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Posts Tagged ‘Malabar’

The Quilon Mutiny Of 1812, And Its Pazhassi Connections

Posted by G. on November 25, 2009

With all the new found interest in the story of the Pazhassi Raja on account of the movie, here is an account of a little known chapter in Travancore history which has possible connections to the Raja.

In 1812, a full seven years after the Pazhassi Raja’s death in the jungles of Wayanad, a conspiracy was uncovered in Quilon to overthrow the British subsidiary forces in Travancore and to confer the sovereignty of Travancore to the Pazhassi Raja’s nephew ([1], [2]). Here’s an account of the events [1]:

“On the night of the 24th May 1812 the existence of a conspiracy at Quilon having for its object the destruction of the European officers and men of the subsidiary force in Travancore was brought to the knowledge of Lieutenant and Adjutant Cox 2nd battalion 14th regiment by Jemadar Iyaloo of the same battalion to whom it had been revealed by a private of his company”

“On the morning of the 25th Colonel Hall and the officers in command of battalions met at the Residency and it was there arranged that a general parade of the troops should be ordered for that afternoon and that the principal conspirators should then be seized while the Resident Lieutenant Colonel John Munro took steps for the apprehension of such inhabitants of the town and vicinity as were believed to be implicated.

These measures were successfully carried out. Jemadar Shaik Hoossain of the 14th together with 2 havildars and 22 men of that battalion were called out of the ranks and placed in confinement the troops behaving with perfect steadiness.

Womanah Tumby ex-Dewan of Travancore, an individual claiming to be the nephew and representative of the late Pychy Rajah and several religious mendicants were seized at the same time by the Resident’s people as being the chief instigators.”

“The result of the enquiries made by the Resident which occupied some time led him to the conclusion that Womanah Tumby, the pseudo-Pychy Rajah, and Jemadar Shaik Hoossain of the 14th, had been the originators of the conspiracy.

The design was to confer the sovereignty of Travancore upon the Pychy Rajah. The Jemadar was promised the office of Dewan, but this in all probability, was really intended for Womanah Tumby. The pay of all sepoys as might join in the plot was to be raised to Rs 10 per mensem.

The chief body of conspirators consisted of discharged sepoys fakeers and disaffected natives of the province. The European officers were to have been attacked while at dinner, and the barracks set on fire at the same time in order to distract attention, after which the public treasury was to have been given up to plunder.”

Did one of the nephews of the late king actually go to Travancore to start a revolt? Or could it have been one of the distant relatives of the Pazhassi Kovilakam (the kings of Mavellikkara had close relationships to the royal houses of north Malabar)? Or did the British accounts get it completely wrong, with the memories of the “Pyche Rajah” still so strong that a local revolt was ascribed to him? 

Notably, an Indian account of the same incident (P. Shungoonny Menon’s A History of Travancore from the Earliest Times) makes no mention of any Pazhassi prince [3]: 

“During the interval, the ex-Dewan Ummany Thamby incurred lasting disgrace by plotting certain measures against the life of the Colonel. The treachery having been discovered, Ummany Thamby was banished the country and was taken to Chingleput and detained there as a State prisoner.”

What happened to the rebels next was not surprising [1].

“Jemadar Shaik Hoossain and Private Salabut Khan of the 14th were tried in a summary manner by a board of officers, of which Major Fraser 2nd battalion 9th was President. Both were convicted, and sentenced to be blown from a gun, which sentence was carried into execution on the evening of the 28th May at a general parade of the whole force.

Two havildars, one naigue, and twenty six privates of 14th, of whom 19 were Mahomedans, and 10 Hindoos, tried by ordinary court martial, and sentenced to death. Of these two privates were pardoned, the rest were either shot or hanged, the sentences being carried into execution at Quilon, Cannanore, Seringapatam, Trichinopoly, Vellore and St Thomas Mount respectively.”


“Womanah Tumby and the Pychy Rajah were tried by the Court of the Travancore Government. The former was sentenced to death but this sentence was commuted to banishment and he was removed to Nellore. The Pychy Rajah was banished to Chingleput, but he was released from confinement in 1815.”

And as for the loyalists,

“On the 16th February, 1813, Jemadar lyaloo of the 14th was promoted to be Subadar and presented with a palankeen and an allowance for bearers. He also received a gold medal and a donation of 1,000 rupees. On his decease, his nearest heir was to be allowed a pension of 35 rupees per mensem.

Vencatram, the sepoy who had informed the Jemadar of the plot was pensioned on the pay of a Jemadar a received a donation of 600 rupees.

