The Mapilla Betrayal of Malabar Hindus During the Death-Dance of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan
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The Mapilla Betrayal of Malabar Hindus During the Death-Dance of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan

A turning point in the history of the Malabar Mapillas is reached during the invasions of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan

Sandeep Balakrishna

Sandeep Balakrishna

Over the next century, Mapilla piracy continues sporadically in Malabar, chiefly in the vicinity of Kodungallur, Trikkodi, Kottakkal, Ponnani and Kannur with varying degrees of success. Some Mapilla pirates known for brutal raids include the Kottakkal Kunhali Marakkars, and Kutti Poker. The Portuguese crushed both.

By the end of the 16th century, the Portuguese stranglehold over trade on the Malabar coast begins to thaw thanks to the altered power equation in Europe.

On 31 December 1600, the English East India Company of London is founded. On 20 March 1602 the Dutch East India Company is formed. Between 1611-15, the United French East India Company was formed. And they began to pour into India making alliances of convenience here. The British gain a foothold in Cochin by making a pact with the Portuguese who give them free access to all Malabar ports under their control. As result, pepper is directly exported from Malabar to England for the first time in 1635.

However, by now, the Portuguese have become an object of abhorrence by the rulers of Malabar because of their unceasing interference in local politics, extortionate trade practices, their high-handed methods of converting Hindus and Mapillas into Christianity, and open interference into the hereditary succession laws of the Malabar kings. The wafer-thin thread separating this simmering fury snapped when they deposed the Raja of Cochin and installed his aunt as the Rani.

That was the start of a renewed and prolonged saga of warfare in Malabar. By mid-17th century, the Dutch assist the Malabar rulers and finally drive out the Portuguese from Malabar. This in turn seeds a century-long triangular conflict among the Dutch, the French and the British. This period also witnesses a minor revival of the Mapillas whose main backbone is the Ali Raja’s lineage at Kannur. But by now, Ali Raja is seething with revenge against his former benefactor, the Kollathiris, for a religious reason. The Kollathiris had allied with the Portuguese to destroy the Moorish monopoly on the Arabian coast and the Ali Raja never forgot nor forgave this insult to Islam.

In June 1727, the Dutch send a force to protect the British warehouse on the island of Agatti but is stopped at Dharmadamam by the Ali Raja who humiliates them with untold vulgarity. As vengeance, the Dutch approach the Kollathiri Regent who pleads helplessness. However, the Raja of Kottayam assures his safety, and in February 1728, the combined forces wrest Ali Raja’s fort at Dharmadamam. Next, they destroy a Mapilla settlement at Valarpattanam, and by the month end, they seize the whole island of Dharmadamam, a Mapilla majority area and chase them out. This is a massive blow to Ali Raja who is now left licking his wounds.

The Demonic Incursions of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan

The next dark chapter in the beleaguered history of Malabar is the demonic arrival of Hyder Ali followed by his son, Tipu Sultan the tyrant of Mysore.

The news that Hyder Ali had diabolically backstabbed his own king, the Wodeyar of Mysore, and usurped the throne and declared himself the sultan, rang like sweet music in the ears of Ali Raja. He saw his chance to settle old scores in his own backyard with the Kollathiris who had now become infidels in his eyes. Ali Raja fired the first shot by erecting a golden spire atop one of the mosques in Kannur. This was the “greatest affront possible” given to the “Hindu religion” because it was against the long-established custom of forbidding golden spires on any structure other than the “principal pagodas” throughout Malabar.

Ali Raja had declared war.

And he was confident of winning it because he had been writing letters of intrigue to Hyder Ali on the side. On January 1763, the British intercepted intelligence which revealed that Ali Raja had been busy persuading Hyder Ali to invade Malabar and that he would be his most solid ally in the conquest.

Hyder Ali
Hyder Ali

Sure enough, in May 1763, Hyder Ali began pounding the chieftain of Nileshwaram, now a major town in Kasargod. Hyder Ali was the first ever Muslim king to invade Malabar from the outside. And within Malabar, the time was ripe. The Mapillas who had been ejected from Dharamadamam had transformed into roving bandits who were waiting for a chance to plunder and loot and murder and rape. In March 1764, two armed Mapillas entered a Church in Dharmadamam island and unleashed a brutal spree of murder and assault against the people praying within. This continued over the next year or two:

