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Uneen ‘Ramasimhan' Saheb’s story

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Some years ago, Nidheesh introduced this story to history enthusiasts. It was certainly a sad tale, and a classic case where bigotry and fanaticism were at a peak in Eranad. The exact details are still shrouded in a bit of mystery but I thought it would be interesting to revisit the area and retell the events leading up to the macabre incident, consolidating details gleaned from Abdurahiman KP’s thesis (for which I extend my thanks to him) covering Mappila heritage and the court ruling.

The characters of this story come to the fore at the British rubber estates at Palipilly near Trichur which one Kiliyamannil Moideen helped manage. Over the years, Moideen, hailing from Chemmankadavu near Kodur in Malappuram, made a bit of money and acquired land and properties (mainly rubber estates and coconut farms), leaving behind all of this immense wealth to his son Uneen when he passed. It is said that Moideen was honored with a Khan Bahadur (as a tax paying landlord) title by the British, though I could find no corroboration to that. Nevertheless it is one of those rare cases where a Moplah had acquired wealth and properties in Malabar by dint of his own means.

It appears that Uneen Saheb as he was known for his wealth, charitable disposition and high status, was also titled Khan Bahadur. More importantly he gave back large amounts during holy months to the public by way of gifts and feasts and was well regarded by the common man. He was also quite a philanthropist, maintaining many a local mosque and a madrasa. In a nutshell he was a great provider to the otherwise poor community of Eranad Moplahs. He was also a regular family man, having married the daughter of Khan Bahadur Kalladi Unnikannu a timber merchant from Mannarghat and the father of three sons and a daughter. Not only did he have a home at Chemmankadavu but also a large rubber estate and residence near Angadipuram called the Malapparamba or Malaramba bungalow. It is not clear if he owned the 600 acre Malaramba estate, for it is also mentioned that he had actually leased it for 90 years from the Kundrackal Nair family who were the erstwhile landlords of the area, and had renamed it the KM Mohithu Rubber Estate some time at the turn of the twentieth Century. The Moidu brothers managed it together, legally.

The stately Uneen Saheb would be seen now and then on the mud tracks or the so called road, driving his American Ford car, a sight which was to behold. His brothers Ali Bappu and Kunjahmed were also doing well and highly regarded. Now, Angadipuram was not like it is today with snarling traffic and in those days, these area was thickly forested and life, quite hard for the common man. One may wonder which period we are in, well it was not that far back, it was in the decades between the Moplah revolt of 1921 and before independence of 1947.

The relations between the peoples of Malappuram and Perinthalmanna in Valluwanad were still very tense. The Hindus were wary of the Moplahs who they no longer trusted, especially the volatile Eranad Moplah. The Moplahs were equally angry at the seemingly haughty Hindu landlords. The situation was kept warm by strident Friday sermons at various mosques. Uneen Saheb the lone wealthy Moplah landlord, had wisely armed himself with a few guns for personal safety.

1944 proved to be the decisive year. After some mysterious events which we will get into shortly, Uneen Sahib felt that he had enough of his religion and decided to convert to Hinduism (some say it was in 1945). It was as you can infer a very rare event and required the support and efforts of the Arya Samaj at Calicut and seemingly the ministrations of the popular people’s lawyer Manjeri Rama Ayyar. The Arya Samaj was at that time winding down its efforts after all the reconversions activities, handling the issues of many forcefully converted Hindus, during the 1921 years.

Rama Ayyar was supportive of the disaffected Moplah during the riots of 1921 and I had written earlier about his grouse about the way in which trials were conducted after the riots. During the period we are talking about, I recall him as being in the service as the Dewan of the Nilambur Raja and practicing Buddhism after having been ostracized by his own family. I am not entirely sure therefore that he took Uneen Saheb to the Arya Samaj at Calicut, but it appears that he was supportive of Uneen Saheb’s initiative. Soon Uneen was back as a new man, with his new holy book, Dayanand Saraswathi’s ‘Satyarth Prakash’ proudly held in his hand, after having been purified through an Agnihotra puja and renamed ‘Ramasimhan’. The news was splashed on various dailies printed for the area and the Ft St George register/gazette.

Questions were asked as to why he did all this. It appears that Uneen had a terrible stomach ailment which was finally cured by a Hindu ascetic who as I could understand, pointed out that his problems were due to his misappropriation and wrongful use of some stones from the ruins of the nearby Mattummel Narasimha temple. Some others opine that he happened to find the idol of Naramsimha belonging to a temple located at a corner of his estate and this made him believe firmly in this deity. 

Anyway it is said that he embraced his new religion and started to follow the strict rules of a Brahmin, by becoming a vegetarian, employing a Brahmin cook named Raju (or ramu) from Trichur. His home, once a place where Muslim clerics met and gave sermons from, now was lined with Hindu idols and echoed with the sounds of Vedic chanting facilitated by a new live in priest and guide. .

His brothers also converted with Ali Bappu now renamed as Dayasimhan. I understand that Ramasimhan additionally requested that Dayasimhan be initiated into the ways of a Namboodiri Brahmin and with that, his name was changed to Narasimhan Namboodiri.

The Muslim clergy were incensed, not only due to this sudden turn of events involving one of their most prominent sponsors and supporters, but also at his embrace of a religion they had detested, all these years. They were insistent that heresy Uneen had committed. Determined and organized efforts were made by many clerics and old friends to point out to Uneen about the wrong path he was now taking and to direct him back to the Islamic way of living, but all of that met with dismal failure. 

Frustrated by this turn of events, they now spread a rumor that Uneen Sahib had gone insane. Under the influence of the powerful Muslim clergy, Uneen Sahib‘s father-in-law, the wealthy Unnikammu now took away his daughter stating that she was reluctant to join the Hindu fold and his granddaughter (other accounts state that he had divorced her after his conversion, infuriating his father in law). Uneen’s sons were then sent to Birla College of Delhi for higher studies in Hinduism. They were after conversion, initially named Fateh Singh and Zorawar Singh respectively but later known as Udaya Simhan and Satya Simhan. All in all this was a rare case, and raised the eyebrows of both Hindus and Muslims of Malabar, to say the least.

Uneen Saheb, now staunchly in the fold of Hinduism, retorted to his questioners that he had not committed any error, stating that his grandmother who, upon being captured by Muslims, mahy ayear ago, had committed the fault of converting to Islam. He clarified that he was just re-converting to Hinduism to rectify the previous error and atone for the sins of his grandmother. Perhaps he was alluding to the 1921 period or maybe it occurred during one of the smaller revolts preceding the 1921 revolt, but we can’t be sure of all this.

During the days and months following his conversion, Ramasimhan was an ardent follower of Hinduism, dressed like a typical Brahmin. The small mosque which once existed in front of his Bungalow had been converted into visitor's room for Hindu saints and priests while Brahmin priests came regularly to his house and performed various homas and pujas. Some say that he even refused entry to his old Muslim friends and clerics to his home in the following months.  He started contributing to Hindu temples and relief of needy Brahmins, stopping of course all those massive contributions to the Muslim establishments he once patronized. Ramasimhan as I read, also surrendered 4 of his 5 guns, which he had kept for personal safety, to the police, on the ground that as he was a Hindu he believed in Ahimsa.

After Uneen had been converted from Islam to Hinduism, he diverted the large sums of money that he was accustomed to contribute to Muslim charities & spent them on Hindu charities. In particular, he renovated the Mattummal temple we mentioned earlier, located in his estate and was responsible for ensuring poojas and regular worship there. He began a diligent, study of the Hindu scriptures & was studying the Bhaghavad Gita, and had perpetually with him, a Nambudiri, to teach mantrams.

In 1946, matters started to take a new direction when Kunjahmed, the youngest brother who converted with Uneen, decided to revert back to Islam and became intent on persuading his elder brother also to return to the Islamic fold. A meeting was convened at the bungalow for this purpose and this meeting was attended by some 50 Mappilas accompanied by eminent Musliyars. A serious debate on religion took place and Ramsimhan who had thoroughly studied Hinduism by that time debated with the Musliyars on the correctness of his path. All the attempts of Musliyars in convincing Ramasimhan were in vain. In the end the Musaliyars announced that Ramsimhan was possessed with evil spirits (Kafir Jinn) and that he should consume 14 oranges which had been ritually blessed. Accordingly these 14 oranges were given to him, but Ramasimhan remained who he was, still converted and in the Hindu fold.

Matters took a turn to the worse when Dayasimhan after his upanayaman (holy thread) ceremony decided to get married to a 15 year old Nambuthiri Anthrjanam named Kamala, daughter of Mangalath Manakkal Narayanan Namboothiri. Narasimhan Namboothiri went on to become a priest at the nearby Mattummal temple and lived with his wife at the bungalow, while Ramasimhan lived at his old mansion at Chemmankadavu. But to look after his brother and his estate matters, he occasionally visited the Malaparamabu bungalow.

