Abd Ur Razak - The Reluctant Ambassador at Kalikot

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Kamalludin Abudur Razzak (1413-1482), son of Jalaludin Ishak of Samarkhand was a man used to fine court life, but proved to be a bad traveler and not much of an emissary. His travelogue, promised to be filled with minutest detail, is an interesting book, strewn with poetic verses, which I suppose Razaaq believed were objects of wisdom that would provide guidance to the future reader.

Born 8 years after the death of Timor in Heart, he was the son of the widely traveled Qazi, of Samarkhand, and entered court life in 1437. Here he worked for various sultans of Khurasan such as Timor’s son the great Emperor Mirza Shahrukh. Apparently by late 1430, an invitation was accorded by the Zamorin of Calicut to Emperor Sharukh for an emissary to visit Malabar in order to improve commerce.

Note here in perspective that a century earlier, Ibn Batuta had visited Calicut and certified it as safe haven for merchants.

The choice of emissary befell the young Razzak who had been in the court’s employ for four years. The travel to the southerly parts of Hindustan proved to be no fun for the reluctant emissary who would probably have expected lavish receptions and plenty of gifts befitting an emissary of his stature. During the trip, he was frequently ill and complained bitterly of having been sent into these dark lands. Sanjay Subramaniam in his book listed under references, opines that the desire of Shahrukh to create a larger web of semi formal and suzerain relations going beyond the domains of Khorasan was the reason for the deputation of an emissary. It was not as many others said, and Abdur Razzaq based his trip on the premise that the Zamorin might convert to Islam if an appropriate ambassador was sent to Calicut by the great Emperor.

And thus Abdur Razak ibn Ishaq Samarkhandi started out on a journey that lasted three years between January 1442 to January 1445. I will take it up from his arrival in Calicut.

Quoting RH Major’s translations - The port at which he arrives is Calicut, where he speaks in terms of commendation of the honesty of the people, and the facilities of commerce. He does not, however, equally admire the persons of the natives, who seem to him to resemble devils rather than men. These devils were all black and naked, having only a piece of cloth tied round their middle, and holding in one hand a shining javelin, and in the other a buckler of bullock's hide. On being presented to the Sameri or King, whom he found, in a similar state of nudity, in a hall adorned with paintings, and surrounded by two or three thousand attendants, he delivered his presents, which consisted of a horse richly caparisoned, an embroidered pelisse, and a cap of ceremony. These did not seem to excite any warm admiration from the prince, and it is not impossible that, as the ambassador looked with considerable dislike on the people in spite of his commendations of their worthiness of conduct, his own manner may not have been remarkable for amiability. His stay at Calicut he describes as extremely painful, and in the midst of his trouble he has a vision, in which he sees his sovereign Shah Rukh, who assures him of deliverance. On the very next day, a message arrives from the King of Vijayanagar, with a request that the Mohammedan ambassador might be permitted to repair to his court. The request of so powerful a prince was not refused, and Abd-er-Razzak left Calicut with feelings of great delight.

At the beginning of November that year he arrived at Calicut after an 18 day voyage from Homrouz, where he had resided till the beginning of April 1443. Abul Razzaq now takes up the event in his own words

Calicut is a perfectly secure harbour, which, like that of Ormuz, brings together merchants from every city and from every country; in it are to be found abundance of precious articles brought thither from maritime countries, and especially from Abyssinia, Zirbad, and Zanguebar ; from time to time ships arrive there from the shores of the House of God and other parts of the Hedjaz, and abide at will, for a greater or longer space, in this harbour ; the town is inhabited by Infidels, and situated on a hostile shore. It contains a considerable number of Mussulmauns, who are constant residents, and have built two mosques, in which they meet every Friday to offer up prayer. They have one Kadi, a priest, and for the most part they belong to the sect of Schafei. Security and justice are so firmly established in this city, that the most wealthy merchants bring thither from maritime countries considerable cargoes, which they unload, and unhesitatingly send into the markets and the bazaars, without thinking in the meantime of any necessity of checking the account or of keeping watch over the goods. The officers of the custom-house take upon themselves the charge of looking after the merchandise, over which they keep watch day and night. When a sale is effected, they levy a duty on the goods of one fortieth part; if they are not sold, they make no charge on them whatsoever.

Razzaq makes a comparison here to other ports of India which augers well with the fear that Allan Ben Hassun had when his ship was driven into the Quilon shores, for he feared plunder & death (See my earlier blog). Razzaq was also at the original Mitqual mosque in Calicut before it was burnt down by the Portuguese.
In other ports a strange practice is adopted. When a vessel sets sail for a certain point, and suddenly is driven by a decree of Divine Providence into another roadstead, the inhabitants, under the pretext that the wind has driven it there, plunder the ship. But at Calicut, every ship, whatever place it may come from, or wherever it may be bound, when it puts into this port is treated like other vessels, and has no trouble of any kind to put up with.

Razzaq then details the gifts that have been sent to the Zamorin. Major as you saw felt that it was too cheap coming from a great emperor like Shahrukh. Now you can imagine why the Zamorin was furious with Vasco De Gama for the miniscule gifts they had brought from Portugual.

His majesty, the happy Khakan, had sent as a present for the prince of Calicut, some horses, some pelisses, some robes of cloth of gold, and some caps, similar to those distributed at the time of the Nawroz; (New year day in Persia) and the motive which had induced him to do so was as follows.

Some ambassadors deputed by this monarch, returning from Bengal in company with ambassadors of the latter country, having been obliged to put into Calicut, the description which they gave of the greatness and power of the Khakan reached the ears of the sovereign of that city. He learned from authentic testimony, that the kings of all the habitable globe, of the East as well as of the West, of the land and of the sea, had sent rival ambassadors and messages, showing that they regarded the august court of that monarch as the Kiblah, to which they should pay their homage, — as the Kabah, the object to which they should direct their aspirations.

Then Razzaq mentions about the power and influence of the Emperor Sharukh and his involvement of the emperor in ensuring that the King of Bengal and Jounpur did not go to war. It appears that the Zamorin had heard about this and so wanted to pay obeisance to the Emperor Shahrukh (A bit fanciful here, but let us leave it as such)

Razzaq states - As soon as the sovereign of Calicut was informed of these occurrences, he prepared some presents, consisting of objects of value of different kinds, and sent an ambassador charged with a despatch, in which he said : " In this port, on every Friday and every solemn feast day, the Khotbah is celebrated, according to the prescribed rule of Islamism. With your majesty's permission, these prayers shall be adorned and honoured by the addition of your name and of your illustrious titles.
These deputies, setting out in company with the ambassadors from Bengal, reached the noble court of the emperor, and the Emirs laid before that monarch the letter and the presents by which it was accompanied. The messenger was a Mussulmaun, distinguished for his eloquence ; in the course of his address he said to the prince, " If your majesty will be pleased to favour my master, by despatching an ambassador sent especially to him, and who, in literal pursuance of the precept expressed in that verse, ' By thy wisdom and by thy good counsels engage men to enter on the ways of thy Lord, shall invite that prince to embrace the religion of Islamism, and draw from his beclouded heart the bolt of darkness and error, and cause the flame of the light of faith, and the brightness of the sun of knowledge to shine into the window of his heart, it will be, beyond all doubt, a perfectly righteous and meritorious deed."

The emperor acceded to this request, and gave instructions to the Emirs that the ambassador should make his preparations for setting out on his journey. The choice fell upon the humble author of this work. Certain individuals, however, hazarded their denunciations against his success, imagining in their own minds that it was likely he would never return from so long a voyage. He arrived, nevertheless, in good health after three years of absence, and by that time his calumniators were no longer in the land of the living.

We also know that Razzaq was used to high life and proved to be a terrible racist. Here he continues thus..

As soon as I landed at Calicut I saw beings such as my imagination had never depicted the like of. Extraordinary beings, who are neither men nor devils, At sight of whom the mind takes alarm; If I were to see such in my dreams , My heart would be in a tremble for many years.

I assume he saw a Velichappad , the oracle, divine dancer or light revealer

I have had love passages with a beauty, whose face was like the moon; but I could never fall in love with a negress (ill proportioned black thing in certain other translations).

