Saturday, 17 October 2009

Pazhassi Raja Film Opens

Mammootty plays the Pazhassi Raja in a film that premièred on the 17th October 2009.

Excitement has been building for some months amongst my many Kerala friends and correspondents about a new film being made by Hariharan, a renowned Malayali film director, to a script by M T Vasudevan Nair about the Pazhassi Rajah and his struggle against the British.

At long last the film has been released and their suspense is ended.

For a fun clip turn up the volume and click on to the following...

Early reports of the film are favourable for instance....

As an Englishman, my wait before I get to see the film will be a little longer. However it will be interesting to see what the film makers have made of the Rajah's story.

This story for me however is not just any old colourful story from long ago in a far away land, but also part of my heritage, and a family legend. And one that involved my forebears to just as great an extent as it does so many modern Indian's whose descendants are alive today in the Wayanad or Thalassery.

The story of the Pazhassi Rajah has been told many times, and no doubt will continue to be told many times again as it passes through the generations for aeon's to come.

In many ways, this story has parallels with the story of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Only in this case, the Sheriff prevailed and the Raja was killed.

Because in many ways Thomas Baber was the villain or Sheriff who killed the hero.

He got "Robin Hood."

My interest in these events started about a decade ago when I first read the tale of Thomas Baber tracking down and killing of the Rajah on the 30th of November 1805.

Thomas Baber was my great great great great uncle.

Through the good services of the internet, and to my great surprise I was contacted a few years ago by local Indian's whose ancestors had also been caught up in those events, and who had been actively researching the Raja's life and times. This led to my being invited to India where visiting many of the locations where these events took place.

The story of this search is contained in the early posts on this blog.

I also had the unexpected and somewhat strange experience of meeting two young descendants of the Raja who were very kind to me, and who fortunately did not seem to hold any grudges.

There appears to be a great thirst for information about these events, and for history in general amongst many people who are living in or who originate from Kerala. There is however also great difficultly for most of these people who would like to be able to get at real historical information about these events, because so little is available in books or film.

Many have been extremely surprised at just how much I have been able to discover and which is available in the British Library here in London. These records have survived because the East India Company had shareholders and auditors, was a commercial concern, and just like any modern multinational, its management had to send in reports to head office every month or so.

This enables a modern researcher to unearth really detailed accounts of the events surrounding the Pazhassi Rajah.

My great concern about this new film, is that although it's publicity makes much of it's accuracy, I am concerned that it has in-fact been written in large part with an eye to increasing its audience.

I hope that Vasudevan Nair has been as accurate in his script as the publicity would have us believe.

I have my concerns, for instance as IndiaGlitz wrote on the 15th of October..

"The historical which also present a true love story of ‘Pazhassi Raja’ with Kaitheri Makkam will give further lights to the first ever Indian freedom fight against the British," [1]


The Raja's Queen played by Kaniha Subamaniam

Early reports before the film was released suggested that the film depicts the Rani leading her own fierce band of Amazon archers into battle.

Padmapriya plays Neeli, Thalakkal Chandu's fiancée and the leader of women Kurichya soldiers.

Events surrounding the Raja's rebellion are extremely well documented, and anything as unusual in the eyes of the soldiers or officials fighting the Raja as a band of female warriors, would surely have appeared somewhere in the records. In ten years of extensive research, I have not come across a single suggestion of any women taking an active part in these fights.

It would be fascinating to be proved wrong. Where did Vasudevan Nair find this documented?

The Rani was certainly present at the Raja's final camp. Thomas Baber makes this clear in his report.

"And from the accounts of the Raja’s lady, they had been reduced to the greatest distresses in particular for the last ten days. The Raja’s body was taken up and put in my palanquin, while the lady who was dreadfully reduced from sickness was put into Captain Clapham’s." [3]

Thomas Baber appears to have exercised considerable care for the Rani in the years following the Raja's death. Local legend in the Wayanad has it that he was having an affair with her, because he visited her so often. This appears unlikely given Thomas Baber's relationship with his wife Helen.

In the film Thomas Hervey Baber is played by a young Australian Harry Key.

Harry Key

Thomas Baber's wife appears in the film, however she is incorrectly called Dora. Her real name was in fact Helen Baber.

Linda Arsenio plays Helen Baber

Helen Baber had her self become a victim of the war when her first husband had been killed in one of the Raja's earliest victories over the British.

This was no doubt a very tough war for her. Her second husbands fight with her former husbands killer must have had an edge all of its own.

What must it of been like to know that her second husband was up in the Wayanad going after the Raja on his home territory?

