The mystery of the Nambiar Nakhuda

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Some of my previous articles covered the Indian Ocean maritime trade and key players like the Maghribis, the Karimis, Marakkars, the ship building facilities at Beypore and so on. In almost all the cases, we saw that the traders, the sailors and merchants were of Moslem, Jewish, Christian or foreign extract. But this blog is about a non Moslem ship owner, ship owners whom the people, especially Arabs of those times termed a Nakhuda. Strangely all there is in the Genizah records, is a brief mention with his name and not much more. To make some sense out of it is difficult, but at least we can get an understanding of the facets of trade and the involvement of the individual in question.

Normally these ship owners did not participate directly in the trade; they just owned the ship and leased it via the captain probably raking in a percentage of sales for its use.

This story again takes us back to the times of Abraham Ben Yiju (some think it is more correctly pronounced as Yishu) Asha or Ashu and the master of the Geniza records SD Goitein. It is now a good time to mention again that some experts like Roxani Eleni Margariti mention that Yiju lived in Pantalayaini Kollam and not Mangalore. If you recall, I had provided a perspective about this particular port in an earlier blog.

SD Goitein (in his paper - From Aden to India – Specimen of the correspondence of the India traders of the 12th century) transcribes a letter sent by Yiju to Madmun in Aden. The letter is dated 1146/1150AD. Paper was difficult to come by and expensive at those times, Indian scribes used palm leaves and iron nail based pens to record the Granthavari’s. Ink & paper were used only by the other traders. The same paper and every available inch of it was used by sender and receiver to record their communication which was painstakingly written in fine Arabic script (Sometimes scribes recorded the replies, not the trader himself). Now considering that the time between voyages and thereby correspondence can be one full calendar year, you see thoughts across large time spans in one parchment. The paper used is grayish in color or brownish. Sometimes you can even see that the discussion is suddenly cut short due to paucity of paper. Typically these scrolls were 10*70 cm and most possibly rolled up.

These papers from the Genizah at Cairo survived only because the lord’s name was on them (and hence consigned to the Geniza for appropriate future action) and today we are fortunate to have bits of those parchments to peruse.

In the letter, Yiju says ‘I sent you this on the ship of the Nakhodah Ramisht one bag –in the ship of Nambiyar (ani) one bag and in the ship of Al – Muqaddam one bag. So we know now that the mystery ship owner is one Nambiayar

Ranbir Chakravarthi, eminent historian analyses the ship owner in a little bit more of detail in his paper and states (Nakhudas and Nauvittakas: Ship-Owning Merchants in the West Coast of India (C. AD 1000- 1500)) In addition to Fataswami (Pattani Swami as clarified by Amitav Ghosh in his book In an Antique land) and Fadiyar, Nambiyar is the third Indian (Hindu) ship owner that we come across in the correspondence between ben Yiju and Madmun. Nam-biyar's ship(s) too sailed between the Malabar coast (from Mangalore or some other ports) and Aden. That Indian ship owners did participate in the shipping network across the high sea can hardly be missed. Although it is true that only a handful of Indian ship-owners are known from the Geniza papers, which speak much more regularly of Jewish and Muslim ship owning merchants.

You may also recall from the earlier Ben Yiju article that Yiju was assisted by Sesu Chetty, a Nambiar and a Nair in his activities in Manjarur. Was this Nambiar ‘the’ ship owner? How did a Nambiar take up a Vaishya trade, which was very uncommon? Nairs & Nambiyars in those times, unlike today took up only martial activities, not trade in North Malabar. Was he a ‘benami owner’ in the Yiju coterie? Does that signify that Ashu was from Kolathunad? Does it mean that Nambiyar was in Pantalayani Kollam and not Mangalore? Considering that a Nambiyar trader existed in P Kollam in 1150, does it mean that P Kollam was beyond the Zamorin’s governance? Very mysterious indeed but unfortunately no information could be obtained to identify this ship owner or answer the above questions though one can come to certain conclusions.

It is likely that Nambiar operated in Mangalore, rather than Pantalayani, for Kollam was under the suzerainty of the Zamorin. It is also very likely that the Nambiar was a ‘benami’ (only by name) partner of Ben Yiju for he would have had great difficulty speaking Arabic and conversing with the traders like Madmun in Aden. Note here that the Nair/Nambiar community was not usually conversant with Arabic and such foreign languages; did not travel into the oceans and they were at best conversant in Malayalam and Sanskrit and were busy with the raja’s armies. So the relationship does look intriguing.

To understand the role Nambiyar may have played, one must also look at the three individuals in question, Ben Yiju himself, Fattanswami and Fadiyar. Fattanswami is Pattanaswami or lord of the ports. Strictly speaking it could have been a rich Chetty (perhaps Sheshu Chetty mentioned in the Yiju letters) ship owner and Pattanaswami or port master could just have been a common title as stated by Parkin & Barnes (Ships and the Development of Maritime Technology on the Indian Ocean - By David Parkin, Ruth Barnes – Pg 53). Fadi yar according to Goitein papers had a number of ships and could have been a Persian and not of Indian origin. It could not have been a ‘vadiyar’ or teacher, in my opinion.

