A Jewish trader in Calicut – The story of Isaac Surgun

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

When Calicut Heritage Forum wrote about the Jew Street in Calicut, there was an animated discussion in the comments section, as to whether it was indeed right and if a second thought was needed. The person who precipitated the matter in the first place was a young chap from Cochin, who has varied interests in Calligraphy and history and who I met in Bangalore some weeks back.

For me, it was clear that a trading community like the Jews would never be missing from Calicut. It was just a question of time lining & detailing their life in Calicut. I had initially hoped to find details of their existence in Calicut and Pantalayani detailed in Prof Jussay’s book, but did not find anything other than a trace mention. So I thought it should be detailed somewhere but it was not that easy. While we do have brief mentions detailing their stay in Pantalayani, Mangalore and well documented records on Cochin, the references of their presence in Calicut and thereabouts were vague, barring the fantastic Abraham Ferrisol mentions. But to summarize,

With the coming of the Portuguese to India, travelers such as G. Sernigi (1499) refer to the Jewish association with Calicut. L. di Varthema (early 16th century) mentions a Jew in Calicut who had built a fine galley and had made four iron mortars. ... While the Portuguese historian Correa speaks in 1536 of the great number of Jews in Calicut, the Yemenite traveler Zechariah b. Saadiah (16th century) looked in vain for coreligionists there. Half a century later Pyrard de Laval lists Jews among the various religious groups in Calicut with their own quarter and synagogue. The outstanding Calicut Jew in the 18th century was Isaac Surgun (d. 1792), a wealthy merchant who hailed from Constantinople.

It was as if Calicut was reserved for Arabs and those from mainly the Middle East or those aiding the trade of the Arabs, for we read that even the Chinese were perhaps driven out. But it is quite clear that there were visiting Jews like the person I will now cover.
To look at his life to see what it was like, and for that we have to go to the troubled times, when the Zamorins were weak, when the Mysore sultans had laid their cursed eyes on the wealth down south. I am sure they always knew there was wealth in the temples, as you can see now from the trove at Anathapuram. I am also absolutely positive that when the Malabar rulers fled to Travancore seeking asylum, they took their riches to Anatapuram and those form part of what you see there, but all of that is not important, it was just my mind going astray..

Many years ago, when I used to live in Istanbul, I knew a Jewish family living in a place called Beyouglu near Taksim . It was a stately avenue with old high rise buildings and the location where the wealthy Jewish gentry lived. My son’s friend from the Levi family lived there, and we got to know those nice people. I had no inkling then or until recently that there was one person who actually came in the exact opposite direction to India, many years ago. He had come from Istanbul to Calicut in the 18th century. His name was Issaac Surgun and it was an act of kindness at Calicut that earned him an entry into history books.

The year is 1766. At that time, the main traders of Calicut were Isaac surgun and Moplah Haji Yusuf. In the Cochin region trade was in the hands of a group of Konkani business men and Ezechiel Rahabi. The traders were profiting immensely from the latest pepper boom after the collapse of Surat and the safvid dynasty collapse in Persia. Calicut was the port of choice, but trouble loomed ahead. The Zamorin had threatened the Palghat Raja, who appealed to Hyder. Hyder did not lose the opportunity as we all know and later invaded Malabar. However he was provided a large bribe and consequently left the traders in peace, while he and his son tormented the Nair’s and other classes.

Let us get to know this Isaac Surgun and his activities at Calicut. What did he look like? What kind of person was he? What was he upto? If he was travelling often to Calicut, did he stay amongst a group of Jews in Calicut as it usually is? But first things first…Let’s draw his caricature…To figure out how he looked, we have to check out the words of Elizabeth Fay the English lady whose ship had reached Calicut and who was imprisoned by the new Mysore governor left behind by Hyder at calicut.

Isaac, then, is a fine venerable old man, about eighty five, with a long white beard; his complexion by no means dark and his countenance being yet majestic. I could look at him till I almost fancied that he resembled exactly the patriarch whose name he bears, were it not for his eye which is still brilliant. His family, I find, according to ancient custom in the East, consists of two wives, to whom I am to have an introduction………..

Strangely I had nearly completed reading the story of Elizabeth Fay some months back, but I had glossed over an important fact, the persona of Surgun himself and his Jewish house in Cochin and the Jews of Calicut.

Back to Isac Surgun, the person who wielded a lot of influence with the rulers of Cochin, Calicut and Travancore and worked often for the Dutch VOC. The first mention of Surgun was his accompaniment with the Jewish team sent to meet Hyder and Sudder (Sardar) Khan in 1766 carrying expensive gifts on behalf of the Cochin king with an entreaty not to attack Cochin. He was the linguist in the group and this signifies that he perhaps knew Persian or Urdu as well as Malayalam and perhaps Tamil. Next he is part of a team used by VOC’s Breekpot in 1767 used for a diplomatic settlement of troop movement complainst with Srinivasa Rao and Sardar Khan administering Calicut. In compensation an agreement to supply muskets and other armamanets was made by Surgun. Seven years later, he was the go between the remaining family of the Zamorin and the VOC – as they wanted safe passage to Parur. But problems between Calicut and Travancore prevented a settlement of the issue. He is seen again in discussions with Hyder and Sardar Khan at Calicut and Mysore during 1775-1788. He is also seen in discussions with the Ali raja of Cannanore. We find out from Dutch records that Surgun had a factory in Calicut, speaks a Moorish language, apparently Persian or Urdu and has many friends among the courteris of the Mysore sultans. He even had a not so good meeting with Tipu at Calicut on April 5th 1788, and that happened to be his last diplomatic experience.

