Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Analysis of the Man

T. H. Baber wrote in 1805:
“Thus terminated the career of a man who has been enabled persevere in hostilities against the Company for near nine years, during which many thousand valuable lives have been sacrificed and sums of all money beyond all calculation expended.”
"...but in all classes, I observed a decided interest for the Pyche Raja, towards whom the inhabitants entertained a regard and respect bordering on veneration, which not even his death can efface".
"...he for a series of years had kept this province in a state of confusion, and agitated it with the most intricate and perplexing warfare in which best of officers and of troops have at various times been engaged to the melancholy loss of many valuable lives and the expenditure of as many lakhs of rupees".
Pazhassi Kerala Varma was not crowned and hence was not true Raja. He held position of head of state only from 1776 to 1782, 1788 to 1793 and 1799 to 1805. He did not have any desire for personal power and so did not care for kingship. Often some writers have claimed that he opposed British in order to preserve his authority. But that makes no sense in light of the fact that he did not attempt to make himself the true Raja in spite of the immense popularity he had in his country. Also he took over leadership only when true Rajas exposed the country and people to danger. 

Pazhassi Raja was only a junior prince of his dynasty and it was due to fate that he rose to leadership. He took up leadership and went to war only because he felt it was his duty to protect his land and people from alien oppression. As foretold, people of all castes, tribes and classes of his country adored him as their beloved Raja. This was due to the fact that he was willing to do anything to ensure their safety and welfare. They came to love this man so much that he became a hero of folk songs in Northern Malabar.

How much his subjects loved Raja is attested by the fact that despite terrible persecution by British troops, most people refused to betray or abandon Raja and his men. To the bitter end, his subjects, high and low, gave all help they can to their Raja. They fought as his troops, provided him with money and arms, fed and hid him and his men, misled British with false information and faithfully reported British troop movements to Raja and his men - with no desire for any reward in return. 

Those who supported Raja or his men and had the ill luck to be caught by British were hanged, their near and dear ones ill treated or murdered and their property confiscated. Yet, people of Kottayam disregarded even such terrible consequences and supported Raja. British offer of huge reward for head of Raja and his close aides too did not cause any change of mind for his subjects. They steadfast in their determination to stand with their Raja to the end. Neither threat nor temptation could make them betray their Raja. 

Some people allege that Pazhassi Raja did a crime by making alliance with British to fight Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. They even go so far as to claim that Tipu Sultan was the real patriot for being an enemy of British from beginning to end whereas Pazhassi Raja became a patriot only when British harmed his interest. This view is entirely wrong as it does not have a foundation in historical facts. Pazhassi Raja allied with British from 1774 to 1792 only because they have a common enemy called Mysore.  

Pazhassi Raja had no objective to accept British suzerainty. He had no hesitation to fight British when it became clear to him that British will not accept independence and unity of Kottayam. Another point to be noted was that before 1792, British had made no attempt to dominate any part of Kerala whereas Mysore army had invaded, occupied and devastated large parts of North and Central Kerala and committed terrible atrocities on local population. Pazhassi Raja's alliance with British from 1774 to 1792 was based on political common sense.

Truth was that Pazhassi Raja was also keen on an understanding with Mysore. He did make serious efforts for a rapprochement between Kottayam and Mysore in 1780 and 1784. But he was not ready for any foreign policy based on political servility or financial exploitation of his people. In that sense, there was remarkable continuity in his political approach throughout his life. He always desired for good relations with great powers that surrounded his country, but had little hesitation to fight them if need be. 

His tragedy was that he was ruler of too small a country. Had he been ruler of a larger and more powerful kingdom like Travancore or even Calicut, course of Kerala's history would have been different. 

In the film Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja (2009), as in folk imagination, Raja is depicted as a tall man. But eye witness account of Jonathan Duncan, Bombay Governor in 1797, who held peace talks with Raja describes him like this -

"Raja had long hair and a short thick beard, and was a small man. Sometimes he was in the habit of wearing a red cap. His face radiated a great glow."

In addition to his usual title Kerala Simham or Lion of Kerala, Pazhassi Raja is known as Shaktan Rajah ("Strong Monarch") - in Wayanad. Another epithet of his is Chandrakula Vira ("Hero of Lunar Clan").

