Tipu, Unniyarcha and Wodeyar – truth or fiction?

The short lived people of Puthooram Veedu

When my good friend Premnath sent me details of a recent article in Manorama about Unniyarcha and her life with Tipu, I quickly read it through and was somewhat flabbergasted. It was definitely a possibility, but connecting the most hated villain to a much loved heroine in their real life was not that easy though reel life could and would easily portray such events. All kinds of thoughts passed my mind. Was it a case of Stockholm syndrome in Unni’s mind perhaps? I thought as I dived into the article. The article itself was devoid of details and skimmed over some events and situations to finally come up with an even more startling conclusion. But well, I got my thinking cap on and started checking out the facts. It did not really result in any kind of corroboration or conclusion, but the hypothesis from Mananthery Bhaskaran may or may not be far from truth. Whatever said and done, it made sense to revisit the story of the protagonists and see what may have happened.

Most Malayalees have seen Nasser and other screen actors prancing round and enacting the roles of Tatcholi Othenan, Aromalunni, Kunhiraman and many actresses playing the role of the legendary swords-lady named Unniyarcha. Their stories have been passed down ages through the pleasant Vadakkan Pattukal (Northern ballads) and were duly popularized by the movies. Well all these named people were highly skilled in the art of Kalaripayattu and martial arts. Unniarcha was apparently an expert in the use of the flexible sword Urumi. They were (not the Othenan family though) Chekons or Chekavars who became famous around the late 16th century as a kind of mercenaries, fighting ankhams, and furthering martial arts. Ayyappa Chekavar fathered Aromal and Unniarcha, and they lived in the Puthuram house (Bhaskaran informs that the father was Chirukandan Nambiar or Chindan and the mother was Unnichira). The Puthoram house controlled some 4 kalaris while the Aringodan house controlled 18. In total there were about 42 of these schools of martial arts. The Ankham tradition had been established (see my previous article about Ankhams) and was being popularized by travelling bards, singing them in simple Malayalam using a pleasant meter and in tune with a Pana veena. Their exploits are many and very interesting to read, but we will not talk about all of that here, and concentrate on Unniyarcha.

A pretty damsel, well endowed, well versed in swordplay and other fighting techniques, that was she. Unniyarcha was married to Kunhiraman during her teens (Aaatumanammel Unniarcha as it appears was born around 1769 and must have been married at 1784 or so). Kunhiraman was a smart lad alright, but somewhat lacking in courage and adventure, which Unniyarcha of course compensated for, from her side. One of her first acts of valor was a duel with some Moplah riff raff hailing from Nadapuram who tried to molest her as she passed through the forest with her husband in tow headed towards the Allimalar Kavu to see the famed festival there. He mother in law and husband had cautioned her but she ventured into the forest path undaunted, reluctant husband in tow (Note that as a Chekavor, she would not have had Nair soldiers protecting her entourage). And of course, we did not have paved roads then (The first of these roads were ironically laid in Malabar by her later tormenter Tipu, in order to move his forces and artillery). Anyway as the story goes, the Nadapuram Moplah’s harassed her and the irate lady whipped out her sword and chopped a number of them to shreds. Later when the mob figured out who it was, the Moplah chief came to her (one Nagappan Chettiar had to mediate) and gave her a lot of gifts to pacify her…And so went many stories about her courage and valor.

Thus lived the sister of Aromal and Unnikannan, twirling her Urumi, and doing good deeds like rescuing other women of her village from being kidnapped and so on, in the midst of the other sad events that befell her family, like the untimely death of her young brother in deceit after the duel with Aringodan. To establish perspective, let us take a quick look at that famous story.

Her brother Aromal was also equally famous and it appears that he entered into an ankham or duel to fight the famous fighter Aringodan after getting a fabulous purse of 10,001 panams. The ankham was fought on behalf of two brothers who were vying for control over family property. The argument had reached such a stage that only an ankham was possible to make a final decision. The duel was well publicized and large rewards were offered to the two fighters, Aromal and Aringodan, both equally good with the sword. Aromal wins the duel, however his cousin Chandu who had a grudge against him due to the refusal of the Puthuram family earlier to get him married to Unniarcha, took revenge by injuring Aromal Chekavar mortally with a lamp (there are other versions as depicted in the movie Oru vadakkan veeragadha). The dying Aromal tells of the deceit to Unniarcha who swears ‘koodi paka’ or revenge. Chandu gets married to Aringodans sister after the fight and Unniarcha by then curiously begets a child Aromal unni. This is the first of the anomalies in the story, for it is said that she never had any children by Kunhiraman. So whose son was Aromal Unni? This question will come up again in our study, a little later. Aromal her brother died unmarried but had a tryst with Tumbolarcha and had got her pregnant, but I am not sure what happened there and of course a liaison later with Kunjunuli at Alatur..

Let us now take up the story line of Unniarcha’s life from the research carried out by Bhaskaran, who hails from the same family as Unniarcha.

Times were tough, and the Mysore sultans were on the rampage in Malabar. Hyder had died and Tipu had taken over around 1784. As it appears, Tipu ended up in front of Unniarcha, now aged 19 or so, during a fight in N Malabar. Unniarcha’s family and followers were fighting with Tipu’s army for their life in the Tellichery region, and they were making inroads. Tipu had to intervene finally and he does so with typical treachery (unlike practices in Malabar), he gets hold of her sister in law and chops her to pieces, ordering Unniarcha to surrender or else he would treat all the others remaining in her family, the same way. Seeing the futility of her fight, and in order to save the rest of the family, she lays down her arms and becomes part of the winner’s booty, in a military camp, until later when Tipu adds her to his famed Zenana in Srirangapatanam as a favored wife. She later fathers a son and a daughter through Tipu and remains his wife till Tipu’s death in 1799, though plotting revenge all the time. After Tipu’s death in 1799 she visits her mother Unnichira in Tellicherry, and goes back to Mysore, this time to the court of Krishna Raja Wodeyar. Finally she dies some time in 1822 or so, aged 62 in Mysore. This is the story provided in the Manorama article.

