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The Palghat Achans or Shekhari Varmas of Nedumpuraiyur

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

The Achans of Taru Swaroopam, the Edams of Palghat, and the events which prompted Hyder’s intervention

Some months ago we touched upon the topic related to the ancient royalty of Palghat. We covered the Palghat Achans and the Kollengode nambis briefly. As a number of requests came in for more detail on the history of the Palghat Achans, I decided to delve a little deeper, armed with details that I had collected from a few sources.

We start by covering some recorded descriptions. The following description of the Palghat royal family was given in Mr. Warden's report to the Board of Revenue dated 19th March, 1801 :-

"It originally consisted of eight Edams or houses equally divided from each other by the appellation of the northern and southern branch The members of these Edams are called Atchimars, five of whom, the eldest in age, bear the title of Rajahs, under the denomination of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Rajahs, ranked according to their age, the senior being the first. On the death of the 1st Rajah, the 2nd succeeds and becomes the senior, the 3rd becomes 2nd, and so on to the 5th, the vacation of which rank is filled by the oldest of the Atchimars. By this mode of succession, the eldest Rajah is very far advanced in years before he accedes to the seniority, in consequence of which it used to be customary to entrust the ministry of the country to one of the Atchimars chosen by the Rajah.
The eight Edams of Atchimars above mentioned multiplied so numerously in their members that they afterwards divided and formed themselves at pleasure into separate Edams, which they distinguished by their own names. The number now in existence consists of twenty-seven, of which twenty belong to the northern and seven to the southern branch. The number of Atchimars they contain including minors is about one hundred and thirty ".

You will now need to note that by the 18th century, there were 35 Principalities (Naads) in Malabar which are listed as: Kottayam (Malabar), Kadathanad, Kurumbranad, Tamarasseri-Wynad, North Parappanad, South Parappanad, Valluvanad, Vadamalapuram, Tenmalapuram, Kolathunad (All ruled by Samanta Kshatriyas); Polanad, Payyanad, Ramanad, Cheranad, Nedunganad, Naduvattam, Kuttanad, Chavakkad, Chetwai, Eranad, Neeleswaram, Konad, Kodikkunninad, Vettattnad, Kakkad, Beypore, Talapilli, Chirakkal, Kollamkode, Punnathur (All ruled by Samantan Nairs); Kavalapara, Kurangott, Payyurmala, Pulavai (All ruled by Moopil Nairs). We will be talking about the overlordship of three of them, in the Palghat region.

But let us get to some basics first. Some 10 km away from Alathur is the place called Tarur. How did the Swaroopam or royal family of Palghat get its seat rightly or wrongly connected to this place? Taru, Taravayur, Taravur and Tharoor are synonyms for the Swaroopam that can be seen mentioned in various sources. Looking at the Oriental library Granthas 263 & 266, we see the following - The name of the land was mentioned as Nedumpuraiyur and earlier as Taravayur – or Devalokesharajya in the times of the Cherman Perumal who is so deeply connected to mediaeval Kerala History. It was only much later that the location Tarur which was just one of the edoms intermingled with the old name of the region and the family and was considered a seat of the family (wrongly). The region is even considered to have been part of the Chera kingdom in ancient times and a part of the Perumal’s territory.

The rulers of Palghat it seems originated from the Athavanaad Amsam in Ponnani.  For some obscure reason they traded their original lands with the Azvancheri thampurans who gave them Palghat in return, a very strategic location due to the importance of the Palghat gap among the trade routes to the western ports. They are mentioned in the Rabban plates and at that time, Palghat also included the Talapilly taluk. There are also other rumors that they originated from Madurai but we also note that they were closely related by marriage to the Perumbadappu Swaroopam or the Cochin royals. The family did not really gain any sort of overriding importance in the Malabar events until the 18th century and when they did enter into it, it was to pave the way for the destruction of the old fabric, the ways and the practices of the land.  We will get to all that a little later.

As times went by, the splits in the family occurred owing to the kings relations with a non-Kshatriya woman resulted (read the earlier article). Two of the Kshatritya women from the family marrying Namboothiris went on to start the Vadamalappuram and Thenmalapuram family lines. The resulting families, many hundreds of them were aligned either to the northern or the southern factions. The various resulting Edoms were

Southern faction (Thekke Thavazhi)

Elayachan edom
Vadakke eleyachan edom
Thekke eleyachan edom

Paruvakkal edom
Vadake Paruvakkal edom
Thekke Paruvakkal edom
Akkare Paruvakkal edom

Northern faction (Vadakke Thavazhi)

Cherukottar (Cherukotham) edom

Pulikkel edom
Vadakke Pulikkel edom
Thekke Pulikkel edom
Maruthingal Pulikkel edom
Puthal pulikkel edom

