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The Zamorin – VOC treaties of 1691, 1710

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

A most famous document, and a turning point in the history of the Zamorins

As treaties go, the content of the two treaties signed between two reigning Zamorins of Calicut and the Dutch VOC establishment in Cochin is quite dull and uninteresting to a lay reader, but it was made at a turning point in the history of the Zamorins, as we shall soon see. From a linguistic point of view, there are some peculiarities in these works, and experts opine these early examples of written Malayalam show its development as a language. The 1691 Malayalam contract was written on a gold foil (ola) and is perhaps the longest gold scroll in the world. Over time, the scribed text has disappeared to a large extent whereas the silver foil contract made in 1710 remains a robust specimen which still (especially due to the tarnish) provides a clear view of the scribed text. Let’s try and find out some detail in these obscure documents, which have hardly been mentioned or talked about, thus far.

If you recall, I had mentioned the Mackenzie manuscripts and those taken to Britain by Charles Whish, in earlier articles. This is unrelated to those documents but is a compliment to the large trove of original Malayalam documents stored in the UK (fortunately still in good condition). Chelnat Achyutha Menon was deputed in 1937 to England to study and document the Malayalam texts available in the British Library. As SC Sutton, the librarian mentions, these two metal foil treaties, grants or contracts as they were called by researchers, were acquired from the Zamorins by the British and found their way to the library in 1840. Achyutha Menon provided the following detail about these…

1691 Zamorin grant - Single gold strip 1 3/4 in. by 80 in., weighing 13.5 oz.; 8 lines on the front, 5 lines on the back. This gold strip records a treaty between the Zamorin of the Kirakke Kovilakam (one of the three branches of the Zamorin family) and the Dutch East India Company on 6 Vrścikam 866, Kollam Era (A.D. 10 November 1691). It contains twenty clauses. Of these, the first three deal with a pact of mutual assistance against aggression from a third party, and constitute in effect a defensive alliance in which Cochin also is included. The inclusion of Cochin is noteworthy, for during the period of Portuguese ascendancy the Zamorin had been at variance with the Cochin Raja who was leagued with his enemies, the Portuguese. The remaining clauses deal with commercial privileges accorded to the Company, such as the right to trade in certain commodities; special privileges in two principalities on the coast in the Ponnani Taluk of South Malabar; and the permission to build a factory at Calicut, the capital of the Zamorin's kingdom. This document is not mentioned in the Malabar Gazetteer, and its importance as an historical record throwing light on the internal history of the country in the seventeenth century is obvious.

1710 Zamorin Grant - Single silver strip 1 ¾ in. by 86 in., weighing 14.5 oz.; 9 lines on the front, 5 lines on the back. This silver strip records a treaty between the Zamorin of the Putiya Kovilakam (another branch of the royal family of Calicut) and the Dutch East India Company on 28 Dhanu 885 Kollam Era (8 January 1710). It reaffirms the terms of the previous treaty (see above) in a similar twenty clauses, and mentions that these had not been observed by one of the predecessors of the present ruler.

The pictures of these two grants or treaties as attached herein, are from google art and images and shown here only for information, in case of any copyright issues, I will be happy to take them down. The Google page provides the additional detail as follows, on the 1691 foil. The notes in the British Library accompanying the documents, signed by Govindoo of Cochin, the transcriber, is summarized as "That both parties having unanimously agreed to the above specified stipulations, two copies corresponding as near as possible with the Malayalam, have been drawn in the Dutch Language upon paper, and two copies upon gold sheets, to which both Zamorin Rajah and the Right Honorable the Commissary General have this day, 16th November, A.D. 1691 or 6th Wrichigam 867 M.S., at 13 Narrigas [about 11 O'clock A. M.] affixed their respective signatures in the presence of the younger Rajas, the Chieftains and others- each party retaining one paper and one gold sheet."

Achyuta Menon mentioned also that English translations of both treaties had been made available in a BL document collection MSS Eur D151, but I have not been able to lay my hands on it so far, so I had to make do with the Dutch versions of the treaty available in the Corpus Diplomaticum Vol #3/4. The next step was to try and see if somebody had ever studied the 1691 and 1710 documents and fortunately, K Kunjunni Raja (KR), a doyen of literature and linguistic studies had made an almost complete facsimile transcription of the 1691 treaty in 1962. In a short article of his, he explains the circumstances which led him to it. So, I will now recap what he had to say.

