Iftaar in a Temple

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Iftaar in a Temple

In the 19th century the Mapilla Lahala was epicentered in Ernadu, where,

“They murdered and plundered abundantly, and killed or drove away all Hindus who would not apostatize. Somewhere about a lakh of people were driven from their homes with nothing but the clothes they had on, stripped of everything.“ Dr Annie Besant wrote in,

The Future of Indian Politics.

In 2017, Punnathala a small village about 30 minutes drive from Ernadu, the Vishnu Temple hosted an Iftaar party for about 500 people serving them vegan delicacies, comprising of biryani, fruits, juices and special Ramadaan sweets.

“The Iftar dinner, is to spread the message Of Peace And Harmony, and is one of the major events of the second day of temple festival organized every year,” says Mohanan Nair, the temple Secretary.

The two events raise a pertinent question, what is the true picture of Malappuram? And if both the events are for real, what changed in the past hundred years?

20th August 1921, as was so elaborately depicted and narrated by Mamooty’s Khadir in the 1988 V Sasi thriller, marked the turning point of the long drawn struggle in the Malabar. The District Magistrate of Ernadu taluka, raided the mosque at Tirurangadi to arrest the kingpin of the revolution, Ali Musaliar.

Ali was a combination of politician and priest, an all time potent combination, across religions, across geographies and timelines. Police high handedness which is common even in 21st century was widely prevalent with a colonial government in charge. The ensuing police firing in a mosque killed a few, but created many more rebels who attacked and seized police stations, government treasuries, and entered courts, where some even climbed into the judges seats and ordered, the advent of Swaraj.

The situation had been simmering not for a few days, or weeks, or years, but for decades. The problem went all the way back when Tipu Sultan had advanced into the Malabar region, what is today termed as Mallappuram district, which already had a sizeable Muslim population.

Islam had arrived in the north much later then it had arrived in the South. Also the character of the two arrivals is starkly different. The Islamic invader carried the sword in the north, while in the South, they came with a scale in search of the ever popular spices. Just like the other transgression.

Malabar region witnessed the arrival of Christianity in 52 AD. The oldest Church in India, the St Thomas Syro Malabar Catholic Church, stands tall about an hour’s drive from Punnathala. St Thomas, one of the 12 disciple of Christ had travelled by boat through the famed backwaters and landed at Palayur, which then was a stronghold of the native Brahmins and Jews. 


Unlike the later arrivals of the boatmen, this early arrival was purely to spread the word of God, which the Saint did succeed as he went about building Churches, but in a very limited and bloodless manner. The few followers these early missionaries succeeded in converting were conveniently accommodated in God’s country.

There was a flourishing trade between the Malabar and Arabia, so when Islam arrived on the scene, it reached the Malabar coast through the Arab traders in the 7th century. Like the Jews and Christians, the Muslims also settled down at Crangnore in their own separate colony.

Just like the oldest Church in India is in Kerala, similarly the oldest mosque in India, the Cheraman Juma Masjid, constructed in 629 AD, is in Kerala; again about 90 minutes drive from Punathala.

The mosque gets its name from the Chera King, who had converted to Islam and thus helped in the propagation of Islam in Malabar. Incidentally, the mosque is very famous in the Saudi, that when Shri Modi, the PM of India, visited Saudi in April 2016, he gifted a gold plated replica of the Cheraman Juma Masjid to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

God’s country thus was an amalgamation of various religions, ruled most of the times by Hindu Kings, and blossomed as a pluralistic society. Barring the very early missionary agenda of the Christian arrivals, most of the time, trade and economic variables guided the interactions between the various communities, with peace being considered as a facilitator to trade.

The other economic asset, land was controlled by a complicated multi layered structure, a system of hierarchy of privileges, rights and obligations for all the principal social groups in the society.

The jenmi, comprising of the Brahmins, were at the top of the strata, who were assigned these privileges in return for their spiritual services by the rulers. 


The jenmi in turn would have a large number of kanakkaran for the safety, supervision and management of the holdings. Each kannakaaran had a number of cultivators, who worked on simple verum pattam lease, and were termed as the Mapillas. These were the actual tillers who got one third of the produce.

The largest share went to the jenmi, whose contribution in production was the least, besides the land.

As it happened a few Muslims belonged to the mercantile classes, but bulk of the Muslims formed the landless cultivators who worked on the lands of the Hindu landlords. The system worked smoothly, through centuries, as the customs ensured that no Mapilla could be evicted as long as he paid the rental.

The first round of change sparked off when Mysore rulers marched in; caused some of the Hindu landlords being usurped by force. The Malabar Muslims welcomed Tipu as it brought relief from the Portuguese persecution. The brutality that the Mysoreans unleashed on the Malabar Hindus, often with complicity of the local Muslims tore apart whatever amity existed.

Theodore Gabriel paints this relationship transition in his book, Hindu-Muslim Relations in North Malabar, 1498-1947, wherein he analyses the underlying economic reasons for the shifting sands.