I was confused, now what became of Aromal Unni, her son, the avenger of his uncle and killer of Chandu as the ballads state? Was that boy a creation by some movie script writer? For according to Bhaskaran, Unniarcha had no children by Kunhiraman. Another question plagued me, was Unniarcha really part of Tipu’s harem? Yes, of course it is true that Tipu had a large Zenana or harem, which was much talked about and it is clear that he had a number of Hindu women in the collection of over 600 women, 260 from Hyder’s Zenana and 300 from his own (don’t ask me what he did with them…Gidwani, his chronicler and others who have written great eulogies might even say that he ran a benevolent institution for the 500 war widows or some fancy stuff like that). But all this was getting me nowhere, so I have to visit Tipu’s harem and check around in the annals of history. And that is how I reached the famed Zenana in Srirangapatanam pictured in my collection of books on Tipu and those obtained from the well stocked local library, and dived deep to look for traces of our beloved Unniarcha.

Ah! Srirangapatanam, I remember seeing the remnants of that once glorious palace decades ago, but when I saw it then, I had no interest in history. Today I read about the very same place in its splendor and regret the lost opportunity, but well, the Daria Daulat was indeed beautiful palace even in pictures. As the tourist site Asia rooms puts it…..

As the palace was special to the mighty son of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, he called it 'Rash-e-Jannat' which literally means the abode of happiness and the envy of heaven'. The name inscribed by him on the wooden banisters of the palace can be seen by the visitors even today. Though a large part of the palace is preserved well, the eastern wing of Tipu Sultan's Summer Palace that housed the 'Zenana' or 'Harem' has been destroyed over the time. What exists today are the wonderfully cusped rosewood arches that rise above the fluted stone pillars and the beautiful frescos, painted elaborately on the ceilings and walls of the palace. Zenana was the part of the palace appropriated to the ladies, who were carefully concealed from all eyes, save those of their royal master. Many of these were the daughters of Brahmins and native princes, who had been made captives in infancy, and brought up in the Mohammedan religion, ignorant of their parentage, and of the world beyond the walls which surrounded them.

It was into this palace that Unniarcha would probably have been taken to. But then was she a principal wife? We will find out in due course.

Tipu had many hundred women in the Zenana, majority being high caste Hindus but also women from Georgia, Persia, Europe, and Turkey and women from many families in Arcot, Tanjore, Hyderabad and even Delhi. It is also stated that there were some from Malabar. Was Unniarcha among them? Each of the senior ones had their apartments furnished according to the customs of their place of origin. All of them had been converted and were guarded by eunuchs. Like Tipu’s other desires, objects that were curious rare and outstanding found their way into his palace, similarly was composed his Zenana, and into it possibly came the fighting beauty from Malabar. Did she thrive there or die a morose lady? At the Zenana, the sultan’s favorite wife presided the Zenana hierarchy and established control. The Zenana was also controlled by a Raja khan, his confidential servant who had access to any of them according to Thomas Marriot who was in charge of the Zenana after the Sultan was killed.

Life proceeded in the Zenana without much to offer as change, and secluded behind the walls, Unniarcha may have missed her land and customs, but Tipu was close to his death. Bhaskrans states that by now Unniarcha was a favorite wife and that she established considerable clout over him.

History books make no mention of this, however but there is only one tantalizing clue that Tipu had a son from a Hindu wife, and his name was Abdul Khaliq (KKN Kurup). Abdul khaliq also turns out to be the hostage provided by Tipu to the British in 1872 (pictured in a few paintings of the time) and was later married to the daughter of the Arakkal Bibi in 1789. So Abdul Khaliq cannot be Unniarcha’s son for she herself must have been captured by Tipu around 1789.

Now this was a time when gifts were important and girls and women were given away as gifts by Sultans. Even cast off wives or concubines were gifted to lesser officers or subordinates as human khila’ts or nazar’s. But let us take a look at Tipu’s family with a lens. We are able to do it as some events unfolded when Tipu fell to the British in 1799. One of the first things that took place was some looting and pillaging of the palace. There were, however, reports that British armies might have broken another implicit injunction by plundering Tipu's harem, and these reports inspired an immediate flurry of investigations and denials by the political and military authorities. The liberation of Tipu's harem was the subject of a Thomas Rowlandson cartoon published in 1799 which shows otherwise. Anyway the men put in charge of bringing order at the Zenana were Arthur Wellesley and Col Thomas Marriot - Paymaster of Stipends. A few people including one Reverend from Malabar came to claim some of the women on behalf of their husbands. Wellesley made a list of the women in the Zenana ( I tried hard to get this but have so far been unable to track it down) and assured that they would be properly taken care of or disposed, though he found it amusing that the British had to attach urgency to this task. Anyway they decided to take care of the wives and offspring of the Sultan with great seriousness and the princes of course decided to take all advantage of the situation, goaded by their mothers and the many accompanying aunts and step aunts (interestingly Tipu had determined even earlier that his sons were wastrels and had curtailed their benefits and put them to arduous tasks, but the situation changed with their capture by the British).

The two sons who rose to the apex were Fatteh Haider and Abdul Khaliq. Khaliq as I mentioned earlier was the person who had married the daughter of the Cannanore Bibi. Khaliq and his brother Muiz ud din were the two hostages Tipu had to give to the British as part of the treaty in 1792 (Here again I detected an issue. It is said that Khaliq was betrothed off to the Arakkal bibi’s daughter in 1789. But history books say that Khaliq was only 8 years old when delivered as a ransom to the British in 1792). For three years he was trained in British ways at Ft St george Madras and returned to Tipu. Tipu saw that the two sons who came back were even more insolent brats and sent them now to Paris for improvement of their behavior (how, it beats me) and further education. Anyway Khaliq is now in custody after the death of Tipu at Seringapatanam, ensconced at Vellore and devising ways of making money. As these two are of no further interest to us in this story let us discard them from this story. The only reason I brought them up was the aspect that Khaliq was born to a Hindu wife of Tipu and the prospect that the wife was Unniarcha. Let us therefore look at the wives of Tipu one final time.

