Hyder’s takeover of Calicut
April 27th 1766 - Hyder Ali and his troops are at the gates of Calicut. The rumors of his violent reprisals against the Nayars up north have reached the Zamorin’s ears. There is perhaps no hope now for Calicut and the people in the domains of the Zamorin. He decides to take his life and sets fire to his armory after locking himself into the powder room. With that comes the end of the long and unbroken 600 year reign of the Thamburan – the Tamuri or the Samoothiripad of Calicut. Soon the lands and domain go into the hands of the Mysore Sultans and some decades later, to the British, thus recording an inglorious end to the glorious fiefdom of Malabar. This is what most of us have learnt from various history books. What actually happened in those last days? There are quite a few versions, some wild stories while others are possibly closer to reality. Perhaps we should take a look.
I wished (as I have said a few times before) I could discuss this at length with KV Krishna Iyer, but in those days of his retirement, in our village of Pallavur, where he used to walk along majestically now and then on the road near our house, dhoti tied around his neck or chest (he was a little bit of an eccentric at times), I had no interest in history. But then I do have one source to refer, his oft mentioned work on the Zamorins of Calicut. So let us start with that.
The 116th Zamorin was a warring Thampuran from the Puthiya Kovilakom. The princes of Thekkamkoor, Vadakkamkoor and Kayamkulam had fled northwards to Calicut. The Cochin raja, a cause for much of the Zamorin’s problems, sent Ezekiel Rabi to Calicut for negotiations of support, and the Dutch were also in discussions with the Zamorin. The war that followed went in favor of the Travancore Raja and quickly the Cochin raja changed sides and went with the winner. Finally after the frantic efforts of captive Paliyat Komu Menon, Marthanda Varma signed a peace & friendship treaty with the Zamorin during January 1757. The Zamorin in return during the following months applied relentless pressure on the Dutch in Cochin and eventually a treaty was signed by March 1758. Finally the wars were over, the regions around Travancore, Cochin and Calicut were at relative peace…Soon the Zamorin behind all this died and the new person took over.
So they thought, for the enemies of the North, the Mysore rulers were having other ideas. Little were the Calicut rulers to know that they would soon be in full flight southwards, reversing the earlier flight from South to North.
This was the 117th Zamorin of Calicut, from the Kizhakke Kovilakom, not considered very able. He had problems at home too where his chief lieutenant Mangat Achan withdrew from the court and other commanders rebelled for some reasons. Prof MR Raghava Warrier concurs by explaining -The ruling Zamorin and his 3 sisters were all adopted from the Neeleswaram Palace and he was, thus, alien to the Calicut culture. Enough indications exist to show that the ruling bureaucracy was also reluctant to accept the ‘outsider’. The difference of opinion which arose about the engagement with Hyder’s forces and the humiliating defeat of Zamorin’s forces at the battle of Iringal, led to the ouster of Mangatt Achan, the Prime Minister-equivalent. The Zamorin came into power at a difficult juncture, for Marthanda Varma was in full swing again, trying to further his borders and the Zamorin soon lost Trichur and some other places. But the Travancore king was also under threat from the Carnatic rulers attacking from the south, so he soon concluded a treaty with the Zamorin at Padmanabhapuram in 1763. As one can imagine all these protracted wars depleted much of the Calicut treasury..
It was during this period, starting around 1756, that the Palghat Achan requested support and got it from Hyder at Dindigul. Haider sent his army to support the Palghat Achan, but the Zamorin decided to buy out Haider, due to the other wars and more pressing problems he had at hand. The settlement to pay 12 lakhs in compensation was to prove too dear very soon, as we shall see..
In the meantime, Hyder became the Sultan of Mysore and demanded the 12 lakhs owed, which the Zamorin did not have. As Hyder’s messengers (money collectors) came back with no money, Hyder moved to take Calicut in 1766. The Zamorin was soon becoming powerless for he had lost much support from other bastions such as the Moplahs after the treaties with the Portuguese and the Marakkar episodes.
