Early History

The exact origin of Ullanat family is obscure.  It goes to the 14th century or earlier when the later Chera kingdom flourished in Kerala. During this period the political authority in Kerala was based on the organisation of a large number of small territorial units, over which a powerful matrilineal joint family exercised their hereditary political and juridical authority. During the later Chera period, numerous Nadus had developed in Kerala, controlled by the Chief Utayavar. After the death of Cheraman Perumal  Kerala was divided among the rulers of these smaller kingdoms, but some of them disintegrated and others continued, becoming Swarupams. When they became Swarupams they were known by the name of the place where the authoritarian joint family was originally located.  Thus the title Venattutaiya for Venad continued until 12th century which was replaced by the Swarupam title – Kizhperur Trippappur later. Similarly the ruler of Eranad became Nediyirippu Swarupam, Valluvanadalavan became Arangottur Swarupam, Purakilanad and Elimala Kingdom became Kottayam and Kolattu Swarupam.

Frequent wars between these Swarupams to retain or expand their respective territorial authority became a routine affair and the rulers of these Swarupams regularly concentrated on improving the martial skills of their soldiers, which paved way for the development of a powerful martial art culture in Kerala.  Thulu region was known for its dexterous, strong and powerful martial art (Kalari Payattu) exponents and their indigenously developed combative techniques and systems.  Two such masters who were brothers along with their sister were brought from the Thulu region to Nediyirippu Swarupam for training the soldiers and the youth of the royal family. The progeny of this sister, who had her origin in Thulu Nadu, were the early members of Ullanat family (Ulanadu, derived from Tulunadu). They were absorbed into the Nair community and were given the title of Panickers (Panicker and Kurup were the titles of those who maintained Kalaris as their hereditary profession). Following the system prevalent in the then Swarupams, the early Ullanat Panickers, like the other Nair families, started following matrilineal system (Marumakkatthayam).  It is possible that matrilineal system was sustained as a mode of preserving the rights, privileges and the control of the territory within the family itself.

 

According to the ancient history of Kerala narrated in the poetic work called “Keralam” by Kunhikuttan Thampuran, Cheraman Perumal, the last Chera king of Kerala, relinquished his kingdom and divided the land amongst the various smaller chieftains and gave them independence. This event is said to have given rise to various new kingdoms being formed within Kerala. The Zamorin (Samuthiri) who was absent during this event of partition later met Cheraman Perumal. Cheraman Perumal gave his last four possessions to the Samuthiri namely 1) his sword, which was bent inward, 2) a broken conch, 3) the last remaining portion of land (which was to evolve later as the city called Kozhikode) and 4) his faithful servant – the Ullanat Panicker (who was known as the Palliyara Panicker of Cheraman Perumal).  Perumal gave Samuthiri permission to conquer and keep all the land he could by his might.

ഉള്ളോടൊടിഞ്ഞൊരുടവാളുമുടഞ്ഞ ശംഖും ഉള്ളോരുനാടുമുളനാടുമിതങ്ങു നാലും
നല്ലോരു നന്ദിയൊടവർക്കു കൊടുത്തതായിട്ടല്ലോ പഴങ്കഥയറിഞ്ഞവർ ചൊല്ലിടുന്നു
ഒട്ടിപ്പിടിപ്പിനിതൊരെന്മുതൽ, നിങ്ങൾ നാടു വെട്ടിപ്പിടിപ്പിനിനി വേണ്ടതു വേണ്ടപോലെ
തട്ടിപ്പിടിപ്പിനിവിടെപ്പശുവിപ്രരക്ഷാ മുട്ടിപ്പിടിപ്പിനിയലും വിജയൈകബീജം
എന്നാലിതെന്റെയുടവാളൊരൊടിഞ്ഞവാളാ ണെന്നാലുമായതിനു പൂജകഴിക്കു തിത്യം
എന്നാണിതിന്നപകടം വഴി ഭംഗമേൽപോനന്നാണു നിങ്ങളുടെ വൻവിജയപ്രണാശം
നന്നാദരിപ്പിനിതു ശംഖൊരുടഞ്ഞ ശംഖാണെന്നാലുമായതുണരേണ്ടൊരു യാമമായാൽ
നന്നാദമോടു തനിയേ വിളികൂട്ടുമെന്നോ തന്നാശമന്നു തുടരും കുലലക്ഷ്മിനാശം
കാടാണു കാട്ടിയതു തെല്ലിട തന്നു ചുള്ളിക്കാടാണു കഷ്ടമിതി തോന്നരുതുള്ള നാടാം
കോടായ്‌വിനീക്ഷിതി ശുഭംതരുമിങ്ങു കോഴിക്കോടായ് വിളങ്ങുമൊരു പട്ടണമൊത്തു കാണാം
സ്വൈരം ധരിച്ചിടുവിനീയുളനാടുവീട്ടുകാരൻ നമുക്കു മതമൊത്തൊരടുത്ത ഭൃത്യൻ
പോരട്ടെനിങ്ങളുടെകൂടെയിവൻ തുണയ്ക്കന്നേരത്തു ചെയ്തപണി നിഷ്ഫലമാകയില്ലാ

