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The Porlathiri Epoch

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

The reign of the Porlathiris at Calicut is one of the complicated periods in Malabar history, not well documented but mainly covered under legends and myths. It was therefore difficult to get more information than the oft mentioned takeover of Calicut by the Zamorin. I had to dig around quite a bit to get a wee bit more and thought it would add some balance to many of the Malabar accounts posted thus far.

Malabar History discussions these days tend to cover the period after the Chera rule and the Cherman Perumal’s retirement. A look at the two maps (sourced from C Radhakrishnan’s site with many thanks) provides an idea of the area the Zamorins or the Nediyirippu Swaroopam of Eralnad annexed, to form their vast reach over medieval Malabar. While each of the old dynasties or swaroopams has their stories, let us try to glean over what we know about Polanad.

As we understand, the city of Calicut and its suburbs formed part of the Polanad Kingdom ruled by the Porlatiri, sometime around the end of the 13th century, the period when a number of things were changing, such as the floods of Periyar, the rise of Cochin and so on. But the overriding aspect was the move of coastal trade from Quilon and Muziris to more Northerly ports and the movement of the various wealthy Arabs - Pardesi Muslim traders and Moplah community towards the coastal ports in the Malabar Coast line North of Ponnani. I will cover the reasoning behind the emergence of Calicut as a port in a separate post, and its connections to events in the Arab Middle east, such as the drop in Gulf trade after the fall of Baghdad, and the emergence of stronger links in the longer and perhaps richer Red sea trade with Mamluk Egypt. One could question when the Porlathiri’s were dispossessed by the Zamorin. Well we have no dates but can only assume that it was some time between 900-1200AD.

Were the Muslim traders behind the decision of the Eranad (Nediyirippu or Kunnala) Thamburans to seek a location near the coast for economic reasons? Were they the reason behind the Eradis forsaking the norms of war and accessing the land of another? The Eradis did have an empire building strategy, so the desire to form coalitions with the wealthy Muslim traders was important, so also the financing by way of export trade. It is conjecture that this strategy was behind amalgamation of a mercantile state around Calicut. One could also summarize, the Eradis of Nediyirippu in Ernad (somewhere around present Kondotty) were land-locked and sought an outlet to the sea to initiate trade and commerce with the distant lands. Perhaps a determination was made that an appropriate port or combination of ports existed around Calicut between Ponnani and Pantalayani Kollam. The location that came into the crosshairs of the Zamroin juggernaut was of course Polanad, many times bigger than Eranad, but not well utilized or developed. As we know from the legends, two Eradis brothers known as Manikkan and Vikraman established the ruling family at Nediyirippu. Who led the efforts to take over Polanad is not clear, but we do know that the Nediyirippu Thamburans led the attack of Polanad. As they say, to accomplish their aims, the Eradis marched with their Nairs towards Panniankara and besieged the Porlatiri in his headquarters, resulting in a 50-year long war called Samoothiri - Polarthiri Wars (the reasoning as to why it stretched so long is interesting and deals with the way a war was fought in those days, we will cover it in another article). While we will try and cover a little bit of the highlights in succeeding paragraphs, the result was that the Eradis subsequently moved their capital to the coastal marshy lands and established the city of Kozhikode, then also called 'Thrivikramapuram'. It is also interesting that the original Calicut palace at that time was not the Vikramapuram palace that we described in the earlier article, but a palace near the beach. Perhaps that was where the Zamorin lived and met the Vasco Da Gama. Perhaps that is the palace attacked by Coutinho and covered in an earlier article.

We will get to all that presently, but let us start with the division of the Chera Empire by the Cheraman Perumal. According to The Keralolpatti KUP version translated by Gundert, the kingdom of Polanad had the following specialties, after its formation.

To the Porlathiri king was granted the good land of Polanadu and 10,000 nairs born to the ‘Human’ classification in 3 groups and 76 Tharas or settlements along with 5 guardians to oversee 3 kathams ( 30 miles) of land. (This is roughly from kallayi to Ealttur according to Krishna Iyer). From the Malur Kovilakom, 18 acharams (activities) had to be followed. They were Skins (?) I would assume war attires, Legs – I would assume marches, Kana – Institutions, karimbadam – right to wear a blanket, Ankham – Duels ( I wrote about this earlier…SEE…), Viruthi , Chungam, Ezha, Kozha – Taxes, tolls, duties and bribes, Ana, Vaal – Elephants and swords, Veerachangala – Hero’s chains, Viruthu – titles, vadyam – music, Niyamavedi, Nettipattam- ceremonial fireworks, forehead ornaments ( for elephants), Pata pidam, pata vidu – battle seats and homesteads, Para, Koothu – measuring vessel and folk dances, Munnil thali, Chirutha vili – sprinkling of cleansing water in front, announcements….these were the mandated customs of Polanad.

