RSS Feed

Girolamo Sernigi and Calicut

Posted by Maddy Labels:

We have spent a lot of time on the Portuguese presence in Calicut in previous articles. It was possible mainly due to the wealth of text written by those people about the new lands they discovered. In those passages, we came to know of the conditions in Malabar from Correa, Barros, Gaspar Gama, Barbosa, Varthema and so on. But we missed mention of one person who was one of the important ones, none other than Girolamo Sernigi (1453-1510). While not many people know about him, he was responsible not only in projecting Calicut’s name to the European public, but also in financing many a voyage to India and Melacca, as an interested trader. Sernigi was of Italian extract and readers of the Portuguese voyages and trade would of course remember that the Florentine merchants were the main financiers of these voyages. After Marchionni, Sernigi was perhaps one of the most prominent merchants of Florentine origin residing in Lisbon and financing trade voyages to Malabar and Malacca.

As we read before, not only was he involved with the many ships of Cabral and the voyage of Gama previous to that, but also the spread of news after the voyagers returned, even before the chroniclers had written out their more detailed accounts. So it is important to note that he recorded and transmitted the first accounts, which possibly had more truth than most and before the spins were added. Sadly early mentions attributed his letters to Amerigo Vespucci even (who was actually away sailing towards W Indies in 1499 when Gama’s ships returned to Lisbon). The first letter dated July 10th 1499 (published 1507) was written after Nicalau Coelho’s ship touched Lisbon, the second after Gaspar Gama had arrived. Interestingly his letters have the first and only mention of Chinese in Calicut (though the author initially ascribes them to be German or Russians) and the fact that the Zamorin welcomed the Portuguese thinking them to be the White Chinese!!

Sernigi’s father, Cipriano di Chimenti, was a member of the Clothiers' Guild, and was held in high respect by his fellow citizens, but by 1680 the Sernigi family had become extinct. Girolamo lived in Lisbon, where he had settled down as a merchant, even before the time Vasco da Gama's expedition set out for India. He remained in Lisbon for many years afterwards, and in 1510 commanded a vessel which went out to Malacca with the fleet of Diogo Mendez de Vasconcellos.

His accounts are certainly interesting. Some excerpts from his three letters are recounted below for those interested.

Calicut - In this city are churches with bells, but there are no priests, and the divine offices are not performed nor sacrificial [masses] celebrated, but in each church there is a pillar holding water, in the manner of the fonts holding our holy water, and a second pillar with balm. They bathe once every 3 years in a river which is near the city. The houses in this city are of stone and mortar, in the Moorish style, and the roads laid out and straight. Gaspar Gama provided this information to Sernigi - At Calichut there is a temple and whoever enters it before noon on a seventh Wednesday dies because of diabolical apparitions. The Jewish pilot affirms that this is most certainly true, and that on a certain day of the year some lamps in this same temple begin to burn spontaneously and cause many deformities of nature to appear.

Zamorin’s palace - And the king of this city is waited upon in grand style and keeps regal state, having his chamberlains, doorkeepers, and barons, as also a very sumptuous palace. When the captain of the said vessel arrived at the city the king was away at a castle at a distance of about 6 leagues, and having been informed that Christians had arrived he at once came to the city attended by about 5000 persons. Having entered, he (Gama) proceeded to a chamber where the king reposed upon a low couch. The whole of the floor was covered with green velvet, whilst around it was drapery of variously coloured damask. The couch had a very fine white coverlet, all worked with gold thread, and above it was a canopy, very white, delicate and sumptuous.

Moors - In this city there reside many very wealthy Moorish merchants, and all the trade is in their hands. They have a fine mosque in the square of the town. The king is, as it were, governed by these Moors because of the presents which they give him; and owing to their industry the government is wholly in their hands, for these Christians (Hindu’s) are coarse people.

Coins - The coins most in circulation in this city are serafins of fine gold, coined by the Sultan of Babylonia, which weigh 2 or 3 grains less than a ducat, and are called serafins. There also circulate some Venetian and Genoese ducats, as also small silver coins, which must likewise be of the coinage of said sultan.

Chinese at Calicut - It is now about 80 years since there arrived in this city of Chalicut certain vessels of white Christians, who wore their hair long like Germans, and had no beards except around the mouth, such as are worn at Constantinople by cavaliers and courtiers. They landed, wearing a cuirass, helmet, and vizor, and carrying a certain weapon [sword] attached to a spear. Their vessels are armed with bombards, shorter than those in use with us. Once every two years they return with 20 or 25 vessels. They are unable to tell what people they are, nor what merchandise they bring to this city, save that it includes very fine linen-cloth and brass-ware. They load spices. Their vessels have four masts like those of Spain. If they were Germans it seems to me that we should have had some notice about them; possibly they may be Russians if they have a port there.

The commentator adds - This information was apparently never asked for. The "strangers" were undoubtedly Chinese. Marco Polo (Yule, I, p. lxvi, and 11, pp. 197, 327) already mentions their four-masted vessels. In his time, Chinese vessels regularly visited the west coast of India. The vizor in the guise of a mask, distinctly points to the Chinese, and the sword attached to a spear is a Chinese weapon. Up to the introduction of pig-tails by the Manju, in 1644, the Chinese wore their hair long. A punitive fleet of sixty-two Chinese vessels was sent to Ceylon in 1401. In 1417 an embassy was sent from Mu-ku-tu-su (Magadoxo) to China (Bretschneider, On the Knowledge possessed by the Ancient Chinese of the Arabs, London, 1871), and in 1431 Chinese junks might be seen at Jedda (Hirth, Verhandlungen, Berlin Geographical Society, 1889, p. 46).

Clothing - All or most of these people are clothed in cotton-cloths from the waist down to the knee, but from the waist upwards they go naked. Courtiers and men of condition dress in the same manner, but make use of silk-stuffs, reddish or scarlet or of other colours, as seems good to them. The wives (ladies) of men of condition are clothed above the girdle in very white and delicate linen; but the wives of lower degree are naked above the waist. The Moors dress according to their custom in jubbi and balandrau.

Law and order- Justice is strictly administered in this city. Robbers, murderers, and other malefactors are incontinently impaled in the Turkish fashion; and whoever defrauds the king's excise (customs) is punished by having his merchandise confiscated.

Food - Corn in abundance is found in this city of Chalichut, it being brought thither by the Moors. For 3 reals, which are smaller than ours, bread sufficient for the daily sustenance of a man can be purchased. Their bread is unleavened, resembling small cakes, which are baked daily in the ashes. Rice, likewise, is found in abundance. There are cows and oxen. They are small, but yield much milk and butter. Oranges of indifferent flavour are plentiful, as also lemons, citrons and limes, very good melons, dates, fresh and dried, and great variety of other kinds of fruit.

The king of this city of Chalichut eats neither of meat nor fish nor anything that has been killed, nor do his barons, courtiers, or other persons of quality, for they say that Jesus Christ said in his law that he who kills shall die. For this reason they refuse to eat anything that has been killed, and it is a great thing that they should be able to support themselves without eating meat or fish. The common people eat meat and fish, but they do not eat oxen or cows, for they hold these animals to be blessed, and when they meet an ox on the highway they touch him, and afterwards kiss their hand, as a sign of great humility. The king lives on rice, milk and butter, and so do his barons

Trade - In payment they only take gold and silver; coral and other merchandise of our parts they esteem but little, linen-cloth excepted, which I believe would find a ready market, as the sailors bartered some of their shirts very profitably for spices, although very fine white linen cloth, probably imported from Cairo, is found there. There is a custom-house in this city as elsewhere, and merchandise pays a duty of 5 percent.

Moorish ships - The Portuguese remained three months at that town, namely, from May 21 to August 25, and during that time there arrived about 1,500 Moorish vessels in search of spices. The largest of these vessels did not exceed 800 tons.They are of all sorts, large and small. Having only one mast they can make headway only with the wind astern, and sometimes are obliged to wait from four to six months for fair weather [the monsoon or season]. Many of these vessels are lost. They are badly built, and very frail. They carry neither arms nor artillery. The vessels which visit the islands (Ceylon, Lacadives) to carry spices to this city of Chalichut are flat-bottomed, so as to draw little water, for there are many dry places (shoals). Some of these vessels are built without any nails or iron, for they have to pass over the loadstone. All the vessels, as long as they remain at this city, are drawn up on the beach, for there is no port where they would be safe otherwise

Kasavu Broacaded clothes - There is abundance of silken stuffs, namely, velvets of various colours, satins, damask, taffetas, brocades worked in gold, scarlet cloth, brass and tin ware. In fine, all these things are to be found in abundance, and it is my opinion that the cloths worked in gold and the silks are brought thither from Cairo.

Some of the observations are pretty interesting. The comment about two pillars in the temple and the temple with apparitions is to be studied. Was the temple the very same temple that is mentioned in other Vasco’s accounts?

The fact that the reception hall of the Zamorin is covered in green velvet is also interesting. That is a color hardly used by the rulers of that time, red would have been preferred. Strange! Was it something the Zamorin got as a gift from the Persian or Egyptian rulers?

As we know from previous discussions, the confusion was that the world to the South East of Europe was Christian, with Prestor John as a leader. This of course led to the conclusion that the Hindus of Calicut were Christians practicing different ways. We will howver not dwell further on this.

The fact that fanams and other local currency were missing in the report is strange. Perhaps foreign traders by default used other acceptable currency or Gold and Silver. It is interesting also to note that customs duty was declared as 5%, whereas previous mentions stated 15%. How did this reduce during 1498?

Meting out justice by impalement is not really mentioned elsewhere, and it was always dipping one’s hand in boiling oil as stated by other historians.

Corn cake for food is also something that is not quite clear. What could it have been?

The fact that gold brocaded cloth was being traded is interesting, and the mention that it perhaps originated from Cairo is also curious. Was the idea borrowed from the clothes of the Egyptian gentry or the Pharaoh’s? Perhaps they came from the weavers of the Coromandel anyway.

The other item of interest is the Chinese trade in Calicut. That they kept to themselves and that they were seen during the visit of the Gama is in some contradiction to what Joseph stated. Joseph mentioned that they ceased to come to Calicut by 1500, however Sernigi mentions it as a regular practice, though a practice purely of trade and matter of fact. Nevertheless, there are no mentions of Chinese after this, so perhaps they finally ceased to live in and trade with Calicut after the arrival of the Portuguese. This is also the first time a color differentiation was made with respect to the Chinese in any kind of writing, where Sernigi projected the color differences between the moors, Indians and others, after noticing the pale skinned Chinese.

