The Palakkad fort

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

I have always passed it, since the road that takes me from Palakkad town to Pallavur snakes by the Kotta Maidanam (the ground by the fort) and beside one of the ramparts of the majestic fort. Some times it is dry and black, sometimes it is covered with moss, but it has always stood there, hardly damaged by the years, the weather or the many thousands who folk by every year to see it. The complex is square in shape, situated on 15 acres of land, with walls of immense thickness and strong bastions at all four corners and in the middle. The sober majesty of those laterite walls of the fort quietly hides many tales of valor and courage.

As you pass by you see games played in the grounds, sometimes it is a cricket match, sometimes soccer…but the surrounds of the fort are always full of children and people, there is a children’s park with swings and the such called Vatika, I think there is a driving school and an auditorium, but I can assure you not many of people lounging there would know the horrors and history associated with the fort or the grounds and of the many thousands who were massacred over that very soil.

There is a certain mystery to it all, while most historians state that the majestic fort was built by French designers & engineers for Haider Ali in the 18th century, at least one gazetteer mentions that it has been there from ancient times. I do not believe that claim however.

The story starts with the Palakkad Rajah-Kombi Achan. His relationship with the powerful Zamorin of Calicut (Palghat is 120km away from Calicut) soured when the latter laid claims to the fertile paddy growing regions and forests that previously belonged to him, by drawing the Naduvattam wedge. This was in 1757, a time when Haider Ali was gaining importance in Deccan. This one action went on to culminate in the arrival of Haider and his troops across the Kerala borders and the 4 decades of Mysore Malabar wars.

The Palghat Rajah (one of the two brothers) quickly requested support from Haider who was at Dindigul. Haider initially was not for it, but when the Raja offered space to build a fort and pay a tribute fee, he quickly agreed. Haider sent his brother in law Mukaddam Ali with 2000 horses and 5000 troops to fight the Zamorin. The Zamorin seeing the armed opposition did not fight & submitted to Haider, but Haider suspecting treachery demanded a ransom of 12 lakhs. The promise was not kept and this amount was not paid for many years thereby infuriating Haider. Meanwhile the Rajas of Palakkad became a tributary to Mysore and agreed to pay a sum of 5000 fanams (Rs1 =12 fanams) to Mysore annually as protection money.

Haider himself moved south into the Kanara region only in 1766. He sent his forces to capture Calicut as the Zamorin did not pay the earlier arrears and a further demand of a Rs One Crore ransom. The Zamorin, in despair and after sending his family to Ponnani, set fire to his Mananchira Kovilakam and killed himself. Hyder then moved on to Palghat & Coimbatore, having received submissions from kings at both places.

When the Nairs rebelled, Hyder it is stated, imposed his troops on them, massacred many and deported over 15,000 Nairs to Kanara. The Gazetteers state that only 200 survived. After this event, an amnesty was proclaimed and the Palghat Fort construction with French engineering started in 1757-1764. Haider was supposed to have built the fort to serve as a common point and to facilitate communication between Coimbatore and Palakkad, two vantage points in his new territory. The grounds as such were used to ‘park’ the elephants used by the army.

In 1768, Capt Wood first took over Palghat ( those days it was called Palghautcherry) & the fort from Haider Ali, but Haider soon fought back to retake it in Nov 1768. In the war with the English in 1767-8 the fort was damaged and Hyder Ali reconstructed it, this time on a solid foundation.

Haider’s command after his death in Dec 1782 had passed on to Tippu, his son. Then started the decisive battles with Col Fullerton in 1783 where the fort was heavily damaged but was eventually taken by the British. The Zamorin reestablished sovereignty over Palghat till Tippu came back to Coimbatore and fought again to regain it in 1788. The fort was retaken later by Col Stuart in 1790, after which it remained in British hands where they used it as a as a garrison and base for further battles against Tippu.

According to the official report of Col. Fullerton of the British forces stationed in Mangalore, many atrocities were committed by the Mysore raiders in 1783 during the siege of Palghat Fort which was being defended by the Zamorin and his soldiers. "It is asserted that the Zamorin rather than witness such enormities and to avoid further killing of innocents, chose to abandon the Palghat Fort" (p. 500). An original order sent to various army contingents by the sultan was found among the records from Palghat Fort, after its capture by the English Company in 1790. It has been reproduced as a footnote on page 454of the Malabar Manual: "It is directed (all military detachments) that every being in the district should be honored with Islam…………that they should be traced to their hiding places, and that all means of truth and falsehood, fraud or force, should be employed to effect their universal conversion.”