Mel Edom
Malikamel edom
Kolamkulangurmel edom
Kizhakkemel edom
Tatchadmel edom
Vellambalaikkalmel edom
Vadakkmel edom
Valiyamel edom
Chitlanjerimel edom

Poojakkal edom

Konikkal edom
Valiya konikkal edom
Kizhakke konikkal edom
Tharoor konikkal edom
Kavasseri konikkal edom

Nellikkal edom

As is evident, only the Tharoor Konikkal edom maintained the original family name for some unknown reason. By the 19th century the northern branch had 20 families and the south seven. By 1879, the royal family count was roughly 519. They were also called the Shekhari varams or Shekari rajas.

Every Swaroopam maintained the structure and control with their Nair numbers. More the Nairs available for a fight, the more powerful they were. In that old principality, the chieftains exercised control over 8,000 Nair soldiers in the following fashion. Tenmalapuram contributed 3,000, Naduvattom 3,000 and Vadamalapuram with 2,000. You may of course recall the name Naduvattom which is towards the South eastern periphery of Palghat, and this was the area that was to become a bone of contention between the Paghat Raja and the Zamorin of Calicut.

With this background, let us join Francis Hamilton Buchanan who made some of the earliest accounts of Palghat.

I went a long stage to Pali ghat. The country through which I passed is the most beautiful that I have ever seen. It resembles the finest parts of Bengal; but its trees are loftier, and its palms more numerous. In many places the rice grounds are interspersed with high swells, that are crowded with houses, while the view to the north is bounded by naked rocky mountains, and that to the south by the lofty forests of the Travancore hills. The cultivation of the high grounds is much neglected.
Pali-ghat-shery, on the division of Malayala, fell to the lot of Shekhury Raja, of the Kshatriya cast; but as this family invited Hyder into the country, they are considered by all the people of Malabar as having lost cast, and none of the Rajas of Kshatriya descent will admit them into their company.
To a European the succession in this family appears very extraordinary; but it is similar to that which prevails in the families of all the chiefs of Malayala. The males of the Shekhury family are called Achuns, and never marry. The ladies are called Naitears, and live in the houses of their brothers, whose families they manage. They have no husbands; but are not expected to observe celibacy, and may grant their favours to any person of the Kshatriya cast, who is not an Achun. All the male children of these ladies are Achuns, all the females are Naitears, and all are of equal rank according to seniority; but they are divided into two houses, descended from the two sisters of the first Shekhury Raja.

The oldest male of the family is called the Shekhury, or first raja; the second is called Ellea Raja, the third Cavashery Raja, the fourth Talan Tamburan Raja, and the fifth Tariputamura Raja. On the death of the Shekhury, the Ellea Raja succeeds to the highest dignity, each inferior Raja gets a step, and the oldest Achun becomes Tariputamura. There are at present between one and two hundred Achuns, and each of them receives a certain proportion of the fifth of the revenue that has been granted for their support, and which amounts in all to 66,000 Viraraya Fanams a year, but one sixth part of this has been appropriated for the support of the temples. Formerly the whole was given to the head of the family; but, it having been found that he defrauded his juniors, a division was made for each, according to his rank; and every one receives his own share from the collector. (Note that this was written in 1807 and Thomas Warden then was district collector)

Every branch of the family is possessed of private estates, that are called Chericul lands; and several of them have the administration of lands belonging to temples; but in this they are too closely watched by the Namburis, to be able to make any profit. The present Skekhury Raja is a poor looking, stupid old man, and his abode and attendance are the most wretched of any thing that I have seen, belonging to a. person who claimed sovereignty. His principal house, or Coilgum, is called Hatay Toray, and stands about three miles north from the fort.

We note that during the 13th century, the Palakkad royal family had no male heir to succeed to the throne and only two Tampurattis or princesses of the royal blood remained. These princesses therefore cohabited with the chosen two of the Perumpadoppu Swarupam at the Vadakknathan temple at Trichur after some serious praying. Progeny were created and the line continued. The succession of Tarur Swarupam was thus maintained through these alliances. As compensation, the region around Kunisseri became part of Cochin, together with the Nair’s of the region. But as the tale goes on to state, this land was retaken by the Palghat rajas later.During this period the relation between the Raja of Perumpadappu and Tarur Swarupam was maintained in a cordial fashion and in the war between Zamorin of Kozhikode and the Raja of Cochin, we see that the Palakkad rajas sided with the Cochin kings.

KVK Iyer explains that the original family seat and shrine was near the Victoria College location. The formal accession of a new head takes place here and then they proceed to the banks of the Bharatapuzha termed Tirunilakkadavu for standing in state.

