A Century of Mapilla Atrocities in Malabar and the Nerve Centre of Tirurangadi
History Vignettes

A Century of Mapilla Atrocities in Malabar and the Nerve Centre of Tirurangadi

How Malabar became the theatre of unrelenting atrocities by the Mapillas against Hindus for a full century

Sandeep Balakrishna

Sandeep Balakrishna

In this Series

Between 1800-1900, Malabar has transformed into a blood-soaked theatre of frequent, low-intensity but brutal Jihadi raids carried out by the Mapillas. By now, the British have also effectively crushed the remnants of the Mapilla commercial backbone and shattered their political power. Mapilla piracy and slave trade have also sputtered to death, and as we have seen earlier, they have taken to full-time banditry, plunder, pillage, and carnage. In all these savage endeavours, they’re propelled by that infallible guidance that acts as a common theme throughout the history of Islam in India: the divine message of Allah delivered every single day by the Maulanas and Maulvis and Mullahs and Imams in the confines of the mosques that are now ubiquitous throughout Malabar.

The other underlying factor is the unquenchable thirst for revenge: the sudden, appalling loss of power, influence and wealth is something they can never come to terms with. The Mapillas in their heydays had a smooth and swift passage under the largely magnanimous Hindu Samuris and Rajas who like Hindu kings elsewhere in India thought that Islam was also a Dharma like Sanatana Dharma, and like the Rashtrakutas and others allowed them to build mosques and freely indulge in the conversion of Hindus. However, the Portuguese for the first time, gave the Mapillas a far more hellish dose of their own medicine, and the British could be paragons of ruthlessness when it was required.

Powerless and cowed down by these new alien rulers, the Mapillas diverted their fury and fanaticism against the Hindus at habitual intervals.

Broad Themes

The century of unremitting Mapilla Jihad against Hindus (and on rare occasions, against the British) in Malabar comprises the following broad themes:

  • Murders of Hindu landlords by their own Mapilla tenants

  • Frequent raids of pillage of Hindu villages, lands, and property

  • Revenge for apostasy: murders of Mapillas who had reverted to their original Hindu Dharma

  • Organised banditry by groups of the surviving jungle Mapillas now scattered throughout the region

  • Unprovoked assaults and murders of Hindus and apostates with the explicit aim of attaining Shahadat, or Islamic martyrdom, a highly prized attainment in the Islamic canon

  • A combination of some or all of the above

The Nerve Centre

And the nerve centre that diffuses the inspiring waves of Jihadi fanaticism is Mambaram Mosque at Tirurangadi, about 25 kilometres west of Malappuram. If Malappuram has today emerged as one of the laboratories and finishing schools of Jihad in India, its roots can be traced back to this period.

Tirurangadi is also famed and revered by the Malabar Mapillas because it is home to the Arab Tangal (High Priest or Chief Islamic Cleric) or Taramal Tangal, an unvarnished bigot whose fanatical eloquence and solid encouragement provokes and incites the Mapillas to murder Hindus. He dies sometime in 1843 and is buried precisely on the grounds of the Mambaram Mosque. Almost overnight, his Dargah becomes a place of pilgrimage for all Mapillas in Malabar. They regularly throng the Dargah to pray for success in achieving the following objective, described by William Logan:

Fanatics who intend to commit outrages, and those who have committed them do, as a rule even now, proceed to this mosque to pray at the Tangal’s shrine.

Hal Ilakkam

Among the most devout and bigoted worshippers of this Dargah is a fervid sect known as the Hal Ilakkam: literally translated as “frenzy-raising.” It is founded by a violent madman named Alathamkuliyil Moidin, who is advised by a man who appears from nowhere and instructs him to give up his worldly activities and spend the rest of his life in prayer at the mosque. The man suddenly disappears and Moidin is immediately convinced that it was “God himself” who had advised him. A shiver of pious Hal (frenzy) courses through his body and he rushes to the Mambaram mosque and meets the aforementioned Arab Tangal who then blesses his newfound calling. Eventually, Moidin collects a band of Mapillas and establishes what came to be known as the Hal Ilakkam sect.

Henry Conolly
Henry Conolly

The Hal Ilakkam followers are largely concentrated in the Chernad Taluk. The sort of all-round mayhem they inflict in the region, killing the Kaffirs, burning fields, slaughtering cows and bulls and destroying temples makes for gut-wrenching reading.

The Arab Taramal Tangal at Tirurangadi is succeeded by a more intense zealot named Sayyid Fazl, of “pure blood” Arab descent, a one-man factory of fanaticism. He is also known as Pukoya. British accounts describe him as “notorious.” This is how the extent of his influence, the pervasiveness of his impact and the perilous inspiration he provides is described in the contemporary official British reports.

…it is certain that fanaticism was focussed at this time at…the head-quarters of Saiyid Fazl at Mambram. Fanatics then, as now, considered it almost essential to success in their enterprise that they should have visited and prayed at the Taramal Tangal’s tomb at Mambram and kissed the hand of the Tangal living in the house close by. So great an ascendency had Saiyid Fazl at this time attained that the Mappillas regarded him “ as imbued with a portion of divinity….Earth on which he has spat or walked is treasured up. Marvellous stories are told of his supernatural knowledge…Even among the higher class of Mappillas his wish was regarded as a command, and no consideration of economy was allowed to stand in the way of its being gratified.

The Bigoted Inspiration of Sayyid Fazl

Indeed, Sayyid Fazl could summon a minimum of ten thousand Mapillas at his doorstep from across Malabar at will.

From the early 1830s up to 1852, Malabar is engulfed by sudden and recurrent tidal waves of mini-Jihads unleashed by Mapillas who faithfully adhere to the script and direction of Sayyid Fazl. The barbaric screenplay is their own. The Mapillla atrocities reach a fanatical peak especially between 1843-51. Ernad, Kottayam, Malappuram, Valluvanad, Kozhikode, and Kalpetta become graveyards for the unsuspecting Hindus. No matter how guarded they are, the murderous sprees of bigotry always have the upper hand of surprise and shock. This is how the British District Magistrate Henry Valentine Conolly assesses the situation in his Extracts Minutes of Consultation dated 17th February 1852:

For some years past the province of Malabar has been disgraced by a succession of outrages of the most heinous character, perpetrated by the Mappillas of the province upon the Hindus…Mappillas have in open day attacked Hindus of wealth and respectability, murdered them under circumstances the most horrible, burnt houses or given them up to pillage, and finally, wound up their crimes by throwing away their lives in desperate resistance to the Police and Military.” Over the years, the outrages became “progressively more sanguinary and more difficult of suppression…the fanatics…had put to death men, women, children, the very infant at the breast, masters, servants, casual guests and ordinary inmates…

Accordingly, an official named T.I. Strange, is appointed as Special Commissioner to carry out the investigation. The findings of Strange will be briefly examined in the next part of this series.

To be continued

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