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On Kiriyathil Nairs and Nair Aristocracy

Posted by Maddy Labels:

The position of Nairs in the caste and ruling structures of medieval Kerala is a very peculiar one, and this resulted in so many anthropological studies into it. Volumes have been written by people who understood it in parts, for decoding the structure and its peculiarities is not easy. I don’t claim to know even parts of it, but I thought I will cover a little bit of my gatherings on the specific aspects of Kiriyam and Kiriyathil nairs here and in particular, as related to Malabar, not Travancore.

During wedding planning in families which attach much importance to caste, an alliance is carefully checked to see what caste classification the prospective bride or groom belongs to. If they are both Nair’s they check to see what kind of a Nair the other is. So now that explains that there are different types of Nairs. It is a subject by itself which I will not get into, but briefly, there are quite a few and decided by pedigree as well as profession, social status and also positions granted by a sovereign in those old times. Some say there are close to 64 or so of such sub classifications. Examples are Illathu, Swaroopathu, Pattola, Maran, Idachery Nairs, Odathu, Athikurichikal, Chembukottikal, Chalia Nairs, Kalamkotti Nair, Pallichal Nairs, Veluthedathu Nairs, Vilakkithala Nairs and so on and so forth. Whatever said and done, the top position of differing tables created in Malabar, Cochin and Travancore regions are held by the Kiriyathil Nair. So what is a Kiriyath Nair supposed to be?

Note first of all that Kiriyam as terminology is not exlusive to Nairs. It is a term used by many other communities such as the Thiyyas, Kanakkans, Kurups and so on. Kiriyam can actually be said to mean clan. Illam as a family home or homestead is also not exclusive to Nambuthiris (Kulam is another nonexclusive term). The normal definition, dating back to Fawcett goes thus - The Kiriyattil, or Kiriyam, said to be derived from the Sanskrit word graham, a house (a doubtful derivation) is the highest of all the clans in South Malabar, and is supposed to comprise or correspond with the group of clans just named of North Malabar. In the old days every Nair chief had his Charnavar, or adherents. The Purattu Charna are the outside adherents, or the fighters, and so on, and the Akattu Charna are inside adherents, clerks and domestics. The clan from which the former were drawn is superior to the latter.

What brings these Kiriyathils Nairs to a primary position is the fact that they were not obliged to serve upper caste Namboothiris or the ruling Kshatriaya families (The Illath Nair or Illakar on the other hand served in Nambuthiri homes while the svarupakkar served the royal households e.g. Kolathiri, Perumbadappu etc). The Kiriyathil nairs tended to matters of their houses or estates, and were allowed to collect taxes on land holdings of Sthanis whom they were aligned to. Only the Kiriyam Nair was allowed to wear bracelets on both arms and they were also not classified as Sudra Nairs (not in the eyes of the Namboothiris though) whereas all other Nair classifications were.

Kanippayur provides two comparisons to explain the difference, firstly comparing the Tripunithara Rajas and the Kodungallur Chazhur kovilakom. Both were Kshatriya families in principle but the former were higher in social status, being the ruling elite. The males the royal house are called Thambrakkal whereas the males of Chazur are Thambakkal. The females are Thambrattimar and Thambattimar respectively. Similarly the Zamorins (Samoothirimaar) and other Eradi families are of the same category but the former are Rajas and their home, Kovilakoms. The Zamorin can sit and eat with a Namboothiri, but the Eradi could not.

In the old times, the land was divided into Naadu’s and Desam’s. Their rulers or chieftains were termed Naaduvazhi and Desavazhi respectively and were always of Kiriyath nair stock. Kiriryam therefore is considered to be the corrupted dialectic equivalent of the Sanskrit term ‘graham’ or homestead. The graham name and the land around it, owned by the owner is one that had been formally endorsed by the local Thambran. As the titles of Desavazhi and Naduvazhi lost prevalence when time passed, the honorific Kiriyam titles remained, thus creating the group of those aristocratic families and their descendants. Note here that the name of the home or in today’s terms the family name had to be kept intact to provide a manner of proof of the Kiriyam lineage.

Interestingly in the Cochin area, some of these Kiriyam Nairs were also called Vellayma Nairs, signifying the connection to Vellala or Valluvan of the Tamil lands. If you recall, I had mentioned earlier (On the origin of Nairs) an article by U B Nair alluding to the advent (based on Oppert’s claim) of Vellalas into Malabar. It appears that 64 families of karakattu vellalars formed the original Kiriyathil Nair group. They were the groups which won distinction from the Pandya king for guarding the clouds and were apparently the ones brought in by Parasurama into Malabar. However this is debunked by UB Nair himself on the basis that Parasurama existed before the advent of Vellalas to Kaveripattinam and as he had brought Nairs to Kerlam, Nairs predated vellalars.

Continuing on, these lords or chieftains or Sthanis (Nadu Vazhi and Desavazhi) had additional titles such as Kurup, Kaimal, Nambiar, Kartha, Vazhunnavar etc. This authority to govern was the reason why the Kiriyathil nair families considered themselves superior to other Nairs. They were considered to be the aristocrats, they had the status, the upbringing, the standing, bearing and so on and were also authorized to settle dispute in their respective territories.

In general they are involved with agriculture, work as a Sthani’s or chieftain’s officer or as accountants. Should there be a dispute to adjudicate, representative from four kiriyams hear it and if they cannot resolve it, the matter is passed on to the Nambudiri (regional nambudiri council?). In those times, the Kiriyam nair married only from another kiriyam. It was also their responsibility to maintain the rules of pollution, for example, if a death occurred in a lower class Nair’s house and people including upper classification Nairs were attending, all the cooking could only be done by a Kiriyathil Nair. They were called Ejamanan and according to Kannipayur, prominent Kiriyathil Nair families preferred sambandham only from Nambudiri men for the women in the family. As days went by and the English came to take control of administration, the Kiriyathil Nair did not have much to do unlike the other Nairs who had held on to their hereditary professions. All they did therefore was living a life of landlords with revenues from the land tilled by their tenants.

Looking at Bhaskaran Unni’s magnum opus, ‘Kerala of the 19th century’, we see that the definition has changed. Quoting Chathurvarnakarmam, he states that while Kiriyam Nairs were aristocrats, there were also soldiers in their midst and adds Nairs, Kurups, Nambiar, Panickkar and Menon to this Kiriyam list.

We also observe that while Kiriyathil is the name of the highest class sub-caste of the Nair caste, they are found confined to the regions of Malabar and Cochin mostly and are rarely seen in Travancore where the second in line in Nair sub caste i.e. Illathu Nairs, take predominance.

Francis H Buchanan (vol2 p408) traveling through Malabar in 1800 affirms the above in his records - The Nair, or in the plural the Naimar, are the pure Sudras of Malayala, and all pretend to be born soldiers; but they are of various ranks and professions. The highest in rank are the Kiriam, or Kiriyat Nairs. On all public occasions these act as cooks, which among Hindus is a sure mark of transcendent rank; for every person can eat die food prepared by a person of higher birth than himself in all disputes among the inferior orders, an assembly of four Kiriams, with some of the lower orders, endeavour to adjust the business. If they cannot accomplish this good end, the matter ought to be referred to the Namburis, The Kiriat Nainmar support themselves by agriculture, or by acting as officers of government, or accountants. They never marry a woman of any of the lower Nairs, except those of the Sudras, or Charnadu, and these very rarely.

Kannipayur points out another interesting observation connected with Kiriyath Nair’s. If a Nair ate in a Nambudiri’s illam, he had to remove his banana leaf after the meal, himself. The women of the Illam are not allowed to dispose of these. However a Kiriyam Nair invitee also desists from doing this himself. Instead he brings along a Nair servant to do that menial service, demonstrating his higher status of Sthani Nayanmar. It is also believed that important Kiriyam Nair families, until about the end- of last century did not accept husbands from the Samanthan castes such as Nedungadi and Kartavu. 