The failure of the reconversion discussions increased the wrath of Mappilas. A few of them convened to conduct a secret meeting during which the Musliyars sentenced Ramasimhan an apostate and stated that the punishment ascribed per Sharia laws, i.e. capital punishment of death should be inflicted on him. It was thus that Izzatul Islam, an organization to help the neo-converts to Islam, took up the matter and selected a murder squad. Seven persons, mostly hailing from Pookotur, held a meeting at Kottappadi maidaan. They were Parambarn Mammed, Kunyat Kalathial Moideen kutty, Pulian Muhammed, Muttaylkkaran Ayamutty, Muttayikkaran Ayamu, Kalathingal Kunhamu and Illikkappadi Ayamutti. These persons later assembled in the estate of Abu Baker Haji after formal prayers on an appointed day (or a later opportune day as it appears) armed with a gun and 20 bullets.

While the communal tensions up in the north were at a fever pitch and soon starting to boil over in a frenzy, the macabre event which rocked our sleepy hamlet of Angadipuram took place on the night of August 2nd 1947 and the morning of the 3rd. For a while nobody hard much about all this, in the furor of India’s independence announcement on the 15th August, but matters came to light when the case was taken up in the courts of Calicut and later appealed at the Madras high court.

Let’s now look summarily at what happened from the Madras high court files. According to the story narrated by the persons who were in that bungalow on the night of the offence and the murderous assault by the seven member hit team, the first inkling that any strangers were trying to enter came from a banging on the front door. Although there were three bolts, only the bolt on the top had been secured and so when the door was shaken, the bolt fell and the door opened. The cook Raju Iyer before passing away in the hospital, deposed that a little after midnight (2 a.m. was that time generally agreed upon), he heard a sound of a battering of the front door. A man kicked open the door, flashed the torch in his face and immediately began to attack him. The attack at varipous members of the hpousehold continued and later he saw a number of persons running away after attacking Narasimhan.

Ramasimhan it seems came rushing out saying "Who is it, Eda" and then cried out to his brother Narasimhan "Boy, I am cheated". Ramu later saw somebody cutting up Ramsimhan with a weapon about a cubit long. He was able to see what was happening not only by the moonlight shining through the door, but by the light of a torch which was being directed by the assailant. Narasimhan then came running and flashed a torch to see what was happening. Raju then saw this person chasing Narasimhan, but is unable to say whether or not that person was the same man who had attacked Ramasimhan. A little later, when things had become a little quieter, he made his escape but somebody fired at him with a gun and wounded him in the hip. He was actually mortally wounded by then (whether from the bullet wound or slashes is not clear).

A driver sleeping in Ramasimhan’s Ford car in a shed that had been erected against the southern wall of the bungalow, escaped when some of the assailants arrived there and started to set fire to the car. All he could say was that he could make out from the accent of the assailants that they were Moplahs.

It was also soon clear that the ring leader was a leather merchant and head of the Izzatul Islam organization, which was set up to relieve needy Muslims and to send converted men to Ponnani for training while the other accused were small timers such as shop keepers, cart drivers, laborers and tea shop owners. Seven days later, Kunjahmed, the youngest brother of Ramasimhan, his father in law Kutti Ali and one Haneefa were arrested by the police team headed by Keshava Menon. It appears there were many bloodstained footprints in the bungalow and these matched the foot size of Haneefa. Two months later, a special investigator was appointed to look into the case. More arrests were made after discovering broken glass and blood stains at the bungalow and cross matching them to somewhat recent scars on a couple of other suspects. A piece of cloth found in a well was connected to a torn short of one of the assailants.

An approver gave additional information that the conspiracy was hatched a week or two before the event. These persons who plotted and teamed up later left in ones and twos apparently agreeing to meet at Abu Baker Haji's rubber estate at 10 p.m. or thereabouts. They had with them some unlicensed guns and as agreed amongst themselves, each one of them had a knife. They then proceeded to the Malaparamba bungalow and while the witness kept watch, the others went inside into the compound after clambering over the southern wall.

Briefly this is what happened – After rattling the door open, they reached through the corridor in the southern room where Narasimhan and his newly wedded wife had been sleeping. First they struck Kamalam the young lady, and seeing this Narasimhan ran away. Two or three assailants chased him and struck him from back. Meanwhile the other four reached the room of Ramasimhan and slashed him up with their knives. He tried to resist with his pillow but a hard slash from the back put an end to Ramaslmha’s sad life. The cook Ramu Iyer was shot and seriously wounded and died in the hospital, but after providing definitive statements.

About ten minutes later, all the seven accused fled the scene. The approver stated that he had fired a shot at Raju Iyer the cook who was running away. The team then proceeded towards a tank about four miles away to wash off the blood on their persons and dispose their weapons and blood stained clothes. They were later discovered at the muthalakot pond in Kulathoor by the police.
In the days which followed the bungalow was ransacked and the temple and its surroundings were apparently pillaged and destroyed.

The sessions court at Palghat and the district court at Calicut convicted all seven accused based on Police Constable Kesava Menon’s painstaking efforts at unraveling of the conspiracy, sentencing them first to death and later life imprisonment, but they appealed and it went to the Madras high court in Jan 1949 with Judges LC Horwill and Rajagopalan, presiding.

The high court noted in the judgement that the planning and conspiracy was all very open and blatant, and that the lawlessness of the event was stark. But there were some discrepancies in the approvers statements provided earlier, especially relating to the timing of a previous failed attempt due to the absence of Ramasimhan at the Bungalow. The high court was also skeptical about the foot print examination and conclusions. The scars on the persons of the others accused were also inspected by a doctor well after they had healed and so it was not quite possible to date them to the day of the murder. The high court Judge stated that it was unfortunate that such a grave crime has not been detected; pointing out also the failure of the prosecution to prove fully the offence against the appellants. 

They also pointed out that no attempt was made to make evidence, where none was naturally, forthcoming, and if the police were unable to obtain more evidence it was because the Moplah community largely succeeded in maintaining secrecy. The judge mentioned that it was almost impossible without their (Moplah) cooperation for the police to obtain any more evidence relating to the crime. It was surprising to me that the gun, the bullet wound on Raju Iyer and the approver’s confirmation of firing it never came up in the court files. All the accused were let free after ‘obtaining the benefit of doubt’. Public opinion was that the tainted judgement was either due to bribery of Congress officials or a desire to avoid communal strife.

Lionel Horwill, the last British judge in India, was later knighted and after Indian independence retired to Australia. Horwill writing about the laws of India stated his general difficulties - So anxious were the British not to interfere with the religious practices and customs of the people, that they crystallized rules laid down early in the Christian era and made it difficult, because, of the force of precedents, for Hindus and Muhammedans, without legislation to adapt their religious customs and laws to the needs of modern society; and legislation was difficult because of the opposition of orthodox religious leaders, who had great influence amongst the rank and file of their coreligionists, especially the less enlightened.

Ramasimhan’s sons Fateh Singh and Zorawar Singh (Udaya Simhan and Satya Simhan) were brought back from the Birla College, Delhi by their relatives and reverted to Islam. Their progeny it appears did well and maintain the affluence and status once exhibited by their forefathers.

A medical college was constructed in the estate and on the lands where the bungalow was once situated. The 90 year lease expired in 1995, and the Kerala government apparently took over the land. The Mattummal temple was reconstructed some years later. The application (or uselessness) of footprint investigations, expert witnesses and their usefulness in detective work referring to this particular event, became a textbook issue. All in all, it was a terrible incident where a group of illiterate miscreants took law into their own hands and sentenced a bunch of innocent people to death in the name of religion. Just imagine, what cause would have benefited from the murder of that poor 15 year old girl Kamala, who been just married off to this Narasimhan? The court’s decision also looked quite ad-hoc and flawed, but I guess the evidence did not quite stack up for a conviction, though the conspiracy and the murder was evident for all to see.

Eric Stracey who headed the MSP mentioned the case in his memoirs and suggests that both sides shared the blame in the events leading to the conversion and the murder. This is all not to show that the Moplahs were proud about what happened. R E Miller maintains that this subject was debated extensively and the case brought consternation to Moplahs themselves and hastened the conviction of leaders in the community that Mappilas should no longer be identified with such actions and that the effort to bring change must be accelerated.

