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The Rayar invasion through Palghat -1510

Posted by Maddy Labels: , ,

Krishna Ayyar remarked "At Albuquerque's request Krishnadevaraya invaded the Zamorin's dominion in Palghat" in his book ‘A History of Kerala’ and referred to this again a number of times. Further this has been echoed by other writers such as S.S Shashi in the Indica encyclopedia and CK Kareem in his Gazetteer on Palghat. Some others had cast a doubt on this statement but did not provide any supporting evidence. Now this must have been an interesting development at that time for Ayyar goes on to provide quite a few details of the attack. Ayyar also states emphatically - Though the Palghat Gap is twenty four miles wide, on account of its rugged terrain and impenetrable forests, infested by wild animals and snakes, there had been only one invasion through it, that of Krishnadeva Raya in 1510. I was curious myself, for the older people of Palghat never mentioned such a thing in their ramblings and mutterings, though people like Tippu and Zamorin were frequently mentioned. So what was this all about?

Readers will recall that Albuquerque lost a humiliating battle to the Zamorin and had been tearing at his hair and his ‘waist long graying beard’ in search of answers. He did find answers eventually, and they can be connected to two matters of interest, namely the Arab horse trade and the kingdom of Vijayanagar with Krishna Deva Raya.

To set perspective, one must try to understand the relations between the Zamorin’s Malabar and the Vijayanagar kingdoms and also figure out what horses have to do with this story. Of the first, there is but little ‘formal’ information other than the brief record by Abdur Razzaq and offhand remarks by a number of historians that the relationship was cordial, but not a close knit one with embassies and visitors. Razzaq mentioned that Calicut was a tributary of Vijayanagar and that Zamorin accepted the Suzerianty of the Vijayanagar king, but as you may know he was disillusioned with Calicut and the Zamorin, so Abdur razzaq had a reason to say as will be clear in my previous article.

I do not however believe that the Zamorin considered the Vijayanagar king his suzerain. There are no records to confirm this or corroborating information. Mehrdad Shokoohy in his book on the Muslim architecture of S India, writes (based on his study of the Arabic work) Pg 71 that Razzak considers the ruler of Calicut, while independent from the king of Vijayanagar, showed him (Vijayanagar king) respect and maintained peaceful relations, wary of interference with the trade of Calicut, or even annexation.

Duarte Barbosa says that on account of the high mountains which separated Malabar from the main territory, the Vijayanagar kings could not conquer Malabar and thus Calicut was independent of Vijayanagar.

Duarte concurred, stating – beyond these mountains on the further side, the land is flat and level, while from the hither side, so difficult is the ascent that it is like mounting to the sky, and so rough is it that men can only pass through it by certain places and passes; wherefore the kings of Malabar are so independent, for had these mountains not stood in his way, the king of Narsyngua would ere now have subdued them, “inasmuch as the land of Malabar streteches from the mountains to the sea and for this reason they have no access to it.”

Longworth Mansell Dames in his footnote to Barbosa’s comments, affirms, stating that the success of Malabar in trade did give them a coveted position in the region and that Calicut was certainly independent when Albuquerque attacked it in 1510, but that he tried to induce the Raya to attack Calicut ‘for his kingdom touches that of Calicut and the two kings are not friendly’ (Commentaries II-73). However Dames also confirms that there is no record of any Raya war against Calicut and that the Raya’s fought only Muslim monarchies.

So in effect, we know that a possibly strained or diplomatic, but hands off relationship existed between Calicut and Vijayanagar with the Kolathiri princes sandwiched in between. As the Portuguese struggled to get a foothold in Malabar, they controlled a reasonable base in Cochin, but the incessant wars with the people of Malabar were becoming too much though they fetched some success on the seas and many failures on land. But let us get back to Portuguese ambitions.

Albuquerque had three items in focus, the lucrative horse trade, the very lucrative spice trade and finally victory over the heathen Muslim or Moor, whom he wanted to destroy with religious zeal. Colonization and statesmanship came later, I suppose, to his mind. He had already taken Ormuz in 1507 and that was where the horse trade was centered then. Cannanore was one destination for the horses, and here the Ali raja and the Kolathiri were supportive of the Portuguese as they disliked the Zamorin. Next he decided to go northwards for support. Goa was another aim, but Goa was to be wrested away (from Adil Khan of Bijapur) and here again, his enemy Adil Khan was Krishna Deva Raya’s enemy. So Albuquerque saw that he could possibly stir up some mud near the Vijayanagar king due to these common enemies, namely the Moors or Muslims.

