A Tale of Two Spies

Spring 2015 – The hundred year old Betty P McIntosh was giving a fine speech. The rapt CIA Langley audience, many decades her junior, craned forward to listen to the queen of black information. The lady who did not even have an email account, explained to the youngsters how they could manipulate news and target world leaders and organizations such as the ISIS and how one could weaponize social media. She then went on to retell stories from her ‘undercover girl’ time in Delhi and how they targeted the Japanese in 1944, perhaps one last time.. Betty as she was fondly known, passed away that same year but if she had lived for two more years, she would have observed how enemies used very similar ideas to target this country. Perhaps Langley should have listened more seriously to her talk, perhaps they did, maybe they did not.

Singapore - Black Friday - February 13th 1942, all of 76 years ago – The British guards knew the Japanese were close and the haughty New Zealander they guarded was taunting them over and again. Well, they were most definitely not going to tolerate a reversal of fortunes, and so rules be dammed, they drew cards to decide who would deliver the coup de grace to one of ‘their own’. MP Sergeant Wright was the lucky one and he dragged the traitor to the edge at the inner harbor. He was the white prisoner with the brown skin, the man who probably collaborated with the Japanese Indian 5th column, the man they held responsible for guiding the Japanese to the Malayan shores. The MP calmly drew his service pistol and after asking the man to see the setting sun a last time, shot him dead. The deed was done, Captain Patrick Stanley Vaughan Heenan, the officer spy was dead, and his lifeless body was heaved over into the tepid waters to float and rot. The lifeless body bobbed in the waters while the eyes, still seeing, saw things they could never again deal with, till everything went dark. It was yet another causality of war, and his service file vanished from records, forever.

We go back again to the CBI Theater of the WW2, the period when the British and the supporting allies after capitulating at Singapore, struggled to contain the marauding Japanese at the Indian frontiers and Burma. We had previously marveled at the story of the black Americans building the Ledo road to China and the story of the Malayali transport soldier Warrier, we cried at the plight of Kumaran Nair of the IIL, we struggled to understand the difficulties of a mixed race Anglo Indian Cyril Stacey, we saw the involvement of Rash Behari and Subhash Bose in creating a nationalistic army and we read about the hair raising exploits of the Malayali Ronin - Nairsaan at Manchuria. There are so many more of such tales and today I will tell you the story of two spies who worked for opposing sides, one for the allies and one for the Japanese in a fight for supremacy at the very same CBI Theater. While the NZ traitor was already dead in 1942 after heralding the Japanese entrance into Malaya, the American lie-master would appear on the scene only just before the Burma campaign in 1944.

It was an incredible period, for it was the time when an OSS detachment took shape in New Delhi, the OSS being a parent of today’s CIA. It was during the last phase of the British Raj, with Churchill desperately fighting to cling on to the jewel of her majesty’s crown, while at the same time having to deal with the clarion like ‘Dilli Chalo’ call by Bose’s INA stationed at Burma. In that melee when millions died, some fighting, some starving and some without knowing what hit them, two people were propelled into courses which neither had foreseen. This is their story.

War is not just about fighting at the front lines, and subversion was a technique to be mastered. George Orwell a.k.a Eric Blair was invited by the BBC’s Eastern Service to work with broadcasting anti-Japanese propaganda. It was perhaps quite complicated and Orwell, did not want to be seen as a propagandist for British imperialism, which he had opposed ever since his Burmese experiences arguing that British rule in India was just as bad as German fascism. But the war had to be won and the immediate priority was resistance to fascist penetration in India and he did his part. Nevertheless Orwell resigned in 1943, realizing it was simply a hopeless task.

But how about the inventive Betty at Delhi who took over with a Japanese focus in 1944? Did she succeed in demoralizing the enemy through prevarication and deceit as part of her Psych-ops plans? What do we know of her 18 ‘life changing months’ at Delhi, Calcutta and later China? Was she a help with the 1944 Burma Campaign or did she become part of the Indian revolution which the British were convinced the American OSS were trying to kick start?

The British in India as you can very well imagine, had a different idea of the world and from their lofty perches believed too much in their racial superiority and their inability to lose a war. Peter Fleming the British spymaster thought the Japs were fanatic, indoctrinated, dim witted fools and could not even understand black propaganda if fed to them. But the British had been on the losing end of many battles in the Eastern front and stuck in a morass, the Japanese holding fort at Rangoon. The INA was beefing up their ranks and the Dilli Chalo clamor getting strident. It was time to humor the black op’s ladies and Wild Bill Donovan of the OSS.