“Mappila heritage: A study in their social and cultural life” Thesis. Department of History, University of Calicut, 2004 - Abdurahiman.K.P
Madras High Court - Paramban Mammadu and Ors. vs The King on 19 January, 1949 Equivalent citations: (1949) 2 MLJ 544 - Author: Horwill
Janmabhumi report – TS Neelambaran 3/7/2011
Scientific evidence - expert witnesses - R. Zafer, Journal of the Indian law institute 1972
Saga of Ramasimhan & Mattumal Narasimha Temple - V Sundaram, News Today
Mappila Muslims of Malabar – Roland E miller
A handbook of Kerala – Ed T Madhava Menon
Odd man in – Eric Stracey

Uneen Saheb pic - Courtesy News today

The Renegade Portuguese Moplah Corsair - Dom Pedro Rodrigues

Posted by Maddy Labels:

A story of Revenge, Ali Marakkar

March 1600 – The Kunjali IV had just surrendered to the Zamorin. Andre Furtado reneging on his agreement, dragged Kunjali away, while the Zamorin’s Nair cohorts tried to fight off the Portuguese, but failed. Kunjali and 40 of his people were spirited away to Goa and put into a tronquo, a trial was speedily conducted and Kunjali was sentenced to death in spite of the terms of his surrender which were that his life would be spared. The padre’s at Goa tried hard to have him converted before his killing, but they failed. Finally he was executed in a French style guillotine and his body was later quartered and exhibited in the beaches of Panjim and Badrez. His salted head was sent off to Cannanore for exhibition.
Corsair boats
The matter should have ended there, but as it often happens, it did not. On one hand the Zamorin found that the Dutch VOC would perhaps help him unseat the Portuguese. They were already pouncing on Portuguese shipping on the high seas and the losses were becoming serious. And on the other hand there was the case of one Dom Pedro who single-handedly went against the Franks. I had mentioned him briefly in a previous article, but he deserved a more detailed study.  In fact I think he was a more effective counter on the Portuguese in their dying years, perhaps even sounding their death knell, compared to some of his predecessors who received and continue to get much of the acclaim, as oppressors of the franks.

Dom Pedro was first noticed by Pyrard Laval. You may recall that Pyrard had been imprisoned by the Portuguese in Cochin and later moved to Goa, in irons, first to a hospital and thence to a tronquo (civil prison). He saw the lad Dom Pedro whom he presumed to have Castilian (Spanish) origins and a certain amount of honesty, since he offered to compensate the prisoners their allowance which had been stolen by his fellow officers. Pyrard had in his detailed description of the prisons, explained how corrupt the Portuguese in Goa were. As Pyrard recounts, Dom Pedro later got into a fight with a local and killed him, and was forced to go back to Spain. The next parts of Dom Pedro’s story are a mystery, for Pyrard does not mention him anymore, implying that he has returned to Spain, in a voyage which Pyrard himself had taken in 1609. But well, as it turned out he was not a Spaniard, but a Marakkar, the dead Kunjali IV’s cousin.

Let’s now flash back to a 1581 conflict where a boy of 13, stated to be a cousin of Kunjali IV was captured by Don Furtado off Cardiva. This boy, as is recorded, by virtue of his noble birth, received some measure of consideration. He was subsequently baptized, and in recognition of his high standing given the name of Dom Pedro Rodrigues. He was then married off to a Portuguese orphan and given a job, he did not work like the rest of the convicts, but was placed in command over a squad of prisoners. All the same, he was in chains, and this was the person whom Pyrard Laval met in Goa in 1608 or so. As fate would have it, as the story goes, the very same Dom Pedro had to witness the beheading of his own cousin, Kunjali Marakkar in 1600.

One fine day, when the demons in his brain would not leave him in peace any longer, Dom Pedro scooted away from Goa in a small boat with his family and headed for Ponnani where his kinsmen lived. They quickly rallied around him and gave him a new name, Ali Marakkar. By 1618, he had built up a fighting force of 5 war paroes manned by Moplahs from Malabar and the Konkan. Supported indirectly by the Dutch and the Zamorin, this new foe harassed the Portuguese ships, even blockaded Goan ports and troubled them no end. It is also mentioned that he sailed to Ceylon, to the Tanadiva Island to be precise and murdered the two Franciscan priests who had converted him as a child and to add salt to the wounds, also spirited away the cattle from the quay of elephants off the Forcados Island.

Before that let’s double back and take a look at some descriptions of the Malabar Corsair and his abode in North Malabar. It is written fancifully that that the Malabar Sea coast with its many small harbors and lagoons which favored trade in ancient times, also sheltered the little vessels of the Malabar corsairs, who harried commerce in the Indian Ocean from the days of Pliny and Marco Polo until the British period.  

Ever wondered how a marakkar or moplah seaman looked like in those days? Corsair attacks on Portuguese vessels have been written about often and a description of the Marakkar Moplah corsair by Pyrard Laval would be interesting- The Malabar merchants are recognized by their dress, and not otherwise; for while both merchants and corsairs usually carry arms, the merchants do not wear their hair long; they have a bonnet of red scarlet, in the form of a skull-cap, and most frequently a kerchief wound round it in the fashion of a turban, and called Mondow"; these kerchiefs are of gold embroidery and colored silk. They wear the beard half shaved, but without moustaches. Also they have a little skirt of silk or cotton reaching three finger lengths below the waist, and below that a cloth down to the knees. Then they have other pretty kerchiefs wherein they tie up and conceal their money. It is the habit of these merchants, as well as those of the Maldives and other places, to carry everything with them when they go to sea, both their petty baggage and their beds for sleeping on, for they will never sleep on other folk's beds if they can help it. The corsairs wear their hair long like women, and never cut it; they tie it in a bunch, like all the other Indians, and cover it with one of these pretty kerchiefs; they go quite naked, except that they are covered with a silk cloth as far as the knees, and have another handkerchief round the waist. All the Malabars, as well corsairs as merchants, carry knives with hafts and sheaths of silver—that is, such as can afford it; these are all beautifully fitted with little pendants, such as toothpicks, earpicks, and other instruments. The corsairs wear the beard shaved, but never shave over the mouth nor the moustaches: these they wear like the Turks, in such wise that some have moustaches so long that they tie them behind the head. All the Malabars are covered with thick hair over the stomach and elsewhere; they wear no slippers.
Malabar Moplah - Old Portuguese depiction
Their women are dressed like the other natives, and wear nothing upon their hair; they carry a quantity of gold earrings and rings and trinkets on their fingers and toes. They have a little light jacket of cotton down to the waist, and another silk or cotton cloth which reaches from the waist down to the feet. They go barefooted, and are very fair in complexion, and most of them are short of stature: the men are of middle height. The women are pretty, and addicted to licentious practices like the other Indian women, but not to the same extent as in other places. When they find a stranger at one of these Malabar corsairs' ports, who is willing to go to the wars with them, they feed and maintain him all the winter, him and his wife, for they marry as soon as they settle awhile in any place. They engage in good time some soldiers and Moucois at high wages, which they advance to them to bind the bargain. When they are ready for the fray they take some betel, and some Amfian or poppy juice, which most of the Indians use. They take this betel and amfian, or afeon, and swear fidelity thereupon. After making a prize, and before coming ashore, they search every man on board and the whole ship. The captain and chief men lay hands on everything, and account conscientiously to the owner of the galiot or pados. It is incredible the fatigues these fellows will undergo at sea, and how they endure hunger and thirst. They have plenty of cannon and other arms; but of money and other valuables they carry with them not so much as five sols' worth: all that they leave on shore. As soon as they have taken a prize they come in to discharge, and return to sea at once, if there seems a likelihood of other booty; if not, they remain at home for that year and consume the produce of their theft and rapine for the next six months.

Marco Polo mentions that there issued annually "a body of upwards of one hundred vessels, who captured other ships and plundered the merchants." He alludes to the Moplahs forming what they called a ladder on the sea, by stationing themselves in squadrons of twenty, about five miles from each other, so as to command as great an extent of water as possible. But in the old Venetian's day, the corsairs appear to have been by no means so sanguinary as they afterwards became. He expressly states, that when the pirates took a ship, they did no injury to the crew, but merely said to them, "Go and collect another cargo, that we may have a chance of getting it too."

A little background to Portuguese Ceylon would also be in order. The Portuguese had been present there since 1505 and thriving with elephant and Cinnamon trade. They entrenched themselves in Sitawake Kingdom of Kotte upon Dharmapala's death in 1597, as usual playing one against the other. Direct Portuguese rule inside the island did not begin until after the death of Dharmapala of Kotte, who died without an heir. He had bequeathed the Kingdom of Kotte to the Portuguese monarch in 1580. By 1600 the Portuguese had consolidated after quelling many local rebellions. An invasion in 1591, undertaken at the instigation of Christian missionaries, succeeded in installing a Portuguese protégé at Jaffna. Soon they had virtual control of the island except for the Central and eastern parts which were under the reign of Vimala Dharma Surya, who went against them when the Portuguese tried to capture Kandy. Soon he routed them and married Dona Catherina whom the Portuguese were trying to implant as their queen in Kandy. To defeat and control the Portuguese he needed to control the seas and for that, he needed the support of the Dutch. This was the scene when Dom Pedro came by. The Kandyans were trying to woo the Dutch and later the Danes. The Jaffna king was trying to get the Portuguese out by requesting the Zamorin for support, who if you recall was also aligned with Mayudane much earlier.

As history would have it, the appearance of a Malabar fleet was to attract the Portuguese military presence to the northern kingdom with devastating results as you will soon read. Mendonca had been sent to Malabar owing to the presence of a Kunjali admiral of the Zamorin of Calicut in 1591 and now in March 1619 the presence of his cousin, a baptized Christian named Dom Pedro Rodriguez, raised the alarm in Portuguese Ceylon.

