loss of political unity did not lead to the loss of political
independence in Kerala during the fag end of 14th century.
The ghost of the Chera kingdom haunted the destiny
of Kerala as a guardian deity for many centuries to come.
Each minor chieftain claimed the gift of the last Cheraman
Perumal as the sanction behind his throne. It was essentially
a game of power politics.
a generation of the decline of Chera power, the governors
of Eranad shifted from their interior headquarters at Nediyiruppu
to the coastal strip of Kozhikkod. Gradually, the Eradis
(rulers of Eranad), now known to the world better as the Zamorins
of Kozhikkod, grew in prosperity and power. The locational
advantage enjoyed by their new headquarters with its proximity
to Kozhikkod was a decisive factor in attracting a growing
number of Arab traders. The rulers also exhibited a measure
of statesmanship in quarantining religious tolerance to all
sects and creeds in the big international mart at Kozhikkod.
In due course, they roped in the chieftains of Parappanad
and Vettattunad in the south as well as Kurumbanad and Puranad
(Kottayam) in the north, within their sphere of influence.
Zamorin also succeeded
in their venture to capture Tirunavaya region from the Valluvanad
rulers. This victory brought the Zamorin directly into contact
with the rulers of Kochi. It opened up a long chapter of protracted
Kozhikkod-Kochi wars. The contest could not stop until one
of the powers could eliminate the other. The support of Arab
wealth and equipment favoured Kozhikkod against Kochi during
the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, until this was counter
- balanced by the Europeans - the Dutch and the Portuguese
- on the other side. Not only the princes and princelings
of Kerala, but the entire population had to take sides. In
fact, the big Brahmin community split into two, with the Panniyur
faction supporting the Zamorin and the Cokiram faction throwing
its weight in favour of the Raja of Kochi.The central portion
of Kerala, over which the rulers of Kochi held sway, was the
seat of Namboothiri (Brahmin) orthodoxy.
the Raja of Kochi was respected all over Kerala as the direct
descendant of the Perumals and the noblest representative
of the Kshatriya race, the inhibiting weight of tradition
made him incapable of initiating new strategies and policies
to suit the changing times. He remained the highest patron
of Brahminical ritual and scholarship. In the process, wealth
and power slipped out of his hands and made way for art and
the southern part of Kerala, Venad was the rising star. Geographically
and culturally, the kingdom of Venad remained partly in Keraladesa
and partly in Pandyadesa. The Venad area was definitely at
a disadvantage in the absence of the original settlements
of Tulu-Kerala Brahmins, whose leadership and dominance had
been responsible for the distinctive character of Kerala society
and culture. However, in course of time, the immense wealth
of the Venad kings could attract some of the Kerala Brahmins
(Namboothiris) to settle down at Thiruvananthapuram. Nevertheless,
excessive involvement in Tamil politics weakened the impact
of Venad on the rest of Kerala.
post Chera period witnessed a gradual decadence of the Namboothiris,
until by about the 16th century, they put of their affairs
in the hands of their Nair secretaries. A Namboothiri - Nair
alliance came into being.
feature of this period was the widening gulf between the Namboothiri
- Nair upper class and the Thiyya - Pulaya lower class. In
order to accommodate the class differences properly, the four
- fold caste system came to be sub-divided with infinite gradations,
based on real occupation, habitat and political influence.
New dimensions were invented and added on to the scale of
unapproachability and unperceivability.
increasing rigidity of caste, the worst sufferers were the
Parayar, Pulayar, Cheramar, etc. They were attached
to plots of cultivable land and unceremoniously exchanged
along with the plots without any right to family or children.
This feudal society, however, was prosperous and complacent.
With agricultural and commercial prosperity on the increase,
festivals like Onam and Vishu, which began as
mere sectarian religious observances, acquired the character
of popular celebrations. They were fixed up at a time when
the tenants had to pay their feudal dues to the owners of
land. The enthusiasm of the tenants transformed Onam,
a Vaishnava sacred day commemorating the Vamana incarnation,
into a harvest festival.
this point of time, feudal society was blissfully ignorant
of the Afghan, Pathan and Mongol invasions which uprooted
ancient Hindu society in most parts of India beyond the Sahya,
the great sentinel of Kerala. This coastal area had, along
the rest of Thamilakom, remained outside the big empires in
the past. This time also, it escaped the catastrophe of Alauddin
Khilji's campaign, which pushed southward straight to Rameshwaram.
kings and people were so immersed in their own petty feuds
that the appearance of Portuguese naval power on the not-so-distant
horizon of the Arabian Sea did not open their eyes to the
advent, the perils and prospects of the modern age. Portuguese
traveller, Vasco da Gama laid anchor off Kozhikkod on May
21, 1498. This historic even marked the beginning of a new
epoch in the history of Kerala. It also opened a new chapter
in the relations between the different States in Kerala.
