Whither goeth the Porlathiri?

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

The Bayanor of Cartinaad, or the Ballanore Burgarie…

In a previous article, we covered the highlights of the Zamorin’s tussle with the Porlathiri and the annexation of Polanad, which locale by the way, is more or less today’s Calicut. We also mentioned that the Porlathiri fled to the Kadathanad region. Many questions continue to be asked about the Kadathanad raja, and so I thought it best to add a bit more about him. I did touch upon it while penning the Tatcholi Othenan article, for Othenan from that area. And so, we go to Kadathanad, searching for answers on the later life of the Porlathiri, who had once been the lord of the seas.

According to K Balakrishna Kururp, the Porlathiris who descended from the Wynad hills (or perhaps Polur in Dharwar) lorded over Calicut between the 9th and 13th centuries and lost the war with the Zamorin, around 1230. The area between Beypore and Elathur became the Zamorin’s possession and the Polathiri crossed over to the Kolathunad region. Iyer explains that the turnaround came when the new Porlathiri was unpopular and thus did not get help from the Kolathiri, as the Zamorin attacked. He was the one who had a Kizhakkumpuram lady as his consort and the partiality shown by him to her kinsmen alienated the Vadakkumpuram clan. The Zamroin had asked for a small area near the Kallayi port, which this Porlathiri refused to concede, and he scoffed – “you who professes agonism with us will not even be given space equivalent to a needle hole. Thooshi kuthanullaidam polum vashiyil kazhiyunna ningalkku kittilla”. The miffed Zamorin declared war.

A 48-year struggle ensued between the Zamorin’s forces and the Porlathiri, filled with intrigue, deceit, and valor, and as we read in the previous article, the Zamorin prevailed and the Porlathiri fled to the area under Kolathiri control. As one legend goes, he was pacified by the Kolathiri (in consultation with the Kurumbranadu Raja) and granted a 30- square mile area at Kadathanad, together with 3,000 Nairs. Meanwhile, the Zamorin upon this victory, became the Puntura Konathiri and the Kunnala Konathiri – the lord of the harbor, seas and hills.

Thus, we find the Polanad Adiyodis settling down at Kadathanad. Gundert explains that Kadathanad was probably Kadathad or Kadathu Vazhi Nadu, an area between Mahe to Badagara. He however places the establishment of the new kingdom at 1564 AD, and explains that the area was three katam in girth, policed by 3,000 Nairs and had its capital at Kuttipuram (Varakkal is also mentioned as its seat). I assume that the family who had come much earlier did not do quite well, took quite a while to prosper and were quite impoverished, as legends go, until a fortunate alliance between a Kolathunad prince and a pretty girl from the Kadathanad house, took place in the 16th century.

Vanidas Elayavoor retelling the legend, states that the Kolathunad prince chanced upon this girl at a pond and desired her, but her mother would not give her to the samanthan kshatriya prince, stating that the Kadathanad family gave off their girls only to Nambuthiris. In a fortunate twist, the girl found herself taken by a boatman during a storm, to Kolathunad, where she gets married to the prince, who being quite an important scion (Thekkalangur Unni Thampuran) in the Kolathunad hierarchy, then built her a big kovilakom and gifted her the land around it, i.e., the land between the Muriyattu and the Mayyazhi (Mahe) rivers. As it was land gifted to the new owners, it was understood to be the Kodutha Nadu, which word some say, morphed to Kadathanad. Over time, the family grew into 3 or 4 branches who lived at the Kuttipuarm, the Ayancheri and the Edvalath Kovilakoms. Their main titular deity was the Loganar Bhagavthy whom we came across in the Tatcholi Othenan article, and the family also lorded over many other important temples in the area. Kadathanad in Sanskrit literature is termed Khadolkachakshti.