Dom Pedro Rodriguez, this cousin of the last Kunjali, appeared off Jaffna with five armed vessels, presumably at the request of Cankili 2, the last ruler of Jaffna, to inflict great damage on Portuguese shipping. I had provided some details when I wrote about Kunjali’s revenge many years ago and more recently about Chinali. Let us now rake out some of the details of Ali Marakkar’s exploits which should have been a subject of legend in Malabar. Regrettably it is not so, for most people wrongly assumed that the fight went out with the demise of Kunjali IV.

Delft Island fort
Danvers who outlined his fearless exploits explains that Dom Pedro, took possession of the islands of De las Vacas and Tristao Golayo. The Las vacas islands or island of cows is incidentally a small island twenty miles south-west of Jaffna in the Palk Strait (called Meekaman or Nedunthivu by the natives). The Portuguese subsequently named it das Vacas, and the Dutch who followed them renamed it Delft and the fort there is particularly striking. It is a very strongly fortified two-storied dwelling, covering an area about fifty square yards, with a double centre wall of immense thickness. This wall completely cuts the Fort in half at ground-level, the only means of communication being on the first floor-a common precautionary measure in defensive structures of that period. As a result, it is a very complicated edifice, full of long narrow and little square rooms.

Dom Constantino had arrived at Colombo in 1619, to beef up the undisciplined Portuguese troops and head the attacks on Mayadunna. The attack results in the involvement of the prince of Uva and a setback for the Portuguese but they managed to beat Maydanne in the mountains. He then decides to take the attack to Chankili II and his Tanjore mercenaries and face them off at wannar ponnani. It was in the midst of all this turmoil that Dom Pedro made his appearance.

Dom Constantino de Sa sent out a force consisting of forty galliots, which joined eighteen other smaller vessels at Manar from Colombo, to put a stop to this Dom Pedro’s aggressions, These proceeded, under the command of Vitorio de Abreu, to the island of Golayo, where Abreu was informed by two blacks he found there that the five paraos had gone to some place nearby for ammunition, and that before they returned he might possess himself of goods to the value of 60,000 ducats that had been left there in a house by Dom Pedro. He, however, doubting the truth of this information, took no action in the matter, but waited for the return of the paraos, which he engaged, but was defeated, losing twelve of the eighteen small vessels and 300 men killed, besides several who were taken prisoners, of whom he himself was one. During this fracas Dom Pedro’s men occupied the ilhas da vacas and seized its fort.

Ali Marakkar’s exploits continued through 1619 with Felippe de Oliveira reporting in July that these 5 paros had entered the coast of Mannar at the insistence of Chankali. When the locals frantically called on the Portuguese high command for help, Constantino de Sa sent two galliots and 40 vessels commanded by Vitorio de Abreu. They were decimated by Ali Marakkar and his men, but Felippe reported home that they lost the battle due to the many sins they had committed and that this was god’s punishment coupled by disorderly movement and contrary winds.

We can see confirmation from another report that Dom Pedro had seized the vantage fort at Ilhas das vacas (Cow Island) and was laying a siege on Portuguese shipping. Fearing that Dom Pedro might cast his sights next on Portuguese Ceylon, Felippe de Oliveira was deputed next to attack Dom Pedro at Jaffna. As matters would have it, Dom Pedro seized 12 out of the 18 tonis (Malayalam for boat), killed 300 men and enslaved the rest including the captain Victorio de Abreu.

The Portuguese decided that for safety sake, their ships would now be sent out only as convoys or cafilas comprising 300-400 small vessels. The Malabar fleet powerful now, sometimes blockaded the Goa ports, and even captured many ships off these convoys, as many as 30-40 in one swoop. Dom Pedro attacked these Portuguese merchant fleets with abandon, even though traveling in convoy and took one of the vessels with little opposition. The merchants of Nagapatnam desired the goods recovered, but the scared Portuguese refused to make the attempt. Interestingly, a Spanish fly boat happening to pass by retook the cargo vessel without difficulty, demonstrating how laid back the Portuguese were by this time.

The Portuguese were a hard pressed lot those days (the fury of the oncoming monsoons were another reason) and mainly beset by a lack of funds, suffered these attacks silently. By 1619 Ali Marakkar had surpassed all his Kunhali predecessors in not only destroying ships but also hundreds of Portuguese soldiers, with just his 5 paros, a lot of bravery and some merry men.

By June 1619, there were two Portuguese expeditions: a naval expedition that was repulsed by the Malabari corsairs and another expedition by Filipe de Oliveira and his 5,000 strong land army which was able to inflict defeat on Cankili II. Cankili, along with every surviving member of the royal family were captured and taken to Goa, where he was hanged to death. The remaining captives were encouraged to become monks or nuns in the holy orders, and as most obliged, it avoided further claimants to the Jaffna throne. Chankili 2’s reign which had been secured with military forces from the Thanjavur Nayaks and Malabari Corsairs came crashing down. He was defeated by the Portuguese in 1619 and was taken to Goa and hanged. With his death the Aryacakravarti line of Kings who had ruled the kingdom for over 300 years came to an end.

The Portuguese reported thus - Changili refused to pay tribute, and rejected all friendship with the Portuguese, and making the king his master unite with the enemies of Europe, he called to his aid the Badaguas, idolaters, a barbarous race who inhabit the country within the kingdom of Bisnaga from the Malabar Coast on one side and the Paravar on the other. They were the enemies of all, and especially of the Christians, cruel by nature, robbers by profession, and living on what they could steal. These, joined with the Naigue of Tanjaor, who was also their neighbour, were twice defeated and driven from the Island (on this occasion by Constantino de Sa on his way to the relief of Jafanapatan); but not before the Captain Philip de Oliveira had utterly routed and taken Changili with the blind king and some of his family.

Dom Pedro disappeared as mysteriously as he appeared after this 1619 surge and it is believed that Ali Marakkar settled down in the Maldives islands with his slaves and booty. You may recall that the Maldives was always a transshipment point for the marakkar businessmen of Tamilakam, Cochin and Cannanore (see my Mammali Marakkar article under references) a stronghold of the Mammali marakkar and a locale always frequented by Marakkar traders. By this time the Dutch were already on the ascent, the Portuguese sort of let go of control over the Maladives and the reign of Shuja Imaduddin, to the rulers of Cannanore. Let’s now ponder on a possibility, did Dom Pedro spend time originally in Maldives? Was he the brother of Dom Joao the converted king of Maldives? People who have studied Maldive history would note that this Dom Joao and Dom Pedro were imprisoned in Goa in 1597 but treated well. Maybe, maybe not….

The ghost of Kunjali as he was more popularly known, vanished thus into the mists off the seas near Male….

Essays in Goan history – Teotonio R. de Souza
The voyage of Fracois Pyrard de Laval – Albert Gray
The Portuguese in India - Frederick Charles Danvers
The Kunjalis – admirals of Calicut – OK Nambiar

Robert Adams - Governor of EIC Malabar

Posted by Maddy Labels:

The ‘Notorious’ country trader Robert Adams

April 8th 1738 , an obscure epitaph for a British gentleman came to the notice of observant readers - At his House in Cavendish-Square, aged 64, Robert Adams, Esq; one of the Directors of the East-India Company, and formerly Governor of Tellicherry in India for the said Company. The above Gentleman, when in India, being once a Hunting, and separated from his Company in the Woods, was attack'd by a Tyger, who seized him by the Shoulder, but he at the fame pierced the Tyger with a lance through the Body, and they both fell together; but happily disengaging himself, he kill'd the Creature on the Spot, and hath ever since born a Tyger rampant in his Coat of Arms. He is said to have dy'd worth £100,000/- which he has left to his two only Daughters, both unmarry'd.

Now those reading it will think that the biggest act in Adam’s life was the killing of a tiger. Well, he was certainly more than that, he was considered adroit, resourceful, cunning and what not, depending who you asked. This bloke spent most of his adult life of some 42 years in Malabar, was fluent in Malayalam and hobnobbed with the Kolathiri raja, the Ali Raja, Zamorin, the Cochin Raja and the Travancore Raja, and many a time played one against the other. He enriched himself, plied his own ships in the seas while passing off as a British country trader and the Chief of the Tellicherry factory. The Dutch considered him their nemesis, the French hated him with a vengeance and as time went by and the British even titled him their governor in Malabar. His house at 8-Cavendish square in Marylebone, London, built after retirement demonstrated his status and wealth. Time we got to know him right?

I believe he arrived at Tellicherry in the 1687, just 13 years old and it is mentioned that sometime in 1703 he shifted to Calicut where he lived on until 1720. Later, he moved to Tellicherry as the head of the EIC factory until 1728, till he was forced to scoot and sail back to London. His times in Malabar are quite interesting and he was much involved in the politics of the land as well as the activities of the EIC at the Tellicherry factory treading a narrow grey zone when it came to ethics.

