Chapter XI. Malabar.

The province, not called Malabar, is part of the Kerula Rajya, the kingdom of Kerula, one of the fifty-six deshas, or regions, enumerated in ancient Hindoo history as forming the Bharata Khanda or Land of India. It is supposed to have been recovered from the sea by the sixth incarnation of Vishnu, who in expiation of a matricidal crime gave over to the Brahmans, particularly to those of the Moonsut tribe, the broad lands lying between Gokarna (71) and Kanya Kumari, or Cape Comorin. The country is also known by the names of Malayalim, the "mountain land;" Malangara and Cherun, (72) from the Rajahs, who governed it at an early period. It is probably the kingdom of Pandion, described in the pages of the classical geographers.

By Malabar we now understand the little tract bounded on the north by Canara, to the south by the province of Cochin, having Coorg and Mysore to the east, and washed by the waves of the Indian Ocean on the west. Marco Polo (thirteenth century) (73) speaks of it as a "great kingdom," and Linschoten (sixteenth century) describes it as extending from Comorin to Goa. The natives assert that the old Kerula Rajya was divided into sixty-four grama or districts, of which only eight are included in the present province of Malabar. (74)

The whole of this part of the coast acquired an early celebrity from the valuable exports (75) which it dispersed over the Western World. Nelkunda, the chief port, is mentioned by Ptolemy and Pliny: and the author of the "Periplus" places it near Barake or Ela barake, the roadstead where vessels lay at anchor till their cargoes were brought down to the sea. Major Rennell has identified the ancient Nelkunda with the modern Nelisuram, as the latter place is situated twelve miles up the Cangerecora River--a distance corresponding with that specified in the "Periplus." Vincent acutely guesses Ela Barake to be the spot near Cananore, called by Marco Polo "Eli," and by us Delhi (76)--the "Ruddy Mountain" of the ancients.

Malabar, from remote times, has been divided into two provinces, the northern and the southern: the Toorshairoo or Cottah River forming the line of demarcation. The general breadth of the country, exclusive of the district of Wynad, is about twenty-five miles, and there is little level ground. The soil is admirably fertile; in the inland parts it is covered with clumps of bamboos, bananas, mangoes, jacktrees, and several species of palms. Substantial pagodas, and the prettiest possible little villages crown the gentle eminences that rise above the swampy rice lands, and the valleys are thickly strewed with isolated cottages and homesteads, whose thatched roofs, overgrown with creepers, peep out from the masses of luxuriant vegetation, the embankments and the neat fences of split bamboo interlaced with thorns, that conceal them. Each tenement has its own croft planted with pepper, plantains, and the betel vine, with small tufts of cocoas, bamboos, and that most graceful species of the palm, the tall and feathery areca. These hamlets are infinitely superior in appearance to aught of the kind we have ever seen in India; the houses are generally built of brick or hewn stone and mortar, and those belonging to the wealthy have been copied from the Anglo-Indian bungalow. As the traveller passes he will frequently see the natives sitting at their doors upon chairs exactly as the rustics of Tuscany would do. The quantity of rain that annually falls (77) covers the ground with the bloom of spontaneous vegetation; cocoa-trees rise upon the very verge where land ends, and in some places the heaps of sand that emerge a few feet from the surface of the sea, look bright with a cap of emerald hue. In consequence of the great slope of the country the heaviest monsoon leaves little or no trace behind it, so that lines of communication once formed are easily preserved. Generally speaking the roads are little more than dykes running over the otherwise impassable paddy fields, and, during wet weather, those in the lower grounds are remarkably bad. Some of the highways are macadamised with pounded laterite spread in thin layers upon the sand; the material is found in great quantities about Calicut, and it makes an admirable monsson road, as the rain affects it but little on account of its extreme hardness. The magnificent avenues of trees, (78) which shade the principal lines, are most grateful to man and beast in a tropical climate. On all of them, however, there is one great annoyance, particularly during the monsoon, namely, the perpetual shifting to and from ferries (79)--an operation rendered necessary by the network of lakes, rivers, and breakwaters, that intersects the country. A great public use could be made of these inconvenient streams: with very little cutting a channel of communication might be run down the coast, and thus the conveyance of goods would remain uninterrupted even during the prevalence of the most violent monsoons. Water transit, we may observe, would be a grand boon here, as carts are rare, cattle transport is almost unknown, and the transmission of merchandise by means of coolies or porters is the barbarous, slow, and expensive method at present necessarily in general use.