Fay meets him in 1779, under telling circumstances, but one can now understand from the previous paragraph that Isaac Surgun indeed had the required influence with Sardar Khan (Hyder’s brother in law) the Nawab of Calicut. As is apparent, Surgun is known as Isaac of Calicut, even though hailing from Cochin, signifying that much of his trade was perhaps conducted around Calicut. The delay in their release was related to Hyder’s search for foreign gunners and his need to figure out if the men in Fay’s ship were suitable for that purpose. The final release was made after the conclusion that none were fit for soldierly activities, Fay’s husband was coming to practice as an advocate at the Supreme court in Calcutta. The other issue was the friction between the EIC and the Mysore sultans with a possibility of armed conflict.

Interestingly, Isaac Surgun spoke no English (he later ensured that his son was sent to Surat for English Studies)and the conversations between Fay and Isac was through interpreters. Isaac was introduced to them by another European Jew named Franco. And it was the utterance of Franco’s name and Constantinople (and their camaraderie in that city 60 years ago) that made him help the Fay’s.

The general introductory letter which as you may recollect Mr. Franco gave us at Leghorn had remained in Mr. Fay's pocket book from that time till we reached Calicut. We had been told that Isaac, the Jewish merchant, who agreed to freight the Nathalia and received £700 as earnest on that account, was immensely rich, and had great credit with the Government of which he held several large contracts for building ships, etc., besides a very great one with Sudder Khan- Everyone also, even Ayres, spoke highly of his general character. …………Mr. Fay, therefore, petitioned the Governor for leave to go out under a guard, which being granted, he immediately delivered his letter to Isaac, who seemed highly gratified at hearing from Mr. Franco, whom he had personally known at Constantinople, where they were both young men, about sixty years ago, for, like him, he enjoys a full possession of his faculties, both bodily and mentally, being equally remarkable for temperance and sobriety. Mr. Fay could not speak to our strangely acquired friend except by an interpreter so that no confidential conversation could take place. He was apparently touched with pity for our sufferings, especially on hearing how much I was afflicted with illness.

After 15 weeks of imprisonment, the Fays were released by Sardar Khan, thanks to Surgun and taken to the Surgun house in Cochin. It is Feb 1780 now.

This morning, about eleven, we arrived at our long wished-for Port, and were landed close to the house of our good friend Isaac which is pleasantly situated by the river side, about a mile from Cochin, and rendered in every respect a most delightful residence. Here we were welcomed by the two wives of Isaac who were most splendidly dressed to receive us, rather overloaded with ornaments yet not inelegant. Indeed I think the Eastern dresses have infinitely the advantage over ours. They are much more easy and graceful; besides affording greater scope for display of taste than our strange unnatural modes. They were extremely hospitable and very fond of talking.

I mentioned before having learned a little Portuguese during my imprisonment which was of great advantage to me here; for, except Malabar, it is the only language they speak, and a miserable jargon indeed is what they call Portuguese here. However, we contrived to make ourselves mutually understood so far as to be convinced that each was kindly disposed towards the other. …….. We were entertained with all the profusion that wealth can command and generosity display. Though religious prejudices banished us from their table, ours was loaded with every delicacy—all served on massive plate. Among many articles of luxury which I had never seen before were numbers of solid silver peekdanees, which serve the purpose of spitting boxes (excuse the term,). They stood at each end of the couches in the principal room. Some of them were nearly three feet high with broad bottoms; the middle of the tube twisted and open at the top, with a wide mouth for the convenience of such as had occasion to expectorate. These are not what we should call indulgences in England, but in a country, where smoking tobacco and chewing betel are universally practised, they must be allowed to be necessary ones……….

The younger wife of Isaac attached herself to me in such a manner as I never before experienced, and really appeared as if she could not bear to part with me even when I went to see the town of Cochin, which is truly a very pretty romantic place.

