''Paliath Achans'' the dynamic members of the Paliam family close to the Cochin rulers, Kerala

Paliath Achan of Chendamangalam thehindu.com

During the colonial rule and later under the Raj there were so many princely states across India headed by Maharajahs and Nawabs but the manipulating string was with the wily British. In the princely states  with a monthly dole from the British, the princes, with some exception, led a lavish and luxurious life, though they lost the exalted royal status.   

Chendamangalam, Kerala.bharatbiz.com

In the state of Kerala  the rulers of Cochin kingdom being orthodox and religious  lived a simple life more interested in the welfare of their subjects  and temple rituals, affairs, etc., than indulging in self-adulation, self aggrandizement and ambition to expand their lands. This was also true of the rulers of Travancore who ran their kingdom in the name of Padmanabha Swami.

If the heads of Cochin kingdom ran the country effectively it was because of some dedicated and loyal administrators behind them in their employ. They literally acted as an impenetrable shield to them during their difficult period. 

One such family was the Paliam family  of  Chendamangalam who enjoyed a special status in the Cochin kingdom.  'Paliath Achans,  primarily hereditary prime ministers to the Rajah of Kingdom of Cochin (Kerala) from 1632 to 1809  enjoyed equal power and wealth in the Cochin  region. During their heyday, they led a  glorious and influential  life and in terms of wealth and lifestyle they  exceeded that of the Maharajahs.

Another view. The Paliam Naalukettu  building. upload.wikimedia.org

The Paliam Naalukettu upload.wikimedia.org

Because of peculiar royal family system and their adherence to simple life the number of people both princes and princesses between 1878 till  1949 multiplied manifold  at the time when the Cochin state joined the Union after India's independence. The amazing thing is despite their royal line of lineage both male and female members led a humble life - men working in the government offices and women taking to teaching as their calling.  Apart, they lived in modest buildings in a complex near Ernakulam in  Tripunithura   owned by their family temple deity- kula theivam    

Paliath Achan is often referred to the oldest male member of the Paliam family, a Nair chieftain family that was intertwined closely with the history of the region. The political and cultural  history of this region is incomplete with them. 

Their main ancestral home -  tharavadu (Naalukettu) dates back to more than 450 years  and  so were many buildings dating from 60 to 300 years. Chendamangalam, 18 miles outside Ernakulam, is their ancestral home. The Paliam family once were very rich in Cochin, a bit richer than the royal house. With occasional  glitches over policy matter, etc.  for a  long time - roughly 150 years till 1809  the Paliath Achans had served as ministers of Cochin with patriotic  zeal and loyalty.  

Owing  their allegiance to the Perumpadappu Swaroopam, the rulers of Cochin, the Paliam family is  said to have moved  over to Chennamangalam from Chavakkad along with the ruler in the wake of wars with neighboring States. In Chennamangalam, over a period of time, the Paliath Achan became a powerful man in the kingdom, second only to the King himself by dint of hard work and administrative ability. To the Paliam family dereliction of duty was an anathema. As for the king, he found a trusted confidant in the elder member of the Paliam family. Obviously, from the 16th to the 19th centuries, the successive Paliath Achans dominated the politics of Cochin.

The dame luck was in favor of hard working  Paliath.  Originally they were accountants to the royal family and  by the 1590s their fortunes began to swell as the ruler gave them the seat of a dead chieftain, and in 1622 a portion of  Vypin Island. Then  they got the  hereditary premiership of Cochin, According one of their descendants  Ravi Achan ,“We were not born lords. We were made lords.
During the tumultuous political time and uncertainty   Paliath Achan's contribution to the Cochin  region  was a crucial one particularly, when the Zamorin of Calicut   raided  Cochin in 1760s  Due to careful  diplomatic approach of the Paliath  Komi Achan, the Kingdom of Cochin was saved. Likewise in 1776, when Hyder Ali was keen to annex Cochin,  Paliath Achan  rose to the occasion and and ingeniously  had the ruler signed a peace treaty with  Hyder Ali.  Paliath Achan, despite risk to his life, travelled to the enemy's court and pledged tribute  to avoid his invasion. It was done after weighing pros and cons of war as  any possible  confrontation  would result in loss of land, deaths and name of the ruler. It was a smart diplomatic move in a testing time. 

When  successive European powers ruled the roost in the Malabar region, the Paliam family, with skill and tactics, successfully mediated between the ruler and the European agents.   Komi Achan, being shrewd and courageous, gave a tough time to the Portuguese who wanted to annex the land. He won the admiration of the Dutch forces operating in Kerala then  for their alliance with them in the skirmishes against the Portuguese. Komi Achan, strengthened the alliance with the Dutch by signing a treaty with them. To honor him  the Dutch had a palace (the Kovilakam) built at Chendamangalam.

In 1808, the cunning British company  with support from Nadavarambu Kunhikrishna Menon  was fomenting trouble between   the  ruler of Raja of Kochi and his army men. Sakthan Tampuran was the ruler. The infuriated Paliath Govindan Achan backed by  600 Nair soldiers   not only attacked the headquarters of Colonel Macaulay, the British Resident and forced the EIC's army to run away from the land but also  broke open the jails and set free the prisoners there. 

The Paliath Achan later in 1809 and 1810,  joined hands with the forces of   Velu Thampi Dalawa of Travancore  fought against the British on the Travancore soil.  Wheels of fortune keep changing and this time Paliath Achan fell on hard time. His move against the formidable  British was a fiasco which led him to surrender to  the British.  His family properties were confiscated and his family had to depend on the monthly dole granted by the British. As a prisoner  he was taken to different places across India  and finally to Kasi, UP  where  Paliath Achan, the last Prime Minister in the Kingdom of Cochin, remained imprisoned till his death in obscurity in 1932.  
Paliath Achan's fall from sublime was purely the edit of god, not a disgraceful one. He was away from the corridors of power, but his prestige and good deeds  would last for eternity surpassing the ex-rulers.  According to a popular Malayalam saying,'' half of Cochin belonged to Paliam. Nearly 12,000 tenants tilled Paliam lands, added to which was the ownership of 41 temples''

Paliam family's  glorious days are gone in the shifting sand dunes of time but their memories and contributions are frozen in the  museum. The Kovilakam - palace  has an excellent collection of   artefacts  - ancient documents, religious texts, weapons such as  swords, rifles, and gifts brought by foreign dignitaries. The Paliath Achan's Kovilakam  built by the Dutch, also  called the Dutch palace, is near the ancestral home. It is where the oldest male member  used to stay. On the first floor balcony there was a sort of platform used by Paliath Achan to address the common folks. There used to be a big bell to be rung announcing the time of address. The  bell is no longer there.    

According to The book ‘Paliam History’ (written by M. Radhadevi and ‘Paliam Charithram )’ the letters  between the Paliath Achan and the rulers of Cochin and Travancore show that the Paliath Achan was a close confidant of the Maharajah of Cochin.

 For various reasons - political economic  and cultural reasons  the number of Paliath family members in Thrissur has declined a lot.