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The Samiri and Taj-al Din at Dhofar

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Continuing with the Cheraman Perumal myths…

The Keralolpathi, the Zainuddin Makkhdum’s call for a jihad against the accursed Franks, the Fath ul mubiyn, they all mention of a King from the Hind who traveled to Mecca and died on the way back, at Dhofar. We talked earlier about the Cheraman Perumal legends, the Perumal and the pickle and so on, but with additional information at hand, I would like to revisit the topic and also cover the interconnected story of the al-Samiri and Taj-al din tomb’s at Dhofar in Oman.

In an area called Dhofar is buried a person, a king actually who has been venerated over centuries by the locals there. His name is purported to be Abdul Rahiman Samiri. An inscription explained that this person reached Dhofar in 212 and died there in 216 (821-831 AD). Now comes the question, who could this gent be? He has been connected to the Cheraman Perumal who converted and went to Mecca and also one of the earlier Zamorins of Calicut. We do know that the Samuthiripad or Samoothiri, a term which morphed to Samorin or Zamorin dates to the 13th century. During the 821 period or even later to 814 as Logan implies, we had a Eranadu Utyavar, not a Zamorin. But legends mention that this was a king from Malabar. Let’s try to investigate a bit to try and find out if we can get to the bottom of this myth.

First let’s take a relook at the Cheraman Perumal epoch. A detailed analysis by the eminent historian MGS Narayanan reveals that the confusion is caused by the usage of a generic name Cheraman Perumal. What he concludes is that Rama Kulashekara Perumal was the one who gifted the royal sword and the area with just a thicket of bushes, namely Koilkode to the Nediyirippu or Ernad Utayvar, following their protracted fight with the Pandi Raja Jatavarman who had tried to invade his territory. It was in this battle that the two Ernad youths Manichan and Vikraman lent heroic support and staved off defeat. All this is now considered to have happened around 1122 AD or a little beyond. At this point of time, Rama Kulashekara abdicates and travels to Mecca. Malik Dinar arrives and the first ten mosques of Malabar are constructed. The inscription at the Madayi mosque is dated to 1124 AD (518H) and this thus fits into the timeline and coincides with the tenures of the other Rajas (Tulunad, Kolathunad, Venad) mentioned in the Keralolpathi.

Other pointers appear to confirm the Perumal story, especially the aspect relating to the Perumal’s wrongful execution of the Padamel Nayar after being misled by his queen. As it appears, the Perumal appealed to various Sastri’s after realizing his mistake and they confirm to him that there is no possibility for any kind of expiation, other than leaving his religious faith and seeking refuge elsewhere. This is how and why he excommunicated himself and abdicated, embraced Islam and decided to travel to Mecca. With that event, the Chera empire collapsed, Brahminical oligarchy and Swaroopams emerged, Islam arrived in Malabar and the Perumal slipped away. The Keralolpathi, biased toward the Namputhiri’s states that the Perumal besieged with guilt and anxiety to please the Brahmins, faced with dissenting or irate feudatories, abdicated and handed overall control to the feudatories who finally became independent. So, we can now surmise that it was potentially a Chera Perumal Ravi Kulashekara who abdicated and sailed away.

Per the Keralolpathi English translation, the story goes thus. Listen to the antiquary related by the Muslims: Cheraman Perumal secretly embarked in a ship from Kodungallur Port; reaching the anchorage at Koilandi Kollam, he stayed for a day; the next day, reached Dharmapattanam, and stayed three days, and entrusted the protection of the palace there to the Tamutiri; embarking again, he had to face attacks from several pirates from Kodungallur and other places, and fight many battles; he managed to land at the harbour at Sehar Muklah. At that time, Muhammad Nabi was staying at Jiddah; Perumal met the Prophet there, got converted, and was renamed Tajuddin. He married Rajiyath, the sister of Malik Habib ud din, the king of Arabia, and stayed for 5 years. The above said king, his 15 children, and the Perumal went to Sehar Muklah, and had constructed a big palace and mosque there. While residing at peace there, and preparing to return to Malayalam in order to spread the religion, he was rendered ill with the cold disease (tuberculosis?) He despatched his sons with letters to the kings of Malayalam, and died. He was buried in the mosque that he himself had constructed. The king took the letters and the seal of the Perumal, and embarking in two ships with his wives and children, sailed off; one of the ships arrived at the anchorage off Madhura. The fourth son, Takayuddin and other landed, and settled down, after constructing a mosque. The other ship reached Kodungallur, and with the permission of the king, a mosque was constructed. Muhammad became the Quadi and stayed there….