Pat Heenan of the British Indian army, was an enigma. Born a New Zealander in 1910 to an unwed Ann Stanley, bred in Burma (his father Vaughan died in 1912 and Anne married Bernard Carrol, returning to Britain in 1922) and educated in British Sevenoaks and Cheltenham schools, he was a quirky character, to say the least and his slightly brown skin and doubtful parentage made him a target for many a snide remark and alienation all through his life. His academic career was tardy, a pointer to the impact of racism on young adults in British schools. Nevertheless he excelled in swimming and boxing and being of big physique turned out to be quite a ladies man. But the large chip on his shoulder made him a brooding character otherwise, prone to quick temper. As a dullard, he could not find entrance to any military school and ended up working for an export-import steel company, but had some luck in obtaining recommendations to join the supplementary reserve corps in 1932. In 1935, already an oldie by then, Heenan was commissioned into the Indian army as a non-attached officer. Soon he found himself on a troopship Neuralia, bound for India.

But as was wont to happen, prejudice played its part and after training, Heenan found that no regiment would accept him. Eventually he was taken in by the 16th Punjab. He did well at a NWF conflict but it appears his bad behavior found him no friends and ended up getting shunted to the Service corps and soon back to another battalion in 16th Punjab. Around this time, he seemingly won the title of a boxing champion. Some observed that he was preferentially friendlier with Indians during his tenure, standing up for against their segregation at times. At this point the story started to get stranger with Heenan taking a long 6 month leave to go to Japan (1938-1939).

Some say he got involved with a Japanese girl and was thus initiated into Japanese intelligence. He picked up not only good Japanese, but also an avid interest in photography and radio equipment operation. Upon his return to his unit, he found himself moved to Malaya. This unit too found him a tricky character and sent him off to Singapore to train in Air liaison. Returning to the airfields of Kedah, he apparently used his time to travel to Thailand often and provide information on the British defenses.

The British were certain that the Japanese would attack, and believed that the attack would come from the sea at Singapore, which could be countered with their impregnable fortress armed with the massive guns. They had little regard or belief in the attacking prowess of Japanese air attack fighters and even less for the fighting forces and were not quite convinced that an attack would come from the Northern Malayan front. The dense jungles, the Indian army and their infrastructure, they believed could be a deterrent. And that as we all know today, was the big error of judgement.

Fast forward two years - it would become evident to the allies after the reverses at Singapore, Thailand, Malaya and Burma that Japanese intelligence had penetrated deep into SE Asia, and it was now clear that the entire region had a ton of sympathizers and agents even before the war started in Dec 1940.

After the conquest of SE Asia, Fujiwara who started liaison with Japan from Thailand, returned to japan and others had took his place. The IIL had given way to the INA and the borders of India were now under threat. Even though the Japanese had closed the existing road from Burma to China, the Americans were hard at work building the Ledo road from the Indian border at Assam to China to support Chiang Kai-Shek.

Back in Hawaii, Betty who was fluent in Japanese got recruited by the OSS organization, who decided to depute her to the Far Eastern section - Morale Operations. This unit dealt with something quite new at that time, which was disseminating disinformation as a type of psychological warfare. The intent was to change the minds of the enemy with written pamphlets, altered newspapers and books, devious broadcasting over the radio about diverse subjects which made a negative impact in the mind of the listener on subjects such as the effects of attacks, bombing and invasions such as human attacks, starvation, bombing tragedies etc. So while the MO did “black” propaganda, the Office of War Information did “white” propaganda, which were in context, morale-boosting stories for the allies. They also had training on so many other matters such as arms, ciphers, setting up clandestine meetings, interrogation techniques and so on and soon found themselves in a bungalow at Delhi’s 32 Feroze Shah Road. The team also had some Nisei (2nd generation Japanese Americans) persons to assist with nuances of Japanese culture and a stack of captured material such as post cards, memorabilia etc.

Decades ago, the Gadhar party members had fled, many of them sequestered in Thailand and its Pritam Singh was to later form the IIL with branches all over SE Asia. N Raghavan and Keshava Menon led the IIL in Penang and Singapore. The Japanese were already well equipped with intelligence on Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand well before the onset of hostilities. They had large numbers of field agents or supporters who provided them a steady stream of information on terrain, economy and so on. Some months before the attack, Major Fujiwara Iwaichi, chief of intelligence of the Japanese 15th Army, was deputed to Bangkok and it was he who formally built up a network of Indian, Thai, Malay and Indonesian supporters for the invasion to come. The organization was known as the Fujiwara Kikan.

Perhaps you will recall my article on Cyril Stracey, the Anglo Indian in the British army stationed in Malaya, somewhat in close proximity to the regiment of Patrick Heenan. You may recall his uncomfortable career in the army and how his sympathies were changing. But his case was different from Heenan, for he was half Indian and the Indian cause, i.e. her independence, meant something to him. Why would Heenan support an Indian cause or become a traitor otherwise? Did Heenan’s biological father and his brownness have any Indian link? Anyway it is quite apparent that Hennan got connected to the IIL and F Kikan and that is clear due to his frequent trips to Thailand, for that was where Fujiwara was building up his team.

