As one reads books on Malabar history, especially focusing on Calicut and the Zamorin lineage, one come across mentions of a sword that was gifted to the Puntura brothers Manavedan and Manavikraman, by the erstwhile ruler Cheraman Peruymal with a violent blessing.
The picture of the sword and its sheath is attached as well as the inscription on the sheath – which stated ‘Ningal chattum konnum atakki kolka’ - loosely translated as 'die, kill and annex (seize)'. It obviously makes that piece of weaponry very symbolic and important, if it still exists. Let’s take a look at the sword, its implications, importance and present whereabouts. It was after all a symbolic sword that provided the Zamorin’s of the yesteryears the legal right to do what they did and the license to annex and conquer vast portions of Malabar and assert their claims to them.
Recently at the Calicut Heritage forum meeting, Advocate Suresh questioned – How could that blessing sound right? Can you die and still continue the conquest? Well, that was an interesting question indeed.
While some historian’s have stated that the original itself was handed over by the Perumal in a broken condition, other historians state that it was a proper sword until the Dutch attack of the Zamorin’s rest house in Tiruvanchikulam - Kodungallur in 1670, which they set fire to, in dastardly fashion.
The sword itself has been called ‘Udaval’ and Otimaval (Otinjaval?) by historians. The former means ‘A curved sword carried with the body along the waist’ whereas the latter means a broken sword. The present Zamorin mentioned in a discussion with the author that it was indeed in one piece, and had been remade from the broken part, after having been destroyed in a fire during a war with the Dutch. He also mentioned that the sword is now kept in the Tali temple and taken out only for ceremonious occasions.
The destruction of the sword
The time of the Zamorin 1668-71, who was the Thamburan assisted by the Portuguese Pacheo – The story is set during the time the Nayars had been defeated and the Dutch had destroyed the round fort erected their bastion in Tiruvanchikulam in 1669.
KV Krishna Iyer describes the event thus- In the following year, the Zamorin though sickly, was persuaded by the Eralpad to go to Cranganore to encourage the Nayars. The Dutch surprised the Zamorin camp on March 27th. By an inexplicable oversight, the Eralpad had allowed the bulk of the Nairs to go to the Cherpu for the Ashvathi festrival. The Dutch broke into the temple, smashed the idols, killed the priest and set fire to the house. In the confusion of the night, the nairs forgot to remove the Cheraman sword and it was burnt to cinders. The Zamorin retired to Papinivattom and the Eralpad recaptured the bastion.
Herman Gundert - Explains the dastardly night attack on March 23rd, 1670 when the Zamorin lost his wife and his son was injured while they came to attend the Bharani festival (see the difference between the Iyer & Gundert explanations). It was also the day when the original Perumal sword was destroyed. He also mentions in his Keralolpathi version thus - The traditions proudly recounted that they got only a broken sword (from the Perumal), to confuse the issue
In the Duarte Barbosa book by ML Dames, JA Thorne gives an account of the Val Puja done during the Ariyittuvazcha. He explains that the sword is worshipped daily by the Zamorin, and that the sword is lain at the feet of the Bhagavati when he dies. Until a new Zamorin is appointed, the priest does the daily chores of worship to the sword. The val puja is again carried out by the new Zamorin on his first day’. M A Thorne, who annotated the Longworth Dames version of Barbos;as book states that he had seen the sword, and that it is a quasi sacred relic to the Zamorin. It was brought out in a salvar decked with ‘jamanthi’ flowers. By the late 19th century it had already rusted to pieces, according to him.
J Heniger in his book (Pg 35) Hendrik Adriaan van Reede tot Drakenstein (1636-1691) and Hortus Malabaricus ... confirms the event stating that the Zamorin’s wife was mortally wounded and son shot in the leg that fateful night. The rains came soon after and van Rheede retreated to their base in Ceylon. Ironically, it was Henrich van Rheede’s first success as commander, marching in with 900 soldiers sent to him by Van Goens, but it was a cheap method adopted i.e. setting fire to a private house occupied by women & children, at night, well against the norms of war in those days.
However most other history books missed van Rheede’s presence in 1670, while many of them do account for his formal arrival to Cochin in 1676. J Heninger’s has to be right here, so it was indeed the revered van Rheede who was instrumental in destruction of the treasured Cheraman Sword. Nevertheless, many historians have since then mentioned that the rusted blade of the sword was covered with a protective covering of copper.
It was on this spot, on a smooth plateau of hard laterite rock, raised some 3oto4o feet above the plain, that the Zamorin used several times in the course of the festival to take his stand with the sword of Cheraman Perumal, the last emperor, in his hand.
" The sword is and has been for centuries, slowly rusting away in its scabbard, but it is not alone on it that the Zamorin depends for his safety, for the plain below him is covered with the 30,000 Nayars of Ernad, the 10,000 of Polanad and numberless petty dependent chieftains, each counting his fighting men by the hundred or the thousand or by thousands. Away on the right across the river are the camps of the second prince of the Zamorin's family and of the dependent Punnattur Raja ; the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth princes' camps too are close at hand in the left front behind the temple, and behind the terrace itself is the Zamorin's camp.
The Ullanat family website provides this interesting - According to the ancient history of Kerala narrated in the poetic work called “Keralam” by Kunhikuttan Thampuran, Cheraman Perumal, the last Chera king of Kerala, relinquished his kingdom and divided the land amongst the various smaller chieftains and gave them independence. This event is said to have given rise to various new kingdoms being formed within Kerala. The Zamorin (Samuthiri) who was absent during this event of partition later met Cheraman Perumal. Cheraman Perumal gave his last four possessions to the Samuthiri namely
1) his sword, which was bent inward,
2) a broken conch,
3) the last remaining portion of land (which was to evolve later as the city called Kozhikode)
4) his faithful servant - the Ullanat Panicker (who was known as the Palliyara Panicker of Cheraman Perumal). Perumal gave Samuthiri permission to conquer and keep all the land he could by his might.
The site also has a picture of a bent sword, and the Cherman sword could very well have looked like that in old times. The Malayalam poetry extract testifies to the above.
Another interesting observation turns up at the Ponmileri house website This sword, apparently had an inauspicious story attached to it, or auspicious depending on which religion analyses the story. Naveen posts a short account of Ponmileri Koroth House in North Malabar.