Albuquerque finally decided to seek support from the Vijaynagar king. He went on to write a letter in the king’s name and dispatch it through Father Luiz, to the Krishna Deva Raya. Now was King Manuel of Portugal more interested in trade or fighting the moors of Malabar? Did he really support Albuquerque in becoming a statesman in Malabar using his name? A question for another day, for therein lies a subplot.

But before we follow Frei Luiz to Vijayanagar, we have to understand the equation involving horses. Continuous wars between the Bahmani sultanate of Bijapur and Hindu kingdom of Vijaynagar demanded frequent supplies of horses, which were imported through sea routes from Persia and Arabia. This trade was subjected to frequent raids by thriving bands of pirates based in the coastal cities of Western India.

Let me quote Harihariah Oruganti

Import of horses played a prominent part in the foreign trade. The effective demand for war-horses arose to meet the requirements of cavalry which formed an important wing of the army. The strength of the cavalry may be gauged from the observations of Fernao Nuniz, a Portuguese traveller "The King (Krishnadevaraya) every year buys thirteen thousand horses of Ormus, of which he chooses the best for his own stables and gives the rest to his captains...

He took them dead or alive at three for a thousand Pardaos, and of those that died at sea they (horse-merchants) brought him the tail only, and he paid for it just as if it had been alive". The animals were shipped from Arabia, Syria, Turkey and neighboring countries through the ports of Dufar, Bahrain and Ormus and were disembarked at Bathecala (Bhatkal – Mangalore), Cannanore and Goa. From the port-towns the animals were transported overland to Vijayanagara city where the sale and delivery was affected.

So as you see, these horses landed at the northern ports and were mainly needed by the Bijapur and Vijayanagar kings. As a Muslim ruler, Adil khan had better control over the incoming shipments. Now if Albuquerque were to defeat Adil khan and provide all the horses to Vijayanagar, he would have a partner in crime.

Note here that horses were never popular in the dense mountainous terrain of Malabar which was more suited to foot mounted hit & run style Nair guerilla warfare – after all horses need space to wheel and turn and gallop and brake and so on…it was ok on the plains, but not near the hills and forests which the people of Malabar never cleared then, or thankfully for that matter, now. Also the warfare based on ‘kalarippayattu’ was for foot based warriors, not mounted warriors who tarried and thrust and sliced and chopped. Horses in Malabar were for ceremonious occasions though some were used by the chiefs in later days during combat.

The Portuguese, decided to control the Arab's trade, with the Ormuz takeover. For his strategic position dominating the entrance to the Persian Gulf, Ormuz was one of the two strategic strongholds on the trade routes between the Arab world and Asia (the other being Aden near the strait of Babel Mandab). Ormuz was regarded by Albuquerque as the third key of the Portuguese Empire in Asia (the others two were Goa and Malacca).

Now an astute reader might wonder why so many thousands of horses were imported for decades. Were there so many battles and were so many horses killed? How come horse armor was never employed? The answer is quite funny, for the horses simply died due to wrong diet (like our friend Suleiman the Elephant in Europe – remember my story?)  They were fed all kinds of silly stuff they were not used to, such as boiled wheat, barley, rice, beans, flour, sugar, molasses, salt & ghee. In other words, rice dhal and ghee. Sometimes when grass was available (not real fodder grass, but wild grass) they got rice with boiled mutton and milk, much to the horror of Middle Eastern & western visitors. Oats was never cultivated or fed to Horses…Sadly these ‘bahari’ horses also suffered from the high humidity.

As a base on this side of the waters, Albuquerque chose Goa, in the territory of the Sultan of Bijapur, Yusuf Adil Shah. It had a good harbor and was also a center of shipbuilding. The sultan imported horses from Arabia for, like all the inland sultanates, he maintained his power against rivals with cavalry. Control of the horse trade could be used as a weapon. To fight Adil Shah, Albuquerque needed support and this came from a clever man Thimayya or Timoja, again a man of another story for another day.

