Balthu Chutney

Tipu, Haider and Balthazar from Belthangady

One of the most alluring and fascinating legends in the collection of Mangalorean lore is that of Balthu Chutney, the shadowy figure flitting in and out of the Seringapatam palaces of the Mysore Sultans and doing his best to help his community of Mangalore Catholics deported to Mysore. Balthu Chutney, named so, after his specialty pickles made for the Sultan’s kitchen, was originally named Balthazar. Was he a creation of Father Denis Fernandes writing for the Mangalore magazine in June 1899, was he a fictional protagonist in VJP Saldanha’s novel Beltangadicho Baltazar, or did he exist? What could be the background and what is Balthu’s charming story?

Whole generations of Mangalorean’s grew up hearing about Balthu’s exploits at Mysore and many would disagree that he is fictional. His accounts connect to something dear to all Mangalore Christians, i.e., their capture and deportation to Seringapatam by Tipu in 1784. Their traumatic journey, eventual incarceration at Mysore and their tribulations are accounted in history books, but the lighter tales recounted around Balthazar provide some levity to those dark days of captivity.

My introduction to Balthu Chutney was accidental but timely. It was while working on my previous article “Tiruvalayam’ that I chanced on the Malayalam translations of Balthu Chutney presented by the eminent writer and social reformer Murkoth Kumaran in an old Mangalodayam (1088ME – 1913CE) magazine. As somebody constantly researching Tipu and Hyder, I read the three-part story and decided to delve deeper into the legend. Even though Murkoth Kumaran does not indicate his source, we can surmise that the inputs came from the Mangalore Magazine, the original not being available yet, except for certain parts quoted below.

So here we go. But first let us get to know the background and the storyline, as narrated in the Karnataka Gazetteer – S Kanara, in connection with Buntwal region - Belthangadi (Belthu market) about 80 miles NW of Kasaragod (close to Dharmasthala and 16 miles west of Mangalore). Quoting from the Gazetteer and its source the Mangalore Magazine - This town was the birth-place of that romantic adventurer, Balthasar, better known to local tradition as “Balthu, the chutney.” Balthasar, a native Christian of Buntwal, was a daring adventurer who left his place to seek his fortunes in Madras and Mysore. The stories told about him show his never-failing humor and shrewd common sense in the face of adversity. He joined the house of a Jesuit missionary as a general servant at Madras. He could make savory dishes and chutney. He was taken to Tipu by a company of savars and was asked to accompany the troops to Haider Ali’s camp. Tipu was then a lad of 17 years. Balthu prepared a delicious chutney and won the approbation of Haidar Ali and Tipu. He claimed to have known also some medical remedies. He was nick-named Balthu, the royal chutney-manufacturer. Quickly he became the favorite of Tipu Sultan who made him a mace-bearer and stationed him at the gate of the palace. Under the orders of Tipu Sultan, Balthu tended a cholera-stricken family of Abdulla "bound to him (Tipu Sultan) by many titles” and remained with it as its ‘savior’ for long. (Mangalore Magazine the organ and record of St. Aloysius college, Vol. I, No. 6).

From the story as narrated by Murkoth Kumaran (MK) we are given to understand that Balthzar met with Tipu years before the relations between Tipu and the Mangalorean Catholics worsened. So, we have to start with the time of Hyder, when a young Tipu was still a soldier in his father’s camp. This was also the period when Hyder showed much favoritism to Hayat (Ayaz) Saheb (Kammaran Nambiar), raising the ire of Tipu. Hayat (Ayaz) will as you can imagine, figure in this tale too and proves to be of some consideration in the resulting enmity between Tipu and the Mangalorean Christians.

Hyder had already taken Mangalore and by 1767, was in relative control of the area administered by his deputies. Hyder initially had a reasonably balanced approach to the Christians in the area, and his army included Catholic soldiers, so also representatives in his administration. Nevertheless, Mangalorean’s in general disliked Hyder for the heavy tax burden he imposed on them. During the next years, in battles between Mysore and the British EIC, Mangalore’s possession switched between British and Mysore and it was then that Hyder started to feel that the Mangalorean Catholics had helped the British in their conquest of Mangalore. Perhaps due to these inputs, both Hyder and Tipu planned to exact revenge on the community.

During the 1780 period, we can see that Hayat (Ayaz) Khan was the governor of Bednore, and this was the fort where Hyder had stored much of his treasures. Hayat (Ayaz) Khan sought asylum from the British after Hyder’s death in 1782, after hearing that Tipu’s soldiers were coming for him. Both Capt Mathews and Tipu’s army was headed for Bednore, and after surrendering to the British, Hayat (Ayaz) took flight towards Bombay, while the British acquired Hyder’s treasure.  Tipu was enraged, for it was believed to be a huge sum of money, about 12 million Sterling Pounds worth! Tipu believed that Campbell’s and Mathew’s capture of Bednore and the loot of Bednore’s treasure was with the support and connivance of some Nairs, Hayat (Ayaz) Saheb and the local Christian community.

