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Hari Singh, Haider Ali and the Zamorin

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A Punjabi adventurer and Calicut 1756-58

It is certainly a point of interest to note that a Punjabi adventurer in the employment of Devarajaiya the ruler of Mysore had something substantial to do with the eventual fall of Calicut in 1766. Not may are aware of this sub plot in the advance of Haider towards Malabar and how Haider usurped the Mysore throne. Let’s take a look.

The Mysore kingdom was ruled by the descendants of Yaduraya Raja after Wodeyar’s death in 1617 and until Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar came to the throne in 1704 (there were four rulers in between), none could beget legal heirs. The sole exception to the curse was Chikka Devaraja's deaf and mute son Kantheerava Narasaraja Wodeyar II, also known as Mookarasu. He was succeeded by his 12 year old son Dodda Krishna Raja Wodeyar, who ruled from 1714 to 1732 and with him Yaduraya’s direct lineage came to an end. The Raja's lack of interest in state affairs, led to the ascent of two Dalavoys (Dalawa), or ministers, Devaraja, the army chief, and his cousin, Nanjaraja, who was both the revenue minister and the privy councilor, to wield all authority in the kingdom.

Chamaraja Wodeyar VII, one such titular king reigned for two years until he was imprisoned in 1734 after falling afoul of the brothers and for trying to create a new honest government. He was followed by the 4 year old Chikka (Immadi) Krishnaraja Wodeyar II who continued to rule under the Dalavoys, until 1766 after which one Nanjaraja Wodeyar took over as the ruler.

But it was in 1766, that a lot of things changed. The Dalvoys were replaced by Haider and thereafter, his expansionist overtures led to the death of the Zamorin in the same year, when Malabar succumbed making Haider pretty much the defacto ruler of Mysore and Malabar. The acts played by the various parties and what led to the battles in Malabar present great drama and one that most historians writing about the Mysore Sultans in Malabar did not really cover. I will try to make some amends. The rivalry between two military adventurers, Haider Ali and Hari Singh culminated in Haider’s march into Malabar and hastened the decline, if not the end of the 400+ year reign of the Zamorins of Calicut.

Hari Singh or Herri Sing was certainly an interesting character, and we have to bring him to the fore slowly after studying the situation created by the two cousins, Devaraja and Najaraja. The kings brought in by the cousins with the support of queen mother Devajammanni, were from parallel branches of the old Wodeyar royal family and pretty soon, Nanjaraj the cousin died only to be replaced by Devaraj’s direct brother Karachuri Nanjaraj as the Sarvadhikari. The younger brother proved to be a nuisance and replaced the retinue of advisors and servants with his own, forming a separate power structure, in direct confrontation with his elder brother Devaraj. Things continued on without much issue until 1746, when one Nasir Jung from Deccan attacked Mysore seizing an opportunity as Nagaraj and the Mysore army were away in Coimbatore subduing the Polygar of Dharmapatanam. Devaraj who was quite old could not hold off the new attacker, sought peace by agreeing to pay a tribute. Nanjaraj after coming back took over as Dalavoy. 

It was during this period that Haider Ali commenced his meteoric rise to fame, projecting his command abilities during the lengthy siege of Trichy by Nagaraj and his troops (a long story in itself involving the French, English troops and the Mahratas). Nevertheless, the Mysore kingdom under the old Dalavoy presented an easy conquest once again to the Deccan Subedar’s as we had seen previously and faced renewed pressure from the Mahratta’s in the North. Large tributes were exacted by them to stay away and the Mysore government was weighted down with first of all huge expenses from the disastrous foray in Trichy, but also the Deccan tribute debts (56 lakhs). There were only two persons who could rescue Mysore, namely Hari Singh or Haider Ali.

Haider’s entry into all this is interesting, but not surprising as his family were one comprised of mercenaries. From Haidernama, we note that his family hailed from some part of Arabia and his father Fatheh Ali ended up in Kolar and moved on to Gummanahalli serving one Diler Khan, but died in a battle, leaving his sons indebted to the tune of 10,000 varahas, to the Governor of Sira. Haider and his brother Shahbaz finally found support from Dalavoy Devaraja at Sreerangapatanam and managed to pay off the debt. During the siege of Devanahalli in 1746, he managed to impress Nanjaraj and was made the commander of 50 horse and 200 foot soldiers. To rise further up, a large financial base was needed and it was during a battle at Ginjee during 1751 that Haider enriched himself with a large haul of Akbar-shahi gold mohurs, 500 guns and 300 horses. The Trichy affair which followed did not go well for Nanjaraj, but Haider rose up to become a Bahadur and commanded his own army of 2,000 horse, 4,000 armed peons, and 4,000 infantry forces, as well as 4-6 cannons.