Her maiden name was Helen Somerville Fearon, and she came from Edinburgh. She had married in 1795 aged just 15 to Captain Donald Cameron, of the Bombay Army at Portsmouth. The East India Company depot on the Isle of Wight was nearby, this many have been a last minute affair prior to Cameron boarding an East Indiamen before setting out on the long journey east.

Helen will have arrived in India in 1796, and must have presumably travelled with the Major to Tellicherry shortly afterwards. On the 17th March 1797 the Major was leading a force down the Periah Pass when he was killed. Aged 17 she was already a widow.[4]

Thomas Baber had married her at Tellicherry the following year.

Helen Baber's tomb at Thalaserry

Thomas Baber was profoundly affected by these events. He seems to have recognised the Raja's role and stature.

The Raja had played an outstanding role in trying to defeat Tipu Sultan's invasion. When the more senior Rajah's had taken fright in the face of Tipu's onslaught, and had fled to Calicut or Cochin, the younger and more junior Raja had stepped into their place. These older disgraced Raja's had resented the Pazhassi Raja's success in this campaign, and his growing stature as the outstanding local leader. Jealously on the part of his uncle, would lead that same uncle to betray his nephew several times in 1797 to 1805.

Thomas Baber probably thought that by killing the Raja he would bring to an end the insurgency, and that under British rule things would become much better for the local inhabitants, with whom he seems to have established quite a rapport.

It was his rapport with the lower castes of this deeply fractured and divided local community, that gave Thomas Baber the intelligence on the ground that allowed him to defeat the Raja where others including the future Duke of Wellington failed.

To his horror, after a few years had passed, it became obvious to Thomas Baber that many of the British officials were incapable of running the region effectively.

Most could not understand the local languages well enough to be able communicate. They didn't understand the culture either. Many were lazy and others were corrupt. Baber used his position as a Magistrate and later as a Judge over many years to try to correct this mismanagement. He campaigned for year after year against his colleagues and the higher authorities in Madras. I have found nearly three hundred of these letters.

His constant criticism of his colleagues, and his defence of the rights of the local Indian's cost him promotion, and nearly his life as well. He fought a duel against a British officer over slavery, and was challenged to a second one.

He was eventually thrown out of his post in 1829,by a reactionary new governor Stephen Lushington and went back to Britain where he campaigned to Parliament and the House of Lords to stop slavery in Kerala. Later he returned to India, knowing full well that he would never see Britain again. He had come to love India and Indian's more than Britain.

He wanted the East India Company to rule through Indian's, which is why he built a school opposite the Pearl Hotel in Tellicherry that is still in use today.

I believe he felt that the Raja had been the rightful leader of the region, and that the EIC officials in the Malabar had abused their position, in order to frustrate an agreement that Governor Duncan was trying to reach with the Raja.

It was Handley, Stevens, Torin and Murdoch Brown together with the Raja's uncle who manipulated events in order to see the Pazhassi Raja removed from his position, so that they could engross the pepper trade for their private gain.

Thomas Baber appears to me have felt that because he had removed the Raja, the natural projector of the local inhabitants, that he was somehow morally responsible for assuming that mantle. This belief affected the way he undertook his duties for most of the rest of his life.

The real story is probably even more fascinating than the film version, but until I see the film, I will not know.

Here's a clip from the film..

It would be great to make a sequel with this team telling the subsequent story.

In the coming weeks I will post more transcripts and accounts of the events leading up to November 1805.

I would like to acknowledge the help that I have had from Jissu Jacob and Vivish George in writing this blog.

[1] See
[2] See
[3] See my blog
[4] See


testblog said...


In the movie, it is not the queen who led the rebellion. The pictures of the women you posted are of two different people. The first one - her real name is Kaniha -- is the queen and the second one is a tribal woman with the screen name Neeli, played by Padmapriya.

MT Vasudevan Nair is famous for writing alternate histories, which gives an new version of commonly known events, while staying within that framework. One of his most famous works is called 'Second Turn' which is Mahabharata from Bhima's perspective.

jeffery said...

Hi Nick, I am no Baber but was intrigued by your post on the British India mailing list. I come from Quilon in Kerala and curretly residing in Melbourne, Australia. You have done a fantastic job with your research and the loong entry about the history of the place.

One day I hope I can create a history blog about Quilon as it was a former, Dutch-Portuguese-British colony.


Nick Balmer said...

Hello Jeffery,

You and I should co-operate, as I have a lot of material on Quilon. These ports along this coast interest me greatly, and I have been slowly collecting bits on them over the years.
Do you have recent pictures of the older bits of the port?
It is fascinating that the Port was at its greatest extent under the Portuguese, and that the Dutch knocked much of it down, and rebuilt the walls you can currently see around a much smaller area.
Nick Balmer

Nikhil Narayanan said...