Sernigi also lays the foundation to the later observed fact that Gama amassed a fortune for himself and quietly diverted his ship to his town instead of Lisbon, with Gama stating that he was taking his sick brother to his village. He came back to Lisbon only after Coleho had arrived, and without any plunder to declare…

So much for Sernigi’s letters. The full texts of those can be found online, in the first reference. What became of Sernigi? If you recall, the entry of the Florentine associations with the Portuguese broke the Venetian control of the spice trade. In fact most ships had their representatives in the ships that travelled to the Indies. Their notes of the trade and the locales as we saw from the example above provided much insight to the benign culture and conditions in Malabar, to the people of Europe and encouraged their forced entry into Malabar. According to Moacyr Scares Pereira, the first nau to return to Lisbon, Nossa Senhora Anunciada, belonged to D. Alvaro de Braganca and his associates, Italian merchants Bartolomeo Marchioni, Girolamo Sernigi and possibly Antonio Salvago. So had it not been for people like Sernigi, Gama might never have landed in Calicut.

Andrea Strozzi, another prominent trader was Sernigi’s first cousin. As mentioned previously, Sernigi commanded Joao Da Nova’s fleet under the name Fernando Vinete. He then got involved in financing the 1503 expedition. His major involvement howver, was with the 1510 fleet as one of its financiers and as factor under the name Vinet Cerniche destined towards Malacca. However this fleet encountered problems after reaching the Malabar Coast when the governor Albuquerque marshaled the services of all of the Europeans and ships in an attack to capture Goa.

We note from Strozzi’s letters that they were all attacked by the locals with poisoned arrows and had some problem with them, but had much admiration for the local merchant’s knowledge of numbers and their ability to do large mental calculations.

After the success at Goa, the ships tried to sail off to Melacca as contracted with King Manual, but Albuquerque would have none of that as he wanted to get to Malacca first. In the meantime the friction with the Sernigis (both brothers were present in this voyage) increased and the Sernigi’s were branded as profit seekers. Nevertheless, the ships tried to leave without the governor’s approval upon which Sernigi was arrested, clapped in irons and sentenced to perpetual exile at the island of Sao Tome in the Atlantic. All others were sentenced to exile in Brazil. It is not clear if Sernigi ever had to serve his sentence and apparently returned to Portugal, where his large influence on the king perhaps led to the substitution of Albuquerque by Lopo Soares. The ships of Sernigi however returned with large fortunes and laded with riches and the voyages were very profitable for the Florentine merchant.

So that friends was a ready reckoner on a merchant who was instrumental to the Portuguese voyages to India and Melacca and one who played behind the scenes with the the Portuguese royals. Strangely he never visited Calicut…


A journal of the first voyage of Vasco da Gama – A Velho, Joao de Sa, EG Ravenstein
The economy of renaissance Florence – Richard A Goldthwaite
Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking - Michael Keevak
The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama - Sanjay Subrahmanyam
The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500-1700: A Political and Economic History - Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Science and Civilization in China: Volume 4 - Joseph Needham
War at Sea in the middle Ages and Renaissance - John B. Hattendorf, Richard W. Unger

The story of Maj Gen WH Blachford, and the hole in his head

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

The final act at Calicut – 1790 - Hussein Ali’s defeat at British hands

Not much is written about the events that transpired in Calicut in 1790. Much misery afflicted the people of Calicut and Malabar in general during that time. If you recall, the Mysore Sultans were on their padayottam (troop movements) phase in Malabar and were now aiming for Travancore. On one hand they needed money to finance their operations against the British; on the other hand, cash hordes were not easy to come by even after steamrolling through Malabar. Travancore was still resisting and Tipu was vexed. The British were proving impossible to beat and the French were being fickle in their support. Events that followed exactly 30 years in the Tirur area after they set foot in Malabar, eventually forced them out, once and for all.

Looking back one can say that the Mysore rule brought some order to the state, but what it also did was upset the delicate social balance in the region. Their departure resulted in bringing to a boil the frustrations and ire of the landlords and the nobility versus the Moplah populace. Violence was to follow, sporadically and later in an organized fashion, as we saw in previous articles.

I will not get deep into this topic and a paper has been readied by our esteemed Dr Noone, a founding member of the Calicut heritage forum. He has spent years of research on this very topic, so I will eagerly wait to read his paper. However I will provide some details if only to establish a perspective and to get to the story of a very interesting person, who was a member of the British forces at that time. I can only wonder, if we will ever have such people these days and if we did at the sheer dedication of those people living and fighting for the King in such far away lands.

I had set the scene in my article about the Ravi Varma princes of the Padinjare Kovilakom.
1790 - Tipu takes the last misstep and invades Travancore by himself. The British, whose successes have so far been mainly owing to the ground support received in the wars from the Varmas, now play the end game to perfection when Lord Cornwallis invites the Varma princes for discussions, agreeing to restore the Zamorin all his lands and commercial powers should the rebels render long term cooperation to them. Accordingly Ravi Varma meets Gen Meadows at Trichy and conducts negotiations. A Cowlnama is drawn up between Kishen Varma and the British. With the help of the Varma’s and their Nairs, the Mysore armies are routed by the British in Malabar. In 1791, the Cochin king after having been at first under the Portuguese and later the Dutch, agree to the suzerainty of the British and to pay an annual tribute. With Mysore under simultaneous attack by the British, Tipu sues for peace in 1792 and cedes Malabar to the British in compensation. The Varma princes were in the meantime busy restoring order in Malabar and fighting and taming the Muslim leaders who were persecuting them under Tipu’s reign. It was to prove a mistake. What followed was a mixture of misused opportunity and undue faith in the legality of the 1790 cowl nama. A meeting called by Cornwallis was not attended by the Malabar princes. The old Zamorin, more interested in celebrating his ‘ariyittuvazcha’ or coronation in Chavakkad possibly missed the significance of the British call for a meeting in Cannanore to discuss the rights. The British decided against reinstating the Zamorin and other Malabar princes, with all their powers using the argument that they would continue wars with the Moplahs who had been against them in the Hyder - Tipu reign and that the British will have to spend time, money and maintain an army to keep peace.

Reference is also made to the Travancore lines story posted earlier, which provides another backdrop to this event.

The Battle of Calicut (a.k.a Battle of Tervanagary or Thiroorangadi) took place between 7 and 12 December, during the Third Anglo-Mysore War. A force of three regiments from the British East India Company, comprising some 1,500 men, led by Lieutenant Colonel James Hartley, defeated a 9,000 man Mysorean army, killing or wounding about 1,000, and taking a large number of prisoners, including their commander, Hussein Ali Khan Sahib of Mysore. Hartley himself had been soldiering on in India since 1764 and did very well in his engagements. During a campaign in 1779, he excelled in his work and had been promoted as Lt Colonel. However the promotion was cancelled due to complaints from some seniors who were superseded by the younger Hartley. He promptly resigned from his services and fought his case all the way to the King George III, who finally reinstated his promotion.

To summarize the battle of Calicut, on the 1790 outbreak of war (3rd Mysore war) with Tipu Sultan of Mysore, Hartley received command of a detachment sent to the coast of Cochin to aid the EIC’s ally, the Rajah of Travancore. In May Hartley received orders to take the Palghat fort. By the time he got near, it had already surrendered. He, however, continued his march, and occupied himself partly in collecting supplies for the main army, and partly in watching any movement of Tippoo's troops to the south-west. On 10 Dec. he inflicted a crushing defeat on vastly superior forces under Hussein Ali, Tippu's general, at Calicut. The remnants of the beaten army were pursued to Feroke, where it surrendered, and that fortress was later occupied by the British. Martab Khan fled on elephants via the Tamarassery pass taking much of the amassed treasure to Mysore. Hartley died much later, at Cannanore in 1799. But then this story is not about Hartley.

I was actually studying the movements of Arthur Wellesly and had come across Messer’s Hartley and Stuart in his dispatches. I was also compiling information on the Ferokhabad based Tipu administration, in more detail. It was around then that a gentleman living in Canada, a direct descendant of a Colonel involved in this battle, contacted me asking for information about Tervanagary. While checking out the details of the person and his curious injury, I got further and deeper into the story of the battle that took place in 1790. Coincidentally, I saw a mention of the presentation that Dr Noone did at the School of Management in Calicut on the very subject. Perhaps it is time, I guess, for it is close to December and hence the time to talk about the events of a December week some 222 years ago, events that finally released Calicut from Mysore Bondage and delivered it to another power, albeit milder.

Quoting from ‘Life of a regiment’ – Another summary of the battle provides some perspective - Early in 1790, the 75th, commanded by Colonel Hartley, who had also two battalions of Bombay Sepoys under his orders, proceeded to assist our ally, the Rajah of Travancore, whose country was at that time invaded by Tippoo, the Sultan of Mysore. The quarrel was about two towns on the Malabar Coast, which Travancore had purchased from the Dutch, but which Tippoo affirmed belonged to his tributary the Kwajah of Cochin. The 75th was at Travancore from April to September, when, along with the Bombay troops, they were ordered, under Colonel Hartley, to the relief of some Madras battalions at Pallyghautcherry; on the march Hartley found the enemy in possession of the Fort of Chowghat, which he instantly attacked and carried. He afterwards, with his brigade, marched to the Malabar Coast, from which Tippoo intended to cut off the British communications. As he approached Calicut, Hartley received information on the 10th December that 14,000 of the enemy under Martab Khan and Hussein Ali Khan were strongly posted in a jungle at Tervangherry, ten miles distant. He at once advanced, with the 75th and two native battalions, towards the enemy, who, trusting to superior numbers, did not decline the battle. After a warm engagement, they were driven to the village of Teronkibeel, where they made an obstinate defence, but were compelled to fly to Trincalore (Trikulam) Fort, which the Bombay Grenadiers entered with the fugitives. Hussein Ali Khan was taken, but Mahab Khan escaped with his cavalry. The victory was gained without much loss; I find no complete list of casualties, but among the wounded were Captains Lawson and Blackford, and Lieutenants Powell and Stewart of the 75th.