The wives listed in history books were Ruqayya banu, Raushana Begum, Khadija Zamana, and they were all deceased before Tipu himself died in 1799. At the time of his death the fourth wife was Padshah begum. All of them had Islamic lineage. Another wife has been identified as Buranti begum, the Delhi lady. Fatteh Haider was borne to a Roshani begum (pum kum from Adoni) though Fateh insisted that she had been promoted to Khas Mahal before Tipu died. Khaliq was the son of Raushana Begum. There is no mention or possibility of a Malabar lady in this group or she would have otherwise have ended up in Vellore under British custody. But according to Bhaskaran, Unniarcha spent her last years in Mysore with the Wodeyars. As Bhaskaran puts it, she became a principal wife of Tipu and his confidante and Unniarcha learned Kannada and English at the Zenana, which seems a little strange for the Sultan actually spoke Persian, Urdu and Arabic. She had a temple constructed for her (unlikely as it is firmly established that all Zenana women were converted)….and after the fall of the Tipu, she moved in with Krishna Raja Wodeyar.

The situation gets a bit murky here for Mummadi Wodeyar was born only in 1794 . Between 1796 and 1799 there were no Wodeyars, so who could Unniyarcha have connections with? Was it with the Khasa Chamaraja Wodeyar IX who died in 1796? I do not know, though the book ‘Annals of The Mysore Royal Family’ may provide some clues. Anyway Unniarcha would not have had a Krishna raja connection while living in the Zenana which was strictly controlled as we saw. So only one person comes up in my mind, the wily Purnayah.

The key to her move to Mysore if such a thing happened may have been Purnaiah, who had been involved with Malabar from the Hyder days and continued as a minister with Tipu. After Tipu’s death he switched sides and joined the Wodeyars, and coached and trained the infant Mummadi Wodeyar and later teamed up with the British as a Dewan of Mysore. But I am sure Bhaskaran has a complete story and we will see it someday as a book. In the meantime I will continue the search for the list that Arthur Wellesley prepared of the women remaining in the Zenana.

The story thus continues to remain a myth. If Unniarcha was born in 1766 and was taken away by Tipu in 1789, then it is impossible for her to have mothered Aromal, unless he were Tipu’s son. But that is also not possible for according to legends, Unniarcha was very much around Malabar and goading Aromal to take revenge on Chandu. Even then the timelines would not be right for such events would not have occurred in difficult times when the Sultans and their army were encamped in Malabar (those events would have found their way into the ballads). Then again, let us for a moment assume that Unniarcha was a favored queen in the Zenana. This is also not possible for the name was never seen in Wellesley’s or Marriott’s papers. The queens listed and the sons that come up do not indicate any person of Malabar origin. But then she could have been a lesser consort. If that were the case, she would have remained in Srirangapatanam after all the others were taken to Vellore by the English. It is then possible that she joined up with the wily Purnaiah and moved to the Wodeyar household. So for me the story is still a myth, but then again I may have missed the links that Bhaskaran has seen or possesses. I look forward to hearing more about this story.

Thus the story of the Aromal and Unniarcha as we know may belong to a time before the Mysore sultans decided to come south.

Whatever happened to Aromal Unni, Kunhiraman and all the others? I do not know….

What happened to Tipu’s wives and sons? The motley group was moved to the Vellore fort where they lived a life of luxury and waste. The two sons who rose to the fore were very poor specimens of humanity according to Hoover and were more interested in playing politics and finding ways of hurting each other as well as collecting wives and concubines, with the very large pension provided by the British. They made a mess of their life and were somehow wrongly pictured as possible culprits behind the not so famous Vellore mutiny of 1806 about which I will write about another day.

Ultimately, Unniarcha alone proved to be long lived among the short lived and much talked about Puthooram Veettil chekavars in real life and in legends. As for the sultans, like it was once said, “Haidar was born to create an empire; Tipu to lose one.”

Note: This article is a simple study of the events around the Zenana of Tipu in 1799 and is not meant in any way to discredit the article mentioned or the researcher Bhaskaran. The attempt was only to try and reach a rational conclusion from the limited information in the article. Perhaps I do not have the full foundation or all the facts, so I beg to be forgiven in such a case and eagerly look forward to studying them some day. Nevertheless, my feelings for Tipu will continue to remain negative.

Men without hats – James Hoover
Tipu Sultans search for legitimacy – Kate Brittlebank
Nawab Tipu Sulatn – KKN Kurup
Sword of Tipu Sultan – Gidwani
History of India – Julia Corner
Malayala Manorama 17th April 2011 – Article by Bijish Balakrishnan

Pics - Wikipedia, Columbia.edu, Google images


Maddy many thanks for the article, you have done some deep study.Congratulations
stringn00b said…
Maddy, where did you pick up Unniarcha's birth facts from? It that source credible? To me, it's not clear if she was (actually the whole gang of them - Aromal, Chandu etc) indeed real. It's a northern ballad, and as such may have been spiced up considerably to make it sound like a great story. Besides, if everything Bhaskaran says is true, it seems like Tipu PR personnel needed to be changed because if it were me, I'd want everyone to know.
December chills said…
Dear Maddy,

It is a fascinating story.Though i am a history student, i have never come across with this connection.