Fay is effusive in praise for the efforts of Isaac at Calicut

Thus, by the indefatigable exertions of this most excellent man, we are at last released from a situation of which it is impossible for you to appreciate the horrors. To him we are indebted for the inestimable gift of liberty. No words I can find adequate to the expression of my gratitude. In whatever part of the world, and under whatever circumstances my lot may be cast, whether we shall have the happiness to reach in safety the place to which all our hopes and wishes tend, or are doomed to experience again the anxieties and sufferings of captivity, whether I shall pass all the remainder of my days in the sunshine of prosperity, or exposed to the chilling blasts of adversity, the name of Isaac the Jew will ever be associated with the happiest recollections of my life; and, while my heart continues to beat and warm blood animates my mortal frame, no distance of time or space can efface from my mind the grateful remembrance of what we owe to this most worthy of men. When we were plundered and held in bondage by the Mahometan robbers amongst whom we had fallen, when there was no sympathising friend to soothe us among our Christian fellow-captives, when there was no hand to help us, and the last ray of hope gradually forsook the darkening scene of our distress, kind Providence sent a good Samaritan to our relief in the person of this benevolent Jew, who proved himself an Israelite indeed. Oh my dear sister! How can I, in the overflowing of a grateful heart, do otherwise than lament that the name of this once distinguished people should have become a term of reproach! Exiled from the land promised to the seed of Abraham, scattered over the face of the earth, yet adhering with firmness to the religion of their fathers, this race, once the boasted favourites of Heaven, are despised and rejected by every nation in the world. The land that affords shelter denies them a participation in the rights of citizenship. Under such circumstances of mortifying contempt and invidious segregation, it is no wonder that many of the children of Israel in the present day evince more acuteness than delicacy in their transactions, and are too well disposed to take advantage of those from whom they have endured so much scorn and persecution. It gives me, therefore, peculiar pleasure to record their good deeds, and to proclaim in my limited circle, that such men as a FRANCO and an ISAAC are to be found among the posterity of Jacob. These sentiments are not overstrained but the genuine effusions of a thankful heart: as such receive them.

Now you have a vivid picture of the patriarch, who was also a scholastic and religious Jew from Cochin working in Calicut. The next reference we have is his granson’s quest for the original tribes of the Bene Israel and his discussions with a Cochin Jew settled in Cannanore and now we find that about 14-15 families traded around the English settlements there. Let us check what that quest reveals. Late in the 19th century, a study of the remains of the lost tribes of Israel was concluded and among them was a report by Surgun (this is Issac E Sargan – perhaps grandson of the person in this article). He states

I left Cochin for Cananore on the 1st of May and reached that place on the 12lh On my way I touched at Calicut where I had an opportunity of conversing with several gentlemen residing there and distributing among them a few of the Society's English tracts and where I am happy to inform you also I have been enabled to collect a few rupees in aid of the society On the 13th in the evening I walked out with a view to collect some information respecting the Beni Israel and met with a white Jew's free servant an intelligent man with whom I had a short conversation on the subject of my mission I first asked him if he was one of the Bern Israel He replied No Sir I am from Cochin and one of the white Jews free servants Q How long have you been in this place A I have been here now about fifteen years ever since the late war between the Honourable Company and the Rajah of Travancore Q Are there any of the Beni Israel here A There were about fourteen or fifteen families on my first arrival but as they met with much discouragement and ill treatment from their principal men or masters who are still here they left this purposing to go back to their native place The names of the master above mentioned Balajee or Benjamin Isaac and Mosajee…….

So we now know that a group of Jews indeed existed as a community. An important question from the prose is if Surgun was in Calicut or Cannanore on the 13th. If he was in Calicut, then we know that the Jewish community lived there.

Finally to conclude this piece on Surgun, a little bit about his family. He had 10 children from his two wives Miriam and Rachel and passed away around 1790. From reading the accounts above, one should be able to draw conclusions about the times, the communities and the relationships between foreigners and residents of Calicut and of course the 'Jew from Calicut' Issac Surgun.

Notes on the family name Sürgün and the connections to Istanbul

Those interested read this fine paper by Moshe Sourjourn – though he erroneously locates Isaac Surgun in Calcutta..........an extract on the name.....

The Turkish branch is almost certainly the older of the two and originates either with Romaniot Jews or those who came as refugees either in the wake of the Expulsion in 1492 or in subsequent smaller waves. While most of the Turkish Souroujons arrived from the city of Istanbul a smaller number came from Adrianople – Edirne.Here the name Surgun comes into the picture. There is a word in Turkish – sürgün, which means expelled or displaced. The scheme of relocating populations, which had its origins in ancient times, and which was chosen by the Turkish sultans was known as ‘the surgun system.’


Trade finance and power By Patrick J. N. Tuck, Pg 62
The Enigma of the Family Name Souroujon - Moshe Souroujon
Revue des études juives,, Volume 126
Critica Biblica edited by William Carpenter
The original letters from India of Mrs Elizabeth Fay

Map from Shalom Bombay restaurant home page – thanks

The EIC factory in Calicut – Early days 1616-1618

Posted by Maddy Labels:

William Keeling is certainly an interesting fellow, and I observe so with purpose, for no other would perform Shakespeare’s Hamlet during an ocean voyage to get rid of idleness and to prevent his sailors from playing unlawful games, but then again that is not the subject of this article. So let us try to see what he was upto, sailing eastwards, and trying to work out new business frontiers for the EIC in those early days of the 17th century.
The Portuguese and the Dutch were in control over various parts of their domains in Malabar and Goa. The local rulers like the Zamorin and the Cochin kings were at each other’s throats fighting petty wars, the Venad rajas were eyeing the Northern parts with increased predatory interest and Malabar was thus a murky place to be in, at best, especially for one trying to secure trading permits. It was into this mess that Keeling ventured on his sailing ship, with winds behind him.