One other matter of interest is the battle between the combined forces of Malabar (which included the troops of the Zamorin) against the Vijayanagar forces led by Ramappayyar and Devapayyar at Palghat and I had detailed it separately in an earlier article. During this and after this event many forts of Palghat were destroyed including the old Tarur Kovilakom. The ancient forts at Akathethara were built following this event. Readers must  not confuse these mentions with the massive granite fort you can even now see in Palghat, but they were small mud fortifications at strategic locations. In later days many lakkidi kotta’s or wooden forts were constructed by the Mysore forces.

With this brief introduction, I will now continue with the 18th century situations that prompted the invasion of Naduvattom by the Zamorin and the arrival of Hyder. We will get to that story in greater detail, for there was not much detail mentioned in the popular history books other than the invitation of Hyder by the Kombi Achan of Palghat after the Zamorin invaded Naduvattom. Well, there is more to it than meets the eye!! And so we now traverse down to the year 1756-57.

In 1755-56, after the demise of the raja from the Cherukotha Edam, the raja from the Elayachan edam named Raman Kombi took over. It was during his reign that the Zamorin sent out his forces headed by the Chencheri Namboothiri ( Aiyers accounts mention the Zamorin’s son – the Kuthiravattom Chief as the head of this operation) to take over Naduvattom in 1757. Some geographical knowledge is a must and interestingly this is where my maternal family had settled down. Vadavannur, Palassena, Erimayur, Koduvayur, Manjalur, Kozhal mannam, Pallasena etc…, formed part of the Naduvatton area which the Zamorin forces eventually captured to trigger panic among the Palghat Achans. Aiyar mentions that they came through Pattikad and descended on vadakancheri and Trippalur and detoured to Kollangode. The Kollengode nampi submitted to the Zamorin quickly. The Kuthiravattom Nair then built a fort at Koduvayoor (the present town was formed after this event).

But let us continue with what we see in the Grantha - The Namboothiri was vicious in his execution of the order. He raided the area – comprising the Kavasseri and Pulikkel Edams as well as the Vadakachery Puzhakkal Edam and took them over. Bereft of leadership, the Tenmalapuram 3000 nairs decided to put closure to the situation by paying a reparation fee to the Zamorin amounting to a fifth of the total claim and suing for peace. The Chencheri namboothiri next trained his guns at Palghat and marched to the Yakkara banks, while Ittikombi atchan, nephew of the Elayachan Edam raja prepared for the attack with the Vadamalapuram 2000 nairs. A terrible fight took place where over 5000 were killed and the Chokanatha puram fort was taken over. As a result, the various remaining members in the Palghat Edams fled to Coimbatore and decided to approach the Coimbatore king Shankar raja for assistance. Peace was negotiated in the meantime by the Tiruvalathur Koikkatiri for another fifth of the reparation war expense claim. This amounted to 1/4th viraraya fanam per para of paddy during the harvest.

The Zamorin now paused and instead of moving northwards to Palghat saw a golden opportunity in Cochin where an opportunity presented itself due to other struggles. It appears that the Zamorin was victorious there and succeeded in obtaining large reparations from the Cochin kings in this effort. Not only did the overtures against the Palghat rajas grant him access to the rice lands of Palghat, but also the Kuttanad regions after the success at Cochin.

As it is stated in the grantha, the Pangi Achan (nephew of elayachan edam thampuran), Kelu achan of Pulikkel edam and a few of the important regional heads travelled to Coimbatore to meet the Sankara Raja who gave them known emissaries to accompany them to Srirangam (Mysore – Srirangapatanam) to meet the Dalawa there. From there they were redirected to meet Hyder Ali who was the Faujedar or commander in chief of the infantry at Dindigul, nearer to Palghat. Hyder then deputed his brother-in-law Muquadam Ali with his forces to Palghat. This resulted in a severe war with the Zamorin’s forces in Feb 1758 where the Mysore forces were victorious.  Muqadam Ali’s forces withdrew after collecting their compensation by way of gold melted out of the ornaments worn by the Emoor bhagavathi (the tutelary deity of the Palghat Achans), as rakshabhogam (equivalent of 12,000 old Viraraya fanams). The Zamorin it is said (not in this grantha though, but in British records) apparently sued for peace by promising to pay 12,00,000 fanams as reparation.