Taj-Al- DIn’s story (Translation extracts acknowledgment: Quissa Shakravarti Farmad – Scott Kugle, Roxani Eleni Margariti)

The Quissa Shakravarti Farmad (Poem or Kissa on the Cheraman Perumal) in the British Library has been studied by a number of scholars and the Part 3 generally reads as follows. Qissat Shakarwati represents a tradition that has been popular among the Mapillas and it figures prominently in their folk poetry.

The ruler sailed from the aforementioned port and arrived at the port of Fandarayna and stayed there for one day and one night. Then they sailed from there to the port of Darmafattan and stayed there for three days. From there they headed to Shiḥr. On the high seas, they spied the boats of pirates that were circling their ship. The pirates hurled stones and spewed Greek fire and shot arrows, but, by the blessing of the Prophet, none of these struck their bodies. All the soldiers who were protecting the ship said to one another, “Didn’t you see a host of people all around our ship with radiant faces and white robes, who pointed with the sleeves of their robes toward the pirates, who were broken up and routed and sunk, and they began to quarrel and fight among themselves? When they were made victorious over the pirates, they were overjoyed and continued their journey. They arrived at their chosen port of Shiḥr and disembarked.

They stayed there for ten days. They heard that the Prophet was at Jeddah, near Mecca. So, the ruler and his companions joined a caravan of merchants. When they arrived near Jeddah, the Prophet had already heard news of their coming and went out with his Companions to greet them……….

Then the Prophet asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “I am Shakarwatī Farmāḍ.” At that moment, the Prophet gave him a new name and called the ruler Tāj al-Dīn al-Hindī al-Malabārī (“Crown of the Religion, the Indian and Malabari”)……

News of this reached Ḥabīb b. Mālik and Mālik b. Dīnār, his brother by the same mother. They brought their children and companions and soldiers and, along with all the Quraysh, came to visit the Indian ruler. There developed a great love between the ruler of India and Ḥabīb b. Mālik and his brother Sharaf b. Mālik and his brother [sic] and his children. Together, they pledged to travel in the company of the ruler of India back to India. The ruler of India, Tāj al-Dīn, married the sister of Mālik b. Dīnār, who was named Rājiya. He stayed with the prophet Muḥammad and his companions and the companions of Ḥabīb b. Mālik for five years. Then the time came for their travel back to India in order to build mosques, spread Islam, and encourage people to follow the Prophet and his Companions….

Then the Prophet, his companions, Ḥabīb b. Mālik, and some of the army returned after the Prophet had given detailed parting advice to the ruler and his companions. He accepted the parting advice and sailed from there and arrived at the teeming port of Aden. He made Ḥabīb b. Mālik b. Ḥabīb the ruler of Aden. Then he sailed from there to the port of Shiḥr. They wanted to populate and settle the port towns of Shiḥr and Ẓafār and Somnath (al-Samanāt) and Oman and Qalḥāt. They settled these places and built in them congregational mosques and delivered sermons in them. The Muslims gained moral strength in these regions.

They stopped in Shiḥr in order to provision the ship to travel toward India. While this was being done, the Indian ruler fell ill. His illness worsened day by day. The ruler realized that he could not get back to India, so he gave parting advice to his companions. These were Sharaf b. Mālik and Mālik b. Dīnār and Ibn Mālik b. Ḥabīb and their children who were mentioned above. He told them, “You all should not delay your journey to India after I’ve passed away!” They answered him together, “But we will be strangers in your realm, and we desired to go to India only to accompany you! How can we proceed without you?” The ruler of India thought deeply for a moment. Then he wrote a letter for them in the script of India, and he wrote down the names of the rulers of India, their realms, capitals, treasuries, relatives, armies, and all that they would need of the rules and customs of India. He specified that they should disembark at the port of Kodungallor, which was the center of his rule, or at the ports of Dharmafattan or Fandarayna or Kollam. He said, “Do not mention to anyone how ill I am, for, if it is known that I have died, it means death for all the people of India. It is just as our Prophet has said: ‘The believer is alive in both worlds—indeed he simply moves from one world to the next.” Indeed, on this topic there are many lively stories.

In the end, the ruler of India died in this ephemeral world and passed on to the eternal world, on Monday night, 1st Muḥarram. Then they washed his body and wrapped it in his shroud and buried it with pomp and respect and fanfare.

For his funeral a huge crowd gathered in a wide-open ground—may God keep his remains wholesome and give him Paradise as a final resting place. On the day the Prophet emigrated (hijra) [31] from Mecca to Medina he said: “This ruler of India, the departed and forgiven one, may God support him with His Mercy and cause him to inhabit his paradise.”

