The Rani of Cochin, Van Reede and Hortus Malbaricus

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Let me start with a brief introduction to a soldier and botanist named Hendrik Adriaan van Reede tot Drakenstein (1636-1691). Van Reede as he is popularly referred to, wrote a 12 volume set of books under the title Hortus Malabaricus (Gardens of Malabar), still considered a magnum opus in Botanical circles. Van Reede also figured in the conducting of the conquests of the VOC Dutch and the administration of Dutch Malabar and the Cochin Kingdom.

What has Hortus Malabaricus got to do with these history discussions? It was incidentally the listings from this compendium that I referred to in order to answer a question put forward by a reader interested in Varthema’s comments about roses in Malabar. Varthema had stated that he saw a large number of red, white & yellow roses in Malabar. I was mystified. Yes, there are some roses in Malabar, but to see many in the markets would have been a strange occurrence indeed, unless the flowers came from somewhere else, e.g. The Deccan plateaus or Vijayanagara. In the course of investigations, I found that the Chola traders used to carry Malabar rose essence to trade in China as early as 1077. I learnt that the sweet Gulkhand was originally made using Malabar roses….all new to me. I even saw mentions of the possibility that Yellow roses of Europe reached there via Turkish traders from Malabar/Calicut. However I found nothing else to corroborate Varthema’s statement on Calicut roses which has been quoted far & wide by others interested in horticulture. I will get to the horticultural history of Malabar some other time, but let us go back to Van Reede now that he has entered the picture. I cannot think of any other person, Logan maybe, but not anybody else who spent so much of their life administering problems and overseeing happenings of Malabar.

While checking about Van Reede and reading Dutch history in Malabar, I gleaned about their involvement in the affairs at the Kingdom of Cochin, where the Dutch traders and VOC focused their actions. They had just managed to loosen the Portuguese grip on Malabar spice trade, in Quilon. The Cochin royal family seemed to have the accession situation still out of control. Alert readers would recall that in the Portuguese times, the viceroys had manipulated this aspect and the enmity of the Cochin Raja with the Zamorin, cleverly. In Cochin, when the ruler reached a ripe old age, he was superannuated, sent into retirement & study of godly scriptures and the next in line – the heir apparent took over.

The Portuguese were brought in by Rama Varma and reigning king Varma decided to stay on (a stand supported by the Portuguese) in power even after crossing the age. This resulted in animosity between the heir apparent (from Chazhur and Mutta Tavazhi) & the king and it continued to simmer as time went by.

Let’s get back to the Dutch. Rijkolf Van Goens had finished mopping up Portuguese resistance at Ceylon (Jaffna) and Tuticorin and had now reached Malabar (1658-1663). It took five expeditions (1658, 1660, 1661, 1662 and 1663) to subdue the Portuguese. His assistant, who later became the governor of Malabar, was Van reed, son of a prominent Dutch forester.

Heninger now takes up the story here – In that period of the 17th century, the principal rulers of greater Malabar were the Kings of Cochin, & Travancore, The Zamorin of Calicut and the Kolathiri rulers. The key position in the colonial concept was held by the Cochin Raja. Van Goens and Van reed formed a good relationship with the heir apparent, Ravi Varma of Cochin (and his brother of the same name – a hostage to the alliance). During a key battle, Goda Varma, a prince also defected to the Dutch side and informed them of the palace fortifications.

Van Goens offered Van reed the first vacant captaincy position if he could save the ageing Rani Ganghadhara Maha Lakshmi in the battle melee during early 1662 and the siege of the palace of Rama Varma. The Raja Rama varma and two of his brothers are killed in the battle. Van Reede rescued the Rani who was hiding in the temple attic and has her carried away on a Namboothiri’s shoulder. This was a key and well thought out requirement for the next step of enthroning & empowering the heir apparent, her nephew, a task left to the Rani. Until a decision was taken, the Rani is treated well by the Dutch due to specific entreaties by Ravi varma.

The notes left by the Dutch are revealing in purpose but undignified & callous in content.
Surgeon Wouter Schouten wrote – Only the old queen was taken prisoner by the ensign ‘Jonkheer’ Henderik Van Rhede, because she had favored the Portuguese as much as she had been hostile to us. But the general kept her alive and she was treated well, the more so because of the intercession of the king, our friend whose aunt she was. However she was taken into custody, because she was not trusted rather than for her beauty, for she was an ugly old woman, but adorned with gold chains and trinkets which stood out wonderfully against her black skin.

However in March 1662, Van Goens was driven out of Cochin and Van Reed, the captain retreated to Cranganore. The two brothers (both Vira Kerala Varma’s) fled to Munnar in Ceylon. Van Goens went to Batavia (Jakarta -Indonesia) for reinforcements and returned in the fall on 1662 to take back Cochin.

What about the Rani? She died at a ripe old age in 1678.

The brothers (princes) traveled to Quilon to meet Nieuhof (who himself wrote some interesting accounts of Malabar) to negotiate the return of the throne. Unfortunately the heir apparent died during the journey and the brother of the same name is proposed instead. The rani accepts his nomination. Note here that the heir apparent and his brother are actually not from Cochin, but the highlands.

