Introducing the Muziris Papyrus

Posted by Maddy Labels:

I have deliberately been staying away from the topic of Muziris. There is such a lot out there for public consumption and there are many experts working on this subject. So with many contributors on a regular basis covering the history, geography & anthropology of that ancient port, I decided to instead work my way through other confusing chapters of Malabar history. Nevertheless, when a friend Nikhil asked me an interesting question, I dredged a bit into my treasure chest of Indian Ocean trade which has a large collection of books including the Goitein collection and the India book, to get to the appropriate answer.

The question was - Why did the people of the Chera kingdom import Olive oil from Rome? The gist of the answer I gave him was - that the presence of Amphorae actually signified the import of three liquids from broad studies of the ports in the West & East coastal ports, namely Olive oil, Wine and Garum. The consumption of fragrant Italian wine is something we see mentioned in ancient scripts like the ones from the Sangam era – e.g. Manimekhalai& Silapadhikaram. It was imported for local but possibly upper class consumption. It is also concluded that olive oil was never staple in South Indian diet and is an acquired taste which was never acquired into S Indian cooking to date. Garum is a smelly fish sauce predominantly found in ancient Roman cooking. Thus olive oil & Garum signify consumption by foreigners resident in Muziris and Kaveri Poompattanam. This as you can figure out implies the presence of Yavana colonies in these two locations.

So now having answered the question in a somewhat satisfactory fashion, I thought I would share a bit more of a complex discovery at Muziris and introduce you to a fascinating document called the Muziris Papyrus. Even though fairly recent (1985) in terms of discovery, it added a strong base to ancient international and trade laws in particular and has been studied at length by economists, lawyers as well as historians. The outcomes from the former is pretty dense, to say the least. But first let us start with a very quick summary on Muziris and the various discoveries over the last decade.

Muchiri pattanam, a location close to today’s Kodungallur, was not really a sea port as some believed. It was a city on the banks of the Periyar somewhat inland and accessed through the maze of canals. Roman Ships anchored out in the sea and transported their goods in small boats guided by local pilots through the canals to Pattanam. From centuries in the past until the 14th, the city was well known to the Arab and especially the Roman sailors who conducted trade with Malabar. Sometimes the ships went to Barygaza or Baruch, sometimes to Nelycinda (will be covered in a separate blog) other times, they landed up in Muziris. They came in with Western luxury goods and gold and took away spices and Eastern goods. Sometimes the ships went around the Cape Comorin and docked at Kaveri Poompattinam close to Pondicherry. The Romans had expatriate settlements or colonies in both places as I mentioned before and much information about them can be found in Sangam Era writings like the Silappadhikaram and Manimekhalai. The Peutinger table shows Muziris on the Roman map and even alludes to an Agustus temple (later studies assume it was an Agasthya temple) in Muziris. Writers like Ptolemy, Pliny and so on had written much about the trade, so also the Tamil poets. So let us conclude that robust trade took place, until the floods of the Periyar wherein the riverbed got silted in the 13th Century. Since that event and due to other issues at the Roman and Arab areas, the trade petered off and veered off to other places like the Cochin and Calicut. But by then the Arab traders had a stronghold on the route and they staved off any competition until the next aggressive bunch – the Portuguese came in – followed by the Dutch and finally the English who eventually settled down and colonized the lands they came to trade with. But we will not talk about all the events that took place in the process, we will instead focus on the Muziris papyrus, something that you do not see often mentioned in mainstream media. And so we go to the rather active Roman Colony or river port called Pattanam well before the advent of Christ. But then you have to say ‘hello’ to Rajappan.

Rajappan. I do not know him, nor does anybody else I know. I do know however that he consented to have his land in the Paravur area dug up. And when that happened, around his house Krishna Nivas, they unearthed confirmation and sufficient archeological information finally enabling the announcement by Dr Shajan of the rediscovery of Muziris at Pattanam. There are still plenty of places to dig, but Kerala as you may know is densely populated, so the idea of relocating people for the purpose of archeology needs real hard sell and lots of monetary infusions. And so, thus far only about two hectares have been dug up.

More details can be found on this attached article and this.

