The Portuguese attack on Calicut – 4th Jan 1510

Posted by Maddy Labels:

This is one of those interesting stories, mainly because it has been written into history books in differing ways, some flippant and others very serious. It is difficult to figure out exactly what happened. But let us come to conclusions after we check out the various versions. This is a story that takes you back some centuries back, to 4th Jan 1510 to be precise when the senior most officer of Portugal decided to take on the Zamorin of Calicut and capture his palace when he was away fighting another war.

Many of versions relied fully or partly on the commentaries of Albuquerque. In retrospect the English writers added embellishments. I am still not sure which is correct as even Krishna Iyer relied on Albuquerque’s dairies and reading the test of those diaries plus the feeling that Albuquerque was by & far a more ‘prim and correct’ person, I would tend to go with his version.
KV Krishna Iyer – A History of Kerala (pg 243) Informed by the Koya Pakki of the absence of the Zamorin at Chetway (Chettuva) and of his ministers at Palghat, Coutinho attacked the capital. Early morning on Jan 4th 1510, he (Albuquerque accompanied by Francisco Coutinho) landed on the Northern bank of the Kallayi river. Burning the Jamiat mosque, his men slowly advanced through the narrow streets, guided by the Koya Pakki and at last penetrated the outhouses and offices of the Zamorin’s palace. But the ‘Akampatijanam’ known as the 10,000 Nair’s whom the Zamorin had left behind drove back the intruders killing Marshall Coutinho who had boasted before his master, the king of Portugal that he would capture the Zamorin’s capital. Albuquerque escaped to his ships with a wound on his shoulder.

Sheikh Zainuddin – Tuhfat Al-Mujahidin (Translation - SMH Nainar) – Clarifies that the Kuttichira mosque is the Mitqual mosque built by the Arab Nakhuda. Also that 500 Portuguese soldiers were killed in this battle. Many drowned (wearing heavy chain armor) while fleeing to the ships. Clarifications & comments provided by Nainar add that Koyapakki who was the local Portuguese trade agent had requested this confrontation to be avoided but had been overruled and put into prison. This enraged Koyapakki who subsequently went against the Portuguese.

Malabar and the Portuguese – KM Panikkar (pg 75-76) explains roughly as follows - The Marcheal F Coutinho was a rash & reckless warrior. He insisted on war whereas Albuquerque wanted peace with the Zamorin and he was in correspondence with the Eralpad (heir apparent). Coutinho disagreed and stated that Manuel had sent him to India with the specific purpose of attacking Calicut. The Cochin raja provided a diversionary attack. The Brahmin spies in the Cochin Raja’s service were utilized as to provide information on troop movements. The raja reported that the Zamorin was away fighting, that there were only a few 100 Nair’s guarding the palace. They landed on Jan 3rd and Albuquerque captured the jetty while Coutinho stood by fuming at the temerity of Albuquerque in taking credit. He then marched to the palace which they began to pillage and ransack. The nair militia received news and counter attacked. Albuquerque escaped to the beach injured. The cut off Coutinho ordered that the palace be set fire and fought valiantly. Some 70 key ‘fidalgos’ lost their life in the fight and Coutinho was also killed. The marhsall’s banner as well as Albuquerque’s flag were captured by the Nair’s.

