Chirakkal Raja

Chirakkal Raja

Chirakkal Raja (king of Chirakkal) is the title of the senior most king of the Chirakkal branch (Chirakkal dynasty) of the Palli division of the Kolathiri dynasty of the erstwhile feudal state (nadu) of Kolathunadu in North Malabar, Kerala state, South India. Chirakkal Rajas and Kolathiris traces their ancestry back to the Mushika dynasty of the Tamil Sangam age. They were alternatively also known as the Kulyas, Kolis, Kolwas, Velirs, and Nannans.

Herbert Wigram states that Chirakkal Raja and the king of Travancore belongs to branches of the same Hindu-Nair family.[1]


Etymological background

The invasion of the domains of Kolathiri (called Kolathunadu) by the king of Bednore (Ikkeri) and subsequent settlements between Kolathiri and Bednore in 1736-37 led to considerable changes in the structure of the family of Kolathiris and to the virtual supersession of the title of Kolathiri Raja (king of Kolathunad) to Chirakkal Raja (king of Chirakkal). The Chirakkal Raja is entitled to one half of Malikhan of the Kolathiris after the cessation of his territory to East India Company in 1792.


The initial base of the members of Chirakkal dynasty was at Karippat in Kurumattur amsom. Their initial capital was at Perinchelloor (Taliparamba) and in circa 850 AD they shifted capital to Chirakkal.

Territory and administration

The old Kolathunad, ruled by Kolathiris, extended from Kora river in the south to Nethravathi river in the north and the Arabian Sea in the west to Kudagu Mala in the east. The domain of Kolathiri had at various periods roughly covered present-day Kasaragod and Kannur districts of Kerala, South India, along with some adjoining areas of Northern Kerala and Tulunadu, and some periods parts of Tamil Nadu, Kodagu and Mysore.

The original kingdom of Kolathiri was partitioned (Kurvazhcha) among the five matrilinial-divisions of the Kolathiri family namely Kolathiri, Tekkalankoor, Vadakkalankoor, Nalamkoor, and Anjamkoor.

Kolathunad was not consolidated well and lacked a degree of political centralization like the rest of feudal states in Malabar. Consistent with this lack of political centralization, the Nairs of North Malabar were not divided into sects based on administrative and occupational functions. Most of the Nair Naduvazhis (rulers of nadus, such as Kolathunad, Kottayam etc.) and Desavazhis (rulers of desams, under a Naduvazhi) of North Malabar belonged to the Nambiar caste. Desavazhis were directly appointed by king (Naduvazhi) and had administrative powers in their respective desams.

As a further consequence of the lack of political centralization in Kolathunad, Naduvazhi and Desavazhis often fought one another and within themselves and frequently allied themselves with different royal houses as suited their needs of the moment.

Kolathiri Family

A Sanskrit text known as Mushikavamsa (a poem composed by Atula, the poet and court historian of King Srikanta of the Mushika dynasty) documents records of the rule of some 118 kings of this dynasty till Srikanta, at the start of the 11th century AD.

The matrilinial divisions of the Kolathiri dynasty were;

I. Udayamangalam division
II. Palli division

  • Chirakkal branch
  • Chenga branch
-Prayikkara at Mavelikkara
-Ennakkat (further divided into Ennakkat and Mavelikkara)
  • Tevanam Kotta branch
  • Padinjare branch
  • Kavinishery branch
  • Chulleri branch

The eldest male members of each branch were accustomed to executive powers according to the Kurvazhcha scheme of administration with their own dominions. The eldest female of all of the branches were accustomed to some distinction of station or dignity (sthanam). Several sub-branches had also broken off from the parent stem, but these had all become extinct as on 1886.

Travancore Royal family

In 14th century, kings of Venad (Venad Kulasekhara dynasty) accepted two princesses (Attingal Rani and Kunnumel Rani) from the house of Kolathiris and hence the latter are alternately also referred to as the Southern Kolathiris. After the 14th century, the Venad rulers gradually intermarried with the Namboothiris, and sometimes with the Nairs, adopting the custom of Marumakkathayam.