The final battle in 1663 was led by Van reede. The Goda Varama claimants (supporters of the Portuguese) were expelled later by Van Reede and his friend Isac De Saint Martin. Van Reede then occupied the Bolghati Island. All the Roman Catholics and Portuguese were expelled by the Dutch (I believe they scattered around or went to Goa or back to Europe). In February the Dutch took over Cannanore from the Portuguese. The Dutch then signed a treaty with the Zamorin of Calicut and finally, on 6th March 1663, Vira Kerala Varma was crowned as the Raja by Van Goens who returned for the event. Around the 20th of March, the Dutch led by Van Goens signed a treaty of eternal alliance with the Cochin Raja.

Van Goens left Cochin & India on 22nd March, leaving behind Van Reede as Councilor of Malabar, President of the Town Council of Cochin and Dutch envoy. For three years thereafter, Van Reede served also the position of ‘Regedore Meior’ in the kings council, was treated on par with Namboothiri’s and held in high esteem by the people for his saving the queen, fighting for the king, and sticking to the king’s side during the palace intrigues & politics. Some time around March 1665, he left Cochin and John Vax, his friend in the previous battles took over.

He was thence involved in the imprisonment & eviction of compatriot Nieuhof for his corrupt activities (some say due to personal rivalry between the two) in Tuticorin and Quilon. Eventually he moved through Quilon & Tuticorin to settle down briefly in Ceylon and write his reports to his boss Van Goens.

During this tenure between 1662 and 1665 he had started to get tired of the constant rivalry between the Rajas and people of Malabar, not really understanding the reasons for these ‘false people’s’ quarrels. Nieuhof is meanwhile sent to Batavia where he gets acquitted, but is fired from the VOC services.

Opium trade had picked up in the meantime in Quilon. Van Rheede did not have a great time there and had an unsatisfactory relationship with the merchants of Quilon. Jan Van Almonde an experienced trader was asked to serve under Van reed which he refused to do considering his larger experience. The building of the Quilon fort was not progressing smoothly and finally things came to a head with Van reed resigning from the VOC. John Vax also submitted his resignation.

Van Goens stationed as VOC commander in Ceylon was embarrassed, In addition to the worsening situation in Malabar, the Anglo Dutch war was in full effect in Europe and the English were sniffing around in Malabar. Eventually Van Rheede was appointed as Commander of Ceylon and transferred to Jaffna as #2 to Van Goens.

Based in Ceylon, he undertook further disciplinary actions against other high ranking officers of the VOC in Malabar, got involved in many skirmishes and later full fledged wars against the feuding Madhura Nayaks (curiously at one time even got his diamond ring (worth 200 guilders) pinched by the Madhura Nayak!!). After the wars with the Nayak was won, he held an exalted status in the VOC and Van Goens now happy with his sergeant major, started planning possible excursions against the Zamorin & Calicut, the only untouched part of Malabar.

By now it was April 1669 and Van Reed got waylaid not by more wars but by botany. This started with requests for medicinal plants & herbs from headquarters. All this period you may be astonished to note that the entire territory of Malabar was actually administered by the VOC not from Cochin, but from Ceylon! It was thus that Reed formed a team of botanical specialists (e.g. Paul Hermann) headed by him to track down the flora & fauna of Malabar. However as we have seen before Van Goens was a very vocal person and soon interfered in the relationship between Van reed and Paul Hermann (the latter specialized in Ceylon flora). Van Goens did not want Malabar to get any prominence and tried his best to block all the Van reede efforts. The first open fighting between the two started at this time.

By 1676 Van Goens managed to get Van Rheede transferred to Batavia. It was here that the book Hortus Malabaricus took concept and the first two volumes were completed for publishing in 1678 (without Van Goens knowing it). Van Rheede then returned to Holland. By 1684 Reede was pulled out of retirement and sent back – again to root out corruption in the VOC of Asia. In 1685 Van Goens relinquished his governorship of Ceylon to his son. He was then made governor general and eventually returned to Amsterdam in 1680.

Rheede settled down in Ceylon and then came out the next 10 volumes, without any Goens to block his efforts. For Goens, Colombo was supreme and Malabar distasteful. It was on his final trip from Ceylon that Reed died onboard the ship ‘Drechterland’ that was taking him to Surat, apparently poisoned.

Strangely Van Rheede never picked up Malayalam or Sanskrit after all these years in Malabar. His main interpreter was Vinayaka Pandit and a number of Tupasses (earlier introduced as Portuguese Indian or Lusad Indians) and other Brahmins. Interestingly the King of nearby Tekkumkur had ensured to send many Brahmins to the Dutch school started in Kottayam by Van reed. It is thus that the Brahmins learnt both languages.

The Hortus Malabaricus describing some 740 Malabar plants was finally completed by 1703. The intervening period covers much more Malabar history, to be recounted on another day. What was left was Van Reed’s legacy to Malabar - the voluminous (12 vols) Hortus Malabarica – A treatise about the plants & flowers of Malabar. The fine drawings were made by Missionary Mathews; the plants were collected and sorted, described for their medicinal properties by Vaidyars, namboothiris and Ezhavas. It is truly a joint effort. The team had a total of 25 members including Itty Achutan, Appu Bhatt, Ranga Bhatt & Vinayaka Bhatt. Itty Achutan was the main contributor in the effort.

The book was in some measure the product of political rivalry between Van Reede and General Ryklof van Goens, who was bent on establishing the Dutch colonial capital at Colombo rather than Cochin. Van Reede wanted to prove Malabar's superiority in terms of ready supply of valuable spices, cotton and timber. More importantly he was able to show that many valuable drugs purchased in European cities, including those used for the treatment of Dutch officers in the Indies, were actually made from medicinal plants originating in Malabar and exported through Arabian and other trade routes. This worked. The Dutch government sided with the Cochin governor, even as his publication created a stir in Europe's scientific and political circles, further stimulating rivalry for colonies in India.