While Betty’s work related to twisting Japanese minds as the Japanese planned a surge into India, the British as you saw, had little knowledge of Japanese plans for the Far East in 1940. The British SOE was focused on subversive activities to help contain the German onslaught and Force 136 was hurriedly formed much later in 1944. In the interim there was just an oriental SOE operation for Malaya, based in Singapore, with no real plans. Peter Fleming’s strategic deception program against Japan in India and Burma was set up only in 1943 (the ‘D’ Division initially based at Delhi and later in Ceylon).  His task like Betty’s which followed was to feed by various means false information (along with truth) to affect Japanese plans.

The Japanese U-Go offensive to take India had commenced in March 1944, but the monsoons and the terrible roads, limited stocks of food (Japanese plans were to capture food from defeated British platoons) were to get them stuck, with dispirited soldiers, cranky commanders and sickness. The Japanese started losing their will, just the right time for an MO attack by Betty and team.

Betty’s first real operation around June 1944 involved working with the stack of Japanese post cards which the allies had obtained after a skirmish. They comprised 500 or so postcards with standard greetings from homesick soldiers, stamped and censored. Betty came up with the plan to erase the messages and substitute their own. Her boss agreed and opined that these could easily be then slipped back into the Japanese postal system. That was later known as the ‘Project Black Mail’. The altered cards sent a different message home, that the Japanese were losing in Burma, that there was misery and starvation in the jungle, and that the Japanese back home did not really care or support them. It seemingly worked.

Fujiwara had arrived in Bangkok in Oct 1941, unprepared. He did have some exposure to the Far
Fujiwara Iwachi
East, having been involved with a secret operation in Hong Kong to help the escape of three Indians and his task was to set up a relationship with the IIL which was being formed to spearhead anti British resistance and Indian independence. All he had was the support of a Hindi speaking interpreter, and of course the person he met first was Pritam Singh Dhillon. This Sardar who started it all, a member of the Ghadar movement and the failed 1915 mutiny, has been forgotten by most and the INA memories hover around Mohan Singh and NSC Bose, but well, Pritam Singh was the idealist spearhead who started it all, leaving India in 1939 and settle in Bangkok (there were Rash Behari Bose and Nairsan, but they were in Japan). The plan was to connect up with Indian soldiers in the British army as soon as war started. Fujiwara would offer them protection and Pritam Singh would lead the formation of a revolutionary army. That was the origin of the F Kikan in Thailand and it is with them that Heenan perhaps established contact before the war. But let’s go to Malaya to see how Heenan reached there, for the last we saw was him going to Japan for a 6 week furlough.

The Japanese MO were also at work, a Japanese unit based in Formosa was beaming subversive transmissions exhorting the Indians working in these states to rise up against the British. They also helped (together with the IIL) foment a strike at Klang and Swettenham by the Tamil’s over low wages and poor living conditions. The members in the British Indian army (23 battalions of them) were also getting affected, by what the British believed were IIL and Japanese propaganda (they still do not believe one would want independence from colonialism I suppose!).

The 29 year old Hennan returned to India after his furlough in Japan and served in the 15th Motor transport at Bareilly, but after an altercation with the MP was shunted back to the 16th Punjab. It became evident to the others that Heenan nursed a deep drudge on the British and the army which had ill-treated him. By Oct 1940, he was sailing to Malaya and in early 1941 the regiment had settled down at the Thai border post at Aaru in Perlis.

Heenan got along well with his Indian colleagues, perhaps sympathizing with their plight and one of his contacts was AD Jahangir of the 1st Bahawalpur, a bigtime supporter of Indian Independence. The Indians in 1st Bahawalpur were close to mutiny with their commanding officer Roger Fletcher and his high handed behavior, what with his calling Indians ‘coolies’. Problems were erupting on the 1st Hyderabad as well, and in general it was believed that the IIL had infiltrated most of the forward units in the area. The 14th Punjab if you recall was the home organization of Mohan Singh and Cyril Stracey, persons we had mentioned previously.

Pat Heenan had by June 1941, been placed in a secret liaison unit between the army and the RAF, in the 300 AIL at Alor Star. He reported to Maj JC France, quickly settling down with a mistress in a local kampong (village). He also had a girlfriend in the Cameron highlands, named Pinka Robertson. Maj France developed deep suspicions about Heenan, mainly because he had taken a number of photos of the area during field marches and asked to see top secret documents (lying that the request was approved by Maj France). France decided to investigate and discovered a trove of incriminating evidence such as a bible with underlined sentences used to create code and a report on the airfield and troop movements. He did not arrest Heenan immediately, but decided to catch him in the act.

It was later concluded that Heenan made 3 or 4 trips to meet a Dutchman to deliver military information (troop locations, size, operational plans etc.) who then passed on the information to the Japanese Singora Consulate just fifty miles north. The collected information from various field units was possibly transmitted by a powerful transmitter to Tokyo. It was also noticed (How, I am not sure) that Heenan had a huge bank balance of some £40,000 (Millions in today’s currency) which Heenan stated offhand, was a repaid gambling debt. An army contracting scam was also being (wrongly) linked to him.