Look at some related reports - As Buchanan puts it, 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. He forgot the local support. Ravi Varma rushed to aid with 5,000 of his best Nairs (termed Nair irregulars by Abercrombie) and that helped to turn tide in favor of British. Most history books fail to mention Varma and his 5,000 men support, but just state that the smaller Hartley force defeated the bigger Mysore army. Historian Dale also mentions it to be the most important of the battles and he says - It is worth mentioning, though, that after the British became militarily involved in Kerala in 1781 two of the most important battles in which they defeated Mysorean armies, including the climactic one of 1790, occurred at Tirurangadi. LD Campbell’s book even mentions the Nair irregulars were supplied to Hartley by the King of Travancore.

It is interesting to note that the Moplahs sided with Tipu. About 4,000 of them fought with Tipu while the British were aided by the Nairs, showing the religious divide at that time. To continue, the fort of Ferokabad was soon evacuated; 1,500 men laid down their arms. Beypore, and all the vessels in the harbour, submitted, as did 6,000 inhabitants. As is summarized in history - Shortly after the above, advices were received that Maj.Gen. Abercrombie had arrived at Cannanore; that the fort bad surrendered at discretion; and that all the troops in the neighborhood had laid down their arms; by which means, and in consequence of the brilliant success of Col. Hartley, the Ponnani River had been opened, and the Malabar coast; completely cleared. They got the guns Tipu had captured from the Travancore lines.

Now I will quote from The East India Military Calendar…

Introducing MAJOR-GENERAL William henry BLACHFORD (Bombay Establishment)

This officer arrived in Bombay in Aug. 1777; the 7th March 1779 he was appointed a cadet in the engineers, Bombay establishment; the 1st Jan. 1780 he was promoted to an ensigncy, and served at the siege of Bassien, with the army commanded by Gen. Goddard. After the storm of that fortress, he was one of the sub-engineers employed to survey that territory, and to establish a chain of field-works for the security of the environs against Mahratta horse. On the 20th Feb. 1783 he was promoted to lieut. He served in the memorable campaign commanded by the unfortunate Gen. Matthews, from the first landing of the army on taking of Rajamundroog on the Canara coast, to the conclusion of peace that followed in 1785. During this long and trying campaign, Lieut. B. served at the siege and storm of Onore. He was entrusted with repairing the breaches, and making other improvements in that fortress; and ultimately he had the honour of being the only engineer officer belonging to that garrison during the successful defence it made under the command of Maj. Torriano. The siege and blockade of Onore lasted eight months under the most pressing events, arising from famine, sickness, and desertion; the garrisons were at length relieved by a peace, which returned them to Bombay, reduced from their original strength of 1200 to about 250, for embarkation to the Presidency. The want of provisions was at one time so seriously felt, that a number of horses were killed and salted as a last resource rather than surrender to Tippoo's forces- After this service Lieut. B. was appointed senior engineer to the garrison of Surat.

The 27th Sept. 1785 Lieut. B. was promoted to the rank of a Capt. In 1785-6 he was ordered to Tellichery, where he suggested various plans, which ultimately led to a curtailment of the original lines to a more limited system of defence. In Jan. 1787 he returned to the presidency, to the ordinary duties of his department.

In April 1790 he was ordered, as senior field-engineer, with a detachment under Gen- James Hartley, for the relief of the King of Travancore, attacked by Tippoo. Gen. Hartley landed, and cantoned near Cochin. Tippoo had made a successful attack on the Travancore lines, but the timely arrival of the Bombay detachment saved the interior of the territory from further depredation. Capt. B. was detached to ascertain whether the fort of Cranganore (belonging to the King of Travancore) could be defended against Tippoo, who was preparing to attack it. Its local position was very tenable and strong; but the total want of supplies of every kind for its defence induced Gen. Hartley to give up the idea of defending it. The Travancore garrison was withdrawn, and the fortress was blown up by Tippoo's troops the next day. On the opening of the season, Gen. Hartley's army, joined by the Travancorians, marched to Palicaudcherry, encamped there some time, and relieved Madras garrison at Paulghaut, where Capt. B. succeeded to the duties of engineer, which he held until Gen. Hartley's division was directed to return to the coast of Malabar. On the 10th Dec. 1790 the detachment came up with the enemy, strongly posted for defence near Trevanagary; after a severe action, Tippoo's forces were completely defeated. In this engagement Capt. B. received a severe wound on the side of his head—a musket-ball passed through his hat, and lodged near his temple; the ball was immediately extracted, but the wound was very obstinate in healing.

Now consider the situation. Tipu’s forces perhaps used the Bukmar flintlock blunderbuss musket. Hyder had decided on the flintlock against the matchlock muskets earlier (much later matchlocks were again made by Tipu). Strangely they got the muskets from the British sources as well as French and many were made in Mysore factories. The inscriptions include, on the barrel 'asad allah al-ghalib' (The victorious lion of God), a reference to 'Ali, the son-in-low of the Prophet and the first Shiite Imam.

The simplicity of the musket design allowed it to fire a variety of ammunition. While various old accounts list the blunderbuss as being loaded with scrap iron, rocks, or wood this would result in damage to the bore of the gun; it was typically loaded with a number of lead balls smaller than the bore diameter. The choice ammunition for musket was the round ball, which was literally just a round ball of lead. Round balls were loaded loose into the barrel even after the barrel had been fouled by previous shots. This loose fitting ammunition, and the poor aerodynamics of the round ball led to the musket's inaccuracy beyond 46 to 69 m distance. The package of gunpowder and ammunition was intrpoduced into the barrel using a cartridge.

Quotin from “Military medicine from the 18th century” - It is generally thought that at up to a range of 30 yards the ball would go straight through a man. At a greater range it would still be enough to cause very significant injuries. The primary problem was infection. Almost all gunshot wounds became infected either due to the injury itself (clothing, dirt, and other contamination was often forced into the wound by the musket ball), or from unsanitary conditions following injury, for example with the surgeon probing for the musket ball or shrapnel with his unwashed fingers, or even from being deliberately introduced by the surgeon in an effort to promote healing. Death from infection rather than from the injury itself was the primary danger to the soldier on the battlefield. The blunt-force trauma generated by musket balls produced shattered bones, resulting in the need to amputate the injured limb. Amputation often resulted in death from shock or infection.

But was not an option in the case of Capt B, you can’t cut off his head, right?

In Jan. 1791 Gen. Hartley's detachment formed a junction with the Bombay army assembled at Cananore, under Sir Robert Abercromby. Capt. B- joined it, and was attached to the van with some pioneers to clear the road for its march up the Ghauts. In the execution of this fatiguing duty, with an impaired state of health (his wound not having healed,) he was attacked on reaching the head of the Ghauts, with a violent fever and delirium that threatened his existence. In this despairing condition he remained a long time too ill to be moved: the surgeon at length laid open his wound, conceiving some splintry adhesion of the skull prevented its healing, when a piece of Capt. B-'s hat was found buried in it. This discovery effected a favourable change for removing him to Tellichery, where he arrived with total loss of memory; and from thence embarked, and arrived in Bombay in May 1791. On recovering from that illness, he rejoined the army at Cananore in Oct- 1791, and resumed his duties in the field during that service, and siege of Seringapatam by Lord Cornwallis, which campaign terminated in a peace with Tippoo. From this period (20th May 1792) he returned to the ordinary duties of his department at the presidency, and was employed on a particular survey of the town of Bombay, to ascertain the superficial measurement each house occupied within the garrison.

In 1794-5 he succeeded to the appointment of superintending engineer at Bombay, which he held until he was compelled to seek a furlough to Europe for the benefit of his health. Capt. B. quitted India 17th Jan. 1796, and arrived in England 4th Aug. following. He returned to India 17th Feb. 1798, and arrived in Bombay-4th June following. He was then ordered to Cananore, as superintending engineer to the works carrying on to a great extent. About this period the Bombay army, under Gen. James Stuart, assembled at Cananore, to proceed a third time up the Ghauts, to co-operate against Tippoo's capital. On the army quitting Cananore, Capt. B. was appointed to the command of the garrison. The duties of it became important to exercise, as the place formed a centrical dept for forwarding and receiving supplies for the armies besieging Seringapatam. He held the command of Cananore until the conclusion of that campaign, and then returned to Bombay.

He was promoted to the rank of maj. 11th Dec. 1801, and resumed the duties of superintending engineer at the presidency, which he continued to discharge until Sept- 1803; when finding the state of his health on the decline, he yielded to the necessity of proceeding to Europe on furlough. He quitted India 14th Sept. 1803, and arrived in England 2nd Feb. 1804. He succeeded to the rank of lieut-col. 1st May 1804; and on the 6th March 1805 he obtained, by succession, the rank of full col. of engineers.

Previous to M.-Gen. Blachford's leaving Bombay he had passed more than twenty-two years in actual service in India, independent of his furlough. He addressed the court of directors, representing the impaired state of his health, arising from a bad wound, and various trying duties he had undergone in India, requesting their permission to remain in England as a full colonel, with the advantage of sharing in the offreckoning fund as chief engineer of Bombay; which request they were pleased to accede to.

He passed away on July 8th 1841 aged 82 at Ham, Surrey. His family took up a Blachford coat of arms…..

I was looking at the picture of Hartley’s soldiers and wondering how they would have managed in the heat and humidity of Malabar. Anyway these events took place after the monsoon season when it would have been somewhat bearable!!

Ironically Tipu himself died from a musket ball…in April 1799

The East India military calendar: containing the services of general and field officers of the Indian Army, Volume 1 By John Philippart
The Scots Magazine, Volume 53- By James Boswell
Historical records of the 8th Regiment, Bombay Infantry - By John Robert Sandwith
The life of a regiment: the history of the Gordon Highlanders... By Charles Greenhill Gardyne
The military history of the Madras engineers and pioneers, from 1743 up to the present time - Volume 1
Malabar manual Logan page 473
The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 69 - By John Nichols

Pics – courtesy

Scottish soldier - from page 224 – The life of a regiment

Blunderbass pic

Tipu’s soldier – Charles Gold – Printing inscription provides some detail .The dress of the regular infantry is generally of purple woolen stuff, with white diamond formed spots on it, which is called the tyger jacket. On the head is worn a muslin turban, of a red colour, and round the waist a cumberband, or sash, of the same. Their legs and feet are entirely naked, excepting a kind of sandal slipper, worn to protect their soles from the roughness of the march. They are accoutred with black leather cross belts, and commonly armed with musquets of French manufacture; though some are made in their own country; over the lock is a leather covering, to defend it from dampness

Locations – Calicut, Palghat (Palghautcherry, Palighaut), Around Tirurangadi (Tervannengurry, Taravangerry), Feroke (Ferokebad, Firakabad), Tricalore (Tirukkallur - Thrikkulam) is where the battle actually took place.