Kannipayur believes that the Nairs came to the fore after the 12th century and following the defeat of the Cheras, to further split into multiple swaroopams. The Kiriyathil Nair from that point on was the eye and the hand of the overlord, and was the clan who administered smaller principalities (The Desavazhi was akin to a Village Munsif of British times). A desam incidentally is a village or the smallest administrative unit and had at least one Kiriyam Nair resident, who was therefore the village authority.

While this was what was in practice, it would be interesting to check what the lore and legend was in connection with the Nairs. In the words of Kerololpathi: “Parasu Rama having sent for Sudras from various countries, made them settle and prescribed various rules of conduct for them. He created adima and kudima in the Desom, protected Adiyans and Kudians, established Taras and Sankitams, separated the Nairs into Taras, and ordered that to them was to belong the duties of supervising (lit. the eye) executing (lit. the hand) and giving orders in such a manner that rights should not be curtailed or suffered to fall into disuse. To the kudians the kilkur (inferior share), to the Brahmins the melkur (superior share); to the former the kanom and to the latter the jenmam; and so the law of kanam and jenmam and the rules of conduct for the Brahmins and customs for the Sudras were ordained.”

It is clear from the above that the Nairs were connected with supervisory functions of that early feudal system and William Logan rightly observes: "they had as a guild higher functions in the body politic than merely ploughing the rice-fields and controlling the irrigated lands”

K Raman Unni explains the two differing levels of Kiriyathil Nairs in his 1961 thesis - As an example consider this - Kolappulli is a village headed by a Sthani nair who lives in Kavalappara, a village three miles away. Barely three fourth of the lands of the village belongs to the Sthani Nair and it is one of the few villages where his retainers, the Kiriyattil Nairs, reside. In each of the three villages, families of power belong to the retainer castes.

As the numbers of Kiriyattil Nairs increased, the category of Sthanis separated themselves from a broader group of Kiriyathil Nairs. Raman Unni explains - The Sthanis, literally meaning the holders of high social status are lineages of title holding and very wealthy Nairs originally drawn from different castes of Nairs, chiefly from the Kiriyattil Nairs. Most of them were in pre-British times Naduvaris (district heads) and some were powerful Desavaris (village heads…... Some of the Sthanis carry special ritual rights and privileges as a heritage from a remote past and some of them have these bestowed by the ruler who awarded the title.

Kiriyam Nair caste appears to have had off-shoots of differential rank named Kakka Kiriyam, Patti Kiriyam, Manala Kiriyam and Panom Kiriyam. The Kiriyattils in general everywhere were on a level with the 10,000 armed retainers (Purathucharnas) under the Zamorin. Menons in Ponnani taluk were in this manner title holders under the Raja of Cochin and those in Walluvanad were originally clerks under their Raja drawn from Kiriyattils and Purathucharna Nairs. Of the non-Brahmin high castes the Kiriyattil Nairs alone are said to have a relatively good mastery of the culinary art, perhaps in line with their tradition as 'Kitchen men' of their Sthani overlords. The Kiriyattil men of the less wealthy tharavad, on invitation, serve as cooks at feasts of Nair castes of the same group, a practice reported by more popular in earlier periods. The Kiriyattils (both Nairs and Nambiars) the adukkalakkar (kitchen men) send from each taravad at least one man to the Sthani head's house to cook during the fourteen days of death pollution of his taravad. Nairs in a mood of gossip or sportive ridicule would refer to the Kiriyam Nairs as "KolliUntikal" which means feeders of fire wood, with reference to their role of cooking for their Sthani-heads at ritual occasions.

Malabar and Its Folk - T. K. Gopal Panikkar
Malabar Manual - William Logan
19’aam Nootandile keralam - P Bhaskaran Unni
Aryanmarude Kudiyettam 3rd volume – Kanipayyur Sankaran Namboothiripad
Caste in South Malabar – K Raman Unni
Census of India, 1901
Dravidian or South-Indian Family of Languages - Robert Caldwell
A hand book of Malabar law and usage as administered by the courts - B. Govinda Nambiar
Report of the Malabar Marriage Commission 1891

A peculiarity in North Malabar - There were three Kovilagams namely Chirakkal, Kottayam and Kadathanad, in North Malabar. The term 'Kiriyam' Nair is never used by North Malabar Nairs in speaking of themselves. Two main divisions are into Agatha Charnavar and Puratha Charnavar. There are Charnavar attached to each Kovilagam in North Malabar. The Nairs of North Malabar will generally consider that they are attached to one or other of the Kovilagams. A man will say that he is al-karan (adherent) of such-and-such a Kovilagam. If a man is alkaran of a Kovilagam it is that Kovilagam which

L Anatha Krishna Iyer on Kiriyathil Nairs basing his comment on Keralolpathi – The members of this subdivision are believed to have been the descendants of the early Brahmins, in their union with the Deva, Gandharva and Rakshasa women, bought into Kerala by Parasurama and their duty was primarily to serve them

Robert Caldwell - The word kiriyam according to Gundert, is a corrupted form of the Sanskrit word Kshayam which means loss, perhaps unrelated to the discussion but explains how it is difficult to obtains derivations for kiriyam from the Sanskrit word graham– Dr Robert Caldwell states - The hard, lingual sibilant of Sanskrit is unknown to classical Tamil. Sometimes it is changed into s’, a change which ordinarily takes place at the present day in the pronunciation of the lower classes in the southern districts, sh is sometimes, though rarely, converted in Tamil into r. Dr Gundert supplies me with some instances of this in old Malayālam—e.g., kshaya, Sans. loss, is in old Mal. written kirayam, and the name Lakshmanan in an old copy of the Ramayana is written Ilarkkanan. Here rkk stands for ksh. Sometimes sh is assimilated to a succeeding n—e.g., the name Vishnu becomes sometimes, both in poetical Tamil and in Malayalam, Vinnu.

Finally – Would these people have anything to do with the Kiriyam and Kriyavada doctrine of Mahavira preached by Jains?? The kiriyam doctrine teaches that the soul exists, acts and is affected by acts. Did these clans have anything to do with the large numbers of Jains we had in Malabar at one time? Food for thought….


William Logan (1841-1914)

Posted by Maddy Labels:

The author of The Malabar Manual and a friend of Malabar

There are many Scotsmen, Irish and Englishmen who have spent long tenures in India, and some have spent their entire adult lifetimes in India but have done little. Logan Sayipp as he was known in Calicut spent only a few years but left a huge mark, for unlike many others who followed, he loved the land (and the people) which he was sent to administer. This man of Scottish farming stock went on to write what we still consider as source book on Malabar and his history, the Malabar manual. Let’s now try to get to know the man behind it all, his life and times.

Interestingly, and many would not know it, he was the last foreign owner of the collectors bungalow in East hill, the very building which houses the Krishna Menon museum today. William Logan appointed as Collector of Malabar, purchased it from Athol MacGregor and lived there until his early retirement at the age of 46, after which he sold it to the brothers Koyotti and Chekutti Koya Haji in 1890. Some years later, the British government acquired it from the brothers. Those were the days when the British lived in a different Calicut than the one we see today and I had tried to recreate the scene in a couple of earlier articles. For William Logan, Malabar was a place which perhaps reminded him of the lowlands of Scotland and his farmer’s upbringing.

Logan (Courtesy KKN Kurup,
 Agrarian relations)
William Logan, the son of David Logan and Elizabeth Hasti, was born on 17 May, 1841 at Ferney Castle, a farmland near Reston - Berwickshire, Scotland. For over two centuries, the Logan’s were tenant farmers in these rolling arable lands of the Merse, lying a few miles north of the River Tweed and bordering England.