The siege of Mangalore began in May 1783. Tipu believed that the Mangaloreans supported the British not only with information but also with money. Scurry and Campbell in their memoirs lead us to believe that there is some truth in it. A treaty was later concluded with the British.

Eventually, on 24 February 1784, (Ash Wednesday), in a secret and well-planned move, after the treaty of Mangalore was signed and the British departed to Madras, Tipu arrested a large number of Christians across the province of Canara and other parts of his kingdom. Accounts of the number of captives range from 30,000 to 80,000, who were then marched to Seringapatam, 150 miles away. Many of them died during the journey from South Canara to Seringapatam. During captivity, they suffered extreme hardships, torture, death, and many were forcibly converted to Islam. Thus, many thousands of Christians were uprooted from their homes in Mangalore, Karwar, Honawar, Kundapur, Bhatkal and transported enmasse to Seringapatam and Chitaldurg. Of the 30,000–80,000 Christians taken captive, only 15,000–20,000 made it out alive and retained their original faith, after the British had defeated Tipu and taken Seringapatam in 1799.  

With this backdrop, let us get to Balthu’s story.

MK admits at the outset that Bathu’s exploits come from stories narrated at garden parties and tea parties in Mangalore homes, and is usually narrated in Balthu’s special way.

Readers, the rough and shortened translation which follows is totally mine and any shortcomings may please be forgiven!!

The story of how I became a confidante and a personal assistant of the great Tipu Sultan would be of much amusement to my fellow countrymen. Well, the reason for that is my mother, for it was she, who taught me how to act according to the demands of a situation. She gave me neither wealth nor riches, but she taught me how to watch, observe and how to take advantage of situations. And it is only because of that wonderful lesson from my mother that I am walking free and moving unfettered, not only in the palaces at Seringapatam but also among smaller homes of my countrymen. And, knowing that Tipu Sultan had sworn after touching a hair of Mohammed Nabi’s beard that he would always protect me, nobody would even dream of hurting me!

It is all a wonderful story, how I met or shall I say how the Sultan met me. Well, it was after traveling far and wide that I arrived at Chennapattanam (Madras) and decided to do something worthwhile. I wandered over to a mount (St Thomas Mount) where some Jesuit priests lived and requested them to take me on as their servant. What do you think I knew about household chores? I did know how to make rice and curry, but more than that, I knew the art of making fabulous chutneys. That should be more than sufficient, I guess! They hired me pronto and I was settling down to a life of domestication, Madras was soon engulfed in turmoil, with wars and fighting all around. Hyder Ali and his troops had arrived and everybody feared that the marauding Mysore army would set the monastery on fire.

The wait was not for long, very soon a number of soldiers entered the premises and dragged us all to their commander. We feared they would shave our heads, cut our hands and fingers, circumcise us or even cut our necks, but nothing of that sort happened. We were ordered to proceed to Hyder’s camp, some five days away, on foot. As it appears, he wanted us there for a reason, i.e., to determine the structure, numbers and movements of the British army. Now, do you expect the poor fathers who knew only the ways of God to know such things?  Tipu, who was around and probably behind this, was just a lad of 17, and roughly my age, he had not a clue about the ways of the world.

Walking in the hot sun, in humid weather, even after covering their heads with some clothes Tipu had provided, proved tough for those simple and pious clergymen, but I had no problems, for I was well experienced and much traveled. As matters went from bad to worse, the friars who could hardly walk, were hoisted, two apiece on top of some disgruntled camels, which as you can imagine was even worse. This was in November, just after Hyder had returned after a battle at Tirumala and it rained cats and dogs, drenching us and making the journey even more uncomfortable.

I tell you, these slow-moving and swaying ships of the desert, these bloody camels, had the capacity to enrage even the calmest person in this world!

We arrived at Hyder’s camp late at night, wet, tired and about to collapse, but it was also my lucky day, as it turned out. Everybody was hungry, also Hyder and his troops who had just returned after a weary battle. The cooks were yet to start their work and the pangs of hunger were irritating both Hyder and Tipu. You know how it is with Muslims, they need good food, plenty of it, with all the associated side dishes. Neither did the camp have all the ingredients nor was there the time to get a lavish feast ready. The cooks started making their favorite ‘Pilaf rice” though the smoke from the wood fires was bound to spoil its taste. That was when I got an idea, I went to the royal cook and told him that a delicious chutney would balance it and make the pilau enjoyable. So, my friends, I made my trademark chutney in a jiffy and hiding behind a curtain, waited to hear how Tipu and Hyder liked it.