Zamorins of Calicut – KVK Iyer (Pg 172) provides more details - states that Albuquerque was the one who had planned in 1503 itself to destroy Calicut. Timoja and the Cochin Raja excused themselves from an attack, but the latter sent his Brahmins to Calicut to sow seeds of discontent amidst the ranks and to report on the situation in Calicut. They together with the Koya Pakki suggested landing locations in Kallayi. 20 ships and numerous paros, all put totaling to 2000 set a sail to Calicut. Koya Pakki was the guide through the labyrinths of Calicut streets. The landing was not smooth due to the ebb in the tide and so the soldiers did not land together. The armed Jetti was captured by Albuquerque, much to the anger of Coutinho. The troops were well armed and clad in heavy armor. Seeing the sword and shield clad nairs, Coutinho remarked that all he needed was a skull cap & a cane to capture Calicut. They overwhelmed the 200 nair guards and entered the premises to see the lure & riches of the Zamorin. The army scattered to loot & plunder. But by this time Coutinho was tired and he lay to rest on a large stone(and went to sleep for 2 hours). The alarm was already raised and the nairs grouped by then and attacked the plundering Portuguese. Coutinho woke up and ordered a diversionary fire on the wooden palace framework, but this was too late. Albuquerque got involved firing his field gun, but it was of no avail. Albuquerque then ordered his men to flee back to the ships seeing the ferocity of the fight and the hopeless situation. While fleeing Albuquerque was injured in his shoulder by a lance thrust (the Portuguese stated that they lost only 80 but that some 1000 Nairs were killed, the Muslims reported that some 500 Portuguese were killed). Coutinho and his soldiers died fighting within the palace.

The English writers added more flavor – Logan states in Malabar Manual (317, 318) that the request for destruction of Calicut went to Europe from the Kolathiris of Cannanore & the Cochin Raja. Logan adds the tidbit that Coutinho had aged by then and that being a very hot day, Coutinho had no helmet on. They killed the palace guard and two other chieftains guarding the palace. The Portuguese then set about the plunder of emblems, and treasures, even picking precious stones from idols. Logan states that Coutinho then reclined on a stately couch to rest for 2 hrs. He woke up to the sounds of the attack by the ‘akambadi’ soldiers who had recouped. They were killed by arrows & javelins. The palace was on fire by then, Albuquerque reached too late to save his cousin & friend, and himself escaped with great difficulty. He was hurt by a bullet on his foot (did he fire it himself in his haste) and a stone that knocked him out. He was carried off thus on shields by his men. Captain Robello set off back to Cochin with them, leaving over a hundred of their people behind (Were they massacred?). The fleeing soldiers had difficulties clambering & finding their way across the various mud embankments (mathil’s) of the Calicut town.

Other writers such as Egerton (Indian and Oriental Amour) state that the Palace guard uttered a cry that drew in over 30,000 well armed Nair’s in the defense of the palace. Apparently they fired arrows from roof tops. Stephens in his book on Albuquerque states that the weight of the armor and the heat had made his men weary and that he had ordered Noronha to remain at Kallayi with 300 men. Coutinho finally sees about 20-30 shouting nair and ridicules Gaspar Perira the Jewish secretary to India who was with him – Is this the Calicut that you terrify us with in Portugal? Gaspar did not agree and warned of trouble from the naked little blacks if they penetrated the palace. The rest of the story is as previously stated. In this book, it confirms that Albuqurque did indeed burn about 50 vessels (quoting Zainuddin) that were docked in Kallayi as Logan had stated. Murray (History of British India) opines that it was a clever trap by the nairs to draw Countinho and his troops into the palace.

Some writers mention that Coutinho had the filed gun and thus was slowed in the retreat and bore the brunt of the nair retaliation, to be killed. This contradicts the versions that mention Albuquerque had the gun. Nevertheless, he may have left it with Coutinho though records indicate that Coutinho told Albuquerque to get lost and take charge of his own charges instead of advising Coutinho.

Diffie and Winus – Foundations of Portuguese empire - however provides the juicy tidbits – Had Albuquerque been in sole command, the attack would probably had carried. But Coutinho despite repeated warnings from Albuquerque plunged deep into the city from the Portuguese beachhead and was happily pursuing the goal of prying loose a pair of famously ornate doors from the Zamorin’s palace when a counter attack cut him off. Then in the narrow streets he and his lieutenants had cast off some of their heavy armor and were panting for breath under their heavy souvenirs when they were overwhelmed and killed. In attempting to relive the Marshall, Albuquerque himself suffered a painful wound to his shoulder from a roof top snipers arrow.