And so Frei Luiz approached the Raya with a written request reading as follows (Commentaries II 74-77)

The King of Portugal commands me to render honor willing service to all the gentile kings of this land and of the whole of Malabar, and that they are to be well treated by me, neither am I to take their ships nor their merchandise; but I am to destroy the Moors (Muhammadans), with whom I wage incessant war, as I know he also does; wherefore I am prepared and ready to help him with the fleets and armies of the King, my Lord, whensoever and as often as he shall desire me to do so; and I likewise, for my part, expect that he will help on with his army, towns, harbors, and munitions, and with everything that I may require from his kingdom; and the ships which navigate to his ports may pass safely throughout all the Indian sea, and receive honor and good treatment at the hands of the fleets and fortresses of the King of Portugal,'

Albuquerque goes on to say-

'And so I intend to drive out of Calicut the Moors, who are the people that furnish the Zamorin with all the revenue that he requires for the expenses of war, and after this is over I shall give my attention forthwith to the affairs of Goa, wherein I can help in the war against the King of the Deccan.'

Albuquerque then adds that Ormuz now belongs to the King of Portugal, and that—

' the horses of Ormuz shall not be consigned except to Baticala [Bhatkal] or to any other port he (the Raja of Vijayanagar) pleases to point out where he can have them, and shall not go to the King of the Deccan, who is a Moor and his enemy.

It was while waiting for a reply that Albuquerque was forced to make an ill advised attack on Calicut forced by a young Coutinho in Jan 1510 about which I had written earlier.

Between June & Nov 1510, a number of attacks were launched by the Portuguese at Goa with Timoja’s support and towards the end of the year, after final success, he started the butchery of the Muslims there. The Zamorin apparently sued for peace, but Albuquerque wanted a fort in Calicut. While the rest of the story goes on in similar vein, how did the Raya’s get involved with this mess in Malabar? Did they reply the letter? Did they attack Calicut via Palghat as KV Krishna Ayyar stated? Portuguese and Arab records are clear that no answer was returned to Albuquerque and that the Raya cast a blind eye at it.

It was after smarting from the failure at Calicut and hopefully the incessant throbbing pain on his shoulder after the injury from Calicut that Albuquerque waited for the reply to the letter sent via the Friar Luiz to Vijayanagar with this new ‘Shakuni’ ploy. Ayyar says that the Rayar acceded to the request and that the resultant raid by the Raya was the only time Kerala was ever invaded through the Palghat gap, but he forgets Makhdoom Ali’s troops from Hyder’s entourage much later. He is possibly right there; for Hyder’s and Tipu’s troops came via Coimbatore to Palghat, not through Anamalai hills and the gap.

The war with the Rayas troops and the Zamorin’s 10,000 took place at Tharuvur, Tarur or Tharoor, a village near Alathur (The Tharoor dynasty was called Nedumpurayur which was later changed into Tarur or Taravur) but it was in those times the location of the Tharavur swaroopam, which was somewhat aligned to the Perumbadappu swaroopam or the Cochin royal family by marriage.

Now I will recount Ayyar’s own words

Krishnadeva invaded kerala in response to Albuquerque’s request. He sent a force through the Palghat gap. Marching through the territory of Sekhariverma, who were not well disposed towards the Zamorin, the invading forces erected a fort at Tarur (Taravur). Though Tarur did not belong to the Zamorin, it was on his frontier and he could not allow an enemy of Krishnadeva Raya’s resources and reputation to establish himself so close to his empire. He sent the famous 10,000, whom he might have even led in person, against Taravaur. Expelling the invaders and destroying their fort, the 10,000 seem to have even pursued them through the Palghat gap into Kongunad.

So we see an alliance of the Raya, Cochin and Tarur with the Portuguese against the Zamorin. Was this right or a flight of fantasy?

Ayyar refers the Tharoor battle to Keralolpatti Malayalam– pages 50-56; however, I could find no mentions of a 1510 battle there and I did not have access to Kareem’s edited Palghat Gazetteer of 1976.