Calicut in those days was a bigger place though considered a dying entrepot, compared to the little village of Reston with 321 people and Malabar was where the young lad would soon head to, to better his fortunes. Even during his school days at the age old Musselburgh academy, William distinguished himself with a Dux medal in 1856, before moving on to Edinburg University. It was at this juncture that fate intervened and the Sepoy mutiny took place. In the aftermath of the Rebellion, under the provisions of the Government of India Act 1858, the British Government nationalized the Company. The Crown took over its Indian possessions, its administrative powers and machinery, and its armed forces. With the British crown now responsible for the governance of the presidencies of India, youngsters desirous of going to India did not any longer have to buy commissions, but obtained positions after open competition.

That was how William Logan, a bright and plucky lad, appeared and passed the exams to travel to India and join the MCS or Madras civil service, in Aug 1862. His first challenge was to pass the vernacular tests in Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu which he did. At the age of 21, in 1864, he was appointed as an assistant to the collector and magistrate at North Arcot. He was then moved to Malabar as an assistant to the collector, but was quickly reposted to Tanjore and soon enough, right back to Malabar in 1866, as acting head assistant and then head assistant. He then took a number of positions within the Tellichery and Calicut Collectorate till he finally became the chief administrator of Malabar – The collector and magistrate, in 1876, aged 35.

But in between all that he did find time to settle himself by finding a wife, in 1872, while on furlough. His wife, Anne Selby Burrell Wallace, daughter of a banker, accompanied him to Tellichery where they begot a child Mary Ord. By 1876, moved to South Malabar, they had settled down at the East Hill collector’s Bungalow at Calicut which we talked about earlier, and went on to live there for the next 12 years. As DLH states -

Logan was often seen on horseback touring the areas of Malabar frequently, accompanied by one or two servants, constantly stopping and talking to small groups, and asking questions. His care for the people of Malabar, his passion for doing what was right, his built in faith in God, all of these were put to work during his stay in Calicut.

His other children William Malcom, Elizabeth Helen were delivered in Malabar while Anne Selby Burrel was born in Scotland.
Reston - Scotland

One of his first and notable involvements was related to the administration of the Lakshdweep or Laccadive Islands and the Ali Raja’s monopolies related to the coir trade. The islands had been controlled by the Ali Rajas and the Beebi of Cannanore and generally accepted so by the British who had agreed to a status quo, until W Robinson visiting the islands in 1847 suggested much needed reforms. The islands were later attached by the British due to unpaid arrears and it was in 1869 that Logan was deputed to the islands for a review, with the Ali Rajah in tow and trying his best to obstruct him from getting information. Logan completed his investigations and submitted different schemes for raising revenue, entailing the abolition of the monopoly but these suggestions were not accepted and from the time of the British government taking over the control of these islands in 1875, the prices paid were assimilated to those paid on the South Kanara islands.

But a bulk of his work was done in the mainland, all resulting from his love and sympathy for the people of Malabar. Even though he was a mainstay for the British Raj in Malabar, his appreciation for the unique culture of Malabar can be seen in his writings. I will not dwell in too much detail with his specific contributions and for that one only needs to peruse the commentaries in the Kerala gazetteers edition of the Malabar manual (circa 2000), especially the contributions of KKN Kurup, Ravindran Gopinath and Kesavan Veluthat. Additional analysis is provided in the works of KKN Kurup’s seminal work (study in agrarian relations) and VV Kunhikrishnan’s (Tenancy legislation) detailed analysis. Nevertheless, I will provide an overview for the sake of completeness. Editions of Malabar Law and custom which were published after the Malabar manual often refer to his works and his legal decisions, as a base.

As a collector he had a tremendous amount of work to do and we can still see the fruits of his efforts. He was very much involved with the plantations of Wyanad, starting of garden schools, and the development of the Calicut port. The railway link to Beypore had been completed and Logan wanted to link it to Trivandrum and other sections of the South eastern railway through Cape Comorin.

His efforts in understanding the issues with the Moplahs of Malabar is well documented and Hussein Randathani adds - As a political and economic analyst Logan had done a wonderful job in finding out various reasons connected with the peasant revolts of Malabar. He thoroughly goes through the economic grievances which precipitated Mappila revolts and at the same time he brings out the ideological factors behind them. However sympathies aside, he administered the law in very strict terms as was the case during the Trikkaliyur riots.

Perhaps his biggest contributions lie in the understanding and documentation of the traditional land and agrarian systems of Malabar. While it is said that he erred on the side of the peasant and did not quite side with the landlord due to his own background as a Scottish peasant, his recommendations on land tenure decisions did not find favor with his masters who for the sake of smoother administration decided to maintain a status quo. Ironically, some of the succeeding Kerala administrators of independent India, though many decades later, found many of his arguments perfect.

Following all this, in 1881, Logan took on the role of special commissioner to study the issues in the Moplah districts after the government’s receipt of an anonymous petition with public opinion explaining certain agrarian reasons as the reason behind Moplah violence. Logan found fault with the implementation of British law in tenancy cases and presented a very detailed study of the rules of the land vis-à-vis the situation faced by the tenants, coupled with their abject poverty, ending usually with forceful evictions. He also outlined various religious issues affecting Moplahs as well as the issues faced by Hindu lower caste tenants within the tenurial system, resulting in others describing his outlook to be one of a ‘primitive socialist’. The government did not agree and kept Logan out of the final committee drafting the revised Malabar tenancy bill. Eventually more revisions took place and the act came out in 1887, something I would assume was to Logan’s complete discomfiture and the principal reasoning behind the British governments transfer orders for Logan to Andhra, culminating in his resignation and departure from India.

During this period, while different committees were analyzing the various issues relating to Logan’s report, he was given numerous differing responsibilities. While he was an acting resident of Cochin and Travancore between 1883 -84, he was again on special duty relating to land tenures and finally sent back to Calicut as collector. Calicut remembers him for many an interesting action when he served as its collector. He was the first to record the peculiar trail of chastity or smartavicharam where an offending Nambudiri woman was cruelly outcasted. One should also not forget his relentless effort to create a classic botanical garden in the area where we have the SM Street these days. The idea for the government to acquire a 7 acre piece of land from the Zamorin’s family did not quite pan out due to the arrival of the railway and the resulting increase in land prices. Even when Logan changed his plans to have a much smaller 1 acre garden, the idea did not eventually get an approval from his superiors. 

He was the person who decided the location of Calicut’s railway station (the Chaliyam railway station lost out in the bargain) upon what once was the route of the dried up Robinson canal or the bazar canal. Logan was a just man, who was severe not only on people who disobeyed the law, but also errant government officials. He was also against the smalltime kuris of Malabar mainly because many of them were dishonest and robbed the poorest off their little earnings. He was once tasked with determining if explosive gunpowder was being misused to make crackers in Calicut (this was during the Moplah disturbances), and Logan after a careful study explained that gunpowder was as such only used in temples for the “kathana’ and not in any crackers. He also had some tiffs with the Zamorin’s family over matters such as appointments in their schools and college. His involvement in demarcating the lands of the French Loge was something we talked about earlier. Stories of his direct involvement in many such matters make interesting reading and prove that he was a collector who really loved and cared for the people of his district.

Logan’s involvement in the Attapadi silent valley suit and his recording of facts and evidences helped in the preservation of the Attapadi forest including the Silent Valley, something ecologists of Kerala proudly mention even today. RJ Herring observes, citing Logan - the effect of colonial law was to simplify, collapse and locate concretely the bundle of rights in land with the objective of creating property rights in the sense of market property. Simultaneously, vast tracts were "reserved" for the state on the claim that unused "waste" land had traditionally been "the property of the state"

But his superiors were in general not too pleased with all this I suppose, for Logan was transferred in 1888 to Cudappah as the district and sessions judge, and for Logan I believe, that it was the last straw, and just two months later he resigned and went back aged just 47, to Scotland to lead a life in obscurity, to retire as they say and become a gentleman hunting and playing golf. His picture from Scotland does show a portly country man in breeches, with his cap and a bent pipe hanging from his lips. It is mentioned that for a while he continued correspondence with some of his friends in Malabar.