So as we see, Hyder was bearing down the North with some 12,000 troops. The troops had a head on skirmish at Chirakkal where the Zamroin’s forces fought fiercely but had to withdraw for the Mysore army, infantry were too strong for their kind of fighting. The defense lines were breached, and Hyder paused to rest & recuperate. But by then he had an ally in the Ali raja of Chirakkal to carry on the cause. So he deputed the Ali raja to Calicut to take care of the Zamroin. Now we take up the story from Krishna Iyer
KV Krishna Iyer Zamorins of Calicut (pages 226-228)
Hyder sent Ali Raja by sea to Calicut. The Eralpad who was in charge of the fort refused to surrender whereupon the Aliraja infested it with the help of local Moplahs….The Zamorin tried to make peace but the demand from Hyder now was 1 crore gold mohurs (in fact Hyder was so sure even later that the Zamorin had this kind of money and spent much time hunting for it in various places at Malabar ..so where did it go? Did it go with the folk that fled to Travancore? And is that part of what you see in the temple vaults? Perhaps…for it would have been natural for the Travancore raja to demand large sums to offer asylum to the whole family and others who came there)..On April 20th Hyder arrived and made camp at Palayam in Calicut, a few hundred yards away from the fort and palace.
With his arrival the siege became more rigorous. As provisions ran short, the Zamorin sent the Eralpad and the Thampuratis to his Ponnani palace. As his position became more and more desperate, he grew more and more stubborn in his refusal to surrender. As last he resolved to put an end to his life and with it the fort which no enemy has entered as a conqueror since the first Zamorin laid the foundation (KVK was wrong here, the Portuguese had entered it during Albuquerque’s time….See my blog on this subject). On the 27th of April, corresponding to 14th medam 941 ME, Chitra the fourteenth lunar asterism, he set fire to the powder magazine with his own hand and was blown up with the fortress, from which his ancestors had marched out, to conquest & annex.
KVK bases this on Michaud’s history of Mysore, so let us see what Michaud had to say
History of Mysore - JF Michaud (pages 23-24)
The city fell under the power of Hyder Ali and the Zamorin the king of Calicut became his prisoner. This prince belonged to the religion of the Brahmins and it was his custom to feed a large number of the poor of his own religion, he sent to demand provisions from the victor so as to be able to keep up his own charities. Hyder wished to have an interview with the king of the nayars but the latter, true to his principles of his sect which did not permit holding discourse personally with the Mohamedans declined the visit of Hyder Ali. The victor remained in his camp and sent the king of Calicut a quantity of grain to feed 500 people. But later it became impossible for Hyder to deprive himself of provisions which became even more necessary for himself and his army. The poor who were living on the charities of the king of Calicut were from this moment deprived of his generous help and the cry of famine made itself heard in the palace of the chief of nayars. Hyder sent some Mysore chiefs to visit him, they returned to inform him that something extraordinary was happening, they had noticed on the kings face a somber and sinister air. He had already been fasting for three days for a religious ceremony they learned ere long that the unlucky prince had collected together all his family (how about those who were sent to Ponnai?) and after having recited prayers in the presence of principal Brahmins, had set fire to his own palace and thrown himself into the fire.
History of Ayder Ali Khan-Nabob Bahadur - Maistre de La Tour written in 1784 (Pages 62-72)
Some contemporary historians like Kareem doubt the veracity of this book and the identity of the author, which I will discuss later in another article, however this is the account written closest in time to the event.
