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The Zamorin and a Padre (1587-1620)

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And Umara Charare, the convert

While we studied the stories of Kunhali IV, the conversion of the King of Tanur and so on, we came across the fact that the reigning Zamorin during those years had allowed building of churches in Calicut and other parts of Malabar, that he had a good relation with some of the Padres and even that he was somewhat influenced by them, especially so in the case of the capture of Kunhali IV. It is also mentioned that the Portuguese tried hard to ensure that this Zamorin did not get any ideas of alignment with the new entrants in the Malabar trade, the Dutch. Were their work purely missionary of was it a combination of commerce, politics and administration? A study of a couple of works throws much light on these questions and so let’s head to the Calicut during the last decades of the 16th century. As we go on, we will come across some very interesting ministers of Christ, a Zamorin who became more inclined towards the Portuguese, perhaps seeking peace on earth, his nephew who went on to convert to Christianity and as we already saw, a Raja of Tanur who converted. So let’s hasten to that Malabar which had just witnessed much turmoil what with the likes of Furtado and the naval warlord Kunhali IV.

We dealt in detail with the Tanur Raja’s conversion and relations with the Portuguese some months ago and saw that Fr Antonio Gomes in 1545-49 was the catalyst behind it. While the fortunes of the St Thomas Christians and the Portuguese church were in disarray with the Synod of Diamper being enacted, important events were underway in Calicut up north in Malabar.

It was in 1597 that the Zamorin met a Portuguese Padre named Francis Acosta purely by chance.  As the story goes, a Father who had been administering to the soldiers in a Portuguese ship which had been captured by the Kunjali’s paros, was made prisoner and turned over to the Zamorin. As Ferroli explains - The Zamorin, having oftentimes spoken with the captive Father, began to plan an alliance with the Portuguese in order to strengthen his arms with theirs, and having prepared letters of peace to the Viceroy, the Archbishop and the Fathers of the Society, gave them to the Father, whom, of course, he freed from captivity. In the letters he gave faculty to preach the Gospel, he promised that Churches would be built at his own expense, and said that the “Fathers of the Society, who eventually would be sent to him, would be treated with all the consideration which men of such faith deserved.” The Viceroy at Goa then deputed Father Roz and Acosta himself to start evangelical operations at Calicut.

He obviously made a good impression on the Zamorin and influenced him not only in seeking peace with the Portuguese, but also allowed the Portuguese to erect churches. It is also mentioned that his cousin or nephew named Umara Charare Eradi (Kumara Eradi?) was encouraged to convert and accept Christian beliefs….or so it seems, for we shall soon find out.

Roz and Acosta were well received in Calicut and as it appears the Zamorin gave them permission to convert (which even the Cochin Raja had not thus far allowed) - he gave letters to the Fathers signed by his own hand, in which freedom was granted to all to become Christians; those who should do so would not be deprived of the honours they might have, they would be free to testate, to inherit, in short they would have the same rights which Christians enjoy among Christians. He also decreed that - the Churches and houses of the Fathers to be an asylum for all, who, on account of their crimes, fearing the punishment of the law should take shelter therein; nor should anyone, in peace or war give them trouble. He ordered his cousin (the above mentioned Umara Charare Eradi), who was most intimate with him, to learn all these things more accurately; and this man, though a heathen, delighted in them so much as to keep only one wife, to abstain from flesh meat on Fridays, and to laugh at their idols and superstitions. He promised to receive baptism at the first opportunity. Subsequently a peace treaty was signed with the Portuguese at Goa with the supervision of Fr Roz. After this, it was decided that Goa would send Fr Antonio Schipani to Calicut assisting Fr Acosta and Fr Roz would go back to administer his Thomas Christians.

A field was chosen outside the city, near the sea, half a league away from the Calicut palace. On the appointed day, the Zamorin with the Crown Prince, many high officials and numerous soldiers came; and the Portuguese fleet was at anchor near the shore. In order to testify his own and the King’s satisfaction, the chief of the Officials promised that he would put up a set of lamps in the Church of the Fathers, to burn there forever. Then, on the same day, in the same field, a place was chosen to build the Church. The Zamorin first dug up some earth to lay the foundations.

It was following this that plans were hatched to get rid of the troublesome Kunhali IV though we see from these records that the Zamorin was still wary that the Portuguese might turn against him, after exterminating Kunjali. The first foray was unsuccessful and as the Zamorin was ruminating on these matters, it appears his nephew was secretly baptized. Ferroli states - Now Umare Charare had been secretly baptized by Fr. Roz and acted as a link between the Portuguese and the Zamorin.