As we saw, Mysore was in doldrums, indebted heavily and thus its rulers decided to usurp monies from other distant lands. It was under these circumstances that Haider was dispatched to Dindigul, to fight and conquer the Polygars - Amminayaka, Appinayaka and other Polygars of Palani, Virupaksha & Mille-Mirangi. Historians such as Wilkes comment that he deceived these Polygars and amassed wealth to the extent of 20 lakhs of rupees from these conquests and earned himself the title of Foujdar of Dindigul, and developed an ambition to become the Sultan of Mysore. Soon his sights were trained on pickings in Malabar and Travancore, and he waited for an opportunity to present itself. Meanwhile in 1756, the two brothers fought over a matter concerning the treasury and the aged Devaraja left Srirangapatinam to settle down in Satyamangala.

At that time Haider, his brother-in-law Syed Mukhadam and Dewan Venkata Rao were sent to fight the Zamorin and the nairs of Calicut to finally agree for peace on the understanding that the Zamorin should pay a tribute of Rs. 12 lakhs. But the Zamorin secretly negotiated with Devarajaiah and promised to pay him the stipulated tribute of Rs. 12 lakhs (in instalments) instead of to Haider, if Haider were persuaded to withdraw from Calicut. When Devaraja asked Haider to come back, the latter refused to do so unless he was compensated Rs. 3 lakhs towards the expenses incurred by his army. Devaraja did so and after withdrawing Haider’s army, sent Hari Singh to collect the 12 lakhs of the promised tribute.

Thus we get to this mysterious Hari Singh. Who is he? What became of his trip to Calicut? How did he become a conduit between the Zamorin and the Mysore raja as well as Dalavoy Devaraja? How did this raise an ire from Hari’s nemesis Haider Ali? What happened thence?

While the British historians term Hari Singh as a Rajput Jamedar operating in Mysore and heading a Rajput mercenary force for Devaraja, Prof Saletore maintains that he was a Sikh based on other inscriptions related to Guru Nanak and Sikh presence in the armies of the Wodeyars. Hari Singh appears not only in the Haider Nama, but also in the detailed accounting by Wilks, as a potential competition to Haider. While Haider was under the protection of Nanjaraj, Hari Singh had the ailing Devaraja as his benefactor.

It is in 1753 that we first come to see the valor of Hari Singh, during the battles at Trichy involving the Mysore forces, the Mahratta’s, the British and the French. Hari Singh (“ Harrasing” of Orme’s Military transactions accounts - The Morattoes under the command of Harrasing, came galloping up at a great rate, and making a resolute charge on the left of the line, where a body of Sepoys were posted, broke through them sword in hand), was a Rajput soldier. He commanded the Mahratta’s in the valiant action of the 10th May 1753 engaging the English at Srirangam and later joined the Mysore army under Devaraja according to Hayavadana Rao. Kirmani terms him a Rathore who commanded a 150 horse with his own pugh, 500 horses and 2000 foot under him.

Wilks writes - Herri Sing and his Rajpoots were first abroad, and made a vigorous charge fairly through the first line, but were checked by a reserve of Europeans and by the sepoys, who rallied with spirit, and compelled the Rajpoots to retire with great loss, sustaining in their precipitate retreat the fire of ten pieces of cannon.

His enmity with Haider is also stated in a subsequent attack - Herri Sing was not only the rival, but the personal enemy of Haider; whom he considered as an upstart, indebted for his success in life more to fawning and flattery than to military merit; and would never condescend to address him, or speak of him, by any other designation than the Naick. The horse of Meer Aly Reza, the brother-in-law of Haider, happened to be restive, and on being corrected, became unmanageable, and ran off at speed towards the enemy's ranks. Herri Sing, seeing through the openings of the wood, the brother in-law of Haider precipitate himself towards the enemy, concluded that he was followed by his troops; and calling out that the Naick would have the credit of the day, gave the word and the example to charge. A shot had not yet been fired, when the shout of the Rajpoots was heard; and the troops on both sides of the road, depending on the judgment of Herri Sing, who was deemed their best officer, charged at the same instant in all directions; and the English troops marching in platoons, without any expectation of such an attack, were cut down before they could make a second discharge. When the hurry of the action was over, Haider, always attended by his Beder peons, was found to be in possession of all the guns and tumbrils: and Herri Sing, who now understood the nature of his first error, claimed them as his own right from having actually carried them; and such was the state of the fact. The honor of the day properly belonged to Herri Sing, but the guns were in possession of his rival; and after a long discussion, he was obliged to compound for one, and to leave the remaining three to Haider, as the substantial trophies of a victory which he had not gained.