MDLT starts with a purported massacre of 6,000 Muslims by the Zamorin’s forces whereupon they go to Hyder and Aliraja for help (Note that this MLDT account was subsequently revised by Tipu’s son, so I doubt some parts of it especially this part, for now). He confirms that Hyder started out with 12,000 troops, but just 4 (or 12 mentioned later) cannons and his fleet of (some 95) ships to support from the sea, supported by 8,000 of Ali raja’s moplahs. The Zamorin assembled 100,000 forces but they were not tactically good or well disciplined. Now we zoom in to the event itself
Hyder caused his army to halt near these settlements (Kurumbranad), and sent an offer of peace to the Samorin, and other princes, on reasonable terms. The Samorin, who was old, remained quiet in his palace, and sent word that he waited for the conqueror, and trusted to his discretion. Hyder marched for Calicut, and found no other resistance in his route but from a large pagoda built on a mountain, and fortified. In this place the nephew and presumptive heir of the Samorin had taken refuge, and found means to make his escape from thence, though it was invested after his departure, the Bramins opened the gates to Hyder. The conqueror continued his journey to Calicut, and took up his residence at the English factory, where his fleet arrived before him. He inquired for the Samorin on his arrival, and was informed that he was in his palace, without any guard, waiting the commands of the conqueror; from whom he hoped for mild treatment, as he had always formally opposed the resolution to massacre the Mapelets, and had foretold the consequences to his nephews. On this intelligence, Hyder returned into his palanquin, and gave orders to advise the Samorin of his approaching visit. He met this Prince, who came forth and threw himself at his feet. Hyder hastened to raise him, and the Samorin offered his presents, consisting of two small basins of gold, one filled with precious stones, and the other with pieces of gold, and two small cannons of gold, with carriages of the same metal. The two princes (Ravi Varma’s) having entered the palace, Hyder testified his respect for the Samarin, and promised to restore his dominions (on condition of his paying a small annual tribute) as soon as his subjects had laid down their arms, and the affair of the Mapelets was amicably settled. These two princes parted, apparently much satisfied with each other but the world was highly astonished the next day, to behold the palace of the Samarin on fire and though Hyder himself assisted in procuring help, it was impossible to save anything, the edifice being entirely wood and the Samarin, with all his family, and, as it is presumed, much treasure, perished in the flames. This prince had himself caused the palace to be set on fire, being resolved to terminate his life in that manner, on account of some letters he had received from his nephews, and the kings of Travancore and of Cochin. These letters contained the bitterest reproaches and execrations, treating him as the betrayer of his country, and apostate to his religion, which he had abandoned to the Mohumedans. The Bramin who had conveyed these letters to him; vowed to him at the same time, that he was degraded and excluded from his caste and that all the Bramins and Nayres had sworn never to have any communication with him. The tragic end of the Samarin affected Hyder extremely and he was so irritated against the nephews of that prince, that he publicly swore he would never restore their dominions. (From here continues the story of the Ravi Varmas of Calicut that I wrote about earlier)
Samoothirimaar – PCM Raja
This interesting book provides some additional clues while referring to the above accounts. It also says that the agreement between the Palghat Achan’s and Hyder was that the Zamorin would be delivered to them as a prisoner after surrender. Accordingly they proceeded to Calicut to collect the Zamorin but heard of the account of immolation. The author also (quoting Lewis Rice states that the Zamorin was prepared to sign off all his wealth to Hyder ( which Hyder agreed to) , but when he saw Hyder bearing upon him with his army and horsemen was perturbed. Later hearing that his ministers were tortured and fearing shameful death by torture or hanging, committed the immolation act. A Sreedhara Menon also concurs with this account.
PA Syed Mohammed – Kerala Muslim Charitram
Syed Mohammed provides some more depth to these accounts, he states that the Zamorin met Hyder at Kurumbranad and agreed to settle the matters for 28 lakh Rupees. The discussions went amicably and the Zamorin invited Hyder to visit him at Calicut. This discussion and settlement were opposed by certain members of the Zamorin family who threatened him of dire consequences. The aforementioned Eralpad was ready for a stiff fight until death. During this period the Travancore kings also threatened him with consequences if he reached any agreement with Hyder. This continuous pressure forced the Zamorin to commit the act of immolation and the whole episode also saddened Hyder.
Campbell - History of Hindustan
The Zamorins, or Kings of Calicut, were ascertained to entertain 1,200 Bramins in their household, and until they had first been served with victuals, he never began to eat himself: it was etiquette also, that he never spoke to, or suffered a Mahomedan to come into his presence. Hyder, after taking the palace, sent his compliments, and desired to see the Zamorin, but was refused; but the Zamorin admitted Hyder's head Brahmin to speak to him, and carry his answer back to his master, who was to be at some distance from them. After this interview was over, Hyder sent them rice for only 500 men the first day; this they dispensed with; the second day he sent enough for 300, and the third day, for only 100; after which, all further supplies were refused, nor any notice taken of the Zamorin's complaints and applications. After fasting three days and finding all remonstrance’s vain, he set fire to his own palace, and was burned, with some of his women and three Brahmins, the rest having left him.
C. K. Kareem - Malabar under Hyder & Tipu
In spite of the entreaties of the Zamorin and his plea that he had no money available for the full settlement, the conqueror was unrelenting. Driven to despair, the Zamorin sought escape from his dilemma through death. The position was such that no one can blame either the Zamorin or Haidar Ali for creating a situation leading to such a crisis.
Logan - Malabar manual
Adds to the accounts above by stating that another fear the Zamorin had was shameful death either by hanging or by blowing from a gun barrel.
