Mangat Achan – The Zamorin’s Commander in Chief

Posted by Maddy Labels: , ,

An important dignitary in the Zamorin’s court

Even though most people familiar with the Zamorins know of the Manghatachan, very few know of any details other than some hazy mentions and a few myths. It is still not clear, but drawing from various sources, we can get a general picture. Recall also that while the Zamorin was a titular position provided to the senior-most Thamburan in the various Zamorin lines, the governance was quite decentralized through the council of ministers, as well as the heir apparent, the Eralpad, and others. Though some Zamorins directly led military attacks in the ancient past, the Eralpad and the Munalpad were usually the ones who were at the front lines. Though the Zamorin gave any strategic event his final stamp of approval, he was, during such times, physically based at the Ponnani Kovilakom, another fact which many overlook, assuming that his primary seat was always at Calicut.

KV Krishna Ayyar in his Zamorins of Calicut explains - Mangat Acchan was the prime minister. His original seat was Chattodattu Idom in Vattoli, and he enjoyed the title of Vazhunnavar under the Rajas of Kottayam in North Malabar. One of these Rajahs had Sambandham with a Tampuratti of the Zamorin's family, and the services of Mangat Acchan were permanently transferred to Nediyiruppu. One tradition has it that he was a fellow pupil of the first Zamorin. in the Keralolpatti he appears as the tutor of the founder of the Svarupam under the name of Toduvakkalattu Unnikkumara Nampiyar. When Cheraman Perumal was about to leave his kingdom he gave his sword to the Zamorin and conferred upon the Nampiyar, who was standing by his side, the title of Mangat Rariccha Menon, and commanded the secretaries of Trippappur, Perumpatappu, and Kolattiri to yield place to him. He had to be present at the court for all important ceremonies. He governed the kingdom during the interval between the death of one Zamorin and the Ariyittuvalcha of his successor. At the Ariyittuvalcha he, or at his direction the Olukil Menon (the hereditary record keeper), read the Granthavari, and one of the first acts of the new Zamorin was to reappoint him.  On the last day of the Mamankham, he had to lead the Akampati janam to the Zamorin's dais to make their obeisance. Many stories are told about the wisdom and ability of Mangat Achan. ln fact, the greatness of the Zamorin was in part due to the loyal and faithful services of this minister.

Now this is a bit strange – in the past, the people between the N & S of Korapuzha never mingled (See my article), so how did a Thampuran from Kottayam have a sambandham with a Thampurati from Calicut? The only case we know of is the Kolathunad Thampuran marrying a Zamorin girl, and they got exiled to Neeleswaram (See my article). But then again, this should have happened before the rule/custom came about, for we saw that the Cheraman Perumal deputed a Kottayam noble to keep an eye on the Nediyirippu.

KV Krishna Ayyar in ‘A history of Kerala’ 1965 adds some more. He mentions this about the Mangat Achan, with respect to the Polanad conquest – With him (Erlatiri) came also the Mangat Acchan, one of the Vazhunnors, or feudatories, of Kottayam, transferred with a paternal solicitude, to the service of the Nediyirippu Swarupam. He adds that the Acchan was the diplomat in the Porlathiri epoch – The Kolattiri did not also send any help. Mangat Acchan was adept in diplomacy, always trying to secure objects by negotiation. He wanted only a port at the mouth of the Kallayi river, and would be content with the Chullikkad or swampy region over-grown with thicket and jungle, adjoining the sea on its northern bank for which he was willing to pay any price. The Porlatiri refused to concede it though his Lokar advised him to concede it. Seeing how matters stood, the Acchan made another attempt to avoid bloodshed. He offered to the Porlatiri as the price of peace, half his kingdom in independent sovereignty, and to his Lokar all the privileges which they had been enjoying under the Porlatiri, with even precedence over the Ernad Nayars if they would come over to the Zamorin. The Porlatiri, who would not allow a port, naturally refused to surrender half his kingdom. Sending his sister and their children to the safety of Kolathunad, he (Porlathiri) made a last stand at the Siva temple of Kuttichira. Deserted by all, he also fled to Kolattunad.