The 26 year old William Keeling had received his first position of responsibility when he was given command of the ship Susan in 1604. The EIC were headed towards wealthy Javan ports where the Dutch and the Portuguese were making merry and amassing fortunes. It was the second EIC venture destined for Indonesia, and on the return journey, Keeling was asked to take over another ship Hector. The return journey was indeed eventful as the laden Susan sank, and from Hector’s crew only Keeling and 13 others survived. Next he was destined to the domains of the great Mogul of Agra, as commander of the fleet, but commanding Dragon with Hawkins in Hector in 1607. It was during this trip that the sailors enacted Hamlet and Edward II perhaps making it the first amateur Shakespeare performance. The mission was completed; Hawkins remained in Delhi while Keeling sailed around Indonesia and discovered the Cocos Keeling islands in the bargain, just keeping out of the hair of Portuguese and Dutch traders. After he got back in 1610, he spent five years at home before venturing out into the Indian Ocean and Arabian seas again in 1615, this time headed for Surat and Bantam Java aboard the Dragon. This time, he was not too keen on Shakespeare though, and he tried hard to get EIC to permit him to take his wife on board, but the efforts were in vain. He landed Thomas Roe in Surat as ambassador to the Mogul court and sailed down the Malabar Coast, meeting resistance from the Portuguese at Goa. While most books, especially the English sources state the date as March 1615, Sanjay Subrahmanyam mentions March 1616.

Francis Day states that Keeling came to Calicut, and discovering that the Zamroin wanted to meet him, went on to Cranganore where the Zamorin was warring, whereas others mention that the summons came near Cranganore. It is thus unlikely that Keeling ever visited Calicut. The fancifully worded and somewhat ridiculous agreement signed between him and the Zamorin is recorded a little later in this article. Underacon chete as mentioned is the Kunnalaconathiri or Punthuresa or Punthura Conathiri, the title used by the Zamorin. The whole incident is very interesting and provides much insight into life in Calicut during that period, as we shall soon see.

Francis day concludes with very one sided remarks- The Samorin in forming this alliance, appears to have been actuated, by a wish to obtain European assistance, against the Portuguese and this treaty, offers Cranganore, and the whole island on which it stands, as far as Chetwye, to the British: as well as Cochin which he asserts, was formerly his own, and which he promises to make over, as soon as captured. Captain Keeling, much to the Samorin's annoyance, declined, remaining with his vessels, to join in the attack on Cranganore: but left ten Englishmen, who after the war was over, were to found a factory at Calicut.

But to get to the real details, one must read the record left by Roger Hawes. To a certain extent he appears truthful since he is also critical of his own colleagues, involved in this affair. However his reading of the Zamorin’s intent and demands as depicted are quite circumspect and not with any understanding of the situation or the consideration that the British were the people asking and the Zamorin as the one considering the proposal..

Proceedings of the Factory at Cranganore,Jrom the Journal. of Roger Hawkes

On the 4th of March 1615, we chased a Portuguese frigate, which ran into a creek and escaped. While on our way a Tony came aboard of us, with messengers from the Zamorin to our general, Captain William Keeling. Next day, the governor sent a present, and entreated the general to proceed to Cranganore, which we did next day, taxing with us the messengers sent from the Zamorin, who requested the general to come on shore to speak with him. But, while he was doing so, some frigates came and anchored near the shore, by which he was constrained to go on board the Expedition, Captain Walter Peyton. On this occasion some shots were exchanged, but little harm was done. The general went ashore on the 8th, accompanied by Mr Barclay, the cape merchant, and several others. They were well used, and agreed to settle a factory in the dominions of the Zamorin, the following being the articles agreed upon:—

"UNDERECON CHEETE, great Samorin, &-c., to James, King of "Britain, &c. Whereas your servant and subject, William Keeling, "arrived in my Kingdom, at the port of Cranganore, in March 1615, "with three ships, and at my earnest solicitation, came ashore to see "me, there was concluded by me, for my part, and by him for the "English nation, as followeth:

"As I have ever been at enmity with the Portuguese, and propose "always so to continue: I hereby faithfully promise, to be and "to continue, in friendship with the English, both for myself, "and my successors, and should I succeed in capturing the "fort of Cranganore, I engage to give it to the English, to possess as "their own, together with the island belonging to it, which is in "length along the sea coast, nine miles: and three in breadth: and "I propose to build thereon, a house for my people, to the number "of one hundred persons.

"I shall hereafter endeavour, with the aid of the English, to conquer the town and fort of Cochin, which formerly belonged to my "crown, and kingdom: and shall then deliver it to the English, as "their own; provided that the charges of its capture, be equally "borne by both parties, one half by me, and the other half by the "English Nation. And in that case, the benefit of the plunder thereof, "of whatsoever kind, shall belong half to mo, and half to the English. And thereafter, I shall claim no right, or interest, in the "said town, precincts, or appurtenances, whatsoever.