It was relatively easy for these rich traders or Nakhudas to live and operate off the Malabar ports. Many of them distinguished themselves and had monuments named after them. Note here that the Mithqualpalli (Kuttichira mosque) in Calicut was named after the Nakhuda Mitqual, a 14th century Arab merchant. The masjid in Beypore was built by a Nakhuda in 1132.

All in all, pretty unlikely to have a Nambiyar as a Nakhudah, but then future outputs from the Genizah study may cast more light on this matter, some day.


Abraham and Asha
The Cairo Genizah

Notes: Documents from the Cairo Genizah date from the 9th through the 15th centuries. They catalogue the social, cultural, and religious lives of Jews around the Mediterranean basin. The fragments were discovered in the late 19th century in the Ben Ezra synagogue in Fustat, a neighborhood in Old Cairo. Many of the fragments eventually wound up at Cambridge UK and many came to North America. Some fragments even have Indian languages such as the one shown. It could be Gujarati text.

Nākhudā (when Anglicised, also written Naghdeh, Nakhodeh, Nakhooda, Nakhoda, Nakoda and Nacoda) is a term originating from the Persian language which literally means Captain. Derived from nāv boat (from Old Persian) + khudā master, from Middle Persian khutāi a 'master of a native vessel' or 'Lord of the Ship'. Historically, people with this epithet are Muslim and Kamili Jewish ship owning merchants of Persian origin, known to have crossed the Persian Gulf to trade in other coastal areas of the world. Besides Iran those with the surname Nakhuda can be found in coastal areas of the world in small numbers such as the UAE, Oman, Malaysia and India.
Pic – Courtesy University of Pennsylvania

Prosperity at the Marketplace - Calicut

Posted by Maddy Labels:

This here is a legend from Calicut, and was originally narrated by the great writer Kottarathil Shankunni in his magnum opus ‘Aithihyamala’ a brilliant collection of fables, folklore and legends of Kerala. While it is not factual history by itself, it tells you quite a bit about the times, and a little about the royal affairs of the Zamorin and the importance of legends & superstition in those times. I have tried to understand and analyze the story after re-narrating it in English, by adding some meat here & there to create better perspective for today’s readers.

We have all read so much about the words of the many travelers who wrote about Calicut. They called it a prosperous trading place, with honesty that prevailed and people who lived harmoniously despite the many religions, castes, nationalities etc. We have read much about the Zamorin and how he conducted his administrative tasks and patronage of arts in medieval times, we have heard about later colonialists and their accounts, some very exact and some grossly exaggerated. But this one is still folklore. I would assume that this is set in the 1760 AD time frame, a period when the city is doing well and trade was prospering. The Mysore Sultans had not yet arrived and the Dutch traders were quite localized in Cochin.

Let’s first look at another legend – of how it all started. A seafaring merchant reaches the coastal sands of Calicut - Kozhikode. During an audience with the sovereign, the Zamorin, the traveller requests that a consignment of jars filled with pickled food be entrusted with the royal house for safekeeping until his return from the next voyage. The merchant’s son returns the following year to reclaim them from the ruler’s custody. The king, knowing only too well that the jars had in fact contained hidden gold, returns the entire consignment untouched. The young merchant proclaims: “This is the harbour of honesty”. Word spread, trade flourished…

And so things were going well. The benevolent Zamorin was going about his work of reviewing his relationships with the neighboring principalities of Polanad, Kolanad, Valluvanad and sometimes troubled by the stances taken by the Cochin Varma’s and the Dutch rulers there (See my article on van Rheede ). The ‘mamankhom’ festival at Tirunavaya was coming up and the various assistants were gearing up for the pomp & splendor. The various Samoothiri (Zamorin) Kovilakom’s had their own subterfuges, quarrels between relatives and as Karanavar, the Thampuran (for that was how he was called in the family) had much to ponder on, mediate and order. Sometimes he got involved, sometimes he allowed his heir apparents the Eralpads (second in line) and Moonalpads (third in line) to take decisions. He had to be careful though and on the watch always, for you never knew who plotted against whom. He had to keep careful watch over the revenues from the ports around Calicut, and had to ensure that the Moplahs and Koyas kept full control over the trade and tendered the taxes & duties. Things had been getting a bit difficult with the Moplahs after the death of the Kunjali Marakkar.

As was the practice, the Zamorin’s palace had many scribes, the Menon’s recording all decisions and the karyakkar’s took care of the various petty issues and administration acts. Among the ministers, the principal revenue collector or Dewan was the most trusted among the lot in his retinue. He had to be a master of many languages, had to be very clever and be an excellent judge and arbitrator and have full control of the various junior ministers or Kariakkars. The reigning Zamorin in this instance was fortunate; he did have a good Dewan.

However, the Zamorin was distressed, for some time his right shoulder had been bothering him. The pain was becoming intense and any amount of massage, Ayurvedic treatments and ‘kashayams’ (herbal medicines) did not help. Many a local (Moosad) doctor had tried to find a cure, but the pain would not recede. Tantric’s and others tried, but of no avail. They all expressed that this was an incurable ailment, a ‘teeravyadhi’.