(Verses 24, 26 to 30, IV Sarga, Keralam)

Translation:
A sword that is broken inward, a conch that too broken,
the land that was still left and Ullanat Panicker, his faithful attendant

 

The Perumal gave and said ‘conquer and annexe all those lands
that you deem fit, but protect the Brahmins and cows

 

‘Worship every dawn this sword of mine though broken;
if anything happens to this, that day will be an end to your victory

 

‘Take care of this broken conch that blows on its own at the fourth quarter;
when it is destroyed, your fortune too gets destroyed that day

 

‘The gift of this thorny jungle should cause you no disappointment;
it would grow soon into the flourishing port and city of Calicut

 

‘You are well-advised to take Ullanat Panicker with you, for
whatever done in consultation with him would never end in failure!’

Cheraman Perumal is believed to be the last of the Perumal dynasty. He was succeeded by a series of independent rulers. This is said to have happened in the 7th or between 9th and 12th century, by different traditions.  If the version of Kunhikuttan Thampuran is correct, then the history of Ullanat Panickers goes further back in the history of Kerala.

However it is true that after some time the Samuthiri-s (the rulers of Nediyirippu Swarupam) became a major force on the western coast and they captured several lands from Valluvanadu.  As permitted by the Cheraman Perumal (vettippidippin ini vendathu vendapole) they started conquering the neighbouring kings.

As the Samuthiri-s ascended in power and strength, the status and honour of Ullanat Panickers also started rising.  All the men of early Ullanat family were martial trainers and combaters.  They had their Kalari, where large numbers of soldiers were trained. The 14th and 15th centuries constituted a period of aggressive wars in the course of which the Samuthiri-s acquired a large part of the present Thrissur district from the weak Perumpatappu Swarupam (Kochi).  In order to protect the territory acquired, the Panickers along with their Kalari were shifted to the Southern most part of the Samuthiri’s kingdom (in the present Venkitangu Amsam of Mullassery in Chavakkad Taluk of Thrissur District.)

 

Chettuva Manappuram was a large area of land north of Kodungallur and south of Chettuva having Arabian Sea and Canoli canal as boundaries on the western and eastern sides. Chettuva was a strategic port from where sea trade to Portugal, Holland, Srilanka, Indonesia, England, Venice, Spain, etc., existed from very early days. To the north of Chettuva there existed a small kingdom known as Ayiroor Swaroopam also known as Saarkkara Kovilakam. They were supposed to be the descendants of the Pandya kings of Madurai migrated in an earlier era through Palakkad.

One of the kings of this Swaroopam had a wife in Ullanat Tharavad and he had some serious misunderstanding with his successors.  When the dispute intensified, to wreak his vengeance on the royal successors, the king gave his entire land to his children from his wife of Ullanat family.  Thus the family got vast landed property, which they later gave to the Samuthiri whose suzerainty they had accepted. The Samuthiri gave the family the status of Samanthas and the Mootha Panicker (Karanavar of Ullanat family) was made his Southern Karyakkar (Administrator).  This is how the original Kalari Masters of Ullanat became the landlords.  However the vast landed property of Chettuva Manappuram was lost to the Dutch by the Samuthiri in AD 1717.  But the Dutch accepted the powerful Ullanat Panicker as a feudatory (Keezhprabhu) and entered into separate agreements with him.  All these are narrated in ‘the Dutch in Malabar’ -Memoirs of Adriaan Moens, who was the then Dutch Governor of Malabar (1771-81).

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