Now we come to the next chapter of the KUP – The times of the Thamburans…

A careful study of the old Malayalam text reveals many plots and subplots in the Nediyirippu attempt to annex Calicut. It starts with an explanation that the forerunner among the Nediyirippu is the Kunnala Konathiri or the lord of the hills and the seas. Interesting is the fact that the preceding section uses the phrase 10,000 Nairs but the next section mentions the Nediyirippu befriending of the Lokars of Polanad. So is it correct to assume as some historian’s state, that Lokars are the same as Nairs?

As it happened, the Zamorin met the local chiefs of Chavara and Puthukot at the Panniankara gate where he was encamped and obtained their oath of agreement by a handshake that they will support him in his attempt to annex Polanad. The purpose of course was to marshal their forces in battle (The KUP text lists the various chieftains and their forces). From then a battle of 48 years was fought against the Polanad 10,000 and the 5 closely knit (as though blood related) groups of the Polanad bodyguards. The battles continued, but the Nediyirippu was not victorious and so he decided to pray to the Porkalli Bhagavathy. The long prayer lasted six months (some say 41 days) after which the goddess appeared before the Zamorin, who requested that she accompany him. The goddess did, as an apparition behind a ceremonial door that was carried by the Nediyirippu since then into all battles (Now – that brings up a very interesting conjecture. Was this the door that Continuo tried to carry away – in order to nullify the power of the Nediyirippu in battle? Perhaps – unless he was misled to pick up the heavy main palace door, for the Nediyirippu was already away at battle and must have had the door with him). Another corollary states that as soon as the Nediyirippu saw the goddess he tried to touch her and so she disappeared. Hence he carried around the door of the temple. Yet another version states that the Nediyirippu (which one?) was the door keeper of the Cheraman Perumal, and so had an affinity to the old palace door which he carried around (kind of silly – right?).

The next plan was to win over the Polanad 10,000. Accordingly Unnikumaran Menon and Para Chankaran Nambi were sent to invite them for a meeting under the Perumplavil tree near the Ganapati idol. The Nediyirippu (note here that we are talking about both the Manikkan and Vikraman) vowed to support them in the future if they moved with him and would treat them as their own.

But that still did not provide the Nediyirippu the clinching hold. For that the favorite Menokki (Menon) of the Porlathiri chief was won over with promises of lordship over two regions and many other inducements. While all these discussions took care of the outside staff, a victory could be claimed only after the Nediyirippu entered the Nalukettu , palace or Kovilakom of the Porlathiri and fired three (kathanas) rounds of fireworks. How could the Porlathiri enter the fortified palace without any bloodshed?

The strategy was an interesting one. The Chalappuram Kovilakom senior mother or Chalappurathamma of the Porlathiri place who was aligned to the Nediyirippu met the senior lady of the Porlathiri household and offered her 4 elephants and 40,000 gold panams for advice. If she also helped in keeping the doors open at the opportune time, she would be made head of four lineages and made the 4th in line for the succession to the throne as part of the Zamorin family.
Soon an opportune event presented itself. The Porlathiri sent his nephews and other members of his family to the Kolathiris area while remaining at the Polur palace (Now I am confused, we hear of the Malur and the Polur kovilakoms – which is right? Some books also mention that the Porlathiri was ensconced at Kuttichira, but will get to clarifying it later). The Nediyirippu people had in the meantime set out to Calicut. Anyway the Porlathiri was at his pond, having his bath when the doors were opened and the Nediyirippu people got inside and set the three rounds or fireworks signifying the takeover of the Polur palace.

Again books differ in their storytelling after this event; they say he ran to the Kolathiri sanctuary from the pond. However the KUP provides the following detail. The Porlathiri did not complete his bath, but went indoors and had a leisurely indoor bath, and had his usual ample breakfast after which he summoned people from Kizhalur and Kurumbatur and cursed the traitors of Polur and Cherupatta (all this while the Zamorins forces were around the kovilakom??). Then he slunk away to Talassery with the Kizhalur nairs. Here again there is a conflict of words. The text mentions that the Porlathiri had asked his nephews and relatives to come to Kolathunad to meet his brother, and not to Calicut. So was he planning to abscond to Talassery himself even before all this happened? Perhaps….