The Calicut factory was first established in 1616. In 1664, the Dutch were instrumental in expelling them from Calicut and but was reestablished in 1668. The Calicut factory according to some records did not do much, and an old report in the Calcutta review states - In 1615, Captain Keeling, with three English ships which were the same that had brought Sir Thomas Roe on his embassy to the Great Mogul, arrived off Calicut and concluded with the Zamorin a treaty, which included permission for the founding of a factory at Calicut. The Zamorin's object was merely to obtain the help of the English in driving the Portuguese from Cranganore and Cochin, which they had conquered, and when the English showed no signs at helping in this business, the ten persons who were left by Captain Keeling to found a factory received very ungracious treatment. However, by the middle of the seventeenth century, the English Company had contrived to supplant both the Portuguese and the Dutch to some extent in many parts of India, and in September 1664, an agreement was concluded with the Zamorin for the establishment of a Settlement at Calicut, the Company agreeing to pay duty to the Zamorin on the trade carried on at the port. The jealousy of the Zamorin, whose experience of the Portuguese had not been favourable, continued nevertheless, and it was not until after the English Company had been settled nearly a century at Calicut, that they were permitted, in 1759, even to tile their factory there, so as to protect it against fire.

It does not seem quite right though and we know from many records that if not the Calicut factory, Robert Adams as the local resident in the 1690’s period did well personally as the resident and country trader. The appointment of Alexander Orme at Anjengo was another important event and the subsequent friendship between Robert and Orme was to structure Malabar British relations for quite some time and create famous progeny through marriage between the two families. It was an enduring bond — Adams married Margaret Hill, Orme her sister. Orme became chief of the station at Anjengo, where a massacre occurred in 1721 of a predecessor, William Gyfford, and many under his charge. Orme’s second son, Robert, was born there in 1728, and was named after his uncle Robert Adams. Robert Orme is nowadays considered the historian of India.

With the arrival of Robert Adams in Calicut, the relations between the new Zamorin and the British took a new cordial tone. When he extended his hands in friendship and provided financial support for the Zamorin’s ventures, the Zamorin countered by reducing duties on pepper by 25%. The Zamorin then sided with the British and ensured that they were not cheated by local traders, with threats of a boiling oil ordeal in case of any charges against them. He ordered thus - “In consideration of the aid rendered at Calicut and money given to my servants, we promise that, the matter of the contract entered into by you and you to pay if any dispute be raised by any one in regard to the value of the articles they agreed to supply for money received, I will compel him to deliver the articles on return of the money, as may appear just, and subject him besides to an oath (ordeal). If his hand comes out clean, he will be held innocent and you will have to pay him, as usual, the expenses he may incur (in taking the oath).

Vissicher had the following to state about Adams in Calicut covering three periods of Adam’s life in Malabar.

Calicut, though still a commercial town, is falling into decay. Many ships, both English, French and Moorish, however, keep up their trade with it, because there are no restrictions on commerce, with the exception of a duty of 5 per cent, paid to the Zamorin on all imports, to enforce which he keeps officers stationed here. As the English have the largest business they are the most favoured by the Zamorin, whom also they often supply with money when he is in want of it.

Mr. Adams, the head of the English in this place, was brought up there from a child, and having, from his youth, traded with the people of Malabar, he acquired a familiarity with their language which gained for him much influence among them. In consequence of this advantage, he was chosen by the English as their Governor. Being an enemy to our Company he incited the Zamorin to the late war, himself lending, in order to promote it, 100,000 rix dollars, with which that Prince defrayed the expenses of the war:—we have no reason to doubt this story, since he even sent English officers to assist the Zamorin, to defend Fort Paponette against our arms. Nay more, when Chetwa was conquered by the Zamorin, and our people expelled, the English immediately erected a factory there, in order to secure the pepper-trade; this factory was destroyed when the fort was re-taken.

I will relate an instance of this sort of conduct which took place at Calicut in the year 1720. The English officer, second in command there, went out one day to drive in his carriage. It happened to be a day when the great national assembly of the Malabars was collected in the open air to deliberate on the affairs of the State. The Englishman, in order to shew his contempt for them, instead of making a circuit, drove right through the multitude, in spite of their entreaties that he should desist from such unbecoming conduct, which threw the whole assembly into the utmost confusion. On the following day, when the assembly met again at the same place, the Englishman chose to shew his courage by driving through it again with some ladies who were in his carnage. This time the people were so incensed at the repetition of the outrage, that they struck their hands to their weapons and cut the carriage to pieces, and the hero and his amazons had to escape wounded to their homes. Though this was no more than the miscreant deserved, yet Mr. Adams, declaring that the conduct of the natives was cruel and inhuman, left Calicut and threatened to set the bazaar on fire. The Zamorin, who reaped so much profit from the English trade, managed to pacify him and to recall him to Calicut, but as the bad feeling of the natives towards the English still exists, he distrusts them and spends most of his time at Tellicherry.

While the tenure of Adams’s stay in Calicut during the 1687 to 1703 period is not well detailed in any primary source, his times and machinations as the chief and Governor of the EIC factory in Tellicherry is better known. His involvement on Malabar trade and its politics are somewhat well recorded from the time he was made the chief of the EIC factory in Tellicherry. The EIC had finally chosen Tellicherry after toying with ideas for locating a major factory either at the Indonesian islands in Bantam (Java) and also at Calicut. Due to continuous sparring with the Dutch at Calicut, they decided to occupy the factory abandoned by the French at Tellicherry late in the 17th Century. This proved to be a wise decision for the EIC, for the pepper obtained from Randattara, Kottayam and Valapattanam were of better quality and the duties levied by the Kolathunad raja was lower than Calicut. It was in these circumstances that in 1703, the competent Robert Adams with strong local knowledge took over from Thomas Penning as its chief. His brother in law Alexander Orme was appointed the chief at the southerly factory at Anjengo near Attingal (Adams was also involved in resolving the situation after the 1721 massacre at Anjengo). A shrewd politician and more than just a trader bringing profit to the EIC, Adams spent his years tarrying between the rajas of Kolathunad, Calicut, Kadathanad, the Ali Raja and sometimes even venturing south to Cochin and Travancore, but always maintaining cordial relations with them.

George Woodcock writes - The Dutch were not the only Europeans anxious to feast on the great spice trade which the Portuguese had created and been forced to abandon. But the English remained, and under their most active administration, Robert Adams in Calicut and Alexander Orme in Anjengo, they energetically cultivated the favour of the local princes of Calicut and Travancore. Other nations followed their example.

His first act was to fortify the Tellichery installation with material support from the Zamorin. Robert Adams was the one to lay the foundation stone for the fort and this remained one of the EIC’s strongest forts in the region. Robert Adams’s adroitness in securing permission for the fortification of Tellicherry from the Vadakkilamkur Raja and material support from the Zamorin is testimony to his relations with two rajas who were otherwise wary of each other, to say the least. Following the fortification, he obtained a monopoly for spice trade from the Kolathiri king.

But another event which brought his name to the fore was the acrimonious relations between the EIC and the Kurungoth Nair in whose lands the EIC factory actually stood. The Nair (who depended on the duties and rent) instigated by the French who had returned to start operations nearby in Punno, demanded continued payment of duties from the EIC, which they refused to pay. As matters transpired, the Nair supported by a rival Kolathiri Prince of Udayamangalam attacked an EIC warehouse situated North of Mahe, in 1704, and destroyed it. Skirmishes continued for many years and finally Adams retaliated with force in 1715 by commencing hostilities with armed forces against Unnittiri and Kelappan, the two local chiefs of Kurungoth Nadu. They were defeated, the Nair had to sign an agreement accepting EIC superiority and he also ceded the Mailam hill to the EIC as reparation. We will get into this battle in more detail another day and examine the circumstances, but for now suffice to note that Adams established himself and EIC as an important factor in Malabar politics ever after.

Another longish story is the involvement of Adams in the fight for Chetwa between the Zamorin and the Dutch. Here we see that Adams had a personal stake. In reality he did a lot of trading on the side and outside the EIC books. We can see that Adams organized a large and profitable trade in opium whose consumption was popular in the Cochin and Venad regions. Robert Adams, turning in a good personal profit, imported Bengal opium and sent it up-river on empty EIC pepper boats to Chetwa, for further sale. The situation as conducive to Adams, due to the peace treaty between the Zamorin and the Dutch signed in 1710. But when the Dutch decided to fortify Chetwa, the act would not be tolerated by the Zamorin.

Adams, whose business was also affected by the entry of the Dutch in Chetwa, instigated the Zamorin to launch a surprise attack on the Dutch in 1715, and provided English armaments and forces in support. The fort of Chetwa was eventually destroyed by the Zamorins forces and the Dutch had the humiliation of seeing the English flag hoisted at Chetwa. The Zamorin then built a fort at Paponetti with English forces manning it. The Dutch had no choice but to retaliate and they were supported by forces from Batavia led by William Jacobitz. In 1717, they destroyed the Paponetti garrison and recaptured Chetwa, but all this was at a great commercial expense which pulled down Dutch balance sheet even more into the red. So much so, they proclaimed that with effect from 1721, they would not enter into any more wars to support the Cochin raja. It was also during this time that Adams had an apparent fall out with the Zamorin (maybe due to events at a Calicut bazar) and retired to Tellichery, as we saw from Vissicher’s notes, quoted previously.