Was there ever a Chinese settlement at Calicut?

Posted by Maddy Labels:

The coastal ports and towns of Malabar (in this respect we go from Kayalpatanam - Tuticorin to Mangalore) have had numerous trade contacts over centuries with other countries and kingdoms. In the case of Arab traders, they just lived and traded at the various ports, passing on commissions, brokerages or customs duties to the local chieftains. Later they bonded with local women to create offshoot communities that supported their trade and later forked inwards connecting up with other traders and tribes to source the spices and wood they traded in, though not directly participating in it, at least in the earlier years. They were mainly working as individuals, but sometimes parts of some family guild or the other.

One of the earliest and most powerful kingdoms to establish bonds and tributes with the kingdoms in Malabar was China. So you can note, the Chinese were different, they tried to establish more formal relations with the rulers and administrators of the land and create longer lasting trade and perhaps even attempted monopolies, though we will see that for various reasons it did not quite bear fruit in the long run, due to the changes that took place at the ruling levels in China and the retaliation from the better-established Arab traders.

In related articles, we talked about the Calicut connections with Zheng He (Cheng Ho) and the Ming dynasty; we also talked about trade previous to that. But the question has always remained, why do we not see any material or genetic traces of the Chinese in Calicut? We know also that a number of Malabar ambassadors went to mainland China starting well before the Cheng Ho voyages. We know that some of them lived for extended periods in the port cities of China where even Tamil temples could be seen. And we know that there was flourishing trade between the South Indian East coast and the SE Asian countries. We know also that Malabar traders set up outposts in Malacca and other parts of Malaysia, Sabah and so on, of course in Indonesia and Bali.

We do know of a silk street, we do know of the China Kotta and we do know for a fact that the Cheng Ho voyages touched Calicut. We also know that the Chinese had even stronger links with Kollam or Quilon, but still not a trace of it today (I must add here that there is perhaps a small trace of it in the building structures here and there and the boat industry). If you look at the Far East, you see their temples and lifestyles in vogue even today. Just like China rejected foreign systems and methods inland, did we also reject them after a major event, eventually borrowing only a few food habits and clothing styles?

From trade perspectives, we know that historic trade meant that the foreigner had his representative in Calicut (See article on hubs of medieval trade). It was the same with respect to the Chinese and so they did have a representative settlement of sorts in Calicut, somewhere to the West of the City. But why did they leave, where did they go and when? Why do we not see the physical characteristics in any of the descendants, if some remained? Did they go to Chennaipattanam or Malacca? Was it after the turmoil as stated by the Malayalee priest Joseph? I myself see no reason to suspect Joseph’s words, for he had no reason to falsify it and a lack of purpose.

Yet, we have so many Chinese related implements, practices and food. Logically, for it to have permeated even into the nobler levels of society in many of these places of Kerala, including Calicut, would have meant a longer than sporadic relationship than one of a trader touching a port and sailing off. So it is a mystery, just like the mystery of the Namboothiri or Nair advent into Kerala. The answer may be right in front of us, under our nose, but we cannot dig it out, I suppose.

Some might ask the question. Did the Chinese ever come to Calicut or any other port? Did they just remain in the China seas and the people who came this side were the Malay-Chinese? Interesting question that, a question which can be refuted using the evidence from the Chau Ju Kha, the Ma Huan accounts and so on. There are other Chinese accounts and add to that the accounts of Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta, to establish the fact that large ships, owned by a state organization plied to Calicut. Even a trader of Mithqual’s stature could not own 20-30 such massive ships, and note also that these large ships mentioned were not the trading dhows of a few hundred tons.

Let us take a deep look at what Joseph the Indian had to say. Some historians mistrust him, perhaps because of some less factual mentions that are attributed to him, while others look at his words and find answers. Should we take him seriously? Was there any fact in all he said? Where the mentions of an evangelical nature inserted into his accounts by the translators and those who published his accounts? Let us not stray in that direction and concentrate on what he had to say about the people and trade, for that is our focal point today.

Joseph was apparently born in 1461 and was in Lisbon around 1501, having gone there with Cabral. I had written about all that earlier, so those interested in his story may refer that. At 40, he was of sound mind and considered a very honest person by his interlocutors. The accounts were published around 1510-1520.

He is clear in stating that there are many types of traders in Calicut amongst the countless moors, and makes it amply clear that the trade had declined somewhat from the times when the White Chinese with long hair, fez and head ornaments were present in Calicut. He also mentions that 80-90 years ago (which places that around 1410-20) the Chinese had a factory at Calicut. He states – having been outraged by the King of Calicut, they rebelled and gathering a large army came to the city of Calicut and destroyed it. Now this could mean that they lived at a distance, was it at Pantalayani where they usually stayed during the monsoons (winter)? From that time and upto the present day they have never come to trade in the said place and they go to a city of a King Naisindo which is called Mailapet about 90 miles East by way of the Indus river. These people are called the Malasesnes/Malasines….hailing from a place 6,000 miles away from Calicut. He also mentions a trade fair at certain times of the year in Calicut which is attended by the merchants from China, India, Syria, Egypt and Persia. Was he talking of the Mamankham?

The Italian version of course inserts additional sentences such as the Chinese are Christians etc… but the others do not, so we can discount some of the words from the Italian version of Joseph’s accounts. Nevertheless, it is possible that some of the traders were Christians though my feeling is that Calicut as trans-shipment and a pilgrimage boarding point as well as a concentration of Arab traders would have necessitated a majority settlement of Chinese Muslim traders. It is exemplified by the leadership of Muslim Zheng He in the voyages, the large numbers of Muslim Chinese and Muslim scribes such as Ma Huan with him in his voyages. We also saw that they always used Calicut as a boarding point to go to Mecca, so I would assume that some of the larger ships carried rich Muslim pilgrims from China, not just traders. But that creates yet another question. If Zheng he and all the other traders from China were Muslim, would that have fought with the Arabs? Perhaps they did, for the needs of the rich man’s goods (spices) in China were quite high at that time and profit rivaled religion.

What is key is certain place names. Mailapet - 90 miles to the East of Calicut. While Greenlee places that as Malacca, the distance is greater and a sea has to be crossed. So was it Mylapore or was it Masulipatam? The place was ruled by the King Narsindo. Elsewhere Narsindo is considered to be the Vijayanagara King. So it was inland, on the East coast, and thus perhaps Masulipatam or Mylapore is right. In both places we have seen Chinese settlements and even temples. We will get to this again, later.

Now let us look at the period. Joseph mentions that the Chinese were active during the 1410-20 periods. This would mean that much of what is written about the Zheng He voyages makes sense, that his voyages jump-started the trade with Calicut, and that they peaked in the 20’s. This will also lend credence to the fact that the cessation of the Ming Voyages resulted in the departure of the Chinese from Calicut. Was it precipitated by a conflict with the Arabs, aided by the Zamorin? How long did the Chinese remain?

Much earlier, around 1280 or so - We see that Marco Polo speaks of the merchants and ships of Manzi, or Southern China, as frequenting Kaulam, Hili, and now Malabar, of which Calicut was the chief port. Yule adds - This quite coincides with Ibn Batuta (this was around 1327), who says those were the three ports of India which the Chinese junks frequented, adding Fandaraina (i.e. Pandarani, or Pantalani, 16 miles north of Calicut), as a port where they used to moor for the winter when they spent that season in India. By the winter he means the rainy season, as Portuguese writers on India do by the same expression. He stated - As far as this place (Hita in Malabar) come the ships of China, but they do not go beyond it; nor do they enter any harbour, except that of this place, of Kalikut and Kwalam. He also mentions that these ships were made in El-Zaitan in China. The Chinese are also mentioned in the Unnayi Charitram, which states that Chinese attended these bazars as early as the 14th century.

Back to the question of where the Chinese went from Calicut The Latin historian Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza wrote, in his History of the Kingdom of China, that the local residents of Calicut had told him that the many fruit trees in Calicut were planted there by Chinese immigrants– They went to the Kingdom of Narsinga. Let us look at another record to clarify this - "So that at this day there is great memory of them in the ilands Philippinas, and on the cost of Coromande, which is the cost against the kingdom of Norsinga towards the sea of Cengala (bengala): whereas is a towne called unto this day the soile of the Chinos, for that they did reedifie and make the same. The like notice and memory is there in the kingdom of Calicut, whereas be many trees and fruits, that the naturals of that countrie do say, were brought thither by the Chinos, when that they were lords and gouernours of that countrie." (Mendoza, Parke's transl._ pg. 94-95). This explains that they moved to the Philippines and a coastal port town on the Coromandel.

As I wrote earlier, the question was where is this port town of Mailapet? Is it Masulipatanam in Andhra or Chinapatam or todays Madras. Hobson Jobson concurs that it is perhaps Madras. Quoting the entry under Chinapatam, but some historians also mentions that the Portuguese confused China with Jaina, when it comes to Jain temples around Malabar.

Chinapatan was borne by the place previously. It will be seen under MADRAS that Barros curiously connects the Chinese with St. Thome. To this may be added this passage from the English translation of Mendoza's China, the original of which was published in 1585, the translation by R. Parke in 1588:—"... it is plainely seene that they did come with the shipping vnto the Indies . . . so that at this day there is great memory of them ……. on the cost of Coromande, which is the cost against the Kingdome of Norsinga towards the sea of Bengala (misprinted Cengala); whereat it a towne called unto this day the Soile of the Chinos for that they did reedifie and make the same. I strongly suspect that this was Chinapatam, or Madras.

Abdur Razzak came to Calicut in 1442-1443 and mentions the tough but adventurous Tchini Betchagan. What he meant by that phrase has not been well understood as yet, but learned men state that they were the Chinese offspring. In fact all this prompted later Portuguese voyagers to be given specific instructions to find out as much as they could about the Chijns and their trade, after hearing about Chinese trade at Calicut and Malabar and the mentions of the large ships from China.

Then again there is the Portuguese account that places Chinese arrival in Malabar of the Chinese many centuries earlier, close to 1400, the time when Calicut started to flourish and the city was laid out. Gaspar Correa's account in the Voyages of Da Gama has a curious record of a tradition of the arrival in Malabar more than four centuries before of a vast merchant fleet "from the parts of Malacca, and China, and the Lequeos" (Lewchew); many from the company on board had settled in the country and left descendants. In the space of a hundred years none of these remained; but their sumptuous idol temples were still to be seen (Stanley's Translations, Hak. Soc, p. 147). So the Chinese remnants, temples (perhaps Jain) and so on were seen by travelers even as later as in 1500-1530.