The Zamorin, Ferroli says, knew that the Archbishop was passing, he sent to him Fr. Roz together with his cousin, by name Umare Charare (alias Erari). The main reason of his coming, however, was that Umare Charare desired to receive confirmation at the hands of the Archbishop. This, however, had to be done in secret. So when, night came the Archbishop, with great joy, took him to a small room, which had been conveniently adorned, and there, in the presence of Fr. Roz, he put on the sacred vestments, and kneeling down, for he wearing the mitre and the room being very low, he could not stand, instructed him about the virtue of the Sacrament which he then conferred on him. The young man shed so many tears, that both the Archbishop and Fr. Roz were much edified to see such devotion and faith.

The Zamorin and the Archbishop proceeded to discuss the next steps against Kunjali following which the church at Calicut was formally sanctioned and Kunjali’s food route was cordoned off. The Zamorin then hastened off to a new Mamankham at Tirunavaya while the Portuguese blockaded Kunhali’s fort. This time he had the padre Roz to his right instead of the Shabandar as was the practice. Anyway the account goes on to explain the capture of Kunhali, that the many a Nair was very unhappy with the events and even threatened the Zamorin (for having sided with the Portuguese) who had to be rescued by Fr Roz and the Portuguese admiral at hand. Eventually Kunhali was captured and it appears the Zamorin was going to help him escape upon which the admiral Furtado got into a verbal altercation with the Zamorin threatening him with dire consequences should he allow it. Soon enough he agreed that Furtado could take Kunhale and 40 other moors as prisoners, to Goa.

The Zamorin’s converted nephew also accompanied them. We now note that the name has changed somewhat to Uniales Carle. The account continues thus - With the fleet had come to Goa Uniales Carle, nephew of the Zamorin, in order to sign the peace with the Viceroy. As we know, he had been baptized by ours and confirmed by the Archbishop. During the war he had given good examples of Christian observance. Once, while walking with one of ours, he had confessed his sins, not to arouse the suspicions of others, for his conversion had been kept secret. While at Goa he was never tired of staying with ours, and was filled with joy at seeing the multitude and fervor of the new Christians of Salsete.

Once he declared he had been much grieved by his being compelled to leave the church during Mass, in order not to betray himself. One day, being in my room with Fr. Roz, he spoke at length of spiritual things and of the way of converting the Malayalees. I gave him a wax Agnus Dei, which he received on his knees, and kissed and promised he would wear it round his neck till his death. In leaving here he got alms for the Cross erected in Malabar even from his Pagan compatriots. The Archbishop gave them his blessing that they might return safe and sound to their country, for of two ships, one was sunk, and the other that was carrying our Calicut Procurator was so tossed about by the waves that the passengers were saved with difficulty.

This father Roz was born in Catalonia in 1557, he entered the Society of Jesus in 1575, went to India in 1583 where he became Professor of Syriac in 1584. He learnt Malayalam and preached in that language. In 1600 he became Latin Bishop of Angamali, in 1608 Archbishop of the diocese, to which the See of Cranganore was added in 1610. He died at Cranganore on 16-2-1624. So much for Francis Roz who had such a tremendous influence on the Zamorin, but much is not known about the Fr Acosta whose chance meeting with the Zamorin perhaps changed the course of Malabar history.

The next Padre who made a great influence on the same Zamorin and who continued his work through the converted nephew was of Italian origin named Jacob Fenicio. He is better known as the author of the multi volume treatise on Hinduism in Malabar - the Livro Da Seita Dos Indios Orientais.

Father Jacobo (or Jacome) Fenicio (or Finicio) was born at Capua in Italy about 1558. In 1580 he entered the Society and in 1583 set sail for India. Arriving in 1584, he was stationed at Cochin, was made vicar of St. Andrew in Porca in 1587 and kept in that position in the years 1594-1604 and 1619. In the year 1600 he went to the court at Calicut and must have spent some years there; for he is reported to have stayed there in the years 1605-06 and 1608-09. In the meantime he founded the missionary station at Tanur (1606) and afterwards also other missions on the Malabar Coast. He died at Cochin in 1632, aged about 75. He, we are told, used to preach in Malayalam.

Charpentier adds - Fenicio certainly was a clever and intrepid worker in a thorny and dangerous field of mission; and he had made himself well merited of his Society and his converts when at a high old age lie laid his head to rest in the land where he had spent nearly fifty years in incessant labors…

These events must be referred to the year 1600 or to the years immediately following. Du Jarric goes on to tell how Fenicio won converts amongst persons of high standing because of his knowledge of astronomy, and how he refuted the Brahmins in the presence of the Zamorin and the Rajah of Cranganore. Fenicio also seems to have indulged in a lot of political activity, the result of which was that the Zamorin became reconciled to the Portuguese. Du Jarric also mentions the travels of Fenicio to Parur in order to visit the Christians of St Thomas and to the Nilgiris in order to inspect the Christian churches — this last tour being undertaken on the requests of the Bishop of Angamale.