The Porlathiri was pacified by the Kolathiri and granted a 30 mile square area to live and govern at Kadathanadu with 3,000 Nairs. At Calicut the Kizhineer Menokki was allowed to live in the Porlathiri palace and titled an Earand Menon. Later friction cropped up in the ranks and the Mangat achan was responsible for reconciling two factions within the defected.

I feel this stuff about the Chalappurathamma confusing to say the least. First of all it is not clear if she was the previous Portlathirs wife or the new Thamburan’s, it could very well have been the previous Thamburan’s wife. If the 10,000 and the chief minister had been won over, and the Nediyirippu men plus his Muslim help was ringed around the palace, what was the problem in getting into the house? Probably to end it all peacefully, but even that contradicts the issue for they had anyway been fighting a war for 48 years, so there had been ample bloodshed already. As it is, we know that the Porlathiri had sent his family off to Tellicherry in anticipation of what was to come. So he was prepared for the event. The door opening was perhaps symbolic. We also see that the Porlathiri did not even skip his breakfast, instead had an ample one at that. So when other historians talk of betrayal by the women of the house, take it with not a small but a big pinch of salt. It is just playing to the gallery as they say.

But do all other historians concur with the KUP? Logan and Innes do, in the Malabar Manual. Sreedhara Menon mentions that the Kottayam King and the Kolathiri sided with the Eradis. KVK Iyer confirms that it was the disadvantaged position of being cooped up in Eranad and being cut off from the profitable trade with the Arabs and Chinese that made the Zamorin want more from his landlocked interior position. He also provides an aside that the Porlathiri and the Kolathiri had marriage connections cementing their families whereas the Eradis the Kottayam family and Kurumbranad families were in alliance.

Krishna Iyer explains that after setting up base in Panniyankara, the Nediyirippu crossed the Kallayi River to Invade Polanad. It was eventually based on the advice of the Kottayam king that the Zamorin prayed to the Kottayam tutelary goddess at Porkali. About then that the Mangat Achan a feudatory of the Kottayam raja joined the Zamorin. He however does not mention the return after praying, with a door, but states instead that it was with a sword. Iyer then explains that the turnaround came when the new Porlathiri who had succeeded the older one at that time was unpopular and thus did not get help from the Kolathiri at the time of danger. All that the Zamroin wanted was a small space near the Kallayi port which the Porlathiri would not provide. The Zamorin threatened bloodshed, and the Mangat achan negotiated for a peaceful settlement. This was when the Porlathiri send his nephews and family to Kolathunad and remained by himself in the Kuttichira (or Polur?) palace. Once he found that he had no respite, he too fled to Tellicherry or Chirakkal. The Porlathiri 10,000 became the Zamorin’s personal guard and received many privileges. Iyer also clarifies that the Zamorin subsequently moved to Calicut, and brought along with him the door panel (Pallimaradi) from Eranad. Iyer now states that the palace or Siva temple at Kuttichira was then handed over to the Muslims by the Zamorin for they had supported him during all these endeavors. This became the Kuttichira mosque. If that was the case, that perhaps would be the oldest building of Calicut.

PCM Raja’s accounts are pretty interesting. He opines that the Porlathiri was requested to provide some land near the beach (perhaps for the Moplah traders). The Porlathiri scoffed – “you who profess antagonism with us will not even be given space equivalent to a needle hole. Thooshi kuthanulla idampolum vashiyil kazhiyunna ningalkku kittilla”. So he had a fight with the Zamorin’s forces who were lined up behind the Durga temple of Panninyankara. Porlathiri himself was based at the Kuttichira Siva temple. The war was lost and the Nambuthiri’s and Brahmins deserted the defiled temple. Subsequently the temple became a mosque. However even though the Polathiri ran away, his wife – the Chalapurathamma remained and she was treated honorably by the Zamorin and resettled. The Zamorin’s forces increased thus to 30,000. The Kallayi harbor was reinforced with a stone lining (Kallu Azhi thus became Kallayi). All this happened during 900-1000AD. The date of 948-950 is a possibility due to the fact that the Bhageerathi-Kolathiri wedding and the Nileswaram creation came about in that year.

A good amount of text detailing the Tali temple problems from the Nambis after the departure of the Porlathiri is provided in some of the texts, but it would be more appropriate to cover it separately. This episode also covers the relationship between the girl from the Zamorins house (Nilakeshini or Bhageerathi) and the boy from Kolathiri living at Kannivakay. A brief introduction to this episode had already been provided in the Revathi pattathanam article.