On 8th December 1941, The Japanese bombed the airfields of Kota Bharu. The 1st Hyderabad troops guarding the airfield fled. The RAF planes of the squadrons at Alor Star took to the air as the Japanese ships were streaming in with the landing forces. It was soon obvious that the Japanese knew exactly when British planes would land and they would quickly swoop to bomb them to smithereens, and they also knew the aircraft call signs. The telephones stooped working (perhaps Heenan cut the wires, they said) when the British bombers returned, and they were all soon destroyed. Pretty soon the entire British air force had been wiped out. Heenan, they say, kept disappearing as aerodromes nearby were getting hit by Japanese bombers.

The next day as the regiment was about to retreat in a convoy, Maj France noticed a priest’s communion set in a field truck and upon opening it found it to be a Japanese radio set. In another case, he found batteries. Somebody opined that he had a second radio set for had been seen typing on a typewriter, without paper (perhaps a type to Morse converter). Maj France hid and watched to see what would happen and soon Heenan came trudging by and picked them up (other rumors of a warm radio set etc were heard). Again France did not arrest Heenan.

Heenan they say, perhaps coming to know of bad tidings, bolted, only to be picked up near a swamp, fully drunk. He was finally arrested and taken to Penang as the person responsible for the British walloping by the Japanese air force. Seven Malays considered to be part of Heenan’s ring were arrested in the aftermath but too late. AD Jahangir was also pulled up. Soon the Japanese landed and their invasions teams fanned south, in what was later known as the Bicycle Blitzkrieg. By 31st January, the allied defenders had retreated to Singapore, and Yamashita's 25th Army was at Johore Bahru poised for an attack on the "Fortress".

Maj France in his unpublished memoirs written decades later, implied that an enquiry was held in Penang and a courts martial was held in Singapore later during which Heenan was convicted, though Jahangir was let go due to paucity of evidence. Mysteriously Pinka (so it is believed) from the Cameron highlands turned up to pick up and spirit away Heenan’s personal effects which were being shipped to the investigators at Penang. Heenan was not executed right away and was moved to a Singapore jail, only to be shot in the head and dumped into a watery grave when the Japanese knocked on the doors of the now pregnable fortress.

Jahangir survived but made no mention about Heenan, nor did any other IIL members such as Cyril Stracey or Mohan Singh. Fujiwara also made no mention of Heenan in his accounts, so Heenan was perhaps just providing whatever information he picked up to the IIL for further transfer to Japan. Was his information critical? Probably it was at that instant, but not so in the larger scheme of things, simply because the Japanese were better planned and equipped, trained and had air superiority. What happened to Hennan’s bank balance and his military files? Points to ponder!

Very soon, the fleeing British left control of the Indian battalions and many thousands were recruited into the IIL and later the INA led by Mohan Singh. This development was the biggest coup for the Japanese government, and became a direct threat to the British position in India. Fujiwara was later recalled to Japan and Iwakuro took his place.

Betty’s insulated life in Delhi hardly exposed her to the local folk, but was punctuated with a few parties, and mostly hard work, creating ruses. Her stay was a difficult period dodging, placating and persuading high strung British bureaucrats of Delhi and the Nisei translators. Her next task was to encourage Japanese soldiers to believe that surrender was not a sin, with artful propaganda. New fake orders allowing troops to surrender if needed were prepared carefully and the field manual rewritten. In one instance, these were inserted into the pouch of a Japanese courier in Burma, after his murder by a Burmese agent. It is said that this ‘Golden dust’ campaign brought in a large number of surrenders by the Japanese.

Betty moved on to Calcutta for a while, then on to Ceylon and eventually to Kunming in China working on various projects, eventually to return to America after the war to continue with the CIA. Her story is varied and humorous, one we have to spend many an hour to retell, so I will digress.

Two spies, one working to contain Japanese advances, another working for the Japanese in a way. Neither brought about a substantial change of course in the war, but were somewhat ordinary people who found themselves doing extraordinary things.

But Betty noticed something while in British India. Something the British perhaps never noticed, the cost of freedom. Betty was profound - China was a bright, hard impact after India. The peasants at the airport, with polished apple red faces and the threadbare homespun clothes were just as bound to the soil as the Indian peasants but to me they were free people, holding their heads high, un-subservient. And the Chinese children played boisterously, I could not remember seeing an Indian child romp.

Now you can perhaps understand how much freedom is worth.