But he left behind what is considered to be his magnum opus- the Malabar manual in 3 parts. A fine 1200 page manual later printed in two parts, he recorded all that he could about the people of Malabar, their history, culture and varied practices. (‘A Collection of Treaties, Engagements and other papers of importance relating to British affairs in Malabar’ written by him was earlier referred to as the Part 3).  

Logan is sometimes titled the Gazetteer of Malabar. Now what was a Gazetteer supposed to do? Gazetteers became popular in Britain in the 19th Century, many of whom were Scottish, documenting activities to meet public demand in Britain for information on an expanding Empire. Logan simply put, produced in ‘Malabar manual’, the work of an enlightened administrator, an assiduous scholar and an authority on British affairs in the region. Dr. M. G. S. Narayanan opines "Logan was sincere and serious about the task entrusted to him. He was an efficient Collector who had an affinity with the people of Malabar. The personal contribution is evident all along. The details given by Logan with regard to dress, festivals and other social customs go a long way in providing insights on the social history of Malabar. The cultural heritage of Malabar, the race for hegemony in the trade of pepper and spices, the Mysorean invasion, and finally British supremacy find mention in his book”.

Logan’s admiration for the Nair community is something he exemplifies in words in the Malabar manual. He stated "I would more especially call attention to the central point of interest, as I look at it, in any descriptive and historical account of the Malayali race - the position, namely, which was occupied for centuries on centuries by the Nair caste in the civil and military organization of the province, - a position so unique and so lasting that but for foreign intervention there seems no reason why it should not have continued to endure for centuries on centuries to come. These Nayars," he wrote, "being heads of the Calicut people, resemble the parliament, and do not obey the king's dictates in all things, but chastise his ministers when they do unwarrantable acts."

The manual does have its deficiencies and in certain cases does not reflect all the truth. It is said that the manual shows a stellar administration in charge of Malabar and issues such as the 1876-78 famines were not depicted correctly.But Logan with characteristic humility states in the preface of his work "I shall consider that I have
MM sculpture Calicut
failed in one main object if I do not succeed in arousing a feeling of interest on many points whereon I have necessarily touched, but briefly in this work." He added “Many things I would no doubt find wherein my knowledge was defective , and many more still in which fuller investigation would through new, and perhaps altogether different light on what seems plain enough now”.

A wonderful man, all in all. I only hope that the people of Malabar will continue to prove that they deserved him and I do hope they do more to remember him. There is a road  in Tellicherry, the town up north, where he had served, carrying his name but William Logan's presence was not very much visible anywhere in Calicut, save for an alcoholic bar with his name in the local 5 star hotel and recently a nice sculpture of the famous Malabar manual.

Himmat Sept 22, 1978 – William Logan Bio – DLH
A Short Account of the Laccadive Islands and Minicoy By R. H. Ellis
Tenancy legislation in Malabar - VV Kunhikrishnan
A study in the agrarian relations of Malabar – Dr KKN Kurup
Malabar manual – Malabar gazetteers (2000)
Kozhikodinte Paithrukam – TB Seluraj
The Collector of Malabar - John Logan Marjoribanks, Our valour, Clan Logan society, vol 3 issue 1, Jan 2008

Reston - a village in Coldingham parish, Berwickshire, near the right bank of Eye Water, with a station on the North British railway at the junction of the Berwickshire branch, 8¾ miles NE of Duns, 11¼ NW of Berwick, and 46½ ESE of Edinburgh. It has a post and telegraph office under Ayton, an inn, a market cross, a public school, and a Free church (1880; 260 sittings), erected at a cost of £1150. Pop. (1881) 321.—Ord. Sur., sh. 34, 1864.

MM sculpture - Midhun Chunakara
Logan - KKN Kurup

The Welser’s and the Malabar spice trade

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Perhaps we give too much credit to the Portuguese when it came to the Malabar trade. In a manner, it is right as they possessed the might and the control of the sea route to make it all happen. But what most casual readers of history gloss over is the simple fact that the finances and string pulling at times, originated elsewhere. Two major players were families who had hands on the strings, and one being the Fuggers, whom we had come across briefly in a previous article (then again, there are plenty of books written about the Fuggers). But the pioneering family of the two, were the risk taking Welser’s from Augsburg, Germany. Not much has been written about them in English and only recently has substantial information surfaced. They were an enterprising family, so let’s meet them and take a quick look at their connections to the Malabar spice trade.

The Welser’s claim descendance from a very interesting person, a general from the 6th century, named Flavius Belisarius, the man who today is connected to the so called small force theory used by militaries of the world (Including the US army which documents his strategies in field manuals) especially those used by him in the Battle of Dara (Oghuz in south east Turkey) where he and his forces took on a larger Persian army. The Welser’s of the 16th century as we will see were strategists all right, but they fought their battles in the economic and banking fronts but remained behind the scenes. The difficulties in tracing their complete stories is the fact that their records were mostly lost due to their economic collapse in 1614, which we will eventually come to.

The Welser’s were by the 15th century one of the premier burgher families of Germany (Burgher is a hereditary family tile, they were privileged, with the heads reporting directly to the emperor) and first rose into prominence, trading in Germany and were controlled by the four brothers Bartel, Jacob, Lucas and Ulrich. They became prominent after connecting up with another well-known trader, Hans Vohlin of Memingen who had direct links to emperor Maximilian. This was a period when the four richest cities of Germany were Augsburg, Memingen, Nuremberg and Ravensburg. The Venice division of the Vohlin trade dealt with cloth, pepper and spices in addition to salt and silver. Their relationship was cemented when Lucas’s son Anton Welser married Vohlin’s daughter (Lucas’s other sons Lucas and Jacob had their own Wesler branches but they became extinct in 1628 and 1878 respectively). After spending some time in Memingen with his wife’s family, Anton returned in 1496 to Augsburg to form the Anton Wesler Conrad Volhlin Company. It was a well spread company with some 18 associates, though decision making was difficult, with so many voices. While the Fugger’s concentrated on mining, the Welser’s traded in textiles, spices, silk and dyes. They formed part of the higher echelon Patricians of Augusburg, which the Fugger’s were not.

It was the same year, as part of an agreement between himself and Isabella that the King of Portugal decreed all Jews must convert to Catholicism or leave the country. John II had decided on enriching the monarch’s treasury by usurping commerce and long distance trade, taking a page from his ancestor Henry the Navigator. He decided to find the sea route to India and the reports from Covilha and Pavia had reached Lisbon in 1490 (see article). Bartholomew Diaz had circumvented Africa and India was beckoning. Soon America was discovered and proved to be of no great commercial consequence and not befitting the glowing descriptions of ‘Zimpango’ of Marco Polo.

Like it is usually, it was a war that propped up Lisbon as an attractive alternative to European
Bartholomew Welser
businessmen and adventurers. Despite the setbacks in the struggle against the Turks, at the end of 15th century, with 180,000 inhabitants, Venice was the second largest city in Europe after Paris and probably the richest in the world and the premier port of trade. In the same year the Ottoman sultan moved to attack Lepanto by land and sent a large fleet to support the offensive by sea. Antonio Grimani, more a businessman and diplomat than a sailor, was defeated in the sea Battle of Zonchio in 1499.Preferring peace to total war against the Turks, Venice surrendered the bases of Lepanto, Modon and Coron. The War of the Holy League with the French and the pope followed.

The war with the Ottomans and later with the Pope, coupled with the disastrous fire at the Fondaco die Tedeschi had put Venice which was their base, on notice and as always, the moneymen fled with their purses. Their new destination was Lisbon which was in a state of elation after the great news about the far eastern voyages and the return of Vasco Da Gama.

The responsibility of captaining the first Portuguese voyage to the East, as we know, went to Vasco Da Gama. Not much is known behind the reasoning to select Gama, still an inexperienced explorer, to lead the expedition to India in 1497. But he did just that, for on July 8 of that year, he captained a team of four vessels, including his flagship St. Gabriel, to find a sailing route to India and the East. As we know he reached Calicut in May 1498 and opened the lucrative sea route to Malabar’s spice markets, something that was eagerly awaited in Lisbon. The profits of that voyage and successive voyages convinced that the long distance trade with Malabar was eminently feasible. A year later Cabral had accidentally discovered another jewel named Brazil. The lucrative trade with these new countries beckoned and the traders rushed to Portugal.