Korapuzha custom

The marriage commission deliberations on marumakkathayam and the many interviews conducted between Malabar nobles in 1890’s reveal that the Korapuzha custom actually came about after the Porlathiri moved to the north of the river to Kadathanad. Gopalan Nair states - The boundary between North and South Malabar is Korapuzha.  Nayars of North Malabar form Sambandham with women in South Malabar but not vice versa. There is no legal prohibition against a Nayar of South Malabar forming Sambandham in North Malabar; but it is not practiced because of the prohibition against North Malabar women crossing the Korapuzha southwards. Women of North Malabar may not cross to the South of Korapuzha. The reason is this; The ruler of the Southern part of North Malabar was Porlathiri (Raja of Kadathanad). He was originally the King of Calicut but was expelled by the Zamorin and driven northwards. The bitter enmity between the two princes led to a mutual prohibition of intercourse; but the native sovereign has come to an end, the prohibition is dying out, and has died out except in the case of North Malabar women.

When the Marakars and their clan moved to Kotta

Three miles south of Vadakara, the south bank of the Kotta River was the stronghold of the Marakkars. The Marakkar family moved from Pantalayini Kollam; first to Tikkodi and finally to Kotta (Iringal). The Vadakkan pattukal testify that Kunjali had also hobnobbed with Othenan and after the death of Kunjali the Marakkars teamed up more with the Kadathanad ruler. The Sacrifice Rock opposite Kottakkal or Velliyankallu, has a fascinating history, which was recounted in an earlier article.

Martial arts – Othenan’s times

While we recounted the valor and feats of the Othenan in the referenced article, his connections with the Raja were not covered. There is a story about Otenan and Karuttanitam (Katattanatu) Kunnikkanni (or Kunji Kangi), the only daughter of the Raja of Katattanatu. A rowdy called Kelappan of Ponnapuram fort forcibly carried her off. The Raja, was not successful in getting her released. Othenan along with Chappan captured the fort, released Kunnikkanni from captivity and took Kelappan captive. The pleased Raja of Kadathanad, pleased with this, married off Kunnikkanni to Othenan, as the legend goes.

Evans and Innes - Badagara was the scene of many of the exploits of Taccholi Othonan, the Robin Hood of North Malabar, and many ballads are still sung by coolies at their work commemorate his exploits. Near the Peruvantala temple, about half a mile from the town is a masonry well 20 ft and 6 inches in diameter, and close thereto a massive block of laterite. One of the legends about Taccholi Othenan is that with this block of laterite under one arm and a jack tree under the other, he cleared the well at a bound. The Taccholi tarwad house is in Nadakuttayi amsam and desam. His cordial relations with the Purameri Kovilakom Elaya Raja, were mentioned in the Othenan article.

The Kuttipuram fort and palace

Two miles further along the Kuttiyadi road, is the Kadathanad Valiya Raja’s palace.  At the back of the palace, there existed a relatively modern building, and the ruins of a magnificent fort.  Walls were in places nearly 50 feet thick and 30 feet high, and the fort, which was surrounded by a deep moat, must have been quite impregnable.  It was around 246 feet square with bastions at each corner, and immediately west of it existed a tank 168 feet long and 144 feet broad.

This fort originally belonged to the Kolattiri Rajas, and it is said to have been acquired by the Kadattanad Raja in 1564. Later, it became the chief export customs station of the Mysore Sultans. In 1790 it was retaken from Tippu by the English, and having been restored to the Kadattanad Raja, it was converted by him into a Brahman feeding-house, which was afterward transferred to the Paravantala temple in Vadakara.

We can also see that while the Porlatiri Valiya Raja resided at the Kuttipuram, the Ilaya Raja and the other branches of the family lived in Ayancheri Kovilakam and Edavalatt Kovilakam, in Purameri.

Hamilton in Kadathanad 1703

First an explanation on Ballanore Burgarie – It is anglicization of Vazhunnor of Badagara. The Vazhunnor (Governor, ruler) became Bayanor or Bargaret, in French & English chronicles

While only so much can be ascertained from Hamilton’s accounts, for he admits that his observations were written many decades later, and have been mostly from the storehouse "of his often sadly faulty memory, and are the "amusements or lucubration’s of the nights of two long winters", his journal covering the trips to Kadathanad provide some interesting asides. He said - About four miles to the southward of Tellicherry, is a small French factory lately settled at the mouth (Panoly?) of a small river, but for what end I know not; but I believe more to employ a little stock for the gentlemen of Calecut factory's account, than for the French Company's. And eight or ten miles farther to the southward is Burgara, a seaport in the dominions of Ballanore Burgarie, a formidable prince. His country produces pepper, and the best cardamums in the world. Interestingly he wanted to board and see his ship and so sailed out to the ship but refused to eat or drink anything as it would pollute him. It appears he desired to build a large boat, but feared that the river would not have enough water to keep it afloat.