The practical husbandry of Malabar is essentially rude, and yet in few countries have we seen more successful cultivation. The plough is small, of simple form, and so light, that it merely scratches the ground; a pair of bullocks, or a bullock and a woman or two, are attached to the log, and whilst the labourer dawdles over his task, he chaunts monotonous ditties to Mother Earth with more pious zeal than industry. The higher lands produce the betel vine, cocoa, areca, and jack-trees, (80) together with hill rice: the latter article is sown some time after the setting in of the heavy rains, and reaped about September or October. The lower rice-fields, lying in the valleys between the acclivities, are laid out in little plots, with raised footpaths between to facilitate passage and regulate the irrigation. They generally bear one, often two, and in some favoured spots, three crops a year; the average is scarcely more than six or seven fold, though a few will yield as much as thirty. The south-west monsoon, which lasts from June to September, brings forward the first harvest; the second is indebted to the south-east rains which set in about a month later. The Sama (Panieum Miliaceum) requires the benefit of wet weather; it is therefore sown in May, and reaped in August. The oil plant Yelloo (Sesamum Orientale) and the cooltie or horsegram cannot be put into the ground till the violence of the monsoon has abated.

The annual revenue of Malabar is about thirty lacs of rupees (300,000l.), land is valuable, the reason probably being that it is for the most part private, not government property.

When the Hindoo law authorizes a twelfth, an eighth, or a sixth, and at times of urgent necessity even a fourth of the crop to be taken, specifying the Shelbhaga, or one-sixth, as the rulers' usual share, it appears extraordinary that his province was exempted from all land-tax till 913, (81) or A.D. 1736-7. We may account for the peculiarity, however, by remembering that the country belonged, properly speaking, to the Brahmans, who were, in a religious point of view, the owners of the soil. Moreover, the avowed and legitimate sources of reveue were sufficient for the purposes of a government that had no standing army, and whose militia was supported chiefly by assignments of land. The rulers, however, were anything but wealthy: many of their perquisites were, it is true, by a stretch of authority, converted into the means of personal aggrandisement, but the influence of the Brahmans, and the jealously of the chiefs, generally operated as efficient checks upon individual ambition.

Malabar has been subjected to three different assessments.

          1st. That of the Hindoo Rajahs.
          2dly. In the days of the Moslems, and,
          3dly. Under the British Government.

We propose to give a somewhat detailed account of the chief items composing the curious revenue of the Hindoo rajahs and chiefs in the olden time.

1. Unka, battle-wager, or trial by single combat. Quarrels and private feuds were frequent amongst the Nairs, especially when differences on the subject of the fair sex, or any of their peculiar principles of honour aroused their pugnacity. It was not indispensable that the parties who were at issue should personally fight it out. Champions were allowed by law, and in practice were frequently substituted. The combatants undertook to defend the cause they espoused till death, and a term of twelve years was granted to them that they might qualify themselves for the encounter by training and practising the use of arms. Before the onset both champions settled all their worldly matters, as the combat was à l'outrance. The weapons used were sword and dagger: a small shield and a thick turban being the only articles of defensive armour. This system of duelling was a source of considerable revenue to the Rajah, as he was umpire of the battle, and levied the tax in virtue of his office. The amount of the fee varied according to the means of the parties. Sometimes it was as high as one thousand fanams. (82)

2. Poorooshandrum--a word literally meaning the "death of the man"--a relief or sum of money claimed by the ruler from Nadwallees, (83) Deshwallees, heads of guilds, holders of land in free gift or under conditional tenure, and generally from all persons enjoying Sthanum or official position in the state, whenever an heir succeeded to a death vacancy. The chiefs of provinces and districts, like the private proprietors, were exclusively entitled to receive Poorooshandrum from their own tenantry, as a price of entry paid upon the decease of either party, lessor or lessee. Sometimes the chiefs claimed the privilege of levying this tax from the Rajah's subjects living under their protection. It is supposed that the Hindoo rulers were entitled, under the head of Poorooshandrum, to a certain share of the property left by deceased Moslems, but the prevalent opinion seems to be that in such cases there was no fixed sum payable, and, moreover, that it was not claimed from all, but only from those individuals who held situations or enjoyed privileges dependent upon the will and favour of the Rajah. This tax, so similar to one of our feudal sources of revenue in the West, often reached the extent of one thousand two hundred fanams.