Describing the indigenous population, probably not meeting or seeing not the fairer people, he states
The blacks of this country have the body nearly naked; they wear only bandages round the middle, called lankoutahy which descend from the navel to above the knee. In one hand they hold an Indian poignard (Actually written as Katarah or dagger), which has the brilliance of a drop of water, and in the other a buckler of ox-hide (Leather shield), which might be taken for a piece of mist. This costume is common to the king and to the beggar. As to the Mussulmauns, they dress themselves in magnificent apparel after the manner of the Arabs, and manifest luxury in every particular.

Here I assume he means the Pardesi Arabs, not the Moplah’s

After I had had an opportunity of seeing a considerable number of Mussulmauns and Infidels, I had a comfortable lodging assigned to me, and after the lapse of three days was conducted to an audience with the king. I saw a man with his body naked, like the rest of the Hindus. The sovereign of this city bears the title of Sameri. When he dies it is his sister's son who succeeds him, and his inheritance does not belong to his son, or his brother, or any other of his relations. No one reaches the throne by means of the strong hand.

The Infidels are divided into a great number of classes, such as the Brahmins, the Djoghis, and others. Although they are all agreed upon the fundamental principles of polytheism and idolatry, each sect has its peculiar customs.

Amongst them there is a class of men, with whom it is the practice for one woman to have a great number of husbands, each of whom undertakes a special duty and fulfils it. The hours of the day and of the night are divided between them; each of them for a certain period takes up his abode in the house, and while he remains there no other is allowed to enter. The Sameri belongs to this sect.

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. The Sameri showed me but little consideration. On leaving the audience I returned to my house. Several individuals, who brought with them a certain number of horses, and all sorts of things beside, had been shipped on board another vessel by order of the king of Ormuz ; but being captured on the road by some cruel pirates, they were plundered of all their wealth, and narrowly escaped with their lives. Meeting them at Calicut, we had the honour to see some distinguished friends.

By no means did Razzq enjoy his stay at Calicut, he explains....

From the close of the month of the second Djoumada [beginning of November 1442], to the first days of Zou'lhidjah [middle of April 1443], I remained in this disagreeable place, where everything became a source of trouble and weariness. During this period, on a certain night of profound darkness and unusual length, in which sleep, like an imperious tyrant, had imprisoned my senses and closed the door of my eyelids, after every sort of disquietude, I was at length asleep upon my bed of rest, and in a dream I saw his majesty, the happy Khakan, who came towards me with all the pomp of sovereignty, and when he came up to me said : "Afflict thyself no longer." The following morning, at the hour of prayer, this dream recurred to my mind and filled me with joy. Although, in general, dreams are but the simple wanderings of the imagination, which are seldom realized in our waking hours, yet it docs sometimes occur that the facts which arc shown in sleep arc afterwards accomplished ; and such dreams have been regarded by the most distinguished men as intimations from God. Every one has heard of the dream of Joseph, and that of the minister of Egypt.

As you read between the lines, you start to understand the reasons, which have also been explained in detail in Sanjay Subramaniam’s book. The conversion of the Zamorin was pretty much a chimeara, an illusion, an impossibility. Soon the noble king is reduced to a ‘Wali’ a keeper in Razaak’s travelogue.

My reflections led me to the hope, that perhaps the morning beam of happiness was about to dawn upon me from the bosom of Divine goodness, and that the night of chagrin and weariness had nearly reached its close. Having communicated my dream to some skilful men, I asked them its interpretation. On a sudden a man arrived, who brought me the intelligence that the king of Bidjanagar, who holds a powerful empire and a mighty dominion under his sway, had sent to the Sameri a delegate charged with a letter, in which he desired that he would send on to him the ambassador of his majesty, the happy Khakan. Although the Sameri is not subject to the laws of the king of Bidjanagar, he nevertheless pays him respect, and stands extremely in fear of him ; since, if what is said is true, this latter prince has in his dominions three hundred ports, each of which is equal to Calicut, and on terra firma his territories comprise a space of three months' journey. The coast, which includes Calicut with some other neighboring ports, and which extends as far as Kabel, a place situated opposite the Island of Serendib, otherwise called Ceylon, bears the general name of Melibar. From Calicut are vessels continually sailing for Mecca, which are for the most part laden with pepper.

A very interesting observation here, and we hear about the relationship between the Vijayanagara kings and the Zamorin, though one must take razaak's words with a pinch of salt.

The inhabitants of Calicut are adventurous sailors: they are known by the name of Tchini-betchegan (son of the Chinese), and pirates do not dare to attack the vessels of Calicut. In this harbour one may find everything that can be desired. One thing alone is forbidden, namely, to kill a cow, or to eat its flesh: whosoever should be discovered slaughtering or eating one of these animals, would be immediately punished with death. So respected is the cow in these parts, that the inhabitants take its dung when dry and rub their foreheads with it. The humble author of this narrative having received his audience of dismissal, departed from Calicut by sea. After having passed the port of Bendinaneh, situated on the coast of Malibar, we reached the port of Mangalor, which forms the frontier of the kingdom of Bidjanagar.

But why should Sons of the Chinese be feared? Did they all leave after the tiff with the Zamorin, as we discussed in a previous blog? Were they in anyway related to the marakkars?Food for thought.

The place Bandinaneh is probably Balipatanam in Cannanore.

Abdur Razzaq also wrote about betel chewing which he witnessed everywhere, thus - "The virility of the king is attributed to his habit of chewing the betel leaf, as it lightens up the countenance and excites an intoxication like that caused by wine. It relieves hunger, stimulates the organs of digestion, disinfect the breath and strengthen the teeth. It is impossible to describe and delicacy forbids me to expatiate on its invigorating and aphrodisiac qualities."

By the time Abdur Razzaq returned home, his master Shah Rukh was dead and Abu Said Mirza was fighting for the throne. Quickly he recognized the new Sultan and was accepted after which he settled down to write his memoirs. He died in 1482. His memoirs of Calicut went on to set a great perspective before the arrival of the Portuguese.


Indo-Persian travels in the age of discoveries, 1400-1800 - Muzaffar Alam, Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Album prefaces and other documents on the history of calligraphers and painters - Wheeler McIntosh Thackston
India in the 15th Century –RH Major

Another Jewish Trader – Allan Bin Hassun

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Part 1

The Genizah scrolls have provided us with valuable insight into the lives and times of ordinary people straddling the edges of the Indian Ocean, the mainly Tunisian origin Jews of Fustat and their agents in India. Some time back I told you the story of Abraham Bin Yiju. Today it is the story of Allan. The Genizah scrolls cover stories of many more people, but the Indian angle is relatively low in this case compared to Yiju. If you recall, Yiju lived for decades in India and had a Malayali wife Ashu. But this trader Allan visited the Malabar shores often for trade, though not living in any parts.

Looking back at the Genizah scrolls, the Egyptians were understandably upset when around the turn of the 20th century; various Jewish scholars walked away with all the Genizah papers and distributed them to collectors and libraries in the US, UK and USSR. I wonder what the great problem was with that, for until then the best bits were quietly being sold by Egyptians to private collectors instead of making any attempt to secure and catalog the vast collection. In fact, the synagogue & the Genizah were nearly bulldozed before being discovered and in a way we are all lucky that people like Solomon Schechter cataloged many of the bits found and another luminary, none other than the late Shlom Deo Goitein took up the study of the India traders. I cannot help but think of the unseen private collections and what it contains, but it is sad that they will remain hidden from the view of those who are thirsting for this kind of historical knowledge.

Eventually, I hope that the events that befell the scrolls of Ancona (if those scrolls were indeed genuine) do not happen to these privately held Genizah scrolls, for people may start to disbelieve these fabulous bits of information, when they eventually turn up for public scrutiny. Regarding the scrolls of Ancona, I will get back to them another day, for I am still reading the hotly disputed book.

As for now let us get back to Allah Bin Hassun. Now Goitein in the referred paper covers a transcript of the three letters from Hassun, written around the early quarter on the 12th century, but if you try to analyze this from an Indian perspective, you can work out some very interesting observations.

Prof Goitein asks a question in his paper- The Jews of the Mediterranean area, unlike their brethren in Iraq, were latecomers to the India trade. Why should they have taken upon themselves the physical dangers and material risks of those far-flung travels, when the blessed shores of the Mediterranean offered enough opportunities for gaining a livelihood? His complete reply spans over 6 volumes of brilliant studies -A Mediterranean society and teh India book.

I had answered this question briefly some months ago in the talk given on Yiju. During the 11th century, Mediterranean trade was largely in Muslim hands. Naturally Arab speaking Jews thus found able partners in the same trade and coupled with the profits and trustworthy ports in Malabar, established easy pickings. This continued until the 13th century when the Karimi traders wrested control of the India trade. The short period of trade in those two centuries relate to forays by these traders from Ayadhab in today’s Sudan to the Malabar coasts.