Before long, we find Haider as the Foujdar of Dindigul and he gets approached by the Kombi raja of Palghat who fears for his safety after the Zamorin’s Naduvattom overtures. We also take note of the strained relationship between Haider and Devaraj, for when Haider returned to Seringapatanam to help the Dalavoy brothers who were being coerced by the Mahratta’s, he is not able to conduct any discussions with Devaraj in Satyamangalam and has to use Konde Rao as a mediator.

Haider Ali
According to Wilks - Before Haider's departure from Dindigul, he had received a deputation from the Nair Raja of Palghaut, situated on the eastern frontier of Malabar, opposite to the great chasm in the range of western mountains, which leaves a communication between the two coasts of the peninsula, covered only with forests of the stately teak, without the intervention of a hill. This chief was at war with the Rajas of Cochin and Calicut; and being hard-pressed by his enemies, the object of his deputation was to desire succour from Haider, who, at the time of his journey to the capital, had detached his brother-in-law Muckhdoom Saheb with two thousand horse, five thousand infantry, and five guns (the first Mohammedan corps that had ever entered Malabar) to his assistance.

This chief, in conjunction with the Nairs of Palghaut, carried his arms to the sea coast; and the enemy finding resistance to be unavailing, had compromised for the restitution of their conquests from Palghaut, and a military contribution of twelve lacs of Rupees to be paid by instalments : but finding the presence of the strangers while waiting for the money to be burdensome, and meditating to evade the payment altogether, they had now sent secret agents to Deo Raj, offering to pay the money to him, provided he would rid them of the Mussulman troops of Haider, and send Hindoos to receive it. This transaction furnished the means of arranging the negotiation between Deo Raj and Haider. The resumed revenues were restored to him, together with Soucar security for three lacs as a reimbursement of extraordinary expenses incurred in the expedition to Malabar; and on these conditions Muckhdoom was recalled. Haider relinquished his claim to the military contribution of twelve lacs; and the Rajpoot corps of Herri Sing, the most zealous adherent of Deo Raj, was sent to receive it.

It was during this period that Devaraja reconciled with his brother Nanjaraj, but soon after, suffering from dropsy or otherwise, passed away under suspicious circumstances. Tobias George Smollett mentions - Haider and Kunde Row procured the public reconciliation of the two brothers, Deo Raj and Nunjeraj, at Mysoor, but the former died six days after this event; as preliminary to this, however, Nunjeraj had been compelled to make an atonement to the young Rajah for the insults offered to him in his presence.

Now Hari Singh was in Calicut at this time and finding it difficult to get any money from the Zamorin who had not the resources to pay the huge amount. Smollett continues - Herri Sing, who had been sent to receive the military contribution of Malabar, found himself unable to realize any part of it; and on hearing of the death of his patron Deo Raj (June 1758), marched, during the torrents of the S. W. monsoon, to the province of Coimbatore; where a distance of scarcely thirty miles from the periodical rains of Malabar always presents fair weather and the most striking change of climate. In this province he encamped at the village of Aounassee (Avanashi – Coimbatore), ostensibly to refresh his troops, but in reality negotiating for the service of the Raja of Tanjore.

Herri Sing whose personal enmity to Haider we have already had occasion to notice, had been particularly protected by Deo Raj, as Haider had been by Nunjeraj; and was, next to Haider, the most opulent partisan in the service of the State of Mysoor. Deo Raj had always opposed his brother's rapid advancement of Haider, adopting the opinion of Herri Sing and all the old chiefs, who attributed that advancement more to his intrigues as a courtier, than his merit as a soldier. Herri Sing, in particular, made no scruple of avowing on all occasions his contempt for the Naick. Their hatred, in short, was mutual and open, and the time had now arrived when Haider was enabled to take a complete revenge.

