King, Kinglessness and an Oral Poem

Political Authority and Its Discontents in Early Modern Malabar


  • Abhilash Malayil Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, India image/svg+xml



Early Modern, Malabar, Hindu Kingship, Vaṭakkan-Pāṭṭǔ, Landlords, English East India Company


The essay discusses an oral poem from north Malabar detailing an 18th-century event of political conflict, manifested between a native king and a local landlord. The story of conflict centres around the idea of bhēdam or difference that the king wanted to project as the secret of his earthly right to rule. The king’s opponent, the local landlord, rejects this idea and claims that they are equals, and there exists no hierarchy of relation between them. The essay explores certain features of the late 18th century political transition along the Coast of Malabar which culminated in the Mysore and British rule, and argues that the landlord’s denial of king’s authority was firmly rooted in this context, and had futurist intentions. In this way, the essay also tries to present a critique of the neo-Hocartian idea of “little-kingdom” and the Proppian proposal for “pattern morphology”. It indicates that the early modern Malabar presents an interesting case of ‘hollowing’ the crown from inside, and its oral poems—as a genre of history—document this process in modes that are deemed appropriate to their times.

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How to Cite

Malayil, Abhilash. 2023. “King, Kinglessness and an Oral Poem: Political Authority and Its Discontents in Early Modern Malabar”. Cracow Indological Studies 25 (2):71-109.