Balakrishna Kurup provides a slightly different explanation. According to his opinion, the Zamorin first entrenched himself at Beypore and Chalium and built forts there with the help of the Arab traders and Moplahs. Then he settled near the chullikad allocated to him, near Calicut. Next he incited the Moplahs of Kuttichira to harass the Porlathiri at his residence there. The Kuruthedathu Nambuthiris left the Porlathiri due to this (Kurup cites Padmanabha Menon’s writings in support). Kurup continues with the comments that many of them converted to Islam (Were they the Koyas of Malabar?) at that time and were aligned under the Shabander koya. The Porlathiri palace became the Juma’ath mosque. The Zamorin built a palace close to it and this was where he met the Vasco Da Gama and this was the palace that Coutinho tried to destroy. This Zamorin’s palace became the Muchundi mosque later. Later the fine Mishqual mosque was built in the same lines.

Perhaps with all this background, if you look at the pictures of these mosques and the picture of the Zamorin’s palace at Vikramapuram (you can notice the similarity), you can get a good idea how the major buildings of that time looked like.

Well, according to Kurup, the Porlathiri was on the run, first moving to his house in Panniyankara and then to Polur where the Chalapurathamma betrayal supposedly took place. Now the Porlathiri has two choices, either to live under the suzerainty of the Zamorin or leave in exile. He chose the latter.

PCM Raja now explains that the chullikad we talked about earlier was actually granted to the Nediyirippu Thamburan by the Perumal, so the war actually started when the Porlathiri tried to destroy it to spite the Eranad family. Even though the Polatiri was dispossessed, the 10,000 nairs of the Polathiri later formed the Zamorin’s own elite bodyguard.

Now a quick update on where the Porlathiri resettled. They went to Kadattanad. Quoting here from the various treaties listed by Logan….

The "Bavnor (lit. Valunnavar, ruler) of Badagara" herein mentioned was the hereditary governor of Kadattanad. The family is traditionally descended from the Porlattiri family of Polanad, the country lying round Calicut. It is said that when the Zamorin dispossessed them of Polanad they fled northwards into the Kolattiri domains. The Kolattiri Tekkalankur (Southern Regent of Kolattanad), who resided at Putuppattanam nearly opposite Kottakkal on the Kottai river, espoused one of the women and gave to his son by her the governorship of Kadattanad, i.e., the southern portion of the Kolattiri dominions lying between the Mahe river on the north and the kotta river on the south. The family thus founded has two kovilagams, viz., Ayyanjeri and Edavalatta and the eldest female of the two branches is still theoretically the head of the house. The two eldest males also hold athanam rank. The fact that Kadattanad belonged to the Kolattiri dominions is specifically alluded to in I—LXVI, and the family is therein mentioned as being of the Adiyodi caste. The eldest male certainly still assumes the title of Porlattiri, and at one time he claimed the high sounding title of "Lord of the sea."


Kerala Ulpatti – Gundert version
Zamorins of Calicut – KV Krishna Iyer
Malabar Manual – Logan, Innes
Samoothirnaad – NM Nampoothiri
Samoothirimaar – PCM raja
History of Kerala – KV Krishna Iyer
Kozhikodinte charithram – Balakrishna Kurup
Chronological history of Kerala – C Ramachandran
Collection of Treaties – Logan

Some explanations on the Symbolic Door

1. NM Nampoothiri explains -
Ancestors of Zamorins conquered the Calicut port and occupied the Valayanattu kaavu and established a planned port city. It is proven that there existed an irregular port at Calicut .It belonged to the Porlathiri according to tradition. Zamorins were Eralanattu Taiyavar during Kulasekhara period. Their ancestral village was Nediyiruppu in Kondotty, a remote internal area of Malappuram District. They moved to Valayanattu Kaavu area for improving maritime trade. They adopted the deity of Valayanatu kaavu as their principal deity. During their royal visits it was customary to take a wooden door by name Palli maaraati in front of the Royal procession .This piece of wooden door is believed to be the abode of the deity.( Palli is a honorific prefix to maaraati. MaaRaatuka in this context seems to mean ‘make abode or hide’. It means that there was a sacred grove as a nodal point).