Let us see what Fenicio was upto, in Calicut during those years (1605-1607) a place he calls the citadel of Muslim superstition and Hindu idolatry. His impressions are also clear from a few letters he sent in 1605 and later. He was joined in his efforts by Diogo Goncalves (also a spy of sorts) who wrote the still untranslated ‘Historia do malavar’. Fenicio did not have a good start for an event occurred where a Muslim ship was plundered by the Portuguese and the Moors and Moplahs of Calicut went up in arms, threatening to decimate the Portuguese there. Fenicio managed to pacify them and brokered peace somehow. He was equally on good terms with the Viceroy at Goa, The Zamorin and the Raja of Cranganore.

Malabar map extract - Paulinus
A record from 1610 mentions - “In Calicut”—the letter continues “there are two Fathers, (I am not still very sure if the second was Acosta or Hilaire) one of whom is Fr. Fenicio, who works much both in preaching the Gospel (though very few embrace it), and in preserving peace. On the occasion of a commotion stirred up by the Gentiles against the Christians, the Zamorin protected us and punished them. It also records the Zamorin to be very much in support of them, making it clear to all that he supports them fully. He now allows them to build a church in Ponnani. But it was heavy going when it came to missionary work, they did not have much success even though Fenicio was a very active preacher who took to preaching in public places and conducting debates with Brahmin scholars, often. Fenicio also found it difficult to balance his favors between the Cochin Raja a historic friend of the Portuguese and the Zamorin a new ally, but more powerful. Anyway, he worked off and on in Calicut between 1601 and 1619 and was eventually moved out around 1613 for reasons still not quite clear.

While Fenicio and the Zamorin shared good vibes and much of the reporting above is one sided and perhaps written so and slanted heavily towards the evangelical side (to obtain good favors from Goa), Ferroli explains it aptly. He says - Some have described Fenicio’s Mission in Calicut as mainly political. The Zamorin, however, though genuinely attached to Fr. Fenicio, shaped his policy as circumstances demanded, and allowed himself to be guided by one supreme motive: self-interest.

The very same Zamorin, proving this, signed a treaty with the British Keeling (we studied this earlier) in 1615 where he states his enmity with the Portuguese and proposes alliance with the British to reconquer Cranganore and Cochin. Mullberger who studied these missions wrote - “The Mission was in this respect a failure but it was of great gain to the Portuguese from a political point of view. The Jesuits were so to say the Charges d’Affaires at the court”. Now that makes me feel that Kumaran Eradi could even have been a spy sent to get information about the Portuguese.

So what exactly did Fenicio do and record? His Livro da Seita provides much detail and conveyed the religious propensity of the Hindus for the first time to the European. We see that he worked initially with Fr Theophilio and their main task it looks like, due to the low interest in conversions, was to keep the Zamorin at bay. Fenicio could be found often at the public square (near Mananchira??) with a bunch of bewildered bystanders. He does collaborate with a learned Brahmin along the way, listening, trying to understand and recording the Hindu way of life. Meanwhile the Zamorin’s nephew it seems, is trying to have the queen mother and another son of hers converted and Fenicio writes.

Our Erari told us also that the Queen and one of her sons, twelve years of age, have advanced so far in the understanding of the things of our holy Faith that they manifest a desire of becoming Christians, but as this is an affair of great moment and risk, and is not possible to speak to the Queen but in the presence of the Brahmins, it cannot be settled easily; but the same Lord Who gave them this desire will also provide the means.” Perhaps it came after Fenicio exorcised a devil away from a man possessed with one, using the cross and the gospel.

Fenicio continues - Our Erari and a nephew of the Brahmin Lagna who were then present there related the fact to the Queen and the prince, who, astonished at it, asked how it was that the Father had cast the devil out of the body of that man. The Erari answered that he had done so by making the sign of the Cross on the forehead of the possessed. Thereupon the prince’s began to make the sign of the Cross themselves. Then there was his expedition to the Nilgiris and the meeting with the Todas which CHF had covered earlier.

In the many letters we find that this Zamorin is an interesting person. His reactions when Fenicio tried to justify various things Christian is interesting to say the least. One such discussion ends thus - “the Father wishes now to attack the (Hindu) gods”. Then turning to Fenicio he said: “But don’t you say that the (Christian, word of) God died crucified?”  Finally a Mohamedan old man, quite shrewd and cunning chimed in: "‘Why, Father,” he said, “do you tire yourself? It is already six months that you are turning the same stone; and to what purpose?” It is also recorded that he spent most of the time with the Zamorin, “endeavoring to promote the cause of Religion and to maintain peace with Portugal” which to me reads that he was actually a political emissary of sorts. Fenicio also intervened to broker peace between the Cranganore Raj and the Zamorin in a 1611 conflict.

During 1615-17 another war raged between the Zamorin and the Cochin Raja, and Fenicio was still at Calicut, but he is not mentioned any more after 1619. When Delle Valle visited Calicut in 1623, there were no fathers at Calicut and missionary activity gradually tapered off with the arrival of a new Zamorin after the old Zamorin who lent his ear often to the friars, passed away. By 1619, the peace with the Portuguese broke down and the fathers left Calicut, leaving behind just a vineyard at Calicut. The new Zamorin suspicious of the fathers and perhaps their spying, apparently was involved with the pillaging of a Church in Angamali. Eventually, a new period of peace commenced in 1635 and the church of Calicut was rebuilt.

