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Pazhassi Raja

(1753 – 1805) – (Kerala)

Pazhassi Raja (Aged 52), also known as Cotiote Rajah and Pychy Rajah, was born on 3 January 1753 as Kerala Varma. He was a warrior Hindu prince and the de facto head of the kingdom of Kottayam, known as Cotiote, in Malabar, India, between 1774 and 1805. His struggles with the East India Company are known as the Cotiote War.

Pazhassi Raja is popularly known as Kerala Simham, or the Lion of Kerala, because of his martial exploits. He was a member of the western branch of the Kottayam royal clan. When Hyder Ali of the Kingdom of Mysore occupied Malabar in 1773, the Raja of Kottayam found political asylum in Kallara, near Vikom in Kottayam district of Kerala. During this period, Pazhassi Raja, the fourth prince in line for succession to the throne, became one of the de facto heads of state, surpassing several older royal contenders.

From 1774 to 1793, he fought a war of resistance against the Mysorean army, gaining firm support from his subjects on account of his effective resistance to Mysoreans and refusal to flee. After the Third Anglo-Mysore War in 1792, the East India Company imposed control in Kottayam, violating an earlier agreement of 1790 that had recognised its independence. The Company appointed Vira Varma, to whom Raja was a nephew, as the Raja of Kottayam.

In 1793, Vira Varma ordered an exorbitant tax to be collected from the peasantry to meet revenue targets fixed by Company authorities. This move was met by a mass resistance led by Pazhassi Raja, who had always been opposed to the Company’s rule. In 1796, the Company attempted to arrest Pazhassi Raja, but he evaded capture and instead fought back using guerilla warfare. After a string of serious setbacks, the Company sued for peace in 1797.

The conflict was renewed in 1800 over a dispute on Wayanad, and after a five-year-long war of insurgency, Pazhassi Raja was killed on 30 November 1805 in a gunfight at Mavila Thodu, a small body of water on the present-day Kerala-Karnataka border. He passed away on 30 November 1805.