Strangely the book’s first English translation done by KS Manilal, appeared only in 2003. Can you believe that? From 1687 when the first two volumes were completed, to the next ten by 1693 (apparently not 1703 as popularly mentioned & in the title page of Vol 12 – clarification from - The botany of the Commelins - D. O. Wijnands) and now the English version in 2003, three hundred years or more had passed. This was the first European documentation of Kerala’s Ayurveda.

On Reede’s personal life, it is stated that he led an expansive lifestyle, hailing from the aristocratic Mijdrecht family; he was called Lord of Myjdrecht, that he was married and that he had a daughter Francine van Reede who lived in Ceylon and a son who died in South Africa.

Van Reede spent a while in South Africa (The Draakenstein region is named after him) and he was involved in promoting better treatment for VOC slaves. While visiting Africa he had made notes with an intention of wiring a Hortus Africus, but it never materialized. Van reed did not rest in peace in Surat – many years later the common Dutch English Burial ground sent a bill for 6000/- to repair his elaborate decagon shaped tomb with dual cupolas. Even after his death he was considered a heretic Lutheran who viciously whipped and chased the Portuguese missionaries away from Malabar.

How interesting the story is, if you think about it carefully. The fortunes of Van reede were dictated by the safety of the Rani of Cochin. The warrior turns into a botanist, mainly to prove that Malabar plants were superior to Ceylonese and to ensure that Malabar was not ruled out of Ceylon or ceded to it while at the same time preferring the uncomplicated people of Ceylon over the difficult ones in Malabar. Ironically, for 300-335 years the fine book he wrote based on age old Ayurvedic secrets (credit had been given by him to all the people who helped him) has never been translated and only in 2003 was the English translation finally completed by a KS Manilal of Cochin.How ironic that Van reede who spent a lifetime in Malabar hated the region and was entombed in Surat after being poisoned by his own people.

And finally how ironic that the man who spent a lifetime to botany, KS Manilal after all his hard work had to bequeath the rights of his work to a university and not even have his name mentioned in the Malayalam translation of his English version.

And whatever happened to the VOC or the Dutch East India Company?

With a deafening and thunderous noise the large Amsterdam warehouse at the old shipyards of the United East-Indies Company, the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), collapsed on the 14th of April 1822. It simply imploded, except for one wing. For almost two centuries, the landmark building had stored the riches brought by thousands of ships, waiting to be sold by Dutch auction. The VOC store was no more. The large Dutch company had died a catastrophic and wealth consuming death about twenty years before. The first truly multinational corporation in the world went bankrupt leaving a debt of 219 million Dutch guilders. The Dutch government had tried to prop it up by taking it over and dismantling it, but suffered under its debts until well into the 19th century.

Such are the ironies of life…

Reede’s soul must be saying – I always told you, the Malabari’s (South) are tricky guys
And the Rani would say – Reede, you really should have stuck to the canals of Amsterdam and tended to the tulips, like your father did…

Note: The Tekumkur, Vadakumkur highland areas cover Kottayam, Changanacherry, Todupuzha, Vaikom, Muvattupuzha, Ettumanoor etc. The latter was aligned to Cochin and the former was independent.

Hendrik Adriaan van Reede tot Drakenstein (1636-1691) & Hortus Malabaricus- J. Heniger
Matters of exchange - Harold John Cook
Rumphius' Orchids - Georg Eberhard Rumpf, E. M. Beekman
Cochin state manual – C Achyutha Menon

The Marakkar’s and their origins

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Most of us have heard and read about the famous Kunhali Marakkar and his exploits, but one question remains, where did they come from? There have been many questions about their real origins, were they Moplahs of Arab extract from Pantalayani Kollam (South of Calicut); were they of Sri Lankan origin, were they Tamil Marakkars or were they from Tulunad? The research was quite interesting and the result obtained cannot be termed fully conclusive but was quite revealing. For those here, and only interested in Kunjali’s story, this does not cover the life and times of any of the famous Kunhali’s but hovers only around theories of their possible origin.

The Name and title

Let us first look at the name Marakkar. Note that this is different from Marakkayar though we will observe the connections after a while (Marikkar and Maricar are other spellings used in history books). According to many other historians, Moppila or Moplah is Maha Pillai (great son) and Marakkar means (Marakkalam is a wooden boat) ‘boatmen’. Thurston in his Tribes of S India, states the following - The word Marakkar is usually derived from the Arabic ‘Markab’, a boat. The story goes that, when the first immigrants of this class (they were apparently driven from their own country by persecutions) landed on the Indian shores, they were naturally asked who they were, and where they came from. In answer they pointed to their boats, and pronounced the word Markab, and they became in consequence Marakkars, or the people of Markab.

Was it also a titular name for seaborne traders? KVK Iyer clarifies in his history of Kerala that Marakkar was a prized title given by the Zamorin of Calicut. Derived from Marakka Rayar it signifies the captain of a ship Rayar (Captain) of Marakkalam (ship). According to him Kunjali after the destruction of Ponnani by Almeida approached the Zamorin and asked to fight the Portuguese. Impressed by his courage he was given this title by the Zamorin. It appears that the people who carried the title used a special silk turban on their heads. Don Lach & Ed Levy quoting Laval in the book ‘Asia in the making of Europe’ states that Marakkar means ‘viceroy’.

