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The Cholas, the Zamorin, and the Perumal’s

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The Chola interregnum 1036-54 – A discussion

One of the popular sources referred to when it comes to the history of the Zamorins of Calicut is the seminal work by KV Krishna Ayyar titled - Zamorins of Calicut (From the earliest times down to AD 1806).  The version available to peruse is the 1938 publication. This was preceded by a concise version - A history of the Zamorins of Calicut Part 1 - (From the earliest times down to A.D. 1498) published in 1929. A latter paper titled – A short sketch of the second dynasty of the Zamorins of Malabar (1742-1774) provided details of the second lineage in the family. In 1965, Ayyar published the limited edition - A history of Kerala and followed it up in 1966 with - A short history of Kerala as well as a short article Calicut under the Zamorins in the Calicut Souvenir 1966. One of the more recent articles is the 1976 – Importance of the Zamorins of Calicut. Over time where he revised some aspects of the original 1938 monograph and made even more revisions in the 60’s and proposed a very interesting hypothesis in the 1976 paper about the Chola presence in Calicut.

Volkart Brothers – The Swiss connection

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Cochin & Tellicherry, through the eyes of AF Ammann

Kayalinarike…goes the old Mehaboob song written by Meppalli Balan, brought to life a decade ago by the sonorous Shahbaz Aman. The song takes you through the Kochi of the 50s and tells you about the many companies that had set up shop at the bustling Cochin (Fort Kochi) port and the travails of a jobless man. Calicut had lost its sheen as the medieval port many a decade ago, and Cochin had taken over. A new harbor had been constructed and had become home to liners, cargo ships, and other marine craft. Mehaboob goes on to mention Pierce Leslie, Aspinwall, AV Thomas.…and of course Volkart. We had discussed Perce Leslie in the past, so now it is time to study the checkered story of Volkart in Cochin, Calicut, and Tellicherry. I was a bit unsure when I started the research, wondering if it could be interesting, but trust me, it is.

Conceição – Our new book

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 The Sad Story of the Conceição – Published by the Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT)

Sometimes I wonder at the surprising turns that life takes. I was researching for material to add meat to the article that I was preparing on Deigo Garcia and chanced upon a site related to the Chagos Archipelago, where I found an old copy of ‘Chagos News’. In there, I did not find much on Diego Garcia as such, but I chanced on an article by Nigel Wenban-Smith, on the sinking of an India-bound Portuguese Nau called Conceição (Conception) in 1555. Intrigued, I read it up and when I saw that it was about a shipwreck among those islands, I became very interested, desiring to get to the bottom of the story. This was in my wheelhouse, so to say, and melded with the many Portuguese studies I had made, while at the same time being on the fringes of the Diego Garcia research. I obtained a copy of the survivor Rangel’s account of the shipwreck in Portuguese, but an online translation did not prove to be very helpful.

The Kalpathi furor

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Untouchability, caste rigors, and a turbulent period at Palghat, Knapp & Sir CP

Villages in Palghat followed caste-based rules as well as the prescribed segregation strictly during the pre-independence period, and the caste rigors felt across the whole region exasperated reformists within and outside the state, especially after Vivekananda termed the state akin to a lunatic asylum. It is a vast and complex subject and there are many books and papers which go into it in great detail, but we are going now to the Kalpathi Agraharams which were inhabited by Tamil Brahmins (Pattar), where during the period 1924-27, several disturbances upset routine life and peace in the area. The conflict between Ezhavas and the Paradesi Brahmins became a media furor and was hotly debated in the Madras legislative council. This then is a summary of events as they happened.

The heart of Montrose

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 Madurai’s peculiar connection to Scotland, Logarithms, Colin Mackenzie, and a hero’s heart

Madurai has a great cultural history, and for a long time was Tamil Nadu’s cultural capital, and the ‘Toonga Nagaram, the city that never slept’. It was one of those cities which endured so many rulers and changes, notably by the Kalabhras, the Pandyas, the Cholas, the Tughlaq Sultanate, the Vijayanagar Rayars, the Telugu Nayaks, the Nawab of Arcot and Chanda Saheb, the British East India Company and finally the British Raj. Most would recall it as a Nayak-era temple town on the banks of the Vaigai river, or as a pilgrimage town, home to the magnificent Madurai Meenakshi temple and the Tirumala Naikar temple.

Mackenzie Manuscripts – Malabar and Travancore collections – Part 1

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Colin Mackenzie’s assistants involved with Malabar & Travancore 

In the previous article about Montrose’s heart and its connection to Napierian logarithms, we read that Colin Mackenzie had succeeded in getting a commission with the EIC and had proceeded to Madurai. With Ms. Hester Johnston’s help, we understood that he had established contact with the learned Brahmins of Madurai. But did he find the link between Napier and Hindu Mathematics? Sadly, no! He seems to have lost interest in the subject or may have been pulled into more important work by the EIC such as soldiering and surveying the large tracts of land, which the EIC had acquired in India by that time. This apolitical man was thence, set to devoting his entire life into studying, surveying and collecting manuscripts as well as inscriptions from the various South Indian towns, followed by a short administrative life in Calcutta.