I had come to this blog about a year back.I never realized the importance of Collector Baber then.
After reading a lot on him and watching the movie,I am back here.
Kindly request you to correct the names of the first actress to Kaniha Subamaniam(playing Kaitheri Makkam).The next pic is of the character played by Padmapriya(playing Neeli, Thalakkal Chandu's fiancée and the leader of women Kurichya soldiers)
PS: I wonder why Helen's name was changed to Dora.

Isaac Cherian said...

I follow your blog very often and feel better in many ways –probably because I get in touch with my roots. I have a Cardamom/Coffee Farm in Wayanad, Meppadi. Let me know if I could be of any use in your efforts. Isaac

Tomz said...

Thanks for this beautiful account f ur biographical sketch as well as review about Pazhassi Raja..As a Malayali I like the film and the history as well..Happy to meet on the net the predecessor of a person who involved in the Kerala history long before..

Isaac Cherian said...

Just few notes on Tribal Community in Wayanad. Kurichya Tribe and other tribal communities in Wayanad are known as Adivasis (“Adivavse” is a Malayalam word if translated into English “early settlers”). Among tribal community in Wayand the division of labor - activities such as hunting or fighting - is not based on gender differences. The role differences based on Gender in these communities are very narrow. This phenomenon is still seen or carried down till the present century. For instance few days ago there was a report in TV Channel (Amrita) reporting that females and males of Tribal community is Wayand comes to consume or buy alcohol together, which is not a common practice in anywhere in Kerala or in other parts of India. Based on these understanding it is not a surprise if Women folks were depicted as Kurichya warriors in Pazhassi film.

1. Similar report in The Hindu I could not get the referece that came in Amrita TV Channel. “This situation had ruined the tribes, even the youth and women among them. Many tribal hamlets had become the centre of illicit liquor manufacturing and trade”
2. There are various studies in sociology/Psychology which show that gender role difference in Tribal communities in Wayanad is very narrow.

Harry said...

Wonderful blog. I'd only read parts of it filming started, and should have read more - it is clear that you've researched this much more than I did.
Films are rarely accurate to history, and Hariharan and MT tried to be open with the fact that it's a cinematic retelling of a true story. In reality, stories don't wind to a neat conclusion as they must in film - there are often threads of storyline that wander off, or characters whose actions make for boring cinema. For those who value truth, and are personally close to the history (as you are), that will seldom be enough. I hope you aren't disappointed!
Harry Key - AKA Thomas Baber

Nick Balmer said...

Hello Harry,

I look forward to seeing your performance. It is a good thing that the film has been made and that it is encouraging people to explore their history.

Even if the film is not always accurate, it has encouraged people to go and look into the past in India.


Nick Balmer said...

Hello Isaac,

The whole subject of gender roles in Malabar culture is fascinating, because I get the impression that many women had better property rights and more freedom in Kerala than their "sisters" in Britain had at that time.

Thomas Baber wrote two pamphlets in 1830 which are very rare these days, and I only know of the copies in the British Library. They were specifically about slavery in Malabar, but they go in extraordinary detail into all the different customs in the different castes and levels in society.

It is fascinating as a record of a vanished World.

In 1805 it would have been unthinkable of any of the senior respectable Malabari women to cover up their breasts, as shown in the film. Only prostitutes did that in those days.

There were riots when European's tried to get women to cover their breasts at that time.

I will in time publish some extracts from these accounts.

Harry said...

Nick, you're doing a tremendous job with sharing the true history, and as you said, the film seems to have been a success at piquing the curiosity of the public.

Good on you!

Padmakumar K said...

Dear Nick,

It's been an inexplicable pleasure to read your blog and expecially the account on Pazhassi Raja and Harvey Babar. I now feel, that the history of the British India is not the history of India alone, and that to a certain extent, it is the history of the British as well. Being an academician dealing more with Kerala's history, I would like to know more about the subject on your side and am looking forward to striking a contact with you. My id:

With great expectations,

Padmakumar K

Spectator said...

Thanks for the rare details.The film has been released in Kerala and some other cities in India and has already broken many collection records by a malayalam film.

Unknown said...


Whatever you say, how much ever research you do, you cannot deny the fact British looted us, enslaved us and treated us like scums for 500 Years. Great Britains Glory shines on the foundations of violence, blood and robbery of India and a number of nations. The artifacts in your museum and the crown of your queen all are bathed in this blood and smells rotten flesh. If ever a global award was given for the best thiefs in the planet I am sure 99 perecent of Britains population would receive it. Your ancestors were more barbaric than Osama. Now i see that British people are saying they are intrested in India and its history. Funny - they are still intrested after 500 years of looting. Very Funny.

Padhikan said...