Anton Wesler’s company located in Augsburg and his large fleet of ships working off Antwerp were making good money. It was the third-largest city in the south-west of Bavaria, and third-oldest City in Germany. Founded by the Romans as Augusta Vindelicorum, it was named after the Roman emperor Augustus. Augsburg was to become the home of two families, replacing the Medicis as Europe's leading bankers, namely the Fugger and the Welser families. Due to the presence of the business families of Welser and Fugger, Augsburg developed into a considerable trading center bringing in material from Venice and also became a center for printing.

In Welserland
At the very first sign of the decadence of Venice, when the tide of the East India trade turned towards Lisbon, we see Simon Seitz, an agent of the Welser’s of Augsburg, installed in the capital of Portugal in 1503. He was later succeeded by one Lucas Rem, who left behind a complete diary (Welser Codex). Lucas Rem was associated with Augsburg’s Welser firm through his maternal relatives (his mother was Magdelena Welser, the daughter of Lucas Welser). Lucas spent his initial years starting in 1494 in Venice learning the ropes in an organization which had many other relatives. Between 1502 and 1509, Rem seems to have been relocated to the Welser’s Lisbon office.

We also observe that King Manuel had attracted German capital from the Welser and other German families by granting them some privileges of lower taxes (also accorded citizenship, right to dress in their own clothes, ride on their own horses and donkeys!!) and the right to deploy their own ships in the sea trade if they opened offices in Lisbon. This ploy proved to be quite profitable for the Welser’s participating in a German consortium for the famous Asia Contract which the Portuguese Crown granted to these German merchants. Let us now get to the details.

The Germans did see the immense advantages in getting into the India trade, seeing the differential in spice costs and market prices and one of the first to give it a try was the Fuggers through Genoa, with Coelho and Vespucci, sailing around South America, which proved to be a failure.  The first to seek a special India concession for the Germans was Simon Seitz, who negotiated with the Portuguese monarch. Valentin Fernandez, a Moravian printer stationed in Lisbon assisted with the introductions. Due to the fact that the Germans controlled the production and supply of tradeable raw material such as silver, tin, copper and lead, King Manuel decided quickly to grant them a special concession upon the deposit of 10,000 ducats as surety. This was the juncture at which Lucas Rem, an agent of the Welser’s arrived at Lisbon and coordinated the discussions with the monarch to participate in direct trade with Malabar.

Vasco da Gama had come back after his second and ruthless voyage and so had Alfonzo Albuquerque (interestingly at the same time, the Welser’s obtained a Genoese copy of a large Portuguese world map, which is an important aspect because the Portuguese had been zealously guarding their copies). 

The 6th voyage captained by Lopo Soares was under planning and the Welser’s wanted a part of that. Armed with letters of recommendation from Emperor Maximillian and Archduke Philip, as well as 20,000 ducats worth of metals for trading, two Wesler agents were deputed to Lisbon, but King Manuel would not budge from his stand that the crown held monopoly over the India voyages. The 6th Armada sailed off.

But economics convinced Manuel to change his stand as the price of spices crashed due to oversupply while at the same time, Lucas Rem and others increased pressure on the Portuguese court. The king’s stipulation was that the Germans pay a 30% duty and ensure that pepper was not sold below a 20 ducat ceiling. The next planned voyage was the 7th armada captained by Almeida in 1505.

Many Germans contributed to the Almeida voyage, with the Welser’s putting in 20,000 cruzados while the Fuggers and Hochstetters put in 4,000 each. Other German and Italian families put in the balance 37,000 odd cruzados. Balthasar Sprenger boarded the fleet as the Wesler agent (Imhoff and Mayr were other German agents who joined the group). They came back with 12,000 quintals of pepper and made a nice 150% profit or even more, selling it. As expected there were a number of disputes and problems between the King and the Germans since the cargo was loaded on the German ships which had arrived first, with the King trying to apply the monopoly rule retroactively to ensure that the king’s stock of spices were sold first before the prices came down. It dragged on for the whole of 1506, nevertheless the Welsers profited hugely.

The profits were reinvested, the company installed an office in Madeira and acquired sugar plantations in the Canary Islands. But the 1506 fleet where the Welser’s invested over 3000 ducats turned out to be a failure. Whether Seitz, Fernandez or Rem had the prime contact with King Manuel is not entirely clear, but all three represented the Welser’s (Lucas Rem who complained bitterly of being underpaid, eventually moved on to create his company Endres Rem and Co later).

The Casa da India or India House facilitated the flow of goods from Europe to India, items such as copper and silver ingots, and also tried a hand at controlling the saltpeter trade. All imports and exports were stored there for registration, customs, freight expenses were met, sales were arranged, ships were chartered, loaded and unloaded at the Armazem da India or the India dockyard in Lisbon, inspection for contraband was carried out and crew payments were made. All registers were held there for safekeeping, so also all routes and maps, in strict secrecy. In addition, it was also a premier center for cosmography and cartography.

Lucas Rem during his tenure at Lisbon also acquired exotic birds and other items from the ships which were sent to the Augsburg headquarters. The Augsburg city recorder and Wesler’s political and legal representative Conrad Peutinger, collected news of Portuguese expeditions from Valentin Fernandez in Lisbon and translated a text on East India into German together with his brother in law Christoph Welser. We had previously studied the account of Balthasar Springer and Burgkmair’s woodcuts in an earlier article of mine. We also find that the few of the first Malabar slaves landed up in Augsburg (purchased by Anton Wesler, Hoichstetter and Vohlin) Germany, moved on to Swabia and were models for the Burgkmair woodcuts.

The Welser’s as well as the Fugger’s had losses in the following voyages and the profitability of the expensive India run out of Lisbon was in question. Again, the Portuguese monarch had a change of mind and decided to monopolize the spice trade in India. As this was going on, the importance of Lisbon went into a decline and the emergence of Antwerp could be noticed. The Welser’s and the Fuggers continued secondary trading of various items without direct involvement in the financing of the India run. The Welser’s instead ran ships between Antwerp and San Domingo in the West Indies.

Unlike the Welser family, the Fugger's participation in the overseas trade was relatively cautious and conservative, and the only other operation of this kind Jacob invested in was a failed trade expedition to the Maluku Islands led by the Spaniard Garcia de Loaisa. It is believed that he financed Magellan's famed voyage through the Flemish trader Christopher de Haro, but kept it secret as the Spanish and Portuguese monarchies were at loggerheads.

The Augsburg German families next changed tack and concentrated on Imperial Spain where they got similar concessions with the Welser’s leading the fray. In 1516, Charles, the son of Philip, arch-duke of Austria and grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella, upon the death of Maximilian, was elected emperor of Germany, thus for a time uniting the interests of Spain and Germany. The sad financial situation of Spain, having spent all her money in American discovery pursuits forced Charles to look to the rich Germans for finance. Large loans were provided by both the Fugger and Welser families in return for land concessions in South America, which was controlled by Spain. The northern part of South America fell to the portion of the Welser family, and became known as Welserland, now Venezuela. The southern portions went to the Fuggers. By this time, the Welser organization were run by Anton and Bartholomew, sons of Anton and branch offices sprung up in Nuremburg and Ulm.

Charles V continued to borrow heavily from these families and it is said that in all, he owed these two families over 12 tons of gold as debt (over 4 million ducats from Welser’s and 5 million from the Fuggers). By late 1528, Ehinger and Sailer, Wesler’s envoys had taken over Venezuela and were tasked to finding and shipping 4000 slaves every year to the royal colonies in the West Indies. Weslerland or Venezuela was thus the first and only German colony, and fully owned by the Wesler family.