Anyway the Ming voyages stopped after Cheng ho’s death and due to many other reasons, perhaps due also to the shifting of the capital from Nanking to Peking and the Northern barbarian menace. We will discuss that in greater detail another day.

Mr Vasisht in his Kerala Calling article mentions discovery of some remnants of the Chinese at Pantalayanai. He states - Famous Japanese historian Nebro Karashima along with Dr. M.R. Raghava Warrier have discovered many Chinese implements at Pantalayani Kollam. I am not sure what they found, but I believe they are pottery shreds, implements etc

Were there ever any kind of interaction with the locals and the creation of a group of descendants? We do know that the Ming voyages had families traveling together, but it was not the norm, so there would have been plenty of local partners for the Chinese, in Calicut, much like the Arabs. Yes, it seems to have been the case, as borne by the interview with Coya Veetil Koya in 1830 or so. Let us refer the Col Mackenzie manuscripts - A catalogue raisonnée of oriental manuscripts in the library of ..., Volume 3 - William Taylor (orientalist, missionary.), Government Oriental Manuscripts Library (Tamil Nadu, India), Section 5.

Account received from one named Coya Vettil Coya, an inhabitant of Calicut.

According to this person's statement, the ancestors of his tribe came with some banners, or distinctions, by way of the sea, in a ship or bark from China-Kribala: and, in eonseqehce of rendering essential services to the Samudri raja of Calicut, the class received from him distinguishing immunities and banners.

There is nothing further of any importance- I find, on inquiry, that the class of people referred to, are most probably Chinese; as my informant says they are the same kind of people with the Chinese at Madras; except that the former do not wear the long queues, which the Chinese regard as tokens of honor. By consequence, the people in question may be Malays, or other persons, from the eastern islands.

I am not inclined to assume that it was a Malay Muslim. We do know of Malabar kakas in Malaysia and especially Malacca. It could be so that one of them came back to settle down in Calicut. But the mention of the Chinese Kingdom (Kribala) and the titles provided by the Zamorin makes me lean towards the mainland China.

But these hypotheses are in no way conclusive as Calicut Heritage forum states in clear tones. Much more has to be done, such as excavations in certain specific areas, genetic sampling (Calicut & Madras) and so on, continuation of studies such as that of Dr Liu Yinghua and more focused and formal studies on the subject. Perhaps a shift of focus to the Chinese community in Madras will reveal those links, instead of concentrating on Calicut. An anthropologic study of the food culture, the various items of food and cooking utensils can be done to determine the impact of the relationship and its movement from the trading to the nobler communities of that medieval period.


India in 1500AD – Antony Vallavantara CMI
The book of Ser Marco Polo – Henri Cordier
Kerala Calling – March 2006 Trade Contacts – MC Vasisht
Madras Journal of Literature and Science, Volume 8 - Mackenzie manuscripts
Historic Alleys – See label Malabar – Chinese trade
Calicut Heritage forum article
Hubs of medieval trade
Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza, The History of the Great and Mighty Kingdom of China reprinted from the translation of R. Parke; edited by Sir George T. Staunton

Pics - bloomingcalicut, wikipedia

The Indian Spy in Turkey

Posted by Maddy Labels: , ,

Ankara in the post WW1 period was a hotbed of activity in the middle of the Turkish war of independence. The Kemalists were busy, going about the hustle and bustle of creating their new country. Istanbul was not yet won, still Ottoman in character and full of foreigners and large doses of intrigue. It had been German supported during the war, with Turkey on the Axis side, but was in dire straits after it under Allied occupation where the Italians, French and the British squabbled as the Turkish resistance movement grew and rose in momentum. Greeks and others had been deported earlier. In diplomatic circles, Ankara was still called Angora. Back in the silk route days it was just a Keravansarai or a stopover for the caravans, but for now it was the center of activity. Kemal Ataturk soon chose it as a capital for its central and safer location over Istanbul.

Into the middle of it all walked in an Indian from Moradabad, and his name was Mustafa Saghir. Different stories abound, he came as a professor, he came as a friend of the Turks, and he came as a representative of the Khilafat movement from India, with tons of money. Did he know what he was getting into? Was he sure of his destiny? Was he being manipulated? Did he see the hopelessness of the situation or was he so confident of success? Was he under duress? We still do not know, but let us study his days in Istanbul and Ankara.

This is one of the strangest cases I have come across and perhaps one that is still not solved. On May 24th 1921, this Indian was hanged to death in Ankara, indicted of spying for the British and of a purported assassination attempt on Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Well, as it was to turn out, that was a turning point, and a reason for a total lack of Turkish support for the Indian independence and Khilafat movement in India. Later as it turned out, when the Ali brothers went to Turkey, they could not even get an audience with Mustafa Kemal, perhaps owing to the aborted plans of Saghir. At that point in history, it became a major event in Turkey and the nationalists made a big fuss of it, due to their own issues with Britain. It was a period when Indians in general were not too popular in Ankara as a large number of Punjabi’s and Gurkha’s were involved in the battles at Gallipoli and part of the Allied powers.

It was a story that went into deep freeze in the British archives and mentioned in vague terms during the Khilafat days prior to the quit India movement. As one can imagine, it occurred at a critical juncture. The British were worried about Turkey’s alignment with India. But then, as things were to turn out, just as it was during the Portuguese era in Malabar, the Turks did not provide that support, Mustafa Saghir being one of the main reasons.

But before we get to Ankara, we have to start this story in Afghanistan, then a part of the North West frontier province of British India. It was the area where the great game was being played by the British and where they were expecting Russian forays some time or the other in the near future. They were intent in keeping the jewel of their crown, India safe in their cupped hands

In 1919, after the First World War, after support provided to the British, Emir Habibullah, the secular leader who had declined to support the Ottoman Empire or entreaty to join the axis powers after a health subsidy from the British, was found murdered at Jallalbad, in a mystery where the assassin was never identified. It appears that Habibullah Khan’s murder occurred just after he demanded from the British some returns for his steadfast support. Ironically after the murder of Siraj-ul-Millat-Wad-din, the Emir of Afghanistan, on Feb. 20, the Afghan Mission left for Moscow to establish relations between the Soviet Government.

The details of the murder of the Emir Habibullah Khan were given in a Calcutta newspaper, The Englishman. It appears that his Majesty had proceeded twenty-seven miles beyond Khalat-ul Seraj, near Jellalabad, and from Feb. 17 to 20 was camping at a little place known as Kollagosh. He slept in a large tent well-guarded by soldiers drawn from a number of regiments, and within were just his Majesty in one section, while in the other were four or five page boys, who took it in turn to watch. At about 3 in the morning a pistol shot was heard, and on the Emir's brother and eldest son rushing into the tent they found Habibullah Khan lying dead in his bed, shot through the ear, the bullet having passed out of the side of his head.

Amanullah Khan had other ambitions. At the time of the assassination, his son, Amanullah Khan, was the governor of Kabul and was in control of the army and the treasury and was suspected of having organized his father's death. The Russian secret service identified the killer in their records, but without any proof, to be an Indian named Mustafa Saghir. But Amanullah Khan had already decided the killer was one Shah Ali Reza and had him executed. As is stated by Iraj Bashiri in his overview of Afghanistan, the multiplicity of motives, chief among them hired British assassins, resulted in many assumptions and a number of arrests and executions. The real motive and the true identity of the killer, however, remained a mystery. But I will get to this story and the importance of Afghanistan in the great geopolitical games, in more details some other day when explaining the ‘Great Game’. But the Afghans suspected a British hand behind this Habibullah murder.

Amanullah seized power and imprisoned relatives with competing claims to the succession, but he won the allegiance of most of the tribal leaders. On May 3, 1919, he led a surprise attack against the British on Afghanistan's frontier with India -- while the British were under pressure from unrest in India and suffering from the costs of the Great War. In May 1921 Afghanistan and the Soviet Union signed a Treaty of Friendship, and in 1921 an armistice between Afghanistan and Britain was agreed to. Things as you saw did not quite turn out the way the British would have liked. Amanullah’s idea was to become Afghanistan’s Kemal Ataturk and bring about a number of modern reforms such as unveiling women, forcing Afghans to wear western style clothing etc. But all this resulted in civil war in the area and soon he abdicated and fled to India.

Much later, in 1922, it was discovered in Turkey that a man named Mustafa Saghir was involved in a plot to assassinate Ataturk Mustafa Kamal. This man confessed his involvement in the murder of Amir Habibullah Khan during the investigations carried out in Turkey (quoted from A Word from Antiquity by Fazal Ur Raheem).

The Turkish wars of independence had started to ratchet up to a culmination and the destiny of Mustafa Kemal was on the rise. As Sanderson Beck explains,

The British had promised the Muslims of India that Turkey and the Caliphate would be given sympathetic treatment after the war; but their failure to do so led to the All-India Khilafat Conference at Delhi in November 1919. Muslim clerics in India considered the Sultan of Turkey the Khalif (Caliph) or spiritual head of Islam, and they were concerned that he would lose sovereignty over their holy places of Mecca and Medina. The peace terms for Turkey were announced on May 15, 1920, and two days later Gandhi urged the Muslims to adopt non-cooperation. The Khilafat Committee met at Allahabad in June and planned four stages of non-cooperation as resigning titles and honors, resigning from the civil service, resigning from the police and army, and refusing to pay taxes. Gandhi attended the Khilafat Conference in Sind in July, and they decided to call upon millions of Hindus and Muslims to begin the non-cooperation campaign on August 1. In addition to the Khilafat issue, Gandhi and Congress added reparations for the Punjab and the independence of India. That summer about 30,000 Muslims sold their property and emigrated to Afghanistan (Some also tried to go to Turkey). They were not well received, and the Afghanistan government closed the border. Most of the impoverished migrants went back to India.

Muhammad and Shaukat Ali supported an Afghan invasion into India and got arrested for their efforts, but were released after Gandhiji’s intervention. The Khilafat movement was launched in 1921 and the Ali brothers were again arrested. This was the situation in India and Afghanistan at that time while in 1921; Mustafa Kemal had secured most of Turkey’s borders and drawn the constitution, though Istanbul was still occupied by the Allies.