In 1797 the English repaired the damaged fort once again. The war between Tippu and East India Company ended with the treaty of 1792 and all the possessions of Tippu in Malabar were ceded to the British. During all these periods, the fort was popularly referred to as Tippu’s fort. It was at this fort that Chemban Poker, the Mopilla leader escaped from the clutches of the 20 year old Thomas Baber (See Nick Balmer’s blog on this event).

After the British took over the fort, it was made into a Tahsildar’s Kutchery, and the fort also housed other British government offices. It was then turned into a jail in 1877 when the Cannanore and other jails started getting overcrowded (Source – I Tyrrell- From England to the Antipodes & India - page 225) and many from the total of 400 inmates died from dysentery & other diseases. Mismanagement by the British meant that even milk for the prisoners was diverted for private use. The work that the inmates had to do was collecting pebbles from the Yakkara River for road repairs. Accounts of the non stop rain for 23 days is amusing – the author wonders where the water came from ( It was also a time when Tyrrell picked up some gold dust near Coimbatore by filtering the soil, garnets from the river bed and so on!!)!! In 1881 it ceased to be a jail.

In the 20th century, the fort became a Taluk office once again. Now declared as a monument, the Fort is under the custody of Archaeological Survey of India. It houses a small museum and an open air auditorium called Rappadi. The old draw bridge has since been replaced by a permanent one. The children’s park is called Vatika. A Hanuman temple is located inside the fort.

All these bloody battles for the fort were fought on the grounds (Kottah maidanam) which today serenely host yet another game that the English taught us, cricket or a district fair and exhibition. And of the Palghat Raja, PCN Raja from the Zamorin family states - The Palghat Raja, Ettipangi Achan who had surrendered, was imprisoned by Tippu on suspicion and later taken to Sreerangapatanam. Nothing was heard of him subsequently.

Here is an Arial view of the fort as seen from the skies. This lovely video will take you for a complete virtual tour of this magnificent fort.

Photo 1- Wikipedia
Photo 2 - Dilip's album at Picassaweb

Kumaran Nambiar alias Hyat Sahib

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

Some months ago I had written about the Jao Da Cruz who reached great heights among the Portuguese Fidalgo’s, who then later came back to torment the Zamorin and become an advisor to St Xavier. This time it is about the Nawab of Bednore (Now in Shimoga – Karnataka), alias Sheikh Muhammad Ayaz Khan alias Ayya Khan alias Malik Ayaz alias Hyat Sahib alais Dowlat Khan. It is yet another gem from the deep annals of history.

This story starts in 1766 when Haider Ali decides to march into the rich kingdoms of Malabar. During this campaign, he took back a large number of Nair captives to Mysore. Many die and a few survive. One amongst them was a bright ‘good looking’ lad of 10-12, named Kumaran Nambiar, hailing from Chirakkal in Canannore, who immediately caught the fancy of Hyder’s eyes. Hyder takes him under his wings and is captivated by the boy’s intellect and genius. He is circumcised, converted to Islam and given a name Muhammad Ayaz Khan.

Soon they forge an enviable relationship and Hyder keeps mentioning the superiority of Ayaz Khan over his real son Tippu. Tippu’s resentment over the convert develops into cold hatred against Malabar. Father Hyder soon appoints (originally offers the more important position as governor of Chittledroog which Ayaz does not accept stating he was illiterate) Ayaz as the governor, Jemedar or Nawab of Bednore (Hydernagar), a wealthy kingdom Hyder had recently captured. Bednore lies about 40 miles inland from the Mangalore coastline, one not dissimilar to Chirakkal where the boy originated from. He made it his home.

Hyders advice to Ayaz runs thus – Keep a Corla (rope whip) in your right hand, and that will do you better service than pen and ink. Place reliance on your excellent understanding, act for yourself alone, fear nothing of the calamities of the scribblers, trust in me as I trust in you. Reading and writing, how I have risen in the empire without knowledge of either? His love for Ayaz is also stated in the case where 20 year old Tippu forcefully circumcises a British soldier in Public. Hyder upon hearing of this abuses Tippu publicly and sends Tippu into solitary confinement and states – It is unfortunate that you will succeed me, if only it was Ayaz instead of you!! (Historical sketches of S India – Mark Wilks Page 522). Logan also confirms (Malabar manual) that Hyder stated many times that Ayaz was always his right hand in the times of danger.