When the trade with Muziris started is not known, however a document discovered recently, the Muziris Papyrus in 1985, takes us back to the 2nd century, by which time it seems to have been well established. During the Ptolemaic Roman period (third century B.C. to sixth century A.D), Berenike for example served as a key transit port between ancient Egypt and Rome on one side and the Red Sea-Indian Ocean regions on the other. Exotic goods from Rome and Egypt flowed into Berenike along the same desert road before being loaded into large ships bound for the Indian Ocean as I have explained in the past. According to most accounts, one of the major centers in India that ships from Berenike travelled to, along with the monsoon winds, was the emporium of Muziris, on the Malabar Coast. The presence of much teak in the finds at the red sea coasts also suggested that many of the ships were built in India, one of the indications of a major Indian role in the trade. But Dr. Casson, a specialist in ancient maritime history, says it was also possible that the teak timber was shipped to Berenike and turned into vessels there. Written records refer to ships in the India trade being among the largest of the time. That means, Dr. Casson says, that they could have been as long as 180 feet and capable of carrying upto 1,000 tons of cargo. Such ships had stout hulls and caught the wind with a huge square sail on a stubby mainmast.

The Roman ships with their square sail was not quite appropriate for sea travel with the winds, but it is more likely that the ships used were of Arabic Indian design as concluded by scholars. Even though the Muziris area was infested by pirates according to Pliny, and the need for transshipment to smaller boats, it figures to have recived more prominence than other like Nelcynda. One major spice the Romans sought via Muziris was Gangetic nard, spikenard or Jatamansi, after the popular Pepper. What the people in Malabar & Tamil regions needed was ( after the wine) the gold, which they never used as currency (the coins were mostly partly split making them non legal tender in S India) but possibly melted the coins and made ornaments.

What then brings us back to the Muziris papyrus ( also known as the Vienna Papyrus as it is kept in Vienna) ? It is the mention of a loan agreement made in Muziris. Now did Muziris therefore have a Roman settlement? Evidence points to that in two ways, one by a statement in the Periplus “enough grain for those concerned with shipping, because merchants do not have use for it’. The merchants are thus rice eaters, the Indians. Those concerned with shipping are the Yavana trader’s resident at Muziris. To this, one must also connect up the evidence of wine, olive oil and garum jars found at Arikumedu which date to the 3rd Century AD.

Of inestimable value for a study of the organization of trade are the Muziris papyrus and the archives of Nicanor. The Nicanor archives provide detailed information on the taxes levied on a variety of items transported along the desert roads from Myos Hormos and Berenice to Egypt. The papyrus confirms the distinction between those engaged in travel to the orient and local merchants.

The creditor lived in Alexandria in the 2nd century, the papyrus was sold by a collector in Egypt in 1980, and the loan agreement was drawn in Muziris and the papyrus is now housed in a Museum in Vienna. Two merchants documented their contract in the said document, listing the items, the costs and the people who owe and are owed money. Customs duties are listed, so also all the links in the chain such as the camel driver and how much he should be paid. I t mentions many people, signifying that this was not a financiers copy but by the trader himself. Interestingly the creditor had the first right of purchase which may possibly have been the first intention. The text also estimate steh value of the goods after a 25% tax has been deducted, but this amount itself is staggering, one shipload worth some 7 million Drachmas or sestertia (A solider was paid 100 drachmas maximum a month or around 800 per annum). The tax due at Alexandria was paid as goods, so the state itself did not get the money immediately. Possibly the trader had only to pass on a credit of the 25% tetarte (tax) and not the goods itself as moving the sates portion of the goods across the Coptos desert was not the traders responsibility. Considering the immense value it was carefully tracked from point to point. The Nard, the cloth and the ivory were the most valuable items in the holds. Camels and donkey owners handling these valuable items minted money from this trade billing the Roman government and were possibly escorted by military compared to the usual caravans. Towns along the Coptos desert charged tolls, and it is seen that the toll was dependent on the financial strength of the payer, thus variable.

No considering that Strabo talked of an average 120 ships going to Muziris every year, and multiplying the figure of 7million drachmas with the ships, you can imagine how much money flowed into Muziris and Malabar. This was how much goods of luxury were worth in those times. The question of if individuals had these kinds of fortunes or if a group worked together is not clear. However it is clear that the cost of failure meant death, so big were the amounts. Imagine a ship wreck or piracy, not thoughts meant for the faint hearted as eminent writer Sidebottom mentions in his book.