Warm Regards,
Kamini said…
Every time I read a new post of yours I think: this is the best one yet! And sure enough, I think this piece is your best to date! How I wish I had someone like you as my history teacher in school!
Maddy said…
Thanks Premnath - you were the incentive to this...
Maddy said…
Thanks stringn00b...The birth dates come from Bhaskaran's study, as you will glean from this article.I am not sure how exact they are, but the study of vadaklkan pattukal (there are many researches on this topic)signify people and events existed though there is always a touch of exaggeration as time goes by..remember also that for tipu who hobnobbed with the Istanbul sultans,. teh french etc, the petty chiefs of Malabar were at best a nuisance, and of no great significance.
Maddy said…
thanks dc.. glad you liked this
Maddy said…
thanks toms ...welcome to my blog & keep visiting..
Maddy said…
thanks kamini..i will try to better each one as I go from topic to topic, but as you know some topics are more dear than others...
diyadear said…
Hi maddy,

How r u?? ormayundo?? Glad to see ur blog alive and so full of rich history :)

Akash said…
The story of tipu and Unniyarcha is said to be in the book "kadathanadan nombarangal" written by Mr.Bhaskaran. You may get more details regarding certain doubts expressed in the article from the book. But most probably this story connecting Unniyarcha with tipu is only a way to increase the sales of the book.
Maddy said…
hi diya
yes, of course i remember and see that you have started posting again.. great & keep in touch..
Maddy said…
thanks akash.
i must get a hold of the book soon.
is it available in the book shops out there?
Urs....Jina said…
Im so glad you wrote this. I was confused with the article too. And while there are no answers till- atleast Im not as confused as before
Maddy said…
Thanks jina..
that was a real tricky story, mostly a wild goose chase..
All Malayalees have looked up to Unniyarcha as a great heroin for the last three hundred plus years. For the last few years , there have been intermittent attempts to mallign Unniyarcha's image. What could be the reason ? Possibilities are :

Casteism ? Unniyarcha was adored by all Malayalees irrespective of caste & creed. But nowadays, Malayalees are getting compartmentalised in to different caste groups. Each caste want their own heroes and heroin and there is a reluctance to accept others.

Publicity: Has been used by many Writewrs and Filmmakers. Vadakkan Veeragadha, the National Award winning movie is an example

Northern Ballads, the original historical literature describes, Unniyarcha, daughter of Kannappan Chekavar and sister of Aromal Chekavar, as a brave warrior lady who sent both her children for Angam with Chandu, to take revenge on the latter for killing his brother by unethical means. In Angam, one person has to die. When Unniyarcha sent her children for Angam, she knew that her children may die. Can such a brave lady surrender to Tipu, or for that matter to anyone, and live as his wife. There is no word to describe this ridiculous verswion. All I would say is - unfortunate.

Chekavars are a sect among Ezhavas/Thiyyas. Aromal Chekavar and Unniyarcha were the children of Kannappan Chekavar. In Norther Ballads, Puthooram Veedu is described as family having lineage to Ceylone ( Srilanka ). It is an established fact of history that Ezhavas have links to Ceylone as far as their origin is concerned. Now the author of the new Book is bringing in some Nambiar names in the family tree of Unniyarcha. The family tree given is full of contradictions.Ofcourse, most of the modern day historians say that Caste system consolidated in the 15th century in Kerala, the suppression of Ezhavas and Thiyyas was a major feature of the scenario that emerged. In this background, to believe that Unniyarcha was the daughter of a Thiyya/Nambiar parentage during the 18th century will need to change our perception of histroy.

Literate Kerala will do well to ignore these kind of literary works brought out with ill intentions.

Mahesh K Narayanan
VR said…
Vaddakan Pattugal have 2 divisions - 1 is PUTHURAM PATTUGAL where main characters are Chekavar [Tiyars] and 2nd is TACHOLI PATTUGAL where main characters belong Nair [Nambiar] caste.

It is observed that clans and places mentioned in TACHOLI PATTUGAL can still be traced whereas places and clans mentioned in PUTTURAM PATTUGAL can no longer be found ---- which means PUTTURAM PATTUGAL is more ancient.

TACHOLI PATTUGAL refers to events around 1600 AD, whereas it is agreed among folklorists and historians that PUTTURAM PATTUGAL happened before arrival of Europeans ie before 1498.

If that is the case, Unni Archa and Tippu Sultan could not have met one another! BECAUSE COUPLE OF CENTURIES SEPARATE THEM!!!!!
Any idea who published this book?
Maddy said…
pls refer comment from akash above, the book is kadathanadan nombarangal, i do not have it, i have not read it, but you can check in DC books or othe rplaces.
Manu said…
I agree with VR above and have definitely read that the ballads were from the 15th century or so and by no means right before the 19th century. My information was that by them in most parts of Kerala ankam, chunkam, etc. had also died out. But your article was certainly a very interesting read and I'm going to try to find Mr. Bhaskaran's work if I can.
Maddy said…
thanks Manu..
teh timing was awry in my mind as well..but then I hoped the author had specific proof. I have not read the book mysself, but if you do, pls give me the gist..
Puthooram Unniyarcha (AD.1549-AD.1620) was a courageous Thiyya (Ezhava) woman. She was expert in Kalarippayattu and Horse riding. She was the daughter of Kannappa Chekavar and sister of Aromal Chekavar. Puthooram veedu (House) was situated in Thalassery not in Vatakara and it was a famous Thiyya (Ezhava) Tharavadu.

Vatakara was the native place of Thacholy Othena Kurup (AD.1763-AD.1795) and family.It was a Kalari Kurup family. There had another woman in Thacholy family and her name was Thacholy Unnitharcha. It is believed that she was kidnapped by Tippu.

Thacholy Chandu (Chanrashekara Kurup) was the younger brother of Thacholy Othena Kurup.

Puthooram Chandu (Chandrangada Chekavar) was the cousin of Aromal Chekavar.

Renakeerthy Chekavar (Raghava Chekavar) was the Chief commander of Great Marthanda Varma of Travancore. Please see my Blog.
Raja said…
I am very familiar with most of the works on Wodeyar's including Annals of Mysore Royal family Vol- I & Vol-II.
This is the first time i have come across the name of Unniyarcha ! The whole story appears to be a figment of Authors fertile imagination.

Khasa Chamaraja Wodeyar died in 1796 and it is foolhardy to imagine Tipu who died in 1799 allowed some one from his Zenana to keep any relationship with someone else at the same time !