NM Nampoothiri quoting the Granthavaris of Calicut - Zamorin confirms the honorific title - In 1687 the Kuliyoti Kottakal Marakkayar was given the title Marakkayar. Another man, Kunnikkalathor was given the title Kunnali Marakkayar in the same year.

The period

P Kunhabdulla in an article opines that the Marakkars came from Arabia in the 7th Century. This poses a question, where on the Malabar coastline did they settle down? Assuming for a moment that they came around the 11-13th century, the trade links with the Arab lands was in the Cranganore region, with Muziris (A tantalizing question – could all this connect up to Vavar Swami?). However another scenario is more probable. If one were to study the history of Quilon, it will be evident that the trade between Arabia and wealthy Quilon was controlled by the Chinese with their vessels. But by the turn of the 12th century we read that the Chinese were forced out and the Moplahs take their place. This is possibly where the Marakkars first settled, thence moving to Cranganore & Cochin. Here they would have settled to provide the trade support to the new entrants of the Portuguese. A group of them had migrated to Tuticorn earlier and settled down to conduct trade with Ceylon, Java & Malay. They also controlled the lucrative pearl fishery subjugating the Paravas for that purpose. Finally they took the reins of the horse trade with Arabia, supplying the horses to the Muslim rulers in the Tamil Nadu & Vijaynagar.

When the Portuguese encroached on their supplier base in Malacca in 1524 or so, the fighting between these two communities started in right earnest. The Marakkars of Cochin had to leave their base in Cochin and move to Ponnani & Kottakkal, with the support of the Calicut Zamorin. According to Logan in Malabar Manual, the Marakkars moved to Thikkodi following Henry Menzez’s destruction of the Moorish colony in Cochin and then to Kottakal where they became prominent. They then became the admirals of the Zamorin, leading the wars against the Franks, but by the turn of the 17th century had been subdued by the determined Portuguese with their bigger & better armed ships. Mayimama Marakkar was once an ambassador of the Zamorin.

Logan feels they were originally from P Kollam. Krishna Iyer states that they originated from Ponnani and spread to Tanur, Agalapula etc. Pyrard Laval and DeCouto state that Kunhali was from Pantalayalni Kollam, moving to Tikkodi later in 1525.

Pius provides a detailed account and three theories. One was the increase in prominence of the Casados or Portuguese married to Indians and the support for private trade conducted by them around 1515. Then it occurred that Albuquerque died and the passes/permits or ‘cartazas’ for trade stopped being given to the Muslim traders. The marakkars, especially Kunhali who had started a joint trade with Gov Diogos Lopes suddenly found that Lopez simply appropriated his own laden vessel and goods bound for the Red sea ports. It was this act in 1522 that turned Kunhali against the Portuguese. By 1524, Kunjali, Mohammad Ali and Ahmed Ali, all Marakkars moved to Ponnani. Pate Marakkar, Kunjali’s cousin was another Marakkar who went against the Portuguese. This action is a long way from the days of 1513 when Dom Manuel bestowed special privileges for Cherina & Mamale Marakkar. The second reason was the take over of Malacca trade by the Casados. The third reason was a drop in customs duties for Casados in the Cohin port that enabled the Kings family to broker deals between Casados and non Muslim traders.

Some prominent Marakkars and their trade

The Marakkars were the leading business group of the region when the Portuguese arrived in Kerala. They had settled at Cochin and were believed to be the descendants of the Arabs who migrated to Kerala. If they were Arabs, are they Yemeni Hadhramites or Egyptians? Mecca – By Francis Peters (P173) & Logan (P308) mention a wealthy Egyptian trader named Khoja Mehmed Marakkar, who was ill treated by Vincent Sodre at Cannanore, thus signifying a possible but lone Egyptian connection (I understood that Sreedhara Menon also makes such a Cairo connection but I could not find it). As we saw they were driven out of Cochin by the heavy handed actions of the Portuguese.

The Marakkars of Cochin as we saw earlier, had ships & factories in the Cochin & Coromandel area according to Portuguese sources as early as 1504 and supplied the Portuguese with spices from Malaysia (Malacca) before the Portuguese themselves established themselves in Malacca (KS Mathew). They also had a monopoly over the Maldives trade.The interaction between the Ceylon, Ramanad and Kayalpatanam Marakkars is often quoted by historians and writers of the times such as Sheikh Zainuddin and Barbosa. It does appear that they also conducted commodities trade, especially rice. Ismail marakkar for example handled rice trade in Calicut, and there were the famous Pachachi marakkar, Pattu (Pate) marakkar etc. Varthema mentions Mamale Marakkar of Cannanore, the richest merchant of Malabar. In later days, i.e. Tipu’s times, the Dewan of Travancore was supported at sea by Pokku Moosa Marakkar.

Pate Marakar of Cochin approached Zamorin after they are troubled at Cochin and received no support from the local Cochin king (Starthern). Until then Mamale marakar (Lord of Maladives) was the one fighting the Portuguese, he was killed by Sodre in 1525.