The first and second pages of this contract letter are lost so we are unable to know the name of the merchants who were engaged in business and the exact transactions at Muziris. In 1985 H. Harrauer and P. Sijpesteijn published the contents of this papyrus

It reads as follows (for complete paper check this link)

... of your other agents and managers. And I will weigh and give to your cameleer another twenty talents for loading up for the road inland to Koptos, and I will convey [sc. the goods] inland through the desert under guard and under security to the public warehouse for receiving revenues at Koptos, and I will place [them] under your ownership and seal, or of your agents or whoever of them is present, until loading [them] aboard at the river, and I will load [them] aboard at the required time on the river on a boat that is sound, and I will convey [them] downstream to the warehouse that receives the duty of one-fourth at Alexandria and I will similarly place [them] under your ownership and seal or of your agents, assuming all expenditures for the future from now to the payment of one-fourth-the charges for the conveyance through the desert and the charges of the boatmen and for my part of the other expenses.

With regard to there being- if, on the occurrence of the date for repayment specified in the loan agreements at Muziris, I do not then rightfully pay off the aforementioned loan in my name-there then being to you or your agents or managers the choice and full power, at your discretion, to carry out an execution without due notification or summons, you will possess and own the aforementioned security and pay the duty of one-fourth, and the remaining three-fourths you will transfer to where you wish and sell, re-hypothecate, cede to another party, as you may wish, and you will take measures for the items pledged as security in whatever way you wish, sell them for your own account at the then prevailing market price, and deduct and include in the reckoning whatever expenses occur on account of the aforementioned loan, with complete faith for such expenditures being extended to you and your agents or managers and there being no legal action against us [in this regard] in any way. With respect to [your] investment, any shortfall or overage [se. as a result of the disposal of the security] is for my account, the debtor and mortgager...

According to the Historian Thur, the contract between ego and tu was drawn up in Alexandria in two separate documents; one that spelled out the maritime loan and another that spelled out the security involved what the papyrus contains is a portion of the latter, the document that dealt with the security.

As Casson concludes - One of the great contributions of the papyrus is the concrete evidence it furnishes of the huge amounts of money that the trade with India required. The six parcels of the shipment recorded on the verso had a value of just short of 1155 talents almost as much as it cost to build the aqueduct at Alexandria The parcel of ivory and the parcel of fabric together weighed 92 talents and were worth 528,775 drachmas. A Roman merchantman of just ordinary size had a capacity of 340 tons; it was capable of carrying over 11,000 talents of such merchandise. And the weather conditions on the route to India were such as to require the use of vessels of at least this size. Loaded with cargoes of the likes of that recorded in this papyrus, they were veritable treasure ships.

With the listed part of that ships goods (only a part load) pegged at 131 talents, one could buy 2500 acres of finest farmland in Egypt and if there were 150 such ships every year, what would have that trade been worth? Immense, to say the least. The historian Pliny, who died in 79 A.D., has left us a contemporary account of these early voyages. "It will not be amiss," he says in his Natural History, "to set forth the whole of the route from Egypt, which has been stated to us of late, upon information on which reliance may be placed and is here published for the first time. The subject is one well worthy of our notice, seeing that in no year does India drain our empire of less than five hundred and fifty millions of sesterces [many many million dollars], giving back her own wares in exchange, which are sold among us at fully one hundred times their cost price.

Strangely the Malayali’s acquired taste of fancy Italian wine seems to have been eroded from the genetic code, to be replaced by the stuff from Scotland.

Note: this is only a brief introduction. I have deliberately not got into the depths of the analysis of the complex subject of trade for fear that this would then turn out into a long & boring paper.

New Light on Maritime Loans: P. Vindob G 40822 – L casson
Ships and the development of maritime technology on the Indian Ocean- Ruth Barnes, David Parkin
Periplus Maris Erythraei
The Natural history of Pliny
Rome's eastern trade: international commerce and imperial policy, 31 BC-AD 305 -Gary Keith Young
The monetary systems of the Greeks and Romans -William Vernon Harris
The Red Land: The Illustrated Archaeology of Egypt's Eastern Desert - Steven E. Sidebotham, Martin Hense, Hendrikje M. Nouwens
At empire's edge: exploring Rome's Egyptian frontier - By Robert B. Jackson

Pic courtesy - Trade map pic – Archeology news

The Ravi Varma’s of the Padinjare Kovialkom

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

In hindsight, I feel it was not the valor of Tippu or Haider or their soldiers or their French training and discipline or for that matter, European armaments that really defeated the Nair’s of Malabar. Some times I think it was purely the fear of losing caste and fear of hunger and lowly death that drove families out of the Malabar area to Travancore. Such was the grip of the Brahminical caste system on the masses of Kerala at that stage. Samanthan Nair Kings wanted to avoid the stigma of being branded Sudra and instead wanted be known as a Khatriya kings from the Suryavansha and lower down, the other Nair’s wanted to hold on to their dignity and class status as long as possible.

