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The Palakkad fort

Posted by Maddy Labels: , ,

I have always passed it, since the road that takes me from Palakkad town to Pallavur snakes by the Kotta Maidanam (the ground by the fort) and beside one of the ramparts of the majestic fort. Some times it is dry and black, sometimes it is covered with moss, but it has always stood there, hardly damaged by the years, the weather or the many thousands who folk by every year to see it. The complex is square in shape, situated on 15 acres of land, with walls of immense thickness and strong bastions at all four corners and in the middle. The sober majesty of those laterite walls of the fort quietly hides many tales of valor and courage.

As you pass by you see games played in the grounds, sometimes it is a cricket match, sometimes soccer…but the surrounds of the fort are always full of children and people, there is a children’s park with swings and the such called Vatika, I think there is a driving school and an auditorium, but I can assure you not many of people lounging there would know the horrors and history associated with the fort or the grounds and of the many thousands who were massacred over that very soil.

There is a certain mystery to it all, while most historians state that the majestic fort was built by French designers & engineers for Haider Ali in the 18th century, at least one gazetteer mentions that it has been there from ancient times. I do not believe that claim however.

The story starts with the Palakkad Rajah-Kombi Achan. His relationship with the powerful Zamorin of Calicut (Palghat is 120km away from Calicut) soured when the latter laid claims to the fertile paddy growing regions and forests that previously belonged to him, by drawing the Naduvattam wedge. This was in 1757, a time when Haider Ali was gaining importance in Deccan. This one action went on to culminate in the arrival of Haider and his troops across the Kerala borders and the 4 decades of Mysore Malabar wars.

The Palghat Rajah (one of the two brothers) quickly requested support from Haider who was at Dindigul. Haider initially was not for it, but when the Raja offered space to build a fort and pay a tribute fee, he quickly agreed. Haider sent his brother in law Mukaddam Ali with 2000 horses and 5000 troops to fight the Zamorin. The Zamorin seeing the armed opposition did not fight & submitted to Haider, but Haider suspecting treachery demanded a ransom of 12 lakhs. The promise was not kept and this amount was not paid for many years thereby infuriating Haider. Meanwhile the Rajas of Palakkad became a tributary to Mysore and agreed to pay a sum of 5000 fanams (Rs1 =12 fanams) to Mysore annually as protection money.

Haider himself moved south into the Kanara region only in 1766. He sent his forces to capture Calicut as the Zamorin did not pay the earlier arrears and a further demand of a Rs One Crore ransom. The Zamorin, in despair and after sending his family to Ponnani, set fire to his Mananchira Kovilakam and killed himself. Hyder then moved on to Palghat & Coimbatore, having received submissions from kings at both places.

When the Nairs rebelled, Hyder it is stated, imposed his troops on them, massacred many and deported over 15,000 Nairs to Kanara. The Gazetteers state that only 200 survived. After this event, an amnesty was proclaimed and the Palghat Fort construction with French engineering started in 1757-1764. Haider was supposed to have built the fort to serve as a common point and to facilitate communication between Coimbatore and Palakkad, two vantage points in his new territory. The grounds as such were used to ‘park’ the elephants used by the army.

In 1768, Capt Wood first took over Palghat ( those days it was called Palghautcherry) & the fort from Haider Ali, but Haider soon fought back to retake it in Nov 1768. In the war with the English in 1767-8 the fort was damaged and Hyder Ali reconstructed it, this time on a solid foundation.

Haider’s command after his death in Dec 1782 had passed on to Tippu, his son. Then started the decisive battles with Col Fullerton in 1783 where the fort was heavily damaged but was eventually taken by the British. The Zamorin reestablished sovereignty over Palghat till Tippu came back to Coimbatore and fought again to regain it in 1788. The fort was retaken later by Col Stuart in 1790, after which it remained in British hands where they used it as a as a garrison and base for further battles against Tippu.