Private Hoossain Khan who had given information to Captain Ives of the same battalion on the 24th May but in rather an incoherent manner was pensioned on the pay of a Havildar”



1. Ummany Thamby alias Marthandan Eravy had become the Dewan of Travancore in 18th March 1809, after the revolt by Velu Thamby Dalawa.

2. The names of the soldiers involved in the failed rebellion do not sound like those of Malayali Mappilas.


[1] W. J. Wilson, History of the Madras Army, Vol. 3, 1883.

[2] Sylvanus Urban, The Gentleman’s Magazine: and Historical Chronicle, Vol. LXXXII, 1812.

[3] P. Shungoonny Menon, A History of Travancore From The Earliest Times, 1878.

[4] Picture from www.sonofthesouth.net


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On (the Lack of) Regional History in School Curriculum

Posted by G. on September 15, 2009

The Hindu recently carried an article on Maddy’s (of Historical Alleys) work, specifically his posts on the Malabar connection in the Geniza Papers. It is heartening to see a main stream newspaper carrying/recognizing valuable work done by a blogger, on a niche subject that has unfortunately garnered so little attention from the common populace of Malabar – local history.

We have a generation growing up today who knows of Tantia Tope and Nana Sahib but has no knowledge of Edachena Kungan and his association with the Pazhassi Raja. Who knows about the American Civil War but has no clue on what the Maamaankam was. Who has watched Mulan but do not know the story of Mathileri Kanni. And who thinks Perunthachan was a movie starring Thilakan.

We are proud of India’s diversity in culture and customs; unfortunately, the same diversity gets short shrift in the syllabi of our centralized schooling systems (whether they are at the national or state level). If education is supposed to make you a complete person, then we have to admit that our system fails in explaining the historical aspects of one’s ties to one’s immediate society.

Granted it is an impossible task to even attempt to cover all the local legends and histories under a common official syllabus. But this knowledge gap, it should be noted, was filled by grandparents and old naattukaar for the previous generation. I learned the stories of the Vadakkan Paattukal from my Achamma, not through any Navodaya movie. With urbanization and extinction of the joint family system, this is a scenario that is not feasible anymore. And so we are left with the choice of either creating an alternative arrangement for the preservation and transfer of our local history/culture/customs/legends, or face the possibility that a significant chunk of knowledge would be lost forever with the passing of a generation over the next few decades.

A solution, I would think, would be to mandate a special Regional History class (in addition to the existing lessons) for, say, the VII and VIII standards in every school, to be comprised purely of the regional histories and legends of the land…

But while we wait for such a move from the Government, there are always the few blogs that have started documenting little known aspects of our history and heritage for us.

Kudos to Maddy.

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Vishnumoorthi Theyyam and the Legend of Paalanthaayi Kannan

Posted by G. on April 26, 2009

Spending another Vishu in a cold land where no Konna has ever flowered, my thoughts went to childhood summers of the past, spent at ancestral homes in Malabar. The air would be thick with the smell of flowering mango and cashew. Parts of the dry paddy fields would have been converted to cultivating cheera (spinach) and vellari (cucumber), irrigated manually from temporary shallow wells (called kooval) dug in the fields. The evenings would resound with the noise of kids with their soccer games, temporarily converting Korettan’s field into The Grand Koran Stadium. The temple festival season would be in full swing. And day and night, there would be the faint sound of chenda, from theyyam at one or the other of the thousands of kaavukal that dotted the landscape. 

There are literally hundreds of theyyams, each with its own story, history and lineage. Most the stories have a “traditional Hindu” connection, showing lineage from Parvathi, Shivan, Vishnu etc. But they also have connections to local myths and legends, and as is usually the case with most folklore, they sometimes describe episodes in local history.  

Photo by Rakesh Ayilliath

Vishnumoorthi is a ubiquitous theyyam, with the Narasimhavatharam as its essence. It is a theyyam of the Malayar people, and is performed in the daytime. A Vellattam is conducted the night prior to the actual theyyam, where the thottam paattu is sung describing the origins and history of the theyyam.


“Varika varika venam Vishnumoorthiyaam paradevatha
Ningalithoru palliyara naalu bhaagam adichu thelichu
Naalu bhaagathum naalu ponnin nanthaar vilakku vechu
Naduve azhakithoru velli shreepeedhamittu
Velli shreepeedhathinmel madakkiyittoru

kolavarikan manja chittaadayum poonthukilaadayum
Chukappilitta koorayum Naagamanimothiravum Nerpulithandayum vechu
Njaan ningale, thottathe vara vilikkunnen a
adimoolamaayiripporu Paradevathe”


The thottam paattu has sections on Narasimhapuranam and Prahaladolpathi. But it also explores the story of Paalanthaayi Kannan.