As you read letters like those written by Allan Hassun, you see the immense short term gain related to opportunistic pricing of spices and other items. And typically, fortune favored the brave. It is also very interesting to note that these Jewish traders stuck to certain ports, not major ports like Muziris, but Northern ports like Sindbaur (Goa), Bakanur or Faknur, Manjarur and the lone southern port Kulam (Quilon). They would start with the Northern port, collecting Iron and travel down south to pick up Pepper & other goods before the return to Aden. All this becomes clear in the letters of Allan. So let us first try to get to know this enterprising character.

An individual who was well set in Mediterranean trade was ‘Arus b. Joseph al- Arjawani al-Mahdawi. Arus was a manufacturer and trader of purple cloth, delivering his material to N Africa & Spain. He was a renowned member of his society, a helpful generous man, and quite successful. However he had no sons, a very important desire for traders to further the family trade lines. So he married off his daughter to his brother’s son Allan Hassun. The boy addresses Arus as father and himself as the son of Arus. Allan was initially apprenticed by Arus in the Mediterranean trade between Egypt and Aden in Yemen. Allan’s family also originated from Al Mahdiyya in Tunisia (where Ben Yiju also lived once). The equipment traded was typically fine clothing made in the region.

Youngsters are always seeking adventure, and young Allan decided that he must venture farther, to India. Arus and his partner Siba were not so happy about that, but it appears that they eventually agreed to the venture. Allan was initially provided with some goods meant for trade like Coral and Storax. His cousin Joseph was dispatched to tell him that he should not cross the oceans, but then the boy did just that and went on to become a very famous & renowned India trader, continuing to do so till late in life. As in the case of Yiju, we follow his story from letters he wrote in Hebrew while at Sindabur (Goa) on the Malabar coast and later from Kulam and Ayadhab, letters which then found their way to the Genizah (New readers may refer my notes on Yiju if you have not been initiated to the Genizah scrolls as yet).

We can see here that Allan was bringing back iron and pepper from India, much like the goods exported by Yiju. As we read through the mundane writings in the Genizah letters about debts, goods sold and purchased, relationships with other traders, business meetings and so on, some regional aspects come to light (Incidentally Ben Yiju also features in these trade documents!!).

Goitein reports after extensive studies that one thing you did not do in those days was writing voluminously about ones own misfortune or other personal matters. Paper was dear, I presume. In some letters written to his family, Allan expresses regret for being on the road all the time (but it turns out that his son Zayn Al Dar also got into the same trade). He then tells his three sons to form a partnership in trade, for their own good. But well, Allan did write about one such voyage and his misfortune and also about special circumstances in Quilon, where he traded, during one voyage. This is a valuable insight to the methods of that port.

Goitein summarizes - By that time, people at home had become familiar with conditions in India and were interested in the happenings there. Moreover, the report about legal procedures and other government care for the foreigners in Kulam (Quilon), the southernmost port on the Malabar Coast (from which one returned to Aden), were reassuring. The feeling of safety at sea while running before a steady monsoon is also implicit in the letters.

So why did Allan venture out to Sindbaur and into the India trade? The first letter explains

Having sought God’s guidance, I decided to travel to Sindabur with the corals and Storax, for I did not find a market for it [meaning the corals]; all they offered me for it [in Aden] was 18 [dinars] per selling unit.(Storax, ‘may’a’, an aromatic resin obtained from trees in Asia Minor, used in perfume and medicine, a common commodity exported via Alexandria, Cairo, and Aden to India, as proved by the Geniza letters – It is for a layman the resin Benzoin or our Sambrani the aromatic resin that is smoked for poojas, on coals)

The trader’s modus operandi was as follows - The merchants traveled from Sindabur, the northern port leading to the pepper country via Faknur or Baknur(North of Manjarur), to a place called Manibar– presumably Manjarur or Pantalayani or another capital city in the Malabar country, and from there to Kuilam-Kawlam, the popular southern port on the Malabar Coast, from where they planned to return to Aden.

Now we note from the letters that Manibar or Malabar is mentioned. Was it a port, a city or a region? From Allan’s letters the name is not clear though Goitein supposes it is Malibar. It is also becoming apparent that this could have been synonymous with a port, not only a region. Recall that Al Beruni was the first to mention Malabar as a region (Beruni wrote about Malabar circa 1000AD). I will venture to analyze this further in the next part.

Let us now take a detailed look at one of Allan’s letters from the 12th century. I believe Allan lived and traded around 1115-1150AD, continuing on to a ripe old age. It deals with travel to Sindabur and other places in India. Because of riots and bloodshed in Malabar the ship could not sail to Kulam and changed course to faknur. In Faknur the captain (Ali Nawak a prominent Indian shipmaster or Nakhuda who had a number of business deals with the Jews) disappeared, but the ship continued to Kulam, where it stayed for some time.

So let’s look at the words in more detail, and they are quite perplexing to say the least. I finally arrived in Al-M .. r and bought what God, the exalted, made available, to the extent reported in my previous letters. We intended, on our way home, to travel to Aden, but riots and bloodshed occurred, and whoever was in the town fled.

Now which place could that be? Allans letters only mention the letters Al-Ma….r. Goitein states as follows - Only Al-m . . r is visible. Something like Munaybar-Manibar-Malibar (Malabar, the pepper country on the southern section of the west coast of India) must have been written. The use of the article is strange, but perhaps it was meant to express the idea of both city and region. The plural Malibarat in other Letters, might be understood similarly. Or was it Al Manjarur? Anyway if you look a little southwards, to Cannanore & Calicut, and presume that this was indeed one such town, I cannot think of any riot or bloodshed in Zamorin or Kolathiri country where the inhabitants fled a town. The major event that took place in the 1100-1120 timeframe was the annexation of Calicut by the Manavikrama Raja’s or the Zamorin clan from the Vellatiri. That war however may not have resulted in people fleeing the area. So what could have been the traumatizing event?

Anyway the ship master Ali Nawak wanted to flee as well at Malabar. But Allan convinced him not to and they quickly sailed off to Fakkanur in the North after leaving the pepper & some smaller items with a local Jewish trader Jacob Ibn Thabit in Malabar. At Fakkanur, Ali Nawak disembarked or disappeared (Why did a captain leave ship? Was he that traumatized? What happened in al – a…r?) and the ship proceeded on to Kualam – Quilon. We read from his letter that it took some days sailing from this Malabar port to Quilon. So was it Pantalayani? You may recall that early voyagers including Ibn Batuta did mention an exact period of 10 days sailing from Pantalayani to Quilon and we do know that Pantalayani had a smattering of Jewish traders settled there. So is that a reasonable guess? But why were they fearful about docking in Kulam? More on that follows in the next part.

Allan continues thus………

We loaded the textiles and the iron during the night, for he (Nawak) had the power to keep us back [by refusing to sail]. Finally, we all fled to Faknur. I had left some of the pepper and many of the smaller items with Jacob Ibn Thabit. We arrived in Faknur, where ‘Ali Nawak disembarked and remained, while we went on in the same ship to Kulam and stayed there for some time

Ten days after leaving Kulam the ship encountered a dangerous sea, the captain died, and a vociferous crowd on board forced the ship back to Kulam, where it arrived after another twenty days. When the night of... arrived, we loaded and set sail, 35 days before ‘New Year’. The (new?)captain had been ill while still in town, but we sailed for ten days. When we encountered a large pusht (a reef, or another underwater obstacle), water being five fathoms high, and did not know whether this was the Fal (the northern end of the Laccadive Islands) or not, God granted us safety, but the captain had a stroke and died. We threw his body overboard into the sea. So the boat remained without a commander and a . . ., and we had no charts. A crowd in the ship was afraid the ship would be lost, if it landed in an Arab country. However, if we returned to India, there too the same might happen. They got the upper hand and returned us to Kulam. We gave up hope of saving our goods. After twenty days we arrived in Kulam, the place we feared. But God granted us delivery immediately. In Kulam the ship was returned to its proprietor. Another one was provided with water and wood, and its two captains signed documents specifying their obligations towards the passengers. The .. ., the .. ., and the manager came on board and took the ship from us, confirming its rights to its proprietor, being afraid of ‘Ali Nawak. They provided us with water and wood. Two captains traveled with us, after they had signed documents (confirming their obligations) towards us, and we set sail.