declared aim of the Portuguese was monopoly of the trade with
the country to the exclusion of all others. The Portuguese
captain demanded the expulsion of all Muslim traders. The
Zamorin explained that for centuries Kozhikkod had been a
free port and that the Portuguese were welcome to trade as
any one else. This increased the Portuguese who let loose
a reign of terror along the coast.
political set up characterized by innumerable principalities
in the area was ideal for their machinations to set the weak
against the strong and the subordinate chieftains against
their sovereign rights over Kochi. The Zamorin retaliated
with all the resources at his disposal. The Malabar fleet
was decidedly inferior to the Portuguese fleet. The Zamorin
set about to rectify this imbalance by reorganizing his fleet
under the able leadership of Kunhali Marakkar. The new fleet
under Marakkar soon snowballed into a threat to the Portuguese
trade and shipping. They were forced to keep regular fleets
to convoy their ships, but of little avail against the wily
tactics of Marakkar.
a bid to humble the power of the Portuguese, the Zamorin launched
an attack against Kochi. These attempts failed to drive the
Portuguese out of gear and dislocated their shipping and trade.
The Zamorin even attempted to forge a coalition of the States
bordering the Arabian Sea who were adversely affected by Portuguese
activities. These at best, met with partial success in its
engagements with the Portuguese. The threat from the Malabar
seamen under the Kunhali to Portuguese trade and shipping
reached menacing proportions. The Zamorin, in the meanwhile,
had fallen out with the Kunhalis. The Portuguese then joined
Zamorin in a united thrust against the Kunhalis. After two
sieges, the new allies were able to capture Kottakkal, the
headquarters of the Kunhalis. But, neither the fall of Kottakkal
nor the death of Kunhali Marakkar brought the Portuguese any
respite from the attacks of the Kunhalis, who now began to
harass Portuguese shipping and trade with a vengeance.
advent of the Dutch and the English placed the Portuguese
at a further disadvantage. The Dutch had come to the East
in a spirit of competition with the Portuguese. Their main
strategy was to drive out of the latter. By 1663, they had
finally overthrown the Portuguese power on the Malabar coast.
The treaty which the Dutch concluded with the Rajas of Malabar
clearly showed that their monopolistic tendencies were less
ambitious than those of the Portuguese whom they supplanted.
They tried to entrench themselves by interfering unabashedly
in local politics.
Kochi Raja's dependence on the Dutch went to such lengths
that the latter acquired an effective voice not only in the
administration but even in Kochi succession. This interference
naturally brought stiff opposition from the Kochi princes
second quarter of the 18th century witnessed a diminution
and gradual erosion of Dutch supremacy. The scene was set
for the ascendancy of the English on the Malabar coast. The
English secured their foothold in Kerala in 1682, when they
obtained permission from the Vadakkilamkur Prince of Kolattunad,
to settle at Thalassery. In 1694 they settled at Anjengo (Anchuthengu)
in Travancore (Thiruvithamcore). It was from these settlements
that the English were able to extend their influence over
the initial stages, the English were inclined to take a lesson
from the experiences of the Portuguese and the Dutch and keep
themselves aloof from local quarrels. But in time, this
resolution watered down and the East India Company began
to provide assistance to local powers to fight against their
common enemies, but without, at the same time, entangling
themselves directly in the conflicts. Thus the Company assisted
both Marthanda Varma, King of Travancore and the Zamorin in
their quarrels with the Dutch and other local powers. The
Mysorean invasion of Malabar provided the Company further
opportunity to strengthen its grip on the local rajas and
chieftains. The Raja of Travancore was asked by the Company
officers to met the entire expenditure of the Third Anglo-Mysore
war on the plea that the war was undertaken in defense of
Travancore. The new treaty of 1795 practically reduced Travancore
from the position of a friend and ally of the English East
India Company to that of a protected ally. The Raja was forced
to entertain a subsidiary force far beyond his capacity to
subsidise. The Company also claimed a monopoly in the pepper
trade of the country. The natural outcome of all these developments
was to drag Travancore into the vortex of a major financial
crisis. The Raja was forced to raise loans from bankers and
merchants.The Company's authorities insistantly demanded the
clearing of arrears of tribute. The Raja was in a quandary.
Thampi, the newly appointed Dalava tried to put the State's
finances in order by reducing expenditure and increasing revenues
wherever possible. One measure of economy was the scrapping
of the field allowances paid to troops in times of peace.
This led to a revolt by the Travancore troops. The insurgency
was put down by the exertions of the native troops alone.
But the Company authorities were visibly disturbed. The Madras
Government insisted on a modification of the treaty of 1795
so that British troops be used to aid the Raja in quelling
internal commotion's as well. Thus a new treaty of perpetual
friendship and alliance was signed in January 1805.
new treaty was not well received, especially by Velu Thampi
Dalava. The Dalava began concerted moves for an open rebellion
against the British in defense of the king and the country.
