Uneen ‘Ramasimhan' Saheb’s story

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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 Renegade Portuguese Moplah Corsair - Dom Pedro Rodrigues

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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.

Robert Adams - Governor of EIC Malabar

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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.

Maryam Zamani – Still an enigma

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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, finally reaching nowhere conclusively. Were Maryam Zamani and Jahangir’s mother the same person? Or was it that there were two people in the picture?  

Farrukhi – A capital shortlived

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Tipu Sultan’s new Malabar Capital and the Farrukhi mint

There is some mystery involved in the town of Feroke, and its antiquity boasts of it being the capital of Tipu’s Malabar, though quite short lived. The first hint of the town’s name comes from Tipu’s own writings about his dreams, where he mentions of a particular dream involving white elephants (and later, a second one dealing with a bear) from China while returning from Farrukhi (near Calicut) and camped near Salamabad (Satyamangalam near Coimbatore). More precisely, in history it is named as Paramukku, a desam in Beypore amsham about 6 miles distant from Calicut town wherein 1788 Tipu apparently built a fort and projected the founding of a new capital. It is indeed cryptic and we have only very little information on the establishment of Feroke and its instilment as a Malabar capital in the amsam of Nelluru. Let’s take a look at what we have.

The many mysteries behind the Cheng Ho Voyages

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Much is written about the voyages of Cheng Ho. In fact there is even a voluminous book just listing bibliography of published works detailing Cheng Ho’s life and time. But how much of all that is conjecture, myth, lore and legend and how much of it is fact? That seems to be the biggest problem, because the scribes of the Ming period rewrote history and fudged fact with fiction with impunity, so much so that filtering truth from them is an art in itself. The importance of the voyages, the treasure ships themselves which awed and terrified onlookers from any shore, the expenses in making them, the reasons for these voyages and the reasons which ended the voyages are still steeped in mystery. The man behind it all, the seven foot tall Muslim eunuch, is who they say brought Islam to Melacca, defeated pirates, established relations and leaders, fought a war with a Lankan Monarch and took away Buddha’s tooth to Nanking. But Zheng He or Cheng Ho, who suddenly found himself adrift when his patron Chu Ti (Zhu Di - the Yong Le, Yung Lo monarch) passed away mysteriously, also met a mysterious end.

The Rowther community

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On the origins and history of the Rowther Muslims

Ravuttar, Rowther, Ravuther

Most people from Palghat would recognize this community name, for a number of them are settled in various parts of the district. As a child, I would hear stories of them being remnants of Hyder’s and Tipu’s cavalry forces. If you recall these forces were camped around Coimbatore, Pollachi, Dindigul and thereabouts during their many forays into Malabar. Growing up in Koduvayur, I came across many Rowthers, mainly traders in and around Palghat. The Palghat community spoke a kind of Tamil signifying that they once belonged to Tamil regions and were not connected with the Malayali Moplah communities. OV Vijayan frequently mentioned them in his books, and even had a few characters in his famous Khasakinte Ithihasam (legends of Khasak). That reminds me, it is time for a reread of that great book, I have forgotten most of it.

The Kalikavu incident - 1915

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An attempt on Collector CA Innes’s life

Some articles ago, we studied the impact of the Turkish Khalifa, the Khilafat movement and its effects on the Malabar populace, culminating in the violence of 1921 and a terrible aftermath. We also studied about the discontentment amongst the Malabar Mappilas and the attempts of earlier British administration, especially HV Conolly in countering what was termed as the Mappila outrages resulting in the attempt at disarming the disaffected Mappila. As all these were progressing from phase to phase, many a foreign cleric entered the area to whip up the emotions of the relatively illiterate Eranad Mappilas. These have been well studied and recorded by various historians, forming three categories of texts, one by left leaning scribes attributing everything to land tenures and as the outburst of have nots, the British stories calling them revolts against the crown, to be dealt with a  firm hand and thirdly the events as seen by the Hindu aristocracy of Malabar. Two lesser known events from the earlier days are not quite well reported in any of these collections, one being an attempt to kill a British collector and secondly the British attempt at mainstreaming the Mappila’s desire to fight. I will detail the first now and then in a later article provide information on the second.