"I also covenant for myself, my heirs, and successors, that the "whole trade of the English, in whatever commodities, brought in, "or carried out, shall be entirely free from all customs, imposition, "tax, or other duty, of any quality, or description.

"To these covenants, which the shortness of time, did not permit "to extend, in more ample form, I, the Samorin have sworn to perform, by the great God whom I revere, and not only for myself, "but my successors; and in witness thereof, I have laid my hand "upon this writing, &c." And the said William Keeling promises to acquaint the king his master with the premises, and to endeavour to procure his majesty's consent thereto."

The Samorin's sign 'manual', consisted in placing his extended hand, over the written, or more properly speaking, the engraved ollah, or palm leaf, on which most deeds were executed. It is unclear if this was executed in Sanskrit or Malayalam on palm leaf or in English though the latter is unlikely, with the above words recorded from some ‘one sided draft translation’…..

This being agreed upon, a stock was made out for a factory, such as the shortness of time would permit, and three factors were appointed. These were, George Woolman, chief, Peter Needham, second, who was one of the general's servants, and I, Roger Hawes, third; together with a youth, named Edward Peake, as our attendant, who was to learn the language. John Stamford, a gunner, was likewise left to assist the Zamorin in his wars. On the 10th the ships departed, leaving us and our goods in a shrambe at the water side, together with a present for the Zamorin. We continued there till the 13th, at which time the last of our goods were carried to the Zamorin's castle; whose integrity we much suspected, after having thus got possession of our goods. On the 20th, he insisted to see Mr Woolman's trunk, supposing we had plenty of money, Needham had told him we had 500 rials; but finding little more than fifty, he demanded the loan of that sum, which we could not refuse. He offered us a pawn not worth half, which we refused to accept, hoping he would now allow us to proceed to Calicut, but he put us off with delays. He likewise urged us to give his brother a present.'

On the 28th, the Zamorin came into the apartment where we were, and gave Mr Woolman two gold rings, and one to each of the rest; and next day he invited us to come to his tumbling sports. That same night, Stamford went out with his sword in his hand, telling the boy that he would return presently. The next news we had of him was, that he was in the hands of the Cochin nayres. He had lost his way while drunk, and meeting with some of them, they asked where he wished to go; he said to the Zamorin, to whom they undertook to conduct him, and he knew not that he was a prisoner, till he got to Cochin. This incident put us in great fear, but the Zamorin gave us good words, saying he was better pleased to find him a knave now, than after he had put trust in him.

We had leave in April to depart with our goods to Calicut, where we arrived on the 22nd of that month, and were well received; but had to remain in the custom-house, till we could get a more convenient house, which was made ready for us on the 6th of May, with promise of a better after the rains. We were very desirous, according to our orders from the general, to have sent a messenger with his and our letters to Surat, to acquaint our countrymen that we were here; but the governor would not consent till we had sold all our goods. On the 18th of June, one was sent. On the 26th, part of our goods were sold to the merchants of Calicut, by the governor's procurement, with fair promises of part payment shortly. But it is not the custom of the best or the worst in this country to keep their words, being certain only in dissembling. Mr Woolman was desirous of going to Nassapore to make sales, but the governor put him off with divers shifts from time to time. The 3rd July, our messenger for Surat returned, reporting that he had been set upon when well forwards on his way, and had his money and letters taken from him, after being well beaten. Among his letters was one from Captain Keeling to the next general, the loss of which gave us much concern; yet we strongly suspected that our messenger had been robbed by his own consent, and had lost nothing but his honesty. A broker of Nassapore told Mr Needham, that our dispatches had been sold to the Portuguese, and when the governor heard of this, he hung down his head, as guilty. We here sold some goods to merchants of Nassapore. (Nassapore is Narsapuram in W Godavari AP)

Mr Woolman died on the 17th of August. We could not procure payment of our promised money, and were told by our broker, that some one of our debtors would procure a respite from the governor, by means of a bribe, on which the rest would refuse till they all paid. On the 24th, the Zamorin's sister sent us word, that she would both cause our debtors to pay us, and to lend us any money we needed; but we found her as false as the rest. The queen mother also made us fair promises, and several others made offers to get letters conveyed for us to Surat; but all their words were equally false.

Thus wronged, Mr Needham farther wronged himself by his indiscretion, threatening, in presence of a nayre who attended us, and who revealed his threats, that he would go to the king of Cochin, making show of violent revenge to put the governor in fear. He behaved outrageously likewise to a scrivano who is the same as a justice with us, taking him by the throat, and making as if he would have cut him down with his sword, for detaining some of our money which he had received. Our broker also told Mr Needham, that it was not becoming to go up and down the streets with a sword and buckler; and indeed his whole conduct and behaviour more resembled those we call roaring-boys than what became the character of a merchant. For my admonitions, he requited me with ill language, disgracing himself and injuring the affairs of the company.