But was Ayyar right in his accounts? Well let us refer to some Keralolpatti versions and the Malabar Manual by Logan. Interestingly the very pages quoted by Ayyar refer to the very famous attack by Krishnadeva rayar (of Anakundi) through the Anamalai territory around the 7th or 8th century AD at a time when the unity of the 64 villages was shattered. The Perumal was not successful in taking the fort the first time. This was the battle where the Udaya varaman escorted by the young Manavikramas who created the Zamorin dynasty earned their colors. The Raya’s army did come down and build a fort at Taravur in Palghat. It was the 36th year of Cheraman perumal’s reign. This was when Manichan and Vikraman were deputed by the Cheraman perumal, who took the fort from the Rayar after a 3 day fight. The youths were assisted by 10,000 hand marked people from Polanad who then became the 10,000 Nair’s of the Zamorin ( It is a long and interesting story – If somebody is interested, I will quote the English translation by T Madhava Menon some day).

So as one can infer, the events of a long gone era crept into later years of the Ayyar history book, possibly by error. Once could also assume that an identical attack took place in 1510 and the Zamorin retaliated in identical fashion, if only this was cross referenced in other written works, but alas, I could not find any.

Ah! If only I could talk to KV Krishna Ayyar, he was around in our village in Pallavur, leading a retired life during my younger days, but alas, I was not interested in history then or these matters. The slightly eccentric master historian Ayyar walking around with the dhoti tied around his neck near the agraharam would have gladly answered me and hand corrected the limited circulation book had he been wrong (and as he already has in some other pages of the copy I have, which he gifted my uncle)..

Aftermath – The Vijayanagar king delayed his reply for two reasons, one he did not want to give away access to Bhatkal to Albuquerque and secondly he did not trust Albuquerque who actually opened negotiations with Adil Shah at the same time. Now why did Albuquerqe do that? Because Frei Luiz warned him not to trust Timoja who wanted to get his back on Adil Shah and had offered Goa to the Raya in the past. As time was going by, Frei Luiz do Salvador got killed under mysterious circumstances, possibly an assassination by a Turkish assassin employed by Adil Shah. It was a very muddled situation and the relationship between the 4 people is very complex, one played against the other. It was also Albuquerques plan to ‘dismantle the port of Bhatkal’ so that the horse trade was moved to Goa & kept under control. Remember also that this was before the firearms trade got into the picture. He believed that Bhatkal had no other reason to exist. Now does that signify how and why many Malabar ports faded away in history or why the port of Goa and some others had significance due to the military aspect and the prospect of alliance with one or the other controlling kings?

As the story went, Albuquerque at Goa indeed signed a treaty by the end of 1510 with the Vijayanagar Raya and the Zamorin, but he retaliated by procrastinating at length on the Raya’s requests just as the Raya had done some time before.

But then, as Ayyar inferred that these things were just not right, the way the Portuguese went about doing things– by saying aptly ‘in a climate of war, trade cannot blossom it can only whither’.

Author’s note March 2011-03-11

Finally I got a hold of Kareem’s records of Palghat and the details of the Rayar attack.
Upon Portuguese request, Krishna Deva Raya the renowned ruler of this dynasty sent his army under his general’s Ramapayya and Devapayya. They were helped by the Tarur Swarupam who were allied to Cochin. But the Zamorin could easily expel the Vijayanagar soldiers after a three day fight and destroy the palace of the Palghat rulers. Krishna Iyyer had previously added - The Kuthiravattam Nayar (deputizing the Zamorin) defeated the Badagas and pursued them beyond the Anamalai hills.

Kareem quotes this from the Ernakulam Archives, Series 1 # 166/VIII dated 12-2-968 (1794AD)

Tail notes

1. Some historians feel that the Tharavur battle actually involved a Pandyon king, not the Anakundi Raya
2. I was originally planning to cover this aspect in another article, but it would be incorrect not to mention it for it touches on the core of this topic. Now most of you would have read the comments about the unreliability of content in the Keralolpatti and one of the oft cited anomalies is the Krishna Deva Raya attack set so early into the past, at a time when there was no Krishna Deva Raya or Vijayanagara kingdom. Raya ruled between 1509-1529.So Ayyar may have been left with two venues, either to cite Keralolpatti, but not to mention the anomaly for reasons best known to him or to mention the Rayar attack as it may have actually happened in 1510 but cross reference it to Keralolpatti. Gundert opines that the Rayar mentioned in the Keralolpatti in the 8th century was an Ikkeri Nayak..

