Feb 20, 2009

Manjeri Moplah’s revolt against Tipu

On 7th Dec 1782, Hyder died aged 60 and his son Tipu succeeded him. If Hyder had a chance, he would have allowed Hyat Sahib to succeed him as he always desired in his heart and soul, but that never happened. If you recall, I had introduced the fascinating Hyat (Ayaz Khan) in a separate blog. One must keep in mind now that when the Sultans of Mysore attacked Malabar with intent to get the overdue tribute or protection money of 12 lakhs apparently owed by the Zamorin, a number of North Malabar Mappilas supported the Sultans with a hope that they would be favored by fellow Muslims. You must also remember that a beleaguered Zamorin (after the many wars with the Cochin kings, the Portuguese and the Dutch) had by then weakened his relationship with the Moplah’s of Malabar, his erstwhile ally’s. This had happened during the capture and death of the Kunhali Marakar who according to the Moplah’s was sacrificed to the Portuguese by the Zamorin. The Moplah’s were a depressed lot by then, having lost the trade to the Portuguese and Dutch, without land and title or any say in regional matters or any sway in the circles of power.

When Hyder Ali took control of Malabar and the Zamorin family and other land owning wealthy families fled to Travancore, a number of punitive measures were put into place to ensure an increased revenue collection. Hyder needed the money desperately to fight his wars against the Marathas and the British. Stiff tax was imposed and it is said that he taxed only Hindu landlords, but not Muslims. The land and revenue tax was set at 50-80%. The governance was accorded to Hyder’s deputy Arshad Beg Khan a man reputed for his honesty and kind behavior. A number of entreaties by the landlords (Janmi’s) with various supporting reasons that I won’t get into at present, resulted in the taxes being subsequently reduced to 20-33% by Arshad Khan.

For those a little unfamiliar with Malabar history, Hyder together with Arshad beg Khan (1783) were the first to implement a ‘formal and documented’ land tax structure in Malabar. The Cochin & Travancore Raja’s and their subjects did not pay taxes they paid a fixed amount of protection money, tribute or premium!!

It was at this stage that Hyder suddenly died while camping at Chitoor. Tipu took over the reins of the Mysore empire, Hyat Sahib at Bednore handed over his local kingdom to the British and fled to Bombay (a very interesting tale in itself) and Tipu decided to take his revenge on the populace of Malabar.

Arhsad Beg Khan, an able and humane soul who was Hyder’s appointed governor, was actually under threat when Tipu took over. Mir Ibrahim was given civil authority and he promptly cancelled all the previous agreements made by Arshad & Hyder. His next step was implementing heavy taxation that was neither acceptable nor payable by any of the landowners. Now Hyder had decided that temples need not pay tax, Tipu changed it. Tippu’s next ruling with respect to change of currency and other measures raised taxes far above 50%.The need for money was acute due to Tipu’s wars in other parts of the country. Then he demanded change of culture and forced conversions to Islam. Many alarmed land owners - the wealthy Nair’s, Namboothiris of the Eranad Valluvanad, Malappuram, Nilambur areas and other Nair landowners decided to flee South to Travancore, and they sold off (or in reality just exchanged in words) their land to the tillers or to the local Muslim populace for a pittance.

The revenue collector of the Zamorin and later Arshad at Manjeri (though he tendered no taxes to Arshad) was Attan (Hassan) Kurikkal. Let me now introduce to you to this old ally of the Zamorin. His was a reputed (tharavadi) Muslim family in Manjeri and he was also the tax collector for the Zamorin in that district. But somewhere in history their relations also soured and Athan Gurukkal (Attan Kurikkal in British books) himself administered Manjeri and collected the revenues, not sending the agreed amounts to the Zamorin. The rest of the Zamorin family and the heir apparent were in Travancore, so Gurukkal did not have to bother about claimants.