A Dutch ship, which had been trading in the Red Sea, arrived here on the 23rd of September, with the intention of settling a factory, and they were referred by the governor to the Zamorin, promising to carry a letter for us, but went without it; so that our delays continued. Mr Needham went himself to the Zamorin on the 4th November, and returned on the 25th, having got a present of a gold chain, a jewel, and a gold armlet, with orders also from the king to further our purposes; but the performance was as slow as before. The 20th December, a Malabar captain brought in a prize he had taken from the Portuguese, and would have traded with us; but we could not get in any of our money, due long before. We also heard that day of four English ships being at Surat. The governor and people continued their wonted perfidiousness; the former being more careful in taking and the latter in giving bribes, than in paying our debts.

We used a strange contrivance of policy to get in some of these; for, when we went to their houses, demanding payment, and could get none, we threatened not to leave their house till they paid us. We had heard it reported, that, according to their customs, they could neither eat nor wash while we were in their houses; and by this device we sometimes got fifty fanos from one, and an hundred from another. They would on no account permit us to sleep in their houses, except one person, with whom we remained three days and nights, with three or four nayres. They were paid for watching him, but we got nothing. The nayre, who had been appointed by the king to gather in our debts, came to demand a gratuity from us, though he had not recovered any of our money. He would go to the debtor's houses, taking three or four fanos, and then depart without any of our money.

On the 9th of Januarys 1616, Mr Needham went to demand payment of a debt, and being refused permission to pass by a nayre who struck him, as he says, he gave the nayre a dangerous wound in the head with his sword, of which it is thought he cannot recover, and others of the natives were hurt in the fray. Word was presently brought to us to shut up our doors, lest the nayres should assemble to do us some mischief, as feuds or kindred-quarrels and murders are common among them, having no other law or means of vengeance. Our nayre with his kindred, to the number of thirty or more, with pikes, swords, and bucklers, guarded Mr Needham, home, on which occasion we had to give a gratuity. Our house had to be guarded for three or four days and nights, none of us daring to go out into the streets for money or other business for a week, though before we used to go about in safety. After that, our broker advised us never to go out, unless attended by a nayre, as they had sworn to put one of us to death, in revenge for him who was slain.

The 20th, the Portuguese armado of thirty-four sail passed by from the south, of which fourteen were ships, and the rest frigates or grabs. They put into the harbour, in which three Malabar frigates lay at anchor, and a hot fight ensued, in which the Portuguese were forced to retreat with disgrace, having only cut the hawser of one of the frigates, which drove on shore and was stove in pieces. This belonged to the governor, who was well served, for he remained like a coward in the country, keeping four or five great guns that were in the town locked up, except one, and for it they had only powder and shot for two discharges. Before the fight ended, some 4000 nayres were come in from the country, and several were slain on both sides. Nine or ten Portuguese were driven ashore, and two or three of the chiefs of these were immediately hung up by the heels, and being taken down after two days, were thrown to be devoured by wild beasts.

On the 28th of January, we were told by a Pattemar, that the governor was only our friend outwardly, wishing rather to have the Portuguese in our room, as we did no good in the country, bringing only goods to sell, whereas the Portuguese did good by making purchases. The 8th of February we had letters from Surat; and on the 4th of March, the Zamorin wrote to us, that if our ships came, he wished them to come to Paniany, and that we need not be anxious for our money, as he would pay us, even if he were forced to sell his rings.

R Kerr concludes - This is a very imperfect and inconclusive article, yet gives some idea of the manners and customs of the Malabars. In other words consider the words with a pinch of salt.

So as we saw, the Portuguese had control over the seas, the Dutch did nothing much for the Zamorin and the Zamorin made an appeal to the EIC for support against the Portuguese. Some months previously, Malabar Moplahs had also made a submission to the EIC at Mocha for support against the Portuguese.

The English promised quicker support, unlike the Dutch. By 1616 they moved to Calicut and established a factory there with George Woolman as the factor with a lot of tin and benzoin to trade. George after studying the populace and their requirements promptly declared that these were good presents but bad merchandise.

Keeling returned to Britain in 1616 after a short (he was severely ill as well) stay at Java and after losing 62 more sailors. Some rewards awaited him, for James I made him a groom of the chamber and captain of Crowes castle at the Isle of Wight. Kelling died a wealthy man in 1620 with much gold and jewels ‘collected’ during his travels. So much for Keeling, now let us look at Woolman’s & Needham’s later days in Calicut from Subrahmanyam’s perspective.

As the English settled down, frictions started. The Zamorin had wanted military support, the English only wanted to trade (mainly sell, not buy) and profit as the mandate of the EIC went. Some English textiles were purchased by local merchants after the Zamorin exhorted them to, but Woolman found procurement of Malabar spices to be too expensive. Moreover the Zamorin found the English too timid to even write to their superiors in Surat about for military help fearing that the Portuguese would find them and set upon them. In August 1616, Woolman died and his assistant Needham ran away to Cochin to set up private business. The furious Zamorin took over the factory and the assets. The factory was wound up by the Surat authorities in 1617 and the British left Calicut nursing a grudge against the ‘beggarly false Zamorin’, eventually writing off a 3,000 rials of eight loss. The Zamorin on the other hand concluded them to be unreliable and timid, worse than the Dutch. In 1621, the English mulled over asking the Zamorin for a return of the 3000 rials or even attacking Calicut vessels to recoup the losses but wisely decided against it.