I will get to the details and reasoning of the above aspect some time later, but this article is mostly on the semblance of resistance offered by two resolute individuals in the face of possible ignominy and utter despair after the elderly rulers and their families fled Calicut. Working with enemies who became friends and friends who became enemies as the tide of these wars crept higher and higher, they played a desperate game to hold on to the powers and possessions of the Zamorin of Calicut, as the old man and the ladies of the family boarded boats and went into exile in Travancore. We will now look at a crucial period of Malabar history – 1732-1805, not really at the Padayottam or the Sultan’s reign, but specifically the role that these two gallant gentlemen played in the affairs of the land and the battles of the time.

The individuals that are in focus are the Padinjare Kovilakom Zamorin princes. Perhaps the first of the freedom fighters of this era, these two Varma’s proved to be an enigma. Variously allied with and against the British at different times, and even with one or against the Mysore Sultans at times, they finally ended up fighting against both. The Ravi Varma and his uncle lived to be termed as the rebels or brigands of Calicut during these dark days of Hyder & Tipu in Malabar followed by the British take over of the Zamorin’s lands & power. While the old Zamorin and his family were exiled in Travancore, the uncle and nephew were the leaders of a lightly armed ragtag guerilla army of Nairs, fighting a useless battle on foot against the heavily armed, French trained army of the Sultan’s riding on horseback. Ravi Varma (normally synonymous with the nephew) is mentioned as a difficult customer by the British, and a close ally of the more illustrious Pazhassi Raja, but why do we not have much written material about him? I tried to delve as deep as I could, but information is still scarce. Here is a scant reconstruction of the time, of the two men, who did much more by way of sustained resistance, compared to the last and more talked about Pazhassi Raja. Yes, you may recall from the movie the boast by Pazhassi that only he remained while the nobles fled to Travancore, but he forgot to mention the uncle and nephew who held on till their respective deaths. The anger of the populace at the absconding Zamorin and the absence of the family nobles meant that the Varma’s fame virtually died with their deaths.

They were probably the first of the leaders who fought against not just the Mysore sultans and other oppressors, but also the English. They alone saw through the plans of the foreigners. Their method was guerrilla warfare on foot and for this purpose, were accompanied by a small & loyal band of Nairs right through their life spans.

The Ravi Varma’s of Padinjare Kovilakom, one of the seats of the Zamorins of Calicut can be first traced to the days of Hyder Ali when Kishen (Krishnan) raja was an Eralpad, 2nd in command or deputy of the Zamorin. It was the period when Malabar’s famed prosperity declined rapidly as the power rapidly leaked away from the Zamroin’s hands first to the Mysore Sultans and later to the British.

As the power of the Zamorin’s grew rapidly through the medieval centuries, the Palghat Achans curried for favor with Cochin. South of the Nila River, the Nambitis adopted the same strategy whenever they felt oppressed by Cochin and held on the alliance with the Zamorin. This cat-and-mouse game continued until the invasions from Mysore in the mid-eighteenth century pushed Palghat and Malabar into one of the infamous stories of the British conquest of south India and the war against the Muslim rulers of Mysore—Hyder Ali and his son, Tipu Sultan.
Hyder first walked into Palakkad and Malabar in 1766 and then again marched into Malabar via Thamarassery in 1767. He quickly understood the Nair psyche and pride and tackled it cleverly. First he deprived Nair’s of caste privileges, equating them to Paravas and outlawed them, also prohibiting them from carrying arms, but offered privileges back to anybody who converted to Islam. The Zamorin’s retaliation starts around 1768 as Hyder’s rule is headquartered in Manjeri. The British offer some support and command positions to the rebels from 1767, against the Sultans. The French recognize the American declaration of Independence in 1769 and the Anglo French wars start. The Zamorin families are soon in exile at Travancore after the reigning Zamorin, unable to meet Hyder’s demand, immolates himself in the Kottpuram palace, setting the ammunition room on fire, thus bringing a curtain down on the Zamorin’s rule of Malabar.

Haider is later aligned with the French. In 1780 Haider signs a treaty with the Kottyam Rajas. Kottayam gains importance while tax evaders (tax to the Mysore Sultans) find safe haven there. The British have to support the Kottayam rebels (the very same ones they went against later) as the Tellichery fort lies within the Kottayam kingdom.

