THE participation of Kerala in India’s struggle for freedom is not less important than that of any other state of the Indian Union. It has its uniqueness if we view it from a national prespective. But this unique role has not received the attention it deserves from an all India view point. Even all India historians, particularly of the North and of Delhi sidelined or ignored the early native resistance to British Power staged in the South Western tip of South India and in particular in South Kerala or old princely State of Travancore or Tiruvithamkore. Thirty six years before the battle of Plassey1 in which 29 English men were killed, there occurred the revolt at Attingal in which 133 Englishmen were murdered in cold blood. Except Dr Leena More, all historians made only a passing reference about this pre-mutiny (136 years before the mutiny) anti-British anti-foreign revolt of the natives against British colonialism and imperialism.2 There is concrete proof for the role of the Queen of Attingal in the revolt. Her knights offered stiff resistance against the English. Perhaps in the whole history of modern India the revolt of 1721 in one of the earliest of all upheavals, staged by the Queen.3
Subsequent to the disintegration of the Second Chera Kingdom (800-1124) there emerged about 44 petty principalities in the Malayalam speaking area of the South Western coast of India. Long before Anizham Tirunal Martanda Varma (1729-58) conquered and consolidated some of these principalities to form the Travancore State, there existed in the Southern tip a state called Venad (Vel+nad) or Koopaka Kingdom in Sanskrit language.4 According to Ulloor S Parameswara Iyer, depending on Kollurmatam records the first reference to the Rani of Venad was connected with the Deva Devisvaram temple of Udayamartanda Varma (1117-1195).5 The principality of Trappappur had its headquarters at Thiruvananthapuram while that of Venad at Kollam. A princess named Koopakarani (1576-77) renovated the Siva Temple at Avaneesraram. All these point to the fact that Venad, Attingal, Desingned etc, worked in close intimacy at least with regard to religious matters while they fought each other for other issues including land. According to Van Rheede, the Dutch Governor (1677) records like this, “Umayamma Rani (1677-1698) in not just the Senior Rani of Venad or Travancore, she is also the head of the Trippappur or Venad royal house6.”
In other words, areas between Thengapattanam in Kanyakumari district to North Parur in Ernakulam District proved to be the princely state of Travancore and her maternity was from the Attingal eldest princess whether adopted or not.7 This remains as a clear proof for the prevalence of matrilineal system of succession and inheritance.
Early English Relations
Rani Aswathi Tirunal Umayamma Rani (1677-1698) was not only the queen of Attingal Kingdom but also the head of a confederacy of semi independent states such as Travancore, Nedumangadu, Kottarakkara, Kollam, Karunagapalli and Kayamkulam. She was facing political and administrative problems from the subordinate states and was in need of resources. The English East India Company which was in possession of a factory at Vizhinjam wanted permission from the Queen to fortify it.8 But Pillamar9 and Madampimar who are actually managing the State affairs were opposed to the idea of fortification by the foreign company. The queen and some Pillais received large amounts from the English10. So the queen was obliged to grant the English East India Company (1694) permission to fortify a settlement at Anjengo. But the company was able to start construction of the fort only in 169611. The Dutch and the Pillamars continued to pressurise the queen to prevent fortification of the settlement by the English. Her ministers Kudaman Pillai and Vanjimuttom Pillai were also opposed to the fortification even though the two were rivals.12 When the queen asked the English to stop the work they did not oblige. All the pressure tactics failed because Vanjimuttom Pillai secretly helped the English for the simple reason that Kudaman Pillai supported the queen. The queen was afraid that once the fortification was complete the English would turn against her and pay no tribute or taxes. A large army of Nayars and Muslims was sent to attack the fort but it failed because advance information was given to the English by Vanjimuttom Pillai.13
As early as 1684 John Childe had decided to purchase as much pepper as possible, not only from Attingal but also from the neighbouring area. This was antagonistical to the Dutch, but the Rani was happy. There was a talk that the Rani was pro-English than pro-Dutch in commercial links. The Bombay Government had instructed the English at Anjengo to procure at least 1000 to 1500 tonnes of pepper. Records testify to the fact than the Rani secured presents worth 300 dollars when the English commander Thomas Mitchel collected considerable tones of pepper. The English Commanders always tried to appease the native rulers. The English Captain John Bradourne presented velvet and 250 coins to the princess on one occasion. He also gave 50 coins each to the Travancore king and the nobleman of Cochin (one coin means 21 panam). On the 27th July 1694 Anjengo became a full settlement of the English where they raised their flag (Union Jack)15 The Court of Directors in England did not accept the terms fixed by the queen and at the same time they retained their trade interests in Attingal, Anjuthengu and Vizhinjam16. Until Umayamma Rani’s death in July 1698, she had dictated terms to the English. The fortification work, however, reduced the trade traffic.
Private trade was allowed by the English Court of Directors with a view to earn private profit. When Braboune returned to England in 1707, Simon Cowse became the head of the fort at Anjengo (1707-1712). In 1719 John Kyffin because of his over enthusiasm in private trade obtained a dismissal from the Company service and he was followed by Willam Gyfford.17 Gyfford was no different an administrator that he utilised all means to earn private profit even by using his beautiful wife.18
Because of the 1679 Peace Agreement, pepper and spices from Anjengo could be sold only to the English and not to any other foreign country.19 Consequently the Rani’s and Raja’s sold pepper only to the English. But Gyfford earned huge profit by sending additional pepper procured to Europe in the ship “Thomas” owned by his wife’s brother Thomas Cook.20
Gyfford was humorous in his temperament. Quite often, he used to make sarcastic comments about other people. Once he not only insulted a Brahmin but also forced him to shave the beard of an untouchable slave. By doing so the Brahmin became outcasts as per the caste connections (mamools) of those days and his loyal Brahmin friends took an oath to avenge this injustice and inhuman treatment of the so-called “European Christian merchants” of Anjengo21. Occasions were there wherein both Hindus and Muslims were embarrassed by the English merchants and Gyfford encouraged them to do this. A Roman Catholic lgnatio Malhiero, the official interpreter of the English settlement persuaded young boys to pelt rotten eggs on Muslim traders in the presence of Gyfford and he enjoyed this public insult to the Muslims.22 There were similar instances on occasions and the Muslim leadership had taken a decision to strike hard at the English Christians at an early date. Thus both the majority community of Hindus and the local Muslims knowingly or unknowingly came closer to fight against the Christian traders of the English settlement. Ignatio Malhiero also purchased a coconut grove of a Hindu for one lakh panam. It also was against the local Hindu interest because the grave had one or two small temples.23 The sea coast area proved to be a large one which Gyfford purchased for a small sum. This was also an added insult to Kudaman Pillai family who had, with him some pepper but not money enough to purchase the said grove24 When some Nair pepper merchants met Gyfford and his translator, on the 26th February 1721 they were illtreated and molested so much that they added fuel to fire. Gyfford and his wife found happiness in showering impure water on Muslims who passed through his fort.25 This incident aggravated the already bitter relationship the existed between the people of Attingal and the English.26
(To be concluded)
(The writer is a former Head, Dept. of History University College and can be contacted at P.R.A.G. 58, GPO Lane, Trivandrum – 695 001)