The Moplah Rebellion 1921 – A British Soldier's viewpoint

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Donald Sinderby in Malabar

There are so many books with deal with the revolt in Malabar, or what the British Raj termed a rebellion (i.e. waging war against the crown) with a purpose to clamp down the area under martial law.  Some of these were written by Malayali congressmen and survivors, some others by the British administrators who were in the thick of things. There are very few firsthand accounts from the British side perhaps because such reporting was not encouraged. There is one, a work of historical fiction which gained a certain amount of popularity but vanished from the shelves after a while. Having obtained a dog eared 1927 copy of that book, I decide to peruse it carefully without tearing those ancient pages, with an intention of finding out what a common soldier thought about the whole thing. What you will read on is not a review but a summary of Sinderby’s opinion of Malabar, the Nairs, the administrators and the revolting Moplah, not about the love story which he wrote. In a way this book is unique since it is one of its kind, though the contents are not summarily of great value.

The Fathul Mubiyn, Qadi Mohammad and the Zamorin

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A study of the Fathul Mubyin, a war poem – Calicut 1550-1590

In a clamor to analyze and study the Tuhfat Al Mujahideen by Sheikh Zainuddin, most historians forgot a very interesting companion text which was perhaps a contemporary to the Tuhfat or even a forerunner. It is an urjuza short titled Fatḥul-mubyin and scripted by a Qadi Muḥammad al-Kālikūtī. To get to the details, we have to go to the Malabar of the 16th century, a place where many communities resided and traded amicably, until the Portuguese sailed in and demanded a monopoly. The resulting resistance, intrigues, skirmishes, wars and confusion left the entire region in a state of turmoil, what with neighboring Cochin and Kolathunad working with or even siding with the Portuguese. The bordering principalities of Tanur and Vettom sat on the fringes swaying either way depending on the situation. Those mainly affected were the trading communities comprising the Pardesi Muslims and some local Moplahs. The Pardesi community was a complex mix of Yemenis, Hanafi Arabs, Egyptians, Turks and so on. The biggest were the Yemenis who centered on Ponnani & Mambram and some Yemenis and Hanafis who settled in Calicut. Their leaders generally led the Muslim populace.

An American Consulate in Kerala?

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Abbot L Dow 1880, and the story of Alleppey

Difficult to believe, right? But that was indeed the case. An early US representation in India did exist for a while at Alleppey, and this started first with the appointment of a commercial agent stationed there and his office was later upgraded to a consulate. The consular officer was one Mr Abbot L. Dow.

Hans Raj - The British Approver

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And his role in the Amritsar Massacre

I spent a considerable amount of time reading various published accounts of the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre. A summary of the events that transpired and an accounting of some of the persons who attained notoriety from it was posted the other day. But there was one thread that I did not unravel in that article, for I thought it deserved a more studious effort. That related to the murky role played by a person of some consequence and mentioned in the various records of the event. Many Indians refused to agree that it was a minor role and some even went on to characterize his role as a part of a large conspiracy. Who was that person and was there a conspiracy? Let’s check out the involvement of the infamous local lad Hans Raj, in the Amritsar massacre of 13th April 1919.

The Chalappuram Gang and the Ameen Lodge

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Those turbulent years, Calicut (1920-34)

Calicut under British governance was a different place than you see it today. My own memories of childhood in Calicut take me to the days I spent with my aunt at Ambalakkat house, Chalappuram. I still remember the walk down the road from Ambalakkat towards Tali, turning right and going past the Chalappuram post office, past the gates of the Achutan Girls school and drifting to the Ganapati School, during my younger days in Calicut. And I recall the temple behind N Ambalakkat, the house of Karunakara Menon my grand uncle, Keshava Menon, Norman Achutan nair, the Anakara Vadakath people, and the homes of so many others who are going to be mentioned in this article, though they belonged to a bygone era. As I wrote in a previous article, it was a time when there were horse driven jutkas, cycle rickshaws and hand pulled rickshaws on the road. On those serene mornings, an odd Ex-servicemen bus roared by, scattering the people on the road hither and thither, and people were sometimes witness to a man (people held their noses as the wheelbarrow like cart with the galvanized iron pots passed by) held in much disgust, the ‘thotti’ who would trundle by, head hung low, pushing his night soil cart. Horns were hardly heard, the rickshaw drivers yelled ‘kooyi’ or rang a bell to get a right of way. The 30’s was still different, there was no electricity and the one person who gave a personal account and provided a vivid description of life in Calicut in the 1930’s is ARS Iyer.

Ullal - An account

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And the Abakka Rani

To the north of Kasaragod, where the historical borders of Malabar ends, is Manjeshwar and a little north of it, but south of Mangalore, bordering the Netravati River and facing the Arabian Sea is the small municipality called Ullal (Ullala or Olala). At one point in Malabar’s history, it had a connection to the Zamorin’s of Calicut and with the Portuguese. It is the story of Ullala which we will fish out today, but with some detail and background, for most books just pass it off as a couple of sentences mentioning a minor queen named Abakka Devi or Tirumala Rani. There was more than that, as you can imagine.