According to the official report of Col. Fullerton of the British forces stationed in Mangalore, many atrocities were committed by the Mysore raiders in 1783 during the siege of Palghat Fort which was being defended by the Zamorin and his soldiers. "It is asserted that the Zamorin rather than witness such enormities and to avoid further killing of innocents, chose to abandon the Palghat Fort" (p. 500). An original order sent to various army contingents by the sultan was found among the records from Palghat Fort, after its capture by the English Company in 1790. It has been reproduced as a footnote on page 454of the Malabar Manual: "It is directed (all military detachments) that every being in the district should be honored with Islam…………that they should be traced to their hiding places, and that all means of truth and falsehood, fraud or force, should be employed to effect their universal conversion.”

In 1797 the English repaired the damaged fort once again. The war between Tippu and East India Company ended with the treaty of 1792 and all the possessions of Tippu in Malabar were ceded to the British. During all these periods, the fort was popularly referred to as Tippu’s fort. It was at this fort that Chemban Poker, the Mopilla leader escaped from the clutches of the 20 year old Thomas Baber (See Nick Balmer’s blog on this event).

After the British took over the fort, it was made into a Tahsildar’s Kutchery, and the fort also housed other British government offices. It was then turned into a jail in 1877 when the Cannanore and other jails started getting overcrowded (Source – I Tyrrell- From England to the Antipodes & India - page 225) and many from the total of 400 inmates died from dysentery & other diseases. Mismanagement by the British meant that even milk for the prisoners was diverted for private use. The work that the inmates had to do was collecting pebbles from the Yakkara River for road repairs. Accounts of the non stop rain for 23 days is amusing – the author wonders where the water came from ( It was also a time when Tyrrell picked up some gold dust near Coimbatore by filtering the soil, garnets from the river bed and so on!!)!! In 1881 it ceased to be a jail.

In the 20th century, the fort became a Taluk office once again. Now declared as a monument, the Fort is under the custody of Archaeological Survey of India. It houses a small museum and an open air auditorium called Rappadi. The old draw bridge has since been replaced by a permanent one. The children’s park is called Vatika. A Hanuman temple is located inside the fort.

All these bloody battles for the fort were fought on the grounds (Kottah maidanam) which today serenely host yet another game that the English taught us, cricket or a district fair and exhibition. And of the Palghat Raja, PCN Raja from the Zamorin family states - The Palghat Raja, Ettipangi Achan who had surrendered, was imprisoned by Tippu on suspicion and later taken to Sreerangapatanam. Nothing was heard of him subsequently.

Here is an Arial view of the fort as seen from the skies. This lovely webindia123.com video will take you for a complete virtual tour of this magnificent fort.


Photo 1- Wikipedia
Photo 2 - Dilip's album at Picassaweb

7 comments:

  1. Nikhil Narayanan

    Maddy,
    From one the links you shared.
    Therefore, Mangalapuri (Mangalore) was changed to Jalalabad, Cannanore (Kanwapuram) to Kusanabad, Bepur (Vaippura) to Sultanpatanam or Faruqui, Mysore to Nazarabad, Dharwar to Quarshed-Sawad, Gooty to Faiz-Hissar, Ratnagiri to Mustafabad, Dindigul to Khaliqabad, and Calicut (Kozhikode) to Islamabad.

    Kanwapuram=Kannapuram in Kannur district? Farqui=Feroke in Calicut district?

    Tippu's Padayottam changed the religious landscape of the area.Many killed, many converted.
    Numbers are shocking!

    -Nikhil

  1. Maddy

    Calicut was renamed Ferokabad.

  1. Indrani

    I am crazy of forts, don't know why?! :)
    Thanks for sharing this and the story, hair raising incidents.

  1. Maddy

    There used to be a third picture of the fort entrance in this blog, the pic was borrowed from bharatonline. A keen reader PNS observed that the door was arched and thus may not be of the Palakkad fort..

    I believe he is right and have removed the picture.

    Thanks PNS

  1. Nihal v s

    Wonderful..i reccommend you to write about the history of my college : govt victoria college,palakkad :-)

  1. Nihal v s

    Nikhil, calicut was having lot of muslims before tippu,with zamorins. Those muslims who fought against tippu. So,its not tippu's war that changed relugious ratio of calicut. But,just few names of places

  1. Sneha M

    A lot of rare info here, thanks!