Malabar -War years 1941-1944

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A famine and the cholera epidemic....1943

Everybody talked about the Great War as the summer months of 1942 scorched the southern regions of India. The eastern allied bastions fell one after another, by February 42 Singapore had capitulated and in March 1942, Rangoon had fallen and Port Blair in the Andamans had been taken. The overjoyed INA factions in Malaya and Burma were waiting for directions from their new leader Subhas Chandra Bose ensconced in Rangoon, while at the same time, hundreds of thousands of panic stricken Indian refugees (Burmese workers) were in full flight across the seas and borders into India, their ancestral home. Their belief was total that the British Raj would do nothing to help them, for their brethren had not received any great support either at Malaya or Singapore. One could hear the refrain – that invasion was imminent, the Japanese were coming, and that the British are set to flee India. With censor controlled war news channels focused on the action in Europe, rumor machines in India took over and wild tales were told and retold. The Japanese soldier, though smaller than a Burmese elephant, evoked a bigger fear, rivaling a dragon.

Chowakaran Musa and the Mapla Por of Bombay

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Musa Mapla, the EIC and his Bombay residence

Many decades ago, when I was working in Bombay and a bachelor, I would walk aimlessly through the Colaba, Ballard estate and Flora fountain areas often, stopping finally to munch a good meal at the Fort Ananda Bhavan. In many of the road corners you could spot youngsters from Malabar desirous of going to the Gulf, doing part time work by selling smuggled goods on the sly. Well before all that, they sold coconuts or mats i.e. nariayal walas and chatai (grass mat or pullu paya) walas of Malabar, but in my time those professions were not popular and the malayali street hawker sold Casio calculators, perfumes, cigarettes and small electronics like radios cassette players on these streets.

The Zamorin and a Padre (1587-1620)

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And Umara Charare, the convert

While we studied the stories of Kunhali IV, the conversion of the King of Tanur and so on, we came across the fact that the reigning Zamorin during those years had allowed building of churches in Calicut and other parts of Malabar, that he had a good relation with some of the Padres and even that he was somewhat influenced by them, especially so in the case of the capture of Kunhali IV. It is also mentioned that the Portuguese tried hard to ensure that this Zamorin did not get any ideas of alignment with the new entrants in the Malabar trade, the Dutch. Were their work purely missionary of was it a combination of commerce, politics and administration? A study of a couple of works throws much light on these questions and so let’s head to the Calicut during the last decades of the 16th century. As we go on, we will come across some very interesting ministers of Christ, a Zamorin who became more inclined towards the Portuguese, perhaps seeking peace on earth, his nephew who went on to convert to Christianity and as we already saw, a Raja of Tanur who converted. So let’s hasten to that Malabar which had just witnessed much turmoil what with the likes of Furtado and the naval warlord Kunhali IV.

Travancore lines – a Reality Check

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The Nedumkotta fortifications - A discussion

The Travancore lines were according to some historians, first planned by Marthanda Varma duly assisted by his general De Lannoy and built by the Travancore troops in order to protect Travancore and Cochin from the Zamorin’s attacks. Others mention that it was built by the succeeding Dharmaraja for the same purpose, with De Lannoy’s supervision and that they were further strengthened by Travancore to prevent any potential incursions by Hyder and later, by Tipu Sultan. It became a bone of contention between the Mysore Sultans and Travancore as well as the European powers, the Dutch and the English. I had also written about the battle which took place later, but the question in front of us is, who actually built these walls or lines? Was it built from scratch by De Lannoy, as reported by Travancore historians such as Nagam Aiya, Velu Pillai, Ulloor and many others? Or was history fudged a wee bit?