New troops arrive from Bombay, and the British aided by the rebels defeat Hyder & later Sirdar Khan commits suicide. Further rebellions start in Malabar. It is 1782 now, Hyder dies and Tipu continues his forays into Malabar to quell the riots. In 1784 the British establish a peace treaty with the Sultans and the Malabar kings lose out in the agreement. They are mortified, especially the Calicut Zamorin’s families and the warring princes.

By 1788 Tipu is reestablishing his capital at Feroke, based at the Mammally area in today’s Cheruvannor. He now orders forced conversions. The Nair’s rise up in arms again to support the many Brahmins who were caught in a noose. Tipu crushes the rebellion and the exodus to Travancore starts. Then in 1789 the Pazhassi raja rises in prominence in Kottayam.

Meanwhile, Tipu cements his position by creating a family alliance between his son and the Arakkal Beevi’s daughter. The Beevi however quietly supports the EIC. Tipu increases taxes and alienates all of the public including the Moplah’s. He then sets his sights on Travancore. 1792-99 is the period covering the Anglo – Mysore wars. Tipu loses and British get Malabar. That in essence is the time line that we will look at.

The Nair rebellions were very interesting in the sense that they were a combination of passive and active resistance. The passive rebellion was by flight, by refusal of tax payment (very important to note as they had control over tax collections and the Sultans did not yet have a dependable set up of their own) and by providing false valuation. It was a big come down from the honest levels they once maintained, in the name of rebellion. The active rebellions were skirmishes, fought by minimally organized militia, some of whom were led by one or both of the Ravi Varma’s.

So now we take up the story of the Varma’s. Hyder marches to Malabar via Chirakkal. The Zamorin has just ended his life 1766 by self immolation and the 600 year reign of the Zamorins of Calicut had formally come to an end. However the uncle and nephew from the Padinjare kovilakom branch have sworn to take revenge on Hyder.

The Eralpad Kishen Varma who takes over moves to Ponnani and then Tanur – and orders the retaliation. The Moplah’s join Hyder’s troops. Hyder soon returns to Mysore. The period of 1768-74 is characterized by a period of some peace – The new Zamorin returns to Calicut & is back to his old ways of picking up a quarrel with the Cochin king and quibbling over unnecessary things instead of fortifying the area for the future or building an army. By 1774 the Zamorin signs a treaty with the French, but Hyder’s troops are on the march again into Malabar, this time led by Srinivasa Rao. The French walk away offering no support to the Zamorin. This Zamorin also flees by boat to Travancore. The Eralpad and his rag tag army of Nairs led by his nephew Ravi Varma on foot is no match for the Mysore troops and quickly disperse in different directions planning to meet up again in Calicut. In 1779 discussions take place between Hyder & Malabar chiefs with the Chirakkal Raja mediating. Ravi Varma is allowed personal collection of taxes for his support as a personal tribute and the Zamorin family is offered reinstatement if they agree to certain terms. The discussions break down as Ravi Varma is suspicious of some movements and returns to Nedunganad (KV Krishna Iyer).

He soon returns to Calicut, his traditional area of influence and authority, for better co-ordination. Tipu sent a large Mysore army under the command of M. Lally and Mir Asrali Khan to chase and drive out the Zamorin prince from Calicut. However, during the above operations, Ravi Varma princes assisted not less than 30,000 Brahmins to flee the country and take refuge in Travancore" (p. 508). Later in 1782 Ravi Varma helps the British occupy Calicut after a war with Hyder, now fighting under British command.

It is soon 1783 and the British have made definite and alternate plans, playing towards their main game step by step. Fullterton goes to Palghat to capture the fort with the Zamorin’s troops supporting. The Eralpad agrees to support the British in exchange of reinstatement of the Zamorin at Calicut , soon the fort is taken and handed over to the Zamorin. The British however hand it back to Tipu. The Zamorin has to abandon Palakkad and the fort as a consequence. As part of the Anglo Mysore discussions, the British give up their claim on Malabar in 1784.

Ravi Varam is back & fighting. 1785 is the period of the Manjeri Gurukkal revolt which I had written about some time ago, Ravi Varma is now seen joining Tipu’s troops in crushing it. Ravi Varma is thus allied with Tipu Sultan in 1784 where he gets a Jaghire of land (Land Control in Indian History: A Case Study of Malabar, 1766-1835 - By Loren Howard Michael). It was a clever ploy. Though Tipu conferred on him a jaghire (vast area of tax-free land) mainly to appease him, the prince Ravi varma, after promptly taking charge of the jaghire, continued his revolt against the Mysore power, more vigorously and with wider support.

