Malik Kafur in Malabar – A Myth

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The old capital of the Hoysala Ballalas at Dvarasamudra was taken in 1310, and Malik Kafur went to the Malabar Coast where he erected a mosque, and afterwards returned to his master with enormous booty (A sketch of the dynasties of Southern India Robert Sewell-1883 .

Now is that correct? To determine the answer you have to understand the differences between the usages M’aabar and Malabar signifying two geographically different areas of South India, as mentioned in history. One of them is lost in modern parlance, while the other will soon be forgotten in today’s integrated Kerala save in the minds of some from an older generation or those studying history. These two words are known to some historians, but the occasional reader is definite to get confused. In reality these are two different parts of South India and both names originated from Arabic terms used to signify the region they traded with. Basically both names signify ‘passage’ or ‘the crossing’. In the early medieval, the South Coromandel area was synonymous with the kingdom of M’aabar (Incidentally, the word Coromandel that we use came from Cholamandalam). The word M’aabar was used often by Arab writers and then when it became a kingdom post invasion it came to limelight, and thereafter got confused with Malabar after the English arrived.

Ma’bar as a kingdom appears in history books around the 13th century and is defined as the area eastwards from Cape Comorin (Abdulfeda) to Nellore. It was however mentioned as a trading area even before that. The western region of Melibar (Menibar) which we know as today’s Malabar, is defined to be the area between Mt Deli (Cannanore) and Cape Comorin. Of the origins of the usage Malabar to depict the west Coast of Kerala, I will not get into much detail at this moment, and we have covered that before.

During the later parts of the 17th or 18th century, the definitions between these two words got blurred and some English writers like Sewell mixed up the locales. One of the mentions that changed the entire course of history of a region, if it had really been accepted would be the mythical invasion of Malabar by Malik Kafur. It never happened, for Kafur never crossed the Western Ghats. On the contrary, as some books mention, the Kulashkhara Varma of the Chera dynasty, supporting the Pandyas drove Kafur and his minions out of Madurai during his first foray. This is probably a confusion as well, which we will see shortly.

Then there is another rclaim that needs further study - this mention in the Kulashekara dynasty entry in Wikipedia - The Various sub-castes of Bunts (community) such as Nayara, Menava, Kuruba and Samantha established Matriarchal dynasties in Kerala only after 1310 when Malik Kafur invaded Kerala. The first ever mention of Nairs is at Thrikodithanam mentions a Chennan Nair who was a Drummer migrated from Tulunadu. But more on this some other day, for now we will focus on Malik Kafur.

A number of articles mentions about the southerly invasion by Malik Kafur, the 1000 Dinar slave and eunuch at the command of Alaudin Khilji, the subsequent sacking of Malabar and his return up North with huge amounts of booty. Now was that right?

In order to clear this confusion from the records, let us take a real look at the movements of Malik Kafur, for the story of the man is pretty interesting and so is the story of the Sultanate of M’aabar which lasted less than 50 years. The best descriptions of the Sultanate can be obtained from a fine book written by Mehrdad Shokoohy titled Muslim Architecture of South India. I will get to these parts and the empire of M’aabar another day while covering the Coromandel and later the Chinese traders , but will presently introduce it as the area east of Cape Comorin (Kumhuri) and its many ports. This area and upto Madurai later on became the Sultanate of M’aabar.

Somewhere around the 13th century (Nov 1310) this area came under the direct notice of the Delhi Sultans, possibly because of the export of pearls and other trade related activities and an urgent summons to mediate in a family quarrel. Sundara Pandya of Madurai requested the support of Alauddin Khilji over a matter of accession and Ulugh Khan was deputed to support the king. But he died before he could raise the forces, and his place was taken by the vice regent Malik Kafur (white camphor) or Kafur Hazar Dinari.

The story of M’aabar is somewhat similar to what happened when the Palghat Appan invited Hyder Ali, who was hanging round Dindigul. Let me borrow words from Tamil Tribune.