As I understood it, it was the women of lower caste who did not have the rights to cover their breasts. The clashes were revolts by the members of the lower caste against the landlords who enforced those regulations. Those were the struggles for their women to have the rights to cover their breasts and not riots against someone forcing them to cover their breasts as implied in one of the comments.

Unknown said...

Hi Nick,

Thanks for thde details you managed to accumulate here.There is one book on Mr. Kanara Menon from Mathrubhumi Books. The author of the particular book is a descendant of Mr. Kanara Menon just like you, and at the end of the book there is a note that she was able to meet another descendant involved with Pazhassi incidents from UK. "If" you are not the one mentioned there (I don't have that book with me right now) you might be interested in collecting more details on this. You can contact

Nick Balmer said...

Hello Adityan,

I can easily sympathise with your view that the British looted and enslaved India, and at the outset of my research, it is what I believed as well.

However I believe that your analysis is actually wrong. We certainly didn't hold India for 500 years.

From 1604 until about 1760, we held on by the barest of margins. One of my great x 5 grandfathers was a soldier at Cuddalore from 1711 until 1746. I have read the weekly consultations by the settlement managers, and it is quite clear that it was only because large sections of the Indian merchant and often ruling classes found it to there advantage that we were allowed to stay there. It was very similar in Malabar.

India wasn't a peaceful paradise when we arrived from Europe. The Moghuls had defeated most of the earlier rulers, and wars between the ruling classes were constant.

Many of the earliest actions fought by European forces in India were as allies of local India rulers against invaders.

In the 1720's by ancestors were fighting Mahrattas at the edge of Cuddalore, in support of the rights of the local rajahs.

The Brits in Tellicherry helped the local Rajahs including the Pazhassi's ancestors fight off the Kin of Bednur. They also fought off Tipu together.

We did make a great deal of money in India. We made it until about 1790 with the active help of India merchants. John Calland, one of my 4 x great grandfathers arrived in Cuddalore, penniless, and left a rich man. He didn't do this by looting, but by partnering with a Chetty, and by trading. His money provided Equity for the development of Swansea Docks.

Was he any different to the thousands of Gujaraties, Keralites or other expatriate Indian's around the World today?

I don't believe so. Yes, we did fight wars in India, but it has greatly surprised me to read how very reluctantly we did so in most cases. Most were fought to protect the status quo.

This was the case for a very practical reason. Wars cost money and destroyed trade. No trade, meant no personal profit. Personal profit and the dream of being able to retire home to Britain was the goal of 99% of Brits going to India. Very few made it, before 1900.

You are very welcome to your views, but they are too simplistic.

Compare the colonial methods of European's and Muslims. It is an absolutely fascinating subject.

The conflict and competition between Muslim trade and the European one is fascinating. Osama inherits a tradition of Wahabi expansionism that goes back to the 1820's, if not before.

This is not a new struggle. In fact in 1797 Thomas Baber was fighting Wahabism near Ponnany with Kulpilli Menon, insupport of the legitimate local Hindu Rajah's, before he came into conflict with the Pazhassi Raja.

It was skills he learnt from Nairs, who were much better at Jungle War and insurgency, than were the European trained EIC Armies, that Thomas Baber was able to use to defeat the Pazhassi.

One of the main reasons we went to war with Pazhassi besides pepper profits, was because he had impaled Mopillas who were in his eyes encroaching into his territory.

It is not as simple as it might at first appear.

Thanks for dropping by. I respect your opinion, but I would argue it is wrong.

Jay said...

Hi Nick,

It would be nice if you could include photos of places in and around Pazhassi(Name of Pazhassi Raja's birth place). Also, Pazhassi Raja's tomb is still there in a place called Sultan Battery in Wyanad. It would be worth visiting these places during your next visit to Kerala.Adding photos of the above mentioned places would make the blog even more informative and interesting.


Jay said...

Hi Nick,

Pazhassi Raja's tomb is at Kalpetta not at Sultan Battery. Apologies for the error.


Nick Balmer said...

Hello Jay,

I considered going to the Rajah's tomb, and I wanted in some way to pay my respects to him.

Perhaps I could put flowers on his tomb.

It troubled me however that I did not want to cause offence to the hundreds of people who I am told visit his tomb every day.

I wasn't sure that I could go there without upsetting religious beliefs. I would not want to pollute his tomb.

For me it is an odd experience going to these places, because I can readily understand that for many Indian's we are seen as oppressors of the Indian's, and I think that I might also hold that view if I were Indian.

It was also what I was taught at school.

When I started my research I thought that I had stumbled onto the story of one such oppressor, and as it is always much more fun to find a villain in ones family tree than a saint, I thought this will be fun, I can read all about this colonial oppressor.