As you and I expected, I was summoned to their presence after an immensely pleasing meal experience, and I was asked how I prepared the chutney. I mulled over various clever answers to give, but nothing came to my lips and so I simply prostrated at their feet and told them that I was quite an expert in making all kinds of savories and chutneys and that I would be honored to serve them for life! Even though they knew I was a Roman Catholic, they straightaway appointed me as the royal Chutney maker. Listeners, now you have to realize that my chutney was very good, and I got this honor only because it was that good, it was not a fluke!!

That was how Balthu Chutney i.e., Balthazar from Belthangady became legendary!!

Though the friars were amused seeing and hearing all this, they would realize only later how useful my connection and proximity with the Sultans would be. Life was never placid in the palace, Tipu the son who had promised to help me, now promoted me as a Southdar, i.e., the mace bearer standing in front of the palace doors. Many in the palace employ were envious, but look, I was not the one to get involved in politics and I am sure my benefactor Tipu knew that, he always had a soft corner for me.

One fine day, Tipu summoned me and asked me to take responsibility and care of a man and his son from a rich family, stricken with smallpox (or cholera). Abdulla, the father, Hyder’s powerful commander was distraught with the loss of his family and was left to tend his son, a harmless lunatic. Though I was happy being addressed directly by the prince and all that, I was not sure why he asked me to do this.  I meekly said, ‘as you wish’ and got on with the task in right earnest. And believe it or not, that became my life and job for all of 25 years!! I did miss extravagances of the palace life, and the public murmured that I would eventually attain Abdulla’s wealth, but I concentrated on my task and earned not only the confidence but also a lasting friendship with my lord, Tipu Sultan.

I used to be summoned often to the palace, now look – don’t think it is because he wanted to eat my chutney, for it was indeed tasty, but it was because Tipu needed to consult matters with a confidante i.e., me, at times! The first time was in 1779, I think, five years before Tipu deported all the Christians from Mangalore. I was not sure what to accept when the summons came, but Abdulla convinced me that it was all as God willed and for the good. With shaky knees, I arrived in front of Tipu and he smiled, mind you, not once, but six times!! He enquired about Abdulla and his son first and he then told me that I had been summoned since a preacher had arrived to meet Hyder. He wanted me to go and meet him instead and find out the underlying reason for the friar’s visit. I was pleased to see the trust Tipu had placed in me, which was ample proof of my supreme abilities, as you can imagine. If on the other hand, it was not for any good, I could definitely expect help from the friar, as a fellow Christian!

When I arrived, I was taken aback by what I saw, for there was no priest of friar waiting, it was a foreigner all right, but dressed in normal clothes! That was none other than CF Schwartz, the German Lutheran Danish missionary from Madras (regular readers would recall my mentions of Schwarz with the introduction of the violin and his connections to Serfoji at Tanjore). Even though a protestant, I listened to his request to obtain permission to preach to the public in Tipu’s kingdom. I then tried to explain to him the fallacy in the attempt, especially considering the antecedents of Hyder and Tipu and exemplified it with an incident from my past.

A fanatic Pattani (Pathan) landed in our midst as we were traveling to Mysore many years ago. We started discussing our different faiths and when he started claiming the superiority of his Muslim faith incessantly, I lost my cool and an argument started. When he asked me how many Catholics had sacrificed their lives for the lord, I answered him that it was more than the hair on my head. When he yanked on my hair in the pretext of counting it, I pulled off his cap in retaliation to grab his hair as well, only to see a shaven pate. But he did have a full beard, so I yanked hard on it instead. At this juncture, the Pathan figured out how many of us Catholics had given our lives for the cause, and after he had screamed in pain, for a while, I let go of his beard.

Schwarz, who was delighted hearing this, made me narrate the story again and jotted notes in his diary. But I was in a quandary, for I could not figure if he had really come to obtain preaching permission or if he was a spy (Schwarz settled down at Tanjore to work for Serfoji) here for a reconnaissance? I tried a trick at this juncture stating grandly that I knew about the friendly missives being parlayed between the Madras government and the Mysore kingdom. Schwarz did not take the bait and stated that he was there only to promote peace between the two parties and had no ulterior motives (Schwarz’s did visit Hyder Ali in 1779 and had a pleasant face-to-face meeting, with Schwarz speaking in Farsi)

I hastened to meet Tipu, who at that time was just a prince, mind you, not the tyrant he would become, later. When I arrived, he was pacing back and forth, impatient to hear the details of my visit. I updated him that there was nothing to worry, and that Schwarz had arrived in peace. I am not sure how he took it or if it helped him make up his mind on the terrible act he was mulling over, in his mind. Many people have asked me about my involvement in Tipu’s decision to deport 60,000 of my fellow Mangalorean Christians from Mangalore to Seringapatam. In fact, I knew about it only after the decision was taken and the hapless refugees were on the march, braving the difficult terrain and the weather.