King Maravarman Kulasekhara Pandyan (1268 - 1310) had two sons Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan and Jatavarman Veera Pandyan. The elder son, Sundara Pandyan, was by the king's wife and the younger, Veera Pandyan, was by a mistress. Contrary to tradition, the king proclaimed that the younger son would succeed him. This enraged Sundara Pandyan. He killed the father and became king in 1310. Some local chieftains in the kingdom swore allegiance to the younger brother Veera Pandian and a civil war broke out. Sundara Pandyan was defeated and he fled the country. He sought help from the far off northern ruler Sultan Ala-ud-din Khilji who was ruling much of northern India from Delhi. At that time, his army under General Malik Kafur was in the south at Dvarasamudra (far to the north of Tamil Nadu). Khilji agreed to help Sundara Pandyan and ordered Malik Kafur's army to march to Tamil Nadu. With Sundara Pandyan's assistance, this Muslim army from the north entered Tamil Nadu in 1311.

Kafur and his troops created mayhem in the area for a full year, looting and pillaging, finally carrying an immense treasure on 312 elephants, 20000 horses and 10 crore gold coins. Since then the place has been mentioned by Ibn Batuta as well (who married a girl from the local rulers family), and we hear about the many battles of the M’aabar rulers with local kings & chieftains. By the 15th century the sultanate was no more. Prior to the 14th century, this was the area where the much interaction with the Chinese took place. But it is important to note that M’aabar was the place where the Arab ships delivered horses though we hear of smaller deliveries to the Malabar coasts. The reasoning should be that Malabar did not need horses due to the nature of the terrain and Arabian horses did not quite fit in, but were more important for the plains of the East and from where they were traded up north to the Deccan and Delhi kings. If you recall I wrote about the famous horse trader of Kayalpatanam who converted the Paravas during the later Portuguese reign as well. Anyway one other reason why the Delhi Sultans wanted a foothold in the south was to control the horse trade as horses were needed for any war campaign.

So who was Malik Kafur? Let us first look at what is mentioned in most books – Borrowing from Wikipedia, Malik Kafur (1296 - 1316),or "Chand Ram" as his name was supposedly ,was a eunuch slave who became a head general in the army of Alauddin Khilji, ruler of the Delhi sultanate from 1296 to 1316 AD. He was originally seized by Alauddin's army after the army conquered the city of Khambhat (Cambay). Alauddin Khilji fell in love with the effeminate beauty of Malik Kafur, castrated and converted him to Islam. He was made malik naib, the senior commander of the army. Another article states thus - In 1297 AD Alauddin Khilji set off for conquering Gujarat. The Raja of Gujarat took shelter in Devagiri where Nusrat Khan an Ulugh Khan pursued them and looted. During Alauddin Khalji’s invasion of Gujarat, his generals had brought immense booty from there including Raja Karan’s consort Kamla Devi and the handsome slave Malik Kafur Hazardinari.. The Sultan fell in love with both. In the words of Farishtah, he converted Kamala Devi to Islam and married her, and treating Kafur as a favourite “tied the sacred thread (zunnar) of his love in his own waist.” Shanti Sadiq Ali in the book The African dispersal in the Deccan: from medieval to modern times mentions he was African slave purchased in Baghdad. Abdul Sherif identifies him as an Ethiopian. Chand Ram or African, he went on to create havoc much like Ayas Khan did for Hyder Ali.

So that was Kafur, the slave and later commander. I will get to his life thereafter a little later, but let us see how historians interpret the story.

See what German historian Wilhelm von Pochhammer has to say about this in ‘India's road to nationhood: a political history of the subcontinent’ – He reorganizes the history - As the weakest among the Tamil states, Kerala maintained its identity by identifying with the strongest power. After the dissolution of the Chola Empire, Kerala obtained complete independence once again. It was then threatened by a new danger. With the Muslim invasion, the cavalry general Malik Kafur (1310) wanted to plunder Kerala. Kerala however defended itself partly by skilful guerilla warfare and partly by drawing the Muslim general’s attention to the much greater riches in the neighboring territory of the Pandyas. The state although saved from danger, broke up into small segments of which the biggest was ruled by the Zamorin of Calicut.

So we have already seen two new definitions to the medieval period of Kerala, one based on the parley of Bunts to Kerala and the second based on the threat of the Khilji Eunuch general.

Krishnaswami Iyengar in his book Some Contributions of South India to Indian Culture opines thus - In the meanwhile the Mohammadan garrisons left by Malik-Kafur had been dislodged from the Tamil country by the Kerala ruler, Harivarma Kulashekara, who broke out of his mountain frontier and carried his armies successfully as far as Poonamallee, perhaps only to retire, when the Kakatiya general advanced against him.