The commentaries of De Albuquerque themselves provide a wealth of Information – Volume 2 confirms that Coutinho was using Periera to sound out Albuqurque, and Periera states that Albuquerque himself had always fancied destroying Calicut. Albuquerque then tells Coutinho that he had no other opinion & that he was fully in support of an attack. The Cochin king provided 20 smaller ships and many more small boats for the attack. According to details 2 Brahmins were deputed by him for the spy work. Some details of the slight disagreement between Coutinho & Albuquerque is explained where Albuquerque calls for a meeting & pre war debate, much to Coutinho’s displeasure. In the meantime the spies return with the reconnaissance report on Kallayi and the fact that the Zamorin and his troops were fighting elsewhere. Thus start the ill fated campaign in undue haste.

Koya pakki is summoned and imprisoned in the ship and asked to show them around Calicut after they land inKallayio/Beypore. Coutinho then orders everybody in writing that he would be the one to take the jetty and that anybody else who did it would get his head cut off. But as we read before, Albequerque and party landed first and secured the Kallayi jetty (This had a reason - The marshall and his men had to land far away due to the tide and walk in their heavy amour, thus tiring themselves out even before the start. Also there was a beach battle with the Mopla’s at the jetty and as a result Albuquerque and his troops were drawn into the fight even before Coutinho could reach there) They then had a mighty argument on those shores. Coutinho is furious and sets of to the palace even though entreated by Albuquerque to take some rest. Coutinho refuses and says that he knows Albuquerque wants to cheat him again of the glory of capturing the palace. Albuquerqe follows half heartedly fearing about the success of the campaign, but after telling Noronha to set fire to the Moorish ships and hang around the beach with 300 men. Confirmation that Coutinho had the previously stated conversation with Gaspar Periera and setting fire to the mosque is also provided.

However by then Coutinho was too tired and two men had to support him with their shoulders. They force their way into the palace. At the start 80 Portuguese are stabbed and killed by the palace guards. Coutinho is by now unable to walk and rests on the stone within the courtyard, while others pillage and plunder & the remaining nair’s scatter, but raise a hue & cry outside. Albuquerque arrives, firing the gun to disperse the fighting nairs. Then he requests the Marshall to retire, but Coutinho is still angry and does not. The screaming Nairs had already drawn a crowd and it was probably a wise decision to get back to the ships. Albuquerque had decided then that the attack was doomed. But Coutinho would not listen and asked him to go back to the ships, commanding his troops instead and that he would remain to fight. Then he orders the burning of the palace which is when the Nairs besiege them and kill him (struck by an arrow while venturing through a narrow passage) and some 12 more senior leaders of the group.

Hearing about the attack, Albuquerque turns back to help but gets injured twice in the shoulder and shoulder blade and is hit on the chest by a large stone and is stunned. He is carried to the beach. Somehow the survivors reach the boats and board them, remaining there for the night. The nairs & moors did not venture any further (assuming that the boats were burnt and the moors were without boats & ships).

The Zamorin hearing about all this a day or two later stopped his fight (with presumably the Valluva Konathiri (at Chettuva – near Trichur) the hill king) and hastened back, with the konathiri hot on his heels taking advantage of the situation. By the time he reached Calicut, four days have passed and Albuquerque is already on his next mission. Seeing the destruction of his palace and the loss of 3,000 people (and only 80 enemy dead - according to Albuquerque) he is overwrought and screams at the Moplahs for failing to defend the city in his absence and even threatens to get rid of them from Calicut.

So this is the tale of that attack – Was it just a tale of a person who stole the Zamorin’s highly ornate palace doors and found it a tough task fleeing with it (due to the immense weight of the teak, rose wood or whatever it was plus the overlay of brass and gold), was avarice just the reason for Coutinho’s death or was it his impudence and arrogance or was it his ill fated decision to spend time setting the palace on fire instead of fleeing with Albuquerque? The reader can decide. I have led you to the battle scene.

The gauntlet was laid. The Portuguese war with Malabar had started in right earnest. The Moppilah’s, the Kolathiri’s, the Zamorin’s, and the Kochi Varma’s were all now being ably manipulated by the foreigners.