500 Germans moved to the new colony, which covered a large tract extending from the Province of San Marta well towards the Atlantic Ocean. The distance into the interior was evidently unlimited. The Weslers were the first to colonize the so called new world, even before the Spanish conquest of Mexico or Peru. Later around 1541, Bartholomew Welser was deputed as Governor of Welserland and things were not too rosy, as no gold or El Dorado was discovered. Welser and Von Hutten were brutally murdered by Spaniards acting under instructions of a notary and temporary head of Coro, a fella named Juan De Caravajal. With that the Welser’s lost interest in South America and before long, the Spaniards cancelled the assignment of Welserland after a murky case where the Welser’s were accused of harsh cruelty against the Venezuelan Indians by one Las Casas. Apparently the underlying cause was mostly due to the German’s heretic Lutheran beliefs. In the year 1553 the elder Bartholomeus retired from the firm, as the company was reconstructed under the name of Christoph Welser and Company. The Weslerland concession, known as Klein-Venedig (little Venice), was thus revoked in 1546 and all special rights the Welsers had were lost with the abdication of Charles V in 1556.

Meanwhile their involvement in India continued. Schwertzer a Welser agent in 1534 used to buy and transport stones to Hans Welser in Augsburg. Welser sold them to Charles V. While we do know that both the Welser’s and Fuggers had their factors in India such as Ferdinand Cron, the next major event involving the Welser’s (and the Fuggers, since the Wesler credit worthiness had deteriorated) in the India trade was the 1586 Welser and Fugger contract. Until this contract was finalized, Konrad Rott another Augusburg trader dealt with the Portuguese. After his business collapsed, the Portuguese negotiated with Fugger and Wesler (Marx and Matthaeus Welser owning 5/12th), and under the leadership of one Rovellasca, signed a six year contract to finance 6 ships to India, to procure 30000 quintais of pepper at 170,000 cruzados. This contract was extended with other parties joining in until 1598, a full 100 years after Gama had reached Calicut. As the Dutch entered the scene, the Portuguese again took full control and kicked the Germans out. In the end, it turned out that these spice ventures were not too lucrative due to the loss of many ships and attacks by English pirates.

It was 1589 when Ferdinand Cron arrived in India as a factor for the Wesler, Fugger companies. It was a period when pepper production, procurement and sales increased significantly. A very interesting character, he first worked out of Cochin before going on to Goa. In his checkered career, he rose to great fame and finally fell into disfavor with the Portuguese at Goa. I will retell his story in more detail, another day.

In the banking operations of the Welser’s, a large part of it was made up by loans to monarchs (mainly to Charles V and to the French kings). The failure of their foray into Venezuela, and the problems with various debtors to honor their obligations undermined the Welser firm. After Bartholomew's death the business was carried on by three of his sons and two of his nephews. Bartholomew's niece the beautiful Philippine Welser (daughter of his brother Francis), married the Archduke Ferdinand, son of the emperor Ferdinand. Interestingly when Jacob Fugger started on his Fuggeri project, the first sale of land for the same was by the Welser’s. The fuggeri in Augsburg was created by Jacob for charity, to house the poor.

A well-known member of the Welser family was Antony's grandson, Marcus (1558-1614). Educated in Italy, Marcus became burgomaster of Augsburg, but was more distinguished for his scholarship and his writings. Among Welser's correspondents were a number of Jesuit scholars, such as Christoph Claviuswho convinced Welser that Galileo's telescopic discoveries were real. Towards the end of 1611, the mathematician Christoph Scheiner, wrote three letters on sunspots to Welser, and Welser published them early in 1612 at his own press. He sent Galileo a copy of these asking for his opinion. Galileo identified sunspots as markings on the sun, confirming that the sun rotated monthly. But he had his own problems on the business and personal health fronts.

While the Fuggers favored the Hapsburgs, the Welsers even entered into financial negotiations with the French government, thereby suffering not only from the bankruptcy of Spain, but also on the failure of the finances of France in 1557. Mark in the meanwhile suffering painfully from gout and weighed down by thes efinancial problems of his firm, took his own life in June 1614. The bankruptcy of the Augsburg Welser’s, thus occurred in 1614, a week later, following in the wake of Spain’s bankruptcy and a refusal by Rudolph to pay his debt.

Perhaps the Welser’s and the Fugger’s were all affected by the pepper curse, just like the Dutch EIC. The EIC was formed in 1600. The Dutch VOC which spelt a death knell to the Estado Da India was born around 1602. As history proved, the English EIC, the Casa da India, all which thrived on pepper collapsed under the weight of their own greed. They also collapsed eventually with the Casa da India burnt to the ground during the Lisbon earthquake.

Whatever happened in Malabar? As I concluded in the article Economics of Portuguese trade - The toiler who tended to the pepper vines in Malabar did not prosper in succeeding years, decades or centuries, nor did the Nair and Namboothiri land holders prosper. The Moplahs were affected severely as their livelihood was under threat and after their relationship with the Zamorin and the Hindus were affected following the Kunjali debacle, their turmoil increased further. The Zamorin’s owing to his continued warring with Cochin racked up large debts and his power in fragmented Malabar declined steadily till he was virtually bankrupt.

Economics and Politics of Peasant Production in South Germany, 1450—1650 – RP Dees
The Two Sides of Innovation: Edited by Guido Buenstorf (Innovation in the age of the Fuggers – Rolf Walter and Maximilian Kalus)
Mapping Ethnography in Early Modern Germany: New Worlds in Print Culture - S. Leitch
Proceedings and Addresses, Volume 7 - Pennsylvania-German Society
The Fugger’s of Augsburg – Mark Haberlein
Indo-Portuguese trade and the Fuggers of Germany – KS Mathew
Portuguese Cochin and the maritime trade of India 1500-1663 – Pius Malekandathil

Related articles
Some Welsers probably migrated to Pennsylvania and other parts of USA, and are mentioned in this family slide show though renamed as Weslers (I am not sure if they belong to the Welser family).

Casa Da India 

The Chekavars of Malabar

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Chekavars and their Tiyya origins 

I had written an article exploring the origins of the Tiyyas of Malabar some years ago and many comments came in, some asking new questions, some adding new insights, but I missed covering something which could have provided a more definite angle. Recently I got back to studying the Vadakkan Pattukal or Northern ballads and some books on that subject, notably the volume 1 on the Ballads by C Achyutha Menon, some fine articles by the eminent MD Raghavan and an explanatory volume by the great historian KS Mathew. All of them spent a few pages on the first set of Ballads dealing with Aromal Chekavar, also Tacholi Othenan and dwelled a bit on the time period of these dueling heroes. In particular they explored the origin of these Chevakars or Chekavers, living among the other traditional communities of Malabar such as Nairs and Chetties and also pointed out the lack of importance or presence of the Namboodiris who were mentioned only in passing in the ballads as temple priests (perhaps they were mostly settled between Tirunavaya and North of Trissur and minding their business).

It could be good to peruse this subject now, for it provides good pointers to the origins of Tiyyas, a well-accepted legend for many centuries, forming part of these popular ballads and covered in detail by all three of these historians, succinctly. The discussion will cover mainly the Chekavars of the Puthuram house located in Kadathanadu near Nadapuram and close to Korapuzha (Geographically, Kadathanadu is north of Koyilandy near Calicut, an area near Vadakara), and the information in the ballads provides ample pointers.

Before we get to the point, let us start with the fact that these Chekavars and Nairs in general were warring communities in the early medieval ages, and both stayed away from any kind of farming (or in the case of the former – toddy tapping) activity. The Chekavars were likewise involved in warring matters, especially in the settlement of disputes. We did talk about the ankahms (duels) of Malabar in an earlier article, we will get to more details in this one.

The ballads in particular takes us to a point of the origin of the Chekavar lot. The time period is connected to the Cherama Perumal. Historians have analyzed certain sentences from the ballads to determine not only the origins and the caste of Chekavars, but also the time frame of their arrival in Malabar. The paragraph attesting to the origin is a narrative by Araomar, before he set out to fight an angam related to the Kurungattidom succession. The paragraphs in discussion are appended below. While they clarify a lot, it also raises many a question.

