Pandalur History

Pandalur was believed to be a sacred place for the indigenous tribal communities such as the Paniyas, Kurumbas, Kattu Nayakkans and they had a well defined social structure and culture also they had distinctive dress, weapons and jewelry. Each of the tribal group has a traditional chief and some of them believed to be spiritual leaders and these men are said to have spiritual powers; they can give blessings, heal sickness and foretell the future. They were brave, strong and good hunters. Honey, roots found from the forest and wild meat are their main source of food and they utilized all available natural resources found from the tropical rainforest for their daily life requirements.

People and their Culture:-


The name Paniya means “Laborer” which is derived from the Malayalm Language, the majority of Paniya community is scattered in the Wayand District of Kerala and Nilgiri District. The Paniyans' origins are unknown, some researchers believes they seem to be of African ancestry because of their dark skin, curly hair, large ear plugs, and broad noses. Paniyas are used as bounded laborers by the upper class communities and Landlords for a very small ransom.

Paniya Tribeswoman


During the Vishu festival Paniya families form different parts of Pandalur and Gudalur taluks gather at the Pandalur Devi Temple which is also known as Vishu Ambalam, during this gathering marriages are arranged by parents of brides and grooms. Also it was believed that in the olden days the Employers specially the chetty landlords found their workers during this annual festival, they gave a small amount of money to the paniya family leader called Nippupanam (Engagement money) , once they received the advance from the employer they are agreed and owed to work for them as bonded labors at least for one year (until the next annual feast in the temple) , After Independence this practice was completely disappeared and the majority of the Paniyas broke away from their masters and started working as casual laborers. The enforcement of laws such as Bonded Labour Abolition Ordinance of 1975 by Govt. Tamilnadu , the government policies on tribal welfare and the interests of NGOs , community service societies and human rights activists helps to wipe out these kind of slavery practices.

Gowdas (Kawndas, Kawndans):

Gowdas are the other large tribal community in this area who have a similar social structure of Badaga and Thoda community of upper Nilgiris. Researchers and anthropologists believe Gawdas are one among the major division of Badaga community, and still their origin is in debate , some believe they are the original sons of Nilgiri soil, but based on the available evidence and studies done by anthropologists especially by Prof. Paul Hocking (University of Illinois) concludes that the they were refugees, or migrants from southern part of Mysore and they migrated at the end of the 16th and early 17th centuries. They depend mainly on milk and milk products and each family had a big herd of cattle’s specially buffalos , same as “Todas of Nilgiris” Buffalos where considered sacred .The new generation of these communities are living modern life and most of their traditions are vanished and now very few of their traditional rituals are practiced during special occasions like marriage and funeral.

Ancient History:-

This blessed peaceful land was protected by the nature itself by the barrier of the Ghats and Jungle and wild inhabitants and the aboriginal community. As the Access to the  Land of myths and mysteries was so limited and exploration to this malarias jungle was considered as courting death , due to these reasons South–Esast waynad made less importance in the recorded history as the  other part of the South India  have seen successive struggles of power and control and  left the traces of  the History.   

The local tradition ascribe the area was ruled by Vedar  (Hunter) Kings but no traces found  on the existence of the Vedar Kings. In early 16th Centaury  the country was under the control of Vijayanagar Dynasty, later Vijayanagara dynasty was defeted by Dekkan kings. After seizing Vijayanagara from the  Kings of Dekkan  by  Raja Wodayar the  Waynad come under  Mysore rule.

During 18th Century the Kurumbranad Rajas ruled the South-East Wayanad (Nilgiri- Wayanad)  and the  tiny country was known as Parakkumeethil and the other part of Waynad was under the control of Kottayam Rajahs. Result of the dispute between the Kurumbrabad and Kottayam Rajas, Kurumbarnad Raja gave up his country and Kottayam Rajas Controlled  Parakkumeethil  and Wayanad.  Tippu Sulthan seized Wayanad from the Kottatyam Raja. In 1799  after the fall of Srirangapatnam, Wayanad had been ceded to British, but Kerala Varma Raja (Pazhassi Rajah) resisted all attempts of the company  to take possession of the country.  In Course of  Pazhassi Rajas struggle against the East India  Company a series of posts had been established on the top of high peaks to trap and fight the Pazhassi Rajah’s supporters . One of these kind of Military Post was established in Nelliyalam which where manned by small parties of East India Company soldiers. In 1805 Pazhssi Raja was killed by British army , with the death of Pazassi Wayand fully come under the control of British Raj.

The  Pandalur Area of the Wayanad is known as South-East Wayanad and also known as  Nilgiri-Waynaad , In 1877 this portion of Wayanad (Cherankode Amsam) was transferred to Nilgiri District for administrative purpose.