KS Mathew an Indo Portugues specialist identified Mamale Marakkar in Cochin during the 1504 period. Between him and Genieve Bouchon, they list the following Marakkars of Cochin in the 16th century. Cheria naina, Naina (note here that the Naina marakkars were later prominent in Burma & Malacca), Mitos, Chilary (Cheria ali), Mohammed, Mamali, Pate, Icimale & Belina. Sheikh Zainuddin mentions the four admirals or Kunji Ali, Ali Ibrahim, Kutti Ibrahim and Mohammed Ali Marakkars. Mathew also confirms that these Marakkar’s of Cochin had their own factories in the Coromandel Coast and traded with the Portuguese until 1511 when the latter conquered Malacca. Zainuddin confirms that these Marakkars had sailed often to Kayal but that they also fought with the Portuguese when attacked. The King of Kayalpatanam, a Marakkayar who was a subject of the queen of Quilon had his Kayal kingdom with many other Malabar settlers. These people according to JBP More eventually became the Marakayars (note now the change of spelling) of Tamil Nadu. Pius Malekandathil states that it was the Marakkar traders, especially Mitos Marakkar who were the chief suppliers of Cinnamon to the Portuguese in Cochin. One interesting fact also comes up that the boat of Cherianaina or Mamaly Marakkar was attacked by Cabral at the behest of the Zamorin (Sanjay Subramaniam Pg 180) due to a complaint that his war elephants were on board that ship.

Marakkars and Marakkayars

JBP More points out to spoken words, marriage customs etc which strongly connect the Marakkayars of Tamil to the Malabar Marakkars. It is also pointed out in his book that Malabar Marakkars had relations with the communities in the Kayalpatanam (Tuticorin) region, a group which conducted trade with Burma, Malacca and Indonesia.

To determine the origins of the Marakkars, JB More used another yardstick, their family system. Both the Tamil Marakkayars and Malabar Marakkars practice marumakkathayam (matrilinear system of inheritance) and settle in the bride’s house. More thus believes that the Tamil Marakkayars came from Malabar.

It was only towards the 17th century that the Tamil Labbais came to the fore, as the boatmen & the fishermen. In another wave of migration, many Muslims left the Tamil country during the late 14th century in Marak Kalams (Wooden Boats) and landed on the coasts of Ceylon. Because they came in Marak Kalams the Sinhala people called them Marakkala Minissu.

Summarizing, the elite Chuliah (Kling to Malays) Muslims constituted the Maraikkayar caste in the early 14th century. This Tamil group were Sunni’s and maintained ships and had strong relations with their Arab brethren as well as the holy cities of Arabia (The Labbias were the lower Sunni strata comprising fishermen, pearl divers etc). The Kayalpatanam Marakkars controlled the Indian Ocean pearl trade. The Labbias and Rowthers conducted inland trade.

However, Arthur Coke Burnell states that the Mopilah and Labbai are of the same descent, it is just that Labbais settled in the Tamil areas. Though they kept apart from each other in South India, elsewhere they had links - Let us look at this Malay name to define such a connection- Sheikh Labbai nainar Marakkar ibnu ahmad labbai. These Labbai Marakkars have been living in places like Malaysia since the 10th century. Did they come from the Labbai Iraqi stock? Or is it a rare case of intermingling?

Susan Bayly states in her book ‘Saints Goddesses and Kings’ (pg80) that Tamil Marakkayars have always looked down upon converted Muslims and had a higher social standing, being directly linked to Arabs. She states the Sunni Shafi Madhab connection to Arabia as proof of their identity. They (marakkars) maintained the sect by intermarriage between the Marakkayars of Malabar & Tamil Nadu strictly. She states that Labbais are Hanafi sect followers are follow rules like marrying father’s sister’s daughter (Murapennu- a popular south Indian ‘kalyana murai’). Nagore, Kayalpattanam, Kilakkarai, Adiramapattanam are the main centers with old mosques and remains of ancient Sahabi saint.

Bayly mentions Patattu marakkayar signifies a title or Pattam having been granted to one of these families. Could that be the Pattu marakkar that we know from Cochin? The Kayal Patanam Quadiri Sufis had connections with the Calicut Sufi families. This sort of confirms the connection between the Calicut, Cochin & Kayal Marakjkayar families and the Arabic links. The Marakkayar port of Porto Novo (Mahmud Bandar) was a popular and busy port in the later years. In Ramnad however, the Marikkars mainly handled trade for the Setupati royal family.

Labbai are one of the four Muslim groups in Tamil Nadu State. The Ravuttan, Marakkayar, and Kayalan form the rest of the Islamic community. Labbais and Ravuttans follow the Hanafi School, a branch of the Sunni sect. Marakkayars & Kayalars belong to the Sunni Shaafi branch of Islam which spread from the coasts of southern Yemen. Kayalar seems to be a subdivision of Marakkayar. Kayalars and Marakkayars are found primarily along the Coramandel coast. Labbais and Ravuthars predominate in the interior, Ravuthars mainly in the south and Labbais mainly in the north of the state

Marakkars of Kotakkal

Let us start with the first major Maraikars of Cochin. They were the two families, namely Cherian Marakkar and Mamally marakkar. Cherian was an agent of Malik Ayaz of Gujarat, whereas Mamally (strangely he is also called Mamally Mappila) excelled in trade based from Cannanore. As the Portuguese tightened trade controls, these Muslim traders moved to take residence near Calicut. Lakshmi Subramaniam opines that this is when (1524) Ahmed Marakkar, Uncle Mohammad and his brother Ibrahim moved up towards Ponnani and Kottakkal. Mohammed Marakkar was accorded the title Kunjali by the ruling Zamorin thus cementing the families relationship with the Zamorins until the reign of the 4th Kunjali by when a wedge was driven into this relationship by spite, jealousy and cleaver manipulation of the Zamorin by the Portuguese. Between 1500 and 1600 the Zamorin’s naval operations were overseen by the Kunjalis.