When Ibrahim took over he even taxed standing crops, and exacerbated the situation. But a question came up in my mind. If Muslims were exempted, why did a branch of powerful Mappila’s led by the Manjeri Thangal (kurikkal) himself a tax revenue official of Tippu, go against Ibrahim and Arshad beg khan?? The intrigue had to be cleared and I scoured many books for an answer. It appears that while Arshad was benevolent to Muslims, Tippu wanted to collect taxes even from the Moplas. Why? Simply because the Hindu land owners had fled, the benami owners were the Moplahs, who of course paid no taxes and tax revenues had crashed. Tipu realized that the Mopilah’s had the land now but were not paying any tax, and he needed the money desperately.

Athan Koya refused to pay any taxes or what he collected. It was under his leadership that the Mopla’s rebelled as Tipu became insistent. During this period there was one person who kept on indulging in guerilla warfare with Tipu and his army, which was Ravi Varma from the Padinjare Kovilakom at Calicut. The Manjeri Muslims were the first to revolt against Tippu on various occasions between 1785-1788, later joining Ravi Varma the nephew of the ousted Zamorin, in revolt.

Arshad Khan had managed to keep Ravi Varma at bay previously. Curiously, he had with Tipu’s approval paid Ravi Varma a ‘jaghire’ (a tract of land, tax free) in 1784 to keep him quiet and in order to help Tipu subdue the Manjeri Kurikkal. The intrigue is interesting, Tipu using a Hindu warlord to fight a fellow Muslim, but that is how situations change – call it manipulation of the fickle human mind.

After Tipu’s war in Coorg, he concluded a treaty with the British around 11th March 1785. According to Mark Wilkes, Mir Ibrahim’s actions had by then set the local populace aflame. Arshad Khan had earlier written to Tipu that this was going to create no end of problems and it was thus that Tipu had to come personally with a hurt ego and fury in his mind in 1788 to Malabar where he jailed Ibrahim and sent him away. Arshad (Wilkes says he was in Malabar till he was jailed by Tipu in 1788, Logan states he went to Mecca in 1786) resigned and went to Mecca on a pilgrimage.

Tipu was furious with the people of Malabar even though he was obtaining large revenue overall from the region and insisted that they obey his conversion dictums. After a disastrous affair involving Kishen Raja’s deputation of his dewan to meet Tipu instead of meeting him himself, Tipu lost his temper and the much talked about atrocities and mayhem against the Hindu’s occurred. It was Tipu’s revenge not only against the Hindu’s of Malabar but also (in my opinion) his revenge against his father Hyder and Hyder’s relationship with Malabari Hyat Khan.

Back to Athan (a.k.a Hassan Koya) Gurukkal – He refused to pay taxes (by now termed raitwari) to Tipu and then destroyed a temple belonging to the Manjeri Thampuran (Tipu had earlier warned Gurukkal not to do that) for reasons I do not know. I think he got the thampuran killed as well. The rebellion rose in intensity, Ghulam Ali was sent by Tipu to Manjeri to quell the riots and some 90 odd Muslims were killed (Roland Miller implies that 20 were killed by fellow Mopilah rioters to avoid their capture by Ali and became martyrs of Shahid’s). Athan Gurukkal and his son were captured and interned in the Srirangapatanam jail.

But this interesting rebel escaped from the jail and came back to Manjeri. Interestingly the situation had changed by then. Tipu had been defeated by the British and he ceded Malabar to the East India Company. The EIC then made Athan (Hassan) Gurukkal the local police superintendent.

The situation would take a dramatic turn again. Later this Gurukkal, his son by the same name and other interesting characters like Chemban Pokker and Unni Moosa Moopan joined up with Ravi Varma, and the Pazhassi Raja Kerala Varma in their revolts against the East India Company, again for the main reason of unjust and unreasonable taxation and refusal for self governance. The men were declared outlaws with a bounty of Rs 5000/- per head. Athan (Hassan) Gurukkal was eventually killed in 1802.These families were later involved in the 1849-1921 agrarian revolt and Muslim riots.