“Karumanayil Paalanthaayi viruthanaayulloru Kannan
Karumam palathum palarodum cheythathukondu
Kuruvaadanumaayi thangalilidapaadundaayi
Tharavaadum naadum vittu Vadakku nadannu.
Mangalapuramavide chennittangane pala naal chellum kaalam
Sangathiyaal paradevathakkoru komaramaayi.
Drishtaantham palathum palavaka drishtaanthamathaakkiyozhichu
Pottallithu pattaanennu palarkkum thonni.


The thottam mentions that Paalanthaayi Kannan, after getting into a fight with Kuruvadathu Kuruppu, went north to Mangalapuram, where he became the Komaram for the  Paradevatha (Vishnumoorthi). (Although the thottam itself doesn’t provide more details, local folklore  is a bit more descriptive. One version says that Kannan was a cowherd for Kuruppu. One day, while Kannan was sitting on a mango tree, the Kuruppu’s niece went by and a mango fell on her. Assuming that Kannan had thrown the mango at her, she complained to her uncle, who beat up Kannan and had him banished from the land).


Ottu varisham naalingane ishtamode vaanoru shesham
Thattothoru Malanaattekku manassu ninachu.
Chathravumoru churikayumenthi shathrubhayam theerthu nadanni-
-ttathalezhum Kadalikkulamathilarikathambol.
Maravillathoru Nair Kuruvattu Kuruppathu kettu
Murukappoychennithu Kadalikkulamathilarike.
Paalanthaayi Kannan varavathu chelode kandoru Nair
Kaalam vaikaathe chennu pinakku kazhichaan.
Chilli Kadalikkulamathile vellathilerinjoru churika
Thullunnathu vellathinnude meethe churika.
Churikayilakkam kaanumbol Kuruvaadanu paaram paravashamaaki
Durithathinu kaaranamaakum vannam vannu.
kannum chila kaalikidaangal annanne chathu thudangi
Onnonneyaatithulli virachu thudangi”.


After a few years, Kannan decided to come back home. Upon reaching his native place, he kept his churika (sword) and umbrella by the side of the Kadalikkulam (a pond) and took a bath. Hearing of Kannan’s presence in the land, the Kuruppu came by the pond and beheaded him. Kannan’s umbrella was smashed to pieces, and his churika was thrown into the pond. But then, something strange happened. Kannan’s churika was seen dancing on the water surface. Cattle in Kuruppu’s household started dying, and people started getting sick. Kuruppu himself fell ill.

Kuruppu brought in an astrologer to see what was going on. 


“Kannan marichathinutharam chollanan vannam mudikkaanennu Paradevatha
Velli kondennude kolapradishtayum palli vaazhicha pallikkarakozhuvayal
Allaal Kuruvaadanude veedakam thannile thallayodum pillayum kannodu kidaangalum
Okkeyodukki vannugramathukaattinen”.


The Paradevatha asked for Kuruppu’s repentance for killing Kannan. As penance, Kuruppu was asked to establish a pradishta for Vishnumoorthi, and conduct the theyyam.

It is recognized that a Paalaazhi Parappil Malayan was the first to establish the theyyam as we know it, but I have been unable to find any details. 



1. Dr. MV Vishnu Namboothiri, “Uthara Keralathile Thottam Paattukal”, Kerala Sahithya Academy, ISBN 81-7690-075-3
2. Photo of Vishnumoorthi by Rakesh Ayilliath, hosted at Trekearth.



1. Murali Rama Varma is a better writer than I ever will be. Go read his reminiscences of childhood Vishus here.

2. Kannuran has an entire blog (in Malayalam) on theyyam and their folklore.

3. http://www.theyyam.com/ seem to have a lot of general information on theyyam.

4. The Theyyam section in Wikipedia has a mention of the legend of Paalanthaayi Kannan in connection with Vishnumoorthy.

5. There seems to be a book written on the subject called “Vishnumoorthi: More than a Myth”, by Nandakumar Koroth. I’m trying to see if I can locate a copy.

6. Last year, I managed to catch a couple of theyyam festivals at home. It had been approximately 14 years since I had been to a kaavu. It seems the mukhathezhuthu is done using artificial colors nowadays. I remember, as a child, watching the Vadakkunkooran of the time holding a piece of broken tile over a lamp to create soot, to be used as black coloring, while casually mentioning  that he was the theyyam in the movie  My Dear Kuttichathan… There also seemed to be a lot of tourists, with official “Theyyam Tours” being organized by several travel agencies…

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