Undercover Girl – Elizabeth P Macdonald
OSS Operation Blackmail – Ann Todd
Sisterhood of spies – Elizabeth P Macintosh
Odd man out – Peter Elphick & Michael Smith
The pregnable fortress - Peter Elphick
Traitor: the story of Patrick Heenan - RNZ podcasts, William Ray

-          -My first choice for the lady spy was actually Joan Bondurant, who served in the OSS at Delhi. She later went on to become a friend of India and a great admirer of Gandhiji. I believe she deserves her own space, for another day.
-        -  Much of the Heenan story as known is based on hearsay and has little corroboration. His files are missing. The radio and its connection to Heenan look awry. It is correct that the Japanese field radio 94-6 is very similar in looks to the communion box, but it can only be operated with a very tall whip antenna and has a short range. How it was used to signal Japanese planes beats me. This cannot be done stealthily indoors, so the radio story looks fishy. Some other sources say he used ‘signaling equipment’ to help Japanese pilots. Nevertheless, I am sure there is much more in the Heenan files, and I feel he was a victim in the larger conspiracy and a cover up.

Betty – Courtesy CIA coverage on Betty’s life, Heenan from Alchetron.com 


The Kongan Pada at Chittur – A study

You may not realize it today, but in the times of yore, the land on the west of the Sahyadri mountain range was a mysterious place for the people on the other side.  The only way to get a view of the other side was if you carted or trudged through the Palghat gap and peered. For the Kongu people just on the eastern edge of the gap, it was the land of the Cheras or Cheranad (It is also an interesting aspect that while most Malayalis refer to Tamilians as Pandi’s, the Palghat usage is Kongan).The mountains were a good barrier and insulated the minor states on the west for a long time, allowing a different culture to evolve. As could be expected a few kings of Tamilakam ventured through the gap to attack and lay siege on border towns. But until Hyder Ali and his marauding army came during the 18th century, the area remained relatively calm, though rearranged now and then through occasional fights and squabbles engineered by local chieftains.  

One can therefore easily understand the exclamation of the author of the 11th century Thiruvalangad plates viewing all of this from the other side - Who else but the supreme Siva would even think of subduing that (Chera) country!

Just on the other side of the gap is Palakkada as termed by the ancient Pallavas or today's Palakkad, an important trading outpost. Many a tussle has been recorded for supremacy or suzerainty over this important location and we have talked about them off and on. But there is one story which deserved special mention, that relating to the advent of a Kongan pada into the plains near Chittur. The word Kongan is the first aspect to be checked. Was it Kongu or was it Gangan? One could clarify that Kongu comprised todays Coimbatore and the southern portion of Salem while Chera (or Cheralam) denoted the Malabar Coast from Calicut southwards. The northern portion of the Salem district formed part of the Ganga country. Most historians believe that the force which crossed over into the area to wage a historical attack was Kongu, while some continue to stress it was Gangan.

Many would wonder when this happened. This is a hotly debated topic with most historians opining that it occurred sometime in the 9th Century while there are a few others who base their argument that it was more recent, perhaps towards the second half of the 17th Century. As usual the paucity of records make a determination very difficult, and the pointers we do have conflict each other, nevertheless we will spend some time on this subject later on in this discussion. The best description of the event itself is provided by the anthropologist LK Anantakrishna Iyer in his seminal work ‘Cochin castes and tribes’ circa 1912 and I will therefore borrow a bit now and then from his text.

The events which led to this attack by the chieftain on the plains is quite interesting. On the edge of the border, is the town of Chittur where the produce of the Kongu desam was sold. Chittur belonged to the nalu desams comprising Chittur, Nallepilli, Tattamangalam, and Pattancheri.

The wealth of the -Kongu Desom chiefly consisted of red chillies, turmeric, coriander, cumin seed, mustard, areca nut, etc. These commodities used to be brought for sale from Kongu Desom to Chittur, and other places in large quantities, laden on the backs of males, asses, bullocks and buffaloes. They took back paddy in return.

Some centuries ago, as it seems, a large caravan of Kongu laden with such commodities was passing through Chittur (headed to the Peruvambu market or thereabouts), the people of the 'four desams’ robbed the Kongans of all their animals and goods, or so said the Kongans. The people of these desams however disagreed with the explanation because what occurred in their version of events, was that a flash flood at the Sokanasini (Bharatapuzha) River had washed away this caravan while crossing a river. The Tamilians leading the caravan instead of stating the facts and blaming nature, chose to lay the blame on the poor villagers of Chittur.

Now there are some other sources mentioning that the Kongu king was actually waiting for such an opportunity to present itself (and so he twisted the story to suit his plans) so that he could attack and conquer these placid and fertile border areas.

The chief of Kongu, on receiving the information felt indignant, and despatched an ultimatum to the Pramanakkars of Chittur, demanding the surrender of the animals and the articles, failing which, it was said, he would overrun the four desams, destroy the houses, and kill all people including women and children. On receiving the ultimatum, the people went to the temple of the Goddess, and there read the ultimatum before the image of the Goddess. It was read by a member of the Chittedath house, in whose custody, it is said, the original document, written in a copper plate, is still preserved. When the document was read and the people prayed to their Goddess in one voice for protection, the Goddess commanded from within the temple that her ‘children’ need not fear and that when the Kongan took steps to enforce his ultimatum, she would protect them.