Kishen Raja the Eralpad returns to Malabar, some books confuse him with Ravi Varma and mention that he proclaimed himself Zamorin. In 1788 the Varma princes again discuss a reinstatement of the Zamorin at Calicut. Tipu refuses to accede. The Earlapad Kishen Raja is invited by Tipu in 1788 for discussions. Kishen sends Swaminatha Pattar, who is told that Kishen will be provided a compensation for cooperation. Tipu tells Swaminatha Pattar that the Nediyirippu swaroopam will be reinstated if they support Tipu in his war to take over Travancore, by spearheading the attack. Tipu himself would not attack Travancore since it was under a British treaty of protection. Kishen apparently agrees but does not cooperate (some books mention he refused outright to cooperate). Tipu believed that Kishen raja has broken his word and lashes out in fury against the Malabar populace again with religious persecution, forced conversions, and general mayhem.

Calicut was again attacked by Tipu in November 1788. Tipu's officers also lay hands on the Karanavappad of Manjeri. The Nairs of Calicut and South Malabar headed by Ravi Varma and other princes of the Padinjare Kovilakam turns in despair against their oppressors. Tipu sends 6,000 troops under M. Lally to raise the siege, but Ravi Varma could not be driven out of the field though he has to leave Calicut and took to the forests. The fires of rebellion have again been fanned by the Varmas. The Chirakkal Raja also come to the support of the Varmas, but Tipu retaliates by threatening to circumcise and convert him, when the Chriakkal ruler apparently commits suicide.

1790 Tipu takes the last misstep and invades Travancore by himself. The British, whose successes have so far been mainly owing to the ground support received in the wars from the Varmas, now play the end game to perfection when Lord Cornwallis invites the Varma princes for discussions, agreeing to restore the Zamorin all his lands and commercial powers should the rebels render long term cooperation to them. Accordingly Ravi Varma meets Gen Meadows at Trichy and conducts negotiations. A Cowlnama is drawn up between Kishen Varma and the British which says

Cowl Nama from his Excellency, Major General Meadows, Governor and Commander-in-Chief , on the part of the Honourable Company to Kishen, Zamorin Raja of Calicut.

"Whereas the English forces have by the blessing of Providence possessed themselves of the fort and district of Palghaut and certain adjacent countries of the Malayalam, and design further to extend their possessions in that quarter, and whereas Kishen, Zamorin Raja of Calicut has on the present and former occasions evinced firm attachment to the British interests and proved himself useful in supplying their armies, it has therefore been resolved that the said Zamorin shall be invested, and he is hereby invested with the sole management of all the countries heretofore included in the province of Calicut which are or may be conquered by the British troops.
The said Zamorin is therefore directed to exert his authority and influence in embodying the Nairmars of that country and in directing their operations against the common enemy either separately or in conjunction with the British forces as he may be instructed by the Officer commanding in that quarter.
He is to exert himself in establishing magazines in such places as he may be required to collect them, aid in supplying, as far as may be practicable, every thing necessary for the prosecution of the war, for which regular receipts will be given, and the amount duly accounted for, at its conclusion.
This instrument to which strict obedience is enjoined by all, whom it may concern, is to be considered as a Cowl Nama and authority for administering the revenues during the present war, and at its successful conclusion by the favour of the Almighty, the Murassie or right of inheritance of the said Zamorin, and of every Raja, Zemindar and Polygar shall be strictly examined and justly determined to the rightful inheritor agreeably to established custom,and then also the Peiscush to be paid to the Honourable Company shall be equitably adjusted. Given under my hand and seal at Coimbatore, the twenty seventh day of September in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and ninety.
(Signed) W. MEADOWS, Governor and Commander in Chief. 27th Sept 1790

With the help of the Varama’s and their Nairs, the Mysore armies are routed by the British in Malabar. In 1791, the Cochin king after having been at first under the Portuguese and later the Dutch, agree to the suzerainty of the British and to pay an annual tribute. With Mysore under simultaneous attack by the British, Tipu sues for peace in 1792 and cedes Malabar to the British in compensation. The Varma princes were in the meantime busy restoring order in Malabar and fighting and taming the Muslim leaders who were persecuting them under Tipu’s reign. It was to prove a mistake.

