Guruvayur, Hydrose and the Dutch

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Clearing up some cobwebs

The temple is well known to most people in South India. It is very popular, quite crowded these days with thousands of devotees lining to get a peek of Unnikrishnan or Guruvarurappan. True, the pandemic has affected all these quite a bit, but I am sure things will improve soon. Which takes us back in time to two occasions when the temple was threatened by marauding armies, first by the Dutch and later by those laying Malabar to waste, namely the Mysore armies sent to plunder, by Haider and later Tipu. Let’s review the record and also take a look at that interesting person, who was involved in the continuation of finances of the temple at that latter occasion. In these days with so much of divisive attitudes, it is helpful to remember that there was a time when communities also came together for the common good.

In the old Sangam times, the biggest of the temple sankethams in the region was Thrikannamathilakam near Tiruvanchikulam, the capital of the Cheras. Mathilakam as it was popularly known, was originally a Jain center of learning, but later morphed into housing a Siva shrine of great importance. Located near today's Irinjalakkuda, it was also the place where a Jain scribe composed the epic Silappadikaram (Tamil epic dating to around the 9th Century). Kunavayilkottam (Thirukkana vayil kottam) is according to MGS Narayanan a pseudonym for Mathilakam, a place which in antiquity hosted some 6-7 Jain temples. Sreedhara Menon in the Trichur Gazetteer mentions that Kunavayil is actually to the north of Tiruvanchikulam and on the eastern side of the old capital shoring the Arabian Sea. Dr. S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar says, “We may take it that this Kunavayil Kottam was just outside the capital of Vanji and adjacent to the eastern gate of the city, very probably in the locality now marked by what is called Trikkana Mathilakam, although the place is now comparatively little occupied, the inhabitants being a handful of Muhammadans”. Mathilakam now, contains practically no traces of its ancient historical greatness.

Trikkana Mathilakam was as we said, famous at a later stage as the site of that large Siva temple, to which many other local temples such as the Guruvayur and Koodalmanikam temples are supposed to have been subordinates. As the story goes, the uralers or temple custodians, the Tekkedath and Vadakedath Nairs, were responsible for the building of many walls at Mathilakam which only served to alienate the various occupants of the principality. The main dissenters were the Nambuthiris who left the temple area after the tiff, and the temple town fell into disuse. By the end of the 14th century Mathilakam had come into the possession of the Zamorin of Calicut with whom it remained for some centuries till the Dutch came along and battled over the Cranganore and Cochin areas in the 17th century. The Zamorin after his march into Valluvanad and Naduvattom, continued on, to the Guruvayur area and supposedly constructed the sreekovil, the gold-covered flag mast and the North and West gates of the temple.

Initially, the Cranganore, Vypeen and Pallipuram areas were under the Zamorin, as per the Dutch Calicut peace agreement of 1662. In 1701 the Dutch were at war with the Zamorin and a new treaty was concluded in 1710 after which the Zamorin gave away Chettuwa to the Dutch and the Dutch decided to build a fort there, which the Zamorin was against. After a stiff war which the Zamorin lost, even with the British aiding him, the Zamorin retreated. The Dutch thus got sovereignty over Pappinivattom in 1715 (Paponnetty) and built Fort Williams. It was seized by the Zamorin and the British, and they held it through 1716.

A few words on the Punnathur raja of the Punnathur Kovilakom, would lend a good backdrop to all this. Initially at loggerheads with the Dutch, they signed a peace treaty with them in 1717 but things went awry and he collaborated with the Zamorin and the British, resulting in the Dutch attack at Guruvayur. In later days, he remained in alignment with the Zamorin and can be seen as an important feudatory in all ceremonious occasions at Calicut. They evolved from the Talapalli Nambudiri family which split into four tavazhis - Kakkad, Punnathur, Ayinikur and Manakulam. While Kakkad, Ayinkur and Manakulam factions moved to the side of the Cochin Raja, the Punnathur side aligned itself to the Zamorin as early as the 15th century. The major portion of the Chowghat Taluk and adjoining places like Kunnamkulam, Kakkad and Chittilappilli formed part of the domain of Punnathur. Kottappadi near Guruvayur was the seat of the Punnathur family, today home to the elephants of Guruvayur. After some centuries the Ayinikur and Manakulam factions too defected to join with the powerful Zamorin. The Zamorin rewarded the Punnathur branch for its services by giving its members large areas of territory that he had conquered from Cochin. In fact, the chief of the Punnathur branch became a staunch ally of the Zamorin and even enjoyed the unique privilege of taking part in the Zamorin’s Ariyittuvazcha, and dining with him.