As days went by, the distress grew. The Zamorin was becoming listless and very much distracted by the pain. One fine day a youth appeared at the palace and stated that he had heard about the problem and may have a solution. The young man was summoned to an audience with the Zamorin. As he went in, he saw the Zamorin lounging on his easy chair chewing betel leaves and staring vacantly at the ceiling. The man asked briefly about the Zamorin’s illness and after listening patiently, said that he had a very simple solution. He said “respected sir, all you need to do is apply a wet Thorthu (towel) on your right shoulder for a while and everything would be set right’.

The Zamorin considered this for some time. As he had already tried all kinds of things, there was no harm in trying this rather silly experiment as well. The others in the palace who heard this were skeptical, but said nothing. So the Zamorin did exactly as the young man advised and lo and behold! The pain was gone in a jiffy. The Zamorin was very pleased and gifted the young man with a number of Parithoshikam’s (gifts) and a Veera Srinkala (Ankle bracelet).

On that eventful day, the learned Dewan was out traveling the region. When he returned later in the afternoon and heard the story of the miraculous cure of the Dewan, his suspicion grew. A young man from nowhere curing the ailment that other specialist had failed to cure? They had said that it was a ‘teeravyadhi’, one that would be with the old man until death. This did not look very good to him. When he learnt the details and the fact that the Zamorin had been made to apply his wet or “eeran” towel on his right shoulder, he knew exactly what had happened. He sensed not only danger to the Zamorin but also imminent disaster for whole kingdom.

He exclaimed ‘what a mistake’ and in great haste left the palace. He walked about for a while, looking at the people milling around and conducting various affairs of trade. Around dusk, he proceeded towards ‘Angadi area’ (big bazaar) or market area. Soon he spotted her, for she was standing alone in a corner as though waiting for somebody, and she did look out of place with her simple but elegant dressing, and her lovely high born appearance. But the Dewan had no doubts and had found her, just in time. Walking up to her, he informed her with great humility that he had a matter of great importance to discuss with her. Would she be prepared to listen? The lady graciously agreed, stating that she would of course be happy to listen to the Dewan. But natural I guess, for the Dewan was dressed in resplendent fashion, spotless dhoti and a well adorned turban. He was obviously a titled man from the palace, how could one refuse?

But the Dewan looked very flustered; he said “Oh, please madam, could you wait for a few minutes? I have forgotten my Mudra (palace seal) at the palace courts. Can I quickly go and get it? It is too dangerous to leave it lying around there. I have to pick it up and then come back to you and we will discuss the grave matter in a moment. Will you wait?”

The lady nodded in the affirmative, but the Dewan was insistent. He asked again ‘Will you promise me specifically that you will wait here till I come back?’ The woman promised that she would wait till he came back.

The Dewan went back to the palace with leaden feet and a tired countenance. He met the Zamorin and told him how grave a mistake he had committed. He explained that there was a good reason for the pain in his right shoulder; after all, it was Maha Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth & prosperity residing there and dancing on his shoulder. The family was prosperous, his luck was shining.

“This resulted in much prosperity for Calicut. What you have done, respected sir, is the most inauspicious and vile thing by putting a wet towel on the godess. By doing it, you drove her away and brought on the sister Bhaghavathy in her place. The situation was very clear to that clever youth and he used his knowledge to drive away the pain, but it is also going to bring you ill luck. Anyway, I have fortunately found a timely solution to the crisis. But it also means that I can live no more”.

Saying this, the Dewan swiftly left the Zamorin. Within the hour he took his life, killing himself by drinking poison.

It took a while for the events of the day to sink into the minds of the learned people of the palace. Much later, somebody explained them for the benefit of the public.

The Dewan had known immediately that the young man had done. The inauspicious deed was committed, now the only thing left to do was some ‘prathividhi’. Accordingly the Dewan set out to locate ‘Lakshmi’ the Goddess of prosperity. He saw her as soon as he entered the bazaar, for that is where her subjects are and that is where she wanders around, keeps an eye on their actions. By asking her to wait for him, getting the promise and killing himself, there was no way he was going to return. The Goddess had to keep her promise to remain where she was, that is, at the Agnadi or bazaar of Calicut, until the Dewan returned to talk to her.

And so there she remained, and there she remains to date and will for ever. It is said that the Calicut market takes a special hue in the evenings and is a beautiful place to see, for the Goddess graces the market in those hours. And that is the reason why the markets of Calicut have always remained prosperous. The Dewan had done justice to his title, he had with his actions and his very life ensured that the revenues will always be generated in the markets.

But the Zamorin had done the unthinkable; he had cast a wet towel on his right shoulder and driven away the Lakshmi from his personal life.

And so, as it was to happen, he lost the kingdom and position soon after.

1. The first time the Zamorin lost his kingdom was when Hyder Ali attacked Calicut and the Zamorin took his life by committing the palace to flames. The Zamorin was from the Kizhake Kovilakom and died on April 27, 1766.