When Mummadi Krishna Raja Wodeyar succeeded to the ancient throne of Mysore in 1799, he was only 5 (five) years old.

There is nothing to show on record Unniyarcha ever lived in Mysore post 1799. If she did Mark Wilks would have certainly mentioned her in his book.

Assuming She did, then she could have only been under the protection of Dewan Poorniah who obviously knew her - i.e if she ever was in the Zenana of Tipu !
Sandeep said…
i have read the book, 'Kadathanadan nombarangal' by bhaskaran manantheri.It is published by Dhara publications, Manathei, Kuthuparamba-670643, phone 9447665450.

i belong to the place Nadapuram. There is a road starting which connects Avolam(1.5km away from the Nadapuram town) to Kallachi. Now it is called Tipu Sultan road (i guess not officially). in my childhood (10-15 years back only) i heard from local people that it was created by Tipu when he was going to attack a Kovilakam near Kallachi(where Puthoram veedu is situated according to Bhaskaran). I have also heard that the road is called Tipu sultan road by Muslims and Hindu's call it Unniyarcha road. i have also heard the stories of treasures people kept underground in fear of Tipu.

It is sad to see that some people still think everything in terms of cast only.
Maddy said…
Thanks Sateesh, Sandeep and raja..
This was an analysis of the hypothesis put forward in Bhaskarans book. Much conflicts with reality, perhaps there was a unnitharcha who was picked up by Tipu. nothing in tipus records anyway..that was the point
ponnuanu1982 said…
sir i want to know about history of unniyarcha aromal chandu aringodar paiyambilli puthuram veedu kadathanadu which book is it realy history in malayalam can u help me pls anilprasanth5@gmail.com i hopped ur better replay
Maddy said…
there are a number of books on vadakkan pattukal
try these..all available in DC books or mathrubhumi book stalls

vadakkan pattukalilude - M.K. Panikkotti
vadakkan pattukalile Veeranganmaar - P Balakrishnan
Unniyarcha - P Balakrishnan
when the film Oru vadakkan veera gaadha was released, MT himself was mentioned that the story of the film was only a thinking of him, and he was not trying to rewrite the vadakkan paattu. But when watched the movie, I felt M T is right. It's the success of a story teller!! When Bhaskaran's research came up I thought that may also right because no where it was heard about the death of Unniarcha!! I do not know which is right or which is wrong!!! All are just like an interesting Bhootha kadha!! Yes it the bhootham of Unniyarcha!!
Maddy said…
yes, it is somewhat mythical, somewhat of a legend...
Hi Maddy, my first read of your blogs and is quite absorbing. Thanks for opening up the legends and making one think in terms of shedding their folklore status.
Maddy said…
thanks bhagyanath
weclome and hope you continue to read many more that will appear here
Very elaborate and in depth study. I feel like agreeing with Mahesh K. Narayanan.
Maddy said…
thanks pns..
Arjun Sreedhar said…
A very interesting article....Most importantly ur reasoning sounded very logical!!!! I have already shared this article in my facebook profile...
Maddy said…
thanks arjun
appreciate your comment, glad you enjoyed the article
Good article. it questions the rationale behind blended stories. one shall wonder why Unniyarcha could'nt get hold to at least a kitchen knife to fight the sultans & aids while in zenana!. The Unniyarcha, whom we have adorned will never live in Tippu's zenana or that of Wadiyar!
Kent said…
Hi Maddy,

Very entertaining read. Like your easy writing style.

On the material covered, first of all - good effort! But...I feel its a waste of time to try and accertain the facts in what must surely be a highly embellished story to begin with. Secondly I notice a similar trend among sikh friends of mine who are forever trying to establish what a brave and hardy people they are. Its gets on your nerves after a while. How can it be that a certain group/community are the bravest?...and the rest??? Surely this is nothing but delusionary self aggrandizement.

We thiyyas need heroes and heroines no doubt. Let us join the national stream and produce doctors, engineers, sportsmen, artists and thinkers...as Indians or humans (on an even larger stage) and outgrow this childish yet universal penchent for aggrandizing delusion. My experience in life has been that such delusion always leads to frustration and sorrow.

Keep writing!


shan said…
hi maddy,
can i ask do u really belive that nairs were the only soilders of kerala.or really nairs were soilders.after studying about a number of princely ruling of kerala i doubt it.many before me also have said about it.whats ur opinion
Maddy said…
thanks AK..
all this stuff about brave, braver bravest etc is stuff of fiction. at one time or the other,one community needed the other and then a story was made...
Maddy said…
thanks shan..
no i do not and you will get the details if you peruse my history blog - historic alleys. while we had all kinds of soldiers, at one time or the other, only nairs had the authority to kill and carry arms. later they had all kinds in the group like thiyyas, moplahs, christians, etc..and various aborigines like kuriachars and so on...then again we had imported army men from neighboring states and marthanda varma for example even made them nairs...
Murali said…
Our unniarcha,the brave lady will never end up as keep of Tipu ...no one need to waste their time in such researches.
She would have rather killed herself ,than living with such an inhuman ruler
Maddy said…
thanks Murali
let's assume & conclude that unniyarcha did exactly that.
Hima Nair said…
uniyarcha was a brave lady
Hima Nair said…
The temple Tippu built for Unniyarcha is still in Srirangapatnam palace. Ravivarma, the famous painter has portrayed Unniyarcha in his paintings named The Malabar lady & Malabar lady with veena.
Sree said…
That was a wonderful article. Informative. Thanks
citygurl said…
Lovely Analysis
Maddy said…
thanks sree and citygurl.
glad you liked this
Romero Arakkal said…
Unniyarcha lived in 16th CENTURY & Tipu lived in 18th century...

The lady Tippu captured was unni-tharcha of thacholi..(not unni-archa) a beauty but she was not a warrior.

Unni-archa was a member of Puthur Tharavadu which is Thiyya(NOT Ezhava) tharavadu of Thalassery..