After the Mysore forces had left with their booty, the Zamorin’s forces visited Palghat to collect their previously agreed war reparation costs from the Palghat edoms. As negotiations were going (this was in 1760) on at Vaidyanathapuram, some 2,000 people surrounded the area and many of the elders of the Palghat edoms were massacred. Interestingly none of the records identify the perpetrators of the treachery or lay it at the doors of the Zamorin. The rest of the Palghat royals including the women fled to Coimbatore again through the dense forests. Sankara raja provided them asylum and Panki Achan and Kelu Achan went to Mysore to meet Hyder who had by then worked his way to take over the Mysore throne. However in all this the Mysore sultan profited greatly, not only getting reparations from the Palghat Raja, but also a promise from the Zamorin. The Zamorin’s reparation expenses as previously agreed was never met by the Paghat raja.

It is stated in other records that a Zamorin emissary met Devaraja of Mysore in the meantime and agreed to pay a reduced reparation of 3 lakhs instead of the 12 lakhs claimed by Hyder, This was agreed by Devaraja, but he was soon usurped by Hyder who refused to accept Devaraja’s agreements with the Zamorin. It was with this backdrop that Hyder proceeded to Mangalore with 12,000 troops and invaded Kolathunaad and later Calicut with a stated aim of collecting the 12 lakhs from the Zamorin. This quickly degenerated into the suicide of the Zamoirn in 1766 which we detailed earlier.

Following this, the Palghat ruler Kelu Achan was removed from his position and Ittikombi Achan was appointed ruler by Hyder and after an agreement to pay him 4 lakhs per annum. Hyder Ali moved to Coimbatore, displaced the Coimbatore raja and took over his palace. That was what Coimbatore raja got for supporting the Palghat raja. Following this the now famous fort was constructed at Palghat, we mentioned it briefly in another article.

The situation never improved for the Ittikombi achan’s descendants. A number of succession struggles took place, and we see the attempts of Kelu Achan in trying to wrest the power out of the Ittikombi Achan’s hands. More wars took place involving the British at Palghat. Hyder passed on and gave the reins to Tipu, who continued with warring efforts. It seems that when Haider took a stronghold over Palghat later, the Kallekulangara family moved to Kallekulangara. During Tipu’s arrival the dietey was saved in a pond and the family apparently took to the hills. During the British occupation, the diety was reinstalled in the shrine.

By 1790 the victors were the British and the Mysore Sultans gave way to another new order in Malabar and Palghat. By 1792, the Palghat Achan had to bargain with the British to maintain his title and signed a treaty with the EIC where he ended up paying 80,000 per annum to them instead! We see then that by 1794 that titular position was also lost and the Achan became a pensioner with just an annual malikhana. The roughly 1000 year old family thus slowly descended to pensioner staus like most of Malabar’s other royals, after leading lives sandwiched between the Zamorin and the Cochin king. Their choice of treacherous allies ultimately paved the way for the Mysore Sultans victorious march into Malabar.

In the next article we will dwell upon the British attempts at taking strong control over Palghat and study the role of Unni Moosa Moopan.

References

Oriental Manuscripts – Madras Library – D266, 263 – Malayalam transcript by KN Ezhuthachan
Kerala District gazetteers - Palghat – Dr CK Kareem
Malabar Law and custom – Lewis Moore
A journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar Vol 2 – Francis Hamilton Buchanan
History of Kerala – KV Krishna Ayyar

8 comments:

  1. safeer sefi

    Dear Sir,

    I just found this blog and I would like know more about you .

    Thanks
    Safeer

  1. Maddy

    Thanks safeer
    you can email me your questions, you can get the mail id from the profile section

  1. Shikha Varma

    Dear sir..,
    .... the information collected by you is really awesome... and i would like to tell u that am one of the younger generations of royal blood from elayachan edom..though we did lost the titles long ago...the people still accept as achans and netiyars.....the current raja is residing at singapore . Though the traditions have changed a little bit but am proud to say that even today have a very large family who holds the heart and spirit of being a kshatriya ...

  1. Shikha Varma

    it 'll be great if u could allow us to post photos too... as i have a beautiful collection of our edom

  1. Maddy

    Shikha
    Thanks, pls mail me the pictures, you can find my mail id by clicking the profile link, and I can then upload some of them

  1. saran

    https://m.facebook.com/profile.php?id=903349426424981

    Palakkad royals Fb page
    Pls introduce and like the PGE

  1. mahendran varma

    THANKS FOR THE HISTORY OF THE PALGHAT RULERS MADDY.ACTUALLY I AM ONE OF THE DESCENDANT OF ITTIKOMBI ACHAN.

  1. mahendran varma

    Thanks for the history lesson of the great PALGHAT RULERS MADDY.ACTUALLY I am one of the descendants of ITTIKOMBI ACHAN.MY FAMILY OWNS THE KALPATHY TEMPLE IN PALGHAT ITS BEEN WITH US FOR GENERATIONS