Donald Campbell (son of Col Campbell) is the first to recount a fascinating meeting with the now regal Jamedar Ayaz, circa 1783 in the book ‘A narrative of the extraordinary adventure’. The first aspect one notices is Ayaz’s absolute reverence for Hyder, in the manner in which a lecture is provided to Campbell about Hyder’s power & exploits. As he was being entertained by Ayaz, an offer is made for Campbell to lead Ayaz’s army of 5000 men which is rebuffed. Campbell then comes across the previous Dewan of Chirakkal (must have been the Dewan of an uncle of Hyat) who is being tortured to divulge the location of the previous raja’s wealth. After a few months of imprisonment, Campbell is released and hears that Hyder has died suddenly and that Tippu had issued a death order on Ayaz Khan. Ayaz decides to hand over the fort of Bednor and all other neighboring towns to the British and escape to Bombay, which he does. Capt Mathews and Ayaz settle terms for the takeover. It is under the British that Ayaz as a name gets corrupted to Hyat. The British take away all of Ayaz’s wealth, a huge amount (some 12M Sterling) as rumored and Ayaz is blamed by Tippu though Tippu finds some or most of it after defeating Gen Mathews force under Maj Campbell (read the story here..) . Mathews dies in 1783.

Tippu later claims gleefully that the ‘ungrateful Malabari slave’ Ayaz has run away with considerable booty at this first opportunity and that his father Hyder should never have trusted him. His revenge thence on Malabar was apparently severe; he forcefully converted the whole Bednore populace (Hindus & Christians according to English sources) and sent all the young men to his army in Seringapatanam.

Sadly while Tippu was busy trying to wreak revenge on Ayaz & Malabar, Col Fullerton had increased British readiness and moved to capture the Palakkad fort (A jolly good story for another day) from Tipu’s soldiers, working together with the Zamorin. For once a Malayali (Ayaz) helped Malabar though not meaning to by diverting Tippu’s attention.

Sometime in 1792, Hyat reappears on the historic scene (Logan - Malabar Manual) with a claim for land in Chirakkal that he claims to have got from his Hindu ancestors. The claim is considered fraudulent & thrown out by the British.

After Hyat retired to relative peace in Bombay he sat hoping that Bednore would be restored to him, which of course never happened. Tippu later tried to ‘bargain’ to repurchase Ayaz and take revenge as part of his negotiations with the British, but the EIC did not do so though they were advised that it would be a good riddance (since Ayaz had legitimate claims over his plundered & unreturned wealth which was becoming a major embarrassment to the EIC). Ayaz ended up getting Rs 4’000/- per month ‘as a pension’ till he died (which unfortunately happened soon after). All his claims were studiously ignored (Counter flows to colonialism MH Fisher pages 192-210) by the Crown.

Ayaz Khan, died in 1799 (in his early 50’s) leaving his widows & sons destitute. His funeral expenses worked up to Rs 40,000/-. Fyaz Ali khan, his minor son was denied the father’s pension and he then chased the bureaucracy for due justice in Bombay courts and London. The British did not even give him permission to travel to UK to fight the case. A representative Muhial Din did considerable studies on the case in UK but soon found himself indebted and facing imprisonment in UK. The EIC offered to clear his debts by paying GBP 3,500 & a return ticket if he dropped support to Fyaz. As the London stonewalling was going on, the EIC finally saw sense and restored the pension to Rs 4000 p.m plus the funeral expenses to Fyaz. The lawyer returned to Bombay but as fate destined, the ship that carried all the case papers sank in the ‘Bay of Bengal’. Finally in exasperation, the settlement was accepted as final by Fyaz and his lawyer.

Thus ended the legacy of the Nambiar from Chirakkal – the one who had a few million pounds of wealth in his hands and a small country, to end up destitute in Bombay.