Comparing Thiyya with Ezhava is like comparing Nambiar and Pulayar..!!!

Thiyyar castes are varunar who follows Nyayadharshanam and Nambiar castes are varunars who follows Poorvameemamsa dharshanam...
Maddy said…
Thanks Romero
for the clarification.
Interestingly the Mysore records do not mention any Unni Tharcha either as prominent in the harem..
About the Thiyya - pls take a look at this
Su Lee said…
"The temple Tippu built for Unniyarcha is still in Srirangapatnam palace."

which temple is this?

the demonization of Tipu was a propaganda war carried out by the british - there is enough evidence to show that while he was a typical product of his time: a warrior and indeed cruel, he and his father were also a devotee of Sriranganatha at srirangapatnam and supported many of the religious maths in and around mysore. religious conversion was a facet of his conquests - but for gratuitous cruelty and torture, the british were no better.
Maddy said…
Thanks Su Lee.
That was what Raghavan had stated, which I did not agree with for there is no such temple.
But I do not agree that Haider & Tipu were devotees of Hindu gods in that sense. They were staunch Muslims but for continued support from his Hindu ministers, allocated grants to selected temples. In fact I think one of them allowed Madhava Rao to give a grant to the Guruvayur temple.
Su Lee said…
maddy, perhaps "devotee" was a bit of an over-statement, on second thoughts - but contemporary history and later historians vouch for the fact that tipu was not the rabid religious fundamentalist that british accounts attempted to propagate. here is an interesting resource:

The Tiger and the Thistle

i live in mysore and visit srirangapatnam (sometimes on not very happy occasions, i have to admit - since we go there to the sangam to immerse the ashes of loved ones) - and am saddened and baffled by the nearly complete obliteration of tipu and the french on the island, except for sterile and sanitized touristy locations like the darya daulat palace and his dungeons. abbe dubois and the french bungalows are all gone, the place where his body was found is marked with an inscription and a concrete park. a more evocative spot is the ruined water gate in a run down part of srirangapatnam fort where tipu is said to have rushed to close the breach during the last war.

Tipu's aim was to eliminate the british from his kingdom - agreed his claims to the throne were doubtful - but somehow, right or wrong, i see him as a gallant and tragic figure. my dad's family is said to have been fleeing from tipu's "pada" when they finally came and settled in irinjalakuda.
Maddy said…
Thanks Sue,
Yes, I agree that the British paint him with a rough brush. But the way the people of malabar look at him is for other reasons, mainly because he was a tyrannical despot when he subjugated the region, after his father.
I have covered those events (including the one youmentioned) to a certain extent with more detail in my History blog.
Mahesh_VP said…
Maddy, Thanks for the blog, I enjoyed every minute of it.
Maddy said…
Thanks mahesh..
glad you enjoyed it, keep visiting often, as i post articles regularly and pls do comment
Raju Bhaskaran said…
I can;t belive the legendary women unniarcha is a wife of muslim ruler tipu.i know he have a group of wifes from hindu,muslim,arab countries.but this comments on unniarcha is very painful.the two heroes are lived in two different centuries.
Maddy said…
I hope you read the article carefully - that is exactly what i was trying to say, just looking at facts taht the timelines and facts do not match up..
Raju Bhaskaran said…
I get a first information from your blog about cast system in kerala.here i noticed a matter that a nair men kill a low cast men if he touch his body.is it a real history.
any story on the devsahayam lennoy mv relationship ? I see your stories are well done.
Maddy said…
hi Gopi..
I had briefly covered lennoy here.
Thosugh I have not written an arfticle about him, per se..
Hima Nair said…
The temple Tippu built for Unniyarcha is a Devi temple - Devi Ahankalamma temple.When you enter Srirangapatnam palace through the elephant gate, you can see a small temple inside big walls..I hav the picture of it. Daily oojas are performed here still.No guide will take you here.you have to find it.
Hima Nair said…
few people are coming to this temple now, mostly locals..
Hima Nair said…
the picture I have chosen as profile pic is the Unniyarcha portrait copied by Raja Ravivarma during his stay at Mysore.
Raja said…
Devi Ahankalamma temple..... It must be Alamalemma Temple. She is the queen of Tirumlaraya (Srirnagarayalu) who was the Viceroy of Vijayanagar at Srirangapatna during 1610 from whom Raja Wodeyar conquered Srirangapatana and established the Wodeyar Rule and started the famous Dasara festivities since then. Alamelamma had taken the Goddess Ranaganayaki's Jewels along with her. Attempt to get back the Jewels resulted in the famous Curse on Wodeyars : May Talakad turn into a barren expanse of sand, May Malangi turn into an unfathomed whirlpool, May the Rajas of Mysore not have children for all time to eternity...
Since then Wodeyars worship Alamelamma.

Any attempt to deify this unknown Unniyarcha at Srirangapatna is by vested interest trying glorify Tipu.
Kharan said…
Hi sir , I really appreciate the effort you took for this article . I love it . . . When there are people ready to sell themselves for publicity people like you are inevitable . Thank you
teena said…
I was searching the net to see if unniarcha had even had a fight with the British army when I came across your blog. I found it really informative and logical. I have no knowledge of kerala history from before 1900's. So, i am not sure if what I suggest is possible - 1. u speak about Tippu's son being betrothed before being 8 yrs old to the daughter of arakkal bibi as being slightly improbable, but from my understanding of history, I thought it was possible for parents, especially royal parents to arrange the marriages of their children at any age. 2. About Unniarcha's son. Sacred marriage rituals came into being in kerala (except the namboothiri/christian) quite late, only after 1900's. most castes/communities had loose contractual ties which could be broken depending on expediency. I have a friend from kannur who doesnt really know where her paternal grandfather is right now, other than that he was a brahmin who had a temporary sambandhan with her grandmother. So it is quite possible unniarcha took on a lover/husband after her first husband since sexual liasons were not taboo in the 18th century and before among many communities.
Maddy said…
hi Kharan
thanks - I am sure Bhaskaran has some reasoning behind his sttory, just that I cannot figur eit out..
Maddy said…
thanks Teena..
No - the marriage of the 9 year old Khaliq is a fact, so it is reality, not a probability.
This marriage happened in 1789. But this Abdul Khaliq cannot be Unniarcha’s son for Unniarcha herself must have been captured by Tipu only around 1789. That was the point.