Gidwani – The sword of Tipu Sultan
This book provides the most preposterous commentary, though fictional. Now, it appears Gidwani by his own admission, consulted many sources and papers (not any that I could find) before he came to these astounding conclusions, which even a lay person in Malabar can easily rubbish. Not only did he make one error, but two combining the stories of Ayaz Khan and the Zamorin’s death into one.
According to his book Chapter 3, Ayaz Khan (See my earlier blog on him for more correct details) was born as the son of Ashila banu a famous courtesan of Calicut (ugh..he now equates Calicut with Lucknow – dances, mujras and so on, even before the Mysore Sultans brought in their brand of life to Feroke). Seems it cost a handful of gold to hear her sing and two to see her dance and the only person she was freely available to was the (old) Zamorin. Apparently Ayaz was born to her after her liaison with the stable boy Maqbool or Hayat her step brother. Ashila of course declared that Ayaz was the Zamorin’s son and the Zamorin was proud about it! Anyway let us humor Gidwani’s fancy for a while and see how far he goes. Ayaz is then brought up as a Nair, becomes the chief of the palace guard (ha!) but is more interested in composing (the real Ayaz never did that) poems!! Well, Hyder is in town and the Zamorin and 30 of his chiefs go to Hyder and declare allegiance. On the fateful night in 1766, the Zamorin was drunk, Ayaz tells the Chief minister to move the treasure and the Zenana and orders the army to march to the ‘Paldha’ fortress (where on earth is that in Malabar? Maybe in Atlantis). He then goes and tells Hyder that the Zamorin has ordered the troops against him. Ayaz is gladly taken in by the furious Hyder and is asked to go and capture the (already imprisoned) Zamorin. He quietly gets into the palace (hoodwinking all the guards) and the Zamorin’s bedroom and sets fire to it. He also tortures the chief minister, finds the treasure chests and hands them over to Hyder. Ayaz later joins up with Hyder and moves on to Mysore, fearing the wrath of the Malabar Nair’s. Hyder later converts him and makes him governor of Chitaldurg.
The book incidentally is dedicated to ‘the country that lacks a historian’. Perhaps you can get away with all this by titling it a historical ‘novel’.
Henry Beveridge - History of India
Maan Vicran Raj, the zamorin, convinced that resistance would prove unavailing, and being assured that early submission would procure for him special favor, made his appearance in Hyder's camp on the 11th of April, 1766; and, after a most flattering reception, and a present of valuable jewels, was confirmed in his territories as Hyder's tributary, on agreeing to pay a military contribution of four lacs of Venetian sequins. Mutual suspicions of insincerity soon arose, and as the monsoon was approaching, while the contribution was unpaid, Hyder believed that it was intended to delay payment till the season would make it impossible for him to enforce it. In this belief he placed both the Zamorin and his ministers under restraint, and endeavored to extort treasure from the latter by subjecting them to torture. The Zamorin, to avoid similar indignity and cruelty, barricaded the doors of the house in which he was confined, and setting fire to it, perished in the flames, with many of his attendants; several of those who happened to be excluded rushing in to seek a voluntary death with their master.
Mark Wilkes -History of Mysore
Maan Vicran Raj, the Samoree (Zamorin), perceiving that resistance would be ultimately unavailing, and having heard of the peculiar favor which the Poligar of Raidroog had secured by an early submission, opened a negotiation ,and proposed, if a safe conduct should be assured to him, to pay his respects to Hyder for the purpose of adjusting the terms of submission. His proposal being heeded to, the Raja proceeded to camp, where he was received by Hyder on the 11th of April 1766, with marks of particular distinction, and presented with valuable Jewels. The terms adjusted at this interview were the confirmation of the Raja in his actual possessions as the tributary of Hyder, on his payment of four lacs of Venetian sequins as a military contribution. This arrangement being made, the army moved forward towards Calicut, accompanied by the Raja; but at the very moment that Hyder was receiving him with the honors which have been stated, a column was in motion by a circuitous route to seize the post of Calicut, the garrison reasonably concluding from this movement that the Raja was a prisoner, considered defense to be unavailing, and evacuated the place on the same night. Hyder had adopted this precaution from his experience of the deception practiced by this Raja regarding the military contribution of 1757; and the Raja apprehended from this virtual infraction of the present agreement, measures of farther circumvention on the part of Hyder. After the expiration of a few days, Hyder intimated his expectation of receiving the stipulated contribution: and the Raja consulted with his ministers regarding the proper measures for its realization. But whether from inability, or design, they appeared to make but little progress in its collection. As the monsoon was not distant, Hyder, suspecting deception, placed both the Raja and his ministers under restraint; and applied to the latter the customary Indian methods of extorting treasure. The Raja, apprised of the cruelties and inanities offered to his ministers determined to anticipate the possibility of a similar disgrace to himself; and having barricaded the doors of the house in which he was confined, set fire to it in several places, and was consumed in the ruins in spite of all the exertions made by Hyder's command to extinguish the flames. In the remembrance after a lapse of years of ‘extraordinary a scène’ that which has been related, and even in the confusion of such a moment, a spectator may have misconceived what he saw; but I have been assured by more than one eye-witness, that several of the Raja's personal attendants who were accidentally excluded when he closed the door, afterwards threw themselves into the flames, and perished with their master.