2. Chespeak however provides yet another ‘door’ explanation..
Quoting Chespeak - For example, the arrival of Samuthiri to the north from his original seat of Nediyirippu near Kondotty is described in the chronicle. It says the conspiracy to open the local ruler Porlathiri's gates from within to allow entry for the intruder Samuthiri was hatched at the vathilmatom, the door place, of this temple which was the only public place available in the region at that time. And of course the conspirators lost no time to put their plans into practice, thus helping the inauguration of the long reign of Zamorins in Kozhikode…As the Samuthiri shifted his seat to Kozhikode and launched forth his rule, one of the key officials in his establishment was known as Pallimaradi, or the Eradi -official- in charge of guarding royal doors. Who could say the Samuthiri did not learn his lessons from history?

3. BM John in his thesis on Aliraja of cannanore, section The Rajas of Kolathunadu however explains
The Zamorin’s, rulers of the nearby Calicut, carried pallimaradi (door panel draped in silk) in front of their army marching against Vellattiri, the rival ruler, because it visualized the presence of goddess ‘Tirumandhamkunnu Bhagavati’, which assured their victory over the enemy.

Maps – Courtesy C Ramachandran

The Zamorin’s Palace - Calicut

Posted by Maddy

The original Calicut Vikramapuram palace is no more to be seen, nor are the palace grounds or other structures. The Zamorin’s family after the destruction of the palace post Hyder’s arrival and the then Zamorin’s immolation, moved to distant Southerly parts of Kerala, and the land has since then been sold off to house businesses and other institutions such as the commonwealth Trust after they came back. I had written about the story of the Zamorin’s death some months ago.

But then I have always wondered about the main palace, the kovilakom or the fortress as writers chose to term it. Of course there were many other related structures around it or close to it like the other major kovilakoms, the treasury, the horse stables, the tank (which still remains) and so on, but let us for now start with the palace, a.k.a. Vikramapuram palace at Kottapuram.

Where would it have been? Many of you would jump to the answer; it was adjoining the Mananchira area of Calicut. Well, that is correct. But how many of you know what it looked like and how big it was? I provided some clues in earlier articles, especially in the ones covering the Portuguese visits such as Vasco Da Gama’s audience with the Zamorin, the sketches of the visit and so on. Nevertheless, let us take a look. Calicut’s skyline was dotted with some fine houses with tiled roofs but mostly homesteads with hay thatched roofs as you can see in the early sketches (1572).

Coming to the place where the Zamorin lived, you reach to the Manachira area. Of course we all know that the Manavan chira was the pond used by the palace for water and for various other purposes. In front of the pond, if you draw a square of 40 acres which would correspond to 1320’x1320’, you would cover the four walls of the palace grounds. It is not known when the palace was built, but mentions from the 15th century indicate a royal palace existed in those environs. The Eastern corner is roughly the GH road; the western side adjoins the KP Kesava Menon Rd, the Southern side somewhat beyond the Court road (close to the Palayam stand) and the Northern side just adjacent to the Manachira pond. The royal procession street stretched from the court road westwards. Adjoining the palace were the various Kovilakoms (denoted by their situation with respect to the Tali temple) such as the Padinjare, Kizkahkke, Ambadi, etc and also the minister’s homestead. After the establishment of supremacy by the Zamorin over the Polathiri, the first of the buildings constructed near the Tali temple was the Ambadi Kovilakom. Later the Kizhake and Puthiya kovilakom were built and also the Poonthanam palace. Somewhere in the 15th century the main Vikramapuram palace and its fortifications with low walls were built as the riches came in.
According to Krishna Iyer, the Vikramapuram palace stood a furlong North of Ambadi kovilakom, at Kottapuram, separated from it by an extensive garden, registered in the revenue records as Punthottam. The Kizhakke kovilakom came up at Chintavilappu, North of Zamorin’s college, then came the Puthiya kovilakom (replacing the old Polathiri palace), west of the Tali tank. Then came the Chalappuram (Erampiri) kovilakom and later after the much talked about liaison of the Zamorin princess with the Kolathiri prince (see STORY ) occurred the establishment of the Nileswaram Kovilakom. Around 11704, there were no heirs, the planned adoption from Tekkankur south of Cochin did not happen and the Nileswaram adoptions took place. The girls came to the Kizhakke and Putiya kovilakom. However a third sister chose not to remain in Neeleswaram and came down to Calicut, on her own. The Padinjare kovilakom was created for her. After the Mysore invasions and the accession of the British, the exiles came back, the Padinjare kovilakom was resituated at Mankavu, the Putiya kovilakom at Tiruvannur and the Kizhakke kovilakom at Kottakkal or Venkatakotta ( see the Vencaticota ola story) .