About the Valluvanad conquest – The war dragged on. But the diplomacy of the Zamorin was original and proved irresistible. While his minister Mangat Achan exploited the dissension among the enemy in the usual way, way, the Zamorin sought to win over his tutelary the goddess of Tirumatankunnų by propitiating her at Calicut. While Mangat Achan seduced Kadannamanna Elayavakayil Vellodi, or junior branch of Kadannamaanna, the Nayars of the Vellatri were gradually unnerved by a growing feeling that their goddess was deserting them. Some of them even began to see her fighting against them! With treason at home and a rapidly declining morale in the fighting front, the Vellatri, at last, drew from Tirunavay, when two of his princes fell fighting. The Zamorin now entered Tirunavay and became the Rakshapurusha, or protector of the Mahamagha (Mamakam)

He adds - The Zamorin had in Acchan, Panikkar, Elayatu, and Nampi, four hereditary ministers, without consulting whom he took no important decision. Mangat Acchan was a Chanakya, Appaji, and Ramayyan, all combined in one.

Gundert’s Keralolpatti – Madhava Menon’s notes – however, differ from Ayyar stating that Toduvakkalattu Unnikkumara Nampiyar (in a previous paragraph, the person is Kizhur Unnikumara Menon) and Mangat Rariccha Menon were two different persons, always ordered to be beside the Kunnala Konathiri (Zamorin) and the heir apparent Ilamkur Nambiyathiri (Eralpad). He mentions that after the Cheraman Perumal divested the lands and handed over the sword to the Kunnalakonathiri and the shield to the Valluva Konathiri, ordering that they should not fight with each other, he also added executioners or administrator to his will & testament – The Pandarapilla of Omana Putiya Kovilkar at Kalkulam to oversee the Venadu and Tripapu swaroopam, Valiyattu Menon for the Perumpadappau, Mangat Rayirachu menon for Eranad and Nedivirippil, Pudusseri Nambiyar for the Kolattiri. He also gave Mangat Achan the overlordship and the other three had to render respect to him. The four overseers met in the Month of Marakam at the banks of Tirunavaya, settled the codes of conduct of the (Maha Magha) Mamankham festival.

Mangat Achan - to the right of the Zamorin? 
Barbosa – Thorne’s notes circa 1920 - The MLD version of Barbosa’s trip to Calicut has Thorne providing footnotes on the Mangat Achan. Throne spent quite a while in Calicut and learned a lot about the house of the Zamorins from Vidwan Ettan Thampuran and his successor.

He explains the term “cahimal’ or Kaimal used by Barbosa means the Mangat Achan.  Quoting the text - Mangat Achan, is the Cahimal of Barbosa. There is at present no Mangat Achan (by the 1920’s the family line seems to have gone extinct). The last holder of the title died last year. The title passes by the ordinary rules of Marumakkathayam in a Samantan Nambiyar family known as Chathoth Idam. This house is situated in the Vattoli desam (hamlet) of the Kannavam amsam (Revenue- village) of Kottayam Taluk in North Malabar. The present head of the family is the Adhikari (Village headman) of a neighboring amsam. In addition to his Adhikari’s post he holds the Sthanam of Vazhunnavar (lit. ruler). This is a Sthanam conferred by the Kottayam Raja on the senior man of three Samantan Nambiyar families of the locality. When I asked him why he had not formally taken his title of Mangat Achan (with sword and shield) from the hands of the Zamorin at Calicut, he told me that he thought his investiture would interfere with the duties as Adhikari and Vazhunnavar, but he assured me that the title would be assumed by one of his juniors, when old enough.

The Mangat Achan now holds no property under the Zamorin. Large grants of land had been granted in the Zamorin’s dominions, but these have all passed into other hands. The only prerequisite is the yearly grant of 200 panams. Nowadays the Mangat Achan does not ordinarily live at the Zamorin’s court, though this was customary till 20 to 30 years ago. As soon as a Zamorin dies, the word is brought to the Achan, and he hastens to the Kovilagam and assumes the Regency. There is no doubt that he is the Cahimal (Kammal) to whom Barbosa refers. All the business of the Kovilagam is in his hands till the installation of the new Zamorin.

It is very curious to observe that the Mangat Achan alone of all the dependents of the Zamorin comes from North Malabar, he belongs to the territory over which the Zamorin never held sway, and which in historical times has been under the dominion of the Kottayam Rajas. How came it that the Zamorin’s chief Mantri was chosen from outside his territories? The traditional explanation is that the Mangat Achan was given his sword and shield by Cheruman Perumal who particularly attached him to the Zamorin when he divided up his realm. But this scarcely solves the difficulty.

