Mysore Invasion of Kerala: Hyder Ali's Invasion of 1766

At the time of the arrival of Hyder Ali, the political situation in Malabar was favorable for foreign intervention. Malabar was plagued by anarchy, with a distinct lack of unity and cooperation among its rulers.

During Hyder Ali's invasion, the prominent chieftains of Malabar, (northern Kerala), were the Samoothiri (Zamorin) of Calicut, the Kolathiri Raja of Chirakkal (Kolathunadu), Ali Raja of Arakkal kingdom of Cannanore, and the Rajas of Kadathanadu and Kottayam. The British, French and Dutch held control over the major coastal areas of Malabar, such as Tellicherry (1683), Mahe (1721), and Cochin (1663) respectively. In the southern part of Kerala, the kingdom of Travancore was an ally of the British East India Company.

Hyder Ali invaded Malabar for the first time in 1757 at the request of the Raja of Palakkad, who sought assistance against the Zamorin's attack. At that time, Hyder was serving as the Faujdar of Dindigul under the Wodeyars of Mysore. Hyder sent his brother-in-law Makhdoom Ali to Calicut where they defeated the Zamorin. Subsequently, the Zamorin sought peace and agreed to pay a war indemnity of twelve lakh rupees.

However, in 1754 Marthanda Varma, the Raja of Travancore (r: 1729-1758) had requested Hyder's help to suppress a revolt in some newly conquered territories. Hyder had readily offered the assistance but when the rebel chiefs learned of Hyder's arrival, they became frightened and submitted to the Raja. Therefore, the Raja informed Hyder that he no longer required his services. Hyder demanded compensation but Marthanda Varma refused to pay the expense.

In 1761, Hyder Ali became the de facto ruler of Mysore. He immediately set his sights on expanding his dominions. Hyder was looking for an opportunity to interfere in Kerala politics. In 1763, he captured Bednore, thereby establishing himself as a neighbor to the Malabar Coast. Malabar Coast was famous for its foreign spice trade from ancient times.


Historian C.K. Kareem provides additional insights into Hyder's invasion of Kerala, such as: to collect war indemnity from the Zamorin, as well as the debt owed by the Raja of Kolathiri to the ruler of Bednore; to punish the Raja of Travancore for evading compensation for the military preparations he had made on the Raja's behalf; in response to an invitation sent to him by Ali Raja of Cannanore; and to maintain close ties with the French at Mahe.

Invasion of Malabar (1766):

As early as 1764, Hyder Ali took proactive measures to assess the British stance towards him and secure their neutrality in the event of a Mysorean invasion of Kerala. Anant Rao, a capable officer, was dispatched as an emissary to the Tellicherry factory for this purpose. The British, after careful consideration, conveyed to Anant Rao that they would remain impartial in the conflict between Haider and the Kerala powers, on the condition that the Mysore ruler respected the commercial privileges and immunities that the British had acquired in Malabar.

In 1765, while Hyder was in Mangalore, he received an embassy from Ali Raja of Cannanore. Ali Raja, who was a subordinate of the Kolathiri Raja, yearned for independence and sought Hyder's assistance in conquering Kolathunadu. The Kolathiri was meanwhile facing a challenge to his authority from a rebel prince named Kappu Thampan, who had the active support of Ali Raja. 

In February 1766, Hyder proceeded towards Malabar. The Kolathiri family made no resistance, and the prince regent sought refuge at the pagoda in Tellicherry. Hyder entrusted the administration of Kolathunadu, including Iruvazhinadu to Ali Raja.

Expressing his discontent, Hyder sent a stern protest to the Tellicherry factors, condemning their decision to provide asylum to the refugees. However, as he was not yet ready to engage in a direct conflict with the British, Hyder chose to bypass Tellicherry.

Hyder also took possession of Kottayam easily.

At Kadathanadu, Hyder met serious opposition. Employing unique tactics, he successfully conquered the region. The only one of those chiefs who appears to have remained unaffected by the general overthrow was the Nair of Kurangoth, who, under the protection of the French of Mahe, went out and met Hyder on his march from Chirakkal to Calicut.

Upon entering Calicut, Hyder faced initial resistance, but eventually, the Zamorin submitted and promised to pay the outstanding debts. Unfortunately, the Zamorin's attempts to gather sufficient funds proved futile, leading him to resort to a tragic act of self-destruction by setting fire to his own palace. His heir took refuge in Travancore. Consequently, Calicut fell under the possession of Hyder Ali.

Hyder then turned his attention towards Travancore and Cochin. The Dutch Commandant met Hyder at Calicut for negotiations regarding Cochin. Hyder's demands were four lakhs and eight elephants from the Raja of Cochin and fifteen lakhs and thirty elephants from Raja Rama Varma of Travancore, the successor of Marthanda Varma.

Sakthan Thampuran, the de facto ruler of Cochin, agreed to become a vassal state of Mysore. On the other hand, Rama Varma declared that Travancore was already a tributary of Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah, the Nawab of Arcot, and he could not afford to be a vassal to two suzerains at the same time.

Further Reading: Hyder Ali's Relations with Travancore

As the monsoon season approached, Hyder retreated to Coimbatore in June, entrusting the governance of Malabar to Madanna. Before leaving Malabar, he constructed a series of blockhouses known as Lakkidi-Kottas at strategic locations, where he stationed small groups of troops.

Nairs Rebellion (1766):

Two to three weeks after Hyder's departure, the Nairs emerged from their hiding places in the forests and organized a revolt against the Mysorean occupation. This uprising was a result of secret intrigues involving the Raja of Travancore, the deposed Malabar princes, and the British at Thalassery. The rebels successfully destroyed numerous Mysore garrisoned outposts. Learning this revolt, Hyder hastened to Malabar from Coimbatore and put down the revolt without much difficulty.

Hyder then ordered the reconstruction of the ancient fort at Palakkad, which is now known as Tipu's Fort.

Hyder was preparing for an attack on Travancore when he received intelligence about the advancing forces of Peshwa Madhav Rao from Pune and Nizam Ali, who were aided by British troops from Hyderabad towards his capital. This marked the beginning of the First Anglo-Mysore War (1767-1769). Consequently, Hyder left Malabar for Mysore.

The news of Hyder Ali's war with the British reignited hope among the fugitive Nair chiefs of Malabar, as they saw an opportunity to regain their lost power. They began to revolt with the help of the British at Tellicherry.

The pressure of his difficulties compelled Hyder to make the decision to abandon Malabar. Madanna relayed the message to the Malabar chiefs that Hyder intended to relinquish control of Malabar, on the condition that they reimbursed him for the expenses he had incurred. The chiefs eagerly accepted this offer.

Thus in December 1768, the Mysore army left Malabar after restoring the chiefs. However the Palakkad Achans and Ali Raja remained under Hyder as before.

Other Names of Places:

Palghat - Palakkad
Travancore - Thiruvithamkoor / Thiruvithamcode
Mangalore - Mangalapuram
Cotiote - Kottayam (modern Wayanad)
Tellicherry - Thalassery
Cannanore - Kannur
Trichur - Thrissur
Calicut - Kozhikode
Bednore -  Canara / Ikkeri / Keladi / Nagar
Mahe - Mayyazhi

Related Books:

Haider Ali By N. K. Sinha
Kerala Under Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan By C. K. Kareem
Mysore-Kerala Relations in the Eighteenth Century By A. P. Ibrahim Kunju