Attingal Revolt of 1721, Kerala - Why did the earliest resistance turn violent?

Attingal revolt 1721,

Considered as the earliest violent resistance or rebellion against the British in the subcontinent the Attingal revolt of April to October, 1821 took place during the reign of Rani Aswathi Tirunal Umayamma. During her  reign that the British came to  Attingal in 1680, with eyes glued on the natural resources and   abundance of spices, especially pepper in the region that could be profitably exploited to the company's advantage. More often than not, EIC never stuck to the trade treaty and violated the conditions mentioned in the treaty. Their unwanted interference in the internal matter of the administration and their illegal fortification of the settlement without proper consent from the queen angered the queen.  Natives from various communities in the region  came together as a single organized force and revolted to stop their illegal activities. The four medieval kingdoms in Kerala — Kozhikode, Kolathunadu, Cochin and the Venad Royal House wanted to get rid of the British traders out of Kerala

 Being the head of the Venad Royal House and an able administrator,  Rani Umayamma had an independent and well-trained army. Quite conversant with  nuances of running a kingdom, she gained the respect of  her subjects.  Never had she made compromise on the welfare of the people and the growth of her kingdom. She was very careful in dealing with the Europeans and more so with the untrustworthy British traders.  

Having got the consent in 1694 to  build a fort in Anchuthengu to further expand the trade from her,  The EIC was  keen to improve the infrastructure - road construction connecting the hinterland, etc. Their aim was to expand the trade routes and have better advantage over their competitors - Dutch and Portuguese traders who had been operating there for a long time  and were keen to establish the trade routes there. Rani initially thought it would put an end to the trade activities by the Dutch.

The royal house was quite unhappy with the English company that violated the trade agreement and acted contrary to the trade agreement. The settlement was fortified beginning in 1695 and the Anchuthengu fort was completed in 1699.  The Dutch and the locals  pressurised the queen to prevent fortification of the settlements by the English. Unperturbed, the English continued with the fortification   which caused resentment among many local feudal lords and local people. They sensed  monopolisation of pepper trade by the English,

Their infrastructure activities  damaged the agricultural lands and livestock in the region.  Besides, they made blasphemous remarks on the local religious and cultural beliefs. The carping remarks were so  disdainful the  angered  natives under Kudaman Pillai violently protested against their interference in the religion and internal matter of the land.  The uprising  turned into violent protest called  Attingal Revolt  of 1721. It lasted several months. Realizing the looming grave situation in otherwise a peaceful land, Rani lost no time to send the army  to the site to stop the ungrateful and arrogant British from constructing the fort. 

The state army and the lightly armed people were no match for the British who had powerful cannons and artillery power. They defeated the locals and secured the fort firmly.  Buying property around the Sarkaradevi Temple, unsavory remarks by them on religion and culture further aggravated the volatile situation into a big revolt. With the passing away of  Umayamma Rani in 1698 another queen took  the reigns in a tumultuous time.  

The East India Company  followed unethical methods in trade by paying Rs. 5 for a quintal of pepper, far less than the Dutch. But when they exported it to Europe the markup was way high 100 times  Rs. 500/quital. It was an out right ripoff. The main reason behind the resentment was large-scale corruption, exploitation  and the manipulation of black pepper prices by the company.

The native resolved to fight it out as the English Co's dealings were ever against the interest of the natives.  The massive revolt was led by Kudaman Pillai, a local feudal lord. The company wanted to please the new Rani in a bid to  cajole her  with expensive gifts. and sent them  through their representative William Gyfford. Gyfford  with 32 men and soldiers  went  to Attankal palace. Sensing the danger, that very night, the trained rebels stealthily entered the palace and slayed  Gyfford and others  until no one was left alive. 

This Attingal outbreak was  the most gruesome and earliest violent revolt against the English company. But the  British played it safe and there was no major condemnation from them. Historians are of the opinion that considering its  brutality and its  significance in our freedom struggle to get the British out,  the Attingal Revolt  is not yet received  better attention in history textbooks  that it deserves, in view of its time - early 1700s.  According to historian Sasibhooshan, “The British tried to underplay the incident as it would affect their international standing. The East India Company would also find it difficult to get recruits from Britain if the magnitude of the bloodshed gets reported correctly. On the other hand, palace historians tried to downplay it as they were worried it would affect the foreign trade from Attingal.” 

It is said  the revolt took place with the prior permission of the queen. The local people then laid siege to the fort and it was said that the siege continued for about 6 months. The historians of the southern states in particular want the indian govt. to declare it the earliest revolt by the native to free the country. In Order to emphasize its importance the students of the Government Fine Arts College Thiruvananthapuram put on display a huge mural on Attingal revolt  on National Highway 66 in Thiruvananthapuram,   .  It is a way to 'remind people of the ferocity of the first revolt against the British and to not have its legacy erased in time.' 

Why is  this mural   on display?  Because  ''There are hardly any writings about the Attingal Revolt, nor are there any images to be used for reference.''.

The main reason behind the public resentment against the British was  primarily triggered by large-scale corruption, wheeling dealing  and the manipulation of black pepper prices by the company

Recommended further reading:

A massive memorial for the Attingal Revolt of 1721, on its 300th anniversary by S.R. Praveen, Published on 18 September 2021. 

Attingal revolt was among earliest acts of resistance against British imperialism by Cithara Paul, Published on 22 August 2021.