ReferencesMemoirs of Hyder & Tipoo Ramachandra Rao
Collection of most celebrated voyages – Forster
Collection of treaties & engagements – Aitchison
History of Mysore – mark Wilks
Counterflows to colonialism – MH Fisher
Malabar Manual – Logan
Campbell’s story

Damon – The Malabar Slave

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Read this characterization of a Slave from Malabar (Walks & Sketches – Robert Semple) – He is in all respects the best of the household slaves. Without the inactivity or the dullness of the Mozambique slave, or the penetrative genius of the Malay, he forms an excellent medium between the two. More intelligent, more industrious and more active than the former, more docile and more affectionate than the latter, he unites steadiness with vivacity, and capability of instructing to wining manners.
This story outlines the life of many slaves who were taken by the Dutch & Portuguese slave traders to Cape Town, Africa, Mauritius and many other places between the late 1600’s and early 1800’s. Cochin was a shipment point for different types of slaves by the VOC. Those who went to the far eastern countries and the West Indies integrated with the local populace to some extent, but whatever happened to the many that went to Africa? Some of them have presented us in history with tales of persistence, valor and extreme hardship. Read on.

Between 1626 and 1662, the Dutch exported with reasonable regularity 150–400 slaves annually from the Arakan-Bengal coast. Slave raids into the Bengal estuaries were conducted by Magh pirates using armed vessels (galias), joining hands with unscrupulous Portuguese traders (chatins) and operating from Chittagong outside the jurisdiction and patronage of the Estado da India. Until the Dutch seizure of the Portuguese settlements on the Malabar coast (1658–63), large numbers of slaves were also captured and sent from India's west coast to Batavia, Ceylon, and elsewhere. After 1663, however, the stream of forced labor from Cochin dried up to a trickle of about 50–100 and 80–120 slaves per year to Batavia and Ceylon, respectively
Modus Operandi (Reference Van Rensburg papers) –

Starting around 1652, the VOC started active slave trading, sourcing the slaves from Indonesia, Bengal and Malabar. Innocent children were kidnapped by the Mohammedans and sold at Cochin to the Dutch, then they were send to Batavia or the Cape, reference Adoor KK Ramachandran Nair in his book Slavery in Kerala, p 16. The VOC sent custom built ships (Fly boats or Fluyt boats) and brought back these slaves to Cape Town under miserable conditions where many died during the voyage due to sickness.

Upon arrival the slaves were sold to ‘burghers’ from Netherlands working in Cape Town. Then started the ordeal without an end where they were sold and resold. Punishment was severe for escaping, typically mutilation, whipping, death and long term incarceration wearing heavy chains. Yet many escaped to remote parts of Africa to live short periods of freedom in dense jungles, only to be caught again.

The women slaves and their daughters had no choice; they mostly became lovers of the burghers. Later, burghers as Rensburg explains, preferred marriages to women from these mixed unions, in other words these women were then classified as 'van de Kaap' (note this term did not only refer to people of black or mix ancestry). Curiously at the Cape the legal line of descent for both slaves and free citizens were matrilineal, following the Malabar practice, which is by virtue of who their mother was. If the father was free, but the mother a slave, then the child was a slave. If the mother was free, but the father was a slave, then the child was free. These Malabar slaves were also called Maroon slaves for their tawny color.

The story of Damon - Let us look at the incredible story of the slave from Malabar who is otherwise titled the ‘Damon slave’ in history (extracted from the book).

In the early 1800s, while exploring the areas of Van Plettenburg and the dense forests to the East, three high ranking officials (Col Collins, Dr Dowdray and Andries Stockenstrom stumbled on the dwelling of an escaped Malabar slave who had lived in the forests for six years before he was recaptured. This extraordinary man as the travelers described him was brought to them heavy with chains, so that they might acquire some information respecting the country. He was named Damon from Malabar for he was found near the Damon fountain. As the name suggests, he originated from Malabar.

Here is a more detailed story extracted from Col John Sutherland’s notes & other books that I perused for this purpose.

Damon the slave had a friend with him when he first came to the Zitzakamma woods (now Southern George - Storms River). However he died soon after and Damon lived in a small but hidden cave (or hut) in the woods. Later on, after over five years of solitude and after developing more confidence, he started to build a better and bigger one with his own hands. Damon had concluded that he would spend his lonely days in it in relative peace. It was while he was midway into construction (I am sure that was what kept him sane – the building work) of his humble abode that he got caught by the Kaffers (African natives or Hottentots – they were termed Kaffers by early Portuguese voyagers).