Another interesting input (avid readers would recall that the Porlathiri was titled ‘the lord of the seas’ – the Azhi Raja, once upon a time and this aligns itself to that claim) - This prince, and his predecessors, have been lords of the seas, time out of mind, and all trading vessels between Cape Comerin and Damaan, were obliged to carry his passes. Those of one mast paid for their passes about eight shillings yearly, and those with three paid about sixteen; but when the Portuguese settled in India, then they pretended to the sovereignty of the seas, which occasioned a war between him and them, that has lasted ever since. He keeps some light gallies that row and sail very well, which cruise along the coast, from October to May, to make prize of all who have not his pass. Mightily pleased with the visit, he gave Hamilton a bracelet on departure, and gave him permission to go around freely in his domains. Hamilton adds- He was a very well-shaped man, about 40 years of age, of a very dark color, but not quite black, his eyes very lively and sparkling, and something of a majestic air in his deportment.

Next day I waited on him ashore, and he carried me to his palace, which was very meanly built of reeds, and covered with cocoanut leaves, but very neat and clean. He had two rows of betel trees, which are very tall and straight, set in order about fifty yards from the door of his palace, for it was not large enough to be called a gate, and there he treated me with rice, fowl and fresh fish dressed after their way; and, after dinner, he shewed me several warehouses like barns, full of black pepper and cardamums; and he told me, he wondered why the English did not settle a factory in his dominions rather than at Calecut or Tellicherry, for he supplied both these countries with his commodities, and, considering the customs paid to him were but five per cent, and what was carried into their countries must pay other customs to the princes, the company would find pepper and cardamums much cheaper in his dominions, than they could possibly have them at their factories where they were settled. I told him, that sending his vessels to cruise on merchant ships had blasted the reputation of his country. He answered, that if the Company would make a trial of a few trades with him, they would be convinced of his fair dealings; or, if I would come and stay in his country, he would build a good stone house at his own charge, and make a fortification round it, in any place that I should choose in his dominions, and that I should be superintendent of all the commerce and trade in his country. I told him, that I could not accept of his favors without the approbation of our Company, and that would require time to be got. This happened in January 1703.

In 1707, he (Bayanor) built a new ship, which I had a mind to buy. I was then at Couchin, and sent him word, that I designed him a visit. He returned an answer, that I was a freeman in his country, and might be assured of a hearty welcome. About ten days after I came in a small boat, to a place belonging to him, called Mealie (Mayyazhi). I told him, I came to kiss his hand, and to buy his new ship, if he and I could agree. He told me, that I should have her at a very reasonable price, but that his religion forbids him to sell any ship that he either built or bought, till he had first employed her in one voyage himself.

I stayed seven days in his country, and he treated me after the same manner as if I had been an ambassador, in defraying all my charges, and allowing his own servants to attend to me. When I went to his palace the first time, I was innocently guilty of ill manners; for, walking with him near his lodgings, I chanced to touch the thatch with my hat, which polluted it so much, that, as soon as I went away, he stripped it of its covering, because religion forbad him to sleep under it when it was thus polluted; but it was soon re-sanctified by a new thatching. If any of his own subjects had been guilty of the same fault, they might have run in danger of losing their lives for the offence.

I do not certainly know how far southerly this prince's dominions reach along the seacoast, but I believe to Tecorie (Trikkodi), about 12 miles from Mealie, and the half way is Cottica (Kottakal), which was famous formerly for privateering on all ships and vessels that traded without their lord's pass…It is observable, that though the Portuguese got footing in all the dominions of the princes whose lands reach to the seashore of Malabar, yet they never could get a foot of ground in the Balanores country, though many trials have been made, and fair means used to effect it.