Goitein concludes - Having set sail earlier than usual, the ship arrived in Aden prior to all others with the result that Allan sold his goods for excellent prices. Learning that pepper in Aden cost 35 dinars a sack, a price far too high for the town, Allan decided to return immediately to India on the same ship and rented storage space for 150 sacks of pepper and other spices for the voyage back.

In Allan’s words - We arrived in Aden in the shortest possible time, prior to all others. I sold the iron for a good price, 20 dinars a bahar. I had with me 72 bahars and 50 separate pieces, 30 mann saqat, and 40 mann clove. After customs I had obtained 1,500 dinars [and] a lot in other currencies. I had planned to travel home, but learned that a bahar of pepper cost 35 dinars (in Aden). I could not tarry so long until I could buy pepper in Aden (for a reasonable price). Having sought God’s guidance, I decided to travel to Faknur in the same boat in which we had arrived, for it had been blessed for me. I rented from them storage space for 150 bahirs, 100 for pepper and 50 for various other goods. For the 100 bahirs for pepper, I paid 90 mithqals of Adenese coinage. Sheikh ‘AlI Ibn al-Kufi and Sheikh Bundar had stipulated with them (the captains) for me that I would not pay them a dirhem until I had bought the pepper myself.

The last line kind of signifies that the word of mouth of suppliers was not entirely trustworthy. . Allan had intended to pay the shipmaster in advance; expecting that a part of the pepper would be purchased by the latter, but had been dissuaded from this by the two experienced overseas traders. But does this mean that they got the pepper at Fakkanur? If so why go to Kulam?

Part 2 will be a more detailed analysis of the trade and people with additional data

Three Letters from the Cairo Geniza - S. D. Goitein
A Mediterranean society – SD Goitein
Aden & the Indian Ocean trade – Roxani Elleni Margariti
From the Mediterranean to India: S. D. Goitein
The Jewish Merchants in the Light of Eleventh Century Geniza Documents: Moshe Gil
Southern India as known to Arab Geographers – Nainar

Arab traders – from Herotod’s blog & SARAMCO world

SMS Emden and the Singapore Mutiny

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Some months ago, I had written about Champaka raman Pillai and a few years ago about the Emden’s exploits around Madras. Many a rumor still exists about Champaka Raman Pillai being aboard, conducting the attack at Madras, of his leaving ship and visiting relatives in Kerala etc, as the local Iyer populace were rumored (I assume this was done in jest or started by the Iyengar’s) to have started taking German courses. Though at least one site confirms his presence on the ship, the German accounts do not mention him at all.

The Hindu also makes a mention. Fanciful legends abound of his being Mueller's second-in-command, of his directing the firing on specific targets in and around Madras Harbour, and of his rowing ashore at Cochin to greet his family and admirers! Authentic records of the voyage of the Emden do not corroborate any of this, but they do speak of his work aboard the cruiser and his post-War attempts to gather in Germany an anti-British group of Indians, a forerunner to the Indian National Army.

The SMS Emden was an Imperial German Navy ship, based in China that had been ordered to attack allied interests in the Indian Ocean at the outbreak of World War 1. The ships sailors were later involved with an Indian mutiny against the British in Singapore and then escaped to reach Istanbul, after skirmishes with Lawrence of Arabia and his rag tag army in the desert sands. As you can imagine, with all these, the fame and notoriety of the Emden, its chivalrous captain Von Muller and its sailors has been unsurpassed in sailing history. There are so many books around about the ships exploits, its officers and I certainly believe that each one would make interesting reading.

But this article focuses on Emden’s role in the Singapore Indian Sepoy mutiny of 1915. So let’s now go to the First World War days, when the Emden was a much feared vessel, playing truant with the fake fourth mast and roaming the Arabian and Indian Ocean, destroying allied shipping and striking a chill in the hearts of the expatriate and local people of the East. The Emden had just shelled Madras and the people of Singapore was fearful of being next, being a British base. The food stocks were starting to run out and people were soon seen hoarding food.

Anyway it was all to reach an anticlimactic end. The SMS Emden met its fate at the Cocos Islands and was destroyed. The Sydney had located it off Australia and when lookouts on Emden spotted the Sydney approaching, Captain von Müller had no choice but to raise anchor, leave his landing party on Direction Island, and engage the Australian cruiser. Sydney was larger and faster than Emden and outranged her, but still the fight went on for nearly an hour and a half. Early on, Emden managed to knock out a gun on Sydney and destroy the Australian ship's rangefinder. However, Emden herself suffered serious damage, being struck over 100 times by shells from Sydney. Her firing dwindled and Captain von Müller beached Emden on North Keeling Island at 1115 hrs to avoid sinking. After yet another salvo much later which scuttled the ship, German losses were 131 dead and 65 wounded.

Captain von Müller and the rest of his crew which included Capt Julius Lauterbach were made prisoners of war. The captured German sailors were transferred to Singapore on the 15th Dec 1914, which at that stage was only garrisoned by the 5th Indian Light Infantry Regiment and some Malay States Guides.

Indian soldiers had no objections fighting the Germans, but balked at crossing the oceans, for fear of losing caste. But that was not a real problem, for various purification ceremonies could be done to get that sorted out.Meanwhile in Singapore, the Yorkshire regiment had been moved to the fronts near France and were replaced by a disgruntled 5th Light Rifles regiment from Bengal comprising Hindu and Ranghar Muslims. The 5th Light Infantry, enlisted men who were mainly Punjabi Muslims, their morale was constantly low, being affected by poor communication, slack discipline and a weak leadership.

When Britain declared war on Turkey, the Muslims in Singapore (then a British colony) felt obliged to rebel against the British. The bigger problem was the declaration of war against the Caliph Mehmet V Enver Pasha (circulated through the newspaper Jahan I Islam via Rangoon by Abu Sayyid) in Istanbul. He had issued a number of religious fatwa’s in Nov 1914 asking his brethren to fight the British and this was being heeded to seriously by many Muslim soldiers in the British army. The Turks had also spread out a rumor that Kaiser Wilhelm had converted to Islam. A prominent Indian businessman (in some books mentioned as a Surati tea shop owner) Kassim Ismail Mansur, invited many of the sepoys to his home, and talked them into rising against the British. The Imam Nur Alam Shah also apparently addressed sepoys during prayers, telling them it was their religious duty to rise against the British. German funded Gadharites from USA living there fomented the cause further, after expulsion from the US lands. The rumors had finally started to take a strong hold on the Ranghar Muslims. They decided to rally.

It was into this situation that the prisoners from Emden arrived. They were interned in the Tanglin jail off Orchard road and as the European forces had all left, were now guarded by the 5th Light. In late 1914, the sepoys heard they were to ship off to a secret location for new action. However, they also heard rumors that they might actually be sent into action against Turkish Muslim troops (In reality it was Hong Kong!!)in southern Europe or Palestine. In addition, they were informed by the Emden prisoners that Germany was winning the war and that they should speed things up. The man behind this mission was apparently Capt Laughterbach, the portly cigar smoking beer drinking loud mouthed leader of the Emden crew.

The Ranghar Muslims and the Gadhari elements in the regiment were appalled, and planned a revolt on the 17th of Feb 1915. However the Emden crew suggested haste and so on Feb 15th, 2 days ahead of schedule, the Indians, some thousand sepoys in all revolted. It was Chinese New Year day, the Chinese volunteer coprs were on leave and noisy festivities were going on. Brig Dudley Hideout commanding the British forces was down with malaria in the Alexander barracks, and the mutineers ran wild. The mutineers split into two groups and went around town, killing and destroying what they saw for two whole days, terrorizing the place. As mutineers went on a killing spree at Keppel Harbour and Pasir Panjang killing many men and women including a judge, white women and children were rowed out to boats as protection. It was getting dark by this time and the authorities finally were getting organized. Marines and crew from HMS Cadmus came ashore and were mobilized with other garrison troops who had not mutinied. A radio message was sent to India and any allied warship for help. The mutiny continued for some 10 days. On 17th February, the French cruiser Montcalm, followed by the Russian cruiser Aural, and Japanese warships Ottawa and Tsushima arrived at Singapore with help. The mutiny was eventually suppressed by loyal police and sailors from ships in port. It is also clear that women were not molested. Interestingly, a person who stated he was not English but Irish, was spared by the rioters.

