The more organised of the revolts against the British was led by Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja of the Kottayam royal family. This young prince of undying patriotism and courage asserted his independence after having made Pazhassi fort as his headquarters.
The provocation for the first revolts (1793-97) was the mistaken revenue policy of the English. In 1793 the Company authorities ignored the claims of Pazhassi Raja and leased out Kottayam for revenue collection of his uncle, the Raja of Kurumbranad for one year.
Kerala Varma with support of the people of Kottayam (in Malabar) objected to this lease and raised the standard of revolt against the Company. Kurumbranad Raja had no influence over Kottayam and Pazhassi had no respect for his uncle. The blame for superseding the legal heir rested on the settlement commission.
Kerala Varma, moreover, had the solid support of the people Kottayam and he therefore forestalled all the collection of revenue by the Company official. Meanwhile the Kurumbranad Raja’s lease hold was extended for another five years in open disregard of the promise given to the Raja and his conciliatory stance and the revolt took a violent turn.
British troops were stationed at Kottayam to protect the Kurumbranad tax gathers and their efforts to arrest Pazhassi failed, as he with his family and followers had already escaped to the Manattana Jungles of Wynad, whence they carried out destructive guerilla warfare. On 18th December 1795 the British Commissioners by a proclamation forbade people from helping the rebels. The retreat to the impenetrable, tactless forests of Wynad proved a safer shelter to the Pazhassi group where they were able to secure the support of the aboriginal tribes of the area like the Kurchiyars and Kurumbars.
Kerala Varma even sought support of Tipu Sultan by visiting his killidar at Karakankotta. His reported alliance with Tipu made the English more bitter against Pazhassi Raja. In a surprise attack on the British troops in January, 1797, the Raja’s men inflicted a heavy defeat on them by killing many and kept the whole country in a state of alarm. By March 1997 in a series of pitched battles the English troops were routed and driven off the battle-field. Repeated reverses made the British authorities, to review the situation and Jonathan Duncan, the Governor of Bombay (now Mumbai), visited Malabar to settle the issue.
As a first measure he cancelled the cowl given to the Raja of Kurumbranad assigning him authority over Kottayam; this was in order to remove the first road block in the way of rapprochement with Kerala Varma. The English wanted to conclude peace with him and prevent an alliance of Pazhassi Raja with France, Mysore and other Confucius chief. It was, therefore, decided to renew the lease in favour of the Senior Raja who was still in Travancore. Kerala Varma was offered an annual pension of Rs. 8000 and given amnesty for his criminal acts against the Company. The first revolt of Pazhassi was thus brought to end.