Adams then found his name broadcast due to his sometimes acrimonious and oftentimes friendly relationship with the French who were vying to get a strong foothold in N Malabar. They started by signing an agreement with the Kadathanaad raja for pepper monopoly. Adams was instrumental in getting the Vazhunnavar to attack the French at Mahe, and these kinds of attacks continued while Adams at the same time maintained a friendly personal relationship with Tremisot, the French chief at the Calicut lodge, exchanging frequent letters on commodity prices, attending mutually hosted parties and so on.

Various sources point out to Adams’s involvement in funneling tobacco and pepper purchases to the EIC through himself and many benami (fictional or other third parties) names. We also note that that the VOC was quite furious at all this and even had planned to employ people to silence him on some occasions. He chose to follow rules only when they suited him and otherwise flouted them at will. But he got away with it all for a long time.

But his later years at the EIC outpost were clouded by accusations of misappropriation and personal profiting at company expense, all acts which were often in practice amongst the many EIC managers of that time. Just around the time he was being bandied to take over as Bombay Governor from William Phipps, the accusations came out and the next years were spent fighting these as well as threats of legal actions. Adams had been tipped of the activities by his friends in the Bombay bureaucracy and he was encouraged to leave Malabar for the sanctuary of London. Let’s take a brief look at this epoch in his lifespan.

It appears that Adams had loaned large amounts of company funds to the Zamorin and other Malabar ‘princes’ to fight the Dutch. Some 650,000 fanams could not be recovered and Adams was forced to sign bonds for their recovery. Additional charges against him were in retaining EIC ships for longer periods at Tellicherry and their missing profitable business opportunities due to this, lading company ships with his own stocks of pepper, and indulging in expensive conflicts with the French at company expense. To prevent him from absconding, his wife Margaret was detained. Nevertheless, the couple managed to scoot and sail to England from Calicut in 1729, ending their many decades of life in Malabar.

In London, he worked hard to have his name cleared and furious correspondence ensued between him and the EIC directors. He argued that all his actions were as subordinate to the Bombay offices and that there had been no objections, all along. Since many of the serving officers and directors were also complicit, he managed to get away from any kind of formal censure and was eventually cleared. A lot of claims due to him were paid by the EIC in Bengal and with it Adams purchased his new house at Cavendish square from the Duke of Chandos, in 1730. He had brought with him three Malabar servants Edward, Antonio and Abgail, but it appears that the harsh London weather disagreed with them and they went back home in 1731.

It was in 1732 that Adams acquired the Tyger coat of arms and found a home for the poor tiger’s skin on a prominent wall of his home. Even larger compensation claims by him were remitted by the EIC and he lived a life of comfortable retirement, in London. It may be interesting for some readers to note that these areas in London were developed, resettled and promoted by the so called ‘distasteful new Indian (pepper or Malabar money) money’ brought in by such nefarious and avaricious traders. After his return to London, it appears that Adams continued to invest monies in the India trade.

His infant nephew, Robert Orme, was sent from India to be brought up in Adams’s house from the age of two and later sent to Harrow for schooling in 1734. In 1736, Roberts Adams passed away leaving behind an estate reportedly worth £100,000. R Orme went back to India in 1742 aged 13. The widowed Margaret Adams vacated the big house and moved round the corner to a marginally humbler dwelling at 6 Cavendish Square. Adam’s house at Cavendish Square served as an embassy for the Spanish in the late 1840's and the Brazilians around 1860, finishing up as the Japanese Legation until 1892.It later became the UK headquarters of Chevron, the giant American energy corporation.

Adams’ correspondence, now archived as the Adams letter book, reveal much about the English private trade in Malabar and through to Bombay. Adams private enterprise involved not only financing the local rulers such as the Zamorin, but also holding a share in the shipping ventures of that period. We note from his letters that Adams held a sixteenth stake in one ship belonging to Captain Gilbert and was one investor among thirty two in another ship, the Wyndham.  We can also see that by 1707 Adams was even involved in constructing and managing his own vessels, attested by his purchase contracts with one William Gayer to buy masts, timber and various other ship provisions. Some of his vessels were recorded as having called at Mocha in Yemen, sailing from Calicut around 1721. We can also see piracy accounts related to Adams’s ships operating along the Malabar Coast which had been attacked by both the Dutch and Angre’s fleet during the 1720s. Another noteworthy incident occurred when Robert Adams’s ship manned by Moplahs was involved in the Jeddah massacre in 1726 where Adams’s supercargo (one who traded on behalf of a principal) Frankland and Dalgeish ended up getting murdered by an irate mob. Adams settled the case after obtaining large compensation.

Adams was also a provider of information and business tips to his friends, he informed them regularly of incidents in parts of the world through lively correspondence, and provided them market information often on Malabar and Persian trade. He invested heavily in joint ventures with Charles Boone (his close friend and governor of Bombay) at this time. Adams’s sisters were married to East India Company officers resident on the west coast; Hannah to Hezekiah King and Eleanor to Alexander Orme. Both of Adams’ sons, Robert and Benjamin, were also in the East Indies forging careers in commerce.

From London, Adams provided much support to Robert and particularly Benjamin. As is obvious, he offered them advice, and recommended them often to other higher placed EIC officers such as William Wake, Stephen Law and Robert Cowan; each of whom eventually became governors of Bombay during and after Adam’s stay in Malabar. Adams asked Stephen Law to regularly advise him ‘how my son Benjamin behaves himself and lives’, keen to be the first to know about any indiscretions or ‘any loose or extravagant behavior of his’. Moreover, Benjamin was encouraged by his father – like any good merchant – to be a diverse and varied trader, to hold more than one investment at the same time and to endeavor to be an amiable, friendly and well-grounded individual in order engage in successful business.

He was also the first to experiment with different methods in remitting his profits to security in London. Edward Harrison, always professing sane advice, suggested to Robert Adams in 1721, that diamonds could be an efficient method of remitting money back to England.

Testament to Adam’s relations with the Kolathiri Raja is the latter’s letter to the new EIC governor John Braddyl, stating Robert Adams “behaved always with great candor and civility to the country in general” and now with the recall of Adams in such a manner, “little trust is to be placed on the company”. He concluded his letter by saying that, “it is said that the Europeans are men of their words, but the ordering of Mr. Adams away, and the manner of his going seems quite contrary”

I won’t be surprised if Adams had himself dictated this, he was one canny individual! But one thing is clear, from a sleepy little port, Tellicherry rose to the position of a trading post of much prominence, and for that it owes much to the machinations of country traders like Robert Adams.

Speculative development and the origins and history of East India Company settlement in Cavendish Square and Harley Street -Richardson Harriet; Guillery Peter
British Private Trade Networks in the Arabian Seas, c. 1680 – c. 1760 - Timothy Davies
Robert Adams: the Real Founder of English East India Company’s Supremacy in Malabar Arun Thomas M., Dr. Asokan Mundon
Letters from Malabar – Jacob Canter Visscher
Establishment of British Power in Malabar – N Rajendran
Malabar Manual – William Logan
Dutch power in Kerala – MO Koshy
Malabar and the Dutch - KM Panikkar
The Rajas of Cochin 1663-1720 – Hugo K s’Jacob
History of the Tellicherry Factory (1683-1794) – KKN Kurup
Fortunes a faire – Catherine Manning
Private fortunes and Company profits in the India trade in the 18th century – Holden Furber
Foundation of the Empire – Ina Bruce Watson
Arabian Seas – Vol 1, Vol 4 R J Barendse

Pics – Tellicherry fort – British library

Maryam Zamani – Still an enigma

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Jahangir’s mother and Guardian

This is a mystery that had endured for many a decade and every historian working on Moghul history and Agra has come up with their own twist to it. When I started on this topic some years ago, I believed I could get to the crux of the matter with some effort, but it proved to be so difficult to peel the onion, as they say.  I spent so much time and effort in this study, perusing countless articles and sources, reaching nowhere conclusively. Were Maryam Zamani and Jahangir’s mother the same person? Or was it that there were two people in the picture?  

Why is there so much of a problem in this case? Was it because Akbar had women of multiple religions in his harem? Did confusion in the mind of historians arise because Akbar had allowed his Hindu consorts to practice their beliefs and rituals? Did further complications arise when researchers connected the Portuguese, Hindu, Christian, Turkish and Armenian wives of Akbar to Maryam Zamani and Jahangir, proving nothing? Perhaps so. The other issue was that the translations of many of the primary sources are considered conflicting, doctored over time and inadequate by some experts.

Birth Of Jahangir
But it is a fact that the biological mother of Jahangir was never named in any record. Jahangir’s memoirs do indicate that that a lady of very high standing and titled Maryam uz Zamani was considered to be the Wali Nimat Begum. The Mughal times were replete with adoptions, god mothers, and nursing mothers, so it proved to be pretty difficult to figure out who could be the biological mother of Jahangir and who became the titular mother of Jahangir. From all studies, one thing is amply clear, that Maryam Zamani was the definitely the titular mother of Jahangir.