The Kunjali IV (Kunhali is more modern. The older historians call him Kuttiali) was executed by the Portuguese in March1600 and with that ended the Malabar Marakkar clan. The study of the collapse of the family also signifies that they were Marakkars for they did not marry from the local Muslim clans, apparently the last Kunjali adopted a Nair girl (this Nair woman relationship, an elephant’s tail hair and a purported castration of a Nair were the main tools the Portuguese used to drive the wedge between the Zamorin and the Kunjali) and got her married to a senior Muslim sea captain.

Back to origins

So the question still remains. If the Marakkar traders originated from Cochin, where did they come from? According to SV Muhammed, in his book ‘Charithrathile Marakkar Sannidhyam’, the Marakkar family (Kunhali) originated from the Konkan and they were rice merchants. According to him Marakkar was the family name and Kunhali was the titular name given by the Zamorin. PPM Koya believed that the family line originated from Tunisia and reached Kerala in the 12th century. Moplahs have been in Kerala since the 9th century according to others, though not the Marakkars (PP Mohammed Koya – history of Calicut Muslims). Mammu master believes that they are ‘margakkar’ or converts. The Margakkar became marakkar over time.

But if the Marakkars are Arab, how are they different from the Moplah of Malabar? The Moplas in general had forefathers from Arabia and mothers of local descent. They comprise both the Sunni and the Shiah groups and include converts. The Arabs are believed to come from many regions notably from the Red Sea coastal areas and the Hadhramaut region of present day Yemen. Many present day Mappilla Muslims are Shafi however it could have been so that they claimed a direct lineage to an Arab trading group without converts. Some scholars opine that the migration to Tuticorin came about only in the 15th or 16th century after Portuguese persecution, though trade documentation indicates that many existed in those ports even earlier. Many of the present-day Tirunelveli Muslims claim to be descended from the Kerala Mappilas and follow Malabari religious teachers and social culture. To summarize, the Marakkars are Moplas, though probably differing in exact origin and sub sect. They were always conductors of trade and migrated also to Tuticorin, Ceylon, Indonesia, Philippines and Mayasia.

Dr Ochanthuruth of Calicut University questions claims that Marikkars were Mappila Muslims, and contends there is no evidence to support the belief that Marikkars lived in Pantalayani - Kollam, then in Tikkodi and then in Kottakkal, which was their last headquarters. “Available evidence suggests Marikkars were of Tamil origin and many of them were Parathava converts from Coramandel,” Dr. Ochanthuruth claimed.

But a surprising twist comes by way of a paragraph in Pavithran’s book ‘The British commission to India’. He writes in pg 150 - A daring Thiya youth from Badagara embraced Islam. He was named Kunhali. He added Marakkar to his name, Marakkar means converted……..He was related to Madathil Koru Moopan, a trader having ships and the first president of Sreekandeshawara temple of Calicut, consecrated by Sree Narayana Guru. However this specific claim lacks in credence.

Finally one has to mention the so called matrilineal ‘Kudi maraikkars’ of some South Indian and Ceylon settlements. Here the term maraikkar is for the head of the Muslim populace dealing with fishing. They are covered in detail in the book Crucible of Conflict - Dennis B. McGilvray and these websites. They are also Moplah migrants from Malabar. In addition to Kudi Marakkars, there are plenty of regular Marakkar trading families as well in Ceylon.

Note: It may now be news to some that our beloved ex-president Dr Abdul Kalam is a Marakkar himself.

Muslim Identity, Print Culture, and the Dravidian Factor in Tamil Nadu - J. B. Prashant More
Medieval Seafarers of India - Lakshmi Subramaniam
India & the Indian Ocean world – Ashin Das Gupta
Saints Goddesses and Kings – Susan Bayly
Moors of
Sri Lanka
Political Evolution of Muslims in Tamil Nadu and Madras - J. B. Prashant More
Kerala Muslim History – PA Syed Mohammed
Tuhfat Al Mujahideen – Zainuddin Makhdum
Charithrathile Marakkar Sannidhyam – SV Mohammed
Kunjali Marakkar –
Kerala Calling Malabar & the Portuguese – KM Panikkar
Castes & tribes of S India – Thurston
Portuguese Cochin & the Maritime trade of India – Pius Malekandathil
The Career and Legend of Vasco Da Gama - Sanjay Subrahmanyam

The Mannanars of Chirakkal

Posted by Maddy Labels:

The rigors of the caste system in Kerala during the medieval times was horrendous and many a silly thing was practiced in the name of adhering to and maintaining one’s caste. People would not touch or look at people of inferior castes; people could not eat food touched by cooks of lower caste etc, you lost caste if polluted by a lower caste and so on... But the worst happened if a woman was to have sexual relations (or were polluted otherwise) with a man below their caste. In those times if a Nair woman was convicted she would be sold away as a slave to Pardesi’s or given away as a wife to a Moplah or a Coromandel Chetti. In extreme cases, they were even killed.

