There was an interesting article in today’s Times of India. It said that the Arakkal Beevi, the head of the erstwhile Muslim royal family that ruled over parts of Kannur and Lakshadweep during the last days of the British Raj, and who is a recipient of the Privy Purse since independence has asked the Government of India to return Lakshadweep to the royal family. The news quoted the family as saying that the amount of Privy Purse of Rs 24000, which was quite a good sum of money in the days of independence, is trivial now, and is not worth for a former royal to go to the government treasury every month and wait there to collect the monthly pension of approximately Rs 1900.
Rs 1900 per month for a part of the world that was has been going through a slumbering existence all over might seem worthy for some. But is it really? What has been Lakshadweep’s contribution to history really, be it significant or insignificant? Most Malayalees would brush it out like swatting an insignificant fly. But for a passing reference in the movie Urumi, there is no trace of Lakshadweep anywhere else in the malayalee horizon of recent times.
Let us run through the pages of history to get the right perspective.
As we all know, Kerala has been home to pepper and all the precious spices in the world, and we have had sailors and traders from all over the world visiting us over the centuries to procure this.
I still remember in my childhood, heaps and mounds of dried pepper left out in the sun, ready to be sold at the market nearby. I did not really understand the significance pepper had to our culture and history then, but today, when I see this replaced by reams and sheets of rubber, there is a pain somewhere in the heart. With the loss of pepper and the advent of rubber, we part of our heritage and culture has vanished and there is an augmented litheness in the vertebrae of the malayalee.
Yes, back to the narration on Lakshadweep. Those days of yore, Lakshadweep was more heard of and mentioned than in these days. Nobody really knows how humans began to settle down in the Islands. Like all the history that was in place before the advent of Portuguese and other Europeans, nothing much is written about it.
Folklore has it that Lakshadweep was part of Cheraman Perumal’s majestic Kerala Empire. The Perumal was the last grand emperor of the malayalee country, who converted to Islam and moved to Mecca in the latter half of the eight century. It is said that the Perumal divided the kingdom among his vassals to take care of till his return. The Kolathunad, Cochin, Venad and all parts of Kerala as it was then known as were handed over to his trusted lieutenants to take care of till the grand old uncle returned from Mecca. That he did not return is another story. The only party who was late to the partition was the Samuthiri, who did not get nothing but a sword of the Perumal in the process, with the words – “You die, kill and annex”, and grew to be the most impressive part of the Kerala country during medieval ages.
So, during this partition, the Lakshadweep was handed over to the Kolathiris, who also ruled the northern part of Kerala, in most of the present districts of Kannur, Kasaragod and Wayanad, and parts of present Kozhikode. The Kolathiris had their seat Initially at Kurumatur in Kannur, and later moved on to Madayi and Chirakkal. In fact, few excerpts from their interesting history, I have written in one of my previous posts on Madayi.
In the heart of the Kolathiri country was the small hamlet of Arakkal, which had its seat at the present day Kannur City.
The Arakkal family shared a tradition, a bloodline with the Kolathiri family. Arakkal means half of Chirakkal. The lineage is said to have originated when the Kolathiri Raja married off one of his daughters to a Muslim under rather unfortunate circumstances (the legend is well written in Kottarathil Shankunni’scollection of folk stories – the Aitihyamala) and gave half the kingdom of Chirakkal as gift to her to make her the Arakkal Beevi.
The Arakkal family and its dominions had an on and off peaceful existence with the Kolathiri (Chirakkal) country, although in between there were minor skirmishes once the Portuguese, Dutch and British started to gain ground.
Even at Lakshadweep, it was mostly peaceful existence for the Islanders for a lot of years. Despite the incursions of Portuguese and other Europeans, there was calm and serene all around. The rulers from Madayi and Chirakkal were managing things well, and it was then that during the late eighteenth century, the invasion from Mysore came in. Within a short span of time, the entire administrative fabric that existed in the land was toppled, and the masters of Lakshadweep became the Mysore Sultan, who had overrun most of Malabar except the territory of the Arakkal family.
It was during the Mysore Invasion that religion scored over regional affiliations, and Arakkal, despite sharing a good relationship with Chirakkal, was on the side of the Sultan from Mysore during this period of crisis. The Lakshadweep passed over to Tipu’s control, and when Tipu married off one of his Sons to the daughter of Arakkal Beevi, he decided to gift the island to the ruler at Kannur City. It continued to be under the Arakkal control, till the British defeated Tipu and took over his territories in Malabar. After this, the Kolathiri, Samuthiri and all lost what was theirs, as Tipu had taken them over, but due to the fact that Arakkal was not invaded, they managed to hold on to their land as independent princely state, and passing Lakshadweep to the Malabar administration for a price later. All this is well documented in William Logan’s Malabar Manual as part of history, but rarely taught as part of syllabus in schools and colleges.
Lakshadweep continued under the British Administration till independence, and had nothing much of significance to talk of later.
That’s the Lakshadweep story, and the Arakkal Beevi’s claim to get it back to her has given a small pigment of life to quite a few chapters buried in the pages of history. There are other royals too in Kerala, like the Chirakkal, Kottayam, Samuthiri etc who are not well off like their counterparts at Cochin and Thiruvananthapuram. They lost all in the wars with Mysore and not got anything once they left. Most of the lands and temples owned by the government today in the invaded land of Malabar were under their protection earlier. In fact, most of the revenue sources of the government were their once, and was better run.
Now what if they all demand it back, quoting the insignificant Privy Purse and pension?
Then, even when government does something and gives a few hundred rupees of extra money as pension to the ex-royals like Samuthiri’s there are Law makers who protest and forget their contribution to the growth of society and culture in the old ages. (Congressman VT Balram telling the government had done it wrong increasing the Samuthiri’s pension).
Rudyard Kipling once quoted – “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten”. We have been taught to mug up history that’s written by communist sympathizers who have no respect for either heritage or culture. So, till then, we have to live by what they have said or written in the books and forget the real contributions of all in history, be it the Arakkal, Samuthiri or Kolathiri. Our bad luck.
Epilogue: Personally, I feel we would be better off today, if the lands taken over from the princes are handed over back. Need not stand all the nonsense that goes on with our politics.