Another issue was the palace of Mary (Maryam ki Kothi) or Mariam at Fathepur Sikhri which many attributed to Maryam Zamani. Many argue about the presence of pastors in that specific palace, the presence of the image of Mary, a cross and so on and so forth, confounding the situation. Some others clarify that it was in actuality, a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

So I decided to take a different route after having exhausted normally followed routes. Why not try a different method and just focus on Maryam uz Zamani, the so called queen mother? And thus I got back to the records which I had collected while researching the sinking of the queen mother’s ship Rahimi. At that time the identity of the queen mother was secondary, so I had not paused while repeating the oft stated belief that she was potentially Jahangir’s mother, the daughter of the Kachwaha Rajput. Now let us check what we know from British records.

We know that the queen mother was the owner or at least the patron of the ship Rahimi, one of the biggest, plying the seas between Surat and Mocha, carrying goods and approximately 1500 pilgrims for the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. We know that she got miffed when British and later the Portuguese held her ship to ransom, and in turn with her powers in the Mughal court put the English and the Portuguese into no amount of trouble. All records state clearly that ship was somehow connected to the queen mother. The title Maryam uz Zamani is not used (This has however been inserted as a foot note by translators & late researchers). And interestingly she was perhaps never the titular owner of the Rahimi.

We also know that she was involved in the Indigo trade. Some English and VOC Dutch traders saw the potential behind exporting the much vaunted Bayana indigo to Europe, and this indigo was needed for cloth dyes as well as for the Dutch porcelain industry. Finch’s transactions record the indignant queen mother who took revenge on Hawkins when he usurped stock which was not meant for him. Most of the indigo crop came from a place called bayana and we note that Bayana was an area patronized by Maryam Zamani. She had built the water tank (a baoili or step well), a residence and the gardens at Ibrahimabad in Bayana and guard posts on the route from Agra to Bayana, to protect the Indigo industry. These structures were built in 1612-13 (If she was from Amber in Rajasthan, she would have made some investments there, right, why Bayana?) and was also an occasional residence for Maryam Zamani, at a period when the indigo producing tracts in Bayana were doing well, trade in Indigo was brisk and the Dutch and English were the buyers. The Baoli has two gravestones which have not been identified and it is felt that one of these may even belong to Maryam Zamani.

All this points to the fact that she was a shrewd businesswomen and well respected by traders and in the Moghul court. She certainly had the powers to execute hukum’s /written orders (they were not strictly speaking farmans as some have noted) or edicts under her own seal and in those documents she terms herself ‘the Wali nimat Begam mother of King Nuruddin Jahangir’. Now Wali Nimat is a term that has been translated in differing ways. In Persian, which was the legal language of the Mughal court, it means ‘A benefactor, a generous patron’. The full sentence is ‘Wali Ni’mat walida I Jahangir badshah’ where it is clear that Maryam Zamani is the titular mother. Otherwise adding the adjective such as ‘generous patron of’ makes little sense, mother would have been enough and powerful.

She was a certainly a person of high standing as certified by Hawkins for she was known to receive a jewel from every nobleman "according to his estate" each year on the occasion of the New Year's festival. Interestingly Hawkins refers only to Jahangir’s mother, not a Maryam Zamani.

We also know that while she had a residence in Agra, her home was at the village of Dahr near Lahore, where she spent her time and invested time and effort, also building gardens. We can see that Jahangir visited her repeatedly at Dahr for important occasions such as weddings and ceremonial weighing’s. This is stated in the contemporary Persian texts.
Maryam Zamani Mosque - Lahore
And of course we have the very famous Maryam Zamani mosque which she built in Lahore in 1614, one of the earliest mosques in Lahore which was built under her patronage (the inscription states- founded by Maryam Zamani, the Queen). The architectural style it seems, marks a transitional period between the two periods, i.e., Pathan and the Mughal with the gigantic domes is taken from the old Pathan period mosques and the construction style for example, the gateways, the balconies etc. are reflective of later Mughal architecture. For me, it is difficult to imagine a Rajput woman practicing Hinduism and living in Agra as Akbar’s wife building a splendid mosque in faraway Lahore. We also know that there are no known records of temples or places of Hindu or Christian worship patronized or built by Maryam Zamani, thus making it somewhat clear that she was a serious practicing Muslim. Also it is clear, she took the wellbeing of thousands of Hajj pilgrims seriously, and interaction with Mecca and trade there. Why would the daughter of Bihari Mall do that? One could argue that she took to Islam a 100% and was an overt believer, but we see little reason for her to do that as she had been allowed to practice her religion and live in peace and harmony by Akbar. But it is also somewhat clear that many of these Hindu wives, for the purpose of marriage could have been given Islamic names for the record.

There is an intriguing reference that the title of Maryam Zamani was given to the lady posthumously (Monserrat). That does not sound quite correct for we do know that the title was used by Jahangir in his writings and the stones laid at the mosque in Lahore as well as the baoli in Bayana state her name. But it cannot be found in any contemporary accounts of Akbar, though we can find Mariam Makkany and the usage queen mother mentioned often in British and Dutch accounts. Perhaps those writers mistook one of Akbar’s wives to be Maryam Makani, who was actually Hamida Banu, Akbar’s mother and there was a similarity in the first name on both titles.

Then we have the so called tomb of Maryam Zamani in Agra, which has its own intrigue. She was not cremated after death. Instead, it is mentioned that Maryam Zamani was buried at Sikandra at the Lodhi garden. Now that again is a troubling subject because Jahangir did not build his revered mother a tomb of her own, but appropriated a garden and building used by Ibrahim Lodhi, which is quite strange and inappropriate according to many researchers.

Coming to nursing mothers, we know that Sheikh Bayazid (Moazzam Khan) was grandson of Sheikh Salem. And it was Bayazid's mother nursed Prince Salem (Jahangir) on the day of his birth.
Finally we know that Jahangir himself believed and mentioned that he was originally the son of one of Akbar’s consorts, not a regular wife of Akbar. The Tabaqat-i-Akbari Vol 2 states as follows - As one of the consorts became enciente at this time, His Majesty took her to SikrI, and left her in the house of the Shaikh; and he himself remained sometime in Agra, and sometime in SikrI. He gave the name of Fathepur to SikrI, and ordered the erection of bazars and public baths there.

Knowing this, how could we possibly comb through the 5,000 or so women in Akbar’s harem (and some 300 wives) as well as the palatial homes of many other royal ladies to get to the hidden persona of Maryam Zamani or for that matter Jahangir’s mother? It is made somewhat easier by the many hundred researchers who have traversed this route and have recorded their findings. I was fortunate in accessing and perusing many of them but decided sadly to forgo their conclusions as each came up with a different outcome.

13 of Akbar’s more famous wives have been traced by historians. The first was Ruqaiya Begum and she was childless. The second was the daughter of Jamal Khan and the third was with Abdulla Khan’s daughter.  The fourth was with Bairam Khan’s widowed wife and Akbar’s cousin Salima Sultan Begum. He had four Rajput alliances and they were with the daughter of Bihari (Bhar) Mall of Amber, the niece of Rai Kiran Mall of Bikaner, the daughter of Rawal Har Rai of Jaisalmer and finally the daughter of the Raja of Dungarpur. There were many other marriages, such as the scandalous taking of Abdul Wasi’s beautiful wife (which I had written about earlier).  Then there was Qasima Banu daughter of Arab Shah, later Bibi Daulat Shad and finally the daughter of Naquib Khan. From all these wives, only one son survived, that was Salim who later on became known as the emperor Jahangir.

What is also clear was the amount of intense rivalry and intrigue in the Mughal courts and particularly between the wives at the harem. Not that it is surprising in any way, for it was common in every royal household what with the endowments and titles the girls families expected from such matrimonial and consortia alliances. Everything depended on the relation the girl managed to keep with the monarch. They are known to have tried all the tricks of the trade, including opium, alcohol and so on. But that is not the topic, so let’s move on…

Noorudin Islam points out that the Tabakat page 281, vol II clearly mentions the mother was Salima Sultana. But I could not find any such reference other than the cryptic statement ‘As one of the consorts became enciente at this time, His Majesty took her to SikrI, and left her in the house of the Shaikh’. However it is true that Salima was in charge of Akbar’s Zenana and had mediated on Jahangir’s behalf. It is still a possibility that she was Maryam Zamani for Kaviraj Shyamal Das opines- Salimah Sultan was considered the guardian of Akbar's zanana, and all the children of Akbar and Jahangir were tended by her: it was for this very reason that she mediated on Jahangir's behalf, when he had fallen out with Akbar, and brought him to Court from Allahabad. Jahangir regarded her as his mother, and she in turn looked upon him as her son. She could in theory be therefore a strong contender for the identity of Maryam Zamani.