The palace was finally consigned to flames after close to three centuries by a desperate Zamorin who had no way of standing up to the Mysore Sultan. The later Zamorins never rebuilt the Vikramapuram palace, perhaps for financial reasons, perhaps due to the ill luck resulting from an untimely and ill-fated death in the location. Instead they lived in the Tiruvacchira (Meenchanda) residence or their respective maternal kovilakoms. What we can thus summarize is that the palace built in the 15th century lasted for roughly three centuries, till Hyder Ali chose to mess around with Malabar and the palace was burnt down in April 1766. Let us read extracts from what certain important visitors stated about the area.

Abdur Razak 1442
When I obtained my audience of this prince, the hall was filled with two or three thousand Hindus, who wore the costume above described; the principal personages amongst the Mussulmauns were also present. After they had made me take a seat, the letter of his majesty, the happy Khakan, was read, and they caused to pass in procession before the throne, the horse, the pelisse, the garment of cloth of gold, and the cap to be worn at the ceremony of Nauruz.

Vasco Da Gama 1498
Vasco de Gama and his retinue were conducted to the palace of the Zamorin. It was built of mud, but was pleasantly situated amidst trees and gardens…..

Joseph the Indian 1501
The Zamorin had a huge palace which housed 7000 men. 300 of them guarded the palace at night by taking rounds as it was not fortified. In the Zamorin’s palace there are four halls, one each for Hindus, Mohammedans, Jews & Christians.

Varthema 1505
The palace of the king is about a mile in circumference. The walls are low, as I have mentioned above, with very beautiful divisions of wood, with devils carved in relief. The floor of the house is all adorned with cow dung. The said house is worth two hundred ducats or thereabouts. I now saw the reason why they could not dig foundations, on account of the water, which is close to them.

Francois Pyrard of Laval 1607
His principal seat is at Calecut, where he hath a very handsome and well-built palace, all enclosed with good walls and moats, with drawbridge to the gates, and water all around in the moats. A large number of soldiers day and night guard the gates, which are four in number. They admit no one unless he is well known, nor such a one without questioning him, and conducting him or having him conducted to the part of the interior whither he desires to proceed. If he wishes to speak with the king, he is passed from one guard to another until he arrives at the door of the apartments where is stationed what you might call the bodyguard, and these gain him speech of the king. I have said there are four gates at the four great entrances; but before reaching the apartments of the king you have to pass three gates on each avenue, and at all points soldiers are on guard, without counting those at the doors of the king's apartments. Besides all these guards, there is a strong body in the middle of the palace, in a covered place built expressly for the purpose, and all the other guards take their orders from this one. Overhead is a great bell, which only sounds for the assembling of men-at-arms at the palace, and about the king when he hath need of them. At all the gates of the palace there are spaces with closed barriers and palisades round about, for fear lest the crowd should approach the gates. Outside these barriers, and near the gates, are men whose only duty it is to give fresh water to all the thirsty that ask it; and when anyone wants a drink, whatever his quality or religion, they give it him in the manner described.

There are plenty of wells in the country districts, and even at the king's palace; but it is not permitted to drink at them, for they are guarded, and only certain priests may draw water there for their superstitious observances. All the avenues of the palace are marvelously beautiful and delightful. All the roads are straight, like pall-mall alleys, and relieved on both sides by high terraces and palisades covered with trees of all sorts, among others, many of the trees they call tristes, of which they make saffron. Throughout all the country their roads are of this fashion, or nearly so.

The prisons are all at the king's palace; and the Malabars and all manner of foreigners are subject to the jurisdiction of the Nair kings, albeit one hears of but few lawsuits among them.

Between the town and the palace is about a quarter of a league, the road being as described, with fine mansions on either side; in front of the gate of the palace is a great square, where the market is held every day in the morning of all kinds of merchandise of the country, but not foreign. It is opened at seven o'clock, and one of the king's officers has the duty of sounding a bell to warn the king's servants and purveyors to go buy what is necessary for his house, for none would dare buy anything ere the king's household was supplied. That done, the bell is sounded a second time to call the merchants; but before the merchants enter, the tax farmers take their dues off even the smallest of the goods. Before the king's officers have taken what is due to them, no one would dare to go near or touch any goods, least of all anything eatable. Even after that, unless they be Bramenis or Nairs, they would not dare so much as touch any goods that are for sale ere a price has been made, and then they are obliged to take them. Care has to be taken also in going through the market, where all those that sell are seated, not to touch either their persons or their goods, unless they be of the same caste and religion. This market lasts only about three hours or more, and they come from all parts of the town and elsewhere to buy, in order afterwards to sell at the great market or Bajar, which is held every day and all day. After ten o'clock you see no one in the market near the palace, and everyone goes about freely. At that place, too, besides the shops and warehouses of particular trades, there are three or four large spaces for the people, wherein to bargain and sell their goods. All these houses and shops are used solely to hold the merchandise, yet throughout all the rest of the town there are great and rich merchants, who never come to this Bajar, having their own warehouses full of goods, which they sell not by retail, but wholesale.