Conolly and the Calicut Canal

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The Canoli Canal of Calicut

The story of this Canal is quite engaging. Most people believe that the Elattur - Kallai canal as it was formally known was the brainchild of the man who lent his name to the project, the result of which was eventually called the Canoli Canal or more correctly the Conolly Canal. Well, the idea germinated well before that actually and what most people also do not know is that while Conolly lived to construct the canal, he also lost his life due to an argument over a simple monetary issue arising from this canal construction.

The Khilafat Movement, Turkey and Ataturk

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Having lived in Turkey for a few years and having admired Mustafa Kemal Ataturk‘s rebuilding of that war torn nation into a modern Turkey, I was always curious as to what Mustafa Kemal had to say about India. After all, he had come eye to eye with many an Indian soldier working in the British Army at Gallipoli and slew many (a lot of them still rest in Turkish graves) and later hobnobbed with many an Indian Khilafat representative. This article will lightly focus on the Kemalist approach to the Indian Khilafat movement. As it all ended, it appeared that Mustafa Kemal had lost interest in the concept of the Caliphate and walked away from the whole thing, leaving the Indian side who had invested time, resources and huge amounts of money in Turkey’s support, bewildered and shattered.

The Conolly’s in British India

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And their tragic lives

Many have asked me questions about the Conolly family and over the years I had been trying to gather as much of detail as I could find. While I came across a reasonable amount of information on the father and his four sons, it was not really possible to go on any further in time, other than get a confirmation from a line of that family, presently resident in India, Australia and England, that they are indeed connected to the illustrious Conolly's of the 19th century.

The ICS Collectors of Malabar

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British Governance - Calicut

There is a furor at Calicut these days resulting from the transfer of a benevolent collector popularly known as ‘collector bro’ and it appears that this resulted from the differences in opinion between bro and a member of parliament. I am sure much debate and argument will continue over this, but then again, it has always been like this. These positions of administrative bureaucracy though very important for any district are unfortunately at the mercy of the politicians. One only needs to look at the career of Malabar’s premier administrator William Logan. He was moved in and moved out of the Malabar Collector’s position no less than 7 times between 1869 and 1887 till he finally threw in the towel.

The Munro years – Travancore

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The stories of Kerala Varma and Ummini Thampi

The events which clouded the placid skyline of 19th century Travancore actually started during the reign of Avittam Tirunal Balarama Varma. It was in 1798 that the 14 year old Balarama Varma succeeded Dharma Raja. A weak ruler, Balarama Varma, so they say, was manipulated by ministers and associates such as the Machiavellian Jayantan Sankaran Namboodiri and his cohorts Sankara Narayana Chetti and Mathu Tharakan. The situation is explained in differing ways by various historians, with one group uplifting the glorious services of Keshava Das and the treachery of the other ministers, while the other group maintain that Balarama Varma was actually anti British from the beginning and did not really want to sign any subsidiary treaties with the English. According to the latter, the king had no choice but to finally send away the British friendly Keshava Das into retirement, who then unfortunately ended up dead, perhaps poisoned. Then, for a while, Jayantan Namboodiri took over as Dewan and wreaked havoc on the hapless citizens of Travancore, with his cohorts Tharakan and Chetti.

Velu Thampi and the Zamorin

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The intrigues of 1808-09

Some readers may recall a bit of the story behind the overtures made by Travancore to the Calicut Zamorin for support on final ploys against the British, and I had made a brief mention of it some years ago when I wrote about the Dalawa. What I wrote then was the following, summarizing the nexus between the Paliyath Achan and the Dalawa and their attempts to rope in the Zamorin. The Zamorins case had already been lost and the old suzerain was left high and dry by the British, with no power and a lot of debts. The bitter man was left in relative peace, to lick his wounds. The Pazhassi raja had been dealt with and Cochin was largely under control but Travancore was on the limb and the situation there was being stirred up nicely by an upstart Dalawa named Velayudhan Thampi.

The Temple states of Medieval Kerala

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Sanketams of Malabar

Starting from the time when the Chera Empire and its powers declined, new forms of governance came up as lands split into multiple Swaroopams, Nadus, Desams and so on. Local chieftains administered the land with the help of the Lokars or Nairs, and came under the local Swaroopam suzerain’s umbrella. In return, they provided the services of foot soldiers comprising Nairs in the time of a war between the swaroopams. But in between all that, temple states also sprung up in parallel and some of them became very powerful. Some were small, like Pallavur in Palghat, which was just 2 square miles and where I hail from, others were very big, comprising many hundred square miles like Padmanabhapuram in Trivandrum. The Peruvanam Kshethra Sanketham for instance, extended approximately 25 miles in all directions, to Kuthiraanmudi (peak) Ayyappa temple in the east, Kodungalloor Oozhakam Sastha temple in the south, Edathiruthy Ayyappa temple near Thriprayar in the west and the Akamala Sastha temple in the north.