On receiving no reply to the ultimatum, the Kongan mobilized his men and crossed the Walayar River, the northern boundary of the Chittur Taluk. The information about the crossing of the boundary was first carried to the Chitturians by the Izhuvans of the vicinity, who were up the palmyra trees early in the morning for the purpose of tapping toddy, and they in a body climbed down the trees, and without removing their breast protecting leather straps, tapping knives, mallets and ladders, ran to the four desams all in excitement.

When the information of the crossing of the Walayar by the chief of Kongu was received by the people of the four desams, they repaired to the temple in excitement and consternation, when Lo!  the temple gates opened themselves and a beautiful female form dressed in full battle armor, brandishing a shining sword and shedding a resplendent divine light, suddenly emerged out of the image within and marched off to meet the advancing army of the Kongan, followed by all the brave men among the people. In the battle which ensued the Kongu king was but naturally defeated and killed by the all-powerful Chittur Bhagavati or Bhadrakali.

The place of engagement was some decades ago, marked by a small extent of rocky surface, on which is cut the figure of the Bhagavati’s sword with which the Kongan’s head was cut off. The rock also shows two holes nearly a foot in depth, and six inches in diameter. These holes are pointed out by old people as having been made by the hoofs of the forelegs of the Kongan’s mount, which is described as a magnificent buff-bull, when the animal jumped on to the rock in the excitement caused by the fall of its master from its back slain by the Goddess. The buff-bull was also slain on the spot. The whole of the Kongu army was completely routed, and they stampeded back to their country in utter confusion.

In the course of the battle a few men on the side of the Bhagavati were also killed or wounded, among whom were four, belonging to four ancient families in Chittur, who appear to have been the leaders of the local militia. The dead bodies of these four and the wounded were taken from the field of battle and carried to the town and handed over to the respective families, the procession being led by the Goddess who afterwards commanded the people to celebrate the victory every year, and after entering the temple disappeared into her image within.

The reenactment of the attack and its aftermath, is held on the Monday succeeding the Wednesday which follows new moon in the month of Kumbham (February-March) every year, the Sivarathri night. Let us now take a broad look at some of these rituals (some changes have occurred over time)
Chilambu - The first ritual is the Chilambu where the Nair chieftains receive the letter; gather at the kalari. They then perform a dance and try to appease the goddess. A couple of days after that, a kaniyar or an astrologer is called in to predict the outcome of the war and the festival.

Kummatti - After that comes the kummatti when young men and girls from across the village arrive to take blessings from the goddess and take a pledge to fight for their land. These warriors gather to proceed to the Poovathum Kavu, which is the battleground. At midnight, they come back to the temple in a procession. The fight begins when 101 firecrackers (kathinavedi) are burst. A procession starts from the temple with various groups of people decked out in a war like outfit. On the second day a flag is hoisted to indicate their preparedness for war. In the evening, they set out for war. This is called 'Arippathattu".

All the people assemble at the temple. After three popgun shots, the procession starts. Clad in silk, wearing gold ornaments and trinkets and with a shining sword in hand, the Velichappadu (oracle) goes in front while the people, full of exultation follow him with torches held aloft. At midnight the procession returns to the temple with elephants and chariots.

Kuttikolam - Small girls are dressed up as boys and small boys are dressed up as girls and taken around on the shoulder of their fathers or uncles.

Olavayana - Reading of the Ola - The reading of the ultimatum, transcribed in a piece of cadjan, before the Bhagavati, is one of the essential functions performed on the night of the Kongapada festival every year, and it is always done by a member of the Chittedath family, who dresses himself up in the fashion of a Kongan and acts the part of the Kongu chief.

Advance warning enactment- The advance portion of the day procession of the Kongapada festival is even to this day made up of a number of persons, mostly of the Chetti caste, belonging to the four desams, dressed up in the full toddy-tapping kit of the Izhuvans.

Battle enactment - This battle is enacted on the night of the Kongapada festival as one of its essential functions, accompanied by the beating of numerous Pariah drums, blowing of horns, racing of horses, torch-light processions, besides, of course, the usual mischief-making among the youngsters, but the elders generally control them and stop excesses. In the course of the sham fight, some act as the wounded, some even as the dead and fall down on the field of action. These dead and wounded are immediately taken up and carried by the youngsters to their supposed respective houses in the town accompanied with torch-lights, beating of drums, beating of breasts, and crying and weeping.

No outsider used to be allowed to take part in this sacred function. If an outsider, being possessed with any sudden fit of enthusiasm, attempts to take part in this function, it is said, ‘woe be to him.’

