Varma below]

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).[8]

First he invited traitor Swaminatha Pattar, (who being a double agent in British payroll) to a great extent bore responsibility of British supremacy in Zamorin country, to Padinjare Kovilagam palace in Mankavu where he was stabbed by Ravi Varma and his nephews but was saved by treatment of a British surgeon named Wye.[Logan]

After this, Ravi Varma fled towards Wynad in join Pazhassi Raja. But he was arrested on way by Captain Burchall and men and sent to Cherpulassery where he died in captivity. Official version for death cause was complications that arose from an old bullet injury.[Logan and [Refer Ravi Varma below]

Ravi Varma's nephew Ravi Varma junior along with his four brothers also died in suspicious circumstances during their imprisonment. But there is no evidence either to prove that Ravi Varma the elder and his five nephews were murdered in captivity.

He was cremated at his stronghold of Kalladikode. Rebel leaders of Malabar – Pazhassi Raja included – mourned death of Ravi Varma.


Ravi Varma died even before he could a full revolt. His nephew, also named Ravi Varma, was arrested and also died in custody in 1793. But rest of Padinjare Kovilakam princes evaded British capture and kept a large part of Southern Malabar in state of chronic disturbance. It was only in 1797 that they agreed to surrender to British. This four-year-long rebellion by Calicut princes is not a well recorded event in Malabar history. [Logan]

During war with Mysorean troops, Ravi Varma commanded the largest rebel force in Malabar and his help proved to be vital for British victory in Third Anglo-Mysore War. In spite of all these factors, Ravi Varma belongs to that class of leaders who are almost lost to history.



  • Ayyar, K. V. Krishna (1938). The Zamorins of Calicut: (from the earliest times down to AD 1806). Publ. Division, Univ. .
  • Buchanan, Francis (1807). A journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar. T. Cadell and W. Davies. Retrieved 14 November 2012. 
  • Dale, Stephen Frederic (1980). Islamic society on the South Asian frontier: the Mappilas of Malabar, 1498–1922. Clarendon Press. .
  • India. Director of Census Operations, Kerala (1981). Census of India, 1981: Special Report. Controller of Publications. 
  • Logan, William (1887). Malabar manual, Volume 1. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 978-81-206-0446-9. Retrieved 14 November 2012. 
  • Menon, A. Sreedhara (1962). Kerala District Gazetteers: Arnakulam. Superintendent of Govt. Presses. .
  • Narayanan, M.G.S. (2006). Calicut: the city of truth revisited. University of Calicut. .
  • Staff Reporter (7 March 2011), Nuggets of Malabar history, The Hindu, retrieved 14 November 2012