Damon was in ingenious man; for he used the skins of all the animals he caught (using pits and snares) to make fashionable ‘western style’ clothes. The bones were all carefully heaped in a spot. He had cleared at least two acres which he had planted with vegetables, tobacco and fruit trees using the dung of the numerous elephants and buffalo in the area, as manure. Our friend even made baked earthenware for cooking his food. The stream that supplied him with water lies about 16km west of the Storms River (or Doll or Kaeman River near the Outinuqua mountains) and is now called the Damon’s fountain. This man had committed no crime prior to his flight; his only desire was to be a free man, wishing trouble for no one. Collins originally decided to keep him, but fearing that Damon would inform others of the location or help them, sent him off to Cape Town

Further study revealed that the man was probably from Cochin or Malabar and knew about farming & agriculture. He must have been toiling in some wealthy landowner’s lands in Malabar before he was caught and shipped to Africa. The Kaffers caught him and turned him over to Col Collins only for the purpose of a reward. At their direction he was sent to the cape ‘there to be charged or otherwise disposed of.

He was considered very interesting and energetic by Collins, 40 years, dark and muscular, very animated, and he informed Collins that he had a fearful life, pursued often by buffaloes, which charged & destroyed his hut many times. When he ran away from enslavement, he had only a handful of seeds and the vegetable garden that Collins saw was a result of his planting and nurturing them (imagine his thought process before his flight!).

At least he was not; I believe ‘hung in chains in the open on gibbets to be eaten by birds’ as many other slaves were sentenced. Henry Rikes (Brenton memoirs) states that he was (probably on Collin’s recommendation) released from his owner Petrus Terblans in 1809 by the Colonial government who directed that this land be purchased for him and thus he became a resident of George (a place 240km away from Cape Town). Col Sutherland later heard that Damon was building a house there & that he had offspring. So that was a good end to the arduous life & travel of this 45 year old slave.

I was waylaid a bit when I found that another Damon from Malabar was banished to Robben Island 12km away from Cape Town to work in chains for 15 years more without wages (1793 Cape records). Nelson Mandela incidentally, was also interred in Robben Island for 27 years. Today Robben Island, thanks to Nelson Mandela is a tourist attraction, but many would never have heard the story of this Damon from Malabar.

A thought - Compare this slave’s life to the life led by Tom Hanks in the film Castaway and try to imagine the hardships Damon endured.

Summary of numbers -ES Reddy in his collection of Indo African papers states that some 1300 plus Indian slaves (a full 37% of the total slaves from Africa India, Indonesia and Ceylon) were brought in between 1658 and 1760 and out of this Indian total, 500 came from the Bengal area and 400 plus from Malabar!! The slaves were invariably given Christian Dutch names but their places of origin were indicated in the records of sales and other documents. Worden however concludes that between 1697 and 1750, a higher number 48% (673) of the sample of 1,401 slaves came from the Indian subcontinent (mostly Bengal and Malabar),

Read through Cape town records - There are so many slaves from Malabar mentioned in that turbulent period; slaves like Cupido, Catherine, Helena, Peter, Jan, Joaun, and most of them met violent death by hanging for trying to escape. These people lost their identity, their very names, their religion and their culture. The women got integrated into the Dutch community and some genealogy is available as in the case of Catherine.

Reddy adds - Most slaves however, dispersed and lost their identity in the course of time. The Indians became part of the "Malay" community - so called as Malayo-Portuguese was the lingua franca in the Asian ports at that time - and their descendants later came to be identified as "Cape Malays" (Cape Muslims) as the Muslim community expanded.

After looking at the numbers of slaves from India and the spread, I wondered, well, this was yet another occasion when Bengali’s and Malayali’s are grouped together. Normally they are grouped when it comes to food habits, intellect, political leanings and the such. Yes, there were contacts between the Bengali’s and Malyali’s from historical times when trade linked them, rice from Bengal and Orissa passed Calicut in the trading Chinese ships. Yes they are also well known (i.e. Malayali’s and Bengal’s) for their consciousness of individual rights wherever they are. Did it perhaps originate from the slave days? Or was it that they were brought together by the British who starting from Malabar moved on from Telicherry and Calicut to Calcutta which was their next commercial and political capital? Who knows!!! Food for thought.

Trivia - The Khoi-Khoi, for instance, developed the ramkie, a guitar with three or four strings, based on that of Malabar slaves, and used it to blend Khoi and Western folk songs. I guess it is the Paana veena that we know.

ReferencesThe Garden Route and Little Karoo - By Leon Nell Pg 100
John Sutherland Memoirs
Henry Rikes – Brenton memoirs
ES Reddy – Collection of Indo African Papers
Cape of Torments – Robert Ross
Walks & Sketches – Robert Semple
Van Rensburg site
Iziko site -

Pictures from ‘google images’ – thanks to the uploaders.