The account Barbosa gives of the authority of the Kaimal is fully borne out by popular tradition of the part many Mangat Achan’s played as the Mantri’s of the Zamorin. He is the hero of many a ballad, and there is a couplet which says: — The coming of the Musalman and the pillage of Malabar are the fruit of the death of the gem, like Mangat Achan.

All Zamorins of old were trained in arms; on the death of a Zamorin, until this day (the day of the installation) no weapon would be touched by the new Sthanis, and in that period no warfare could be carried on. The ceremony now referred to would give the new Zamorin the right, to resume his arms. Mangat Achan is mentioned often in various incidents.

An Ariyittuvazcha story in this connection is related to a feudatory chieftain of the Zamorin called the Toniyil Nayar. On the death of a certain Zamorin the Nayar thought the laying down of arms - a good opportunity of showing his independence. He marched to the Kovilagam with a large force of men and took up his stand at the Vayarutalam. The Mangat Achan and other chieftains went against him and overcame him and ignominiously threw him out by the scruff of the neck. From that day it has been customary for the Nayar to come to the Kovilagam, where the manner of his discomfiture is exhibited in play. During the Tiruvantali period, i.e., after the Sanchayanam and before the installation he appears with his men and mounts the Vayarutalam, and the Mangat Achan takes him by the neck and ejects him. The Nayar has then to return home, his men with arms reversed.

The Tali massacre and the driving away of Nampoothiris from Calicut temples - Under the instruction of the Zamorin, Mangat Accan (the minister of Zamorin) made use of some Parapannadu laborers to kill the sixty Nambis (the men who were the uralars or temple trustees) of the Tali temple according to the Keralolpatti.

Let us check out a few more stories connected with the Mangat Achan noting that over many centuries the minister is interminably intertwined with the Zamorin.

Polanad conquest - The first is the way he seduced the Chalapurathamma and won the Porlathiri battle. Ayyar states - The Kottayam chiefs sent their able minister Mangat Achchan to advise the Zamorin. And Mangat Achchan is said to have seduced the Polanad Nayars and even bribed the Porlathiri's consort to admit the Ernad forces into his fort. Another resource says - The Kottayam chief, who happened to be the Zamorin's father, sent his Nair’s, and even transferred one of his ministers, named Mangat Achchan, permanently to his son's service.

Codification of rules, Post Porlathiri conflict – Gundert mentions - The Goddess of Tiruvalayanad was constituted the Family Deity, and the name and fame of the king and his Nayars widely announced. The Para Nambi supplied the royal sitting plank, orders were issued to disburse payment of customary and festival wages for their expenses. In order to constitute the customary usages of the past, and as a guideline for such usage in future, Mangattachan recorded it in leaves, and also left records for the people to recollect the antiquaries. While thus, the people, consisting of the 10,000, 3,000, and 3000 of the soldiers, and the rulers were in unison, there was a conflict between the feudal lords and the people. The forces of the former with fighters from the north, and the latter, battled causing loss of life; with battle dresses worn, sandal paste applied, armed with weapons, those from the north entered the Tamutiri palace, prepared to die in battle. The Mangattachan realized that they would be killed, much to the loss of the lineage. He confronted them, and made them realize how matters stood, and calmed down the conflict. He made the warriors hold hands, and the Mangattachan announced: "if you bow down in a martial manner, and withdraw, then forever, you will be engaged on wages as soldiers". He got them to agree to these terms in the presence of the king. Then he arranged for festivals and ceremonies, plays and special entertainment

Tirunavaya conquest - The astute Mangat Achan however exploited the natural jealousy of the junior branch and seduced Katannamanna Ilaya Vakayil Vellodi. At the same time, the Zamorin began to propitiate his enemy's guardian deity, Thirumathankunnu. His Chief Minister Mangat Achan encouraged internal dissensions in the Valluvakonatiri's camp and achieved the defection of some leading figures to the Zamorin's side.

Guruvayur story - During the last 54 years of his life, Poonthanam used to come every month to Guruvayur. On one such trip, he was stopped by robbers in the middle of a forest. He cried out to Guruvayurappa for help. Suddenly, the sound of horses' hooves was heard & Poonthanam saw that it was Mangat Achan - the army commander of the Zamorin king! Seeing him, the robbers ran away. In gratitude, Poonthanam took off his ring & presented it to Mangat Achan. The next morning when Poonthanam reached Guruvayur the Melsanthi handed over a ring to him. Poonthanam realized that the ring was his own & that the previous night it was Guruvayurappa himself who saved him! The Melsanthi said that the Lord had appeared in his dream & asked him to hand over the ring (which he would find on the deity in the morning) to Poonthanam.