Recorded History

As per legend, the last Perumal who ruled Kerala divided his kingdom between his nephews ,his sons, relatives and nobles converted to Islam and travelled to Mecca on a hajj. The Keralolpathi recounts the above narrative in the following fashion:

The last and the famous Perumal king Cheraman Perumal ruled Kerala for 36 years. He left for Mecca by ship with some Muslims who arrived at Kodungallur (Cranganore) port and converted to Islam. Another legend mentions that the Queen of a Cheraman Perumal had an illicit liaison with one of the courtiers. An army Chieftain( the leader of "ayiram"( 1000 nairs )) accidentally became a witness to these escapades, whereupon the Queen tried to pre-empt him by falsely implicating the honest Chieftain before the Perumal. Persuaded by his Queen the Perumal sentenced him to death. However, when this injustice became known to the army they revolted(" kudipaka" ( blood flood). The Perumal, now realised his folly and in order to escape their wrath secretly approached the arab merchants at the harbor for help. They promised to arrange escape of the Perumal to Arabia provided he converted to Islam. Thus, was created a popular saying in malayalam language " pennu chollu ketta perumalepole" which means " like the perumal who was manipulated by a woman". Kodungaloore Temple still the lords of these warriors known as "onnukure ayiram"( thousand minus one)Before leaving for Mecca, he divided his kingdom between his nephews and sons.

Cheraman Perumal divided the land in half, 17 amsom north of Nileshwaram and 17 amsom south, totaling 34 amsom, and gave his powers to nephews and sons. Thirty-four rajyas between Kanyakumari [now in Tamil Nadu] and Gokarna [now in Karnataka] were given to the Thampuran who was the daughter of the last niece of Cheraman Perumal. Keralolpathi recorded the division of his kingdom in AD 345, Perumpadapu Grandavari in 385, Loghan (a historian) in 825. There are no written records on these earlier divisions of Kerala, but according to historian Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai, a division might have occurred during the Second Chera Kingdom, at the beginning of 12th century. The Keralolpathi says that on the request of the Namboothiris of Perinchellur (Taliparamba) the last Cheraman Perumal was a Vanipperumal and was sent by an Aryan King of Aryapura Krishnarayar (Krishna III)(939 – 967 CE) with a large Nair army 3 lakh 50 thousand strong led by General Pada Mala Nair. Keralolpathi also states that the Banapperumal was the brother of Kavirasasingha the King of Tulunad. Keralolpathi´s Cheraman Perumal was not a Tamil Chera king belonging to Chera Dynasty but a Rashtrakuta invader who established his authority over the northern most parts of Kerala at Ezhimala. This Banapperumal was a Buddhist who later converted to Islam by a preacher called Veda Aliar and went to Mecca according to Keralolpathi.The establishment of Nair and Namboothiri power in Kerala may correspond to this invasion of Banapperumal from Karnataka. This Banapperumal revolted against Krishnarayar and declared himself Cheraman Vadakkan Perumal. Keralolpathi says that the Kolathiri were the descendents of this Banapperumal.

However, the above are all mere legends with no historical evidence whatsoever. These legends are popular with respective communities as per convenience.

Historically, Kerala was under the second Chera Empire approximately during 800 to 1102 AD during which the Kolla varsham (Malayalam calendar system) was initiated (825 AD). The second Chera Empire received the socio-political support of the Namboothiri Brahmins and vice versa. Marco Polo in 14th century describes the Kingdom of Eli in Malabar (northern Kolathiris) whose initial settlement was at Karippat in Kurumattur amsom. The Namboothiri Brahmin family (Kurumathur Mana) was the designated Thampraakkal (Lord) of Perinchellur graamam (one of the 64 initial Brahmin settlements) in the Namboothiri scheme of administration of Kerala. After the decline of second Chera Empire, Kerala was fragmented into numerous Naadus with their own Tamil cheiftans. After the invasion of Malik Kafur in 1310 AD all the Patriarchal Tamil dynasties of Kerala were replaced by dynasties who practised Matriarchy and had the surnames of Bunt (community) of Tulunadu (Nayara,Menava and Samanta).The Nambuthiris and Tulu Brahmins with common origin from Gokarna/Ahichatra gained upperhand in Kerala.Paradoxically, although socio-political authority was fragmented among Namboothiri Brahmins and various nair cheiftans, their socio-political authority often overlapped. Kolathiri was the ruler of the dominion of KolathuNaadu in north Malabar (north Malabar is defined as lands north of the Kora river and comprising the old kingdoms of Kolathritiri, Kurumbrathiri and KadathaNaadu). In 1617 the Kolathiri Raja Udayavarman had a conflict with the Namboothiri community because the latter had refused to perform hiranyagarbham to make him a Kshatriya from a Samanthan Nair. The Kolathiri appropriated this through 237 Tulu Brahmins (Embranthiris) sent by King Mahendravarman of Gokarnam. The head of Kurumathur mana styled as Naikkarappan was till then the Thampraakkal of Perinchellur graamam but the powers of the position were taken away by the Kolathiri after his conflict with the Namboothiri community and extensive donations were made to the Embranthiris. In the struggle between the Kolathiri and the Namboothiris of Perinchelloor gramam, the Kottayam Rajas supported the latter, making political alliances of and affinities fluidic in north Malabar.