Sinha avers - Hari Singh was the one man in Mysore who was thought to be a better soldier than Haidar. But being a man of implacable revenge, Haidar could never forgive or forget personal insults, injuries and rivalries. So it would now be clear to readers that the chance Haider was searching for, dropped at his doorstep! As expected, deceit which was natural to the Naick at Dindigul, manifested itself and he ambushed the unsuspecting Harri Singh.

On the pretense of returning a portion of his troops to Dindigul, he detached Mukhdoom Saheb with one thousand horse, and two thousand infantry, by whom Herri Sing, carelessly encamped at Aounassee giving repose to his men, naturally unsuspicious as he was brave, and ignorant even of the movement of this detachment, was surprised and massacred in the dead of the night, together with a large portion of his troops. Among the plunder acquired by this infamous exploit were three hundred horses, one thousand muskets, and three guns, which were brought in triumph to the capital. To the Raja, Haider presented in form the three guns for the service of the State, and fifteen beautiful horses for the royal stables: the remainder of the horses and military stores, together with the money and property, found their accustomed appropriation.

During the absence of the force under Muckhdoom Saheb, Haider revived the subject of the Soucar security for three lacs, which had been given by the late Deo Raj. The claim was recognized without difficulty by Nunjeraj, and approved by the Raja; and an assignment on the revenues of Coimbatore was appropriated for its liquidation. It was also proper and decorous to reward by some public mark of confidence and distinction and thus the fort and district of Bangalore were conferred on him as a personal jageer.

Kirmani whom Kareem uses as a prime source, writes differently, blaming Hari Singh for conducting a Dharna at Nanjaraj’s doorstep for payment of (and his soldiers) arrears as the cause for Haiderr’s attack on him, placing the said account not at Coimbatore, but near Seringapatanam. Let’s see what he says.

Hydur All, in whose personal character he (Nanjraj) had great confidence, and a Rathore Jamadar, named Hurri Singh, who commanded a hundred and fifty horse, these, with his own Pagah, five hundred horse, and about two thousand foot, he kept with himself. The entire want of money and supplies, however, so oppressed the soldiers, that, Hurri Singh forgetting the ties of salt, or gratitude to his master, in order to obtain his arrears of pay forbade the sleeping and eating of the Dulwai, by placing him in Dhurna, or arrest, and that in so great a degree as even to stop the water used in his kitchen. The Dulwai, losing heart from this rigour, with his clothes and the vessels of silver and gold brought for his use in travelling, and a small sum of money, paid him off, and discharged him.

As soon as the Jamadar had obtained his money and discharge, he marched away with his baggage, to a place within about three miles from Seringaputtun, and encamped there; and his men being free from care and want, in body and mind, after eating and drinking joyfully, laid themselves down to rest with the greatest confidence.

On witnessing these occurrences, however, Hydur became exceedingly excited, and going to the Dulwai, addressed him in reproachful terms, saying to him, "Why have you acted thus? What you have done is unworthy a man of rank! Is it proper, that, without the knowledge of your most particular friend, and for the sake of paying one of the meanest servants, of the Raj, or Government, you should have incurred the discredit of selling your plate and clothes and of discharging demands without proof of the justness of the claim? This is far from correct; seeing that to make one man insolent by such an unwise indulgence, is to open the door to similar claims and insults from the rest of the officers of the troops. It is indispensable therefore that he who has placed his foot beyond the circle of obedience, and by that means sought misfortune, should be punished; and, if you authorise me, I will punish him so that he shall be an example to others.'

The Dulwai lent an attentive ear to this advice, and requested that it might be as Hydur All had said. Hydur, therefore, immediately rising, without a moment's delay returned to his own place of encampment, and taking five hundred musketeers, or matchlock men, and a store of ammunition with him, he marched straight towards Hurri Singh's halting ground, and falling suddenly on his sleeping party, whose death had arrived, and firing volley after volley among them, slew some, the more fortunate on their beds, and others were slain rising and advancing a few steps, with their swords and shields in their hands. In fine, the whole of the troop, with their mutinous Jamadar, were slain by the sword, bayonet, and all their arms and baggage, with their money, utensils, horses, and the articles they had collected, were brought to the Dulwai, who, with the exception of the money and articles belonging to himself, presented the whole of the plunder & horses of these slaughtered men to Hydur Ali whose prudence in this action acquired for him great renown.