Guruvayur which became the Zamorin’s favorite temple from then on, rose in esteem after he took over the urayma rights over it from the Punnathur chief. In 1716, the Dutch brought in Javanese forces and retook the fort at Papinivattam and Chettuwa. The friction between the Dutch and Punnathur-Zamorin combo must have resulted in the plunder of Guruvayur either early on in 1717. So, we could infer that the temple was plundered by perhaps wayward Javanese mercenary forces of the Dutch, who in 1716-17, attacked the temple, stripping off the gold from the main flag mast. They then took away some of the treasures from the underground vaults, set fire to the western gateway (Padinjare Gopuram).

In the 1730’s there used to be a Dutch customs station at Guruvayur, a busy traffic junction with a local Raja (Punnathur Raja). 18 ½ villages around Guruvayur were granted to the Dutch after the war, as compensation, by the Zamorin. The various reasons for the volatile situation around Chavakkad are too numerous to retell here, what with multiple landed families involved, their alignment with the larger forces of the Cochin Raja and the Zamorin and their claims and counterclaims. We will perhaps get to it some other day. But the monetary collections in the following years were good and the Guruvayur temple’s gateway was rebuilt in 1747.

After a new Zamorin came into power in 1746, the situation changed again and the Zamorin supported by his Moplah and Nair troops, reestablished control over most of these areas during the 1755-58 period. Again, the Dutch, reinforced with Javanese support from Batavia defeated him in 1758 and ransacked the Mathilakam area where the Zamorin’s forces were headquartered. The Dutch occupied Matilakam and they destroyed the large Siva temple and took away the idol to Cochin to be used as a stone for anchoring boats and ships. The massive 21’ Siva Lingam from the Mathilakam temple was supposedly used as a mooring on the seashore of Fort Cochin, for the barges which carried cargo to ships.

Even though it is not clear yet and historians give conflicting opinions on when exactly Mathilakam was destroyed by the Dutch during those turbulent years, some historians mention that the large presence of the Moplah and Nair forces and many other political reasons caused the Nambuthiries of the region to flee (Fortifications and walling of the area by the Zamorin’s troops were another reason). Soon the Trikkunavay sanketham fell into disrepair and was virtually abandoned. We will cover the Mathilakam history in more detail, another day but what we can surmise is that in 1755- 1758 time frame, the Mathilakam temple was destroyed by the Dutch. Thus, Mathilakam sanketham, which once had 18 other keezhedams or smaller temples under it, was thus lost to history and largely forgotten. Just to complete the story of the Sivalingam, we can see that after the Dutch surrendered to the British at Cochin in the year 1795, the Konkanis of Cochin purchased the very same Siva Lingam from the East India Company and installed it at the Udyaneswara temple (leaving 4 ½‘above and the rest of the vigraham below ground).

The Zamorin who was involved in the Dutch wars, passed away in 1758. Trouble was looming, the Mysore forces which had made three sporadic forays into Malabar previously were now poised to attack again and a new Zamorin was viewing all this pensively. Haider was soon at the fore and the Zamorin perished in the palace fire and attack of 1766, apparently immolating himself, a subject which we had covered earlier.

Haider’s first task was to make sure that his primary objective – i.e. organized and unorganized collection of revenues- was quickly put into effect. One such revenue collector for the Chavakkad area which encompassed Guruvayur, was a Zamorin hand, Hydrose Kutti Moopan.

Perusing the Dutch and English documents of yore is sometimes a pain but quite rewarding for those who are patient. My attempts at tracing the story of this Hydrose Kutti was quite difficult, since he was named differently as Ayderoos Coetty, Ayderose, Ayderos Cutty, Hydroses Kutti, Hydrose, Hydroses, Hydrosee, and Haidrus in the various accounts. But though it took a while, I managed to find some details. For those who are not aware, Chowghat which will be mentioned so often, is todays Chavakkad.

In 1766 after Haider Ali occupied Calicut, his forces established their camps at Chavakkad. Guruvayur as a rich temple was in Hyder’s sights for a looting mission, but thanks to the intervention of Venkata Narayana Ayyar his military Governor of Tiruvannamalai, the temple was spared. It was not that straightforward as it sounds and a large ransom of 10,000 fanams had to be paid to Haider on the Zamorin’s behalf by the Vadakkepat Warrier. Nevertheless, the arrival of pilgrims and collections at the temple rapidly declined and it was only after Srinivasa Rao’s (another administrator of Haider Ali) Devadaya or Brahmodayam, i.e. gift of lands for the temple’s upkeep (354 acres) that the temple administrators got some respite.

