On 20 August 1921, the police attempted to arrest Vadakkevittil Muhammed, the secretary of the Khilafat Committee of Ernad at Pookkottur, alleging that he stolen the pistol of a Hindu Thirumulpad from a Kovilakam (manor) in Nilambur. A crowd of 2,000 Mappilas from the neighbourhood foiled the attempt, but on the following day a squad of police arrested a number of Khilafat volunteers and seized records at the Mambaram mosque in Tirurangadi, leading to rumours that the building had been desecrated. A large crowd of Mappilas converged on Tirurangadi and besieged the local police station. The police opened fire on the crowd, triggering a furious reaction which soon engulfed the Eranad and Valluvanad taluks along with neighbouring areas and continued for over two months.
Following the mosque incident, the rebels attacked and seized police stations, government treasuries, and entered the courts and registry offices where they destroyed records. Some even climbed into the judges’ seats and proclaimed the advent of swaraj (self-rule). The rebellion soon spread to the neighbouring areas of Malappuram, Manjeri, Perinthalmanna, Pandikkad and Tirur under principle leaders Variankunnath Kunjahammad Haji, Seethi Koya Thangal of Kumaranpathor and Ali Musliyar. By 28 August 1921, British administration had virtually come to an end in Malappuram, Tirurangadi, Manjeri, and Perinthalmanna, which then fell into the hands of the rebels who established complete domination over the Eranad and Valluvanad Taluks. On 24 August 1921, Variankunnath Kunjahammad Haji took over command of the rebellion from Ali Musliyar. Public proclamations were issued by Variyankunnath and Seethi that no harm should come to Hindus and that those Mappilas who resorted to looting would receive exemplary punishments.
During the early phase of the rebellion, the targets were primarily the janmis and the British Government. Crimes committed by some of the rebels were accepted by leaders.Very quickly it turned out aimed at Hindus irrespective of their caste. After the proclamation of Martial law and the arrival of the British army, when some members of the Hindu community were enlisted by the army to provide information on the rebels.Once they had eliminated the minimal presence of the government, the Moplahs turned their full attention to attacking Hindus while Ernad and Valluvanad were declared Khilafat kingdoms.
By the end of 1921, the situation was brought under control. The British administration raised a special quasi-military (or Armed Police) battalion, the Malabar Special Police (MSP), initially consisting of non-Muslims and trained by the British Indian Army. The MSP then attacked the rioters and eventually subdued them.
The Wagon tragedy was the death of 67 prisoners on 20 November 1921 in the Malabar region of Kerala state of India. The prisoners had been taken into custody following Mappila Rebellion against British Colonial rule and Hindu landlords their deaths through apparent negligence discredited the British Raj and generated sympathy for the Indian independence movement.
On 10 November 1921, when the uprising was on its last breaths, almost 90 detained Muslim rebels were despatched by train from Tirur to the Central Prison in Podanur (near Coimbatore). They were bundled into a freight wagon and the train set off. Pothanur jail was found to be full to maximum capacity, so orders were given to take the prisoners back. During the return journey, 67 of the 90 rebels suffocated to death in the closed iron wagon. Historian Sumit Sarkar referred to it as the “Black Hole of Podanur”.