What followed was a mixture of misused opportunity and undue faith in the legality of the 1790 cowl nama. A meeting called by Cornwallis was not attended by the Malabar princes. The old Zamorin, more interested in celebrating his ‘ariyittuvazcha’ or coronation in Chavakkad possibly missed the significance of the British call for a meeting in Cannanore to discuss the rights. The British were miffed that the Zamorin crowned himself without discussing the matter with them and were disappointed with the Zamorin still not sending a delegation. Assuming that the Zamorin was playing a delay tactic, they leased a number of his lands to the Kurumbranad raja. If one were to look at the palace intrigues of the time, they would perhaps see the hand of a very clever man who played the cards – He was Swaminatha Pattar. As things turned out, the Zamorin finally deputed his Munalpad (not the Eralpad Kishen raja!!) and Swaminatha Pattar for the meeting with the British.

The hard negotiations lasted two months. The British decided against reinstating the Zamorin and other Malabar princes with all their powers using the argument that they would continue wars with the Moplahs who had been against them in the Hyder - Tipu reign and that the British will have to spend time, money and maintain an army to keep peace. Swaminatha Pattar swayed the Zamorin and other princes by explaining their cause as lost (and by also mentioning that Dewan Keshava Pillai was planning to add Malabar to Travancore). Finally an unsatisfactory agreement was arrived at, the details of which I will get into some other day, but in essence providing a title to the Zamorin and other chiefs but no authority though burdening them with all the liabilities and responsibilities. Swaminatha Pattar was thence named a British agent to collect taxes (the responsibility that the Zamorin originally had) and later titled a Dewan. The Padinjare Kovilakom princes, especially the Ravi Varma’s were aghast when all this happened. They insisted on restoring the kingdom to the Zamorin, though the Zamorin himself had given up the right based on the Pattar’s persuasion.

The Padinjare kovilakom branch of the Zamorins was provided with the Nedunganad area, to be lorded by the Eralpad Kishan Varma. The Varmas moved to Kalladikode which had by then also become a haven for Pazhassi raja’s fleeing rebels. Here they were aided by the Ravi Varmas who were dealing with the area but they soon had a lengthy quarrel with the Zamorin’s family (according to Logan) from the Kizhakke kovilakom of that time. The Varmas fortify their home in the Kalladikode Attapadi area, aided by the tribal’s and the Chetty’s who had supported them in the previous wars. It soon became a meeting point where many dissatisfied Malabar nobles and leaders met often, discussing strategies. The Kottayam Raja Pazhassi was by then also in league with them. The British were wary and wanted to nip any further rebellion in the bud.

Ravi Varma first got a warning letter from Stevens accusing him of conspiracy against the EIC, for taking over the Zamorin’s position, forceful collection of revenues and taxes due instead to the EIC and weakening the position of the reigning Zamorin. However he also said that more than everything the main EIC grouse was the threat of body injury to Swaminatha Pattar. Accordingly they were ordered to pay 100,000 due to the Zamorin immediately.

It is 1793 now. Seeing more treachery played by Swaminatha Pattar, the two Varma’s get enraged. They decided on executing revenge and a move away to the fortified palace in Kalladikode and away from Calicut. But first they summoned the Pattar to the Mankavu Kovilakom where he was stabbed (For more details of the event read my blog on the scorned Dewan).

The Varma’s decide to cork the hole in the leaky boat by planning an assassination of Shamnath for his treachery after luring him to the ancestral Zamorin house or the Mankavu Padinjare kovilakom. One can imagine the extreme state of agitation in their minds, for a Nair to harm a Brahmin in those days was unthinkable. The Kovilakom itself is a huge courtyard with the Bhagavathy temple in the middle and the men’s quarters on the left and the Women’s lodge on the right. Between the temple and the women’s quarters is the Thampuran’s dwelling. Behind the temple is located the Ayappan Kavu and the Kalari where martial arts are practiced.

Swaminatha Pattar was lured to the temple and stabbed by the young Ravivarma Unni Nambi and his uncle Ravivarma. Shamnath does not die though and the Ravi Varma’s flee to the Wayanad hills. The Rani or Amma Thamburatti is deeply troubled by the terrible act committed on a Brahmin and orders that a special puja be conducted. Accordingly a Brahmarakshassu is installed between the Ayyappan temple and the Kalari at the Kovialkom. I have since then seen a mention that it was not one of the Ravi Varma’s but an 5-amkur (5th in the succession line prince) Manavikraman who actually stabbed the Pattar.

The upstarts take to the hills. They are joined there by Unni Moota Mooppan, some Coimbatore poligars, Kunhi Achan from Palakkd etc. The East India Company offers a reward of Rs 5000/- for their capture. Capt Burchall pursues them through the Anamalai’s in Waynad, but they escape to Travancore.