Record books mention thus - At around 1500hrs on 15 Feb 1915 (Chinese New Year of 1915), shots were heard from Alexandra Barracks occupied by the 5th Light Infantry, a British-officered, Regular battalion of the Indian Army. The shots signaled the start of a mutiny of about 400 – 500 men, about half its strength. The mutineers then spread out to various parts of Singapore. Some of them went to Tanglin Barracks, after eliminating the guards, and asked German civilians and sailors from the raider SMS Emden (1) interned there to join them. Fearing retaliation, the Germans declined although some Emden sailors took advantage of the chaos to escape. The mutineers tried to persuade the Germans to join them but only 17 plus 3 Dutchmen joined them. Meanwhile other mutineers went on a rampage in Pasir Panjang and Chinatown attacking any Englishmen they came across. In all about 47 people, including those caught in the crossfire, were killed.
A hundred or so were killed totally; Singapore in the meantime received support from some 500 plus Japanese, Russian and French troops plus those from the Sultan of Johore. Dyak trackers from Borneo hunted out those who fled into the jungles. Outram road prison was first the location of the executions of the court-martialed sepoys, and later in public which some 6000 Europeans and sometimes a total of 15000 locals plus Europeans witnessed. 202 were court-martialed and one acquitted. By May 16th, 48 were executed, 64 sent to Andaman’s for life. The 5th was disbanded in 1922. All news of the mutiny was suppressed or censored. The news that reached the public in USA for example read as follows

Feb 20th – Hindus kill 11 English.

Feb 24th – 500 Bengalese whipped the rest of the regiment and then raided town, joined by freed Germans – trouble started over promotions.

April 13th – 1000 Hindu soldiers shot at Singapore, Japanese rounded them up. German silver coins found on bodies of mutineers, Seven Germans executed.

May 2nd – Vivid story of the Singapore mutiny – a complete account

June 24th – Emden officer escapes to Manila – Flees Singapore during mutiny and after four months wandering reaches Manila.

After a number of courts-martial and Commissions of Inquiry, it was discovered that the mutineers had been influenced by rumors spread by external agents who wanted to overthrow the authorities. The situation was exacerbated by infighting among the Regiment's British officers. The two local instigators were reportedly Jagat Singh and Kasim Ismail Mansoor. The latter had correspondence through his son in Rangoon with the Sultan of Turkey and his counsel Ahmad Mullah Daud in Rangoon. The leaders of the revolt were Chisti Khan, Abdul Ghani and Daud Khan. Reading the British parliamentary papers suggest that it was a well thought out plan between the Ghadar personnel in Rangoon and the Young Turks of Turkey in Rangoon. Into this strayed the Emden crew, fresh from defeat, and goaded the sepoys to quicker action, which resulted in a mutiny ill thought out and badly conceived.

Capt Julius Lauterbach – described as a fat, jovial ex-merchant English speaking navy skipper and old China hand, knew Singapore well and had been accorded almost a hero's welcome by his British even in captivity. Fictional accounts from the book (recounted from a telegraph article) Rogue raider state that Lauterbach, in jovial fashion, played a jolly joke on the credulous Indian Muslims: he told them that the German Kaiser had converted to Islam, and that his son had converted to Islam, and that Germany was to become a Muslim land.The Indian Muslims mutinied. The British briefly lost control of Singapore. The Governor took out the whole of the front page of the local newspaper, The Straits Times, in order to instruct the European population not to panic, but he omitted to mention what it was they were supposed to not be panicking about, and the Europeans duly panicked.

Lauterbach is the hero of a historical novel named ‘Rogue raider’. In its promotional blurb is stated the following - A seasoned sailor, the “Flashmanesque” Lauterbach was familiar with Asia, spoke many local languages and had more than one lady in every port of call. He was made prize officer on the Emden, in charge of loot, and never was a person so perfectly suited to his job. When the Emden was finally stopped by the Australian HMAS Sydney, Lauterbach found himself a German prisoner of war in the old Tanglin barracks of Singapore. Through his bored fantasies however, he unwittingly triggered a mutiny by Muslim troops of the British garrison, used the diversion to make his escape from Singapore and threw the whole course of the war in doubt. During the Sepoy Mutiny, the British lost control of Singapore, its European inhabitants fl ed to the ships in the harbour and it was only with the help of Japanese marines that the British Empire was saved. Rogue Raider is split into three parts: the first follows Lauterbach’s adventures aboard the Emden, the second his incarceration in Singapore and his triggering of the Singapore Mutiny, while the third part follows his flight from the British through Asia to America and back to Germany.

Lauterbach however responded as follows about his role in the mutiny, in a book.

My crew and I were taken as prisoners to Singapore. The natives of this island city were very friendly toward us. I had soon gained their confidence sufficiently to know that an attempt to escape would not miscarry. But I wanted to make preparations to take my crew with me when I fled. We then began to dig a tunnel under the wire fence that surrounded our prison-camp. We had scarcely completed our work when the famous revolution among the natives in Singapore broke out. The English blamed me for inciting the blacks against them. I herewith declare that this blame is founded on untruths. When the revolution had been settled, we completed our tunnel, and, during the following night, nine of us gained our freedom. We marched the entire night along the northwest coast. As we had $2000 among us, we were soon able to get hold of two Malayan rowboats which took us across the Straits to the Dutch Island. Here we found some more seafaring Malayans who were glad to take us for a cruise of several days further along the east coast of Sumatra.

Tail note – Dr Gajendra Singh disputes the records provided for public consumption in his history thesis paper “The anatomy of dissent in the military of colonial India during the first and second world wars”. He states - In the single case of a mutiny being successful at Singapore in February 1915, during which the mutineers succeeded in taking control of the entire colony for ‘four whole hours’, there was an active refusal by sipahis to adhere to the programmes devised by Ghadrite and pan-Islamist agents. This is despite the conclusions reached by the Governor of Singapore, who stated that the scale of the mutiny was directly due to the total indoctrination of Indian soldiers by Muslim ‘medicants’ and Ghadrite ‘extremists’ ‘preaching an extreme doctrine of religious hate’. For in cases in which there was an established link between Ghadrite agents and Indian soldiers in Malaya, such as with the Sikhs of the Malay States Guides, the majority of the sipahis refused to join the mutiny after being assured that they would not be forced into overseas service against their will.

Moreover, among the Muslim Ranghars of the 5 Light Infantry who did seize their arms and erect barricades on the streets, only a handful entertained the proposal of some civilians that the city should be held for the forces of the Turkish Sultan, for most of the soldiers justified their actions because they were overworked and underpaid and not because of loyalty to the Khalifa; for their logic was - Why should we fight for England and be killed in Europe when we are paid half a coolie’s wage and our wives and children are left to starve on two or three rupees a month?


The last gentlemen of War – RK Lochner
The voyage of the Emden – Von Muecke
Armies of the Raj: From the Mutiny to Independence, 1858-1947 - By Byron Farwell
Essays on Indian freedom movement By Raj Kumar
Colonial armies in Southeast Asia - By Karl Hack, Tobias Rettig
Parliamentary papers, Volume 8 - Great Britain House of Commons
NY times reports on the mutiny referred and linked above
Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute (1917) Vol 43

Unfortunately I have not been able to read a major work on the topic - Secret documents on Singapore mutiny, 1915 - By Tilak Raj Sareen

Pics - From the web - Thanks and acknowledgement to the uploaders.

Right and left handed castes

Posted by Maddy Labels:

I had not given much thought to this aspect, though I had heard brief mentions of it here & there. In Malabar and Kerala, we did not have it and medieval Tamil trade history had only recently started to catch my interest. Some time back, our friend Nick Balmer had mentioned about the confusion around these matters to me, but I had not the knowledge to provide him an explanation then. It was finally after the arrival and perusal of a fine book by Kanakalatha Mukund titled ‘The trading world of the Tamil merchant’ that I got a less cluttered picture of the segregation of the trading castes. For those who were a bit confused by all this, I hope the explanation would help in understanding some of the aspects covering the complexities in the Indian caste system with respect to this strange classification and the intense rivalry that resulted over many centuries. Many years ago, as I lived and worked in the Parry’s corner madras, I would see the roads Lingi Chetty Street, Thambu Chetty Street and wonder who these people were. Today I know about these fascinating characters and their connections to the trade in Madras, the immense wealth and power they controlled and their connections to the caste splits.