Sutton the BL librarian had mentioned that he had tried to make microfilm of the foil, but was not successful since the text on the gold foil was starting to fade away and that even inking the foil resulted in no success. KR visited the library and was given the facilities to study the foil - a long table and associated study apparatus were provided, powerful magnifying glasses were at hand, so also spotlighting. KR toiled along for some four days and got most of it on paper, but says he could not complete some of the last lines due to other pressing matters he had to attend to. He mentions that the fading original had numerous grammatical and spelling mistakes, but he transcribed it faithfully as a first step, without making any corrections, due to paucity of time.

Note: The other originals of the treaties, i.e., of both the gold foil and the silver foil of the Malayalam text which was in the hands of the VOC has not been traced, they may have been lost, destroyed, or hopefully is still somewhere in the Netherlands. I will neither get into the finer details of the Malayalam or Dutch text nor discuss exact translations as nobody is keen about such matters anymore, but I will state here some salient aspects, if only for some perspective.

The treaty was discussed between Commander Van Rheede (Hortus Malbaricus fame) who had been deputed again to Malabar by the VOC, to resolve and discuss the matters with the Zamorin. After he completed the discussions, the task of penning it was left to the new chief and Van Rheede left for Surat, only to pass away shortly, in the same year 1691.

The esteemed Chummar Choondal studied the linguistic aspects of the transcription provided by KR, and he made a very short article about the peculiarities of Malayalam used in the text. He mentions - The Malayalam language had acquired its distinctive features by about the 12th century and in this official document of the close of the 17th century we find it in a well-developed form. The text of the neatly executed deed is praiseworthy for its precise and matter-of-fact style and abundance of foreign loan words and colloquial expressions. The document is decided into eleven articles (Avastās).

He notices the loan word – Kompani, a loan word from French, distinct from the English Company, he notices how Landa is the term used for Holland, and sees the mention of Paradesijati for foreigners. Interestingly, India and Malabar are combined as ‘Indyaenna Malankara’! Nevertheless, there are many aspects which he believes require a detailed study, but he summarizes thus - This document disproves the widely held view of some native scholars that the inscriptional language follows a set pattern and merits no detailed study. It is obvious to note that at the time of dictation some scribal errors have occurred in this document. In view of a linguist all those words need not be taken into consideration for a detailed study. Some old words (e.g., erandu) archaic forms, colloquial phrases (e.g., uruttukondu) etc., throw light upon the spoken language of the people. The phonetical, morphological and syntactical aspects of this document reveal the state of Malayalam language at the close of 17th century. This note is intended only to draw the attention of the scholars to the peculiarities of this most famous document.

There are some interesting bits that I noted in the archaic Malayalam – The Zamorin is called the Tamotiri in Malayalam text, not Samoothiri or Samoothirpad. Ships are called marakkalam (so marakkayar is a usage derived from a ship sailing caste) and not Kappal. We notice that the Zamorin signing it was from the Kizhakke (East) Kovilakom, Kombingi is company. The zamorin takes responsibility as suzerain and is signing the treaty also on the behalf of his dependent Rajas (Anathara Rajakkanmar). In the document the Cochin Rajas are called Cochin rajas as well as Perumpadappau Swaroopam Raja (mentions of other Tavazhis or branches too can be seen). A term Purusharam is used for personnel. Parahasyam (publicly?), kanmalam and Viprothi are rarely used these days, dosham is written as thosham. Sangaram is a term used for storing items prepared for export? Europe is Arop. Malabar is termed Malayalam, and like in many other places, this was how Kerala is called. I am sure there are many more, but I will not dwell on such specifics which are better suited for linguistic studies.

My intent was only to throw light on the fact that such a document exists and that the Dutch versions of the two documents are easily available for a cross-check. The Malayalam text of the 1691 treaty is available from KR’s book and the 1710 treaty is still decipherable from the foil in Britain, see the closeup to understand how it looks to the naked eye. In comparison, not much can be seen on the gold foil. There is an English translation out there to guide those interested if they can find the MSS Eur D151.

Now let’s get to the historical context. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) established itself in Malabar step by step, after taking care of the Portuguese in various campaigns during 1658-1663, though they had established a peace treaty with the Zamorin as early as in 1604 and 1608. While many believe that this was only to secure the spice trade, historian Erik Odegard avers and explains that the taking of Malabar ports was initially to secure their (VOC) presence in Ceylon. After taking Ceylon in 1658, and worried that the Portuguese might counter-attack, they took over the East coast port of Nagapatinam, and following this, they secured Cannanore, Cochin and Quilon in steps. It was only later that Van Goens saw the opportunity to monopolize the pepper market.