He began to recruit soldiers and collect arms. This move had
the whole-hearted support from all sections of the people.
The insurrection that followed was formidable one. But it
January 16, 1807 Velu Thampi issued a historic proclamation
at Kundara calling upon the people to rise en masse against
the British. The response was wide-spread and in many places
British troops were put in peril. But, as British contingents
began to converge on Travancore from different directions,
the rebels lost heart and the revolt began to peter out. The
Raja, who was anxious about the safety of his throne, wrote
to the Resident requesting for the cessation of hostilities.
Peace was concluded in March 1809. Velu Thampi, who was hiding
in the Mannadi Temple, committed suicide.
new treaty was imposed upon Travancore with the same clauses
as were found in the treaty of 1805. The natural consequences
of fighting with the British and losing the fight, overtook
the three princely states. British control over these states
increased in inverse proportion to the decrease in the power
of the Rajas. By 1812 British control was effectively established
all over the three regions of Kerala - Malabar, Kochi and
Travancore.The expansion of British powers in Kerala was by
no means a smooth affair.
were occasions of violent resistance against them well up
to the second decade of the 19th century by which time consolidation
of British power had more or less been achieved. There were
organised revolts of the natives at Anchuthengu in 1695 and
1721 and at Thalassery in 1704. But it must be stressed that
these uprisings were not merely sporadic and local but singularly
lacking in that spirit of nationalism which was animating
the nations of Europe at that time. The ruling dynasties and
the politically powerful elements in Kerala did not even dimly
perceive that the English Company was the entering wedge of
European imperialism. As distinct from these sporadic, localized
revolts, that showed the characteristics of a popular insurrection
was the Kurichiya revolt of 1812. The Kurichiyas and Kurumbas
were a fairly numerous tribal folk inhabiting the mountains
of Wayanad in Malabar. Led by their chieftain Talakkal Chandu,
they constituted the main prop of Pazhassi Raja's militia
and earned for him many victories in his guerilla warfare
against the British. After the suppression of the Pazhassi
rebellion, the British brought Wayanad under their strict
surveillance and subjected the Kurichiyas to untold abuses
and misery.The rebellion broke out on March 25, 1812. It speaks
much for the unity of the tribals that they kept all preparations
a closely guarded secret until the rebellion began. Though
confined to a limited area in north Malabar, it was truely
a mass uprising triggered off by economic grievances and official
high-handedness. The Kurichiyas took possessions of all important
passes leading to Wayanad and cut supplies and reinforcements
to the ambushed British troops in the valley. The magnitude
of the insurrection is revealed by the fact that the sub collector
of the division had to frantically requisition troops from
Canara and Mysore as the local British regiment was insufficient
to deal with the uprising.For a few days at least, British
administration ceased to function in the Wayanad area. The
failure of the revolt was a foregone conclusion, for tribal
heroism was ill-matched with the sophisticated military machinery
of the English Company. Early in April, the British troops
moved into the jungles, combed out the guerilla hands and
suppressed them. By the beginning of May 1812, the revolt
was effectively crushed quiet returned to Wayanad.The Kurichiya
uprising represented the last of the early organized revolts
against British power in Kerala. A period of political acquiescence,
extending for almost a century, ensured. The only exception
was the series of violent disturbances known as the 'Moopa
Riots' in Malabar from about 1835 to the close of the century.
Though the riots occurred in different parts of Malabar, they
were mostly confined to the Eranad and Valluvanad taluks.
Agrarian unrest among the Moplas, their general economic backwardness
and the low level of education have been mentioned as the
fundamental factors behind these outbreaks.Barring these sporadic
outbreaks, political tranquility prevailed over the whole
of Kerala for roughly a century since the suppression of the
Velu Thampi and Kuruchiya revolts. A sense of helplessness
against British authority, an awareness that British rule
had come to stay, became the dominant note in popular mind.
With Malabar directly administered by the British as part
of the Madras Presidency and guided by the paramount power,
Kerala enjoyed perhaps the longest span of relative peace
in her history. It was, moreover, the period when she felt
the full impact of the West which helped lay, as it were,
the foundations of a "New Kerala".Under the aegis
of the British Government and the enlightened rulers of Travancore
and Kochi, substantial developments took place in the administrative,
social, economic and cultural fields of Kerala. Reforms and
changes were introduced in the administration. The judiciary
and the legal systems were completely reorganised. Humanitarian
and welfare measures - abolition of slavery and removal of
the ban on the wearing of upper-cloth by the low-caste people,
to mention only a few, were undertaken. Public works like
roads, irrigation and communication received special attention.
Above all, the 19th century saw the introduction and spread
of western education, in which a very significant role was
played by the various Christian missionaries. Through the
medium of English education, Kerala was exposed to the full
blast of western civilization. Her intellectual isolation
was broken.Reforms necessarily entailed changes in the conditions
and outlook of the people and these changes in turn necessarily
opened the floodgates of further reforms.