Friday, November 13, 2009

Pyche Rajah

While reading the review of the movie, “Pazhassi Raja”, I was convinced that this was yet another pathetic attempt to glorify some nondescript ruler in a far-flung outpost of British India, as movies such as Veerapandiya Kattabomman have done before. In that Tamil movie, Sivaji Ganesan’s histrionics and delivery of dialogues had helped popularise the legend of Kattabomman. The impression the movie left one with was that Kattabomman was a fearsome firebrand who single-handedly held out against the tyranny of the British. The character of Kattabomman is, even today, held up as an outstanding example of Tamil valour and bravery.

In their despatches and records ( as an example, read pages 288-292 of “ A view of the English interests in India, and an account of the military, by Colonel William Fullerton) the British don’t sound too impressed or concerned about Kattabomman(or Catabomanaig as they referred to him). In fact, the British had a far more serious problem on their hands in the form of Tipu Sultan at that time and were more intent of getting the latter out of way.

Catabomanaig was one of the Polygars ( derived from the Tamil term Palaiyakarar, or care-taker of a Palayam) or chieftains in the area that was administered earlier by the Nayaks. The territory had passed on to the Nawab of Arcot, who unable to return a loan provided by the British, had instead granted them the right to collect taxes from the 72 palayams. Catabomanaig and a few other Polygars refused to cough up the money. The British moved in and ruthlessly knocked off the Polygars. Catabomanaig was captured later and hanged. As far as the British was concerned, he was a minor irritant and a nuisance. For them it was business-as-usual to stamp out these sporadic resistances.

But not so with Tipu Sultan and Pazhassi Raja. They were far more formidable opponents, as British records acknowledge. In his despatches, Arthur Wellesley (later to become the Duke of Wellington) refers to Pyche Rajah frequently and in a less condescending tone. From the military manoeuvres that are elaborated in great detail, it is amply evident that the British did not take the Pyche Rajah lightly or just as a minor pin-prick. Elaborate planning had to be done to counter the Rajah’s guile and guerrilla methods. One such missive from Arthur Wellesley ( Source : Page 301, Supplementary Despatches and Memoranda of Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley) goes as follows ( a longish one, but worth the read)

Bangalore 5th December 1800

To: The Commissioners in Malabar

I have to state to you the force which will be employed in this country against the Pyche Rajah, and the general plan of operations which I have recommended to Colonel Stevenson.

The force will be the 19th dragoons, the 2nd regiment of cavalry, five companies of the 12th, the 77th regiment, two battalions of Coast and two battalions of Bombay sepoys, with 14 pieces of cannon, with Bengal, Coast, and Bombay artillerymen in proportion, besides the guns attached to the two regiments of cavalry.

This force will be amply supplied with stores; and I have given orders at Seringapatam to prepare for it four small mortars with their stores, which I imagine will be found useful. It is already supplied with grain and provisions to any extent that may be required.

The plan of operations, according to which I have proposed that the Pyche Rajah should be attacked on both sides from Malabar and Mysore, is as follows. It appears now that at least we shall be able to hold our ground in Cotiote, if we should not have it in our power to do more. But when the Pyche Rajah will be pressed in Wynaad, it is probable that he will withdraw his people from Cotiote, and in that case it may be possible to push forward the roads and posts to Pereweil, and to have everything prepared for a communication with the Mysore troops in the Wynaad country as soon as these shall be sufficiently advanced. I should propose that this communication should be by the Peria Pass, as being upon the whole the most convenient and nearest to the posts in the lower country, as well as to the Rajah's colgums in Wynaad, which it will be necessary to attack.

I have proposed that the 19th dragoons and 2nd regiment of Native cavalry should be sent into the southern division of Malabar, by Coimbatoor and Paulghaut, in order to awe the rebels in that quarter, and to prevent any co-operation between them and the Pyche Rajah, which might disturb the arrangements made for his destruction.

I have given much consideration to the propositions which have been made by the different Nairs whose opinions have been taken regarding the mode of attacking the Pyche Rajah in Wynaad. It would certainly be desirable to attack him, as" they propose, on four sides at the same time, besides'the attack from Cotiote, viz., from the Tambercherry Pass, from Koorg, from Cancancottah, and from Edatera. But even if it were possible to spare a battalion from the force now in Malabar for the operations in the Tambercherry Pass, which I doubt, it would not, in my opinion, be proper to subdivide the Mysore army, whose force I have above stated, as proposed, to make the three attacks by Koorg, by Cancancottah, and by Edatera.

It must be recollected that each division would be, in fact, a separate army, and it would be necessary to provide it with a separate establishment of stores and provisions. This, if it could be supposed that each division would be in itself sufficiently strong, would take much time, and much of the season would elapse before the attack could be made.

But as there could be no concert or co-operation, and as one division would be liable to be attacked or opposed by the whole force of the Rajah, without the chance of receiving assistance from the others, I am of opinion that a third, or even half, of the army proposed for this service would in that case be exposed to the risk of being cut off. I have recommended to Colonel Stevenson, therefore, not to divide his army until he is better acquainted with the nature of the Wynaad country, with the force of the enemy, and his mode of warfare, than I have been able to make him.

Having decided then that the army should not be divided, the next question is, on what line it should advance into the country, as proposed, in one body. I have recommended to Colonel Stevenson to throw a post into Cancancottah, and proceed from thence to Edatera. I have preferred this line to the former, and to that by Koorg, although that by Cancancottah leads more directly to the seat of the Rajah's government and to his principal colgum, because I perceive by all accounts that the possession of this colgum would not give us any great advantages, nor would not deprive the Rajah of any of his means or resources for carrying on the war.

The road from Edatera to the Tambercherry Ghaut is more open, and better than that from Cancancottah; and the possession of that road by the posts which will be established on it will cut off the Rajah from the southern districts of Wynaad, and from his friends in the southern division in Malabar, and will give confidence to the friends of Yeman Nair, whose influence, it appears, is most prevalent in the districts to the southward of the great road to Tambercherry.

I have recommended that a post may be established at Edatera, and one at Lakerycotta, or in such other situation on the Tambercherry Ghaut as may be preferred. Thus the communication between the army and Calicut will be kept open, and that of the Pyche Rajah with Goorkul impeded.

After Colonel Stevenson will have got possession of the great road to Tambercherry, and the friendly Nairs will have commenced their operations to the southward, I have recommended that he should push forward to the seat of the Rajah's government, or to his colgum, in as many divisions as he may think proper, upon a consideration of the nature of the country through which he will have to pass, the opposition made to him, and a review of the effect which his operations may have produced. I have strongly recommended it to him, however, to beware of breaking up his force, and particularly not to send out detachments of troops with baggage till he is well acquainted with the strength of the enemy.

I have desired him to open a road of communication between the posts of Wynaad and those below the Ghauts as soon as that measure will be practicable.

These are the outlines of the'plan which I have recommended to Colonel Stevenson, and the grounds upon which I have formed my opinion.

Arthur Wellesley.

I haven’t seen the movie. “Pazhassi Raja”, nor do I intend seeing it, but let me admit that my presumption about the disproportionate glorification of the Raja was wrong. His story ( as I have made out through my armchair research on Google Books) is indeed worth telling.


Karthik Sriram said...

Good one! I didn't know that Google books allows you to read entire sections. In the US, it only shows you particular sections.

Raj said...

EOO : Not all the books. Some books are available for 'full view'.