What really surprised me was that when I read the actual letters, of which several hundred survive, is that Thomas Baber became just as much of a fighter for Indian rights as the Raja had been.

He fought his colleagues both verbally, in writing and in a duel. He was challenged to others besides the one he fought.

It was also clear that events in India were by no means as simple as the history books would tell us they were, and that the real history is in fact much more interesting and often surprising than the official one.

The biggest surprise I had in India was that most people were uniformly friendly, and very few seemed to resent what we had done in India all those years ago.

My host in Kochi really surprised me at the symposium by introducing me to two young direct descendants of the Raja. These two young guys now live in the US, and were extremely nice. It fact we had a lot in common.

It is quite clear to me that the Raja would rather have not fought the Brits, and I believe Thomas Baber was reluctant to fight the Raja, but they found themselves through the actions of others engaged in a struggle that could only end badly.

I believe the Pazhassi Raja's tomb is to the north west of Mananthavadi, and is certainly not at Sultan Barthory or Kalpetta.

I don't myself know where it is. There is conflicting information on the web over its location, because other web sites say it is North East of Mananthavadi.

I have one photo of the tomb that I found on the web, and the huge tree that has grown up besides it.

I would be very grateful if somebody could locate it for me, and if you have photos, I would also like to see them.

Would I cause offence if I went to the tomb next time I was there?

Nick Balmer said...

Hello Sreenath,

It is quite possible that the book you are referring to was written by Prema Menon.

I was lucky enough to meet her in 2006, and just like her ancestor she guided, protected and informed me.

Here's the story of our meeting as told in an article published in the Hindu at that time.

Gargoyle said...

Loved the movie. Watching it was a strange experience because it was one that involved my forebears too. The vakeel Karunakaran (Canara) Menon was a great great great great uncle. Didn't play a very salutary role in the proceedings, though!

Nick Balmer said...

Hello Gargolye,

How fascinating to hear from you. Whilst your ancestor is seen by 99% of the people in India as a villain,I am not sure that is entirely fair.

I have a huge amount of material about him, and a lot of it is really fascinating.

I believe that he was protecting his community when he went to war with the EIC against the Mopillas who were encroaching into the area around his home.

I don't expect he like the idea of the British taking over, but he looked at the Brits he met and he picked Thomas Baber as a Brit sympathetic to Indian communities.

He then seems to have gone out of his way to teach, inform and mentor Thomas Baber.

Baber recognised the stature of Menon and in later years after he had moved away, he recommended Menon to Sir Thomas Munro and Graeme, two officials who believed in less EIC government (not more) and who wanted reforms brought in, as being the best informed local Indian who he sent to see them, so that they too would understand the needs of these communities.

He did a great deal to protect the local communities he came from.

By using Nair guerilla tactics against the Raja, they brought the war to an end much quicker and with a lot less collateral damage, than would have been the case if the army had remained in the conflict for several years more.

They broke a stalemate that had existed, because with Menon's training Baber could fight effectively in jungle unlike the others.

In 1812 Menon played an even more prominent role in ending the outbreak in the Wayanad than he did in 1805.

In 1834 he was running an intelligence operation to watch over events in Coorg, when the Coorg forces captured him. It was to get him back that the EIC invaded Coorg.

I would love to know more about his family background.

Do you know if he had a wife and children?

If you would rather carry this on privately, please contact me on

Arun said...

I went to see the movie today and it was a good one. Have you see the movie yet? Are you in Kerala currently?

I noticed the picture in your blog titled "Helen Baber's tomb at Thalaserry". In the movie Helen (Dora in the film) is seen as leaving, probably to Britain, after Baber hanged couple of the fighters which made her upset. Was that incident documented somewhere or was it just in the film?

Kallivalli said...

I born and brougt up at Mananthavady and now in Kuwait.

Pazhassi rajas tomb is at Mananthavady,manantoddy.At a top of a hill near to town adjacant to District Hospial.

I have some memories and a story related with this .I will write again.

Kallivalli said...

As I said earlier I am a native of Mananthavady, and now resident in Kuwait
I didn’t see the film PAZHASSIRAJA yet. But I sure that, it will have commercial contents. so no comments.
But I would like to add something about his last lying place. Please forgive me as this in my pioneer post.
In 1980s as a simple boy I also feared Maths teacher and his punishments with stick. Among our kids there was a belief that if we keep a leaf of Pazhassis tree in our pocket, we won’t get punishments. Believe me it worked well !! And for that reason, I visited first the tomb site which is very close to our primary class. Then it became an obsession. The place is seemed abandoned and scary for children. Only brave kids go there. The place is like woods and lots of greenery around there. There was a big Banyan tree exactly engulfed the tomb which was made up of red laterite blocks which can be seen in a close look only.