A rough translation states that ‘our ancestors lived their life fighting duels for the last 368 years and that they originated from the land of the Ezhavas after a formal request by the Cherama Perumal to the king of the Ezhavas. So that begs the question, now which Cheraman perumal was he talking about? A second question is, where is the Ezhava nadu? Many a historian including Achyuta Menon, SK Nair, Balakrishna Warrier, and Percy Macqueen chose to calculate the life period of Aromal Chekavar by basing the calculation from the ascendancy of the Zamorin as the Puntura ruler (which was just after the departure or demise of the Cheraman Perumal). It is recorded by Manaveda Raja in Kerala Charitram that this was in the 9th century and that puts Aromal’s period as the 12th century. This also concurs with the identity of Cheraman Perumal Nayanar (one of the 66) of the 9th century which we discussed earlierbased on KV Krishna Ayyar’s analysis and established a date of 826AD. 

In contrast one must also note that the Tacholi Othenan ballads date to the 17th century based on the fact that Othenan was born in 1584. Other historians (Ulloor P Iyer, T Karunakaran, SK Pillai, PKP Nair, N Panikkar), believe that the two ballads were from the same period and that Othenan and Aromal originated around the same time (based on words such as guns which were introduced in Kerala after the Portuguese ascendancy, or the possibility that the perumal was the Ramavarma Kulashekara of 1103AD) and that the events happening in the 15th century took some more decades before becoming ballads.

Achyuta Menons analysis however mentions another possibility, for the Aromal ballads do not indicate any Kolattiri Raja or Zamorin and talk only about local chieftains, so it must have predated the formation of the nadus, the Kolathiri, the Zamorin etc and fits into the 12th century. Historians in general agree that the rulers of Cheranaad were trying to fight off the Cholas and so it is likely that they sanctioned the requisition for fighters or mercenaries from Ceylon, something which was often done. After arrival they were formally provided land to set up home, by the local ruler.

A study of the complete ballad reveals the following. The quarrel that brings this to light is the succession arguments between Unnichandror and Unnikonar of Kurungattidem (somewhere in kurumbranad) in Prajapatinadu. As the argument could not be amicably settled, an angam is called for. Unnichandror selects Aringodar to fight his duel (Aringodar is already preparing the wooden angathara and planning deceit!). Unnikonar is still in search of a suitable person and lands up in Elavannur with his retinue of 22 nairs, where a wandering bard directs them to the Putturam house, home of three eminent Chekavars. Ayappa Panikkar the father, who is old and a winner of may duels, the son Aromar who is an expert in the ring and the nephew Unnikannan. The next morning the group meet the father (a little discourteously by not getting up) who says he can still fight a duel, even though he is past his prime. They are more interested in engaging Aromar. Aromar steps in now in all glory, the group jumps up in respect and Aromar admonishes them for not standing up for his father. Hearing that he has to fight Aringodar, he demurs initially stating that he is not yet ready for that, as he is young and only 22, but after more persuasion and after some prayers, agrees and accepts the big angakizhi panam. His parents are alarmed that Aromar is going to fight the mighty Aringaodar and is unhappy and grief stricken. Aromar calls his brother and gives him the money. Unni is aghast, as he is sure he will lose his only brother and that is when Aromar tells him about their origins and responsibilities and that they cannot afford to send their old father to another duel. It was now time for him to take up the responsibility.

He explains their forefathers arrived as professional combatants (angachamayam
chamannu ponnu) and have to earn their bread with their sword and that they should never refuse to fight. He mentions that the date of the duel is not auspicious, that their forefathers came from Izhuvattunaad (Ceylon) 368 years ago, led by Chekavar Kulavirutan and carrying seven copper vessels. They met the Cheraman perumal formally thus ending the Kammalan penalty.

Readers might wonder what that is – It is well explained by Thurston and simplifies to the legend when they (7764 families) left Malabar and went to Ceylon en-masse, after a lower caste washer man (veluthedan) married one of their girls with support from the Perumal. Eventually they (except the coppersmiths – hence the copper vessels) agree to return after getting many privileges and come back with a Izhuva boy (as they wanted their leader or Tandan to be of Ceylon origin due to the fact that the Ceylon king had given them refuge when they came as assylees), a Nazrani escort etc and have her married to a warrier girl on the way, as a compromise. Perhaps this Ezhava boy was this Kulaviruthan chekavar, the originator of the Tiyya caste of Malabar, and the warrier relationship sets them apart in a higher social standing compared to other ezhavas.

They, as the ballads states, the chekavaors were then accorded special privileges by the Perumal, such as a crown with flowers, a carpet to make an entrance on, a daylight lamp, special brass lamps, seven umbrellas, four triumphal archways, gold palanquin, processions, panchavadyam, fireworks, tandan status, right to build an angam platform, the rank and status of chekor, and finally the abode at Putturam and the building of a kalari there. They become incredibly rich and powerful and displace the Tulavanad Garadi masters who used to carry out the angams previously.

The ballad then goes on explaining the angam, the preparations, the deceit and the eventual demise of the great Aromar after Chandu’s treachery. What is most interesting is the wealth of information which will interest any history enthusiast!

It is concluded by CA Menon that the Puthruam family belonged not only to the Tiyya community, but also that they were patriarchal and not matrilineal like the Nairs, he also concludes that the community like many others including the Moplahs of Malabar, eventually took to matrilineal practices. He does analyze this in greater detail, and this is borrowed by KS Mathew writing about ‘the society in Medieval Malabar’ and their practices at length. Mathew establishes that the ballads are typically sung by coir workers or people working in the paddy fields. There was also a practice that these ballads are sung for the benefit of the Karanavar as entertainment, after dinner, before retiring to bed. The ballad underwent changes over time with new words substituting the old and added only for the rhyme and tune adopted.

Continuing on, we also note from the ballads that Cevakars were given a Tandan title or tandaima-stanam (usually by the senior Rani of the Ambadi Kovilakom in Calicut or the local cheiftain) and that Unniarcha was a tandatti. But interestingly the Tacholi Othenan ballads mention Tiyyas separately, as toddy tappers, for Tacholi Chandu goes to Badagara to collect kattipanam from Tiyyas.

The Aromal ballads further prove that the Cevakas were ilavas (from Elam – Ceylon) as the Jonakas complained through the Nadapuram chetti to Kunhiraman, Unniarcha’s husband that an ilavan and an ilavatti were standing beneath a banyan tree.

From these ballads, it is seen that the Chekavars (and Ezhavas in general) and Nairs shared an amicable relationship and were only separated by limited pollution cleared by a bath. However Chekavars held an elevated position on par with nobility and many special privileges such as special dress, the tandan title, movement in a palanquin, panchvadyam, use of an umbrella, copper vessels and other ceremonial articles as we saw previously and people in general respected chekavors. Not everybody in the same family can have the title, for example Kunhiraman was only an ezhava, not a chekavar.

Professionally, the chekavar was obligated to participate in a duel when requested and continued this even to an advanced age. They also ran kalaris or gymnasiums where their art was taught to younger students and this was a source of substantial revenue after their training. In spite of their lower standing compared to Nairs, the custom was that Nairs (even the local chieftain) stood up in respect when a well-known Chekavar like Aromal arrived, showing their relative importance compared to Ezhavas. However Chekavars employed Embranthiris in their temples, not nambuthiris and worshipped at the Omallurkavu and Allimalarkavu. We also note that women trained in these kalaris, exemplified by the heroic Unniarcha.

We talked about Angams earlier, to summarize, the angam was conducted to sort out a dispute, as a last step after other traditional diplomatic attempts. Once an angam is announced, the two parties go out to select a fighter for their side. Once chosen, the chekavar has to be paid in three lots, the angakizhi (duel fees), the veetukizhi (as insurance for his family) and the nattukizhi (for the local chief– as a tax and arrangements to conduct the fight). The Angam compensation was huge then and in today’s terms, many hundreds of thousands for a major duel. The fight does not have to end in death, but one can accept defeat and the other is proclaimed the winner. The first ankham fought by one of these winners who then obtained the chekavar title is called the puttari ankham. The notables of the city witnessed an angam.