It was a distraught Abdulla who one day thereafter (five years later - in 1784), upon his return from the palace, told me about Tipu’s decision to deport my countrymen, after making me swear that I would not mention it to anybody. I was shocked, and mind you, friends, I am not easily shocked, for the last time it happened was when my wife had been molested and later, my home had been washed away, after a stormy night. Abdulla tried to pacify me the next day, by taking me to the Deriya Daulat Bagh where he made me sit under a large tree. Abdulla then explained why Tipu took the cruel decision and how a dream had forced Tipu to do what he did (if you recall Tipu believed in his dreams and even documented some of them in a book). I heard rumors too, that he took drugs to have incessant dreams, through the night hours. Anyway, this dream was about a competition between the Christian cross and the Islamic crescent. In one battle the cross triumphed, while the crescent succeeded in the second battle. The arrival of the British – Nazranes, resulted in a loss for the crescent, for a second time and that was when he took the decision to deport the Catholics from Mangalore, according to Abdulla.

Suddenly I remembered the words of our departed priest at Bantuwal, named Miranda (a real story – he was at the Ferangipet Seminary and did predict the events), who many years back had predicted that his fellow Christians were soon going to suffer a lot for their misdeeds and petty quarrels. Look what happened!!

Yeah, my friend was muttering the other day – ‘If only we had corrected our ways at that time, we would not have had to come to Mysore and eat these millet balls (ragi mudde) everyday’!

With that, our friend Balthu Chutney completes his narration. Many more exploits of Balthu Chutney, are narrated by the elders of Mangalore, such as Balthu’s involvement in the council of elders, organization of daring escapes of certain captives for a fee with the ingenuity of a Scarlet Pimpernel, but I have no details of such stories as yet. Also, this is the only place where Tipu’s dream is connected to the Christian deportation (A perusal of the book of Tipu’s dreams yielded no corroboration).

Whether they are all from the pen of Fr Denis Fernandes or if it had to do with any real person is not clear. Alan Machado (Prabhu) who has done much research on the Mangalore Christians mentions that according to Saldanha, it was based on authentic historic information collected from community elders. Prabhu clarifies however that the inspiration clearly comes from MMDLT’s accounts on the Sultans and that. the only narrative written by a captive, the Barkur manuscript, does not mention any Balthu.

My Sources
All said, Balthu continues to live in the minds of Mangalore’s old-timers, who amuse their avid listeners with the fantastic deeds and acts of this wily chutney maker, the scarlet pimpernel, and how he helped the community – all as a gentle reminder of a period when upheavals took place and when strife and duress were the norms.

Before I conclude, I must mention a bit about the author Murkoth Kumaran, a great man who laid the foundations of the short story movement in Malayalam. Murkoth Kumaran (1874-1941), the famed Thiyya teacher and father of our first air force officer Wing Cmdr Murkoth Ramunni, ran his own newspaper ‘Mithavadi’ and wrote often for the periodicals of the time. As I stated previously, MRKC (Kunhirama Menon) had written a novel about Velluvakumaran – i.e., Hayat (Ayaz) Saheb, and in Balthu Chutney, his contemporary Murkoth Kumaran covered another character in the Hyder, Tipu saga. Kumaran was not only a teacher, but also a journalist, and a gifted prose writer, his stories being quite largehearted in their conception and sympathetic in their tone. Kumaran wrote one of the early biographies of the Sree Narayana Guru, was also involved in editing a number of other magazines. He was a gifted speaker and a much-respected social reformer, and the father of the journalist and novelist Murkoth Kunhappa. As he once stated, Kumaran’s only intent while writing was to make the reading of his output, delightful.

Murkoth Kumaran did spend some time as a language (Senior Malayalam Pandit) teacher at St Aloysius college so could have used the Mangalore Magazine story, as an input. His famed style of musical prose is quite evident in the original Malayalam Balthu story.

Somebody might pipe up and ask if there are any recipes for Balthu’s chutney. Well, I have no idea, but I think it may have had something to do with dates, mint, green chilies, ginger and plums – a hot and sweet chutney which went well (we have it in Calicut too, accompanying biryanis, sans the mint) with pulao rice!


Mangalodayam Magazine 1089ME - Tipu Sultan and Balthu Chutney – Murkoth Kumaran
Slaves of Sultans – Alan Machado Prabhu
Sarasvati’s children - Alan Machado Prabhu

Kumaran Nambiyar , Hayat Saheb

Pic – Hyder and Schwarz meeting - Conquests of the Cross, A Record of Missionary Work throughout the World edited by Edwin Hodder, Vol 1, Murkoth Kumaran and Tipu - Wikimedia

Note: I have requested a couple of Mangalore historians for a copy of the old Mangalore Magazine article detailing Balthu’s adventures. I will update this, if needed if and when I receive the copy.