Another event during a visit by Fr Roz to Bemanate (??) and Palur is significant. The inhabitants of Palur had decided to give the Bishop a grand reception. A Nair, prompted by a Moor, cried out that such reception could only be granted to a king. The Zamorin having heard of this report, was very angry, and gave order to put to death the Nair and the Moor, with their wives and children. The Nair being in a place of safety, the Zamorin had the house of the Moor razed to the ground, and sent his nephew and another principal man, to the Bishop as far as Enamaque, to apologise and offer him a Nair as a slave, with these very words: ‘The Zamorin offers you this Nair as a slave in satisfaction for certain offending words uttered by a Nair. Had the offense been greater, it is myself, his own nephew, whom he would have offered, with the Mangate Achen, the highest personage of his Kingdom’.

Anyway it appears that Fr Roz decided to concentrate on Cochin after the old Zamorin passed away, persuaded so by the Rajah of Cochin, who alluded that he and he alone was a true and lifelong friend of the Portuguese.

Starting in 1603 Fenicio worked with cataloging and understandings the intricacies of the Hindu religion. He mentions - “This winter (meaning probably the rainy season) I have occupied myself with studying the religion of the Malabars with a Hindu who has every day visited my house; and I have already written some two books of paper about the creation of the world, about their gods, and their children, three boys and a girl. Truly they are very fine fellows; one has the head and face and feet of an elephant, another has six faces and twelve hands, the third is an ape, and the lady is as black as coal and has eight faces and sixteen hands. I have written how many times one of their gods came down to earth, sometimes in the shape of fish, sometimes in that of a tortoise, or a bird, a boar, a man-lion, a woman, etc.; and I have written of the idols, the devils, the transmigration of the souls, the heavens, the earth, the oceans, the hells, the paradise, their ceremonies, omens, fasts, etc. And I am very pleased to know it, because it will serve me very well in refuting these Hindus.” That incidentally is the Livro da Seita Dos Indios Orientais, a work (8 books) which when looked at from the period it was composed, by one totally alien to this religion and concept, somewhat erotic and titillating at times, and largely superficial.

There are interspersed observations for example - This year, the Zamorin of Calicut killed with his own hand a brother-in-law of his with two slashes, for appearing in a drunken state before him. ''A prince of the royal family of Cochin used to go about in disguise, killing Nairs found drunk''. On Onam day when Maveli comes to Malabar, the feast should have five curries. And on betel leaf chewing - Arjuna happened to chew the betel-leaf when he was in heaven for a time, and enjoyed it so much that he stole a branch and showed it to Krishna who, in his turn finding that he had never eaten anything so tasteful in his life, planted it on earth. And the Pandavas - After remaining some time in Paradise and not being satisfied, Dharmaputra said. "This does not suffice for me, I will be born again in Kaliyuga; and he was born as Ceraman Perumal Emperor of Malabar. Bhima was born as Kulasekhara Perumal; Nakula as Chola Perumal and Sahadeva as Pandi Perumal. All of them lived lives of Dharma, died and reached Paradise''. No mention of Arjuna though, it appears he stayed away from Malabar! He was also aware of the works of Pakkanar and used them in his arguments.

But more on this topic, another day.

In conclusion we see that the period 1600-1619 witnessed the stay of Fenicio and his cohorts at Calicut and witnessed their attempts at creating a more permanent relationship with the Zamorin, who by all accounts tolerated them, as a good host and made sure their stay was peaceful. Regrettably for Fenicio it amounted to nothing by way of missionary success, but then again as a Portuguese emissary, he maintained a regular flow of information to his political principals at Goa on the ground situation, during a critical phase. That must have been the real purpose. Fenicio moved away as the winds changed and passed away somewhere around Cochin in 1632.

Of the converted nephew Umara Cherare or Kumara Eradi, nothing more is known.

Jesuits in Malabar V1 – Ferroli SJ
Livro Da Seita Dos Indios Orientais: Brit. Mus. Ms. Sloane 1820 of Fr Jacobo Fenicio SJ - Chapentier, Jarl
Missionary Topics – Innes Zupanov
An old Portuguese work on Kerala Beliefs – LV Ramaswami Iyer

My thanks to Sumathi Ramaswamy (Professor of History - Duke University, President of American Institute of Indian Studies), who during an evening’s conversation some years ago, told me about the relationship between Fenicio and this Zamorin and shared some research notes. She authored an interesting book ‘Terrestrial Lessons: The Conquest of the World as Globe’ where Fenicio’s trip to Malabar is briefly covered. 

