For Hindus bravery, valour and martial arts have never been a male-only enterprise. The “Vadakkan Pattukal” Malayalam ballads of ancient origin continue to tell the story of the “Kalarippayattu” martial art female legend ”Unniyarcha” who was a member of the valiant Chekavar(Thiyyar) family of ‘Puthooram’. The story goes like this. Unniyarcha, after her marriage, wanted to go on a visit to the temples of Kuthu in Allimalarkavu, Villakku in Ayyappankavu, and Velapuram in Anjanakavu. Her marital family tried to dissuade her, owing to the danger in the surrounding areas continuously caused by the Nadapuram ‘Moplah/Mapilla’ ruffians/hooligans (Jonaka/Chonaka Mappila or Moors Mopulars/Mouros da Terra and Mouros Malabares) who troubled, abducted and molested women and children living and passing through the Malabar area at that time. These Moplah/Mapilla hooligans were a part of the Arabian slave trade gangs at that time.
The fearless Unniyarcha decided not to back down and sternly resolved on her ‘Bhakti’ became the true incarnation of ‘Shakti’ when she exhibited her warrior expertise via the ‘Kalarippayattu’ martial art and single-handedly fought against and defeated the Moplah/Mapilla hooligans when they tried to molest and abduct her on the way. They kneeled down before her and asked for mercy and promised never to engage in such menace again. This is how Unniyarcha taught them a lesson.
It is time we reclaim our histories, our narratives, one where native heroines are given their due share. Unniyarcha, lived in the 16th century and died of old age. There have been ‘sub-altern’ study reports now recently claiming that Unniyarcha of Puthooram family was captured by Tipu of Mysore when he attacked Malabar in 1789. This is patently wrong, because Tipu reached Malabar nearly 200 years after the death of the valiant Unniyarcha. These attempts to rewrite history could arguably be seen as a way to undermine the valour of a fierce woman, who single-handedly defeated her oppressors. Strong, fierce, native women, after all, have always had a deep psychological affect on entrenched elite, as they tend to threaten the very fiber of manufactured narratives. Anjali George delves into the story of this legendary warrior and debunks the colonial and sub-altern distortions.