However if a Namboothiri woman were implicated for infidelity, loss of chastity, violation of pollution rules etc, the case took a formal route. She is then hauled up in front of Vedic scholars called Smarthans who conducted a highly ritualistic trial called Smartha Vicharam after being ordered to by the king. If she is implicated, she together with the man or men are stripped of their case and excommunicated. The girl is then considered dead & inanimate by the Namboothiri family and cast away (Brashtu kalpikkal). In an upcoming blog, I will narrate to you the sad, notorious and immensely popular story of a brave woman named Kuriyedath Thathri.

Ever wondered what happened to these wretched girl’s who were sent away? Some wandered away or killed themselves; some were taken away by Paradesi’s, Chetty’s or Moplah’s and some drifted away looking for asylum. Curiously there was a solution to their sad plight; there was an asylum giver, but only in certain cases and sometimes upon recommendation. The asylum provider was the Mannanar of the Varakat Illam.

But first an introduction to the Mannanar family in the Chirakkal region of Tellichery is needed. Close to the old Coorg border, on the banks of the Thoniyar River ( Is it the present day Kooveri?) is a place called Eruvasi or Eruvasseri (NE of Thaliparamba). From historic times, it was home to the Varakat Illam from where a Thiyya king of Buddhist origins ruled. The Thiyyas of Varakat illam far from having any disability arising from untouchability, were permitted to enjoy all privileges of the higher castes and moved about in palanquins, carrying their swords and shields. They also had a retinue of 200 Nair soldiers (Logan). The only requirement was that these Thiyyans hung their leg out of the palanquin if they saw a Nair or a Rajah, in token of submission. Some others say that the Mannanars are the descendants of an outcasted member of the Chirakkal ruling family of north Malabar or even a Nambuthiri woman.

They were also permitted to provide asylum to outcaste Nambuthiri women.

This family were called the Izhathu Mannanars. The 200 Nairs who fought for the Mannanar were from the Edavakutti Kulam. The Mannanar ascended to the throne after a ritual ‘Ariyittuvazcha’ like the Zamorin of Calicut did. He lorded over four manas, the Mothedathu, the Elayedathu, Puthan, Puythiyedathu & Mundaya. The last Mannanar sthani who passed away in 1902 was named Kunji Kelappan. The Mannanar’s followed a matrilineal system like the Nairs. The main palace was the Mothedathu Aramana.

In some cases the Mannanar Sthani’s were proactive, they heard of a Smarta Vicharam in session and went to the location to take away the sentenced and excommunicated girl. In the old times, the system worked thus – The couriers took the girl away and left her at a pair of crossroads at the Mannanar palace in Taliparamba. The girl then took one or the other route to her future. If she took the eastern gate, she became the Mannanar’s wife, if she took the road to the North gate, she became his adopted sister. After this, her birth ceremonies were performed and she started a new life.

Thurston in his ‘castes & tribes of S India” states- The Varaka Tiyans were further allowed to wear gold jewels on the neck, to don silken cloths, to fasten a sword round the waist, and to carry a shield. The sword was made of thin pliable steel, and worn round the waist like a belt, the point being fastened to the hilt through a small hole near the point. A man, intending to damage another, might make an apparently friendly call on him, his body loosely covered with a cloth, and to all appearances unarmed. In less than a second, he could unfasten the sword round his waist, and cut the other down. This for those who do not know, is the weapon called ‘Urumi’ of the warriors of Malabar.

Logan adds that if the Nambuthiri girl is convicted of illicit liaison with a man of caste lower than a Thiyya, then the girl was sent to Kuthira Mala deep in the jungles of the Western Ghats.

Interestingly, should the Mannanar family have no offspring they were provided one by the Namboothiris – Thurston states - It is said that, when their chief, Mannanar of the Aramana, is destitute of heirs, the Tiyans of Kolattanad go in procession to the Kurumattur Nambutiri (the chief of the Peringallur Brahmans) and demand a Brahman virgin to be adopted as sister of Mannanar, who follows the ‘marumakkatayam’ rule of succession. This demand, it is said, used to be granted by the Nambutiris assembling at a meeting, and selecting a maiden to be given to the Tiyans.

A social history of India - S. N. Sadasivan ( Pgs 352, 353, 382, 383, 416, 705)
Castes & tribes of Southern India – Thurston, Rangachari ( Pgs 224, 225 - Vol 5 Nambutiri Brahmins, Pg 44 Tiyan Vol 7)
Namboothirs – F Fawcett, F Evans (Pg 76)
Malabar Manual – W Logan (Pg 125)
The ethnographical survey of the Cochin state - L. Krishna Anantha Krishna Iyer (Pg 5)

Thomas Baber and the Nair’s of Malabar

Posted by Maddy Labels:

ThomasBaber was an official of the East India Company, who is generally remembered today, as the man who tracked down the Pazhassi Raja Kerala Varma on the 30th of November 1805 (Thomas Hervey Baber (1777 to 1843) is also Blogger Nick Balmer’s great great great great uncle and Nick has introduced him in detail in his early blogs).

Thomas Baber after joining the EIC, sailed from England to Bombay, arriving in the New Year 1797. It appears that within months of his arrival in Bombay, Thomas was sent to Tellicherry where some of the EIC factories were located. From 1798 to 1808 he served in the EIC revenue department. In 1804 he was sub collector of Malabar under Thomas Warden. He then held a position as Zillah Judge (District judge) 1808-1816 in Tellicherry after which he was transferred to Mangalore as the third judge of the Western provincial court during 1816-1824. After those years, he moved to Bombay on account of health problems and then back to Dharwar as Principal Collector & political agent 1824-1827. Later he was appointed as the first Judges of the Western provincial court. In 1838, he retired and moved back to Telicherry. In all he spent over 30 years in the western Konkan, Maratha & Malabar regions.