When the British marched in, the pendulum oscillated on the other side, as the Hindu landlords came back with vengeance. This vengeance, supported by the British law and order machinery, was legal and bloodless, as the landlords began to either evict the Mapillas from their lands or to shrink their share of produce.


In the words of Will Logan of Madras Presidency,

“British authorities, recognised the Janmi as absolute owner of his holding, and therefore free to take as big a share of the produce of the soil as he could get out of the classes beneath him... The one-third of the net produce to which the Verumpattakkaran was customarily entitled, was more and more encroached upon as the terms imposed on the Kanakkaran became harder and harder”.

In short the landless cultivator was either forced to evict or survive at subsistence levels.

The Interlude as the period post Tipu was called, thus sowed the seeds of deep mistrust that had shades of economic class struggle and also communal flavor, since the Mapillas were mostly Muslims while the land owners were mostly Namboodris, Nairs or the Thivya clan.

The first such outbreak occurred in 1836 and thereafter between 1836 and 1854, 22 similar uprisings occurred, of which two, one in 1841 and the other in 1849, were quite serious. The British were looked upon as enemies for they forced the gentry rights of the landlords.

The third factor that further escalated tension in the Malabar was the rise of Indian National Congress and the clarion call of Mahatma Gandhi for freedom. The first World War and the changed political equations in West Asia, saw the rise of the Khilafat movement.

The first impetus for the Moplah Resistance against the landlords came from the Malabar District Congress Committee held at Majeri in April 1921. For six months from August 1921, the rebellion extended over some 40% of the South Malabar region of the Madras Presidency. Most of the violence happened in the present day Mallappuram district, with Ernadu being the epicenter.

As Dr Annie Besant wrote in her book, most of the Moplas violence was directed at the Namboodris and Nairs who were seen both as class oppressors and also supporters of British, as the legal machinery was used to enforce the economic rights on land.

Babasaheb, remarked, “"The blood-curdling atrocities committed by the Moplas in Malabar against the Hindus were indescribable. All over Southern India, a wave of horrified feeling had spread among the Hindus of every shade of opinion.”

The most prominent leaders of the rebellion were Ali Musliyar, Variankunnath Kunjahammad Haji, Sithi Koya Thangal, the last name being the crucial as the Thangals turned things around and how.

An estimated 10,000 people lost their lives, although official figures put the numbers at 2337 rebels killed, 1652 injured and 45,404 imprisoned, many of whom found themselves incarcerated in the Andamans.

The suppression of the 1921 rebellion was not the end of the struggle for the Malabar Muslims, as the rise of Jinnah further accentuated the religious lines. Some dreamt, hilariously, of Malabar being part of Pakistan, while others dreamed of Mappilistan.



1947 saw a tectonic shift in the Kerala Muslim’s orientation. The Kerala unit of IUML, under the leadership of Thangal, took a strategic viewpoint of the situation, and particularly in the district of Malappuram, where Muslims were in majority. It put the community in the mainstream, unlike in the rest of the country, where the Muslims went into the ghetto culture.

The Land Reform Ordinance passed by Communists brought some relief to the cultivators. The ordinance set an absolute ceiling on the amount of land a family could own. The tenants and hut dwellers received a claim in the excess land, on which they had worked for centuries under the feudal system. In addition, the law ensured fixity of tenure and protection from eviction.

This combined with the Education Reforms brought universal literacy to Kerala. The boom in West Asia for employment opportunities, also helped in resolving the economic conflicts, as Muslim youth fanned out in hordes, to repatriate back economic equality vis a vis the landed gentry. 


Today, Malappuram with a population of more than Four Million is the 50th most populous district in the country, and with a sex ratio of 1096 women to 1000 men, combined with 94% literacy fares above average on many development parameters. Furthermore, it is one of the few districts in India with Muslim population in clear majority, accounting for almost three fourths.

It helped that politically, communists were in a dominant position and religious fervor was kept in check, as the pluralistic character once again bloomed. Even when the worst of the communal clashes made news elsewhere in the country, this mountainous district enjoyed calm.

Punathala is a small village in the district of Mallappuram, in Tirur sub division of Mallappuram district, about an hours drive from Ernadu, the epicenter of the Moppalah revolt.

In Punathala the temple of Lakshmi Narsimha Murthy Vishnu is located, which was to be renovated in 2015. Upon completion of the renovation project, the team designed to do a celebration for the entire village, and not just Hindus in the village. 

The plan needed blessings of the spiritual leader of the district. Thangal. In Malyalam, Thangal is an honorific title almost equivalent to the Arabian sayyid or leader. The Thangal residing in Pannakkad, Malappuram district is considered to be the most powerful Thangal in Kerala. He is the supreme leader of the Sunni faction in Kerala.

Thangal is one name, that keeps resonating through the 19th century, the 20th century and now in the 21st century that played a crucial role, in steering the community through the troubled times of the Mappila Lahala and in post independent India.

now that the word count limit is reached, the complete article is available here...but would look forward to opinions.

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