A few days afterwards another Mappilla came behind two Europeans while walking along one of the narrow lanes leading to Fort Mailan and cut one of them through the neck and half way through the body with one stroke of his sword. The other was mangled in such a way that his life was despaired of. After this the Mappilla picked a quarrel with a Nayar and was subsequently shot by the Tiyar guard. His body was” spitted ” along with those of the others, and then thrown into the sea…Such outrages became frequent, and on July 9th, 1765, the Chief was obliged to issue a stringent order to disarm them…

By the end of 1765, Hyder Ali appoints Ali Raja as the High Admiral and in the third week of February 1766, Hyder Ali marches into Malabar unimpeded and aided by Ali Raja’s impressive force of 12,000 Mapillas who act as scouts showing the routes to the bloodthirsty invader. The Kollathiri royal family offer no resistance for four reasons: one, they are fully aware of the consequences of an Islamic invasion of Hyder’s variety; two, they have heard the fate of the Hindu temple at Kunhimangalam which Hyder had already defiled and destroyed; three, Ali Raja had seized their palace at Chirakkal and imprisoned all the family members there; and four, they have heard the news of the Hindus in Tellicherry fleeing in large numbers, sudden refugees who were terrorised more by the “Mapilla scouts than Hyder Ali’s army.”

The Mapilla power is suddenly resurgent in Malabar. This time it is the resurgence of barbarism impelled by religious fanaticism.

Hyder Ali’s wrecking train of invasion is aided everywhere by the local Mapillas. In Kottayam, the Mapilla soldiers of the Hindu Raja desert him and defect to Hyder Ali’s side. In Kadattanad,

nothing was to be seen in’ the roads for the distance of four leagues round but scattered limbs and mutilated bodies. The country of the Nairs was thrown into a general consternation, which was much increased by the cruelty of the Mapillas, who followed the cavalry, massacred all who had escaped, without sparing women or children : so that the army advancing under the conduct of this enraged multitude, instead of meeting with resistance, found the villages, fortresses, temples, and in general every habitable place forsaken and deserted.

The same fate befalls Mahe and Kozhikode.

Ali Raja has the last savage laugh. He accepts the surrender of the Samuri of Kozhikode on one condition: pay me one crore gold mohurs knowing that it was an impossible demand. The Samuri instead offered him all his treasure and property. Ali Raja took it but was not satisfied. In an appalling display of pitilessness, he imprisoned the Samuri and sent him to the fort of Kozhikode, his own home. This is what happens next.

the Raja was confined in his own house without food, and was strictly prohibited from performing the ceremonies of his religion; and as he thought that Hyder might inflict some further disgrace upon him, either by causing him to be hanged, or blown from a gun, the Raja set fire to the house with his own hand, and was consumed in it.

Apart from the invasion proper, Hyder Ali vowed to grind the Nairs to dust using a variety of tactics because they formed the backbone of Kshatra in Malabar. And so,

Before he quitted the country, Hyder by a solemn edict, declared the Nayars deprived of all their privileges ; and ordained that their caste… should thereafter be the lowest of all the castes… permitting all the other castes to bear arms and forbidding them to the Nayars…and commanding all persons to kill such Nayars as were found bearing arms.

However, this disgraceful scheme didn’t quite work out because Hyder Ali had underestimated the pride that Nairs took as self-respecting warriors. And so, he passed another edict: if Nairs converted to Islam, their former privileges and right to bear arms would be restored. Even this flopped miserably because the Nairs felt this was even worse than the former edict. And so, large numbers of Nairs fled to and took refuge in the Kingdom of Travancore.

Next, Hyder Ali’s son, Tipu Sultan invaded Malabar in 1789-90 in a blood-soaked rampage of fanatical savagery that has been recounted in detail in my book, Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore. It is unnecessary to repeat the horrific tale here. Needless, the Mapillas had unbridled license to wreak extensive mayhem against their fellow Hindus. Tipu was also ably assisted in his Hindu genocide by the Kannur Bibi (wife of the deceased Ali Raja) who distinguished herself for her double-dealing. On the one hand, she pretended to be friends with the British and on the other, she married off her daughter to Tipu.

However, by 1792, almost the whole of Malabar has already fallen to the British in two decisive battles against Tipu: the battle of Kozhikode and the capture of Kannur. In the same year, Tipu surrenders more than half of his territory including Malabar to the British and their allies.

After the fall of Tipu Sultan in 1799 to the British forces, Muslim power is near-thoroughly extinguished in all of south India except the meagre territory that the Nizam of Hyderabad retains under the condition of lifelong servility.

The next chapter in the history of the Mapillas unravels in a different but stark fashion after this total takeover of Malabar by the British East India Company.

To be continued

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