Abhilash Malayil

Sin of the King: Early-Modern Kingship and the Deification of Victimhood in Malabar, South-Western India

This essay is an attempt to look at the early-modern Hindu kingship as they appear in an oral literary genre from North Malabar, south-western India. The genre is known as ‘thōttam songs’ or the propitiatory narratives for the local village-Hindu pantheon. It is widely popular in the Malayalam-speaking region and also in the neighbouring Tulu-speaking South Canara where this genre is called as the pāḍdana. The following discussion is based on the text of a single thōttam which is available in printed form since 1998. It is titled ‘Āippaḷḷi Thōttam’ and it narrates the story of a local male-divinity called Āippaḷḷi Daivam or the God [named] Āippaḷḷi.


This essay deals with the late eighteenth century political economy of North Malabar, with a focus on the historical aspect of a speculative economic activity, i.e. mercantile surety or the havālātti. Credit money, in its most ubiquitous form of cash advances, was deeply implicated in early modern political practice, both of its kingly and the anti-king verities. The merchants, especially those we find involved in transacting agrarian produce, used it to enhance their economic hold in the countryside by fabricating a convergence with the landholding, locally dominant peasant proprietorships. The inter-dispensational years witnessed a process of the merchant surety tilting away from the kingly world to the agrarian countryside. The local infrastructure of credit money and its better half, the interest-bearing capital, were successful in creating, what this paper calls; the commodity frontier. It represents a spontaneous situation of economic dispossession on the one hand and social hierarchies of market bound commodity on the other. When placed against the historiography of ‘the great (colonial) transformation’, it is found that the economic transition in the region was a slow and predictable process till the credit crisis of 1830s.