Buchanan’s account

At Kuttiporam there is no village; but it is the principal residence of the Cadutinada Raja, commonly called the Raja of Cartinaad. This chief is an active man, in the vigor of life; and, having much influence among the Nairs, it has been thought expedient to allow him to collect the revenues of the country that formerly belonged to his ancestors. Hitherto he has faithfully discharged this trust; but his influence renders the power of the magistrate very trifling, either in matters of police or in judicial affairs. In fact, the Raja is now, what all the others wish to be; he pays a tribute to the Company, and will continue to do so regularly, so long as he is afraid of their power, or requires their protection; but he has absolute authority in his dominions, and, I am told, exercises it without much attention to justice. Cadutinada is better cultivated, and is naturally a rich country, containing a large proportion of rice ground; but the grain produced in it is not adequate to the consumption of the inhabitants; and an importation takes place both from the southern parts of Malayala, and from Mangalore. The plantations are very numerous, and tolerably well kept. The higher parts of the hills are much overgrown with wood, which the Nairs encourage, as affording them protection against invaders. In the hills which form the lower part of the Ghats in Cadutinada, and other northern districts of Malayala, are certain places that naturally produce cardamoms.

A challenge to the Ali Raja of Cannanore

During this period the Kadathanad raja mounted a challenge to the Ali Raja who professed to be the lord of the seas, by attempting to establish firm control of the seas. The support the Vazhunnor received in mounting a challenge came from the Marakkar corsairs, as they were called in European accounts, the descendants of Kunjali IV. The Vazhunnor was termed as the ‘lord of the pirates’, a title which he attempted to change, by offering a treaty with the Dutch. Biju explains - In one of his letters to Commander Barent Ketel, the Kolathiri complained about the shipping of the ‘Adiyodi’ (Vazhunnavar) to such distant destinations as Bengal, Maskat, Surat, and Mocha without his consent. If this were true, the Vazhunnavar had successfully challenged the Ali Rajas’ irrefutable status as the ‘lord of the sea’ in Malabar. This development nourished a constant rift between the Ali Rajas and the Vazhunnavar in Malabar during the eighteenth century. As we saw earlier in the Hamilton diary, he planned to build his own fleet for trade and it was at this juncture that the Kadathanad Raja chose to sign a treaty with the French.

The French and British intrigues – French Mahe

Though we can see that the Calicut fortunes were in a decline in the 17th century, still locked in wars with the Dutch, Kadathanad was doing reasonably well, and it was in the 18th century that the Kadathanad Raja really came to the fore. The machinations between the Vazhunnor or Porlathiri and the French as well as the English, with some involvement of the Zamorin, can be the canvas for a nice political TV series or a study by itself. It took about 5 years to reach culmination and kept the four on their toes. Eventually, it led to the creation of French Mahe territory.

Gregory Mole summarizes - In 1721, Company representatives in Calicut signed an agreement with the Bayanour of Bargaret, ruler of the small princely state of Kadattanad, permitting them to settle at Mahé. The machinations of Robert Adam, the British governor of Tellicherry, however, delayed Company attempts to settle in the region. Eager to prevent French encroachment on the Malabar pepper trade, Adam incited a conflict in Kadattanad, attacked Company outposts around Mahé, and pushed the Bayanour to abrogate his agreement. A French squadron led by Bertrand-François Mahé de la Bourdonnais, who was to become one of the Company’s most famous employees, eventually relieved the settlement with a force of 250 soldiers and 100 sailors in 1725. The damage to the town, though, had been done. Military action secured the Company’s claim to Mahé, and earned La Bourdonnais a celebrated nickname (the “Mahé” in his title). Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais got the name as the liberator of Mayyazhi or Mahe, not the other way around as some feel or narrate.