It was in 1830 that he was summoned to provide evidence at the House of Lords on various EIC matters. Let us take a look at what happened. These responses will tell you quite a bit about the historical settings of the early 19th century Malabar and TH Baber himself.

Affairs of the East India Company Minutes of evidence: 2nd April 1830, House of Lords - England

Thomas Harvey Baber Esquire is called in

What follows are a few extracts from the statement. The complete document is available in various books and public domain websites

Had you any opportunity of becoming acquainted with the inhabitants of any other Part of Hindostan besides the District of Malabar?

Yes; the Southern Mahratta Country, lying between the Kisna and the Toongbudra Rivers.

Do you think that the natives of the Malabar Coast were more strict observers of truth than the other inhabitants of Hindostan whom you had an opportunity of observing?

Certainly; decidedly so.

To what Cause do you attribute that?

To their keen sense of honour, and high notions, and spirit of independence.

An extraordinary instance of the former occurred in a trial which came before me. A female of the Nair caste had cohabited with a relation within what they call the prohibited degrees. The circumstance coming to the knowledge of their family, an application was made to me to punish the offending parties, (both the Man and the Woman.)

I observed that the case was not provided for in the regulations as a matter of criminal cognizance; that perhaps an action for damages might lie against the man, but that I saw no advantage that would result there from to the family; I therefore recommended to them to refer the matter to their own caste; observing that they had the power to expel the delinquents from their caste; that this was the only remedy I knew of or could suggest.

They then petitioned me to have the parties taken up, and banished the country; they particularly requested that I would send them to His Highness The Rajah of Coorg, whose district adjoined that country. This I told them also was not in my power. The two seniors of the family, who had waited upon me, went away, evidently much dissatisfied.

A few days afterwards a report reached me, from one of my police officers, that this man and woman had disappeared. I immediately set on foot an inquiry of what had become of them; and in my instructions to the police officers directed them to call before them particularly the two persons who had come before me as above. As soon as the two individuals in question heard of the inquiry the police officers were making, they went and delivered themselves up, acknowledging they had put them to death, and not therefore to annoy any other person on that account; that if there was any guilt they were the guilty persons. The bodies of the man and woman were found horribly mangled.

The Proceedings of the Inquest, together with the two Prisoners, were forwarded to my Court, when they acknowledged that they were the perpetrators of the murder; and then reminded me that they had appealed to my authority before to redress the family grievance, and thereby vindicate the family's honour; that I had not complied with their request, and therefore they had taken the law into their own hands.

They were committed for trial, and sentenced by the Court of Quarter Sessions to be hanged. As usual, the trial was referred to the Foujdarry Adawlut (Faujdari Adalat – Military tribunal), which court confirmed the sentence of death, and the warrant was returned shortly afterwards for carrying the same into execution. It was my province, as Magistrate of that part of the country, to attend at the execution, in order to make those observations which would naturally occur to a magistrate on those awful sentences of the law.

Both at the time that the prisoners were brought before me to have their sentence read, and afterwards at the gallows, the younger of the two brothers fainted away; when the elder encouraged him, by saying, "Be a man. Recollect by this act, for which we are now going to suffer, we have saved the honour of our family."

This is one out of many instances I could mention of the extent to which the natives of Malabar carry their nice, though mistaken, Notions of Honour and of Family Pride.

While answering other questions he adds

Your Lordships will, I trust, pardon a little enthusiasm, while pleading the cause of the Inhabitants of Malabar. I have been placed in a variety of situations of very considerable peril during times of trouble. Often have I been opposed to persons in open rebellion, with no other defenders but Nairs, and invariably have I found them faithful, nay, devoted to me; and even have been killed and wounded by my side; and in order to shield my person from danger, they have surrounded me; and forced me behind a tree. From a principle of gratitude, therefore, I am bound to speak with more than ordinary feeling of them.

Were those occasions where you were subject to attack from other Nairs?

Yes, and Mopillas. At times I have had no other defenders but the Nair’s themselves.


The case presented above does sound a bit on the extreme side. As such, it may have occurred in the North Malabar regions where tempers can be a bit shorter and the family honor aspect is taken very seriously. The medieval times had some traditional laws and practices to take care of such situations. Usually the couple is excommunicated (see my blog on Revathi Pattathanam) or the girl is expelled from society. However death sentences are rarely administered by anybody (though they have been reported) and the family never had the right to take law into their hands. Such being the case, this story is a testament of an event and the mood of those troubled times signifying the decline of Nair authority over Malabar.

Certain unclear aspects were if the relationship was between willing parties and if they belonged to the same family line (matrilineal). If they belonged to the same matrilineal line, it was definitely against the law of the land.

In the third Para of Mr Baber’s statement, he alludes to expulsion of the offending parties to a location adjoining the district belonging to the Raja or Coorg. This matter will be clarified in detail by me in my next article which will covers the Mannanar’s of Chirakkal.

Nick Balmers blog – Tom’s early years
Where Tom Baber would have conducted the above court session –
Pallikunnu house
British History online, Journal of the House of Lords,
Vol 62
Asiatic journal & Monthly miscellany – Vol2, Series 3, Nov 1843