It is in this period that we come across Hydrose in the Dutch and English records dating to 1773-1783, as Haider’s tax collector, representative and local chieftain of Chawakad.

1773 – The Malabar manual provides some detail on how troubled Hydrose Kutti was with respect to the tax collections. In 1773 Chunder Row and Sreenivas Row came with troops and wrested the country from the Zamorin. By their orders the Nads were rented to Moydeen Muppan and Hydrose Kutti, who collected 100 percent of the pattam (rent), but finding that insufficient to enable them to meet their engagements, they imposed further contributions and seized personal property. Finding this also inadequate, they carried some of the inhabitants to Seringapatam with whatever accounts of the pattam (rent) were extant. On their return in 1777-78 they commenced to collect what called the Huzur Nikuti upon actual reaping and measuring of the crop, taking two-thirds of the gross produce as the Government share on rice-lands and leaving one-third to the cultivator. The consequence was that the people fled and the lands lay uncultivated.

Extortion was the next technique adopted by Haider Ali and he and his commanders used Hydrose to carry them out. The raja of Cranganore was contacted in March 1774 and asked by Hydrose Kutti, a Muslim with some following in the country of the Zamorin where he now behaved as an administrator of a few districts, to pay Haidar tribute of 100,000 rupees and two elephants. Hydrose Kutti alleged that earlier the raja of Cranganore had promised tribute to Haidar, but such an agreement was denied by the Raja. Moens the Dutch governor supposed that Hydrose Kutti had acted without special orders from Haidar, because Iike many other new district-collectors he too had promised Haidar larger amounts of money than he could actually collect.

On 7 April 1774 Moens learned from a letter of the raja that on the 29th of March he had received letters from Hydrose Kutti and Chandra Rao, the commander of Haidar's troops at Chowghat (a brother of Srinivasa Rao), demanding from him a tribute of 100,000 rupees and one elephant. The raja did not pay and Chandra Rao sent an armed escort with a second letter to the raja on 10 April.

New tribute had been demanded from the rulers of Cochin and Cranganore. Moens ignored the demand made on the first but he tried to avoid the payment of a second tribute by Cranganore by writing to the Governor at Calicut on 21 September 1775 asking for an explanation, meanwhile pointing out the special relationship which had existed between the Company and Cranganore since 1717. Meanwhile, Srinivasa Rao, a Hindu, had been replaced as Governor by the Muslim Sardar Khan, a callous person according to Moens. Sardar Khan now ordered Hydrose Kutti to demand 50,000 rupees from the raja of Cochin and 25,000 from Cranganore.

1776- The Dutch governor, preferred to remain united with Travancore and Cochin, but at the same time thought it useful to take up contact with the Zamorin and Hydrose Kutti, who became anxious to save his skin. Through them, Moens hoped to cause a disturbance in the north hoping that it might induce Haidar to make up a quarrel by pretending that Sardar Khan had exceeded his authority. Some years passed by and Haider died to be replaced by his son Tipu, who raised a specter of terror on the region, with his fanatic attitude.

1783 – When after the fall of Palghat Moens learned that Hydrose Kutti, who had been administering the districts of Chetvai and Paponetty for Tipu, intended to desert to Calicut, he instructed the resident at Cranganore, Cellarius, to occupy these two places as soon as they were evacuated by the Mysoreans.

Anyway, Hydrose defected to the side of the Calicut forces. According to Kunju – Hydrose, the Muslim chieftain of Chavakkad joined up with the Ravi Varmas of the Padinjare kovilakom around 1783, after finding it difficult to work with Tipu and put up with his demands.

Moens affirms - A certain chief of the Moorish faction in the Zamorin's territory named Ayderos Cutty (who since the conquest of the Zamorin kingdom had remained loyal to the Nabob and had not only been left in his former position but had also been placed over the district of Chavacatty on condition of paying annually a certain sum of money which was so great, that he was unable to raise it and notwithstanding was forced to it), also got tired of this violence, left the Nabob's side and openly joined the Zamorin's Nairs with all his followers to help them to annoy the Nabob's men and if possible drive them away and reinstate the Zamorin. But seeing himself not sufficiently safe, he sent his family to the south, and immediately after himself retired south to Travancore territory; at which the king winked.