Travancore lines – a Reality Check

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The Nedumkotta fortifications - A discussion

The Travancore lines were according to some historians, first planned by Marthanda Varma duly assisted by his general De Lannoy and built by the Travancore troops in order to protect Travancore and Cochin from the Zamorin’s attacks. Others mention that it was built by the succeeding Dharmaraja for the same purpose, with De Lannoy’s supervision and that they were further strengthened by Travancore to prevent any potential incursions by Hyder and later, by Tipu Sultan. It became a bone of contention between the Mysore Sultans and Travancore as well as the European powers, the Dutch and the English. I had also written about the battle which took place later, but the question in front of us is, who actually built these walls or lines? Was it built from scratch by De Lannoy, as reported by Travancore historians such as Nagam Aiya, Velu Pillai, Ulloor and many others? Or was history fudged a wee bit?

I certainly believed it was built from scratch by the Travancore troops, until I read a detailed account by eminent Newspaper editor and writer VT Induchudan. That source was what made me ponder over the matter. So let’s proceed to verify if Marthanda Varma, Dharma Raja and De Lannoy were rightly credited with the building of the Northern fortifications i.e. the so termed ‘impregnable’ Travancore Lines (Nedumkotta).

You know, most people are under the impression that the Japanese were forced to surrender, after the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It suited the US stance and curiously the Japanese stance even though the reality was that the surrender was forced when the Japanese noted that they had lost an ally Russia, once and for all, and were isolated. Everybody accepted the A bomb theory and the matter rested, save for the nice report published in 2013 refuting this. Similar is the case of the Travancore lines, for it briefly served its purposes of both the Mysore Sultans and a rising Travancore.

So what did conventional wisdom state? In 1760 The Zamorin invaded Cochin and overran Karurpada near Shornur. The Paliyath Achan was sent to Travancore by the Cochin Raja to seek support after which a treaty was signed in 1761 between Cochin and Travancore. Travancore troops were now sent to aid Cochin and the first thing they undertook was the construction of the famous Travancore lines, stretching in an almost straight line from the shore of the backwaters opposite the town of Kodungallur to Pushpagiri at the edge of the Western Ghauts. They consisted of an imposing earthen rampart, not very high, extending over thirty miles in length from Palliport along a strip of land which had been ceded by the Cochin Rajah. Just flanking their western extremity were the Dutch forts of Cranganore and Ayacotta. The lines were fronted by a ditch on the north. Flanking towers were placed at intervals, and a fort was constructed at the western extremity. The construction of the fortifications was entrusted to the Dalawa and General De Lannoy.  

The lines resisted further advance of the Zamorin's troops. In 1762 the Travancoreans under the command of General De Lannoy formed into three divisions and attacked the Zamorin's garrisons at Cranganore, Parur, and Verapoly, with their right flank protected by their fortifications. The Zamorin was defeated in a short time, and his troops were completely driven back from Cochin territory. This event made Travancore according to Logan "master of the whole country from Cranganore to Cape Comorin, a small isolated portion of territory lying round the Cochin Raja's Palace at Tripunittura on the east of the backwater, and another portion to the north and south of Cochin on the west of it, being all that was left to the Cochin Raja of his dominions to the south of the Travancore lines"

Later events took place when the Mysore Sultans were ravaging Malabar and were expected to continue their incursions down south, alarming the Travancore Raja. Cochin quickly signed a treaty with Tipu and became his vassal. Travancore decided to fortify the so called Travancore lines, extend it and went on to purchase two forts from the Dutch, the very actions which infuriated the Mysore Sultans. I had written about the events which followed, in this linked article. 

In 1758, Marthanda Varma died; his successor was his nephew Rama Varma, whose principal councilor was de Lannoy. Meanwhile, the Zamorin of Calicut had also died and Travancore had concluded a peace treaty with them. After the peace treaty, de Lannoy was commissioned to build a permanent defense line to guard against all possible future invasions from Calicut. It was called the Nedumkotta or the Travancore lines and was finished in 1775.

An unbiased survey report on the fortifications comes from Connor’s and Ward’s survey of 1820 and I will publish it here so that it is useful to researchers in future, rather than depending on various fanciful descriptions.