Most of the land in this area was the property of the Janmis (Landloards) of Nilambur Kovilagam and Nelliyalam Arasu. The Nelliyalam Rani administered the region behalf of Mysore Maharaj and enjoyed the highest rank in society. The remains of the Nelliayalam Rani’s fort can still be viewed at Kottakunnu (fort hill) in the Nelliayalam village.

Nelliyalam Rani -An old photo



Plantation History:-

 The coffee was first introduced in south India at the close of 18th century by Arab traders but the Coffee plantations started in the area  in massive scale by British companies and pioneer European planters, In 1828 the coffee introduced in Wayanad  and  about 1850 the estates are extended to  Nilgiri-Wayanad  and Devala, Pandalur and Cherambadi were turned to large planting centers, during this time may European planters settled in Nilgiris and Wayanad to establish plantations  but coffee plantation doesn’t  succeeded as expected and many  alternatives crops  were tried.

In 1870s Cinchona was introduced  but the price of Quinine gone down tremendously due to over production of cinchona in other part of the world hence the cinchona boom faded out with in a short span and the Gold boom in Nilgiri-Waynad resulted  close to  extinction of these plantations.

The ambitious British administration and traders introduced many other crops in this region to utilize the rich soil.  In 1884-1889 the Glendrock Company did an experimental cultivation of  Remie or Reha  fiber plant  (AKA China Grass), around 400 acres in the forest slops of Glendrock valley. The soil and climate was very suitable to the cultivation of Remie  crops as the stems obtain desired growth in the rainfall months without irrigation, even though the company has  to pay more for  drying and spinning the fiber. The plantation was given up due to poor profitability and high production cost.  

Tea plant was introduced on the Nilgiris as early as 1833 and later the plants where tried in Nilgiri-Wayanad. Remarkable contributions are done by many European planters to establish estates in the area , D.H.McLeod and Henry Atzenwiler are few among them , McLeod was born in an English planters family at Richmond estate in Pandalur, and they where believed to be one of the first English Planters in the area, Henry Atzenwiler was a Swiss born planter with full of ambitions and dedication, in early days Mclead and and Henry joined together to develop plantations around pandalur. The gold boom in the area had a negative impact on agro industry. McLeod and his family left Pandalur and they established an estate in Poomala near Sulthan bathery. The place was named after his birthplace that is Richmond in Pandalur which is called as Poomala by the local people. Meanwhile Henry settled in Cottanaad Estate and became one of the pioneer planter in Waynad area, he died on 6th May 1912 and buried at Cherangode village near Pandalur.


    Henry Atzenwiler                                         H.McLeod (1868-1923)


Gold Mining Industry:-

During 1831, H.LHuguenin a conanoor based Swiss watch maker initiated exploration of mineral resources in Malabar and Wayanaad and they begin their search in the surroundings of Devala ( 6 Km from Pandalur), due to practical difficulties these attempts where abundant. After four decades in 1874 Alpha Gold Mining Company began operations in a valley about a mile and a half south of Devala. The Gold mining boom in Pandalur began after the temporary appointment of Australian mining engineer Robert Brough Smyth by the Government of India in 1878 to report on auriferous deposits at Waynaad reefs. On October 1879 he submitted a positive report on the richness of gold ore in the known reefs located in between Nadugani and Cherambadi based on his own evaluation. Based on his report the there was a wild ripe on the London stock market and many English companies started investing millions of starlings they spend big amount of money to acquire lands. After a slow start the machineries and mining staffs where arrived and Devala and Pandalur blossomed suddenly into busy mining centers. Indian Phoenix Company was the leader in the new industry and Devala Moyar Gold mining Company, South Indian Gold mining company and Indian Glenrock Gold Mining Company are among the top list. Reference to the reports of Samuel Jennings ( the Secretary to the Indian Glenrock gold mining company ) Pandalur was not developed during his first field visit to Glenrock during 1880 and there was a small native town at Devala with a good hotel and Sunday market. Later In Pandalur they setup a township with all basic facilities including a new race course even the head-quarters of the Head Assistant Magistrate were hastily transferred to Pandalur.   The possibilities of  the new industry attracted the planters in south east wayanad  this had a major impact on the agro industries specially the  Coffee cultivation.

Robert Brough Smyth
(1830 - 1889)

By George Gordon McCrae.
Courtesy of National Library of Australia.