Kodungallur – We see that the Mangat Achan was camping at Papinivattam while The Zamorin stayed with Velutha Nambiar, the Kodungallur chief, during the visit to the Bharani festival (sometime 1668-70), and this was when the Dutch attacked the palace and as a result, the ceremonial Cheraman sword was damaged.

Vasumati betrothal- The most important of Kakkasseris’ works is the 16-17th Century Vasumati Manavikrama, a drama in seven acts that describes the story of Manavikrama's marriage with Vasumati, the daughter of his minister Mangat Achan. This shows a stronger connection between the families at that time.

The degradations of the Chaliyans - The story goes that the migrant Chaliyans originally belonged to a higher caste, were so fastidious and of a complaining nature. It was the Mangat Achan, who got annoyed with them and secured their degradation.

Moothan story – We mentioned the story of the involvement of the Mangat Achan during the visit of the two representatives of the Moothan community who had arrived from Kaveripatanam and who were scouting around for the right location to settle down as asylees, and how the Mangat Achen and the Zamorin saw through the test.

Vadakkunatha temple - Mangat Achan is mentioned to have been the Koil Adhikari of Trissur. We will get to this on a future occasion when we go over the Zamorin’s invasions around the Trissur area.

Lakshmi legend – Calicut - The legend has it that the first secretary of the Zamorin, Mangat Achan, after a long penance had the goddess of wealth Lakshmi appear before him. He then made her promise to wait until he returned. Unable to break her promise, it is said, Lakshmi stayed permanently in Valiyangadi and a Lakshmi deity was installed at Thiruvannur by Mangat Achan. The dewan in the story narrated here is the Mangat Achan.

Ambaresan Chetty – Recall the story of the Chetty who arrived at Calicut with much wealth and who entrusted the Zamorin with a chest of gold for safekeeping. He comes back, finds his gold safe, and we can see that he requests the Mangat achan for permission to conduct trade from Calicut.  The constructions so completed are known as Ambaresan Kettu.

Edavapathi announcement – As an invincible Suzerain, the message which circulated when challenged said thus - It is an article of faith in Malayalam that king Kunnalakkonatiri is Maharaja. From then on, Venattatikal in the south and Kolattiri in the North excepted, all other kings accepted this whenever challenged. By the end of the monsoon (etavappati), the message would go around: When the monsoon ends, all the lokar (Nayar) should assemble at Veran Pila (famous old Jack Tree) and encamp; they will be paid their daily allowances, and the Achan (i.e., Mangattachan), and the llayat (of Tinayancheri, the commander-in-chief) will lead them; and when a battle is joined, it will be against Chowara group. The Mangattachan has no secret forces. For this reason, whether it is for stability (kutinin-nupokilum) or for downfall (talca), we shall see" - this message would be widely announced. Know that Netiyiruppu swarupam has grown in might because of righteous conduct….

Revathi Pattathanam - On the last day of the Pattathanam, it is the Mangat Achan, the Chief Minister of the Zamorin, who reads out the names of winners from the list supplied to him.

Mamangam Chaver- Putumanna Kandaru Menon was the 16-year-old Chaver who died during the 1766 Mamankam. During the Mamankam, this boy fought through the defenses and reached the Nilapatuthara to swing his sword at the Zamorin. The sword missed its target and hit a big bronze lamp putting it out. At that moment Mangat achan struck at Menon and killed him. Interestingly though we see that the Mangat achan held a ceremonious position at the Mamangam festivals, did not accompany the Zamorin after 1583.

Acchan title - Some researchers feel that the Achan title is somewhat foreign to Malabar, while it was common in Palghat (Kombi Achan) and Cochin (Paliyath Achan). However, a study of the Calicut Granthavaris reveals that this title was often used in the past, even at Malabar. Not only do we see mention of the Mangat Achan from Kottayam, but also Eranholi Achan of Ambazhampuram, the Cheruvalli Achan who later became the Venganad Nampiti, Kalathil achan, etc to name a few who were under the Zamorin’s tutelage. Some feel the family is somehow connected to the Vengalil.