Unfortunately, much of Indian history has been tainted by the rigors of the caste system and the writings of Manu. It was even to affect very rational people like a well educated American who decided to convert, as I will explain another day. The caste system was put to test on many occasions before finally weakening to the clash of modernity and I had briefly mentioned some aspects in my article about Swami Vivekanada in Kerala.

While people are born into a caste (except in the rare case of a conversion into Hinduism) there existed a practice of certain lower castes changing their profession and in some cases deliberately raising themselves in the caste scale (WW Hunter – Indian gazetteer). For example, Hunter mentions the vaisya caste which were originally the tillers of the land, let go of this profession to the Sudras and raised themselves to the merchant and banking caste. Naturally, this occurred over many decades or eons to culminate in an orderly (or unruly as another would term it) system towards the late medieval times.

Anyway as Malabar continued the strong traditions of the caste system, but with local variations with the Namboothiri’s ruling the roost, a vertical split occurred in the Tamil regions. They created the ‘valangai’ and the ‘edangai’ split, i.e. the right and the left handed classes. The untouchables or Paraya’s and the agriculturist Sudra’s aligned themselves to RHC. The other group naturally became left handed, sponsoring the artisans and traders opposing the Brahmin supremacy. The landowners or the vellalars together with the ‘parayas’ were pitted against the landless artisans or the kanmalars. The vellalars which comprised the Mudaliar or Pillais and the Komati’s and Baljis formed the right handed group. The left handed groups were the Beri chetti’s together with the class of artisans such as blacksmiths, goldsmiths, masons, carpenters and so on. Such drifts occurred in Bengal, Andhra, Canara, Gujarat and other places as well, but not taking a form as above and are not covered here. Slowly the original caste discipline was weakening. As the group divide occurred, the places they lived in underwent the physical divide as well. The towns of Tamil nadu, especially the regions occupied by the above castes, then got segregated (eastern side to the left handed and the western to the right handed castes). Naturally, festivities & other activities like funerals got divided and confined to territories occupied by the respective castes. If one group or a procession of theirs strayed into another’s territory, the situation flared up into a major quarrel.

But let us try to go back a little bit to figure out how this originated. There are many stories. However, the biggest cause was the relative lack of clarity between the Kshatriya and Vaishya castes in South India. Brahmana’s and Sudra’s were well defined, however. While the Vedic system divided the body into four horizontal cuts forming the four castes of Brahmana, Khastriya, Vaishya and Sudra, the vertical split was a South Indian response to it. However, as the right hand in Hinduism takes superiority to the left, terming another left handed itself was sometimes the core of the problem and considered derogatory (note that the left hand is associated with faeces and the right with food).

Anyway it is accepted that this split and attempt at definition started during the Chola times, somewhere in the 10-11th century. It was primarily owing to the classification of centralized military forces at that time. One was a group of people constituting the right hand army and the other, the left. Eventually the artisan group’s claim of Brahminical status complicated the issue very much. As the temple building spree took root in the post war periods, the demand for artisans and their services increased and the claim’s for Brahmin status were pressed harder. It appears that they (Panchalar/Kammalar/Kamsalis) succeeded and the others led by the Vellalars rebelled since then. This also explains why this split never took place in neighboring Kerala, for a temple building spree never happened in the Chera country. In addition to all that the Brahmin Jain struggle eventually reached a compromise where all the Jain artisans were finally classified right by the Vira Bukka raya in the 14th century.

In the end, the struggle between the 9th and 14th century was broadly between landed castes on one side with the artisans on the other. Added to all these was the struggle for supremacy between Saivaite and Vaishnavite Brahmins who even associated differently (though they were not supposed to) between the two castes at certain times. The final aspect was the languages used as many of the traders spoke Telugu and others spoke Tamil, with the Brahmins indulging in Tamil and Sanskrit. So as you can see, the fragmented castes finally created a single divide for convenience in argument and representation and this remained the system that the English saw when the EIC came to power in madras. As the EIC cleverly manipulated the two, the result was not always satisfactory, for much of their time since then was spent trying to find compromises and settlements especially when one of the groups finally decided to abandon the city.

While this is the more practical and pragmatic explanation, the mythological explanations based on the Veda Vyasa story, the Kammala – Vellala story, the Saiva, Vasihnava story, the Kali Kancheepuram story, the Kancheppuram kings killing and division of body parts story, the Chola raja ‘muchilika’ story, Karikala chola’s division story, beef eating story etc are used by one or the other to press their claims and superiority. Some day, if readers are interested, I can provide a gist of each of these stories.

It is generally believed that the Brahmins themselves constituted the left-hand faction. Hence, initially, the left-hand faction was made mainly of Brahmins and castes claiming Brahmin-ness such as the Kammalan’s who are believed to have migrated to Tamil Nadu with the Brahmins. Though, Brahmins have been classified as a left-hand caste in ancient times, Tamil Brahmins as "Mahajanam" are regarded, along with foreign migrants, as outside the dual left and right-hand caste divisions of Tamil Nadu. Brahmins, during the later centuries, were regarded as outside the left and right-hand caste system, and due to their being neutral, Brahmins were regarded as the most suitable candidates to function as mediators.

During the Chola period, the left and right-hand factions comprised ninety-eight castes each, but by the 19th century, the right-hand faction was made of 60 castes, and the left-hand, only six. Various other reasons constituted the bitter rivalry. It is said that the valankai group had more privileges and standing, they could use palanquins, slippers and umbrellas. They could cast the sari pallu over the right shoulder. They had lower taxation than the left. Then came the issue with the EIC favoring the right handed castes originally resulting in a strong cartel which fixed prices. Finally in an effort to break the ring, the left were involved, resulting in even more acrimony and fights between the two factions. The whole story of the quarrel and the settlement is rather confusing and quite silly at time, so I will not get into further details. However, there may have been an ulterior motive at times of diverting British attention from the huge monies owed by the RH groups to them. Though the two groups were against the hierarchical Vedic system, there was caste hierarchy within each group. Despite posing a challenge, they did not overturn the Brahminical ideology.

In 1652, the first rioting started in Madras when the Sheshadri nayak & Koneri Chetti stated that they had been insulted by the Beri chetti. The RH group attached the LH group with weapons. The result was a formal segregation of the groups to Muttialpetta and Pedanaikapetta. Can you believe it, the RH Chetti can use the right side street only to go to a temple, if they used an LH street, it created uproar as it did when Tellaisinga Chetti used the right side street to go to a temple. These quarrels and sometimes violent fights continued on until 1712 or so…

And thus, as you study this subject, you will come across the great traders of Madras, people whose names grace roads like Lingi chetty, Thambu chetty and so on. The fight for their superiority is interwoven into the various conflicts between the two classes. Much of them relate to control of temples and physical properties situated on an ‘apparent’ wrong side. The various stories are very interesting, and it is also amusing to note how the British of madras were caught squarely between them, with one or the other threatening non cooperation if the British did not side with them. It must have been nerve racking for somebody from the quiet plains of Midlands in the UK, living in the hot humid and noisy madras, trying to figure out what on earth all this meant, in the first place. Compared to all this, the vacillations in Malabar were probably too sedate for an average Englishman.

Note: Vellalars are one who control the "Vellam" i.e floods in the river and grow crops and Karalars are one who control "Kar" i.e. Clouds in the form of Tanks and Lakes and grow crops. The Kammalan or Viswakarma caste members are artisans such as goldsmiths and stonemasons. Occupation was an important factor and guilds of craftsmen formed castes as the Kammalan caste did, while some occupations formed separate castes. Shaivas believe that Shiva is All and in all, the creator, preserver, destroyer, revealer and concealer of all that is. Vaishnavism on the other hand, is distinguished from other schools by its worship of Vishnu or his associated avatars, principally as Rama and Krishna, as the original and supreme God. Chetti’s are the trading mercantile castes figuring in both the sides

Note 2 - I must also add here that the definition of 'karalar' seems a little out of place though that seems acceptable in the published domain. I think it is kara meaning bank or dry ground, hence karalar are tillers.

Black town – Formerly George Town in Madras, is a historical neighborhood of Fort St. George. Also known as Black Town in the British period, the settlement was formed after the British set up the fort. It is the first settlement of the city of Chennai soon after the completion of the fort. This is where the modern city of Chennai started expanding from since its formation in 1640. The Parry’s corner, Moore market, Pookada – flower market, the various chetti streets I mentioned are all located in Blacktown. Please visit this blog for more details.


