Remarks on Pazhassi Raja spark debate

‘Kerala Charithram Part II’, the forthcoming book jointly authored by noted historians M R Raghava Warrier and Rajan Gurukkal, has sparked off a heated debate among historians regarding the relationship of Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja with the British.

Express on November 27 reported that, in the book, the authors had observed that the re-reading and re-interpretation of his letters to the East India Company officials in Malabar and Bombay revealed that Pazhassi Raja was loyal, submissive and subservient to the British authorities.

Authors maintained that Pazhassi was more disturbed about his personal interests which were confined to the small hamlet of Northern Kottayam in Malabar.

Responding to this observation, eminent historian M G S Narayanan told Express that Pazhassi’s relationship with the British has to be distinguished as two phases and to portray him as a pliant to the British was not correct.

“During the invasion of Tipu Sultan, almost all of the local rulers in Malabar fled to Travancore. However, Pazhassi stood with East India Company on the mutual understanding that the rule of the land would be given to him after defeating Tipu. Letters sent by Pazhassi to the British higher-ups during this period show his cordial relationship with the latter,” he said.

“Later, the British refused to hand over the power to Pazhassi. When the earlier rulers came back to Malabar from the South, the British authorities appointed them as collectors of Revenue.

“Following an attack on his palace, Pazhassi escaped to Wayanad in 1800. With the support of tribal people, he fought bravely against the British till 1805 and his correspondence in this period maintain that Pazhassi was a true patriot. “The book is yet to be published and more discussion on the topic could be done after that. But, from the report, I understand that the authors must have given emphasis to the first phase only,” he said.

Historian K K N Kurup, who has studied Pazhassi rebellions and written a number of books on Pazhassi, opined that the ruler could not be characterised only on the basis of his letters.

“What does this convey? Pazhassi had sought the help of the British to protect his land from the invasion of Tipu. Later, when he realised the true colours of the British, he valiantly fought against them to protect the motherland,” he said.

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The New Indian Express