2. However this raises a question as prosperity had indeed declined with the many wars fought before the event. The Zamorin’s coffers had run dry already and he could not pay the compensation demanded by Hyder Ali (Krishna Iyer in ‘Zamorins of Calicut does confirm that the Calicut treasury was empty when Hyder arrived). So was this story before this Zamorin?
At that time, the Dewan Shamnath Pattar had not yet entered the scene. While that period of time is much talked about, the presence of another clever Dewan has not been recorded in other books. So the question remains, who could this Dewan have been? Certainly the origin of this legend remains murky.

3. Even today, elders tell us that a wet towel should not be draped over the right shoulder. Practically it may be unnatural to do, for as a right handed person, you can cast it easily over the left, easier than over the right shoulder. According to old Vedic tradition, the sacred thread is worn over the right shoulder only during funeral rites. I understood that wearing something especially wet (as done in a ‘shrardham’ or death rite) over the right shoulders apparently satiates ghosts, spirits & ancestors. However this practice seems to have changed over time.

4. The Aithihyamala was painstakingly compiled by Kottarathil Shankunny over a century ago. It is still a very popular book and has run over 22 editions. The book traces the cultural evolution of Kerala using legends and stories. During evening meetings at the Manorama newspaper office in Kottayam, K Shankunny, the poetry editor would regale his friends including Vargheese Mappila the owner of his newspaper, with these stories. At Mappila’s insistence, Shankunni put them to paper first in a brief fashion for magazine publishing, then in a more detailed format, again after V Mappila asked him to do so. And that left us with this magnificent collection of tales. As Hindu explains - The work by Kottarathil Sankunni, which has not only influenced the imagination of the young and the old for the past one century but also emerged as one of the vital link for the new generation to the rich heritage of the Malayali society, has also remained one of the most loved books in Malayalam. I would earnestly request those who do not have this book to buy it and read it, for it will give you much pleasure.

ReferencesAithihyamala – Kottarathil Sankunni (Story#20 Kozhikottangadi)
Zamorins of Calicut – KV Krishna Iyer

Pic – Courtesy Hindu

Pantalayani Kollam, a port no more

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

Though this port has been mentioned from very early times, it must have become popular some time after the 9th century and came to the forefront when two things happened, one being the move of the Arab & Chinese traders from Quilon & Cranganore to base their trade in Calicut, and the second when the Zamorin took charge. Since then it has been mentioned in many history books and accounts, though the names have varied slightly or largely. Today it is a small town that has been forgotten. Today it sits forgotten, bordering the more populated town of Koyilandi or Quilandy, housing one of the nine original mosques established by Malik Ibn Dinar. It is close to the historic Tyndis (Tanur or Thondi 3 miles north). The sacrificial rock , Balikallu or VelliyanKallu (white rock - Maris Erythrm of Periplus, Pai Chiao or Chia-Chia-Lu in Chinese) is right across (more on that another day) where many a soul was butchered, 3 leagues distant. Geographically, it is approx. lat. 11° 26', a little way north of Koyilandi.

Let us start by listing some of the different names used for this port that is shown as Kollam, to the North of Calicut, in a 21st century map posted here.

Fundaraina, Bandinanah, kandaraina, Bandirana, Fandarayna, Flandrina, Pandarani, Panderani, Pandalayani, Frandreeah, Fangarina, fandarain, Pandaramy, Pandarane, Fandreeah, Patale(Pliny acc to Logan), Pantalani, Panter Alandrina, Qandarina, Chulam, Pantar – In English & Portuguese books

In Chinese-Fan-ta-la-yi-na Pan-ta-Li, Tao Yi Chi Lio, Pan-ki-ni-na

This port has always interested me, though I have never visited the exact locale myself. It is a short distance, some 20 miles or ~30 km from Calicut city and in history this was a major port near Calicut. I had briefly referred to the place in the Kolathiri-Zamorin rivalry story under the post Revathi Pattathanam, and other blogs covering the visit of Chinese traders & Zheng He. However it has been a problem place in history, for its distance from Calicut has varied from 5 miles to 20 miles on the coast line in various accounts.

CKR also provides us the information about the location of a Zamorin palace there - The Calicut Granthavari records the demise of a Zamorin from Panthalayini Kollam in 1597 and the coronation of his successor at the same location. But the records do not mention 'Panthalayini Kollam'. Instead, the name mentioned is 'Ananthapuram'.

Pantalayani Kollam as I mentioned earlier figured in the ancient scandal that further alienated the Kolathir and Zamorin families. According to Sreedhara Menon’s ‘Survey of Kerala History’ the Viceroy (KVK Iyer states kinsman of Viceroy) of Pantalayani belonging to the Kolathunad family met & fell in love with a Thampurati of the Zamorin family during a visit to Calicut and thence eloped to Pantalayani. The enraged Zamorin attacked & captured the port area and then aimed his sights at the Kolathiri Raja. This shows that the place had much importance and was a sizeable and rich place in those times, providing revenue to the Zamorin.

In his book ‘History of Kerala’, KV Krishna Iyer mentions that Kollam has a significance which is that ‘Ko’ is king and ‘Illam’ is house or palace, so Kollam is the abode of the king. As you saw there was a Zamorin’s palace at Anathapuram in Kollam.

Iyer also opines that pearl diving was popular off the Pantalayani coast line in ancient times and there were many oyster beds present. He confirms that Jews may have been present there after 68AD. He quotes Nilakanta Sastri in stating that Chulam could have been either Calicut or Pantalayani Kollam which belonged to the Zamorin.