Krishna Iyer adds - Later Albuquerque appealed to the Krishnadevaraya (with whom Almedia had concluded a treaty) of Vijayanagar for help and in the subsequent attack, the Raya’s troops came in via Palghat, but they are all hounded back by the 10,000 Nair troops of the Zamorin. So much for those who venture to say that the Nair’s possibly originated from the Naidu’s of the Raya’s Vijaynagara kingdoms.

The players
Marshall Manual Fernando De Coutinho - Cousin of Albuquerque, strong of arm, great of belly and weak of brain, the Marshall of Portugal. His responsibility was to get rid of Almedia and establish Albuquerque as Viceroy.
Dom Manuel 1 - 14th king of Portugal

Koyapakki (Cosabequim) – Portuguese trading contact & informant in Cochin, a Moplah merchant of Calicut origin. He also became an envoy to Lisbon after Joao Da Cruz returned in 1513. He had an ongoing fight with the traders in Egypt and later broke away from the Portuguese after they set fire to Moplah ships in Calicut.

Afonso DAlbuquerque- Generally considered a world conquest military genius due to his successful ocean strategy; Governor/Viceroy of India, then he was installed as the first Duke of Goa (a duke not from the King’s family)
Zamorin – The suzerain of Calicut, Manavikrama from the Padinjare Kovilakom

Eralpad – Heir apparent to the Calicut kingdom, friendly with Portuguese, later (disputed notion) poisoned the Zamorin in 1513 at the behest of Albuquerque and deputed Joao Da Cruz & Koya Pakki to Lisbon as envoys. Died in 1522.

Cochin king – Goda Varma – died later in 1510

Timoja – Or Timmaya possibly a moor, who was befriended by Almeida and who had been in contact with Gama as well in 1502 and later became an ally of the Portuguese in conquering Goa. "This man," it is said in the Commentaries of Albuquerque, was a Hindu by birth, very obedient to the interests of the King of Portugal; and being a man of low origin had, as a corsair, raised himself to a position of great honor."

Location of Calicut attack – Zamorin’s palace - Mananchira – The commonwealth offices, LIC, SM street etc are located there these days . You can also picture or imagine the walk in the heat & humidity from Beypore to Mananchira, if you know the terrain.

Notes – Magellan was also around in the fleet when this happened, but what he did is not clear- See my previous blog on Magellan. One of the survivors of this attack, Antonio Correo who was at that time a small boy was involved in later expeditions. Albuquerque could never use his arm properly ever again due to the said injury. Young & brave Noronha was killed later in 1510 in a fight with Adil shah adding to Albuquerque’s miseries. Many books clarify that the town’s inhabitants also attacked the Portuguese with stones & whatever they could find, the battle was not fought by just the armed Nairs. As you recall Albuquerque was stunned by a stone. According to Alexander Chalmers notes Albuquerque was not even expected to recover from his wounds, but that he did at Cochin.

Malabar manual – Logan
Portuguese in India - F Danvers
Zamorins of Calicut – KVK Iyer
Malabar & the Portuguese – KM Panickkar
Tuhfat Al-Mujahidin - Sheikh Zainuddin
Commentaries of Albuquerque
History of British India - Hugh Murray


  1. P.N. Subramanian

    A very good and interesting account of various versions on the Portuguese attack of Calicut in 1510 AD. Thanks.

  1. Calicut Heritage Forum

    A very useful compilation. This raises the question - where exactly was the Calicut port in those days? The reference to Kallayi and the description of the skirmishes indicate that the port was much to the south of the present Calicut beach. A map of Calicut c.1500 shows large vessels entering a wide river near Calicut beach. There is also some evidence of there having been a river near the present Calicut beach - the place where the present Corporation Market/Mathrubhumi head office/old Nedungadi Bank H.O. are located is still called 'puzhakkara'.

  1. Inácio

    It seems that I have visited this blog before, but probably I didn't have then the opportunity to explore it any further.
    I am glad that I found it again.
    I am a Portuguese and a Jew so that you can immagine what I am interested in.
    How can I contact Maddy in case I have firther questions?
    Will appreciate to hear from you.

  1. Maddy

    thanks PNS, CHF..
    hv to investigate the puzhakara angle..

  1. Maddy

    thnaks inacia..
    send me a mail at