Raja had three wives-first named Avinyat Kunjani who was much nearer to him in age, was niece of Payyormala Nayar, a nearly independent chief in modern northern Calicut. It was this wife who accompanied Raja to forests and was captured as a sick woman by British in 1805. His second wife was Kodava lady named Devammaji who was daughter of a powerful Kodava chieftain named Annayya. His third wife was named Kaitheri Makom, who was sister of Kaitheri Ambu, Raja's close aide. Kunjani committed suicide shortly after death of Raja. Marriage with Devammaji also was short-lived as she killed herself on the news of her father's death. 

Following are some reasons why he can be viewed as a great man:

When Mysorean army invaded the true Rajah fled in terror leaving their people and land to its fate. But Pazhassi Raja refused to flee, took up leadership of his beleaguered country and subjects and preferred hard life of warfare in forest and mountain fastness than comfortable sanctuary abroad in Travancore.

He led mass resistance against Mysoreans and British, in which all sections of people, directly or indirectly took part.

His troops worshiped him as he was a fearless warrior and a first rate general who led from the front and lived during wartime as an ordinary soldier-he shared all soldierly hardships with them. He had great physical endurance that enabled him to fight in the cruel mountain fastnesses of Puralimala and Wynad. His soldiers were not paid in cash or land. Instead, they were volunteers who were motivated by appeals made by Raja to fight. His army men - from generals to foot soldiers - did not have any desire for reward. They knew perfectly well that what awaited them was most likely death. But charisma and sincerity of Raja was such that they cast aside all practical considerations for the sake of a higher ideal

He knew well how to use his limited armed ability to resist far superior enemies. Most of the time, Raja's men were mostly armed with sabers and bows as gunpowder was short in supply and his enemies were superior in terms of numbers and fully armed with firearms. Yet, he defied Mysoreans for nearly 20 years and British for 10 years-Perhaps one of best examples of the fact that good leadership can compensate other handicaps.

British could conquer great powers like the Nawabs, Marathas and Sikhs with far more ease once they opened war with them. But it took well over a decade to crush this turbulent prince who had no more than 3000-5000 men armed with primitive weapons. By 1805, the British had deployed a force of 15,000 men to face Raja's small army! More important is the fact that Raja was not defeated and killed by military methods-it was pure treachery that led to his downfall in winter of 1805. We can say that he was "undefeated in the field, but stabbed in the back".

The greatest tribute to Pazhassi Raja's military genius is the fact that even Arthur Wellesley Duke of Wellington could not subdue him even after 3 years of severe struggle. Note that this Wellesley played a key role in decisive defeat of Tipu and Marathas and thus conquered most of India for British East India Company. Wellesley's experience in war with Pazhassi Raja enabled him to use Raja's tactics in Spain to defeat Napoleon's army and change course of world history.

Some historians like Woodcock have denounced Pazhassi Raja as a casteist and feudal obscurantist who has no feeling for low caste majority. This is a complete lie and total disregard of historical facts. Raja's attitude towards low caste majority was far ahead of his time and extremely generous and kindly compared to his contemporaries. In contrast to some of those British sponsored Rajahs and nobles who returned to Malabar in 1792 only to extort money from people in name of tax collection and that too in a country impoverished and ravaged by two decades of war, Pazhassi Raja borrowed a large sum from rich merchants and encouraged his farmer-folk with cattle, seeds and saplings to resume agriculture.

Also as mentioned before, Raja was opposed to exorbitant taxation of peasantry, who were majority of his subjects and mostly low caste, and it was this issue that led him to war in 1784 and 1793.

His lower caste subjects reciprocated this love. In 1805, British demolished palace of Pazhassi Raja and confiscated all his property. His near and dear were rendered homeless and had no livelihood. In this moment it was local Tiyyars (members of a lower caste) who built a new palace for kin and kith of Pazhassi Raja. They did so because they loved Pazhassi Raja and hence were deeply pained by the distress of his family.

Raja took special care of his aides and troops. In fact, he was so brutal in revenge if any of his follower or his kin is harmed that not even most fearsome of bandits dare not to threaten Raja's followers' homes, where during war, only women and children were present.