As it started, it was the 2nd greatest center of Jews (SS Koder). Prof Jussay also confirms the fact that a number of Jews resided there. Some believe that Ben Yiju, the Adenese trader even lived there. Was this really the hometown of Ben Yiju? Greek historian Roxani Eleni Margarti thinks so while Goitein is emphatic in identifying Yiju as a resident of Mangalore or Manjarur.

Pliny (78)
He mentions Patale as the destination of ships sailing the Hippalus winds, which according toLogan could have been Pantalayani.

Al Idris (1150)Fandarina is a town built at the mouth of a river which comes from Manibar, where vessels from India and Sind cast anchor." From Bana [Thana] to Fandarina is four days' journey. Fandarina is a town built at the mouth of a river which comes from Manibar [Malabar] where vessels from India and Sind cast anchor. The inhabitants are rich, the markets well supplied, and trade flourishing. North of this town there is a very high mountain covered with trees, villages, and flocks. The cardamom grows here, and forms the staple of a considerable trade. It grows like the grains of hemp, and the grains are enclosed in pods. From Fandarina to Jirbatan, a populous town on a little river, is five days. It is fertile in rice and giain, and supplies provisions to the markets of Sarandib. Pepper grows in the neighboring mountains..

W Logan asks in his Malabar manual, Did the Kotta river flow into the Agalapuzha and find an outlet into the sea at Pantalayani Kollam in those days? Not improbable. If you look carefully at today’s terrain you see no river mouth at Panthalayani Kollam. Korapuzha opens into the Arabian sea, a few miles is South of Kollam, between Talakulathur and Kappad.

Where is Jirbatan? Some historians think it was Cannanore. Sarandib is apparently Sri Lanka. In those days Malabar was Ma-pe-eul to the Chinese and Calicut was Ku-Li.

Ibn Batuta (1343)
Sates that it was one of the three principal ports and one where the Chinese ships moored during the monsoon. He states that it was a great fine town with many bazaars and gardens. The Musalmans occupy three quarters and each has a mosque.

Friar Odorico (Sometime between 1321-1330)
Mentions can be found in the reports of Friar Odorico De Pordenone (The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the ... By Richard Hakluyt Pg 412) who passed by around the period of 1330, he mentions pepper & trade at Flandrina. He also mentions that Christians and Jews reside there, warring frequently and that the Christians always won these wars. H ealso mentions crocodiles in the rivers. He mentions (like the Chinese dis in 1407) that people worshipped the ox and an idol that was half man, half ox. He talks of ‘narabali’ or people sacrifice and the ‘sati’ custom. He state sthat women drank wine, men dis not and that women shaved off their eye brows and eye lashes.

Abdul Razzak (1442)He mentions presence of Chinese bagchan in Calicut, calling the harbor perfectly safe, bringing merchants from every country. The town is inhabited by a considerable number of mussalmans, and pirates dare not attack the vessels of Calicut. In the harbor one may find everything one desired. However this is to be understood as the port of Calicut since he mentions sailing by the port of Bandirana, on his way to Mangalore. So by 1440 the port of Calicut is also quite popular.

Varthema (1505-1510)A day’s journey from Dharmapatanam, subject to the King of Calicut. This place is a wretched affair and has no port. The city is not level and the land is high. According to him, it is North of Kappad (Capogatto).

Barbosa (1516)
Calls the place Pandanare, and mentions Kappat (Capucate) nearby where there is a great port with many moors, many ships and where sapphires can be obtained on a strand.

Zainuddin Mukadam (1540-80)
States that Pantalayani became prosperous because of the Muslim population after explaining the visit of the Cheraman Perumal, then the building of the mosque by Malik bin Dinar etc. He mentions the boats from Pantalayani that went to fight with Cabral, the fighting with Portuguese at Pantalayani in 1524, the burning of the town and the Juma mosque in 1550, further attacks of the Portuguese etc.

Pyrard Laval (1607)
There are many marshes and salt pits to cross between Coaste and Caleecut, and two rivers to cross by boat, about a league from one of which is a very fine town which we passed at night called Coluote (P Kollam) where the Portuguese once had a fortress and a residency as at Calicut, but they have lost one as the other. I saw it as I passed for it was not altogether demolished; it was even stronger than that at Calicut.

Logan (1890-1900)Establishes that it is 2.5 miles North of Quilandy. He adds that this was where the EIC ship Morning star struck a mud bank and was wrecked in 1793. He points out that this was the mud bank that ‘supposedly’ protected Vasco Da Gama’s ship during the monsoon months of 1498. South of the Mohammedan burial ground is a small bay where ships could dock. Arabian ships used to call at this port if they were blown off course even in the 19th century and early 20th century. The Mecca trade was administered out of Pantalayanai Kollam.

Logan also mentions the fact that the bathing tank of the mosque at P Kollam had a granite slab temple inscription in ‘vattezhuthu’ signifying that it was a temple handed over to the Muslims to covert into a mosque. Close to this mosque, into the sea is a rock on which one can find a foot print chiseled in the rock (Velliyan kallu?). This is supposedly Adam’s footprint, a place where he stooped before going to Adam’s peak in Ceylon. He concludes by saying that both the temple and the footprint are of Jain origin.