Kallivalli said...

I learned to read from The Board School, a gift of Britons to this backward area. The first letters I could read out of school was in the huge wooden display board of archeological department which describes briefly Pazhassis cremation. I still remember the words. It was in Malayalam and reads like:
The brave heart of Kerala, Veera Kerala Varma Pazhzssi Raja is lying here. In 1805 Nov 30 he was killed in the battle with British. And his dead body brought to Mananthavady by Britons in Colonel Baber’s Palanquin and cremated here with all military respects.
On lunch breaks we frequently goes there, sometimes with the free school made pudding with Amrican Wheat – Upma in Malayalam in a plastic cover. We often put some wild flowers in his tomb. We cared to clean the area after lunch and not to make big sounds- as our senior boys always warned- Pazhassi will be Awake from sleep.
The tree was huge.There was a big fissure in the left back side of the Tree and it leads to a small cave like structure in the tomb. One or two boy of 10 years can easily sit inside the cave. We had seen so many small snakes and small creatures around the tomb and cave and nobody dare to go inside except fool enthusiastic like me and my friends. One day, might be in 1983-84-We were exploring the tomb cave. We were sitting inside the cave as I said earlier which is fully covered with the huge tree trunk. I found deep in the mud, remains of two small sword like things inside the inside tomb wall. I took them and examined. One is about 2 feet length, with a handle like sword, too rusty as nearly thin dust. Other one is 1 foot length and seems little thick and like a big knife. As we are not aware of these things we took them to our school and explained to the headmaster Mr. Balakrishanan, about the artifacts. He agreed to keep them in the office. Rest I don’t know. But I strongly believe that some pazhassis followers kept them there.

Kallivalli said...

When I matriculate, and in my early youth, the place is our groups gathering point up to midnights..We saw every portion of society is coming there either to spend an evening or to put flowers in the tomb. We welcomed everyone. The archeological department of local government posted one Manager and one Gardener there. The Gardener was a native of Travencore and seems doesn’t care about his job. We became friends and we couldn’t see the Manager. He used to come once in a month to collect the salary. Government planned to renovate the tomb place and made a small museum and put laterite wall around the tree and planted some local herbs and flowes. But sooner the big tree became dried up within one year and ultimately fell down. Being a nature lover, we feel badly. We the youth made a nongovernmental organization on environmental issues. We called it Green Lovers and I was the founder Advisor. We decided to plant a same type tree and after long search we got permission and planted the sapling. We put seeds of all available wild trees around the vacant land of the tomb. we also included lots of local seeds of jack fruits, mangoes, figs etc. The Aim is to attract birds and small animals when they give fruits. But thanks to governments decision to renovate again the site, they started work and all our efforts were gone in vain. We also separated in course of time to seek a Job. Today Green lovers attached with Pazhassi Library working outstandingly.

Just down the road to Mananthavady town there was an old building built in 1929 and working as Pazhassi Raja Memorial Library. In 90s I was one of the office bearers. It was demolished and built a new commercial complex with Library. It is now one of the best Libraries in Wayanad. I read several books on local history, though my primary subject in college is Pure science. History became a fascination. I searched William Logan’s Malabar Manual , but I could not read. I read it recently.
Several years later I am posted to Tellichery General Hospital by the government which is near to the British FACTORY. I saw all the places with a different eye. The church, fort and even the playground made me fascination. In mind I want to rewind the process of history. I got several tips from internet and Maps. And name of places. With this aim I wandered in my motorbike to all the historical places like Tellichery, its old city, old buildings. I found in our climate with six month strong rain, the buildings are ruined easily. All the people getting nice money and new structures are rising everywhere. I extended my search to Calicut, Beypore Faroke,Kannur, Darmapatanum, Darmodam, Valapatnam, Mahe, Peria, Kottiyoor etc. most of the route are familiar to me before, because I have to travel these areas with work related trips, for example I can travel Tellichery to Mananthavady (My home) through kathiroor, KOTTAYAM, Kannavam, Kottiyoor, Elapedika, Peria, Palchuram etc, all relevant to history. I visit some of the Nambiars houses and spent time with elders to grasp an idea of old days.
And search now continues.
I came to know you are a direct decent of Col.Baber lately. The word in that board given an Impression of Britons in my child mind and it was shining. That is , This Baber Brought Rajas dead body in His palanquin and buried with respects and customs. I found how these forign people respect even their enemy.
Thanks for that.
Yes, you are really welcome to our place . To put some flowers in his Tomb..
suggestions are welcome.

Manoj Isaac G said...


I saw the film last week in Bangalore in a housefull show at PVR @ 2:35 pm on a weekday, truly understood the complexity of the S.indian historical past.