Migration from Malabar:-

The mining industry gradually started to collapse because the percentage of gold ore was below the average. Even though, mining was continued until the beginning of the 20th century. Once the British companies had determined that gold mining would not succeed in this area, they changed to agricultural industries and created tea plantations on a massive scale and the abandoned coffee estates where converted to tea estates. The climate and soil was well suited for tea, which helped to ensure the success of the new industry. The new opportunities in the tea estates and the instability in Malabar due to the continues struggles between British and Khilafath freedom fighters and poverty attracted the peoples from Malabar plains to this area  and many clever Mappila traders grab this opportunities and established, Kunjalikutty Haji of Pandalur was one of the leading manpower suppliers for British estates. He brought a large number of people from Malabar to work on the estates, and became very close to the British administration, being recognized as Khan Bahadur Kunajalikutty. Haji managed a shop at Pandalur and he purchased the items for his shop from Calicut and Mysore, one day on the way back from Mysore to Pandalur he heard about a pious sufi living in the forest near Gundalpet and decided to visit that Sufi, who was Moulavi Abussabah Ahmed Ali later the founder president of Farook college. Haji invite him to Pandalur and Maulavi refused but Haji insist him, at last he accepted his invitation and came with Haji to his residence at Pandalur, later their friendship become stronger and Maulavi stayed at Pandalur few months. As educated, pious and noble personality Maulavi always worried about his community , he concern about their ignorance and religious misconception and he realize educating them is the only solution ,this lead him to think about starting an institution in Malabar and to make his dream alive he moved to Haji's home in Anakayam village (Malappuram District, Kerala).

Kunalikutty Haji - A family photo (1930)


Malabar Kalabam (Khilafat):

In early twentieth century the non-cooperation movement against the British was in full swing. The deep dissatisfaction  of Muslim community in Malabar on British rule  turned in to a mass protest  against British and Landloards hence the Kilafath Struggle was ignited in 1920, the extremists mappila rebellions were agitated over the Khilafat issue. But due to the nature of struggle its still in debate whether to be considered as  a part of Freedom struggle or a communal violence.

Pandalur was equally effected by the  Khilafat struggle. The Planters where afraid about an attack by the rebellions and the Nilgiri District Magistrate ordered  police patrolling from Nadugani to Pandalur on daily basis, also alerted the police post at pandalur  which had 45 Police men under Mr.Furness, the The District Superintendent of Police.

On 15th  December , 1921 the first incident  was reported .A band of Mapillas made their way up the Nadghani ghat and attacked the police post at Pandalur and they killed three policemen and wounded five. They looted arms and food commodities and they pass thru Pandalur bazzar and completely destroyed the shop owned by Kunalikutty Haji the local trader and British supporter though his life was saved by his friend Malla Gawdar, chief of the Gowdar community in Pandalur Hatty. The District Superintendent of Police, Mr. Furness reached Ooty safely after a narrow escape from this attack. This incident led to a demand for the extension of Martial Law to the Nilgiri -Wynad from the District Magistrate, Ootacamund, at a time when the military authorities were themselves considering the possibility of withdrawing Martial Law from Malabar. The Government did not support the demand, but sanctioned the enrolment of a further detachment of 50 armed police to be stationed at Pandalur when the military were withdrawn; and no further trouble occurred in the Nilgiri -Wynad. 

Post Independence:-

The Pandalur was constituted as a village panchayat in the year 1951 (Officially known as Nelliyalam Village punchayath) and after 16 years the village punchayat was upgraded to Town punchayat and then to Special grade town punchayat , in 2004 the punchayat is lifted to 3rd grade Municipality. The Revenue villages of Nilliyalam municipality is spread around the parts of Two taluk namely Pandalur Taluk and Gudalur Taluk.

                                                                                       - Afas Ja Jajy (




This article is prepared based on the studies done by me, if some body believe any part of this article is contradict with reality  kindly contact me in with proper support information to correct the information accordingly. Also I request the well-wishers to provide me additional information, photos and articles to improve this article.



Madras district Gazetteer - Nilgiris, W Francis

My Visit to the goldfields in the South East Wayanad - Samuel Jennings

The Mapilla Rebellion 1921-1922 – Govt Press, Madras 1922

Sport on the Nilgiris and in Waynaad - F.W.F.Fletcher

Malabar Series - Wynad: Its peoples and traditions - C.Gopalan Nair

Australian Dictionary of Biography OLE

Sunrise on Nilgiris , Catherin F Ling

UPASI - Planters Directory

Ramie-Rhea–China Grass : The new textile Ribre – H.A. Carter, The Tech Pub Co Ltd, London,1910

Stories collected from Senior citizens which is told and passed down the generations.


Picture Details :

Robert Brough Smyth (1830 - 1889)

  By George Gordon McCrae. Courtesy of National Library of Australia. nla.pic-an6312205.

D.H.McLeod (1868-1923)

  Courtesy of Mr.Gerry McLeod (Grand son of D.H.McLeod) Poomala Estate, S.Bathery , Kerala , India.