The Military frontier of Travancore may be considered as marked by the fortified lines passing through the Southern part of the Codachayree (Kodasseri) District, the space they occupy having been purchased by that state for the purpose of their erection. It is not easy now to say what motives dictated the choice, for an inspection of their position and the ground in its immediate vicinity will not solve the difficulty. The lines occupying for the greater part the crests of a series of slopes comparatively open and not remarkable for either elevation or steepness. Commencing at Yellunjayree (Elavancheri), East of which the Hills (frequently precipitous always high and woody) are supposed to afford a sufficient defense, they run in an irregular course, their sinuosity arising from the necessity of conforming to the ground over which they pass, though the wall alike pursues its course over eminence and Valley for the wide extent of twenty-four Miles, terminating at Jacotay, a name sometimes given to the whole work, to which however the designation of Wettycotay more properly belongs, independent of its extreme length which would require an army to defend, the weakness of its profile and inequality of its construction is such as to offer no barrier that could prevent or scarcely retard invasion. The Fortification consists of a rather strong embankment and Parapet of Earth, the whole height not measuring on the average (for the elevation is not always the same) above fifteen feet at most ; the Ditch may generally be about half that depth, nor does its breadth exceed more than two or three feet at the utmost beyond that measurement; the berm has considerable breadth and on it was originally planted an Abbatis or Bamboo hedge, which preserved with care has flourished with great luxuriance, in some places nearly filling the Ditch, in others spreading beyond its counterscarp. A fine Avenue, having a broad and level road between it and the Rampart, follows on the inside the whole course of those Lines which its lofty exuberance now partly overshadows; the Bastion and numerous small works, amounting in all to Forty-two, that are seen at irregular intervals along this Fortification, differ not in materials from its other parts, the former generally are little more than mere protuberances of an oblong form, the latter closed behind (all other parts are open) are occasionally somewhat more elevated than the Walls, but do not generally possess much more intrinsic strength; the whole extent does not appear to have been constructed with equal care, particularly from Krishnacotta (Kodungaloor), Westward, where the embankment is now with difficulty to be traced, nor does it ever appear to have had the same elevation as the more Eastern share, arising perhaps from the belief that the River afforded some protection. The effects of time are visible on the works, which appear to have been demolished in a few places and that partially, during the period of the invasion. They are, particularly towards the Eastward, covered with Forest of a very large growth, and the mound is then seen consider ably rounded off, in the more central space (indeed the symptoms of decay are perhaps confined to the extremities) they have preserved their Ancient form and are still very perfect, but almost everywhere overrun with a thick Vegetation of Shrubby plants and Brambles. It has not been found easy to learn with certainty the point at which Tippoo in his attempt to carry those lines was foiled, there must always have been abundant of assailable places, but it is probable his Engineers did not make the most judicious choice, his defeat however would bespeak the bad arrangement of the attack or the vigor of the defense rather than the strength of the Fortification opposed to him, (which though an immense, almost stupendous, certainly useless work) presenting no difficulties the most ordinary enterprise would not easily surmount. The idea of thus fortifying a large extent of frontier is in itself preposterous, and it is only to be regretted that the immense expense of treasure and labor wasted in the futile attempt had not been more beneficially employed.

The 1800 Faden Rennell Map provides good detail of the Travancore lines, as seen below

Now that accepted descriptions and theories of origin have been laid out, let us peruse Induchudan’s original but extremely complex and rambling thought process, related to this topic. In fact he starts out with a clear focus, but loses it midway after having come to a conclusion and later goes on into the stories of Marthanda Varma’s reign, before finally getting back to a continuing hypothesis about its antiquity. One thing needs to be mentioned, Induchudan asks incisive questions to researchers who missed many clear pointer and demolishes their claims that De lannoy and Marthanda Varma had anything to do with these lines. But let me not spoil the fun and get to it, step by step. In this process, I have also referred to Valath’s topographical studies on Trichur and Nedumkotta (which is actually a translation of sort of Cochins chief archeologist P Anujan Achan’s survey in 1925-26, walking for 5 days on foot, surveying the bastion and recording his views).

According to the survey report, the lines originated at one time at Azhikode, connecting upto Kottamukku in Kodungallur, all now submerged (that itself gives you a clue about its antiquity!). From there it goes in a slight zig zag formation until broken by the Chalakkudi River, continuing on Northeast to foot of the Anamali hills. A wide trench (16’ wide and 20’ deep) with a bamboo hedge existed to the North of the mud wall (the wall was 30’ wide) and every 3-4 furlongs, resting places were constructed for troops. Armories were also spread out regularly, so also wells for drinking water. Spaced every 1 ½ mile were citadels or vattakottas. Sixty camping places were spread through the length for troops. The Eastern end was at Konur Kotta vathil, near Chalakkudi. The Western end was at Krishnan Kotta or Icharaparappu. What the English called Travancore lines was termed Nedum Kotta (long fort) by the people of the region. It was also known as Jayakotta.

The first pertinent question was how De Lannoy could have built such a crude and rudimentary structure, with mud, bamboo and so on when walls and fortifications dating back to 16th century Portuguese work around Cochin were done with a more modern approach, in stone. In fact Lannoy had just completed upgrading the mud fort at Udayagiri to one in stone. His work at the Southern Travancore lines at Arumboly is described by Ward thus - the famous line of fortification called the Travancore lines is quite demolished, but from its remains it appears to be on the European plan and was strongly built with stone and lime…

Secondly Dutch VOC engineers such as Von Krause and Cochin men were also supposedly involved in later extension works, around 1778.  Cochin’s involvement and support in this matter looks suspect as it had already become the vassal of Haider by then. Then again, the wall would not have helped Cochin’s defense in any way as it cut through her territory. Attacks from either the south or the North would have resulted in capitulation for Cochin, so it was not at any time, benefiting Cochin.