3. Polyatta Penna, or degraded women, were another source of profit to the Rajah, who exacted various sums from Brahman families for the maintenance of such females, and for saving them from further disgrace. These persons became partial outcastes, not slaves in the full sense of the word: and yet the rulers used to sell them to the Chetties, or coast merchants. Their offspring always married into families of the same degraded class, and, after a few generations, the memory of their origin was lost in the ramifications of the race into which they had been adopted.

4. Kaleecha--another feudal tax, answering to the Nuzzuranah of Mussulman India. It consisted of presents made by all ranks of people to the ruler on such occasions of congratulation and condolence as his ascending the throne, opening a new palace, marrying, and dying. The amount expected varied from two to one thousand fanams.

5. Chungathum, or protection. Whenever a person wished to place himself under the safeguard of a man of consequence, he paid from four to sixty-four fanams annually for the privilege. He might also make an assignment on particular lands for the payment. The sum was devoted to the maintenance of a kind of sentinel, similar to the belted official Peon of the Anglo-Indian settlements, furnished by the protector to his dependent. In cases of necessity, however, the former was bound to aid and assist the other with a stronger force.

6. Recha-Bhogum--a tax differing from Chungathum only in one point, viz., that the engagement was a general one, unlimited to any specific aid in the first instance.

7. Under the name of Uttudukum, the Rajah was entitled to the property of any person who, holding lands in free gift, died without heirs; moreover, no adoption was valid without his sanction. The feudal chiefs had similar privileges with respect to their tenants.

8. Udeema punum--the yearly payment of one or two fanams, levied by every Tumbooran (84) or patron from his Udian (client).

9. Soonka--customs upon all imports and exports by land or sea. The amount is variously specified as two-and-a-half, three, and even ten per cent.

10. Yela--the systematic usurpation of territory belonging to the neighbouring rulers or chiefs, whom poverty of other causes incapacitated from holding their own. The Hindoo Scripture affirms that territorial aggrandisement is the proper object and peculiar duty of a king.

11. Kola or Charadayum--forced contributions levied by Rajahs on occasions of emergency, according to the circumstances of their subjects.

12. Tuppa--mulcts imposed upon those who were convicted of accidental and unintentional offences.

13. Pala--fines taken in the same manner for intentional crimes, according to their magnitude and the circumstances of the criminal. They sometimes extended to a total confiscation of property.

14. Ponnarippa--the shifting of gold. Gold dust generally was a perquisite belonging to the Rajah or Nadwallee, as the case might be.

15. Udeenya Oorookul, or shipwrecked vessels, which become crown property.

16. Chaireekul, or private domains, which the Rajahs possessed in proprietary right, acquired either by purchase, lapses, or escheats.

17. Aeemoola, Cows with three and five dugs.

18. Moomoola, Cows with three and five dugs.

19. Chengkomba, or cattle that had destroyed life, human or bestial.

20. Kunnunda poolee--beeves born with a peculiar white spot near the corner of the eye.

21. Ana-pidee--elephants caught in the jungles.

22. Poowala--buffalos with a white spot at the tip of the tail.

23. Koomba--the tusks of dead elephants.

24. Korawa--the leg of a hog, deer, or any other eatable animal killed in the jungles.

25. Wala, The tail and skin of a tiger.

26. Tola, The tail and skin of a tiger.

27. Kennutil punne--a pig that had fallen into a well. (85)

This system of aid and perquisites, rather than of taxes and assessments, continued, as we have said before, till A.D. 1736. At that time the invasion of the Ikkairee, or Bednore Rajah, to whom the Canara province was then in subjection, obliged some of the rulers of Northern Malabar to levy twenty per cent on Patum, or rent. The part of the palghaut and Temelpooram districts, which belonged to the Calicut house, was subjected to a land tax, under the name of Kavil, or compensation for protection. With these exceptions, (86) Malabar was free from any landrent or regular assessment proportioned to the gross produce before Hyder's invasion in A.D. 1777.

Some are of opinion that, during Hyder's life, the land-tax assumed, in the Southern division of Malabar, the shape which it now bears in the public records. Others attribute the principles of the assessment to Arshad Beg Khan, the Foujdar, or commander of Tippoo Sultan's forces in Malabar, about A.D. 1783. His system was carefully examined by Messrs. Duncan, Page, Bodham, and Dow, who, in 1792 and 1793, were appointed commissioners to inspect and report upon the state and condition of the country. To their laborious work (87) we must refer the curious reader, as the subject is far too lengthy and profound to suit such light pages as these.