A few days after this, the Dulwai sent for Hydur, and, seating him on the musnud with himself, he consulted with him on the re-establishment of his own affairs, complaining bitterly of his distress for want of money. Hydur immediately took the management of his affairs, (that is, to say, the collection of money for his wants), on his own responsibility, and without delay, like a raging lion, marched with his brave soldiers towards the Poligars; and, in the course of one year, having thrown all the Nairs and Mapillas into the utmost trepidation and confusion, he collected a large sum of money. In this expedition those persons who, according to requisition, came forward with a good will, and did their best to provide the sum demanded, he spared in life and property; but, on the contrary, those who disobeyed his commands, and, without having the license or exemption of the Raja, refused to pay the required tribute, he so completely destroyed, that their names, and those of their children, were erased from the book of time.

Now here is where the key aspect comes to light. The amount due to Haider which was 3 lakhs for the advancement of Makhdoom’s forces to Calicut had been paid, so all arguments by historians that Haider attacked Calicut to get back monies due to him are wrong. The 12 lakhs due to the Mysore government was to be paid in installments, as agreed. But Harri Singh did not wait and rushed back to his dying master’s side.

Haider meanwhile had figured out that the warring rajas of Malabar could be easily manipulated, as Sinha states - But this Malabar episode made Haidar realize how easy it was to conquer divided and distracted Malabar from the landside. Of this knowledge acquired by the reconnoitering expedition of Makhdum Ali, he made excellent use later.

But that was not all, the Mysore government owed large amounts to the Mahratta’s and Deccan rulers and soon enough, Haider rose against his own patrons and usurped Mysore, a story which can be retold in more details another day. A quick summary can be gleaned from Smolltee’s words.

During the ten years which followed, Haider gained in strength, dealt with a Dharana by his own soldiers who had not been paid, while the Queen mother Laksammanni was plotting hard to get rid of him by involving the Mahratta’s, French and British on varying occasions. Smolltee states - The troops of Mysoor were at this period in a state of mutiny, from the long arrears of their pay. Haider and his friend and accountant, undertook the liquidation of these arrears, and accomplished it by a sale of public property, this circumstance would not have been worth recording, but that it caused very considerable popularity to Haider among the citizens, which could not but be of very considerable advantage to his future projects. Haider prevailed as we know, dealt with treacherously, his various benefactors Raja, Nanjaraj, and Konde Rao and rose to become the Nawab of Mysore, and upon his deserved painful death following battles in Malabar, was succeeded by an even more ruthless ruler, Tipu.

Thus we come to a conclusion on the matters regarding the Mysore overtures against Calicut in 1756-58 and we are also clear that the Zamorin did indeed owe the Mysorean’s the 12 lakhs, not Haider himself.

Regrettably the Malabar conquests by Haider and Tipu have been treated and analyzed by different historians in different ways, nationalistically, religiously or sometimes deliberately underplayed or manipulated as for example by British writers, writing to please their masters. A quick perusal of all these sources show that we have still a long way to go in realizing the true nature and effects of these conquests, their reasons and the true nature of the conquerors. The true roles of Srinivasa Rao and Syed Mukhadam, who remained in Calicut to rule have been glossed over, in most cases. Also misunderstood is the complete story of the desperate fightback by the local chieftains, the Ravi Varma’s of the Padinjare kovilakom, their Nairs and even some of the Moplahs, all stories usually underplayed by writers concentrating on either the heroics or the villainy of Haider & Tipu. But we will get there eventually, of that I am sure.

Historical Sketches – History of Mysore - Lt Col Mark Wilks
Modern Mysore from the beginning to 1868 – M Shama Rao
History of the Wodeyars of Mysore (1610-1748) – A Satyanarayana
The Khalsa & the Punjab – Ed. Himadri Banerjee (The Sikhs in the South – BA Saletore)
Mysore gazetteer – Chapter 9
History of Hyuder Naik – MHAK Kirmani, Trans Col W Miles
Kerala under Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan – C K Kareem
Dutch in Malabar - PC Alexander
Haider-nama – Kannada work, hitherto unpublished
History of Mysore – C Hayavadana Rao
Haider Ali - N K Sinha
A history of Kerala – KM Panikkar