This is confirmed by JBP More, who states that Kafur’s first invasion attempt was a failure, but he was immensely successful the second time around. If that were the case, why did Malik Kafur not retaliate during his second and successful raid and attack the Chera king in his domain? Anyway we do not know if he did, probably he did not.

Malik Kafur did not live very long after the plunder. As Dunning explains - On the 4th Jumada Sani 711 H. (1311) Malik Kafur arrived in Delhi with all this treasure and presented it to the Sultan Ala-ud-Din. But a curse seemed to attach to all the gold and jewels taken from the Hindoo idolaters, and in the same way as the Warangal treasure tempted Ala-ud-Din to murder his uncle Jelal-ud-Din, so now the same temptation brought upon him the same fate from the hands of Malik Kafur. In 1317 Ala-ud-Din died, his death having been hastened(poisoned), it is said, by Malik Kafur, who at once seized the throne. He put out the eyes of two of Ala-ud-Din's sons, "by cutting them from their sockets with a razor, like slices of melon," and confined another (Mubarak Khan), intending him for the same fate. Before, however, he could do this, retribution overtook Malik Kafur himself. A conspiracy was formed amongst some of the nobles, who entered the palace at night and killed him when he was asleep. This being done, Mubarak Khan was placed upon the throne and assumed the title of Sultan Kutb-ud-Din (1317).

Ziauddin Barani (translation by S Kidwai) says thus – In those last 4-5 years of Alauddin Khilji’s life, the sultan was losing his memory & senses; he had fallen deeply and madly in love with Malik Naib. He had entrusted his responsibilities to the useless, ingratiate sodomite Kafur. In a scornful obituary to Kafur, Barani says – This ignorant man did not know that to be castrated, to be addicted to the vice of being sodomised and to be faithless are the worst vices. He did not know the necessities and rules of Kingship require a person to be exceptional, independent, fearless and strong. … That was Malik Kafur..

But Malik Kafur is remembered in history for something else as well; he looted and brought to Delhi the great diamond taken from Rudradeva, identified by some with the famous Koh-i-Nur. Of that I will talk at length soon.

So that was the story of Kafur and his foray into M’aabar. The story got tainted in time, when M’aabar vanished from the vocabulary and further got confused with Malabar. Regretfully many works of history and even text books still mention that Malik Kafur plundered Malabar, which as you saw from this study is after all, a misconception..


Mehrdad Shokoohy - Muslim architecture of South India
Tarikh-i ‘Alai or Khazainu-l Futuh by Amir Khusru
Dhow Cultures and the Indian Ocean - Abdul Sheriff
The history of India from the earliest ages: Mussulman rule - James Talboys Wheeler
A history of the Deccan, Volume 1- James Dunning Baker Gribble, Mary Gribble Pendlebury


There is an interesting but false legend about Kafur which is heard in old men’s tales. It is a fabrication and is mentioned below only for the fun of it….

In 1312 AD, Malik Kafur invaded Devagiri in Deccan for the second time and captured two beautiful daughters of King Ramadeva. Malik Kafur sent those two young ladies to Alauddin Khalji in Delhi along with other loot. Alauddin, who had natural weakness for beautiful ladies irrespective of their marital status, invited them to join his royal harem with all dignity. The elder girl replied that both of them were not fit for emperor as Malik Kafur had already enjoyed them. In anger Alauddin forgot that Malik Kafur was a Eunuch and cannot enjoy girls normally. He ordered an immediate arrest of Malik Kafur and got him sent to Delhi after packing him in a sack made of cow skin. Alauddin knew that during the fortnight’s journey from Devagiri to Delhi, the cow skin would shrink gradually in hot and humid climate killing Malik Kafur by suffocating him slowly. After a fortnight the cow skin sack containing Malik Kafur’s dead body reached Alauddin. Alauddin opened the sack in presence of those two ladies. On seeing the dead body, one of the girls told him that emperor should have checked genuineness of their allegation before giving the death order. Alauddin became furious and asked why they made false allegation against Malik Kafur. They replied that they wanted to take revenge on Malik Kafur who had destroyed their country. Source rajendracholan – Ponniyinselvam forum