Narendra Krishna Sinha - Haider Ali
Apprehending that he was no better than a prisoner, the Zamorin, with the help of 4 or 5 Pathans who were with him, had cloths soaked in oil with which he put fire to the house in which he was kept and burnt himself to death.
Galletti in Dutch in Malabar
In conquering the kingdom of the Zamorin, he captured also the king, whom he treated with contempt, kept a prisoner in his own palace, mocked and threatened to flog as a common Malabari unless he pointed out his treasures. The Zamorin was worried that he would not be cremated according to religious tradition if killed by Hyder.
So in summary one can conclude that the reigning Zamorin, a product of both the ancient Zamorin lineage and the Kolathiri princes, hailing from Neeleswaram, was a deeply troubled man during this period of strife and stress. He was pressured by the internal politics of the Kovilakom, living as a misfit and stranger in the Calicut palace, with little support. The nephews the Ravi Varma’s were against his ideas of appeasement with Hyder, to survive. He had lost the most important war against the Travancore Army, he could not marshal support from the Dutch or the English, the Mangat Achan had resigned and the situation was in a state of proper shambles. The Moplahs had thrown in their lot with the enemy. Into this scene of turmoil entered Hyder with his impossible demands. The Zamorin first decided to continue the stonewalling, but finds that he has no choice but to settle up with Hyder. Perhaps they had an amicable discussion at Kurumbranad during which the reduced 24 lakhs was arrived at as compensation.
This of course was not acceptable to the Eralpad and others who then did nothing with the collection of the 24 lakhs. The caste issues had become stronger by this time, one can see that the Zamorin would not even talk to a Muslim. The kings of Travancore & Cochin built up the pressure further asking him not to accede under any circumstance to Hyder. They actually wanted the fighting to continue at Malabar so that Hyder would not venture further southwards into their territories. So if Calicut surrendered, Hyder would have time to venture south before the monsoons. Incredible pressure build up due to these palace intrigues and the pressure from the Cochin and Travancore kings troubled the old Zamorin no end. Then again many others, perhaps close relatives wrote to him and said that he was being a traitor in agreeing to Hyder’s demands. The threat of excommunication was perhaps the proverbial ‘last straw’ which made the Zamorin take the eventual step of setting fire to the palace built of wood and immolating himself. That was the end of the 600 year reign of the Zamorins.
Haider was not to last long – he died a painful miserable death by cancer, far from home and while on a march, a few years later, in 1782. Their (Mysore sultans) attempt at empire creation was very much shorter than the 600 year reign of the Zamorin’s, an unenviable 40 years. Like Vasco Da Gama, that was perhaps his destiny, to die a painful death, far from home, for all his misdeeds.
Zamorins of Calicut – KV Krishna Iyer
Malabar manual – Logan
History of Kerala – A Sreedhara Menon
Malabar under Hyder & Tipu – CK Kareem
History of Mysore - JF Michaud
History of Mysore - Wilkes
History of Ayder Ali Khan-Nabob Bahadur - Maistre de La Tour
Hindu Muslim relation in N Malabar - T Gabriel
The sword of Tipu- Gidwani
Henry Beveridge states in his History of India
Dutch in Malabar – Galetti
Ayaz Khan article
Ravi Varmas of Calicut
Palakkad Fort story
Hyder’s takeover of Calicut