The imperial gazetteer – WW Hunter
The life of Thomas Pitt - By Sir Cornelius Neale Dalton
The trading world of the Tamil merchant: By Kanakalatha Mukund
Right and Left Hand Castes in South India – Arjun Appadurai
The view from below - Kanakalatha Mukund

I am yet to read the major work by Thurston on these classes & castes, but it is a valuable reference for those interested.

The Astrologer and the Gama

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Why did the Kolathiri’s of Cannanore welcome the Portuguese with open arms? Was it because of the rivalry between the Kolathiri’s and the Zamorin? Or was it something else? This is yet another interesting story. Read on my friends. How an astrologer or an Arab may have been the cause of the change of fortunes of an entire region and later the country of India.

I got intrigued reading this account which said, ‘300 years before the arrival of the Portuguese, there lived a Kanian in Cannanore who was so famous that many of his predictions were documented for posterity. One of these related to the arrival of the Europeans from the West and their supremacy thereafter.’ (Padmanabhan Thampi narrates thus in an article - Calcutta Review 1901). Thampi actually derives this information from the Lendas da India written by Correa. This Kanian predicted that Europeans would arrive at the shores of Malabar and would reign supreme. According to Thampi, this was the reason why Gama and later captains received a favorable reception from the Kolathiri’s of Cannanore and this was probably the reason why the Portuguese got a strong base to continue their trade in Malabar even though Calicut was hostile. Now all this sounded somewhat vague, so I decided to check this out further. As I read the Correa rendition, I found the connections dubious & circumstantial, to state the least.

But then I found this corroborated somewhat by Nagam Aiya in his Travancore State Manual, Vol 1, Page 270. He says – Gaspar Correa the historian of Portuguese India, gives the story of a kanian or astrologer living at Cannanore three hundred or four hundred years before the arrival of the Portuguese, who had a great reputation for astrology that his predictions were committed to writing, one of which related to the arrival of Europeans from the West, who would attain superiority of India. Now, many historians debate the credibility of Gaspar, so what did he actually have to say?

I decided to check out the Book of three voyages (Correas book translated by Henry Stanley –Hakluyt Society) which indeed confirms that soothsayers have been trying to convince the King of Cannanore to accept Gama and they should be friendly with the Franks unlike the Zamorin of Calicut. At the bottom of the subject chapter, the book also refers to a possible reason for the input

Here is what Correa had to say, in Chapter XVIII

How the Portuguese went to the port of Cananor, and saw the King, and of what happened with him, and what they settled.

While the Portuguese were at Calecut, the King of Cananor always knew all that happened to them, because he had sent people for that purpose to write to him everything.

The Moors of Cananor, who received information from those of Calecut, in order to indispose the inclination of the King, used to tell him many lies about the Portuguese, that they used violence and arrogance in Calecut, and many other false tales with respect to which the King knew the truth.

For which reason, one day that the Moors were thus relating these things to him, he said that no one should tell him lies, because he would order his head to be cut off for it. The King said this because he had already settled in his heart that he would establish as much peace with the Portuguese as they might be willing, because he was always talking to his soothsayers, who continually repeated what they had said to the King, and they said to him that the evils done in Calecut caused by the Moors would doubtless grow, and that the Portuguese would always do much harm to Calecut, and would destroy the Moors throughout India, and would turn them out of India, and they would never again possess the navigation which they now had. The King said that if that came to pass, that he also would receive great losses to his kingdom. The soothsayers said to him and gave great assurances that so it would be, because the Portuguese would be masters of the sea, and that no one would be able to navigate upon it unless they were friends of the Portuguese, and that whoever were their enemies would be destroyed at sea and on the land, and that they were telling him the truth, and he should take counsel and do what appeared to him to be for the best. (Footnote)

The Portuguese, then, running along the coast with land and sea breezes, Avhich was in November of 1498, found themselves one morning in sight of Cananor, far out at sea, and the King had kept boats out at sea lest they should pass by night; the land breeze began to fall and the ships became becalmed until there sprung up a change of wind from the sea which brought them to land, and they came before the port of Cananor." When the ships were sighted, the King at once sent to them a large boat, which they call a parao, with a good crew, in which he sent a Nair of his with a message to the captains, begging them much and supplicating them by the life of the King their sovereign, not to pass by without going to his port to see him, because it was very necessary for a great good, and also for them to refit themselves, for he already knew the evil which had been done them in Calecut, which he regretted very much.

(Footnote) The following lines from a Persian Kasidah, or ode of Niamet Ullah Wely, written in the year 570 a.h. or 1174 A.D., may be given as an instance of the sayings of the soothsayers referred to in the text. The nation of the Christians shall seize upon the whole of Hindostan. Then, when tyranny and innovation shall have become a custom among them, The King of the West shall fight against them victoriously, Between them there shall be great wars, …………..

Now how did one become the other? Correa talks of soothsayers and astrologers advising the King. Thampi and later Nagam Aiya talk about the prophecy of a famous Kanain in the 1100 A.D. period. However, the Correa book’s translation by Stanley attributes all this to the prophecies of a Sufi saint. There was definitely no mention of a Kanain who said something 300-400 years ago. Where did Aiya and Thampi get this idea in the first place?

To get to their conclusions, one must check another source, the writings of Fr Jordanus, quoted by Thampi. Jordanus says in a letter written in 1323 ‘the people (of Malabar) are in continuous expectation of Latins here, which they say is clearly predicted in their books’. Naimatulla Shah Wali Bukhari incidentally is considered the Muslim Nostradamus, he was a Sufi saint who lived in the Kashmir Valley around 900 years ago and provided many such prophecies in his Qaseeda. However the question of whether the input was from Malabar astrologers or the pilot of Gama’s ship Ahmad Ibn Majid (based on the Sufi saint’s teachings perhaps), is not yet clear, for Fr Jordanus account is relatively independent of all this. Camoens says in his Luisids that the Gama was told by his escort (Ibn Majid, I assume) that the sages of Malabar had predicted a conquest against which ‘no human resistance shall prevail’.

KM Panikkar in his ‘Malabar & the Portuguese’ mentions that it was purely rivalry with the Zamorin that made the Kolathiri’s decide to shake hands with the Portuguese – ‘my enemy’s enemy is naturally my friend’ kind of situation. Logan provides a bit of mystery as he explains the event. The Kolathiri king decided to meet the Gama face to face and had a long wooden bridge constructed and clambered on to the ship Sao Gabriel. The Gama’s greeted him and gave him many gifts (he details the various gifts in Page 301). Now how is it that the Gama had so many gifts for the Kolathiri but had pleaded that he had none for the Zamorin? History tells us that he did not really have anything of importance to offer the Zamorin. Anyway the visit ended with the Kolathiri providing the Gama a golden leaf with a trade agreement.

Correa continues ‘Thus it was because the King of Cannanore thought that these pale-faced strangers were the people spoken of by the soothsayer, that he welcomed them so kindly’. But he was wrong for they would be succeeded later by the Dutch and later the English as real rulers, as history was to prove.

Anyway the real reasoning of the Cannanore king was probably self preservation & trade and his enmity with the Zamorin. It was to be emulated again by the Cochin king who did exactly the same to get his revenge on the Zamorin.

Nevertheless, in fairness to the repute of the Kanian, it is also true that in medieval times, astrological inputs were very important in Kerala (as it is now) when it comes to decision making, while it’s connection to the Gama event is at best tenuous.


Kanian, kanisan is the Malayalam equivalent of Ganika (saskrit for astrologer) or Malayalam Kani. The caste is covered in detail in Edgar Thurston’s book

Funnily, the Portuguese themselves had based their entire trip on the blessings of a famous mathematician and astrologer named Abraham Zacuto. He explained to Gama how they could cross the Cape of Good Hope and avoid fierce storms. It was his convincing argument to King Manuel that got a nod to Gama’s voyage, in reality.


Christopher Columbus and the participation of the Jews in the Spanish and Portuguese discoveries. By Meyer Kayserling, Charles Gross
The three voyages of Vasco da Gama, and his viceroyalty Gaspar Correa – Translated by Baron Henry Edward John Stanley Stanley
Travancore state manual – Nagam Aiya
Calcutta review Calcutta review, Volumes 112-113, Pg 207
Mirabilia descripta: the wonders of the East By Jordanus

Pic – Ahmad Ibn majid – Saudi Aramco World, Gama ship – Wikimedia commons

The Cheraman sword

Posted by Maddy Labels:

As one reads books on Malabar history, especially focusing on Calicut and the Zamorin lineage, one come across mentions of a sword that was gifted to the Puntura brothers Manavedan and Manavikraman, by the erstwhile ruler Cheraman Peruymal with a violent blessing.