Note here that Quilandy or Kovilkandi had a separate port and here was where the pilgrims to Makkah embarked on their sea voyage. The Cheraman Perumal embarked to Makkah from Poyanad (Polanad?)after spending a day at Pantalayani Kollam! Later his written instructions from Arabia asked people going to Malabar to land in Quilon, Pantalayani Kollam or Kodungallur (Muziris).

According to Logan, one view now disputed, the Kollam era is related with the Kollam at Pantalayani due to the deduction that the Kollam year started with the sailing away of eth Cheraman perumal from those shores to Makkah.

Portuguese times 1498-1600
Starting from the time the Zamorin (residing at that time in the Ponnani palace) recommended that Vasco D agama take his ship to the safety of the mud banks in Pantalayani Kollam, the port of Pantalayani Kollam figures in numerous books and accounts. In most of these cases, the town is sacked or attacked by the Portuguese or the Moslem ships set forth from Pantalayani and Ponnani. They also mention of Kunhali Marakkar launching many attacks from this port. Many accounts describe the heavy rains that lashed the town when the Gama was returning from the audience with the Zamorin and how he failed to find his quarters etc.

About a third of the Moslems living there have lost their life in fights with the Portuguese according to Logan. There is a general belief that the Marakkars, the Zamorin’s admirals were settled in Pantalayani Kollam (See my blog on marakkars) before they moved to Kotakkal.

Wang Dayuan was the first to mention the availability of precious stones at Fandarina. This was in 1349. Asia's maritime bead trade By Peter Francis (pg 123) mentions that the port was frequented by Chinese traders. Once Chinese trade declined, the port also started to fall apart until Varthema’s visit when he pointed out that it was a miserable place.In those days Malabar was Ma-pe-eul to the Chinese and Calicut was Ku-Li. Mongol dynasty documents of 1296 state that it was prohibited to export more than 50,000 ting in paper money worth of goods to Maprah (Malabar), Peinan (Malaya?) & Fantalaina.

Sankey (1881)
Letter from Col R. H. Sankey, C.B., R.E., dated Madras, 13th Feb, 1881: "One very extraordinary feature on the coast is the occurrence of mud-banks in from 1 to 6 fathoms of water, which have the effect of breaking both surf and swell to such an extent that ships can run into the patches of water so sheltered at the very height of the monsoon, when the elements are raging, and not only find a perfectly still sea, but are able to land their cargoes. Possibly the snugness of some of the harbors frequented by the Chinese junks, such as Pandarani, may have been mostly due to banks of this kind? By the way, I suspect your 'Pandarani' was nothing but the roadstead of Coulete (Coulandi or Quelande of our Atlas). The Master Attendant who accompanied me, appears to have a good opinion of it as an anchorage, and as well sheltered.

Hobson Jobson Dictionary
Malabar manual – W Logan
History of Kerala – KV Krishna Iyer
Tuhfat Al Muhahidin – Zainuddin Makhdum
The Jews of Kerala – PM Jussay
US Navy Map – Sacrifice rock to Beypore 1944

Ludovico’s ludicrousness

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Ludovico di Varthema (1470-1517) is a well known Italian traveler and adventurer. Nearly everything that is known of the life of Ludovico di Varthema comes from his own account. Evidently a native of Bologna and a soldier, he left a wife and child in 1502, when, slightly over the age of 30, he left to visit the East. An independent source reveals that he was in Venice in November 1508 relating his adventures to the Signory. Nothing more is known of him other than that he spent his remaining years in Rome and was referred to as dead in June 1517. His travel book, Itinerario de Ludovico de Varthema Bolognese …, was published at Rome in 1510.

Richard Francis Burton said - For correctness of observation and readiness of with Varthema stands in the foremost rank of the old Oriental travelers. In Arabia and in the Indian archipelago east of Java he is (for Europe and Christendom) a real discoverer. Even where passing over ground traversed by earlier European explorers, his keen intelligence frequently adds valuable original notes on peoples, manners, customs, laws, religions, products, trade, methods of war.

Varthema’s visit to Arabia and India is considered to be a fine document, providing if not accurate in specifics, detailed general accounts of social life in the places he visited. While most travelers concentrated on the wars, the relationships and the rulers themselves, Varthema talked extensively about the life in the locales he frequented, and keen understanding based on his claim to have mastered most of the tongues of the said places.

He is probably the only medieval traveler who has quoted Malayalam sentences or what purports to be Malayalam in his writings. Let us see what he has to say in Malayalam, hastening to inform here that this was just one of the many historians (another was Ibn Batutah) who was particularly interested in the sexual relations practiced by the inhabitants of Malabar. However he probably carried the ruse too far when he claimed to have understood and documented the same tongue Malayalam in far away Orissa or Andhra Pradesh (MachiliPatanam) unless of course he chanced on a Marakkayar Moplah visiting the port. Let us look at this famous and oft quoted paragraph which shows how absolutely ludicrous it is (like his chapter of his providing medical service at Calicut) and what a stupid image it provides to an avid reader not otherwise familiar with Malabar.