This title of 'Mangat Achan' should not be confused with the Mangat Kaimal (Alangatt kaimal) The Noticias da India mentions that the territory of that Mangat lies to the east of Cranganore. Further up the river, adjoining Mangat, is the principality of Parur the ruler of which was a Nambudiri Brahmin. Some historians have mixed up this individual with the Calicut Magat Achan.

My inference is that he was the Mannath Achan of Vattoli Desam, or the area (Mannam) where three titular families lived, situated in the Kannavam Amsom. The Mannath Achan perhaps morphed to get termed the Mangat achan. Dr Haridas explains that the Achan in waiting, was the Mangat Cheriya Achan while the man in command was the Mangat Valiya Achan. The third in line was the Cheriya Unni and he was in charge of the bed chambers of the Zamorin Kovilakom.

As a landlord - We can see the mentions of the Achen in 718 KE (1542-43 CE) concerning some pledged properties at Adoor in N Paravoor. It appears these lands were acquired by Mangat Achen after paying 80 paras of paddy and 625 putupannam, under the Pattam tenure. Adoor is a village near Kasargode, showing the Achan’s connections to Kolathunad region.

A Malayalam poem certifying his honesty – Malabar Folklore - The pond is needed to take a dip and it needs red lotus in it. On emerging after the bath, you need sandal paste. A flower needs its fragrance, a man his virtue and a woman needs modesty. Sita is the ideal at home, Rama the ideal at war, when food and sleep must be sacrificed Lakshmana is the best, by far Bharata is the ideal in battle. Parrot the ideal in speech among flying birds, the Garuda becomes the ideal no bird can reach. Mangattachan is the ideal for justice, Gold for the mangalyasutra, in darkness the Nilavilakku and Palyattachan is the ideal of strategy

No longer honest - Not always did the Mangat Achan remain an ideal person. As time went by and the Zamorin’s power waned, we see observe these Mangat overseers getting caught doing dishonest practices. In 758 (1582-83 CE), the Mangat Achan is caught selling off one of the Zamorin’s elephants to a Suri Chetty on the sly and pocketing the proceeds, resulting in his being punished – his dwelling, the Melapattu Tharavad was set afire and destroyed.

1730’s – Kolathunad connections - The factors at Tellicherry looked upon the Zamorin as their ally. When the Prince Regent instigated Mangat Achan to revolt against the Zamorin, the English at once passed on the news to the Zamorin. The Mangat Acchan eventually resisted the temptation to revolt, but it is important to note that an attempt was made, which shows a weakening Zamorin.

1766 debacle - Interestingly, the man who held the title and position of Mangat Achen resigned from the court of the last active Zamorin, the person who immolated himself in 1766, as Hyder attacked Calicut. The Neeleswaram second adoptee who became the Zamorin, (1758-1766) was not so able. As Ayyar explains, Mangat Acchan had already withdrawn from the court in 1752, and two of the Zamorin’s commandants, of Aliparampa and Mapranam, openly rebelled.

It is also observed that the Achan when invited for various types of ceremonies was given a large purse of money for his attendance and in his honor. In those days, EIC officers visited the Zamorin’s court for an interview (the 18th century) had to present a Nazar of Kazcha, thus when the East India Company's Chief paid a formal visit, he was expected to offer Rs 192 to the Zamorin, Rs 100 to the Eralpad, and Rs 12 to each or the great officers of state like Mangat Acchan, Tinayancheri llayatu, Paranampi, Tamme Panikkar and Olukil Menon.

A study of Mangat Achan thus tells us quite a bit of the social and administrative structure of the Zamorins of Calicut. We can see that the overall ministerial structure remained relatively strong until the 18th century, and as the first line of Zamorins gave way to a new, the structure started to fall apart. In 1766, it collapsed, and eventually the house of the Mangat Achan, the overseer from a Northern constituency, too faded away.


Zamorins of Calicut - KV Krishna Ayyar
A history of Kerala - KV Krishna Ayyar
Duarte Barbosa – Maxwell Longworth Dames
Sthanarohana Chandangugal – A R Raghava Varier
Samoothiri charitrathile Kanapurangal – NM Nampoothiri
Keralolpatti – Gundert – T Madhava Menon
Zamorins and the political culture of medieval Kerala- Dr V V Haridas


  1. Thunjath Ezhuthachan

    Interesting. There is a folk story about Guruvayoorappan taking an avatara as Mangatt Achan to save Poonthanam Namboothiri(Njanappana Author) from robbers.

  1. Maddy

    Thanks TE, yes I have read that - forgot to mention