This mock battle function takes place at about 10 o’clock in the night and lasts for two or three hours. At the end of it, the night procession of the festival begins from the battle-field and moves through the Nayar quarters to the temple, where it reaches just before day-break, when there is a display of fireworks. After day-break, the chief of the place or Naduvazhi represented by the Chambath house, accompanied by the people, go to the Goddess’ temple to offer prayers of love and gratitude to the Bhagavati.

Winding down - The festival is wound up by a performance on the following night called ‘ Devendra pallu' in which all the “one hundred Nayars ” of Chittur are supposed to take part under the of the Srikandath Panikkar, whose family were the military instructors and militia leaders of the people of Chittur. The Panikkar’s duty is to train the youths of the 100 houses in the military arts. The performance referred to is, more or less, an exhibition of the bodily prowess of the youths trained by the Panikkar, and at the end of it he receives presents from the Naduvdzhi and one hundred fanams -one fanom for each house- from his pupils. The amount of one hundred fanoms is still paid to him every year, and is defrayed out of the collection made for the Kongapada festival for which the Panikkar’s family is exempted from the payment of all subscriptions. The training of the youths of the place is begun a few weeks before the Kongapada festival in the Kalari (military gymnasium) of the Srikandath Panikkar, and the Panikkar takes a prominent part in all the functions connected with the festival from beginning to end.

The Chittur Nooru Nair appellation points to the existence of the 100 nair families in Chittur naludesam during the event.  Chambath taravad as descendant of the utayvar or local ruler, Thachath, Ambath, Porayath and Yezhuvath taravad as four alliances of taravads addressed as Nalu Veetil Menon (or the four menon’s house) who act as managers. Achurath and Vaddachery taravad are believed to be ministers. Varavoor family who used to be the descendant of vellichapad or local Nayar priest.

And well, the story has an interesting end. The tired Bhagavathi finally settled down for some well-deserved rest on a rock. A few chalukiars lounging around, fortified her with some cooked meat and alcohol which she gladly imbibed, even though they were untouchables and low caste. This is called the Pallu enactment, reenacted by Nairs these days!

As one can imagine, there are a few other details, differences and versions if you go on to study other sources. They are quite relevant and so let us take a look. The name Chittur itself is somewhat recent. It was originally the Naludesam comprising Chittur, Nalleplli, Tattamangalam and Pattancheri. It is said that Tiruttil Achan, the ancestors of the Chandroth Mannadiar were the naduvazi of Naludesam. The western portion of naludesam was known in ancient days as Kodakaranad. The Kodakara Nair was ruling this nadu in those days. In addition, there are titular family names as Pattancheri Achen with pinpoints to the old desavazhis of Naludesam. The name Chittur might have been derived from the fact that the portion of the Anamalai River, which flows through this part, is known by the name Chittar.

A differing explanation is provided by some historians as follows - The Taluk once belonged to the territory of the Palghat Rajas. During this period or sometime in the past, the Kongu army (supported by the Mysore Wodeyars) entered Chittur through Velanthavalam. But the army was defeated by the Nedumperayur with the help of Eranad, Valluvanad and Perumpadappu armies. Chittur was later ceded to the Raja of Cochin for the assistance rendered by him. This supposition many not be quite true though.

A better analysis is provided by Valath. In his recounting of the story, during 71 ME, Rajadhiraja Cholan had sent out some of his surplus goods for sale across the gap. But the traders were unsuccessful since another gang had come just a little earlier and sold similar produce to the locals. After wandering around with no sales, they decided to move towards Pattancheri, crossing the Chittur river. A flash flood washed away a number of the bulls, their loads and people. The few who escaped hastened home and told their leader that they had been robbed by the Naludesam nairs. The Kongu chief came down with his army and camped at the Manali ground. A Paraya woman carried the message of ultimatum and laid it at the Bhagavati temple sanctum door. The priest informed the Chambath mannadiyar and everybody started to get ready for the battle. Many prayed to the goddess whose reply came as an ‘asariri’ confirming that she will take care of them. After the battle which ensued, the Devi washed her bloody sword or ‘val’ in the river (hence the name Walayar river) and relaxed at the ‘ootupara’ where she met the chalukiyars and imbibed their gift of meat and alcohol.

The present day celebration start with the Chilambu or proclamation act, followed by the oracle dance, variola reading, arangu prasnma, ammichari vedi, kummati, Nochi vadi, arippathattu, panan vela, namburi vela, asari vela, kolam,pada marichil, tozhi,  etc. The Palghat raja does come to make a survey the day after and that is the shekhari vela. More events have been added over time such as the father son vela, Malayan kothan vela etc…

Many believe that the Chola kings Aditya Varman generally overran a large part of South India about A.D. 894. Both Pandyans and Cholas then struggled for the mastery, and the latter appear to have driven back the Kongus or Gangas and so freed Kerala, for a time at least, from attack via the Palghat gap, In the Kollam year 93 A.D. (917-918) an expedition (probably of Kongus or Gangas) from Mysore was driven back when attempting an invasion of Kerala via the Palghat gap. Another important input is the existence of the Rajakesari Peruvazhi through the Palghat pass, to Cheranaad.  The inscription on the Thukkachi memorial stone, shows that a Tamil king Rajendra Chola I was involved in the upkeep and repairs of this highway leading to Chera Nadu.