The Zamorin’s seat at Ponnani

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At the Thrikkavil Kovilakom

While most people associate the Zamorin mainly with Calicut, avid historians opine that Ponnani was a temporary military capital of the Zamorin during the medieval years, as Calicut remained his political and business capital. Ponnani was the location where he marshaled his cavalry resources (the 50-60,000 Nair pada or foot soldiers as and when required and the armory) and went on to fight his foes. In later years it became the naval capital of the Zamorin and the stronghold of the Marakkar captains. But a deeper study reveals that it was a more permanent headquarters and affirms that the Zamorin stayed mainly at Ponnani between the 16th to 18th centuries, visiting Calicut sporadically for ceremonious occasions. Let’s now try to find out the underlying reasons.

The Konkani’s of Cochin

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A look at the community’s history (with particular reference to the GSB)

All of us have had some interaction with a GSB (Goud Saraswat Brahmin) Konkani, be it in college or at the workplace, and for people in Cochin, the community which lives there and their slightly different customs and their singsong intonation of the Malayalam language. You will remember a Pai, a Bhat, a Rao, a Kamath, a Prabhu, a Shenoy, etc. all recall the Shenoy’s theatre, and you may have seen Mammooty - Dileep’s movie on the community and the Dosa song from Kamath & Kamath. But this little article will take you back a bit and retrace their arrival in Cochin and see the ups and downs this community, which was persecuted, faced along the way.

The Devil of Calicut - A Misconception

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Varthema in Calicut

In Christian evangelical discussions concerning the advent of the devil, there is frequent mention of the so-called ‘Calicut Devil’, and when I recently came across it, I decided to check a little deeper into what the discussion was all about. As one could imagine, it was something that came out due to a complete lack of understanding of the alien culture which the Portuguese chanced on after Vasco Da Gama landed in Calicut and opened the floodgates to an era of discovery and inventions, as the Europeans called it. The research led me to a lot of things I did not know and helped me put to rest the confusion created by Varthema, the Italian who was led by the Zamorin into a little temple within the precincts of the old palace at Calicut, in 1505.

Ibn Battuta, the Tangerine

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Ibn Battuta’s Rihala – A product of oral history

I have realized along the way, after some 35 years of global travel that – you can never understand an Arab sitting and studying books and power points in Stuttgart, nor can you understand an Afghan by sitting in Zurich. Ibn Battuta’s accomplishments can never be surpassed by any other, for such was the period and the difficulties he faced, going out into the yonder which little to guide him, be it detailed maps, dependable transportation, or finance. How he managed it is a wonder, and like many researchers, one has to admire his sheer grit and personality, for he managed the 70,000-odd miles of travel (by boat, on foot, horse, camel, donkeys, and palanquins), always deploying a charming personality and guile, layered with a thick coat of diplomacy and faith. Easily getting into and out of problems, and facing the adversities of weather, this wonderful person spent 30 years on the road.

Hiranyagarbha – Elevation of the Royal caste

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When royals were reborn from the golden womb

The sacrifices like Hiranyagarbha which had lost relevance in Northern India, remained in vogue for a longer time in the South, if only to Brahmaṇize the political powers of the area. Some royal families of the south are known to have continued with the Hiranyagarbha sacrifice to claim origin from the Hiranya Yoni. It was quite common in Venad and one can see mentions of it being practiced by the rulers of the kingdom of Travancore. It allowed them to sit and eat with Brahmins and chant the Gayatri, and rub shoulders with the exalted top tier. Manu Pillai had some time ago, penned a couple of humorous articles on this subject, one related to the Nayaks and another connected to Marthanda Varma.

The Panniyur Sukapuram conflict– The Kurmatsaram

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 A backdrop to the Zamorin’s Tirunavaya conquest 

The Zamorin annexed Tirunavaya, followed by the Valluvanad and Vettam territories, and with this the chasm between the two feuding dynasties of Perumbadappu and Nediyirippu, widened, fracturing the peaceful life in medieval Central and South Malabar, as well as the territories between Cochin and S Malabar. The catalyst to the move by the Zamorin was the precipitation of the age-old conflict between the two Namboothiri village communities near Tirunavaya, namely Panniyur and Chokiram (Chovur, Chowaram, etc symbolizing Sivapuram i.e., today’s Sukapuram) located to the south of the Nila River or the Bharatapuzha.