Did Taj-al Din die in Shihir, in Yemen or did he move from there to Dhofar in Oman? After his death he was buried, near either the Hadramawt port of Shihr, or in neighboring Zafâr, but historians are not sure.

Let’s now go and check out the shrine in Dhofar, in Oman. For that we have to check the travel accounts of SB Miles, who visited the shrine in 1884. Proceeding westward along the maritime plain to Bundar Raysoot we arrive first at Dareez, once the capital of the Katheeris, after which is Robat, near which is the shrine of the Hindoo Raja of Cranganore known as Al-Samiri, and the ruins of Al-Balad.

I interviewed here the old Kadhi, Seyyid Ahmed, who gave me some information about the Garas and about the Samiri. He informed me that the Samiri was a converted Kafir and it was through his sanctity Dhofar was first blessed with rain; before this time the water of heaven had never fallen. His tomb was now a ziarat or shrine, and visited by all sorts and conditions of men, and his name was included with the other Ameers, Anbias and Ulemas, and was prayed to whenever rain was required by the people of the district.

The tomb of the Al-Samiri lies about half a mile from the sea and is enclosed by an unroofed wall of mud and stones twenty-five feet by ten, the grave being eighteen feet by four, lying north and south, with a broken headstone of black basalt or limestone. The inscription is imperfect, the lower part, bearing the date, has disappeared, while at the foot of the tomb is a small cavity for holding oil, the lamp being kept lighted throughout the year by the devotees. The roof of the building collapsed many years ago, but last year a slave named Saeed saw the saint in a dream and was warned that if the tomb was left exposed to the sun the whole district would be parched for want of rain; a subscription was therefore raised and some repairs were effected, but sufficient funds to renew the roof were not available.

Now let us get back to the aspect of figuring out the identity of the person who traveled to Mecca and met the prophet. It obviously cannot be the Rama Kulashekara due to the dates.  Was it in the 12th century as concluded by recent historians or much earlier in the prophet’s time, i.e. when he was 57 years old, i.e. approx 627CE, or was it in the 9th century? It becomes clear that we cannot determine the name of the Perumal or Raja who went to Mecca in 627 CE if indeed there was one, nor correlate anything to the dating of 831 CE. Moreover, the Tāj al-Dīn al-Hindī al-Malabārī, has changed to Abdul Rahman Al-Samiri in Omani accounts which do not make sense, especially so since the prophet himself had given him that honorable name! 

Another account - About half a mile from the ruins of El Baleyd lies the principal Moslem shrine at Dhofar, the tomb of the Zamorin, known as Abdulla-el-Samiry. He was the Raja of Cranganore in Malabar and was converted to Islam in the beginning of the third century of the Hijra, circa 210. Being compelled to leave his kingdom, he embarked in an Arab dhow and came to Dhofar, where he died four or five years afterwards in the odour of sanctity. He is reputed to have first brought rain to Dhofar by his prayers, and his tomb is still visited by numbers to beseech his intercession in time of drought. The tomb is enclosed by an unroofed wall of mud and stone 25 feet by 10; it is 18 feet long by 4 broad, and lies north by south, with a broken headstone of black basalt. The inscription is imperfect and there is no date.

William Logan replying a reader in the Indian antiquary March 1882 - Can you or any of your readers verify the following facts which I have on the authority of an Arab living on the outskirts of Zafhar on the Arabian Coast? Logan replied - At Zafhar lies buried one Abdul Rahiman Samiri, a king of Malabar. The inscription on his tombstone says he arrived at that place A. H.212, and died there, A. H. 216. The tomb is regarded with much veneration as that of a Hindu (Samiri= Samaritan=worshipper of the calf), king of Malabar, who became a convert to Islam. If the dates are correct, then—

(a) This is almost certainly the tomb of the Kodungallur (Cranganore) king mentioned in the Tahafat-ul Mujdhidin, the author of which placed that king’s conversion about A. H. 200.

(b) The origin of the Kollam era of the Malabar Coast is accounted for in the most natural way if it dated from the traditional Cheruman Perumal’s setting out for Arabia. The interval between A. D. 824 and his arrival at Zafhar (A. D.827) is probably accounted for in the Tahafat-ul Mujdhidin, which says he remained a considerable time at Shahr where he first of all landed.

It seems the Mukri of the mosque adjacent to the tomb came to Malabar some fifteen years ago soliciting subscriptions for repairing the tomb and mosque. Calicut, 6th March 1882.  WL

Now conjecture has it that the Al Samiri buried in Dhofar was a king of Malabar. The use of Al Samiri in a name just means Hindu ox-worshipper to the Arabs, as we discussed earlier in the Zamorin Etymology article. Confounding the situation even further is a mention by the Naiaitas (Nawait’s) - the sailors of Gujarat that they had proselytized a Zamorin of Malabar and that this is the Abdurahman Samiri.