Mustafa Saghir Beg is a mystery. Was he an Afghan? Was he an Indian? Was that his real name? Nobody is too sure, but the information we can dig out is that he was apparently from Moradabad, UP and that his father’s name was Zakariyah. It is said that he worked for the British consulate in Iran and later moved to work under Col Nelson in Istanbul. It is also stated that he could speak in addition to Indian languages, English, German, French and Turkish. But how did he stray into this intrigue? What was his relationship with the British? Were his strings pulled by Lord Curzon? Even after all these days and the release of various papers into the public domain under the national archives, little has been stated about this Indian British national. Let us take a look at what happened and the different perspectives.

Nur Bilge Kriss in her book about Istanbul under allied occupation is clear that Saghir is a British intelligence agent who infiltrated the Karakol committee which resulted in a number of them getting arrested. The objective of the Karakol (Sentinel) Association was as you can imagine, thwarting Allied demands through passive and active resistance. Later he escaped to Greece pretending he was fleeing British surveillance, and then to Bulgaria. From there he sailed to the black sea area and moved to Ankara, with Karakol support. He arrived in Ankara with the statement that he represented the Khilafat movement in India and that he wanted to transfer 2.5 million pounds of donations collected from Muslims in India.

Now we get to MAA Khan’s narrative. Ankara was certainly a place where many a plot was hatched in those days. At that time, there was a printing press that published Urdu papers (for the Turkish war ministry) edited by a man named Abbas who had deserted the English army in Iraq, refusing to fight Turks. This paper was later sent to India, and of course the British were not too happy with that. When Saghir reached Ankara, he stayed with Abbas.

That is one explanation, but Turkish journalist Sapolya has another which is that Saghir was actually a resident of Istanbul and was well acquainted with Colak Sami Pasha a member of the Turkish Mim MIm Grubu or National defense organization with the secret name Nuh. The British getting wind of it arrested him and sent him to Igue Island where he was brainwashed and trained as a spy and reinserted into Ankara with a mission. That sounds pretty difficult to believe. So was Saghir under duress? Nevertheless, carrying on with this story version, Sagir sailed into the port of Inebolu on the ship ‘Bahri jedid’ and became a house guest of Dilzade Vehbi bey and Hikmet bey where he announced that he represented the Muslims of India and wanted to bring across large sums of money from India for the Turkish freedom movement. This again is difficult to understand for the money even if sent would have been for the support of a Caliphate, not the Turkish freedom movement.

Saghir then went to Ankara and stayed at the Hurriyet hotel (the earlier version had it that he stayed with Abbas. In fact other versions mention him staying elsewhere). But Turkish intelligence agencies were tracking him and it appears that the Russians were too.

Yet another story attributed to Lt Gen Ekram Baydar states that Saghir was a professor of Turkish at the Islamic department of London University and visited Istanbul to transfer the Indian contributions. Here he started the Turko-Indian Islamic society and then went to Ankara, meeting Mustafa Kemal as well personally and presented him the Khilafat flag. Upon asking Kemal bey how he could transfer 3 million gold coins for their support, Kemal bey suggested he discuss the modalities with Interior minister Adnan Adiver. They had a number of meetings and it transpired as there was no telegraph link between India and Turkey, handwritten letters had to be couriered. Saghir proposed that his letters be delivered by Adnan bey to a certain Remiz bey in the Turko-Indian society in Istanbul. Adnana bey asked Aziz Khuda to examine these letters and he checked them with ammonia, found them to have elaborate hidden messages written in phenolphthalein based invisible ink.

In the earlier story, Abbas (as told to Jaffer Hassan Aybak) discovered Saghir sitting late at night and writing letters which were given to Abbas to dispatch to Istanbul. Abbas opened one of the letters out of curiosity and found just two lines written in a sheaf of blank papers addressed to one Gen Harrington. This lead to Saghir’s arrest on March 21st, 1921. Many weeks later an announcement of the investigating agency stated that they had thwarted a plot to assassinate Kemal Ataturk by Saghir with poison as the method. The letters also provided details of a pickup by a British plane after the assassination was completed. In another account the name Abbas is substituted by Mehmet Akif.

The trial of Mustafa Saghir started on May 1st and continued until May 23rd. When Saghir confirmed that he was deputed by the British, the British apparently published an account in the Times that he was a mentally unbalanced person visiting Turkey as their sympathizer. However the British ambassador sent a letter demanding his release and threatened serious consequences if Turkey did not. They even had the letter signed by the Agha khan, the spiritual head of Indian Muslims as he was considered the Indian Muslim league representative since he had successfully negotiated a previous release of British captives, with the Turks.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
 But the documents that the Turks got from Saghir were too much of an implication of his motives, as they related to where Kemal lived, what speed his car travelled at, what his relations were with the Russians, what the parliament leanings were and so on. These coupled with Saghir’s confession were to clinch the verdict of death by hanging and he was hanged publically in front of a big crowd on 24th May 1921, at 430AM. It was the Empire Day in Britain.

Clair Price in her article about Kemal Ataturk explains the locale (Current History July 1922) - The Grand National Assembly meets at 1:30 o'clock every afternoon, except Friday, in the gray granite building at the lower end of the Ankara town, which was once the local headquarters of the Committee of Union and Progress. The crescent and star now flies over the building, night and day, its grounds are fenced with trenches, and back of a restaurant, just off its grounds, is a ten-foot upright, with a small pulley attached to the end of its cross-beam. The trenches have never been used. The ten foot upright, with the cross-beam and pulley, has been used on numerous occasions, notably on British Empire Day, in 1921, when Mustapha Saghir, the British Indian spy, was hanged there.

The British perhaps wanted to manipulated the situation and declare war on Turkey, but it did not quite work out that way. Mass support was not received from the khilafat supporters against Kemal bey and on top of it, Moulana Azad mentioned that Saghir was one of those unfortunate Mohamedans who sold his conscience and religion for some little worldly benefit…Did it mean that momentary compensation was provided to Sagir? It is not known for sure though the trail mentioned large amounts of 20 or 50 thousand pounds.

But who was Mustafa Saghir? We get only a hint from Halide Edip that he had another name. Halide Edip Adivar of Istanbul, was a social activist and witness to all those difficult days of Turkish independence in her book The Turkish Ordeal states - Lieutenant-Colonel Kemaleddine Sami, before he left us that evening, told me that he had traveled with an Indian called Mustafa Saghir, a representative of the caliphate’s committee, and that the man wanted to come and visit me. He never did come, and as he had a tragic end I am glad that he didn’t. Before he had been in Angora a month he was suspected of being a spy. The suspicion was well founded, and during the famous trial in Angora he confessed that he was an important British spy who had done special work in Germany during the Great War, and that he had come to Angora for the same purpose. Before he died, however, he bravely admitted that his loyalty was to the British and that he did not mind dying for it. But he was a Moslem, and his wife and family didn’t know that he was a spy and that Mustafa Saghir was only an assumed name. He was evidently very fond of his little daughter, and he asked the Turkish authorities not to publish his real name. He knew that his family would be hurt and ashamed beyond words if they knew that he had tried to betray a Moslem race in its struggle for existence. His wish was respected by the Turkish authorities as a dying wish.

Bulent Gokay in his book Soviet eastern Policy explains also that during the trial Saghir was very clear in providing names of his British minders, that a special committee put together the assassination plan for Kemal Ataturk, though the authorities never explained how they got the clinching evidence or what it actually contained. He also explains that Saghir was a handsome young man who came to Istanbul in 1921 living at the Korker hotel in Tepebasi, near the English palace in Istanbul. After his association with anti-imperialist Turks, the British arrested him and he was put in jail for 17 days. After he was released, his friends helped move him to Ankara and he lived then in the Hurriyet hotel. During the next two weeks he me a lot of prominent people, including Mustafa Kemal, without any issues. Sudden was his arrest and then started a two week interrogation where he admitted he was a British spy. He did leave a letter in which he confirmed what is stated by Halide Adip in the previous para, but actually asked that the British take care of his little brother and insisting that he had not provided any sensitive information to the Turkish authorities.

Frank Rattigan of the British High Commission later stated that he was indeed a British spy and so his execution was not to be considered a monstrosity. But there are still the signs of a bigger conspiracy, for the Russians were first to tip the Ankara government of Saghir as soon as he landed in Istanbul. What was the real story of the GRU involvement? We do not know much other than the fact that the British buried the case soon after and that the GRU got deeply entrenched in Turkey following the incident.

An Indian article mentions that the real Mustafa Saghir was a Kanungo (Supervising Tapedar) somewhere in North India, perhaps Moradabad and so it is difficult to figure out how he got educated in Oxford or Cambridge in languages, rising to be a professor etc.. So it does look like the Saghir name was an alias.

Nevertheless, after this incident, and for reasons different, the Khilafat people got no further support from Turkey. The Sultan of Turkey fled from Istanbul in November 1922, and his successor Mustapha Kemal abolished the Khilafat (Note however that the Ottoman Sultanate and all aristocratic titles were abolished only later, on October 30, 1922). Ataturk was more interested in the future of Independent Turkey, not creating a larger caliphate or its successor. The non-cooperation of the Khilafat movement slowly subsided but leaving a bloody rebellion in Malabar

Some additional detail can be obtained from some meeting notes of Yusuf Kemal and the American consul.1315 Date: August 9, 1921

Lieutenant Robert S. Dunn, U.S.N., in a recent visit to Angora had an interview with Youssouf Kemal Bey, Mustapha Kemal's Minister for Foreign Affairs, who during the war was Under Minister of Justice at Constantinople. He was not an extremist of the Committee of Union and Progress.

Youssouf Kemal Bey dwelt longest on the affair of Mustapha Saghir, the one subject he and all Turkish officials like to discuss and gloat over, since it hangs something "on" British political methods and confirms all their ideas about British repute for intrigue in the Near East. He said that a blue book with photographs and copies of letters put in evidence at the trial and the whole trial proceedings was being produced in an English text. Two points were put before Youssouf:

1) Are there any proofs beside his confession that Saghir was sent to Angora to negotiate the preliminaries for the assassination of Mustapha Kemal Pasha as his people charged?

2) Whether the Turks were justified or not in shooting him?

In regard to (1), his main proof lay in the confession which he admitted was made solely to save life and was repudiated at his execution. Youssouf declared that the confession included that not only had Mustapha Saghir received in Constantinople instructions to inquire how Mustapha Kemal's personal servants and cook were engaged, who took care of his tableware (with a view to poisoning him supposedly), but that he had actually made these inquiries in Angora and witnesses had testified to this. Also that he had received from and sent to the Indian Independence Agent in Constantinople letters that showed the same thing and which will be produced in the brochure mentioned. Youssouf would not admit that the execution was a diplomatic error. He seemed very sure that Saghir was a practiced assassin because he had included the Afghan Emir business in his confession.