A History of Kerala – KV Krishna Ayyar
Travel and Ethnology in the Renaissance: Joan-Pau RubiƩs
The Political Economy of Commerce: Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Asia in the making of Europe: The century of discovery - Donald Frederick Lach
The Hindus: an alternative history - Wendy Doniger
Malabar Manual –Logan
Keralolpatti - Gundert
The commentaries of the great Afonso Dalboquerque Walter de Gray Birch
Albuquerque - Henry Morse Stephens
The Book of Duarte Barbosa- DAMES, Mansel Longworth

Thanks to Wikipedia


  1. P.N. Subramanian

    Extremely informative post. Thanks from the core of heart.

  1. Vijay

    The reference link that describes various Portuguese campaigns in the Persian Gulf, and Ormuz in particular, says that in March 1515, Ormuz was attacked by 1500 Portuguese and 700 Malabarese soldiers. Wonder who these "Malabarese" were? Euphemism for anyone Indian? Recruited from Cochin or the Kolathiri areas? Other possibilities? Thoughts?

  1. Maddy

    actually a number of malabarese (malayalis from malabar) joined the fray in various campaigns against Adil Khan, Bombay etc. I do not know the exact constitution, which class they were - converts, nairs or what. Let me get working on that. Malabar is specific in this case, for they also mention Canarese etc in other books. note that the army men who came from Lisbon were sometimes riff raff, see my article on

  1. Calicut Heritage Forum

    It is true that horses were not employed by the Nair army of Calicut. But, nevertheless, Calicut was a major port of entry for Arab horses before the Portuguese arrived and started competing with them in the trade of spices and horses. In fact, a reminder of the flourishing horse trade in Calicut is a place on the southern extreme of Calicut beach (thekkeppuram) which was the designated place for jumping the horses from Arab boats.
    Arabs had been cheating the Vijayanagar kings before the arrival of the Portuguese not only by overcharging, but even by making them pay for horse tails claiming these to be of horses which had died during the course of shipping! No wonder, Krishnadeva Raya bought the exclusive right to trade in horses from the Portuguese for a sum of 20,000 pound sterling. The arrival of the Portuguese was welcomed by the Rayas even before Krishnadeva Raya so much so that one of his predecessors, Vira Narasimha had offered his sister in marriage to the prince of Portugal!

  1. Maddy

    Thanks CHF – very interesting observation indeed.

    Yes, it is true that some horse trading was conducted since the early 11or 12th
    century with Arab traders by the people of the West coast between Kayal and Calicut, places changing from Kayal to Quilon to others during different periods as reported by various travelers. However Calicut as such does not figure in any reports though one mentions the disgorging of the emissary Abdur Razaq at Calicut and the fact that it was a boat carrying horses for trade. It is also evident that there were stables in Calicut, horse keepers (and nobles for purpose of management) and use of these animals in ceremonies. So horses were landed in the port, though probably smaller lots. However, it is not evident that large quantities of horses were traded via Calicut, most probably due to the difficulty in getting them from Calicut to Vijayanagar or Bijapur kingdoms, the two main ‘high price’ buyers. Chakravarthi and Subramaniam in their studies mention mainly Cannanore, but not Calicut, and the reason is the connection with the Cannanore Marakkars (before their move to Calicut, Ponnani) or the Adi Raja and the easier and quicker delivery route to the above kingdoms.

    Note that the shift from the Gulf ports to Red sea took place in the West and simultaneously the destinations changed from Thana to Cannanore & Goan ports. Until then all the horses came down from Thana to Bijapur and other nearby kingdoms. The smaller demands from others in the South were met from Kayal and Quilon, it appears, but even this was quite substantial at a time, peaking at around 10,000 per annum, but petered off until the Deccan wars started.

    Interestingly even though the Raya offered 20K sterling, Albuquerque did not reply to the offer or accept it! Vira Narasinga’s offer on the other hand obviously did not achieve anything!!

  1. Calicut Hertitage Forum

    Many thanks, Maddy, for clarifying.

  1. Lekha

    maddy, i'm from chittur-palakkad and we have an annual festival called Konganpada which is supposed to be in memory of an invasion from the neighboring Konganad (modern day coimbatore i think). legend has it that the invaders were routed by the timely intervention of the Chittur Bhagavathy. four prominent families of chittur (one of them is mine) still lead the way in the konganpada celebrations