Near this large square where the market is held is a large building where the king's money is struck, which is current on all the Malabar Coast. This consists of gold pieces with his effigy on one side and a pagoda or idol on the other.

But to return to the king's palace: it is a very large enclosure, and contains many blocks of houses, all detached and well built, of many stories and galleries, with flower-beds, and orchards, tanks, fish-ponds, and canals, all fitted and paved with stone, and constructed on all sides of stone steps leading to the bottom. Add to these many springs and fountains, whose water is cold and excellent to drink. In the palace, too, is a magazine or arsenal, full of arms, cannon, powder, and munitions of war. But the great and chief arsenal of the king is at Panany, for that is his chief war town.

Hard by there is a block of buildings allotted to the secretary and clerk to the king, for keeping all the registers. The order and system is most admirable herein, and I have oft-times wondered to see the great number of men with no other duty or work all day but writing and registering. These posts are of much honour; the clerks all reside in the palace, but in different apartments, and they have different duties. Some make entry of all goods arriving for the king; others, the dues and taxes paid day by day; others, the expenditure of the king's household; others, the most notable incidents of each day, both what happens at court and in the rest of the kingdom; in short, all news, for he has everything registered; and each clerk has his separate room. They keep also a register of all strangers who come there, taking their names and nationalities, the time of their arrival, and the business that has brought them, and so they did with us. It is a wondrous thing to observe their number and the perfect order that exists among them, and how fast they write on their palm-leaves, as described: these are of the length and breadth of the leaves of coco-trees, but thicker and stiffer. They make of them a kind of book, by means of holes in the thicker ends of the leaves, through which they pass a fillet, and thus bind together as many as are required.

The king hath the like writers in all towns, ports, harbours, and frontier passages of his kingdom, who render account to those of the palace, all being well organised and in obedience one to another, each having his proper superior. Throughout the whole Malabar coast there is the same manner of writing and the same ordering thereof.

Pond - After that he straightway rubs his body all over with odoriferous oil; this lasts about an hour, and then he goes to bathe in one of the ponds within the palace closeless he be of their religion, caste, and quality. When he comes forth of his bath he most often goes to the temple, and thence to his food in another palace within the same enclosure, which is a part of the grand palace, devoted entirely to that purpose. While he takes his repast he sits upon a piece of well-polished wood, and eats off balsam leaves, like the other Bramenis. After his dinner he despatches his business, and then changes his apartment, going to another prepared for him to receive all comers; and it is not that wherein he sleeps, takes his leisure, or eats. Here he is, as it were, exposed to public view, and if any would speak with him he may; if no affairs present themselves, he passes the time with his lords, and is much amused with buffoons and mountebanks, whereof he has always a goodly number. The Nair kings and lords often play a game of chance, which is a kind of chess, played with dice. He takes pleasure also in seeing the Nairs fence with one another with sword and buckler, whereat they sometimes get wounded; others, again, use pikes.

As for the queen, she lives in a separate palace, yet within the same enclosure as the great palace. She never eats with the king, and is seen but rarely, and then only at the windows and galleries of her palace or of the king's, whither she frequently proceeds by a gallery which communicates between the two, and there they see each other in private. She bathes in the same manner and with the same ceremony as the king, and in the same pond; but they cannot see each other, for they each have their own end of the pond with a space covered in. She has ordinarily her ladies about her, who pass the time for her. The pond where they bathe is well enclosed and locked, and none but the king and queen do bathe there; there is a gallery whereby the queen descends on her side, and another for the king on his side. The ladies who are present to wash the queen do not enter the water, but remain in the closets and pavilions that are upon the pond, where the oiling, drying, and perfuming is done; and these ladies use all the same artifice and ceremony towards her as the lords use towards the king. The queen is of the Brameny race as well as he. She has her own Pagode, where she betakes herself with her ladies, then to her own apartments to take her food, and so on, as with the king. Only great ladies are about her person, and she has the pavements or boards, and the walls and passages where she goes, cleaned with this cow-dung of which I have spoken. I must not forget to mention, in passing, and as the opportunity arises, the great honour rendered by these people to cows, however low-bred, filthy, and all covered with dirt and dung they may be. They are allowed to enter the king's palace, and whithersoever their way leads, without anyone disputing their passage; even the king himself………….