AV Moidutty mentions in his Guruvayur article – This temple received 8000 pagodas in cash annually for the expense of its ceremonies. The money was regularly paid in each year by Tipu’s agent Nalakath Chandanaparambil Arsooty (Hydrose Kutti) Moopan of Manathala…. This amount was reduced to 5000 pagodas by the British. Afterward, that was also stopped in lieu of an assignment of some property to the temple.

From KVK Ayyar’s Guruvayur we read the following moves by Tipu. In 1782/83 Tipu transferred Venkata Narayana Rao from Tiruvannamalai to Chavakkad as commandant, partly to placate the Hindus who were fiercely, but secretly resisting him and partly to know where they had concealed their wealth....In his desperate need for money, Tipu first stopped the Devadaya said to have been granted by his father’s governor Srinivasa Rao. Then he ordered the plunder of the temple. Thinking that as a Hindu, Venkata Narayana Rao might not promptly execute his order, he also sent the order to his Muslim Governor at Calicut. For some reason both delayed the execution of Tipu’s order. And before Tipu knew about it or could issue fresh orders from Seringapatam, the Malliserri Namboothiri and the Kakad Othikan had managed to conceal the main image in a well full of water and escape with the Utsava vigraha and all valuables to Travancore. In sheer frustration, Tipu’s soldiers destroyed the smaller shrines all around (1789-90) and set fire to the temple according to KV K Ayyar’s notes and a timely rain saved it from total destruction. After Tipu ceded Malabar to the British, the idol was reinstated at Guruvayur in 1792.

The Trichur Gazetteer affirms though giving credit to Tipu as well as Hydrose - It is interesting to note that Tippu Sultan and his aide Hydrose Kutee Mooppan showed great interest in the affairs of the temple in the 18th Century. Under orders from Tippu, Hydrose Kutti, who was in charge of Chavakkad area had endowed an annual grant for the Guruvayur temple for the conduct of daily Poojas and offerings, Subsequently, the British authorities too accepted this obligation, exempting certain temple lands from assessment and authorizing the use of the proceeds from them for the affairs of the temple. Hydrosee Kutti was killed later in a battle. His 'Kabor' is laid in the Edappully Jaram in the south-western corner of the township.

According to historian PA Syed Muhammad, Hydrose met his death battling Tipu Sultan. When and how Hydrose Kutti fought with Tipu and met his death is not clear, but he was buried and venerated at Mananthala. My assumption is that Kutti met his death at Tipu’s hands after the deputation of Venkata Narayana Rao, probably in the same decade. The mausoleum of Hydrose Kutti, is situated in Manathala, near Chowghat. Another site near the Chowghat mosque was the scene of his death and both places are regarded as sacred centers by the local Muslim population. Because of its association with Hydrose Kutti, Chowghat or Chavakkad is also sometimes called Kuttingal. As time went by, this Hydrose Kutti became a patron saint of local fishermen. But it is only in the Nercha of Hydrose Kutti Muppan of Chavakkad that a replica of Jaram is taken out in procession through the streets. In other Nerchas devotees carry banners and flags.

As you can see, the histories of Malabar are checkered with such tales, where you will find interesting accounts of religious amity (if only for convenience) even in the face of divisive wars and fanatic acts, such as those faced during Tipu’s rule over Malabar. It is of course true that Hydrose chose to defect only when he found himself in trouble over reduced tax collection, but it was still a brave decision, fraught with extreme danger. Nevertheless, there were others who used the opportunity to wreak havoc in Malabar, such as the Arakkal chieftains who openly sided with the Mysore Nawabs. We will get to that story later.

You may have noted a comment about the underground cellar and the shift of the Guruvayur treasures to Travancore, upon Tipu’s arrival. One only needs to stretch his imagination just a bit, in order to understand this as a potential source of the wealth recently discovered in Padmanabha temple vaults. And it tells you why Tipu was desperate to cross the Travancore lines and subdue Travancore, something he failed to achieve.


The Dutch East India Company and Mysore, 1762–1790 - Jan van Lohuizen

History of Guruvayur – KV Krishna Ayyar

Journal of Indian history 1962 - Guruvayur – KV Krishna Ayyar

Mysore Kerala relations in the 18th century – AP Ibrahim Kunju

Dutch power in Kerala – MO Kozhy

The Rajas of Cochin 1663-1720 – Hugo K.s’Jacob

The Dutch in Malabar, being a translation of selections nos. 1 and 2, with introduction and notes by A. Galletti, A. J. van der Burg and P. Groot



  1. Manjunath Kamath

    Impressive, especially how you exactly traced the present location of the Lingam to the Konkani temple in Mattancherry

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Manjunath..
    The story of that idol was a surprise to me as well..