The elder Ravi Varma is soon arrested by Capt Burchall but dies a day or two later in custody. His nephew Ravi Varma is also taken into custody by the British but released on receipt of a surety by the Kizhakke Kovilakom Thampuran - Nalam thampuran (and after payment of some Rs100,000 arrears due to the EIC).

At this point the history books go a little hazy and time lines are blurred as we are not sure who dies in captivity and who retired. Somewhere in 1793, the elder Ravi Varma dies from complications arising from an old bullet injury according to one book. It has been 27 years of unsuccessful fighting; he died without seeing his ambition of restoring power to the Zamorin clan. He was cremated at Kalladikode. Accolades came from far and near, including Pazhassi raja and many other Malabar chiefs. The younger Verma was also captured soon after by the British and interned in the Cherplassery jail where he was found dead of poisoning the next day. However this part of the story is not corroborated anywhere, Logan mentions as follows

The Kalladikode kovilakom is razed to the ground. The 5am kur manavikraman who stabbed Swaminatha Pattar is interned in Coimbatore, also dies in jail. The year is 1797, and the Ravi Varams are finally erased from the scene. The prominence of the next freedom fighter, the Pazhassi raja commences.

In 1797 the rest of the Zamorin princes agree to give no trouble to the British and settle down in Calicut. In 1806 four senior member of the Zamorin family are offered a malikhana or pension, and the Puthiya kovilakom is constructed.

With that the last of the rebels or freedom fighters, whichever way one may term it, had passed on, leaving the reins of Malabar fully in the hands of a company which came to trade honorably. The terms of the 1790 cowl nama were soon forgotten and the hey days of Malabar were sadly consigned to history, only to be mentioned in passing as a place where Vasco De Gama landed or sometimes with respect to pepper, the black gold that grew there.

Notes: I have come to the conclusion that some history books have made wrong connections due to the existence of the ‘padinjare kovolakom’ in two families, the Calicut Zamorin family and the Kottayam family (where Pazhassi raja gained importance). Many of the earlier rebellions attributes to the Padinjare kovoilakom princes actually refer to the Western faction of the Zamorin family and were spearhead by the two Ravi Varmas. Sadly no picture or detailed life story of either prince remains even after checking with present day representatives of the Padinjare kovilakom. The above is an attempt to trace it into some kind of a cohesive narrative, but no personal portfolios of the two princes can be obtained, their personal life, family life, descendants (if any) or details of their normal life and times.

Another confusion lies in the identity of the Ravi Varma, the nephew Ravi Varma Nampi and the Eralpad Kishen raja (Varma). Some books mention that the Kishen raja and the uncle Ravi varam were one and the same.

An astute reader would note the absence of flesh and blood to the two characters. They are not described anywhere as small or big, tall, short, stocky or muscular, but simply as two souls working in unison against enemies. They are not painted or embellished, no songs are made about them, no letters recorded, no paintings made. One could assume that the absence of scribes and poets in the war torn area may have been the reason.

Many blame the Zamorin’s for flight, but remember the power structure in the late medieval. The suzerain has little direct control and the fighting hundreds or thousand Nairs reported to individual clan leaders who had by then bolted to Travancore with possibly their fighters leaving only a rag tag army and the symbolic Zamorin’s nephews to try & spearhead a rebellion and reclaim an empire from the shambles.

So these two will always remain as enigmas, fighters with faces unknown, and fighters with no personal life, who spent their entire youth and middle age fighting the Mysore Sultans & the British, mainly the former. The populace in the eagerness to name only the British as the oppressors and conquerors forgot the two lone fighters who fought for Malabar against both. Nevertheless, the Pazhassi raja that joined later got into the limelight mainly because his fight was against the declared invader the British and much better chronicled.

The reader today is not possibly interested in the atrocities committed in the name of religion, hatred and contempt by the Mysore Raja’s who have by now been declared in the annals of history as the ones who bravely fought the British. But that is how history is, unkind to some, grateful to others, forgiving to some and glorifying the remaining. The Ravi Varma’s alas rest in the group of forgotten people.

One possible source I have not been able to get access to is the Joint commissioners report 1792-3. In addition to the above, if anybody has more information to provide, please let me know.

Zamorins of Calicut – KV Krishna Iyer
Malabar Manual – W Logan
Manjeri revolt
Scorned Dewan
Palakkad fort