Sonia Das said…
Hey mady really liked reading your blog.... it sure is mind boggling the facts I mean.. I mean I used to wonder what had eventually become of unniarcha, the lioness of malabar. If u do mind more info regarding her last days, do post
Maddy said…
thanks sonia..
the days of unniarcha and her story are the subject of many movies and books. ok! i will get to it soon, thanks for visiting and keep reading..
SURESH P said…
Dear Maddy,

This is the first time I am commenting on your post. Although I have been reading your post for the past 1 year. I really cant stop my instincts to praise you. Having got interest in the history of our great India, I started to collect information about history of Calicut. That is the time I got a link to your blog. The first impact on me was that how we had studied History in a wrong perspective, One example was, all over India we have been praising Vasco Da Gama for his discovery of route to India (kerala), but the ultimate motives behind such venture had never been discussed. Your blogs had provided such insights. I am limiting myself here. About this post, I too believe that Unniarcha is just an imaginary character. Bye for now. Will be following you..
SURESH P said…
Hi maddy,

Although reading your blogs for the past year, this is the first time I am commenting on any of you post. Really I could not stop my instincts from praising you. Though history was my least interested subject during my studies, recently I have got some interest in the History of Calicut. On searching I got a very useful & interesting link in you.

After reading your blogs, I was wondering how we were taught History from the wrong perspectives fulfilling the vested interests of some useless professors creating our study materials. As an example, we have revered Vasco Da Gama for discovering the route to India. But never had highlighted his cruel attitudes, and his doings to the Muslims in Kerala. That was just one example, and lot we can find when we dwell into the histroy pages. You have been doing very good job in enlightening people like me.

Now, regarding this post, I also feel that Unniarcha is mere an imaginary character as had been discussed at length by you. Anyway, keep it up. Will be following you...

Maddy said…
Thanks Suresh...
happy to hear that you enjoyed the articles.
yes, you are right, i felt the same when i read some of the heavy source books, the problem is in the way they were written, with little perspective. Many are put off by history because of that. So I am slowly working my wwy through the history of our land and retelling it my way...
Arun Menon said…
Hello Maddy..

I am addicted to your blog.. Lot of research and a great neutral perspective on the events. Its brilliant, the way you connect the dots.

If the ballads are close to truth, i cannot believe that a person like unniyarcha (who cherished her freedom above all) can ever submit to a tyrant. She would rather take her life. But its also true that, there were many men and women of malabar, forcibly taken to srirangapatnam.

Really look forward to a page from you on 'padayottam' itself, which left a profound effect on malabar and greater kerala for years to come.

Dear maddy pl.read KILIPPATU monthly published from Thunchan smaraka samithi airanimuttom Trivandrum kerala.about more details of unniarchas story.
Read kilippattu malayalam monthly published from Thunchan smaraka samithi Trivandrum for details of unniarcha s history.
Maddy said…
thanks KM..
i will try to get a hold on it --can you email me a scanof tehr espective pages pls? as I live in US..
Abdul Rahman said…
How it is possible,because unniyarcha lived in 16th century and tippu in 18th.
Maddy said…
thanks abdul rahman
that is what I have tried to check in the article, if you peruse it carefully
jk47 said…
Dear maddy,
Interesting, i am extremely confused now (as you are). I couldn't find any logic in Mr. Bhaskaran's account. This meek lady in Tippu's harem, doesn't feel like the warrior lady we all are familiar with. As some one commented here, may be to sell more copies of his book.

About Tippu, all he knew was to destroy. The destruction he caused in Malabar was unparallel & to glorify him by referring to him as freedom fighter is an insult to those real freedom fighters. What i cannot understand is the whitewashing done by a respected historian like Sreedhara Menon ! Trying to twist history, wouldn't that lead to loss of his credibility ??? I am definitely loosing my faith in Indian historians...

I saw this article on Tippu & i'm providing the link here , plz check it out :
Maddy said…
Thanks Jk47..
I was trying to connect the dots in bhaskaran's tale, but they would not. nevertheless, we learnt a lot of things in the process, won't you agree?
Tipu is another story.. someday I will write a book about the Mysorean interlude..then you will see both the good and bad, mostly the latter, sides. yes, i know the varnam article... by the way the author of varnam is also a JK!!
jk47 said…
Yes, i did Maddy, it was enlightening. I do hope you will indeed write a book about Tippu and especially about his atrocities in Kerala. I cannot even imagine the scenario if Tippu had indeed conquered Cochin and Travancore too !!!

It was Girish Karnad who recently added Tippu with the title of an 'Indian patriot', yup he even went to the extent of calling Tippu 'the greatest son of Karnataka has produced in 500 years.' This is a quote by him : 'Let me say that if Tipu Sultan was a Hindu, he would have been worshipped like Shivaji. Just because he is a Muslim, he is being hounded by the right-wing, and there are right-wing historians too trying to invent facts' !!!

I mean i used to like this guy Karnad but this comment pissed me off like hell. Have this man read anything about the atrocities of Tippu in Malabar ? Obviously not or may turning myopic with age....
jk47 said…
I didn't knew that the Varnam author was also another JK....Haha, thanks for pointing that out Maddy.
Maddy said…
Thanks JK..
Tipu, Shivaji even Ranji Jhansi...all people who worked for their clans and kingdoms and who even supported the Colonial powers at one time or the other...Eventually fought against the bigger colonial powers when they were threatened..but not with any Indian concept...India as a unified region came into being after Gandhiji's efforts much later and that is when Indian patriots were born, not before ..
Naveenkumar K.U said…
India as a nation state may never had been conceived before, but there are ample evidence of cultural similarities which gelled various parts of India.