Ghulam Ali who captured the Gurukkal went to Istanbul as Tipu’s emissary to meet with the Ottoman Sultan between 1786 and 1790. After the 1799 defeat and Tipu’s death, Ghulam Ali Khan became a pensioner of the British, and allegedly received 3000 star pagodas per annum. He was appointed as District Munsif of Krishnagiri in 1816; retired in 1854 and died at Krishnagiri in 1863 at the age of 105.

Trivia – A new movie will be released soon in Malayalam – titled ‘Pazhassi raja’ and Mamooty will play the Kerala varma role. Athan Gurukkal will, as I understand, be played by Mamu Koya.

Historical sketches of South India – Mark Wilks
Kozhikodinte Charithram - Balakrishna Kurup
Tipu Sultan – Kirmani
Malabar Manual - Logan
Tiger of Mysore - Henty


Rajesh R.Nair said...

very interesting..

keep it up :)

Calicut Heritage Forum said...

You have rendered a great service to the understanding of the complex social history of the time by bringing forth the dissensions among the Muslims of Malabar during the Mysore period. Unfortunately, even professional historians err in judging the events of the period by taking a black or white stand - some painting Tipu as a bloodthirsty jehadist and others portraying him as a secular patriot.
The same approach is applied in interpreting the motives of the local Moplah population. Truth, however, is much more complex. For instance, although Tipu had fomented religious hatred, he soon realised that things were getting out of hand when he witnessed the destruction of Manjeri temples by Mappilas in 1784. He had to use force to put down such anarchy. Again, the Mappilas of Manjeri were incensed at the atrocities committed by their fellow religionists from Tellicherry under the patronage of Arakkal Bibi, who had forged a marital alliance with Tipu. The same Bibi vowed in 1791 to do 'everything in my power' to help the British in their war against Tipu.
One sincerely hopes that much more serious research is undertaken to understand the complex socio-religious turmoil which took place during the Mysore invasion. This is necessary to understand the subsequent era of agrarian revolts culminating in the 1921 Rebellion. The present stirrings of religious fundamentalism could also be better situated when viewed against the events that took place during the last two centuries.

Anonymous said...

I agree with CHR's comment that we have a tendency to draw mono-colour caricatures of historical figures and events.

One of the mistakes we usually make is in viewing past events through today's framework. For example, in today's religiously divided world, we see the Arakkal Bibi a Muslim rather than a local ruler, and wonder why she would support the British against Tipu, another fellow Muslim. The real question should be what the Bibi, in that particular cicumstance, considered herself, and that answer would probably explain her actions.

Another great post Maddy. Looking forward to more details on the Samoothiri vs. Kolathiri feud. You are aware of the "Sa-Moori kuthumo, Kola-Thiri kathumo" story, I presume? :-)


Maddy said...

Thanks CKR and VG..

When i read the books written by Englishmen, I see Hyder & tipu pictured as fanatic brigands. Same when it is a book written by relatives of the aggrieved. If I read books written by Mysoreans and some others, they are heroes, incapable of any wrong. If I read books written by Kerala Moplah's I find that it was a period of triumph. Now to pick up the real threads of the story line is very tough indeed and only that will provide a true picture. I am well at it, bit by bit..

no VG, I am not aware of the story you mention - would be delighted to hear about it from you...

Anonymous said...

Classify this strictly under folklore. Judging by the story, it seems to have its origins in Kozhikode, not Kolathunaadu :-):

Once, the Kolathiri Raja was visiting the Samoothiri. During some small talk, Kolathiri asks: "Saa-moori kuthumo?" (a play on words, Moori is colloquial Malayalam for bull).

Samoothiri replies with another question: "Kola-thiri kathumo?" (another play on words, thiri is Malayalam for wick).

Kolathiri replied that "kola-thiri chilappol kathum" and Samoothiri replied back that "kola-thiri kathiyaal sa-moori kuthukayum cheyyum".

