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Captivity of Nairs at Seringapatam

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Title: Captivity of Nairs at Seringapatam  
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Subject: Hyder Ali, Nair, Captivity of Mangalorean Catholics at Seringapatam
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Captivity of Nairs at Seringapatam

The Captivity of Nairs at Seringapatam was imposed on the Nair Hindus of Malabar by Muslims under Tipu Sultan, the de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore from 1786 to 1789. They were subjected to forcible conversions to Islam, death, and torture.[1][2] The Nairs were treated with extreme brutality by the Muslims due to their strong adherence to the Hindu faith and martial tradition.[3][4][5] The captivity ended when Nair troops from Travancore, with the help of the East India Company defeated Tipu in the Third Anglo-Mysore War.[6][7] It is estimated that out of the 30,000 Nairs put to captivity (including women and children), only a few hundred returned to Malabar alive.[7][8]

Nairs under Hyder Ali

The period of Sultan of Mysore Hyder Ali conquest of Malabar between 1766–1793 was met with stiff opposition from the local Nairs.[9] In 1766, he marched into Palakkad and Malabar, followed by another march into Malabar via Thamarassery ghat in 1767.[9] Hyder quickly understood the Nair psyche and caste pride and decided to use it to facilitate conversions.[9] To this end, he deprived Nairs of caste privileges, equating them to Paravas, prohibited them from carrying arms, and outlawed them.[9] Furthermore, he offered privileges back to anybody who converted to Islam.[9] This led some Nairs and many members of the lower castes to embrace Islam, and resulted in the first appearance of Islam in the Malabar countryside.[10] Humiliated by these perceived slights imposed by the Sultan, the Nairs rose in rebellion.[9] They harassed isolated block-houses set up by Hyder, raided, pillaged, and destroyed stores and munition dumps.[9]

Nairs under Tipu Sultan

In his letter to the Governor of Bekal, Budruz Zaman Khan, dated 13 February 1756, Tipu approved of forced conversions of Nairs:[11]

"Your two letters, with the enclosed memorandums of the Nâimâ (Nair) captives, have been received. You did right in causing a hundred and thirty-five of them to be circumcised, and in putting eleven of the youngest of these into the Usud Ilhye band, and the remaining ninety-four into the Ahmedy troops, consigning the whole, at the same time, to the charge of the Kiladar of Nugr (Bednore).

In May of the same year, an order was sent to the Faujdar of Calicut, Arshad Ali Baig, pertaining to the treatment of a Nair dissident:[11]

"Getting possession of the villain, Goorkul, and of his wife and children, you must forcibly make Mussalmans out of them, and then dispatch the whole under a guard to Seringapatam."


In 1788, Tipu issued a proclamation to the Nairs of Malabar, wherein he outlined his new scheme of social reform:[12]

"From the period of the conquest until this day, during twenty-four years, you have been a turbulent and refractory people, and in the wars waged during your rainy season, you have caused number of our warriors to taste the draught of martyrdom. Be it so. What is past is past. Hereafter you must proceed in an opposite manner, dwell quietly and pay your dues like good subjects and since it is the practice with you for one woman to associate with ten men, and you leave your mothers and sisters unconstrained in their obscene practices, and are thence all born in adultery, and are more shameless in your connections than the beasts of the fields : I hereby require you to forsake these sinful practices and be like the rest of mankind; and if you are disobedient to these commands, I have made repeated vows to honour the whole of you with Islam and to march all the chief persons to the seat of Government."

His proclamation was met with widespread resentment and consequently, the Hindus of Malabar rose in rebellion.[12] 30,000 Brahmins fled to Travancore, out of fear of being converted to Islam.[12] The Kottayam and Kadattanand Rajas sought protection from the English East India Company.[12] In November 1788, Tipu's forces attacked Calicut and captured the Karanavappad of Manjeri.[12] Their assaults were met with resistance by the Nairs of Calicut and southern Malabar led by Ravi Varma and other princes of the Padinjare Kovilakam.[12] Tipu set 6,000 troops under his French commander, M. Lally to raise the siege, but failed to defeat Ravi Varma.[12]

The following year in 1789, Tipu crossed the Tamarasseri Ghat and entered Malabar to enforce his proclamation.[12] General orders were issued to his army that 'every being in the district without distinction should be burned, that they should be traced to their lurking places, and that all means of truth and falsehood, force or fraud should be employed to effect their universal conversion'.[12] He besieged the Kadattanad Raja's fortified palace at Kuttipuram, and 2,000 Nairs—forced to surrender after a resistance of several days—were forcibly converted, circumcised and made to eat beef.[12] Several Rajas and wealthy land owners fled to Travancore, where the Dharma Raja helped them to rehabilitate themselves in their new surroundings.[12] The poor Nairs, on the other hand, retreated into the jungles where they engaged in guerrilla warfare against the invading Mysorean army.[12] Tipu further organised a regular and systematic hunt for Nairs.[12] He then proceeded to Cannanore and after celebrating the marriage of his son with the daughter of the Ali Raja, marched along the coast of Chowghat.[12] He then made arrangements for the administrative reorganisation of the province, and retired to Coimbatore, leaving a permanent occupying to frighten and subjugate the local population.[12]

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