Actually Tilak predated Gandhiji on the idea of swaraj.
Rama Chandran said…
My friend John Paul began writing a script,based on Bhaskaran's book-Kamal Haasan had agreed to play Tipu.The project got dropped when it was pointed out that Vadakkan Pattu & Unniyarcha were there much before Tipu!
rackseth sant said…
first let me make one thing very clear since no one made clear to romereo arrakal this chekavar subcaste or title is nothing but subcaste only given to ezhavas/thiyyas me myself is from alummootil house of allepey famous chekavar house of chekavars and pannikers of famous ezhava tharavadu of allepey !!!! and let me make u very clear the alumootil house was much famous and much richer and famous in travancore than puthooram house which was in malabar!!!! and u made a comment about comparing ezhavas and thiyyas(which is subcaste of ezhavas) and if you don't think that thiyyas are not subcaste of ezhavas and if u think both are different , so let me make u clear that ezhavas of travancore are much richer and advanced than the so called thiyyas of malabar(which u claim is different sect) our chekavars and kalari and ayurveda and sanskrit knowledge in the past was enormous and one of the best in the world. and another thin comparing ezhavas of travancore and thiyyas of malabar is like comparing UNITED STATES OF AMERICA(EZHAVAS) AND BANGLADESH(THIYYAS)............... although i have heard very few in malabar claiming or saying that thiyyas are different than ezhavas but i am first time seeing a claiming they are savarnas oh my god thiyyas/ezhavas were avarnas is a known fact(although the ezhava/thiyya community are very rich full of money but they were not at all savarnas they were avarnas is a known fact).......................... and let me make u very clear in the 21st century the ezhava community of travancore are full of billionaires(some famous examples are vp nadakumar of manapuram finance and sd shibulal of infosys and k muraleedharan of KFC group etc etc etc) do not dare the poor thiyyas of malabar(which is nothing but a subcaste of ezhavas) with the super duper rich ezhavas of travancore)
sam said…
Unniyarcha was a thiyya lady...how can u intrdouce some nambiar connection now ? For the people, all good are higher caste..!!! Pity..!!!
sam said…
Unniyarcha was a thiyya lady. Now how van you introduce the nambiar connection ??? Pity..!!!!
Dileep Kumar said…
hallo all this is not true story, all are must read kadathanadan nombaragal book written by baskaran manatheri that is the real story
KerAlaN said…
Dear Maddy,

U r mistaken UNNIARCHA for UNNITHARCHA, who was lived in late 1700s. She was the daughter of CHIRUKANDAN KURUP and UNNICHIRA (sister of the legendary Kalari fighter THACHOLI OTHENAN,1763-1795).This was the main cause of rivalry between THACHOLI OTHENAN and TIPPU. It also believes that Mayinkutty, who shoot down OTHENAN was send by TIPPU.(Another story is also der). Besides, UNNIYARCHA was lived in 1500s. She is de only daughter KANNAPPA CHEKAVAR and u already said dat, as we all know, she had a son who killed CHANTHU with the help of his 'machoonan'- son of AAROMAL CHEKAVAR- at their teenage. Not only that, even MANATHERI BHASKARAN himself has the knowledge that TIPPU got UNNICHIRA's daughter(she came back to visit UNNICHIRA,her mother after the death of TIPPU), who is actually UNNITHARCHA and not UNNIYARCA.

We can also see that, 'puthooram patt' belongs to 16th century and 'Thacholi pattu' was from 18th century....
KerAlaN said…
Dear Maddy,

U r mistaken UNNIARCHA for UNNITHARCHA, who was lived in late 1700s. She was the daughter of CHIRUKANDA KURUP and UNNICHIRA (sister of the legendary Kalari fighter THACHOLI OTHENAN,1763-1795).This was the main cause of rivalry between THACHOLI OTHENAN and TIPPU. It also believes that Mayinkutty, who shoot down OTHENAN was send by TIPPU.(Another story is also der). Besides, UNNIYARCHA was lived in 1500s. She is de only daughter KANNAPPA CHEKAVAR and u already said dat, as we all know, she had a son who killed CHANTHU with the help of his 'machoonan'- son of AAROMAL CHEKAVAR- at their teenage. Not only that, even MANATHERI BHASKARAN himself has the knowledge that TIPPU got UNNICHIRA's daughter(she came back to visit UNNICHIRA,her mother after the death of TIPPU), who is actually UNNITHARCHA and not UNNIYARCA.

We can also see that, 'puthooram patt' belongs to 16th century and 'Thacholi pattu' was from 18th century....
Mss Dubai said…
To my knowledge , there were 2 ladies named "Unniyarcha". The first one, which you are talking about as the character is Puthooram veettil Unniyatcha from vadakara, and the second one is " Thacholy Unniyarcha " from Thacholi veettil, Thalassery. This might be the character you searching for in sreerabagapattinam story . Zenana were served as safety shelter only. I appreciate your efforts. It is history , all needed to know exactly what, when, and how did happened .
Good luck !!
Mss Dubai said…
There were two Unniyarchas.
The first one is Puthooram veetril Unniyatcha , from Puthooram Veedu, vadakara.
Another one is Thacholi Unniyarcha , from Thacholi veedu, Thalachery . Hope you can find the end probably .
Good effort
Good Luck !
Mss Dubai said…
There were two Unniyarchas.
The first one is Puthooram veetril Unniyatcha , from Puthooram Veedu, vadakara.
Another one is Thacholi Unniyarcha , from Thacholi veedu, Thalachery . Hope you can find the end probably .
Good effort
Good Luck !
sasi said…
it has been long since i read maddys .it always makes interesting reading.I have read bhaskarans book and i too tried to delve in to it i just could not find any proof to this relation between unniyarcha and tippu.But maddy has done much more and it makes interesting .Thank you maddy

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