Thirdly, the most pertinent question - why would Travancore build its lines outside its border, when it was built? According to later studies, the Lines were north of the Travancore possessions which was a strip of land (Mukundapuram) in the middle of Cochin’s possessions. In reality the lines lay in Cochin, during the 18th century. So the simple question is why somebody would spend a fortune building a fortification in territory belonging to a third party, who was also a vassal of his enemy? One answer to this question could be that this was the shortest span for a fortification between the hills and the sea, looking at the map. So I believe it was just strategically located, with permission from Cochin, by way of grant of the villages in which it was situated then, to Travancore, the apparent builders.

According to Velu Pillai, the whole concept of building a wall came from Marthanda Varma. But according to Mark Lannoy - In 1940, Velu Pillai openly doubted in the Travancore State Manual whether De Lannoy and other Europeans had played a major role in the construction of fortifications and reorganisation of the army. He pointed out that before De Lannoy's arrival many battles were already won by Martanda Varma. Besides, Velu Pillai argued that the building of fortresses was not indicated on De Lannoy's tombstone.

Now MV’s involvement is improbable since MV was always beset with debt after debt, borrowing money from financiers (Balakrishna Das, Kasinatha Thakathar and Mathu Tharakan) to clear arrears. It is also well known that he even delayed payments to his soldiers. He had additional issues having to find money to pay off Chanda Saheb, for which had to borrow from the British. Later, he had to borrow money to buy the VOC forts on an instalment and barter basis. All said, there was no way he could have built the wall from scratch, Travancore never had sufficient funds to build a new wall.

In addition to the above, Travancore state orders show that as early as 1757, MV had sanctioned an amount of 15,432 panams for clearing wild growth around the Nedum Kotta signifying that MV saw some purpose in putting an old wall covered by vegetation to defensive use. He also authorized the employment of temporary labor to plant thorny bushes near the wall. So it is clear that the wall was not first built after the Zamorin’s attack of 1761, or in 1775, but well before that. Here again history shows us that MV (1729-1758) was busy running North and South fighting wars and tightening his reign. During that period no Travancore king had sufficient purpose for spending time and money to build such a long wall, nor did they have any enemies in the North. The Zamorin’s enmity was only with Cochin, never Venad or Desinganad.

Another clue can be obtained from the correspondence between Tipu and Dharma Raja in 1789. Tipu wrote to Dharma Raja – “After I possessed the Calicut country, you erected the lines on part of the Cochin country. This conduct is not proper, you should erase the lines”. Dharma Raja replied “You say I have erected lines on a part of the Cochin country and that the Raja of Cochin has been your tributary fifty or sixty years and you desire me to demolish the lines which are in the Cochin country. That part of the country where on the lines are erected, was given to me for that purpose before the Cochin Raja ever paid tribute to you (i.e. before 1766). I assisted the Cochin Raja many years ago with troops, who was at war with the Zamorin by which he was driven out of the country which the Zamorin had invaded and in return for this assistance he gave me that part of the country and other portions of land, which I occupy. These lines have been erected 25 years, no demand all that time was ever made for that part of the country; you know I possessed it and had lines erected on it, when I was included in the Treaty of peace which the Honorable English Company made with you. If I had not a right to it, why did not you then demand it?”

That got me thinking a bit further, imagine the work involved in making a 40’ high wall, 30 feet wide extending 30 miles (or for that matter a narrower wall per BS ward’s description). It would take many thousand men, and many years of work. Neither the English, nor the Dutch, nor the Cochin and Travancore scribes have recorded this humongous effort in building it. So it has always been there from ancient times, but was in a state of disrepair.

What if parts of this wall existed for many centuries before the advent of the Perumbadappu Swaroopam, the Portuguese and the Dutch? What if it was a fortification to protect the ancient Kondungallur kingdom? This potential hypothesis by Induchudan is advanced on the basis that the eastern extremity had a fort and locale called Konur Kottavathil, which means the entrance to a kingdom. The only kingdom which it affords an entrance to is the old Kodungallur kingdom, pre 12th century where the Sangam Cheras ruled with Vanji as its capital. The wall was perhaps made to protect the Cheras from southerly attacks, by the Pandyans coming in through the Kottayam gap. To strengthen this argument further let us now look at the eastern extremity, where the Krishnan Kotta or Icharaparappu stood. While most of the temples there were Saivite, three Vaishnavite temples were at that time present in this locale and so the fort may have got its name from Krishna, a deity in those very temples.

