Malappuram has still the ruins of an ancient fort built by Tippu Sultan. The district has a rich cultural and political heritage. Malappuram is known for national movements such as Khilafat Movement and Moplah Rebellion, in which the Muslim Mappilas and peasants struggled against feudalism and colonialism alike. Though there were occasional religious overtones associated with such movements, many historians acknowledge them as part of Indian Independence Struggle.

Malappuram (also Malapuram) was the headquarters of British troops[citation needed] and later it became the headquarters of the Malabar Special Police.MSP was created by the British in the aftermath of the widespread violence and bloodshed witnessed during the protests by the local Muslims (Mappilas/Moplahs) against the British decision abolishing the Islamic Caliphate in Turkey. The uprising is popularly known as Mappila Lahala. Anakkayam, 8 km from the city, was an important centre of 1921 Malabar Rebellion. The hill country has also contributed much to the cultural heritage of Kerala. It was a famous centre of Hindu-Vedic learning and Islamic philosophy.

Before India's Independence in 1947, Malappuram was part of Malabar District in the Madras Presidency of British India. The area covered by the present district was administered as part of Kozhikode, Ernad, Valluvanad and Ponnani taluks. Malabar District remained part of Madras state immediately after Indian Independence. On 1 November 1956, Malabar District was merged with Travancore-Cochin to form the state of Kerala, and large-scale changes in the territorial jurisdiction of this tract took place in 1957 and 1969. On 1 January 1957, Tirur taluk was newly formed taking portions of Ernad and Ponnani taluks. Another portion of Ponnani taluk was transferred to the newly formed Chavakkad taluk, while the residuary portion was known as Ponnani taluk. Perinthalmanna was a new taluk formed out of the erstwhile Valluvanad taluk. Of these, Ernad and Tirur continued under Kozhikode District and Perinthalmanna as well as Ponnani under the Palakkad District. The new district of Malappuram was formed with four taluks, Ernad, Perinthalmanna, Tirur and Ponnani, four statutory towns, fourteen developmental blocks and 95 panchayats. Two more taluks, namely Tirurangadi and Nilambur, were formed later by bifurcating Tirur and Ernad taluks.

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