Portuguese in Kolathunadu

St. Angelo Fort in Kannur was constructed in 1505 by Don Francisco De Almeida, a Portuguese admiral. The fort was under the Portuguese until the Dutch captured it in 1663. The Dutch then sold the fort to the king Ali Raja of the Arakkal Kingdom.

Kolathiris and British

In June 1741 the Randuthara Achanmar (Karnavars of Kandoth,Palliyat,Ayilliath and Arayath) and 500 Nayars in the presence of Kolathiri and the English Company agreed to chastise any person that violates the Kolathiri and the English company and defend them both. The English company thus interposed their authority with Kolathiri over his suzeranity over these chiefs. After this agreement, although these Chiefs of PoyaNaadu and the 500 Nayars were technically part of KolathuNaadu, they were being treated as a separate area under the protection of the British at Thalassery. Subsequently, In January 1788, Tippu Sultan invaded Malabar with a large army and founded a new capital at Feroke for his Malabar province. Almost all female members and many male members of different royal families such as Chirakkal, Parappanad, and Kozhikode, and Namboothiri Brahmins and Brahmin /nair chieftains' families like Punnathoor, Nilamboor, Kavalapara, Azhvanchery Thamprakkal etc., fled to Travancore to escape the brutalities of Tippu Sultan's army and temporarily settled down in different parts of Travancore. After the defeat of Tippu Sultan by the English company, and as per the treaties of Srirangapatanam, signed on February and March, 1792, Malabar was formally ceded to the British. The British entered into agreements with the Rajas of Chirakkal,Kottayam and Kadathanand and all of them acknowledged the full sovereignty of the Company over their respective territories. The British Government divided the province of Malabar into two administrative divisions - the Northern and Southern, presided over by a superintendent each at Thalassery and Cherpulasseri, under the general control of the supervisor and chief magistrate of the province of Malabar who had his headquarters at Kozhikode.

Kolathiris and Zamorins

The Kolathiris were political and commercial rivals of the Zamorins of Kozhikode, especially from the 16th century onwards when the European colonial powers like the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the English vied with each other for hegemony in trade with the Indian Subcontinent.The Portuguese followed a policy of religious persecution and forcible conversion. They therefore clashed with most of the native princes and chieftains.[citation needed] The Zamorin was able to convince the Kolathiri of the real motives of the Portuguese in India and the perils inherent in his policy of befriending them. By providing support to the Kunjali Marrikkars of Kozhikode, in 1558 AD the Kolathiris came openly into the field against the Portuguese. In 1564 AD the Kolathiri and the Zamorin together fought a war against the Portuguese and they besieged St. Angelo Fort at Kannur. The Portuguese continued to maintain a precarious foothold at Kannur till 1663.

Kolathiris and Temples

Swaroopa devatha (family deity) of Kolathiri was Kali, her deities at maataayikkaavu (maatu + vaay - port near hillocks) and Kalarivatukkal near the port of Valapattanam are important places of worship to date in the erstwhile Kolathiri dominion

Cultural depictions

"Chirakkal Raja" appears as a character in a Malayalam film titled Urumi. The film is based on a fictional story about a young Indian who tried to kill Vasco da Gama. The movie was released on 31 March 2011.

See also


  • Malabar Manual by William Logan
  • A Collection Of Treaties, Engagements And Other Papers Of Importance Relating To British Affairs In Malabar by William Logan

External links

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