Varthema gives flight to his Malayalam fantasies twice in his accounts, once while accounting his first visit to Calicut and once while visiting Tarnassari (presumably Masulipatanam or Machilipatana where of course Malayalam was never spoken – Read on and take in a lot of mumbo jumbo which actually is absolute rubbish save a couple of words.

The original account, in Italian, was published at Rome on the 6th December 1510 at the request of Lodovico de Henricis da Corneto of Vicenza by Stephano Guillireti de Loreno and Hercule de Nani, both of Bologna. The translation used here was made by John Winter Jones in 1863, edited by G. P. Badger, and published under the title of “The Itinerary of Ludovico di Varthema of Bologna from 1502 to 1508”.



Pg 145, 146, 147 - The Pagan gentlemen and merchants have this custom amongst them. There will sometimes be two merchants who will be great friends, and each will have a wife; and one merchant will say to the other in this wise: " Langal perganal monaton ondo ?" that is, " So-and-so, have we been a long time friends ? " The other will answer: " Hognan perga manaton ondo ;" that is, " Yes, I have for a long time been your friend." The other says: "Nipatanga ciolli ? " that is, " Do you speak the truth that you are my friend ? " The other will answer, and say : " Ho ; " that is, " Yes." Says the other one: "Tamarani ? " that is, " By God ? " The other replies: " Tamarani ! " that is, " By God ! " One says: " In penna tonda gnan pcnna cortu; " that is, " Let us exchange wives, give me your wife and I will give you mine." The other answers: " Ni pantagocciolli? " that is, " Do you speak from your heart ? " The other says: "Tamarani!" that is, " Yes, by God!" His companion answers, and says: " Biti banno ; " that is, " Come to my house." And when he has arrived at his house he calls his wife and says to her: " Penna, ingaba idocon dopoi ; " that is, " Wife, come here, go with this man, for he is your husband." The wife answers: "E indi?" that is, "Wherefore? Dost thou speak the truth, by God, Tamarani?" The husband replies : " Ho gran patangociolli; " that is, " I speak the truth." Says the wife: " Perga manno ; " that is, " It pleases me." "Gnan poi;" that is, " I go." And so she goes away with his companion to his house. The friend then tells his wife to go with the other, and in this manner they exchange their wives; but the sons of each remain with him.

(JOHN WINTER JONES the translator’s note - I had hoped to have been able, by the assistance of others, to reduce this and the subsequent native words and phrases introduced by Varthema into readable Malayalam, in the same manner as I have treated his Arabic sentences; but the attempt has proved unsuccessful. Two Malayalam scholars, to whom they were submitted, concur in forming a very low estimate of our traveler’s attainments in that language. One of the gentlemen states that the majority of the words are not Malayalam, or, if they are, the writer has trusted to his ear, and made a marvelous confusion, which I defy anybody to unravel." This is not to be wondered at; on the contrary, there would have been reasonable ground for surprise if, under his peculiar circumstances, Varthema had succeeded in mastering, even to a tolerable extent, any one of the native languages.

During his sojourn in the country, which was comparatively short, and seldom lasting more than a few days at each place, he must have heard several different dialects spoken, without any definite knowledge, perhaps, that they were such. Moreover, as his most intimate associates appear to have been the Arab traders, who, however long their intercourse with India, seldom speak any of the native languages correctly, he most probably acquired most of his vocabulary from them, jumbling that up with words and phrases which he had picked up here and there along the coast. The specimens of his Arabic are undoubtedly far superior to his essays in Malayalam, and, although strongly Italianized, by no means inferior to the colloquial of the majority of his countrymen at the present day after a much longer residence in the East where that is the vernacular language).


Page 202, 203 - We met by chance three or four merchants, who began to speak to my companion in this wise: “Langalli ni pardesi” that is, “Friend, are you strangers?” He answered: “Yes.” Said the merchants: “Ethera nali ni banno,” that is, “How many days have you been in this country?” We replied: “Mun nal gnad banno,” that is, “It is four days since we arrived.” Another one of the said merchants said: “Biti banno gnan pigamanathon ondo,” that is, “Come to my house, for we are great friends of strangers;” and we, hearing this, went with him. When we had arrived at his house, he gave us a collation, and then he said to us: “My friends, Patanci nale banno gnan penna periti in penna orangono panna panni cortu,” that is, “Fifteen days hence I wish to bring home my wife, and one of you shall sleep with her the first night, and shall deflower her for me.” We remained quite ashamed at hearing such a thing. Then our interpreter said: “Do not be ashamed, for this is the custom of the country.” Then my companion hearing this said: “Let them not do us any other mischief, for we will satisfy you in this;” but we thought that they were mocking us. The merchant saw that we remained undecided, and said: “O langal limaranconia ille ocha manezar irichenu,” that is, “Do not be dispirited, for all this country follows this custom.”