I had always felt that EIC was an enemy who fought an unjust war. But after reading your blog understood that the EIC had fought a reluctant war to maintain status quo.
After seeing the film I found out that the rajah's are super loosers who did not has an iota of world view or an impending tsunamic the 'EIC'.
After going through the history of mankind I got convinced that EIC is not the first enemy who fought an unjust war to feel bad about nor the last unjust war we have faced.
Your blog is truly amazing piece of time travel to the likes of Dr.jones and when i go to my hometown nagercoil when i see old govt buildings i will see it in historical light. Thanking you for rekindling the spirit of history in me.

Sandeep Palakkal said...

Nice reading your blog that is filled with history, insights, discussions and arguments. History is the past, let's try to learn from it and not repeat the mistakes in the future. Your replies are interesting, especially to those who criticize the British rule in India. And I appreciate your tolerance to those comments. We Indians too are tolerant historically. Expecting new details in your blog in the future. I watched the movie, it is just great!

Kallivalli said...


Please dont mislead the readers about the place. PazhassiRajas Tomb is in Mananthavady.
Neither Kalptetta or in Sulthan Bathery.
I have photos also pls visit

Nick Balmer said...

Hello Arun,

I am sorry, but I missed your earlier question about Dora.

Dora is a fictional person. Thomas Baber's wife was called Helen Baber, and she certainly didn't leave Thomas over any of the events during the Rajah's war.

She was married to Thomas in 1797 and had several young children by 1805. It must have been very hard for her, as Thomas was away for weeks at a time in the Wayanad, and the Rajah's men had already killed her first husband.

I have no idea what she thought of the Rajah, but she does seem to have been sympathetic towards Indians as she adopted two Indian children who were brought up in the house, and also invited senior Indian ladies to stay in her house in 1818, which appears to have been quite unusual at the time.


Nick Balmer

Shaivyam...being nostalgic said...

It was a pleasant surprise for me when I accidentally came across your blog while surfing Pazhassi Raja, as I saw the film yesterday.

Great to know you.

Unknown said...

Hi Nick,

After going through the history of that period what fascinated me was that

Pazhassi Raja was the forefathers of the Gorilla warfare which British was not exposed to and have to pay a heavy price. Unlike the Zulu war, which was the only war the British actualy lost, pazhassi recognising the fact that he did not have the required man power or armament had to opt for a less respected gorilla warfare.

Baber realising that the British cannot use brute man power or heavy armament used INTELLIGENCE as a weapon to destroy the enemy. Surprisingly both Pazhassi Rajas and Babers tactics are still being used in todays world.

Suresh Manikoth

Nick Balmer said...


Your comments on the similarity of the Pazhassi conflict and modern wars has also struck me very forcibly when I read the original accounts.

Thomas Baber had had no military training, and was not part of the military when he went to India.

If he did get any training, it was almost certainly from the Indian's his bodyguards in the early days in 1797 to 1800 south of Kannur near Ponnani, when he was fighting Chemban Pokar and his supporters.

Writing much later in the 1830's he explained how he had come to have implicit trust in his Nair bodyguards.

He wrote of how when he had tried to lead attacks, they rush in front of him to block his path, or push him behind a tree, out of harm's way.

I expect he was far too noisy when moving into ambushes, and he probably tried to lead attacks in the formal western way, which the Nairs knew wouldn't work against insurgents in the bush, fighting a war of raids and ambushes.

These Nairs would of course have inherited centuries of know how in low intensity warfare, and especially what we know call Guerilla Warfare, because that was their ancestral role in life.

I believe that the Pazhassi Raja and also Tipu played a very major role in developing the skills of Britain's most important 19th Century General, and one that affected the balance of power in Europe, by allowing him to use lessons learnt to such effect that he was able to defeat superior French armies. The Duke of Wellington's learned is practical and highly effective military skills in India.

In fact I think there is a very good argument that the Battle of Waterloo was not so much won on the Playing Fields of Eton, as on the hot dusty plains of Mysore, the jungle or Wayanad and the field of Arcot.

Wellington won his Spanish battles largely due to his skill at logistics, and his supply chain, based largely on the supply chain the Brinjaries and EIC had developed in India since 1780.

Before then the British had been beaten in India on several occasions by Hyder and the Mahrattas because we didn't have a supply train.

This was something the French also never possessed in Spain, so they frequently starved in front of our armies, who drew them into Portugal, specifically to defeat them by logistic failure, rather than by battle alone.

He had learned to appreciate just how good guerilla warfare was a tying down troops and at cutting supplies.

The Pazhassi Raja had done this to his army.

He took that lesson to Spain and organised and supported a large number of Spain insurgent groups behind the French lines to attack their supplies and communications to just as great an effect as the Raja had done.