The British kept this grudge in mind for close another two hundred years and as we saw earlier worked steadily till the entire Malabar was theirs. The 3000 rial account was to prove too costly for the Zamorin to settle, in hindsight…

A study of the Hawe's notes

1. The dates recorded by Sanjay and others vary by a full year, I have not been able to concur with Sanjay’s dates but he on the other hand refers to the EIC company letters archive.

2. Logan hardly mentions this account and passes it off in a couple of sentences

3. Imbibing alcohol seems to have been pretty popular even in those days as is clear from the antics of Mr Stamford, the gunner. What happened to him thence, in the hands of the Portuguese, is however not clear.

4. The governor appears to be the port Shabandar. As we see from the happenings in Calicut, they needed appeasement even in those times with bribes, if Hawes is to be believed. So by then the honesty standing of the port seems to have deteriorated.

5. The Zamorin’s demands in the agreement were clear and distanced from trade. It was strangely not referred to as a matter of fact; the EIC interpreted it as a trade treaty. It was also subject to consent from King James1 and I am not certain that James countersigned the agreement at any time. In any case the British did not provide the required war support.

6. Mentions of the Zamorin wanting to see Woolman’s box, taking charge of a sum of 50 riyals, giving presents of golden rings and visiting the room of the English himself appear very fanciful. It could have been one of the lesser officers of the Zamorin.

7. We see that the textile traders in Calicut were mainly from West Godavari regions.

8. We see that the Shabander or governor had responsibility for repayment of goods sold. Dubious practices of him needing to be bribed can be seen as a lack of law and order, and more consistent with activities today. We also see that he had authority to decide who got control of the goods cleared through customs.

9. We note for the first time the involvement of the sister and mother of the Zamorin in the trade activity, which has no precedence. We also note that they had already been provided gifts of European mirrors by the factory personnel.

10. As we read, Needham threatened all and sundry and even mentioned going to the Cochin kingdom, which would have destroyed any chance of a proper settlement of the EIC affairs in Calicut. However we see that he met the Zamorin who compensated him and EIC losses with much jewelry. Whether Needham appropriated it for himself or not, is unclear, as the EIC did not use these to offset any balances.

11. We see that by now even the Nairs who were sent as akamabadi (body guards – armed representative) were keen on improper payments and bribes. The Koodipaka tradition is exemplified once again in the Needaham incident.

12. We see that people were already fearful of the rigors of caste system which the British used to effect by waiting out in their house till they were paid, for the landlord would not eat until the outcaste visitor had left and the place was cleaned up.

13. We also see that the Nair guards employed by the British, defended them from the koodipaka revenge attack due to Needham killing a nair.

14. We see that the Portuguese were not very successful with their frigates and lost out easily to the Malabar seamen, perhaps the marakkar ships. On the other hand the Portuguese did pay properly for their purchases and did a two way trade.

15. We also see that the Zamorin sometimes wanted the ships to dock in Ponnani rather than Calicut – why? Was he coerced by the marakkars or is it to avoid problems with the Portuguese?

16. Capital punishment meted out to the Portuguese were similar to what they did to the moors in the past, but the bodies being cast away to be devoured by wild beasts appear a little farfetched.

17. We find mentions of the 4 guns (perhaps the ones completed by the Italians) but also the mention of a lack of gunpowder and shots. Begs a question, why did the Zamorin not venture out in filling that shortage? He certainly knew about gun powder since the Chinese arrival in the early 1400?.... Food for thought.

18. As a backdrop one must note that it was a breach in the agreement in 1614 between the Cochin raja and the Portuguese that the Zamorin took advantage of. With that he attacked Cranganore and lay siege to the fort & town. This particular Zamorin died in 1617. He was succeeded by a new Zamorin about whom CHF will be talking about shortly.

Who’s who in Shakespeare’s England – Alan & Veronica Palmer
The political economy of commerce: Southern India, 1500-1650 - Sanjay Subrahmanyam
A general history of voyages Vol 9 – Thomas Kerr
Malabar Manual – Logan
Zamorins of Calicut - KV Krishna Iyer

Gaspar Da Gama

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Gaspar Da India, Gaspara Da Almeida, Gaspar Rodriguez, Gaspar de las Indias, Gaspar Perriera

There are certainly many colorful persons in the murky grey depths of medieval history. One such person is Gaspar. He is a typical example of one who seized every opportunity he got to better his existence. Such an extraordinary varied life is rare for a person of the time and how he handled himself in these difficult situations is exemplary. This then is the story of a Polish Jew who lived in India. Originally I was not too keen on the issue, but as I read a little about his travails, I was quite interested. His life is connected in a way to another colorful character Timoja whom I will introduce some another day. But for now, let us meet the Polish Jew in Malabar who has no face, for no portrait of his could be located, but a huge presence.

