Mar 29, 2022

Diego Garcia – Indian connections

Diego Garcia - A remote island, in the middle of nowhere

South of the Maldives, some 1,000 miles below Trivandrum, located at the center of the Indian Ocean, lies the small archipelago comprising the Chagos islands, and among it, the Island cloaked in mystery, Diego Garcia. It is of strategic importance these days and occasionally there is talk about its displaced islanders and the island’s relationship between the US and the British, the US military base there as well as the US long-term lease of the islands. But this is a little article uncovering its medieval history and its relation to India.

Feb 27, 2022

Mangat Achan – The Zamorin’s Commander in Chief

An important dignitary in the Zamorin’s court

Even though most people familiar with the Zamorins know of the Manghatachan, very few know of any details other than some hazy mentions and a few myths. It is still not clear, but drawing from various sources, we can get a general picture. Recall also that while the Zamorin was a titular position provided to the senior-most Thamburan in the various Zamorin lines, the governance was quite decentralized through the council of ministers, as well as the heir apparent, the Eralpad, and others. Though some Zamorins directly led military attacks in the ancient past, the Eralpad and the Munalpad were usually the ones who were at the front lines. Though the Zamorin gave any strategic event his final stamp of approval, he was, during such times, physically based at the Ponnani Kovilakom, another fact which many overlook, assuming that his primary seat was always at Calicut.

Jan 29, 2022

Othenan – The Supreme Warrior of Kadathanad

Tatcholi Othenan – As narrated in the Ballads of the North

The Northern ballads (Vadakkan pattukal) are a series of folk songs sung by working women in the paddy fields, to fend away boredom and drudgery, composed mainly in colloquial North Malabar Malayalam dialects, without complex Sanskrit infusions. Typically, these are songs about the heroes of the Kadathanad region, especially their armed exploits, and the skill shown using the 18 plus combat techniques learned from their Kalaris. In general, it is believed that the Tatcholi ballads were composed during the 16th and 17th centuries (the Puthuram Aromal ballads are believed to date to an earlier, period, perhaps closer to the 12th century). Over time, many of the ballads were lost, with changes in social structure, lifestyles, and cultivational methods. Tatcholi ballads as they were called, remained in the popular sphere, and close to a hundred of them are still extant, so also a few on the Aromal Chekavar.

Jan 10, 2022

The Moothan Community in Kerala

The Moothan, Guptan, Mannadiar and Tharakan communities

The Moothans are a trading or Vaishya community, migrants from the Tamilakam of yore, comprising broadly, the Moothan, Mannadiyars, Guptans, and the Tharakan subgroups. A decade ago, a classmate of mine, Mr Aravindakshan, provided me the gist of a legend connected to the arrival of the Moothans at Cheranadu, after having to depart Cholamandalam, in a huff. It was quite an interesting story, but after I found more details in the copy of an old book, I decided to narrate the details here, for there could be broader interest in this community and their links to the Tamil trading world.

Dec 24, 2021

The Habshis and Siddi communities of India

Africans in India, over the ages

During the medieval period, affluent rulers fighting their many wars provided employment to able-bodied mercenaries, and their kingdoms provided job placement for many slaves. Later on, with the arrival of the Europeans, the slave industry spread globally and many Indian and African slaves were shipped around the world. While the African slave stories have been studied in great detail, the tales of the Africans in India or that of Indian slaves abroad, have not been well-publicized. The African community are called the Siddi’s and as you will soon note, there were quite many of them at one time, with some rising up the ranks, while others floundered as petty slaves or house servants, in wealthy homes. Remnants of that robust community which made India their home for 500- 800 years or more, can still be seen here and there in India, some retaining bits and pieces of their ancient musical and artistic heritage even after assimilation into the Indian society.

Dec 11, 2021

The Kalaris of Malabar

Kalari, Kalari Vidya and Kalari payattu – their origins

Most who chance on this would be wondering if there is more to the Kalari than the historic martial arts form practiced in Malabar and some other related versions in other parts of today’s Kerala. While academicians and practitioners have focused on the practice and the schools in Malabar, many have neglected the free flow of mercenaries between Sri Lanka and Malabar, as well as the Lankan and Tulu connections to the martial art form. In this short essay, we will go over the legendary origins of Kalari in Malabar and cover hitherto neglected links to similar practices which existed in erstwhile Ceylon and Tulunad.

Nov 12, 2021

Arthur Rowland Knapp – An unpopular ICS bureaucrat

The Knappan of Malabar

Knapp is well known in Kerala, not as the person, but more from the connotation 'Knappan' which in colloquial Malayalam slang, means an incompetent man, prone to erroneous or unsuccessful acts, apparently a testament to Knapp’s poor administrative skills. Now how on earth did this person, a knighted civil servant, well decorated and so highly thought of in Britain, later a member of the executive council, get such a reputation? I thought it should be quite interesting to trace out this bloke’s story.

Oct 16, 2021

The Arakkal Swaroopam

 Its Checkered History

In the medieval history of Malabar, there existed but one Muslim kingdom, and that was known as the house of the Arakkals. Legends about the way it came into its being can be read in the Keralolpathi, the Aithihyamala, various travel diaries, as well as the ledgers of the Dutch VOC and the British EIC. They do hold a reader’s attention, and fleeting reports of the power and wealth it possessed at some stages in the past still pop up now and then, in the news media. Let’s take a look are some highlights and the family’s interaction with the many global players who swooped into Malabar to enrich themselves on its spice produce.