Quilon was taken by Van Goens in 1658 and a treaty was signed with the queen in 1659. Allied with the Zamorin, their next effort was to expel the Portuguese in 1661, though not taking Cochin where actually a war of succession as going on between the two factions or Tavazhies (Moota Tavazhi vs the Vettatu or Tanur Tavazhi) with the Portuguese supporting the latter and the Zamorin, the former. Yet another treaty was signed with the Zamorin, in 1662.The powerful Paliyath Achan and the Moota Tavazhi aligned with the Dutch, and together with the Zamorin, were a formidable opposition to the Vettatu Tavazhi supported by the Portuguese. The Portuguese were beaten in a conflict in early 1662 when Cranganore fell to the Dutch. This is when Van Rheede entered the scene, captured the old Cochin Rani, and handed her over to the Zamorin.

 But after a few months, and with Portuguese forces arriving from Goa, the Dutch retreated. They came back after the monsoons and displaced the Portuguese in 1663. The Portuguese finally left after 150 years at Cochin, and the Dutch were now the masters. Ironically the last battles were fought even after the Dutch and Portugal had signed a peace treaty in Europe. Van Goens was informed, but he kept it a secret in Cochin and continued the fight, to displace the Portuguese. Portuguese clamor on the injustice of all this and restitution fell on deaf ears. The Moota Tavazhi Kerala Varma was crowned by the Dutch with the famous gold crown and a palace was built for them, but while all that was going on, his powers were vastly reduced by the Dutch and his income reduced to just 3000 panams.

Cannanore followed shortly thereafter and Van Goens became convinced that these Malabar acquisitions could be transformed into a profitable possession for the VOC. He also felt that Dutch colonies could be established in Malabar, and governed from Ceylon. Perhaps the VOC high command saw the Tuglaq’ish fallacy in it for they appointed Adrian van Rheede as the first independent commander of the Malabar Coast in 1670, disconnecting these possessions from Van Goens and Ceylon.

An ambitious and comprehensive reconstruction program of the acquisitions was undertaken. Cranganore had been retaken from the Zamorin in 1669 (This was when the Dutch raided Cranganore where the Zamorin had come to check out the Bharanai festival and in the ensuing attack, the Cheraman sword was destroyed). But these ambitious plans needed finance and the wars were draining the VOC coffers and they decided to concentrate on trade, not large defensive fortifications, city rebuilding or colonization efforts. The much-feared Portuguese retaliation, or English and French attacks never took place and the VOC lost more and more money.

Things were not hunky dory between the Dutch and the Zamorin, though. As MO Koshy puts it - The alliance between the Zamorin and the Dutch, it has been rightly observed, 'had no chance of crystallising into an abiding friendship. They were not bound by any common objects or ideals except their enmity to the Portuguese'. The Zamorin broke his bonds with the Dutch East India Company after the conquest of Cochin and expulsion of the Portuguese. The reason was that he feared the contract with the Company would take away his freedom of trade and navigation. And there was some amount of instigation by the British. The Dutch and the Zamorin fought against the Portuguese with two different aims. While the Zamorin solicited the Dutch cooperation to fight against the Portuguese, to get Vypeen and Cranganore and to bring the king of Cochin under his hegemony, the Dutch sought his help to fight against the Portuguese in order to gain monopoly of trade. On the conquest of Kerala, the Dutch found a system of political and commercial alliance skillfully woven by their predecessors-the Portuguese. The Dutch feared that their friendship with the Zamorin would cost them their recent gains.

So, a conflict between the Zamorin and the Dutch was inevitable. And they occurred with disturbing frequency, draining not only the Dutch coffers, but also the Zamorin’s. In 1678, the Zamorin ceded Chettuwa to the Dutch, convinced to do so by Van Rheede. Van Rheede left Cochin and with the VOC turning down the screws on the populace, the situation in Cochin deteriorated, with warring junior princes and a merchant community up in arms against the VOC. The royal family had no powers, all this squabbling made a mess and on top of all that, no heirs were forthcoming. An adoption from Chaliyur was recommended in 1689 by the VOC, but the local Madampi nobles wanted an adoption from Vettom and the young Vettom fella appeared on the scene in 1691. This situation was very troublesome for both the Cochin Raja and the Dutch VOC, they appealed to the Zamorin Bharani Tirunal for intervention, offering Chettuwa as compensation. The Manghat Raja and the local chieftains who were supporting the Vettom prince were defeated by the Dutch forces led by Van Rheede who arrived on the scene, duly  supported by the Zamorin’s Talachennor named Krishnan.