What could have been a possible ulterior motive? Keal Oke in his book The Turkish war of independence explains – The second British aim was to destroy the trust and confidence of Ankara in the loyalty and friendship of the Indian Muslims. For this purpose, the British arranged the "Mustafa Sagir Incident……. First, the British planned the Sagir spy affair; then they helped the Turks to catch him; and finally, the British turned round to accuse the Turkish nationalists of committing a murder of an Indian Muslim…

The British have but little in their published records (Courtesy – National archives) - Execution of a British Indian.-Qn 29th May Mr. Rattigan reported [No. 379] that the Angora telegraph agency had announced that Mustafa Saghir, a British Indian, had been sentenced to death about three days before on a charge of espionage, and that sentence had been immediately carried out. Sir H. Rumbold had telegraphed to Bekir Sami on 12th May claiming the surrender of this man under the exchange agreement.

Whatever said and done, this is still a story with much intrigue, a story without answers.

Who is Mustafa Sagir? If he was well trained since the Habibullah incident, why did he slip up in Turkey? Was it really a plan to kill Ataturk or just a ruse? Was it simply a destabilization attempt by the British? Or was it a GRU plot to mess up with the British? Considering that the telegraph lines were not open with India and the fact that Saghir was not known to anybody in India, how could the British have used the news fallout? Was such a well-educated spy so naïve? Why were the evidence never brought out to the Public by the Turks? Was it a great propaganda incident for the Turks? Why did the British eventually admit that Saghir was a spy? Why is it that no information is available about this case in the archives? Even the MI5 records of much later are available. Why was the Agha Khan’s offices used for negotiation? One may never get the right answers, or probably the answer is in front of us and between all the lines…

A curious heading can be found in a later newspaper…The Milwaukee Journal June 1947.
Who could this new Mustafa Sagir be?


Istanbul Under Allied Occupation, 1918-1923 - Bilge Criss
The Turkish ordeal – Halide Elip Adiver
Soviet Eastern Policy and Turkey, 1920-1991- Bulent Gokay
Pan-Islam in British Indian Politics: A Study of the Khilafat Movement, 1918 .M. Naeem Qureshi
Saghir’s Court ruling 
Mustafa Sagir – A British Indian Spy in Turkey –M Ali Asgar Khan

The Malabar rebellion and some Hindu leaders

Posted by Maddy Labels:

You know, when you look at the situation today, you will despair somewhat, for large numbers of Muslims are going militant over some misguided idiot’s making of a movie or perhaps just a very offensive youtube clip. But then again, you wonder, why so much of focus on religion or so many issues in the name of religion? There is so much to do, to improve ourselves and our standards of living and those of our children. Instead of focusing on all that, people spend their time fighting over matters of smaller consequence, typically cases mixing politics with religion, where people whip up the emotions of others, and exhort them to commit violence. The Moplah rebellion was also one such case, when our own senior politicians did exactly that, mixing Khilafat, quickly becoming a lost cause, with the Indian independence movement. Life I guess continues on, without any change, nobody has learnt anything, wasting time, money, valuable resources and eventually, lives.

I wrote in the Andaman blog about the presence of a Nambudiri and four Nairs among the first batch of Moplah convicts who were supposed to be transported to the Andamans. I was initially under the impression that they were transported for life, but it was not so. Let’s take a look at those interesting persons. It is interesting to note that some of these people at the fore of the Khilafat movement were Hindus. There were many others like KP Keshava Menon etc on the fringes, but let’s focus on those who were in the midst, for now.

We have so many books of the Malabar rebellion, and I am sure many more interpretations are on the way or on the anvil, being shaped. Many of them slight the actual truth in some way or the other. They cover the Muslim activists; they cover the events and the high handed British authorities. But if you read the earlier versions, even Hitchcock’s own records, you will understand that there was more than what we thought or were led to believe. Nevertheless, it was a story from long ago, an ugly story at that, cast eventually in the mold of an independence revolution. But the reader’s interest will perk up knowing that the Khilafat movement had Hindu leaders, and an inquisitive mind will wonder why nobody mentioned it in all those books, in greater detail.

One of the Hindus in the midst was MP Narayayana Menon, who is covered well in the MPS Menon book, another was Brahmadattan Nambudiri who himself wrote his memoirs about the events. I am not too sure who the third and the fourth Nayars were, perhaps Elaya Nair, Kesavan or maybe Kelu Nayar. Perhaps there was Parambote Achutankutty Menon in this mix. Let us take a look at a couple of those Hindu leaders and figure out why & how they were involved in what was primarily a Moplah revolt.

First a few quick words about the Khilafat movement and the start of the revolt, in the Wikipedia words

In the First World War, the Sultan of Turkey, who was also the spiritual leader (Khalifa) of world Muslims, sided with Germany against Britain. This helped to align the Indian Muslim population against Britain, which started protesting against the British war against Turkey. To assuage their feelings, the Indian Viceroy, representing the British parliament, repeatedly announced that the war was only against the Turkish Government and not against the Caliphate (Khilafat), and promised that Muslim holy places and the Khalifa would be protected. But this promise was broken after the war, the Turkish Empire was broken apart, and the Khalifa was reduced to a puppet ruler as per the Paris accord. Indian Muslims started a protest movement requesting the restoration of the powers of the Caliphate, and the Khilafat Conference conducted on 30 June, 1920, at Allahabad announced non-violent non-co-operation against the British Government. Indian National Congress, led by Mahatma Gandhi, also offered its support to this movement, though key leaders like Motilal Nehru and Annie Besant opposed it.

In August, 1920, Mahatma Gandhi, Rajagopalachari and Maulana Naushad Ali visited Malabar as part of a campaign to support Khilafat movement, and this invigorated Khilafat-Congress committees across Malabar. The Khilafat Committee in Malabar was led by Kunji Koya Thangal, Hassan Koya Mulla, Melekkandi Moideen Koya, U. Gopala Menon, M P Narayana Menon, K Madhavan Nair, Kattilasseri Muhammad Musaliar, Variyam Kunnath Kunju Muhammad Haji, Edarakkunnam Ali Musaliar, and Muhammad Abdul Rahman Sahib. On 30 January, 1921, the Congress committee met in Kozhikode and decided to set up Congress Khilafat committees in South Malabar. In response to this, the district collector banned Khilafat meetings, but Khilafat movement gained strength in spite of the ban and various suppressive measures.

On February 16, 1921, British police arrested the leaders Yakoob Hassan, Madhavan Nair, Gopala Menon and Moitheen Koya, and clamped curfew on Valluvanad and Eranad taluks. This led to simmering tension. In August 17, 1921, a major reception was given to Gopala Menon and Madhavan Nair who were released from jail, and it was attended by people from all parts of Malabar. In response, the government conducted an Army flag march from Parappanangadi to Thirurangadi. On 20th August, police surrounded East Mosque and houses of many Khilafat workers, raided the mosque and Khilafat committee office, and arrested three people.

And that was the start of a period of mayhem and revolt…Soon the revolt spread,but that is a long and complicated story. It was a time when the Independence movement mingled with the problems faced by the poorer working class or the Kudiyans. It was a time when the English had reestablished themselves after defeating the Mysore Sultans. It was a time when the Moplahs who had savored their independence from the erstwhile Jenmis under the Mysore rulers suddenly found the situation reversed in the 19th century when the English established status quo (reestablishment of the old land tenure system or Janmam Kanam Maryada) to what it was in the old Malabar. The Jenmis where tougher after their return from Travancore, the matters were taking a rougher turn for the Moplah working classes. As the situation was simmering, a lawyer came to their assistance in Ernad, at Angadipuram to be precise, and his name was MP Narayana Menon.

His story is certainly a sad one, for he wasa person who was selfless in his actions, steadfast in his thought and what a leader should be, not afraid of the consequences, as he fought for a cause, the uplifting of the state of the poor Moplahs of Ernad. He did not support their militancy or any kind of violence, but just wanted them to have a better life, he wanted the men to be treated fairly by the Jenmis, he wanted their wives or the Ummas to be better off, working and independent and all ‘ummachikuttikal’ as he termed them, or small children to better educated to handle the future. He lived and worked among them, got ostracized in return, was termed a mlecha by his own family for consorting with the Moplahs and roundly criticized by all and sundry, including other leaders of the time and ironically, by many a Muslim leader. Thankless, that was his situation, in that atmosphere fraught with political tension where people were jockeying for their own legacies, be it Rajaji or Gandhiji or Keshava Menon. In the middle of all this came the strident clamor for a split of the country, and locally, even talk of cordoning off a Moplistan in the middle of Malabar.

MPN Menon started his career as a lawyer and soon became the Kerala Pradesh Congress secretary. Since then his aim was to take the message to the Moplahs of Ernad, change their ways and to build up Hindu Muslim solidarity against the British. Later he became the Khilafat secretary of Ernad where he formed Khilafat cells with his friends Kattisseri Mohammed Muslaiyar, Ali Musaliyar, Pareekutty Musaliyar and KM Moulawi sahib. While their efforts unfortunately showed results as a few days of uncontrollable violence in 1921, the end result was establishment of agrarian reforms that made life easier for the Moplah after independence. Gandhian in his support for non violence, his efforts were torn apart by other vested interests but to revisit the Moplah rebellion would take many pages of text, so I will stick to the individual for now. It is a pity that people who covered the rebellion after that hardly mentioned this great man, barring a few like EMS and KN Panicker. MPN was the person who was once called ‘The Abu Talib of Malabar’.

When the problems in Malabar started and became worse, there was no further support from the Congress leaders, in fact there was apathy, and the mayhem became worse. Nobody came to support MPN Menon and after the fracas, when he was sentenced to 14 years of rigorous imprisonment, nobody really bothered (Gandhiji suggested that efforts from Sir CP be sought to argue his case!). After he came out, he accepted no honors, or anything to assuage his feelings and slipped out of public life, to work for the troubled to look after his ailing wife.