The picture of the sword and its sheath is attached as well as the inscription on the sheath – which stated ‘Ningal chattum konnum atakki kolka’ - loosely translated as 'die, kill and annex (seize)'. It obviously makes that piece of weaponry very symbolic and important, if it still exists. Let’s take a look at the sword, its implications, importance and present whereabouts. It was after all a symbolic sword that provided the Zamorin’s of the yesteryears the legal right to do what they did and the license to annex and conquer vast portions of Malabar and assert their claims to them.

Recently at the Calicut Heritage forum meeting, Advocate Suresh questioned – How could that blessing sound right? Can you die and still continue the conquest? Well, that was an interesting question indeed.

While some historian’s have stated that the original itself was handed over by the Perumal in a broken condition, other historians state that it was a proper sword until the Dutch attack of the Zamorin’s rest house in Tiruvanchikulam - Kodungallur in 1670, which they set fire to, in dastardly fashion.

The sword itself has been called ‘Udaval’ and Otimaval (Otinjaval?) by historians. The former means ‘A curved sword carried with the body along the waist’ whereas the latter means a broken sword. The present Zamorin mentioned in a discussion with the author that it was indeed in one piece, and had been remade from the broken part, after having been destroyed in a fire during a war with the Dutch. He also mentioned that the sword is now kept in the Tali temple and taken out only for ceremonious occasions.

The destruction of the sword
The time of the Zamorin 1668-71, who was the Thamburan assisted by the Portuguese Pacheo – The story is set during the time the Nayars had been defeated and the Dutch had destroyed the round fort erected their bastion in Tiruvanchikulam in 1669.

KV Krishna Iyer describes the event thus- In the following year, the Zamorin though sickly, was persuaded by the Eralpad to go to Cranganore to encourage the Nayars. The Dutch surprised the Zamorin camp on March 27th. By an inexplicable oversight, the Eralpad had allowed the bulk of the Nairs to go to the Cherpu for the Ashvathi festrival. The Dutch broke into the temple, smashed the idols, killed the priest and set fire to the house. In the confusion of the night, the nairs forgot to remove the Cheraman sword and it was burnt to cinders. The Zamorin retired to Papinivattom and the Eralpad recaptured the bastion.

Historian NM Nampoothiri opines as follows -When the Zamorin was a ruling chief, all public activities were suspended for fourteen days after the previous Zamorin’s death, and resumed only after the Ariyittu valcha, which immediately followed by Tiruvantali. The last ritualistic procedure conducted in this period is the Tirubali. The coronation function starts after Tirubali. The Zamorins proceeds to his private chapel to worship the Goddess and the Cheraman Sword. The original sword was reduced into splinters in AD. 1670, at Cranganore, where the Zamorins were camping, in the course of a surprise attack by the Dutch. The document, which describes this incident, has now been rediscovered.

Herman Gundert - Explains the dastardly night attack on March 23rd, 1670 when the Zamorin lost his wife and his son was injured while they came to attend the Bharani festival (see the difference between the Iyer & Gundert explanations). It was also the day when the original Perumal sword was destroyed. He also mentions in his Keralolpathi version thus - The traditions proudly recounted that they got only a broken sword (from the Perumal), to confuse the issue

In the Duarte Barbosa book by ML Dames, JA Thorne gives an account of the Val Puja done during the Ariyittuvazcha. He explains that the sword is worshipped daily by the Zamorin, and that the sword is lain at the feet of the Bhagavati when he dies. Until a new Zamorin is appointed, the priest does the daily chores of worship to the sword. The val puja is again carried out by the new Zamorin on his first day’. M A Thorne, who annotated the Longworth Dames version of Barbos;as book states that he had seen the sword, and that it is a quasi sacred relic to the Zamorin. It was brought out in a salvar decked with ‘jamanthi’ flowers. By the late 19th century it had already rusted to pieces, according to him.

J Heniger in his book (Pg 35) Hendrik Adriaan van Reede tot Drakenstein (1636-1691) and Hortus Malabaricus ... confirms the event stating that the Zamorin’s wife was mortally wounded and son shot in the leg that fateful night. The rains came soon after and van Rheede retreated to their base in Ceylon. Ironically, it was Henrich van Rheede’s first success as commander, marching in with 900 soldiers sent to him by Van Goens, but it was a cheap method adopted i.e. setting fire to a private house occupied by women & children, at night, well against the norms of war in those days.

However most other history books missed van Rheede’s presence in 1670, while many of them do account for his formal arrival to Cochin in 1676. J Heninger’s has to be right here, so it was indeed the revered van Rheede who was instrumental in destruction of the treasured Cheraman Sword. Nevertheless, many historians have since then mentioned that the rusted blade of the sword was covered with a protective covering of copper.

Picture below shows the present Zamorin PKS Raja holding the remains of the famous sword.

During the Mamankham too, the sword was used symbolically, as quoted below from Nayars of Malabar- F Fawcett

It was on this spot, on a smooth plateau of hard laterite rock, raised some 3oto4o feet above the plain, that the Zamorin used several times in the course of the festival to take his stand with the sword of Cheraman Perumal, the last emperor, in his hand.

" The sword is and has been for centuries, slowly rusting away in its scabbard, but it is not alone on it that the Zamorin depends for his safety, for the plain below him is covered with the 30,000 Nayars of Ernad, the 10,000 of Polanad and numberless petty dependent chieftains, each counting his fighting men by the hundred or the thousand or by thousands. Away on the right across the river are the camps of the second prince of the Zamorin's family and of the dependent Punnattur Raja ; the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth princes' camps too are close at hand in the left front behind the temple, and behind the terrace itself is the Zamorin's camp.

The Ullanat family website provides this interesting - According to the ancient history of Kerala narrated in the poetic work called “Keralam” by Kunhikuttan Thampuran, Cheraman Perumal, the last Chera king of Kerala, relinquished his kingdom and divided the land amongst the various smaller chieftains and gave them independence. This event is said to have given rise to various new kingdoms being formed within Kerala. The Zamorin (Samuthiri) who was absent during this event of partition later met Cheraman Perumal. Cheraman Perumal gave his last four possessions to the Samuthiri namely

1) his sword, which was bent inward,
2) a broken conch,
3) the last remaining portion of land (which was to evolve later as the city called Kozhikode)


4) his faithful servant - the Ullanat Panicker (who was known as the Palliyara Panicker of Cheraman Perumal). Perumal gave Samuthiri permission to conquer and keep all the land he could by his might.

The site also has a picture of a bent sword, and the Cherman sword could very well have looked like that in old times. The Malayalam poetry extract testifies to the above.

Another interesting observation turns up at the Ponmileri house website This sword, apparently had an inauspicious story attached to it, or auspicious depending on which religion analyses the story. Naveen posts a short account of Ponmileri Koroth House in North Malabar.

At the time of the famous Cheraman Perumal, a member of this family was serving them as a faithful karyasthan. One day when Cheruman Perumal was out for a walk, he forgot to take his sword, which was kept in his bedchamber. The young Nayar gentlemen when he entered the bedroom found that the wife of the Perumal occupied it. He asked this lady for the sword, and she, who was enamored of him, requested him to satisfy her longings. As he was very faithful to his lord he stoutly refused her request, whereupon she became angry made wounds on her person herself and began to raise a hue and cry. Cheruman Perumal on finding that his karyasthan had not returned even after a long time, returned to his house when he was told by his wife that this karyasthan had approached her with evil requests and that when he refused to comply with his desires he had made wounds on her person. Perumal on finding the marks on her body was satisfied with the story and without taking the trouble of knowing the truth of the affair sentenced this Nayar to death by the sword. As his head was being severed from the body by the sword a voice was heard to exclaim "the Perumal who easily believes a women's story go to Mecca and be a Mohemmadan" (Penncholu ketta perumaale makkathu poyi thopiyitto). The family of this Nayar was thereafter known as the family of Vaduvilla Nayar(Nayar without stain), which by corruption became Paduvillan Nayar.

The Cherman Perumal’s story which follows is covered in the blog

And that my friends, is the known history of the sword that started the reign of the Zamorin’s of Calicut and the involvement of Van Rheede who gave us the famed Hortus malabaricus with it.

Pic - Extracted from Logan's Malabar Manual