The Zamorin thus reclaimed Chettuwa and this was when and how the 1691 treaty was prepared. Frustrated, somewhat disgusted with the messy politics he had to deal with on a continuous basis, a sick Van Rheede left Cochin, on Nov 20th, 1691, only to die at sea on December 15th, before reaching Surat.

But this landmark treaty by the Zamorin to obtain Chettuwa and the allied effort to defeat a popular local uprising (the Vettom succession revolt) was viewed differently, as KM Panikkar states - But in getting Chetwai the Zamorin had lost the historic leadership of Malabar. The fall of the Mana Vikramans may be traced to this campaign when for the first time in their long history they joined hands with the foreign powers and their vassal, the Rajah of Cochin, in order to put down a popular anti-Dutch rebellion…It saw the reversal of the traditional policy of the Zamorins, who so far had been the champions of the popular cause against the autocratic pretensions of the Cochin Rajah and the aggression of the foreign traders. By allying himself with his hereditary enemies, and those who were historically the enemies of Malabar freedom, the Zamorin lost at one stroke the singular position which two centuries of war in the cause of Kerala had earned for him.

Since we also mentioned the 1710 treaty as well, we will continue on with what happened after the 1691 treaty was signed. As Chettuwa was a strategic location and of great importance in any future attack on Cochin, the Zamorin decided to fortify it and continued to work on other local chiefs and build up a stronger alliance against Cochin. It appears that the Zamorin allowed the British to trade from Chettuwa, where they opened up a lucrative opium business. 1701-02 witnessed more attacks on Cochin and the VOC was forced to intervene and broker peace between Cochin and Calicut. In 1705, the Bharani Turunal Zamorin passed away and a Puthiya Kovilakom Zamorin took over. The wars continued off and on and the VOC objected strenuously, threatening to intervene with massive force, while in fact, they were waiting for the 1691 treaty to lapse. That resulted in the 1710 treaty when as part of the agreement, the territory of Chettuwa was ceded right back to the Dutch and Cranganore to its earlier Raja!

The whole event was to trouble the Zamorin’s legacy even more. The Bharani Tirunal Zamorin had planned adoption of two ladies from Thekkankur in 1704, but this did not work out as the Zamorin passed away shortly thereafter and the family decided to adopt from Neeleswaram, instead of in 1705/06, which was not perhaps a popular decision. The decision to cede Chettuwa was not acceptable to the Dharmoth Panikkar and many others in Calicut, and the new peace-loving Zamorin did not last long. The Dutch built a fort there and the new Zamorin, as well as the Dharmoth Panikkar decided to bring in Robert Adams and the British to the scene. What followed thenceforth, the story of how the Dutch and the British divided opinion in the Zamorin’s court and reduced his affluence and influence in Malabar, will be recounted another day. While doing it, I will try and cover the multiple lineages (Moota, Vettathu, Palluruthi and Chazhur) and some of the tavazhi politics at Cochin.

With all this provided you a backdrop, let’s take a brief look at the highlights of the treaties, as I understood it (if somebody can get me the MSS Eur D151 English translations, I’d be much obliged), so any corrections are welcome. If I get better translations, I will update what follows…