It must have been difficult for Narayana Menon, since the days when he decided to wear a lungi at home (today it is the main dress of a malayali at home, but in those days only Moplahs wore it – the chequered one) and play with Moplah boys - getting chastised often. Like many other boys from prominent families, Menon was educated to become a lawyer at Presidency College Madras. MPN then moved on to MCC Madras, learning political science under Prof Hogg. Returning, he established practice at Perinthalmanna and his days were spent fighting tenure & eviction cases for Moplah pattakars or farmers. It was to earn him many enemies from his caste, many being landowners. Soon he was instrumental in creating Kudiyan sangams trying to fight for their causes, while the congress concentrated on recruiting the richer and more prominent people for a visible fight against the British.

It was now 1918 and MPN had become a family man, father to four children. But life was to change and affect the young family, for the worse…In two years their world was to be torn apart and the father imprisoned, and the mother and children fleeing to Udumalpet, outside the British martial law zone.

In the meantime, far away in the west, at the locale where Asia met Europe, the allies were slowly laying claim on various parts of the remaining Ottoman Empire. Mustafa Kemal Pasha or Ataturk was the person who decided to take the reins of the resistance movement which was to continue through into 1922. Kemal Ataturk was very busy with the problems of his own country and was certainly not in support of having any kind of Caliph in power. Meanwhile, in India, the Khilafat movement was being spearheaded with vigor by the congress, but what Gandhiji and other leaders did not explain to the Moplahs was that Kemal Ataturk himself was slowly moving away from the Khilafat principles. It was around this time (Aug 1921) that Gandhiji and Shoukat Ali came and asked the Moplahs to fight for the movement. MP Narayana Menon explained to Gandhiji whom he met that it was not a very good idea. He explained that they are simple people and for them a fight is with weapons and their hands, not with nonviolence which the layman would never understand. So unless proper training is given to them, the call for revolt would result in disaster. Well, as events would prove, that was exactly what happened.

As revolt spread in Malabar and emotions got worked up, the Khilafat movement got mixed up with the agrarian struggle; they directed their ire at the landlords and the British in various forms of violence. MPN had no chance anymore; his ideals were lost in the violent melee of desperate rebels. Interestingly Gangadhara Menon writes in his book (probably an erroneous mention if you look at the words of MPN’s speech) that the MPN had his interest mainly focused on Moplah tenancy rights (and the desire to have M Krishnan Nair elected) and was not aligned to the Khilafat or nationalist movement. The revolt spread and MPN who tried to exhort the Moplahs against armed revolt could do little against the strident religious overtones whipped up by their own leaders, but following a speech

As the court records show 

The rule of the white man had come to an end. Moplahs have been known to be brave men.
They alone drove the white men from Tiruvengadi. If we all unite and stand together we will accomplish our cause. White men have only a few soldiers. If we withstand them for a few days we will get help from outside. I believe you will do it. Those who work against Khilafat are our enemies. They should not be spared…or words to this effect.

where he told the masses to rise against the British, was soon imprisoned in 1921 and sentenced to transportation to the Andamans. The Pookottur and Nilambur Kovilakom stories, as well as many others are all well documented, so I will not get into them today. Somewhere around this time, the Moplahs were led to believe that the Hindu leaders and the Congress no longer had any interest in the Khilafat and were actually supporting the British. With this the revolt took a communal direction. But the person who could explain to them, MPN, was behind bars, the public launched a signature drive and a petition for his pardon was submitted to the British since the judgment was erroneous and fixed by the police and the witnesses, as MPN sided with the Moplahs. He was told that he would be pardoned if he agreed to stay away from Malabar for 2 years, but MPN would have nothing to do with such an idea. Soon he was put into solitary confinement in Coimbatore and later transferred to Egmore jail where he spent the next decade.

After release in 1934 he tried to get his lawyers license back, but the court turned his request down. He then indulged in Moplah rehabilitation programs and the Quit India movement, was imprisoned again in 1942 and sent to Vellore. Here he taught prisoners and also became their barber, shaving and cutting their hair.

After he was released in 1946, he worked briefly in Madras, but was a reticent man, and by 1955 had slipped out of public life seeing the direction the politics of Free India was taking. He lost heart eventually, mentally and physically and left this world in 1966.

Ask anybody in Kerala or Ernad if they remember MPN. You will, most probably not see anybody or hear any kind of reaction. Regretfully, today there is nobody like him who tries to build firm and wide bridges between the communities, or exhorting that religion should not be the reason for any kind of separation. But then again, Malabar fortunately has more amity than enmity, as I wrote some months ago.

And with that we come to the next in line, Brahmadattan Nambudiri – Strange is his case, for I will start first with impressions of him by MPN which are not flattering actually. Nambudiri was involved in verbal attacks against the British in Aug 1921 and imprisoned. Briefly he met MPN at the Coimbatore jail and asked him to help him avoid the hangman’s noose. MPN castigated Namboothri for his fears and scoffed as to why he got involved if he was so scared.

Namboothiri incidentally was the Cherplasseri Pradesh congress secretary who led efforts against the British. He was a Gandhian who slipped into the British dragnet unlike MPN who worked for the Moplahs. When Gandhiji told the masses that they have to support their brethren in the Khilafat struggle, Mozhikunnath Bhramadattan was the one to take it up at Cherplasseri. When Bhrahmadattan a spoke at the temple rally (it was Tilak’s death anniversary), he as actually getting right into the middle of British crosshairs. Soon the revolt turned to mayhem and after the resulting losses in death and property and the eventual lull, the police arrested many, Brahmadattan included.

Narayanan Somayaji his father would have like him to become a Vedic scholar, but who was to know that this person would enter the violent scenes that swept the region, end up in jail and get excommunicated from his Nambudiri society. Well that was Nambudiri’s story.

As Nambudiri writes, it was a time when two revolts were running the same course, the agrarian and the Khilafat – nationalist struggle. When by chance religious animosity was thrown into the cauldron, the resulting mix was an uncontrollable explosive. As expected it blew up when the British police unleashed their atrocities against them and the resulting fires lasted some 4-6 months killing many, maiming many, destroying families and property, inciting the British against the locals even more, and ended with thousands in jails and many transported to the Andamans.

Nambudiri was eventually sentenced to transportation, but this was later reduced to imprisonment and he was interned at Bellary. His experiences can be read in his book which is very much available in stores, so I won’t get into those details. As you read it you will come across a simple man who followed his ideals, his bravery was in his heart and not mind or body. He suffered like a common man, not unflinching or anything like that, but crying and wailing like a commoner he was. His story after his return, his excommunication due to his lower standing in society is all only too revealing of the many different types of people who got jailed.

These two books about Narayana Menon and Brahmadattan Nambudiri tell us quite a bit about the events and the people involved but many others have written their own versions about the revolts, but there is one person who is not talked about much in those books. That is an individual named Mannarghat Kochunni Elaya Nayar, and so let us see what we can mine about him from the treasure trove of archived resources.

We saw what happened at Perinthalmanna and Angadipuram where Narayana Menon took the lead, Nambudiri was the spearhead at Cherplasseri and the person who took the reins at Mannarghat was one Elaya Kochunni Nair . He had associated himself with Seethi Koya Thangal and marshaled the support of the traders and trading Moplahs of Palghat. It appears that he was also a junior member from the local Janmi family. His case is not like the former, he was supposedly one of those who ended up in the middle of it all, partaking also in some of the atrocities.

Mooppil nayar and the Elaya nayar were congressmen who exhorted rebellion against the British but were not supported by Moidutty who was a local timber merchant with many Moplahs working for him. However a few others like Thonnikara Ayamu, the karyasthan for Moidutty supported the Khilafat and joined the nayars, for which he was dismissed from service. Later he was shot dead while leading a gang in Nilambur. Elaya nayar was the leader, supposedly involved in attacks against government property like bridges, attacking police stations, having others collecting money in his name for making swords, and aligning himself with Seethi Koya Tangal. The mob then attacked Moiduty’s granaries and property, demanding money. Moidutty fled to Pollachi, fearing further violence.

One disturbing fact that you will come across while reading all the records is that there were some gangs who systematically came into troubled areas, searched for and destroyed land records, which you can see was a ploy to take over land from the jenmis. Even in the case of Mannarghat, as the problems were underway, gangs came in from Angadipuram and destroyed the sub registrar’s office. But it turned out later that Elaya nayar was implicated in the whole thing by Khan Saheb Kalladi Moidutty (apparently there were long ongoing litigations and quarrel between the Muppil Nayar and the Elaya Nayar and Moidutty the timber merchant was allied with the Moopil Nayar). The basis was a letter written by Nayar to one Keshava Panickkar asking him to hand over all their guns to the Moplahs.

After he was arrested in Sept, he had Srinivasa Iyengar representing him at the court who argued for his release successfully on a technicality which was that Palghat was outside the martial law limits. So he was released. The case story is interesting; those interested can read it here.

All these stories form small parts of the large canvass called the 1921 Moplah rebellion. It is not very easy to understand or explain, unless you are somewhat neutral in your thoughts and today with a collection of first hand reports from the archives, the story becomes clearer than the duller versions published previously.

Anyway the rebellion ran its course, many were put to trial and imprisoned or transported, and finally Britain’s waning grip on the Jewel of the Crown were soon loosened. I wrote about the other end, the kalapani or the Andamans in my history blogs, covering both the Indian and the CBI angles.

But what happened to the Khilafat? Things were to take a different turn in Turkey. An Indian was to figure in it in a very interesting but tragic way and hardly a soul in India knows about it today. So I will cover that soon, in another article. As far as Ataturk the founder of modern Turkey was concerned, the old caliph Abdul Hamid had been deposed, and his interest were rightly with his country and its development, not some age old sentimentalist ideas of a Caliph or global protector. The caliphate as Querishi writes, was no longer a potent instrument of Turkish foreign policy. The Ali brothers tried hard to persuade Mustafa Kemal asking him to become the caliph, but he would have none of it. The movement as well as the concept of Moplistan that was bandied about died, though the quit India movement quickly took over.

The Turkish Ottoman Caliph, Adulhamid eventually retired with a small monthly allowance provided, ironically by the Nizam of Hyderabad. Nilufer, the last Ottoman princess, what a lovely lass she was, married the Nizam’s son and moved to Hyderabad. Her story is well, yet another of those interesting stories…


MP Narayana Menon a forgotten pioneer – Dr MPS Menon
Khilafat Smaranakal – Brahmadattan Nambudiri
Malabar rebellion – M Gangadhara Menon
Peasant revolt in Malabar – RH Hitchcock
Pan-Islam in British Indian Politics: A Study of the Khilafat Movement - M. Naeem Qureshi

Pics - from books by MPN and Brahmadattan, acknowldged with thanks