Another interesting type of duel can be observed in connection with these mercenaries, namely Poithu. The poithu is quite different in purpose. It is more private and always resulted from a chekavars ego, it is a challenge without good grounds or reason, and usually based on a quarrel or just arrogance. The poithu can be fought between two people or two groups of people (sangha poithu) or desams. The main difference was that while the Angam was a fight between two hired professional fighters, the poithu was the fight between two fighters fighting for themselves, with some observers, not nobility.

The chekavar prepared for the ankham in a specific manner, observing celibacy, then took pains to wear the ankapattu or kacha, bid a formal goodbye to his family and then joined his entourage in procession to the angam location. During the fight no deceit was traditionally (it has happened though) resorted to, any new techniques were announced before it was tried. The weapons used in an ankham are typically the churika and the shield and a spare is usually carried by the support members.

On the appointed day a special wooden dais or ring is constructed at the city center, the reasons and rules announced, invited public, local chieftains and observers assemble and following a cockfight (not always) or kozhiangam which was adopted to provide a prophecy of what was to come (following which one of the parties can in theory accept defeat and withdraw), the alangam or man to man fight starts. Each chekavar has a Man-Friday or understudy available to take on the fight when he rests, to hand over the right weapons during the duel or to observe that no cheating is employed.

It is also seen that the chekavar community dwindled over time, we hardly come across them in later ballads. Perhaps the Nairs gained exclusivity for professional fighting after the leadership changed. It is believed that with the Zamorin and other kings coming into power during the latter medieval, new legal systems came into place for sorting out disputes and quarrels and angams became unpopular. But we can see that Travancore in later days employed Chekavars, especially Marthanda Varma, who invited Raghava Chekavar from Malabar for support.

Perhaps it is now time for us step over to Ceylon and check if they indeed had such martial arts there, in order for Malabar lords to requisition their exponents. The relations and intermingling between the lower geographical sections of India and Lanka dates back to time immemorial, so it is not fair to separate Lanka today in these discussions, it is just like somebody came from Tulunad or Maharashtra to Kerala. The immigrant population move inwards and emigrations outward always took place, and depended on where the opportunity was. Mercenaries simply moved to where wars were popular.

As it turns out the, Lankans did have the Haramba Salawa or an equivalent of the kalari in the Kandy region. These were the training centers where various forms of martial arts were taught, both the Angam pora or body combat and Mallawa pora or wrestling, dating back to many centuries (Kataragama Mahasen of the Yaksha tribe started it some 30,000 years they say). There were two clans Maruwalliye and Sudhaliye who had separate training centers and it is seen from records that exchanges of teachers in wrestling did occur between Sri Lanka and Malabar. Specific instances can be found in Sri Lankan history of similar angams, and connects back to Ravana who was considered an expert in such arts.

Angam in Lanka, is hand to hand combat, ilangam is combat with weapons. A third variety maya-angam uses mind power for combat. Maru nilaya shastraya is a Lankan method of attacking nerve centers to paralyze or kill, again seen in Malabar combat as marmath adi or marma prayogam. Just like in Malabar kalari, angam employs 18 techniques Aromal had developed a 19th!).

Kamalika Pires explains - There were two fighting clans, Maruvalliye or Sudaliye with their own flags in Kandy. The Maruvalliye base was in Hewaheta and Uda palatha, Sudaliye in Harispattu and Sinduruvana. The leaders of the schools were known as Maruwalliya Muhandiram Nilame and Sudhalaye Muhandiram Nilame, respectively. These positions were highly coveted.

If you make a quick study you will find similar weapons and dressing in Lankan Angam, and you can even see the 32 bladed urumi versions wielded with both hands (thunu kaduwa) in their retinue. In Lanka, it is believed that there was an unwritten law which demanded that any person wishing to attain kingship in Sri Lanka should have been well versed in Angam fighting. The scenes of complex Angam fighting illustrated on famous Embekke wood carvings prove that this form of martial arts existence. An ancient fabric paining found in Hanguranketha Devale illustrates two factions fighting each other with swords and shields. Angam was also taught in Burma and Thailand during the ancient times. Looking deeper, we observe a number of words such as 'Angam', 'Paniker', 'Churika', 'Sevakam', 'Palisha', etc. in Sinhalese dialects, suggesting a relationship with the system which prevailed in Kerala in the middle ages. Like it was done to Kalari in Malabar, the British outlawed the art of angam pora.

An ancient Sinhala verse runs thus — Sevakam, Angampora, Yudhaye, Du keli, Ankeli, me
hama yudhaye, Pancha kala, Pasdena, jaya ganniye, tunlovatama avulii moma vipaye…It is roughly translates as – In soldiering, ankham bouts and combat, gambling, horn pulling, and such contests, this island will be a beacon to all three worlds!!

These Sinhalese Angampora were probably the source from which the chekavar ancestors originated. Anyway one thing is clear, the Angampora was state supported in the medieval times in Lanka, and they would thus have had a number of warriors during the lull periods who could go on to fight ankhams or seek their fortunes in neighboring lands such as Malabar. Perhaps that is how they landed up in Malabar. Ankhampora continued on till the 18th century in Lanka while it slowly disappeared from Malabar in the early 17th century. Sankaranarayanan opines that the first Chekons or Chekavars came around 1000AD to Malabar. He believes that the Kurupus also originated from Lanka (How and why some Kurupus went back to Panadura in Lanka and merged into the populace, is a story I have kept for another day)

But it is also noted from Ceylon history records that they employed Malala mercenaries in their armies often so it could very well have come from Malabar ages ago. This Malabar region was known as Malala in Sri Lankan historic sources, and has had many interactions with Sri Lanka in both times of war and peace. At various medieval periods in Lankan history, the Kotte armies were composed of Demala (Tamil), Malala (Malabar) and Doluvara (Tulu) soldiers in addition to Sinhalese troops, and this shows movement of soldiers and mercenaries across borders.

Nevertheless, the two styles developed over time and exponents questioned over similarities and differences between Kalaripayattu and Angampora clearly identify how the two arts became distinct from each other and unique in their own right. The 'Garadi salais’ of the Tulu speaking South Canara is another direction to look, and existed well before the Kalaris of Malabar. They had expert trainers and are often mentioned in the Northern ballads.

It is difficult to be totally factual in these matters, that the Chekavars originated from Lanka is something I would find hard to disbelieve, but how it connects up with the agricultural Ezhava population in Malabar, their Lankan origins, and the resulting timeline, is still not clear, though very likely. That many Malabar mercenaries settled down in Lanka, and rebelled often due to non- payment of arrears, is recorded. It is also possible that a returnee clan formed the Chekavar lot in Malabar (people who at first originated from Malabar and returned) a contention which cannot be ruled out, but I find unlikely, for it would have been narrated so in the ballads.

Ballads of North Malabar – C Achyuta Menon
Society in medieval Malabar – KS Mathew
The Kalari and the Angam – Institutions of Ancient Kerala – MD Raghavan
The Angam, a common factor of the middle ages of Kerala and Lanka – MD Raghavan
A ballad of Kerala – MD Raghavan
Castes and Tribes Vol 7 (section Tiyan) - Thurston
The medieval society of Kerala as reflected in the ballads of N Malabar – E H Devi
The medieval society of Kerala as reflected to the customs and practices in the ballads of N Malabar – E H Devi
The Keralites and the Sinhalese – Dr KC Sankaranarayanan
Vadakkan Pattukaliloode- MK Panikootti
Angampora - SL magazine - 1st Quarter, 2012,
Buddha in the Crown: Avalokitesvara in the Buddhist Traditions of Sri Lanka - John Clifford Holt

Military Manpower, Armies and Warfare in South Asia - Kaushik Roy