Some time later, the Samoothiri gets a present from Kolathiri, a highly ornate locked box along with the key. Remembering the conversation, Samoothiri orders the box to be immersed in water for some time and then opens it. It is full of gunpowder (now wet), which would have caught fire on opening the box had the box not been immersed in water.

Some time later, the Kolathiri Raja receives a box as present from the Samoothiri. Remembering the gunpowder he has sent, he orders the box to be immersed in water and then opens it. The box contains a bunch of wasps, which are now terribly angry after being immersed in water. They proceed to give a good "kuthu" to the Raja.

Anonymous said...

The previous story is not part of the material that I collected personally. I forget the source, but it could have been a story from Kottarathil Shankunni's Aithihyamala. Which would gel with the seemingly Kozhikode origins of the story, as Shankunni mainly focused on folklore from Travancore and South Malabar.


Maddy said...

That was an interesting one VG. I did not even read it in the PCM Raja memoirs which normally covers a lot of interesting anecdotes like this!! But obviously from the Kozhikode side...

Muz said...


In last para you observe the rebellion was ' protest of mapplilas who lost their situation of power following tippoos invasion'

But in your own one article about manjeri attan gurukkal ive read he was a revenue collector even in zamorins time(even today gurukkals are reputed rich house hold in manjeri from which senior muslim league politicians and ministers, businessmen come), same was the case of chemban pockers, they were among few rich landlords aristocratic muslim house holds even before tipoos arrival(like nehas in parappanangadi related to vettath raja), so this aristocratic landlords were not mere moppilah peasants gained sudden power from tipoos invasion,

also mentioned in article athan gurukkal joined the revolt to revenge death of his relative unni moothas brother(i wonder how ernat mapoilah got surname "khan" as you mentioned adem khan) not bcz of fear of his land or wealth,which definitely not he gained with tipoos support

and chemban gurukkal was a east india companys police official, so both manjeri gurukkal and chemban had wealth and possition even in british time and certainly they were not some poor peasant class mopplahs in zamorins time

so my opinion is while the later moplah uprisings in 1860s etc were mainly spearheaded by peasant class mappliahs to protest the revenue policy, the uprising of 1790s were more of upholding independent nature of southern malabars aristocratic house holds(,like unnimootha were from erstwhile valluvanad ottapalom regions even before tipoos time they may have enjoyed this independent nature inherent to valluvanadan land chiefs defying any overlordship even by zamorin himself like major nair house holds), if otherwise their sudden wealth n power were simply gained by means of exploiting lost hindus, pazhassi rajah or ravi varma definetely would not have accepted them in own side.

Also we cannot neglect or sideline their efforts, even pazhassi uprisings were about regaining his revenue collection authorities and retaining his lost wealth from pazhassi kovilakom, Jhansi rani or peshwa nanasahebs fought for their retaining their titles, fundementally many of indias freedom fighters never had a problem in accepting british suzerainty,exception will be few like siraj dawla, tipoo sultan, veluthambi dalwa, shivaji maharaj who couldnt accept an foreign overlord inrefering in their affairs.

Maddy said...

Thanks Muz
I think you posted the comment in the wrong place, it perhaps belongs to the Unni Mootha article.

But I will reply in both places..

In that article I mentioned that the rich chieftains like Pokker, Moosa and Gurukkal were fighting to regain their lost glory and riches. And I mentioned that the poor class took up the fight hoping they can get a better life.

I don't quite recall which source gave the name of Adam Khan, and I do know that it is mentioned as Adam Mohammed Musaliyar elsewhere. So let me check and revert. Perhaps the Khan was just an offhand usage by some British chronicler. So if I erred there, I will correct it.

Yes, what I was trying to show was the same, i.e. the differences between the two types of rebels as they were called and their aims. And that these aims were not to be classified broadly as 'Indian freedom fight'. It was quite local to their individual causes.