So, we now have a king or kings who converted and traveled West in 627 CE, 825 CE, and in 1122CE. To check which is more likely, one can also look at the mosques established in the wake of the Arabs who came thereafter with the King’s blessing. The Cheraman mosque as it is popularly known was apparently established in 629-30CE, but there is no proof to that, while the three larger mosques in Calicut date to the 14th-15th century. The Kissa mentions that the Kodungallur mosque was built in 21AH (642-643CE), Kollam, Chaliyam, Bhatkal, Madayi, Pantalayani, Ezhimala, Kasargode, Mangalore and Dharmapattanam mosques were built next, all dating to the 640-650 CE time frame, but we have no inscriptions or proof for the dating. Pantalayani did have tombstones dating back to 782 CE. The Terisapalli copper plates suggest Muslim settlers in the 9th century, so also the conclusion by Zainuddin Makhdum. The Madayi mosque inscription supports the 12th-century date. So that avenue of study is also inconclusive and in conflict with the Kissa.

At Zaphar, we understand that there are two tombs, one of the al-Samiri from Malabar and another purportedly that of Taj-aldin. My guess is that Al Samiri was a man, perhaps a noble from the Malabar west coast who converted and settled in Dhofar. As a Hindu, he was termed Al Samiri and this is certainly not the Perumal who carried the name Tajuddin. The Samiri which meant ox-worshipper simply got confused with Zamorin by the English. There are no indications from the study of Zamorins that one of them abdicated, but one thing seems clear, we have two different people and two different tombs in Salalah.

Searching for the Taj al-din tomb, I read of a Cheraman Perumal Maqam in Salalah which is an open tomb, strange considering that Prophet had considered him quite dear! I came across two video’s showing Taj al-din’s tomb at Salalah, see videos  1 and 2 linked. 

As the two stories and persons seem to be different, so also the tombs, we have to check further - any further information or clarification from readers are appreciated.

Friedmann’s conclusion is therefore apt at this point - It is difficult to say what historical facts are in the background of Qissat Shakarwati (or for that matter Abdurahman Al-Samiri). But even if hard facts are difficult to come by, the story is remarkably valuable as an expression of the ethos of the Mapilla community.

We will not leave Dhofar as yet, for it was host to yet another person from Malabar, the Sayyid Fadhl from HV Conolly’s times. I will get to his fascinating story, soon.

References

Manavikrama alias Punturakkon of Eranad, A new name in the twilight of the Chera kingdom in Kerala – MGS Narayanan

Keralolpathi – Gundert, En Trans - T Madhava Menon

Death and Burial in Arabia and Beyond Multidisciplinary perspectives – Ed Lloyd Weeks (Shrines in Dhofar - Lynne S. Newton)

The Countries and Tribes of The Persian Gulf Volume 2 - Samuel Barrett Miles

Narrating Community: the Qiṣṣat Shakarwatī Farmāḍ and Accounts of Origin in Kerala and around the Indian Ocean - Scott Kugle, Roxani Eleni Margariti

Qissat Shakarwati Farmad - A tradition concerning the introduction of Islam to Malabar -Y. Friedmann

Note: Zahfar and Dhofar are the same, and the location of the Samiri shrine is in the Salalah area of Oman.

For a description of the Samiri tomb check these out - one and two

 Pics - Google images, thanks to the owners/uploaders


Zamorin – An etymological discussion

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Malabar’s history recounted in the Keralolpathi, a Malayalam work (presumably penned by Tunchath Ezhutatchan) from the 17th century or later starts with the Parasurama epoch where he reclaims the land from the seas. The Keralolpathi, a work which elevates the importance of the Nambuthiris of Kerala, goes on to retell a version of the history of Kerala until the 19th century. Beset with inaccuracies, it was disregarded by most historians but it is now felt that the document does have many sections which are quite factual. The advent of the Zamorin is detailed in this work, and we come across the tale of the abdication of the Cheraman Perumal and the installation of various chieftains to rule over various areas. This is more on the topic of the Zamorin himself, his titles, and the advent of the well-accepted usage Zamorin.