Finding at last that such was the custom in all this country, as one who was in our company affirmed to us, and said that we need have no fear, my companion said to the merchant that he was content to go through this fatigue. The merchant then said: “I wish you to remain in my house, and that you, your companions and goods, be lodged here with me until I bring the lady home.” Finally, after refusing, we were obliged to yield to his caresses, and all of us, five in number, together with all our things, were lodged in his house. Fifteen days from that time this merchant brought home his wife, and my companion slept with her the first night. She was a young girl of fifteen years, and he did for the merchant all that he had asked of him. But after the first night, it would have been at the peril of his life if he had returned again, although truly the lady would have desired that the first night had lasted a month. The merchants, having received such a service from some of us, would gladly have retained us four or five months at their own expense, for all kinds of wares cost very little money, and also because they are most liberal and very agreeable men.


So much for Varthema’s ludicrousness, make your own conclusions…

Let us now look at this a bit more seriously (especially his stay in Calicut). Varthema first came to Calicut in the guise of an Arab traveler Yonus haji, in January 1505 coming there from Dharmapatanam near Cannanore. He spent probably a week in Calicut, before moving hastily south to Ceylon via Quilon when the Zamorin’s warlike activities commenced..

He came back after a ‘disputed’ Far East travel to Calicut around 1505 where he meets the two Milanese gunners that I had written about earlier. The fact that a set of Yogi’s or mendicants were used to kill the Milanese in Varthema’s accounts is also rather far fetched.

He then moves to Cochin, finally to Cannanore and boards a ship ‘San Vincenzo’ to Lisbon. He reaches Italy in 1508. Now imagine how one could master Malayalam in so few days and remember it until 1510 or for that matter make copious verbatim notes of conversations, at a time of strife and in these late night amorous sessions. Though he spent around a year or so in Calicut, all the information he would have got was from his Arab friends who accompanied him and the other Arab speakers of Calicut who obviously passed a dim view of the ‘kafirs’ of Calicut which Varthema probably recorded (acc to Jones & badger).

While at Calicut, he was in the company of ‘pardesi’ Arab’s, not local Moplahs, so it is highly unlikely that he was in close contact with the Nair populace though he may have walked around here & there. He would have associated with the trading Chettiyars and other pardesis like Turks, Somalis and Tunisians to get their insight about life in Calicut. He would have been exposed to Moppila dialects or Arabic dialects mixed with Malayalam and Tamil. And in some cases he would have come across Arabic interpreters. He must have lived near the markets and in the beach area. While at Calicut he also provides the strangest of medical treatments to a friend of his companion, but we will look at that in detail some other day.

His Arab companion was Cogniazanor or Cazazionor (Khadjeh Djoneyd) a Persian merchant. By the end of 1505 he had by cheating his traveler friend obtained papers to go to Cannanore and moved into Portuguse possessions at Malabar & Cochin, changed back to Christianity and provided the Portuiguese information about the Zamorin and his fortifications. Later he was fighting the Zamorin with the Portuguese in many naval and land wars that followed..

Varthema also accounted for the strange fact that he saw many red, yellow & white roses for sale in Calicut. See my notes about this in the Van Rheed article. Now his accounts state that he saw Roses at virtually every place he spent time at 9 Damascus, Jizan, Batachala, Calicut, Ceylon). So were Roses so important for the Portuguese & Italians? Was it because of the Christian association with Mary?

Prof Dr Jarl Charpentier a Swedish scholar and expert who has written books & articles on Indian antiquity, dismisses Varthema’s descriptions of temples & Calicut as such, with the comment ‘The author knew very little about the topic’. However the author of the Ludvico travels English translation Winter Jones & badger do find some descriptions of other places rather accurate. Varthema’s travel beyond Calicut to the Far East and back is considered questionable and is apparently full of vague accounts (I have not yet covered those in detail) as we saw about the Malayalam spoken in Masulipatanam. Some historians feel (Literature of Travel and Exploration: R to Z, index By Jennifer Speake Page 1235) he sailed to Calicut, traveled to Cochin & Cannanore and went back, with the rest of the accounts fictional, others do not and vouch for their correctness at that time. Some even feel he was a mercenary sent by a Mamaluke Sultan to support the Zamorin (Travel and Ethnology in the Renaissance - By Joan-Pau Rubiés (Pg 129)) but that he broke off the engagement . Incidentally he is also the first Christian known to have made Islamic pilgrimage to holy city of Mecca.

About the portrait - On top of the engraved title we see a panorama of Cairo, from the West bank of the Nile. In the centre sits Varthema, presenting the title of his travelogue to his readership. Behind him we see a globe. He is seconded by two indigenous warriors. At left a Mamluk, a reference to the Arabian adventures, at the right an ‘Indian’, apparently a native of a South-East Asian region. The authenticity of Varthema’s portrait which is reproduced here from the engraved title of this Dutch translation of the Itinerario is doubtful, if only because of the long interval between the author’s lifetime and the date of publication.
The Travels of Ludovico di Varthema in Egypt, Syria, Arabia Deserta and Arabia Felix, in Persia, India, and Ethiopia, A.D. 1503 to 1508. By Lodovico de Varthema; Edited by George Percy Badger; Translated by John Winter Jones.
Travel and Ethnology in the Renaissance - By Joan-Pau Rubiés ( Pg 129)
Literature of Travel and Exploration: R to Z, index By Jennifer Speake Page 1235