The learned Beveridge mentions - I still think the silence of all the leading historians remarkable. Neither Abu-l-Fazl, nor Nizamu-d-din, nor Badaoni, nor Firishtah nor Khafi Khan mentions Bihari Mall's daughter as Jahangir's mother. This cannot have been the result of bigotry; for Abu-l-Fazl, at least, was no bigot, and he and some of the others mention the marriage of Bihari Mall's daughter with approval. If they approved of the marriage, why should they not have approved of its resulting in the birth of a son? He however admits that the Tawarikh-i-Salim which he checked mentions that Jahangir married a daughter of Bihari Mall, and had by her his son Khusru.. But he adds - There is a curious statement in the Tawarikh-i-Salim (Price, p. 47), that Akbar had a son by Bibi Maryam who was placed under the care of Raja Bihari Mall, confounding the matter even further.

The book on the Kachhwahas makes their potential connection to Jahangir clear by quoting Jahangir himself - Tuzuk-i-jahangiri (p15)- I made Raja Man Singh who was one of the greatest and most trusted noblemen of my father, and had obtained alliances with this illustrious family, inasmuch as his aunt had been in my father's house (i.e. was his wife), and I had married his sister, and Khusrau and his sister Sultanu-n-nisa Begam, the latter of whom is my eldest child, were born of her. (Refeqat adds - Had Mansingh’s paternal aunt, i.e. Bharmall’s daughter been Jahangir’s mother, he would have mentioned it since he spoke highly of Mansingh). A table of births (Abul fazl) also shows a blank against Jahangir, which was the custom if it was a concubine and not a noble (Note here that the table shows Hindu mothers as daughter of and none is mentioned as d/o Bhram Mall). A related fact is that Mansingh, developed an intense dislike for Jahangir towards his later days.

Now let us take a look at a contemporary work - which is the record left behind by Dutch trader
Francisco Pelsaert. This was a very enterprising young man, who lived in Agra during Jahangir’s time and played with super high stakes. He gambled with VOC money, and had connections with Mughal women of high standing. In 1618 he sailed for the east in the Dutch company's commercial service and two years later was posted to India as junior merchant. After travelling overland from Masulipatam to Surat, he was sent to Agra where he stayed for seven years, becoming a senior merchant. He lived in Agra during 1620-27 for all of seven years and should have been in the thick of things. He loaned money, he hobnobbed with suppliers and other traders, he embezzled money for himself in the process and he traded in Indigo, a matter close to the heart of Maryam Zamani. In 1626 he wrote an account of the Mogul Empire, which was translated from the Dutch by W. H. Moreland and P. Geyl, and published as Jahangir's India -The Remonstrantie of Francisco Pelsaert

He mentions the following in his book, while describing Agra - Beginning from the north, 8 there is the palace of Bahadur Khan, who was formerly king of the fortress of Asir (5 kos from Burhanpur) . Next is the palace of Raja Bhoj, father of the present Rai Ratan, Governor of Burhanpur 4 (rank 5000 horse). Then come Ibrahim Khan (3000 horse); Rustam Kandahari (5000 horse); Raja Kishan Das (3000 horse) ; Itiqad Khan, the youngest brother of Asaf Khan (5000 horse); Shahzada Khanam, sister of the present king, who was married to Muzaffar Khan (formerly King of Gujarat) ; Goulziaer Begam, this king's mother; Khwaja Muhammad Thakaar (2000 horse); Khwaja Bansi, formerly steward of Sultan Khurram (the translator adds a foot note - This should represent Guljar Begam, but the name of Jahangir's mother is not elsewhere recorded, her official title was Maryam-uz-Zamani, which Pelsaert gives below as "Maryam Makani”.

Going on to describe the fort he says - There is little or no room within the Fort, it being occupied by various princely edifices and residences, as well as mahals, or palaces for ladies. Among these is the palace of Maryam Makani, wife of Akbar and mother of Jahangir, as well as three other mahals, named respectively Itwar (Sunday), Mangal (Tuesday), and Sanichar (Saturday), in which the King used to sleep on the day denoted by the name, and a fifth, the Bengali Mahal, occupied by ladies of various nations. Internally then the Fort is built over like a city with streets and shops, and has very little resemblance to a fortress, but from the outside anyone would regard it as impregnable.

We can see that the use of a term Maryam Zamani is missing and Palseart persists with Maryam Makani, who was actually the mother of Akbar, but what is glaring is the fact that he gave a proper name to Jahangir’s mother and that she had a Haveli at the edge of Agra and that another ‘mother’ potentially Maryam Zamani, had a palace within the Red Fort. Considering that Palseart was known to be very correct with his facts, it is clear that Jahangir’s mother was one Gulzar (Gulizaror Goulziaer) Begam.

Could that be one of the Gulizar Begam’s in the court and Zenana of Akbar, i.e. the two well-known women? One was the sister of Mirza Kamran, Akbar’s cousin, and the other was Kamran’s (unmarried) daughter, the latter being the one who went on a hajj with Gulbadan Begam (who wrote the Humayun Nama). Assuming that the elder Gulizar could be Maryam Zamani does draw some merit, since Kamran Mirza had intimate connections with Lahore. As we discussed previously, Maryam Zamani built a mosque in Lahore and had a house in the village of Dahr near Lahore. But we are not sure that she lived within the fort, all we know from Palseart’s writings is that she had her own haveli.

So we are left thus with three contenders, all staunch Muslims, for the god mother position. Salima Sulatan, Ruqayah Sultana Begam and the elder Gulizar Begam. One of the three above was Maryam Zamani who went on to build the mosque in Lahore and the baoli at bayana, as well as contribute liberally and be a patron of many charities. Now Salima and Ruqayah were Akbar’s wives, so they had their own quarters within the fort. The person who lived outside in a haveli could thus e the Gulizar Bagam.

According to Jehangir, Maryam Zamani passed away in 1623 (9th May 1623 "On this day news came from Agra that Her Highness (Hazrat) Maryam-uz-Zamani, by the decree of God, had died). Now we know that Salima passed away in 1613 and her body was laid to rest at the Mandarkar Garden in Agra. Ruqayah sultana passed away in 1626, and she was buried on the fifteenth level in the Gardens of Babur (Bagh-e-Babur) in Kabul, Afghanistan. If you cross those two out based death dates, the only remaining senior person who could have been Jahangir’s god mother or step mother is Gulizar, the sister of Kamran and the wife of the late Yadgar Nasir Mirza. Nevertheless, it is also a fact that the other two women cared very much for Jahangir.

The business transactions conducted by the royal women from inside the Zenana or around were through multiple layers and involved many other persons. Who therefore was the queen mother referred to by the traders and how about the fact that Maryam Zamani owned a ship Rahimi and traded with the English and the Dutch? As such the real owner of the ship was Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, Salima Sultana’s step son. Rahim was incidentally a ‘Navaratna’, a honored poet in Akbar’s court. It is only conjuncture that the queen mother was the real owner working behind him. Perhaps Salima Sultana was that person, not Maryam Zamani, and it is not mentioned so to my knowledge by Hawkins or others.

As for Maryam Zamani’s tomb, it is unlikely this had anything to do with any Rajput wife of Akbar, perhaps it was indeed Gulijar Begam’s tomb or for that matter, Maryam’s tomb is one of the two at the Baoli in Bayana where it is felt Maryam Zamani spent her final years.

And how about the Mariam palace in the Fathepur Sikri? That is another intriguing story which we will discuss another day.

As always, this is an open discussion based on various resources I perused. More research is needed to conclusively determine the facts, which I doubt will happen considering that most people seem comfortable identifying Bharm Mall’s daughter to be Jahangir’s mother.

A few of the references perused

The story of Akbar’s Christian Wife - Rev H Heras
Mughal marriages, A politico-religious and legal study- Ansari Zahid Khan (Pakistan Historic society journal)
Maryam Zamani’s baoli at Bayana – A note – Rajiv Bargoti
Farman of Maryam Zamani, mother of Emperor jahangir – Khan Sahib Zafar Hassan
Jahangir’s india - The Remonstrantie of Francisco Pelsaert WH Moreland
Edicts from the Mughal harem – SAI Tirmizi
Akbat the greatest Moghul – SM Bruke
Waterworks of Mediaeval Bayana – Natalie Shokoohy
Maryam Zamani mosque - the earliest dated Mughal period mosque at Lahore – Saeed Tahir
ShahJehan – Fergus Nicoll
Akbar’s Queen Mary - HS Hoston
The topography of the Mughal empire as known to the Dutch - Joannes De Laet ( Tr-E Lethbridge)
East India Company records 1602-1613
Early travels in India – 1583-1619 Ed William Foster
The female missionary intelligencer May 1, 1868 (Tomb of Mariam Zamani)
History behind the terracotta paintings – Md Noorul Islam
The Kachhwahas under Akbar and Jahangir – Kunwar refaqat Ali Khan
Identity of Jahangir’s mother- Aparna Chattopadhaya (Journal of Indian History 68-71, 1192)
The Mother of Jahangir - H. Beveridge and reply by Kaviraj Shyamal Das
The Tuzuk Jahangiri

Pics – Maryam Zamani mosque (courtesy Dawn 13-05-2015 )