While the Kadathanad ruler was initially in support of a French factory in Mahe in 1721 (after they had been driven out of Calicut by the Zamorin for not supporting him against the Dutch), things soured with both the English and the French when he refused to allow the latter to set up a fort on the hills across the river mouth, due to political reasons as well as the protests from Moplahs who did not want their cemetery at its base to be desecrated. Anyway Adams, the British administrator took to threatening the Polathiri by first stating that the land belonged to the Kolathiri (who had ceded it to them), and then realizing he was on thin ground, got the Zamorin to mediate with the Bayanor, while the French cultivated and harvested support from the ruler’s brother (who was by marriage connected to the Kurangot Nair, an ally of the British). Adams eventually won him over in 1725 when the Bayanor realized he was not profiting from the French deal. He ejected them out in 1725, but it came to war and the French defeating the Bayanor, established their base as well as a fort at Mahe. The Vazhunnavar (Bayanor) was forced to sue for peace with the French and finally a formal treaty was signed in 1726, reaffirming the previous agreements between the French and the Vazhunnavar.

The relations, friction and amity between the Bayanore and the French as well as the British (and later the Kottayam Rajas) continued on until the Ikkeri skirmishes (In between were the Maratha Angria incursions) and the Mysore Sultan invasions of Malabar. Continuous skirmishes occurred in North Malabar between the British and the French, each aided by dueling local Rajas, until Mahe was finally taken by the British.

Mysore Sultans at Kadathanad

When Hyder Ali arrived, the pro-British senior Raja – the Vazhunnor sided with the British, the Zamorin and other chiefs while the junior pro-French regent sided with - Hyder Ali in tandem with the Ali Raja of Cannanore. Mahe was at this time very important to Haidar, as the channel for shipped arms, ammunition and French soldiers. The Kadattanad Raja, who had sided with the English, was then deposed in favor of the junior prince, who was more amenable to Haidar’s wishes; and by 1779 Mahe had been evacuated. Revolts continued and in 1789, Tipu arrived at Malabar to enforce his plans. The Kadattanad Raja’s fortified palace at Kuttippuram was surrounded, and two thousand of his Nayars who surrendered after a stiff resistance were converted. The Chirakkal Raja was killed, and the other Rajas and the richer landowners fled to Travancore.

Final years – British rule

In 1790 the fort was retaken from Tipu by the English, and restored to the Kadathanad Raja. It was then converted by him into a Brahman feeding house, and later transferred to the Paravantala temple in Badagara amsam. A kovilakom was built there for the senior Raja. The family was by now divided into two branches, the Ayancliori and Edavalat Kovilagams, and enjoyed in the British times, a malikhana of Rs. 26,441. A later Elaya Raja established a high school.  Note herein that Adiyodis were the ruling family members whereas Nambiar’s were the administrators under the Adiyodis. More details of the Kadathanad Rajas can be gleaned from this source 

The end of the wealthy and powerful line can be read in the sorrowful story of the auction where the palace and its riches were sold off, in the 1950’s. Mr Warrier who witnessed it, explains how it was all fixed - In the process the entire stock was sold out for some amount between one rupee and two lakh rupees. What really happened was, the visiting bidders with the help of a local landlord who was also participating in the auction joined together and after allowing local participants to exhaust their resources in buying small items which came up for auction at the beginning, abstained from competing among themselves. They stayed back for a day or two, bought the items originally purchased by locals also, at much higher than their cost prices at the auction and each of them, later made huge fortunes running into lakhs in outside markets, from what they had managed to ‘buy’ at throw away prices, complying with every legal provision in ‘letter and spirit’.


The Merchant and the state – Aniruddha ray
Mahé and the Politics of Empire: Trade, Conquest, and Revolution on the Malabar Coast - Gregory T. Mole
A new account of the East Indies – Capt Alexander Hamilton
A journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara, and Malabar – Francis Buchanan Hamilton
The origins of Mahe of Malabar – Alfred Martineau
Malabar manual - Logan
Historic Alleys - The Porlathiri Epoch
Historic Alleys - Othenan – The Supreme Warrior of Kadathanad
Kozhikkodinte Charithram - K. Balakrishna Kurup
Lords of the sea: the Ali Rajas of Cannanore and the political economy of Malabar (1663-1723) - Binu John Mailaparambil 


  1. Rgvganju

    Whither instead of wither in the heading.

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Rgvganju for pointing it out - so it is ! Regret the typo