Delle Valle 1624
The first and principal gate of the Palace opens upon a little Piazza, which is beset with certain very great trees affording a delightful shade. I saw no Guard before it; it was great and open ; but before it was a row of Balusters, about four or five palms from the ground, which served to keep out not only Horses and other Animals (this contradicts the comment of Pyrard Laval) but also Men upon occasion. In the middle was a little flight of Stairs, outside the Gate, leading into it and another within on the other side. Yet, I believe, both the Stairs and the Balusters are movable, because 'tis likely that when the King comes forth the Gate is quite open; otherwise it would not be handsome, but this is only my conjecture. We enter'd this Gate, ascending the Stairs above the Rails, where we were met by the Messenger whom the above-said person had sent to the King and who again invited us into the Palace by the King's Order. Within the Gate we found a great Court, of a long form, without any just and proportionate figure of Architecture; on the sides were many lodgings in several places, and in the middle were planted divers great Trees for shade. The King's chief apartment, and (as I believe by what I shall mention hereafter) where his Women were, was at the end of the Court, opposite to the left side of the Entrance. The Edifice, in comparison of ours, was of little consideration; but, according to their mode, both for greatness and appearance capable of a Royal Family. It had a covered porch, as all their structures have, and within that was a door of no great largeness leading into the House…………….

Nor was it long before an Order came from the King for us to enter, and accordingly we were introduced into that second Gate ; and passing by a close room like a chamber, (in which I saw the Image of Brahma on his Peacock and other Idolets) we enter'd into a little open Court, surrounded with two rows of narrow and low Cloysters, to wit one level with the ground and the other somewhat higher. The pavement of the porch was also something raised above the plane of the Court, so much as might serve for a man to sit after our manner.

The second thing that made me laugh was that, when the King enter'd into the little Court, the door, whereat he and we had enter'd before, was immediately made fast with an Iron Bar, people also standing continually to guard it; and so likewise when anyone came in, or was sent out by the King, it was 'presently shut with diligence.

Many others made passing mentions of the palace, but after 1766 it was no more to be seen. Hamilton – Sea captain 1607 states that the palace is built of stone and there is some faint resemblance of Grandeur to be seen about his Court. K Balakrishna Kururp opines that the Gama perhaps met the Zamorin at the Kuttichira palace ( which later became a mosque) . The details of the dismantling and sale of the property were covered by Prof Raghava Varier and some details can be gleaned from this article.

PCM Raja in his book also provides an interesting insight to the Mananchira tank. He comments that the seashore some 1000 years ago was closer to the locale. The Zamorin later had the tank called Manavedan chira dug and finished with eight sides. This later became Mananchira or Manavancheri chira. He also clarifies that there were many kovilakoms in the area, a major palace at Ponnai, another at Kottakkal and of course many more around Malabar where the Zamorin lived during his field trips.

And with all that background, let us summarize how the palace would have looked.

The palace grounds were enclosed by low walls with wooden inlays, there were perhaps some moats around the walls (I doubt it), that the walls had four gates and were well guarded. The palace was in the middle and the courtyard housed other buildings such as the women’s quarters, the main meeting halls etc. the roads within were lined with tress, ponds and so on, and some of the buildings were multistoried with tiled roofs. There were bathing ponds within the palace and outside, the Manachira tank provided water supply to the large numbers of people employed. The manachira grounds hosted competitions and bazaars often. Close by was the Tali temple, the mint and the stables.

Now you may want to look at a plan of the grounds as they existed. Well, we do have one, thanks to Pietro Delle Valle. See images below.
And finally – how would the palace have looked like? It took me a lot of effort to get my hands on this image dated 1604, courtesy the VOC & Steven Van der Hagen, Atlas of Mutual Heritage. The complete woodcut shows a ridiculous picture of a very muscular Zamorin in a grass skirt.


The travels of Ibn Batuta – HAR Gibb
Zamorins of Calicut – KV Krishna Iyer
Malabar studies – NM Nampoothiri
Calicut History – K Balakrishna Kurup
Samoothirmaar- PCM Raja
India In the eyes of Europe – Donald F lach
The voyage of Francois Pyrard of Laval
The travels of Pietro Della Valle
Durate Barbosa travels – ML Dames

Pics – Various web sources, acknowledged with thanks. Google for Google maps and Atlas of mutual heritage for the palace picture.