Dating the event presents many a problem – Did it take place in 39ME or 864AD, 71 ME or 866 AD, or later as the Keralolpatti mentions, in the 93 ME or 917-918AD? Is it 896 AD as believed by NM Nampoothiri? Adding to the confusion is that there are so many more dates mentioned by various historians leading us to believe that many an incursion of skirmish took place and one of them was commemorated as the Kongan Pada event.

Strictly speaking the copper leaf ultimatum should have provided us details of the instigator and the time period. But the copper leaf is not available and instead two versions of the cadjun leaf – ola exist with differing dates. The dating is based on the kaliyuga and while one states a date of 1744795 roughly the equivalent of is the date between 1645 or 1648 A.D. equivalent Malayalam Era is Kollam 820 or 823 with the other 1459896 which is almost equivalent to 864 A.D. or ME 39. Interestingly both Olas mention Kochi. This is also quite different from the 71 ME mentioned in various sources.

There is a lot of argument about the usage of the term Kochi in the Ola held by the family, which signifies that Chittur was by then under the suzerainty of Kochi (not gifted after the kongan pada success). The Chittur kovilakom was apaprently the palace where the Amma thampurati of chitrakudam (Cochin Perumpadappu’s original seat was near Vanneri in ponnani) lived.  This kovilakom land was later acquired by the Chambath Mannadiyar. Also to be noted that new seat of the Preumbadappu swaroopam at Kochi as such came into vogue in 15th century (the Cochin dynasty lived in Perumbadappu until 1405). The Goda Varma of the 16th century was perhaps the kota arachar mentioned in the ola and that brings up the fact that it was not so ancient. The aspect of gifting areas to Perumabadappu, valluva konathiri and the Zamorin due to the victories over the kongu or Chola rulers was perhaps never connected, and were victories over a declining Palghat dynasty, but that is a subject we will revisit another day.

In fact KVK Ayyar mentions in one of his later papers thus - Tradition ascribes an invasion to Krishna Deva Raya, but it was repulsed by the Zamorin, who had by that time established his authority as far as Kollengode and Kanam. The next invasion through the Gap way was by Hiranyamurthi Pillai in 1721. He advanced as far as Chittur (in the present U. T. C.): but he was induced to withdraw by a judicious mixture of dana and danda, gifts and blows. The coming and going of the Kongu host are still celebrated in the annual event called Konguppada.

I have my own doubts about this offhand mention by KVK. The only other document which mentions Hiranyamurthi Pillai is by the doyen of Kongu history who after explaining Chera conquests and influence on the Kongu country also provides a description of the Kongan Pada. He starts of explaining that cattle raids were usually a prelude to Tamil warfare tactics. As years went by, attacks on merchants and their goods became the preliminary step. After such an incident, the reigning Kongu king Rajadhiraja (Sundarar?) ordered his minister Hiranyamurthi Pillai who prepared and delivered the ultimatum, to Chittur thorugh a paraya woman Arathi on the 17th of Kumbham in 71 Kollam era (896AD). The story follows the previous course and the place where the buffalo’s head falls is called Pottuadi parai.

One thing is clear, that such an event occurred much later than the 9th century, perhaps closer to the 16th or 17th century (1695 AD is the conclusion of Dr Gopalan Kutty) or even the 18th.There is another question which remains – if the original event took place during the monsoons in July, why is it re-enacted in Feb-March?? 

To conclude, we can only assume that Kongan pada festival perhaps commemorates a more local and separate incident from the past, perhaps closer to the 17th or 18th century when it was under Cochin suzerainty. I will however continue my studies on this topic and provide updates on this page if any...

But well, it is a festive occasion when the men, women and children of all nearby villages congregate to make merry and celebrate. That is the important thing, I suppose.

The Cochin tribes and castes – LK Ananthakrishna Ayyar
Kerala Gazetteers Palghat - CK Kareem
Handbook of Kerala – T Madhava Menon
Cochin State manual – C Achyutha Menon
Malabar Manual – W Logan
Aithihyamala – K Sankunni
Malabar Padanangal – Samoothirinaad – NM Nampoothiri
Kongan Pada, Onam, Toppi – Dr K Gopalankutty
Keralathile Sthalacharitrangal – Palghat – VVK Valath
Oral discussions and clarifications – S Rajendu
Discussions – Arun Narayanan Intach Palakkad
Relations between Malabar and the Tamils – CM Ramachandra Chettiyar (JOMGA Vol 6, 1931-32)
Nature and man in Kerala – KV Krishna Iyer (KM Panikkar shashtyabdapoorthy souvenir)
Maps - courtesy Google maps