There is one flaw in this argument though. A number of survey accounts and maps were published before 1760, but not one of them mention or show the Travancore lines. Perhaps it is so since the wall itself was not apparent what with the dense vegetation and jungles of the area till MV or Dharama raja cleaned it all up. Nevertheless, Dharma Raja’s account and Tipu’s comments could mean an extension of the wall westwards towards Vyipin in the easternmost territories of Parur & Alangad and that the Eastern parts existed previously. In conclusion the Travancore rajas, especially Dharma Raja could have worked to extend (some sources do clearly use the word extend and not build) and strengthen the fortifications, anticipating an attack from the Mysore Sultans after the Zamorin families fled to Travancore.

The extensions could have been carried out in 1764 or thereabouts. VV Valath opines that the Cochin and Travancore kings seeing a potential enemy in the Mysore sultans commenced the work as a joint operation, after 1761. Even this would not jell easily with reality. The Palghat king Kombi Achan, a vassal of Cochin was the person who first invited Hyder to support him against the Zamorin. The Travancore king MV at around the same time also wanted mercenary support from Haider, but later turned it down (infuriating Hyder). In 1766 Cochin became a vassal of Tipu, after Malabar had succumbed.

As we have discussed already, Tipu was furious that the influential families of Malabar had escaped him and fled with their immense fortunes which he could not lay his hands on. Dharma Raja was closely associated with the Zamroin’s family in asylum and knew what they had faced in Malabar. During the extensions, he did his best in clearing the bushes, laying a ditch in front of the lines and some more, but may not have built what Tipu called ‘the contemptible wall’. Though the expenses could have been huge and we still cannot find an accounting for such a massive work, let us assume that Dharma raja did only the essential upgrades. Anyway, so much for the origins.

The first signs of Tipu’s intent to attack Travancore was seen in March 1788 when Dharma Raja reported to the English that Tipu’s people were clearing the forests at Angamali, Malayattur and Mankara so that a large army could march down south. The English warned Travancore not to give any reason to Tipu for a quarrel. By April 1788 Tipu’s forces were camped at Kunnamkulam, Palghat & Chavakkad. Tipu then sent his emissaries to Travancore with words of friendship and a prospective alliance. Dharmaraja rebuffed them. Tipu countered by stating clearly that he would not accept the fact that his enemies were provided asylum by Dharma Raja. Dharma Raja replied that he had indeed provided asylum and that many of the asylees were his relatives.

When Tipu saw that the wall was being readied up by Travancore to defend themselves, that too a wall within what he knew was his vassal’s territory, he was livid and was determined to demolish it. Tipu could have attacked the newly acquired Travancore forts at Kodungallur if he wanted, just like Hyder had taken Chetuwa and entered Cochin. He certainly had the might and the cannons, but that would have riled up the British with whom the Travancoreans had signed a treaty. Travancore intelligence reported that Tipu’s plan was to attack not only the lines at two places, but also at Kodungallur.

Note here that for a cavalry, foot soldiers, cannons, rocket launchers and elephants, you need firm land for easy advance. We do know that Tipu moved with large numbers of soldiers and equipment. They started out from Easterly Coimbatore. To climb and come through the ghauts, circle round to Crangannur, crossing two rivers and move uphill to the eastern corner of the lines, after facing onslaughts from Dutch forts etc, was definitely not a good idea. So Tipu decided to first attack the nearest outpost (while coming in from Coimbatore) on the wall, the Konur Kottavathil, and bring it down. Though I had covered Tipu’s initial attack or what we called Tipu’s waterloo when he chose to attack on Dec 29th 1789, we did not quite look at the complete details. I will get to it in a later article.

Whatever happened to this Nedumkotta? Did it help Travancore or Cochin? Was it a strategically sound investment? How did Tipu breach it?  I will detail it in the next article. For now note that it was indeed breached with relative ease by Tipu during various attacks in 1790 and was later demolished by the British. As time went by it mostly vanished with the ravages of weather and during various construction phases resulting from burgeoning development in the region. Even though it was a protected monument, not much can be seen today. What little remains is well reconstructed by Sasi Kadukkapilly in the linked video which provides you much appreciated details and his impression of the Nedumkotta as superimposed on Google maps.

The Golden temple – V T Induchudan
Geographical and Statistical Memoir of the Survey of Travancore and Cochin states - BS ward, PE Connor
Keralathile Sthalacharitrangal – Trissur, VV Valath
The Cochin state manual
The Malabar Manual - Logan
A history of Kerala – KM Panikkar
Kerala under Haider & Tipu Sultan – CK Kareem
Rama Varma of Travancore – Dr B Shobanan
The Kulsekhara Perumals of Travancore - Mark De lannoy

My sincere thanks to Einstein Valath for helping me with the pages from Valath’s book and Erik Odegard of Leiden University for translation assistance of Angelbeek’s report. I will cover the latter when writing about the attack, in more detail and after receiving some additional material from the British archives. Deepti Murali has covered the topic of the attack as recorded by Knox (the source links in that article are erroneous) can be seen at this linked article. Most of all thanks to the efforts of Sasi Kadukkapilly in making a video survey of what remains of this interesting fortification. It is an invaluable effort.