Key aspects from the 1691 treaty      

  Signed by the Zamorin of the Kizhake Kovilakom and the VOC representatives

  • Mentions that there is hope the treaty will be held unlike those prepared the past
  • Valid as long as the sun and moon last (Malayalam text states –the original text is നിരെപ്പും ചെച്ചെയും റെപ്പും കടത്തയെ റിപ്പമ്പറടും ഉഭയവുമറിവും കൂടാതെ ഭൂർണ്ണഹൃദയത്തോടുംകൂടെ ചേനത ചന്ദ്രാക്കന്മാരുള്ള നാളിൽ തീച്ചെയും സ്ഥിദിയും അലസി ഭാങ്കമെന്യേ പരുത്തുകയും ചൈതു.
  • The VOC to help at their cost, the Zamorin in case of an attack on his territory. The attack is denoted by the word Njekkom (the synonym for applying pressure)
  • If foreign enemies (Dutch version says, European enemies) attack by land or sea, the VOC should help when requested.
  • In case the Dutch are attacked at land or sea in Malabar, the Zamorin and other rajas should help the Dutch.
  • Since the Dutch are responsible to support the Cochin Moota Tavazhi Rajas and the Chazhur Rajas, the Zamorin and his allies should join and support them as required, and share costs.
  • The 6th is the most detailed clause, deals with the Cranganore king and the burning of the houses at Chettuwa, and the grant of the lands of the Kodungallur Raja to the Zamorin.
  • The next deals with the Cherulayath Kotta and the Kovilakom of the Aynikootil Nampiti,
  • Permission to trade in the Zamorins lands, a 30% reduction in taxes while transporting goods through the Zamorin’s domains
  • Zamorin to provide space and assistance in the storage of items for export via Ponnani and Calicut and permission to build factories and stores, with the Zamorins protection against theft and fire.
  • Deals with the export of goods farmed north of Azhivikotta (Aycotta) to be delivered to the Zamorin, and the rate to be assumed.
  • The next relates to crime and punishment rules, in case of any trouble or murders.
  • The 12th clause deals with goods from capsized or wrecked ships and salvage costs
  • The 13th deals with escaped slaves, and how to deal with them.
  • The final clause deals with trading with other European nations with Dutch consent.

The 1710 treaty

A brief study of Dutch document (Malayalam text or ola transcription not available).

Signed between Barent Ketel and the Zamorin from the Puthiya Kovilakom with a preamble that previous treaties have not been adhered to.

  • Validity clause, same as before, as long as the Sun and Moon last.
  • If foreign enemies (the Dutch version says European enemies) attack by land or sea, the VOC should help when requested.
  • The VOC will help at their cost, the Zamorin in case of an attack on his territory.
  • Since the Dutch are responsible to support the Cochin Moota Tavazhi Rajas and the Chazhur Rajas, the Zamorin and his allies should join and support them as required, and share costs.
  • Freedom of trade and movement in the Zamorins domains, per the previous 1691 contract
  • Zamorin to provide space and assistance in the storage of items for export via Ponnani and Calicut and permission to build factories and stores, with the Zamorins protection.
  • Deals with the export of goods north of Chettuwa to be delivered to the Zamorin, and the rate to be assumed
  • The next relates to crime and punishment rules, in case of any trouble or murders.
  • The 9th clause deals with goods from capsized or wrecked ships and salvage costs
  • The 10th deals with escaped slaves, and how to deal with them
  • The next clause deals with trading with other nations with Dutch consent and the objections since the French were allowed to do so, thus breaking the 1691 agreement.
  • Again, related to prohibition of dealing with other countries without Dutch agreement,
  • The Zamorin cedes the lands of the Payyanchery Nair back to the VOC.
  • The zamorin returns the Cranganore possessions to the Raja.
  • Redrawing of borders, in detail in this clause
  • Deals with the Madampies
  • Border definitions Paponetty and Chettuwa goes back to VOC.

Translation of the 1710 Dutch document proved exceedingly difficult and there was only so much I could manage, but the gist of the 1710 document is that Chettuwa and Cranganore were ceded by the Zamorin back to the VOC and the Raja respectively.

Interestingly, in the period between the two treaties, the Dutch brought in Balinese troops to support them in their battles. The next time SE Asian troops came to Malabar was during the Moplah revolt of 1921 when Burmese troops were brought in by the British to quell the Moplah rebels.


A History of Kerala - KV Krishna Ayyar
Malabar and the Dutch – K M Panikkar
The Dutch power in Kerala – MO Koshy
The Dutch in Malabar – PC Alexander
Catalogue of Malayalam manuscripts in the India Office Library - C Achytha Menon
Bhashagaveshanam - Kunjunni Raja
Papers & Talks - HS Bilgiri - The longest Gold plate inscription, Linguistic aspects - Chummar Choondal  
Hendrik Adriaan Van Reed Tot Drakestein 1636-1691 and Hortus, Malabaricus - By J. Heniger
Fortifications and the Imagination of Colonial Control – Erik Odegard
A Company of State. The Dutch East India Company and the debates on the company-state in Asia, 1660s-1690s – Erik Odegard

Google Art pages with the pictures of the scrolls Gold, Silver