Raja promoted capable men to key posts with no regard of caste, tribe or class. One of his eighteen viceroy Palliyath Ambu was a Vaniyan, a lower caste. A general of his named Pullambil Sankaran was of lower Tiyyar caste. His most famous general, Thalakkal Chandu was a member of forest tribe. Pazhayaveetil Chandu, though a Nayar, came from a wretched background. All of them remained loyal to Raja to the bitter end. Only Pazhayaveettil Chandu betrayed his master. Had it not been for these able and loyal lieutenants, of whom Edachena Kunkan, Chingot Chathu, Thalakkal Chandu, Kaitheri Ambu & Kannavath Sankaran are most important, Raja could not have held out against foreign aggressors for so long.

For over a decade after demise of Raja, British officials were worried that another revolt might explode in North Malabar and were worried by the fact that there were plenty of disgruntled elements in the area ready to revolt. 

Raja died without attainment of his objective of independence. But his struggle did have a beneficial outcome for people of Malabar. British rule in Malabar from 1792 to 1805 was marked by rapacity, corruption and inefficiency due to which ordinary people suffered much. Cotiote War taught British the lesson that people of Malabar should not be trifled with and cannot be trample with impunity. British rule from 1805 to 1947 was extremely exploitative for peasantry, the mass of people in Malabar. Yet, had it not been for Cotiote War, colonial exploitation and cruelty would have taken more barbaric and terrible forms. 

Before 20th century, Pazhassi Raja was a figure known only in North Malabar. But after spread of literacy and press by early 20th century, he became well known across Kerala. Memory of Pazhassi Raja and his heroic struggle became a source of inspiration for freedom movement in 20th century Kerala. At present, his role in early resistance to English imperialism in India is well accepted by scholars.

Some make false claim that Pazhassi Raja was not a freedom fighter since there was no concept of modern nation of India at that time. But should we admire a person only if he suffered and made sacrifice for modern nation of India? He fought to preserve freedom of his country and lost his best years and finally his life. If each ruler of India had fought like that, British could not have conquered India. History tells us that most of Indian powers did not fight the British hard enough. Ones that did, like Pazhassi Raja, fell as their fellow countrymen either were indifferent or betrayed them. If one were to say that each Indian should be like Pazhassi Raja, could anyone object to it?

Pazhassi Raja sacrificed his life for a greater cause at the cost of his comfort and life - that is what really matters. 

It may be of interest to note that both Communist Left as well as Hindu Right uphold Pazhassi Raja as a hero! Left has good reason to see Raja as a fore-runner - Raja took an uncompromising stand to protect interest of peasantry and tribesmen and to the end resisted Capitalist imperialism of English East India Company. Hindu Right admires Raja for his relentless struggles against Islamic aggression of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. They also adore him as he always made appeals to his cause in the name of Perumal and Bhagavati and his commitment to preservation of Dharma. He is upheld as ideal Hindu leader who had effected a Hindu unity that cut across caste and class division. Many Muslims of Malabar also take pride that many Muslims have fought and died under banner of Raja in his wars with British. 

Perhaps it make no sense to put an eighteenth century prince in modern political categories. Only point that can be stated with certainty is that he was a good person who embodied highest form of courage, patriotism, military ability and empathy for poor and downtrodden and that he acted as best as possible to ensure that his people and land remains free from alien control and misery. He without doubt is a great role model. 

Pazhassi Raja Was One of the Greatest Military Geniuses of His Time.

Pazhassi Raja had only two contemporaries as equals in military genius – Yeshwant Rao Holkar of Indore and Dheeran Chinnamalai of Erode. What is of interest is that they all fought British around same time – Holkar from 1803-1805 and Chinnamalai from 1800 – 1805.

In 1795-1805 era, British had an Indian force of 120,000 men. They deployed 14,000 of their Madras troops to crush Pazhassi Raja.

Arthur Wellesley got experience in guerrilla warfare due to his campaign to crush Pazhassi Raja. Wellesley used tactics and strategy of Raja during his generalship in Spain during Peninsular War - with good effect. 

Pazhassi Raja had a country some 4000 square kilometres and 100,000 subjects – which means his country covered only 1/1000th of undivided India and his people covered only 1/1000th of India’s population. 

But in spite being so tiny in size of their country and numbers, Pazhassi Raja and his supporters engaged nearly 1/8th of British-Indian military force for over 10 years.

Cotiote War between Pazhassi Raja and British East India Company was the longest and one of the bloodiest wars waged by British in India. 

To conclude, 
Thousands of salutes to Lion of freedom.

No comments:

Post a comment