The Mutts of Trichur and Tirunavaya – Seats of Vedic learning in Kerala

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 Bhrahmaswom Madhoms

Sometimes you despair at how the Englishman corrupted the transliteration of a Malayalam or Sanskrit word, in this case, Mutt which actually stands for Madhom or Matha, a monastic institution for spiritual studies, certainly has nothing to do with stupid persons or mongrels. I had come across mentions of these Vedic universities while reading accounts of missionaries such as the Arnos Pathiri as well as some others and more recently when Vinod who led the conservation and renovation efforts, was in conversation with Arun at Intach Palakkad. As the discussion related to the work at the Bhramaswom madhom at Trichur, it piqued my interest, what with the connections to the Nediyirippu and the Preumpadappu, and I decided to delve deeper into it. The result of that short study follows, but I must admit that while the history of these schools interested me, I have virtually no knowledge of the Vedas themselves or their teaching methodology!

Guruvayur, Hydrose and the Dutch

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Clearing up some cobwebs

The temple is well known to most people in South India. It is very popular, quite crowded these days with thousands of devotees lining to get a peek of Unnikrishnan or Guruvarurappan. True, the pandemic has affected all these quite a bit, but I am sure things will improve soon. Which takes us back in time to two occasions when the temple was threatened by marauding armies, first by the Dutch and later by those laying Malabar to waste, namely the Mysore armies sent to plunder, by Haider and later Tipu. Let’s review the record and also take a look at that interesting person, who was involved in the continuation of finances of the temple at that latter occasion. In these days with so much of divisive attitudes, it is helpful to remember that there was a time when communities also came together for the common good.

The Strategic Wedge

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The Checkered Story of Naduvattam, Palghat

Most inhabitants of Palghat would know little about this principality, located right in the middle of the district. In fact, it is the very area I come from, once upon a time full of forests and hillocks, later all paddy fields, sparsely populated. During the history of Malabar, it was a bone of contention that forced three powerful chieftains to fight many a war, the chieftains being the Cochin Raja, the Palghat Raja, and the Zamorin. The story which I narrate is far from complete and I am sure others will someday add to it or correct some errors now and then. What I present comes from the bits and pieces of information cleaved out from various Granthavari’s, NM Nampoothiri’s Malabar studies and KV Krishna Ayyar’s papers.

Menon and Menoki – a little study

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Some time ago, we talked about the Nair caste and the various sub castes related to it, as well as their characteristics. Medieval Malabar, Cochin and Travancore had many castes, classifications, do and don’ts, and what not. It was not fun if you did not belong to the top and even if you did, you had to remain in your tramlines (as they say in the US) or dividers. In the Nair caste, there were many more profession related titled classifications as well. Most significant were the Menon and the Menoki titles within the Nair caste, which are not very well understood. Complications also arose due to regional differences between Cochin, Malabar, and Travancore. This little article will provide more details to those interested as well as some background explanation.

Principally all these titles were connected to either supervisory capacities or positions or that of a scribe and accountant in the local chieftain’s Kovilakom or temple, preparing Grantha palm leaf manuscripts! Compared to the foot soldier Nair, these personnel were better educated, were closer in proximity to the ruler or chieftain and were ordained or titled, with the title passing on through generations, in a matrilineal fashion.

In general, Menoki is an overseer — By definition, Menoki in the 1901 Travancore and Cochin Census Reports are classified as a sub-division of Nayars, who are employed as accountants in temples. The name is derived from mel, above, nokki, from nokkunnu which means ‘to look after’.

Rama Nilayam, Trichur - A look back

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An outhouse, a palace, the British residency and now a guest house

On the town hall road, in front of the Kerala Sangeet Natak academy and adjoining the Sakthan Thampuran palace in Trichur is the stately Rama Nilayam guesthouse, recently renovated. There has been a lot of conjecture about its origins and people have opined it was once a palace, a form of military barracks, a recruitment center etc. It is also said that it was once an outhouse of the Shaktan Thampuran palace which was refurbished to create the British residency in the 19th century. Trying to obtain details about this was somewhat difficult but stimulating and here below is the result of that search.

Variyan Kunnath Kunahmad Haji - An Eranad Warlord

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There is a furor these days about this 1921 Eranad rebel warlord and many expert opinions are being voiced. I was a bit intrigued as I had encountered VKH often in my Malabar Rebellion studies, but I had not really paused to study him, though spending a while on the Sinderby account caricaturing an antagonist based on VKH’s character. But it is time to do a little study and I will try to detail his actions as dispassionately as I can, referring to the numerous secondary sources I am in possession of. We will see that this is actually the story of a tired old man who had been perpetually on the run before 1921, nursing his grudges against the British, straying somewhat unwillingly into a larger revolt, with only a desire to help out his benefactor Ali Musaliyar, quickly changing his ideology when he became a fugitive and lording a gang who resorted to tactics he would not have approved otherwise.