These almost forgotten South Indian Wars trained a generation of officers who went on to do very well in Europe in the Napoleonic Wars, in much the same way that many of the officers who took part in the Mohmand and Waziristan Campaigns in 1937 to 1939 went on to be amongst the most successful generals in World War II.

It seems we never learn from generation to generation however, and today's generals are having to relearn the same lessons yet again.


Nick Balmer

Isaac Cherian said...

Thanks Nick for your comments. It would great to see those words on women's status during those times.

Unknown said...

Hi Nick

i am really surprised to read your blog and find so much of detail historic data about my home town. i am sure none out here have so much of authentic data. let me express my gratitude and respect to you for the work i just saw.

Now, i need your support. i am an architect cum urban designer working on thalassery heritage town master plan. thalassery was recently declared as heritage town and a detail master plan is coming up to preserve all heritage sites and also to facilitate integrated growth of the town.the project has jsut begun and iam now in a preliminary stage of data collection. thats when i saw your blog. i need permission to use a lot of data within your blog and also your complete direct support in developing a morphological structure for the town which will help us to revice the heritage zones. i will also be working on a detail physical structure. our first major agenda is a public seminar cum exhibition on january 2, 2010 in thalassery to announce the project. i would like to invite you for the same and also request you to grant me the permission to use the data. i will definitely share all necessary details that i get to you as well in the course of my work.

with due respect

Ar.Vivek Puthan Purayil

Nick Balmer said...

Hello Vivek,

I would love to help you in your project. I have been collecting a lot of information on the development of Thalaserry, including a number of old maps and drawings.

From these it is quite obvious that many of todays streets and buildings follow the outline of the earlier fortifications.

The original fort was much larger than the remaining parts that can be seen today.

It would be really great if I could send you locations to search, and if you could see if there are older foundations incorporated into the modern buildings, as I believe they are in places.

It might be best if you sent your email to and we could compare notes privately first.


Nick Balmer

Gargoyle said...

Hi Nick, returned to your blog after many, many months and saw that you'd posted a very interested reply to my comment. I wish I'd returned earlier! I would be happy to provide the details about Karunakaran Menon's home life. My email address is shilo70AThotmail. Do get in touch.

Nikhil Narayanan said...

Here's a book on Kanara Menon. The book is in Malayalam.


Mathew Joseph said...

Hi Nick,

I am from Peravoor in Kerala's Kannur district. Peravoor is walkable distance from pazhassi.
The Rajah's tomb is situated in Manathavady. adjacent to the government general hospital in the middle of the town.
By the way, I have a doubt. What were the origins of the Rajahs' royal family? Was he related to Kolathiri?
The Rajah was a Kshatriay while the Kolathiri was a Nair. In he film however the Rajah calls the Kolathiri "uncle". The Rajah's family belonged to "Puranattu Swaroopam" (the outsider dynasty). So, was he then a princ regent of the Kolathiri?
Peravoor and the nearby places are full of areas associated with the Rajah. I freqently visit the Periya Pass where 101 Englishmen were killed and have been trying to pinpoint the exact spot of the battle, which, from all accounts, should be between the first and second hairpin bends from the top, descending from modern Periya town towards Tellicherry.

Some bare remains of the Rajah's Kizhakke Kovilakam (eatern branch palace) are still standing at Manathana, about 10 km away from Peravoor. Tippu razed the palace to the ground. And to remind us of the gory war, there was till recently, a deep well dug by Tippu's toops at the entrance to the modern Manathana town, into which the dead bodies of the Rajah's army were thrown. In my childhood, I used to take fearful peeps into the well, with visions of finding skeletons.
Sadly, modern 'development' has erased this with houses being built over it. It is still not late for the Kerala Government to acquire the area and keep the well as a symbol fo resistance to the Tippu
Mathew Joseph

Nick Balmer said...

Hello Mathew,

Thank you for taking the time to write to me.

I hope one day to explore the Peri Pass for the site of the battle there.

The most senior officer killed there was Major Cameron. Major Cameron had only arrived in India a couple of months before this battle and probably had little if any experience of jungle warfare.

He had married 16 year old Helen Fearon just before he sailed from the Isle of Wight.

The situation for Helen must have been awful to find yourself a widow at 17 in a strange and hostile country.

Somehow she met Thomas Baber and they got married shortly afterwards. [Dora in the film is fiction]

There is a very detailed account of this battle at the following blog post I made a few years ago.

If you can work out where about in the pass it was that Cameron died I would be really interested to see some photos.

The forts I think I have located in the following post must be very close to where you currently live

I would be fascinated to see photos of these places today.


Nick Balmer

Hai Baji said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.