This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Aruna Anilkumar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Attingal Outbreak: One Of India’s First Revolt Against The British

The Attingal Outbreak or Anjengo Revolt, the first revolt against the colonialism of the British East India Company, erupted in April 1721 in the Angengo (Anjuthengu) of Attingal in Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala.

Kerala commemorated the 300th anniversary of the country’s first known organised insurrection against the English East India Company in 2021, yet there are few written documents and no fitting memorials.

anjengo fort
The Anjengo Fort. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Attingal seigniory, with the sea on one side and the Sahyadri on the other and rich with rivers and connecting water bodies, was the motherland of all rulers of Travancore.

The Venad royal family, one of Kerala’s four mediaeval kingdoms, had a matrilineal system of inheritance, and the Rani of Attingal, Aswathi Tirunal Umayamma (1677-1698), was the head of the Venad royal house. She was known for her bravery, beauty and diplomacy. She was also the head of a confederacy of semi-independent states such as Travancore, Nedumangad, Kottarakkara, Kollam, Karunagappally and Kayamkulam.

It was during her regime that the British came to Attingal, seeking permission to build a fort in Anchuthengu or Anjengo, as the British called it. They came looking for the Nedumangad pepper, one of the most famous spices in Europe at that time.

The Portuguese, as the early ones to arrive at the Malabar coast, already had a monopoly in all four kingdoms in Kerala, i.e. Venad, Cochin, Kozhikode and Kolathunadu. The Dutch had monopolised the Kerala coast by the beginning of the 17th century since the inhabitants preferred the well-mannered Dutch over the Portuguese.

But the English East India Company made inroads by conciliating with the rulers. Umayamma welcomed the British to Attingal, believing that it would put an end to the Dutch monopoly and provide greater prosperity to her country. Even though it was opposed by the Dutch and the merchants who supported them, the British showered the queen with precious gifts and got permission to build a fort in 1694.

Additionally, they obtained exclusive rights to buy pepper at a lower price than what the Dutch offered. This led to huge protests from farmers, mostly Nair’s and Ezhava’s, and also traders, mostly Muslims. The Pillai’s, a set of feudal lords with their own army, also revolted against the British.

Historian M G Sashibhushan said that though Rani remained the figurative head of the Attingal Kingdom, the real power was vested with the Pillai’s, who were her ministers.

When the insurrection became turmoil, Umayamma requested that the British to halt building the fort, but they refused. Although she sent troops to the site, they could not stand before the guns and cannonballs of the British. Anjengo became a genuine English colony on 27 July, 1694.

Umayamma died in 1698 with remorse and shame. During this time, the Company assigned a new officer to the fort, William Gyfford, to combat corruption, as several officials were engaging in private business.

The British made stronger advances into Attingal during the two monarchs that succeeded Umayamma. The Dutch were made powerless. The British also took advantage of the Pillais’ lack of cohesiveness. By the 1720s, the British had taken control of Attingal’s trade arrangements.

A public artwork depicting the Attingal Revolt beside Akkulam highway in Thiruvananthapuram.
A public artwork depicting the Attingal Revolt beside Akkulam highway in Thiruvananthapuram. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The indigenous were already fed up with the British’s dishonest business tactics. To make matters worse, Gyfford and his wife, Catherine, would mock their religious beliefs. He and his Portuguese assistant, Ignatio Malhiero, were also against Muslims. When they went to the fort, Catherine was said to pour filthy water on them.

Moreover, the English started buying properties around the famous Sarkaradevi temple, maddening the natives, who always suspected the English’s religious motives. Gyfford and his soldiers also insulted the temple’s Brahmin priest.

The indigenous had had enough of the British and sought Kudaman Pillai, one of the kingdom’s most prominent ministers, and asked him to lead a revolt against the British. While Pillai, who was well-versed in kalari, concurred, he understood the indigenous had little chance against the British’s sophisticated armament.

With his nephew’s support, he invited kalari experts from the north and south to train the natives, both Hindus and Muslims. It mentions in C V Giri’s work Attingal Kalapam, “The people of Attingal came together against the British, forgetting caste, class and religious barriers, It was a rare act at that point in time.”

When Gyfford and his officers caught a smell of the gathering animosity directed at them, they decided to pay the queen a visit. Vanchimuttam Pillai, a British-friendly minister, encouraged him not to see the queen, but he persevered. He was also invited to the palace to celebrate Vishu by the queen.

Gyfford set sail for Attingal in three huge boats with 132 Englishmen (some say 133) and an equal number of slaves. He noticed people gathered on the banks of the Vamanapuram River while sailing past it. He waved at them, presumably assuming they were there to meet him. He had no idea that they were kalari warriors.

Gold coins, velvet and perfume were handed to the queen by Gyfford. The traditional feast, as well as wine, was given to him and his squad. Kudaman Pillai and his kalari warriors entered the palace when darkness fell and reported that none of the Englishmen had survived. The truth remains, however, that the whole British crew was wiped out.

“The brutality with which the British were treated was proof of the agony and humiliation the natives must have suffered at the hands of the British,” stated Giri Aradhya“The river had turned red for a while with all the dead bodies floating in it.”

It is said that the river got the name Kollumbuzha (the river that kills) after the incident. The Company’s records, on the other hand, only list 23 casualties. However, Sashibhushan pointed out that the Dutch records only gave a clear picture of the casualties.

You must be to comment.

More from Aruna Anilkumar

Similar Posts

By Ajay Amitabh Suman

By Archana Mishra

By Rishika29

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below