 Gaspar Da Gama was born in Poland sometime around 1444 (Barros thinks he was born in Alexandria in 1458, some others believe he was from Bosnia), but virtually nothing is known about his early years. At some point he began traveling and ended up in Jerusalem and later at Alexandria. Eventually he was taken prisoner and sold into slavery, winding up in India. Soon he won his freedom and began to work for the ruler of Goa - Abdul Muzaffar Yusuf Adil Shah of Bijapur, who possessed a powerful army of 40,000 horsemen. Gaspar had by converted to Islam, taking the name Yusuf 'Adil, and rose to the rank of Admiral or Shahbandar. The Portuguese chronicler Gaspar Correia, in his work Lendas da India (Legends of India), refers to Gaspar da Gama as a Castilian whose real name was Alonso Perez.

 Whether by intent or not, Gaspar was the person who provided Gama with large doses of misinformation, he explained that most of India was ruled by Christian kings (see CHF blog on this subject) including the Vijayanagar kingdom. He was later to become the person who arranged the meeting of Cabral with the King of Cochin and thus become the primary reason for the later problems of Malabar after the Portuguese were welcomed at Cochin. But let us see how this interesting meeting came about. I would assume that he was thus the reason for the Gama to fall somewhat out of favor with King Manual some years after he got back. But let us check out the story in more detail.

 As we know, Vasco da Gama arrived in India in 1498 and after his tumultuous reception (actually rejection) at Calicut, went to Anjediva to repair the damages to his ego and ships, remaining there during the winter months. His ships had to be re-caulked for the journey home. The first person to check the scene out was Timoja with his boats, and later the responsibility was given to the Yusus Adil (Gaspar) to sail out and see what was going on with the foreigners on the island. The intent was to take the white men prisoners, and so Yusuf Adil docked his ships a little farther and ventured out nearer to the Gama’s ships on a boat, hailing them in Castilian. What happened of course was typical of Gama and atypical of Malabar courtesy & hospitality, for life was certainly civil until then. But in fairness to Gama, it must be said that he got a tip from the local fishermen that the people from the mainland in the fustas coming near were having an attack plan in their minds.

 Gaspar a tall European with a long white beard now approached his ship, in a boat with a small crew and was caught by surprise. Gaspar Correa’s words (Voyages …) go thus - When he was near their sterns within hearing, he hailed the ships in Castilian, saying, "God preserve the ships and the Christian captains, and the crews who sail with them;" and the rowers gave a shout, which was answered from the ships with the trumpets. All the crews were much excited and pleased at hearing the Castilian language; and the Jew, coming up nearer, said, "Gentlemen, captains, give me a safe conduct and I will come on board of your ships to learn the news of my country, and from me you also may learn whatever you please, since God has brought you hither for your good and for mine; for it is now forty years that I have been a captive, and now God has shown me ships from Spain, which is my country, therefore may it be your pleasure to give me the safe conduct which I request, for without it I should not dare to come on board." They answered him from the ship that he might safely come on board with peace, and that they would do him all honour, because they much rejoiced at hearing him speak, and that in the ships there was no one who would do harm to anybody. The Jew, trusting to these words, approached and came on board, and they received and welcomed him, and bade him sit down, and questioned him as to the country he came from, and how it was that he was at such distance from his native land, and many other things which the Jew answered; and the captains showed that they were much pleased to hear him. Of the rowers of the small fusta several also came on board, and were much surprised at what they saw and in great security as they saw their captain sitting down thus and conversing with so much satisfaction. The captain-major ordered Nicolas Coelho to be called to come and see the new guest who had come to visit them. Nicolas Coelho came to the ship in his boat with a few men, and as he approached the ship the captain-major ordered him to come alongside on the side where the fusta was, and when they arrived to board the fusta. The captain major then rose up and at once ordered the Jew to be bound by men who were ready for that purpose; and on seeing that, the sailors of the fusta threw themselves into the sea, and the boat came up and gathered them all in so that none escaped. The Jew, seeing himself bound in that manner, said, “Oh, gentlemen, noble Christians, God protect me and you; for having trusted myself to your words I am now bound hand and foot." The captain-major answered him, "Jew, it was with treachery that you asked for a safe conduct, and on that account it shall not avail you." Then they put heavy irons upon his feet, and sent all the rowers down below decks. Afterwards the captain-major ordered the Jew to be stripped, and two ship-boys to give him many stripes with cords; and he said to the Jew that he well knew of the treachery with which he had come with the fustas which were concealed amongst the islets, and therefore he swore, by the life of the King of Portugal his sovereign, that he would put him to death by flogging and torturing him with drops of hot fat, until he confessed the truth out of his mouth. The Jew, finding himself in such straits, and that he was already questioned about the fustas which were at the islets, said, " Sir, I confess that I am worthy of death, but have pity on me and on this white beard, and I will tell you the whole truth." Then the captain-major ordered him to be unbound and dressed, and he related all that I have mentioned above.

 As the story goes, Gaspar took Gama to his fustas and his sailors, lying to them that he was bringing some of his white relatives and allowed Gama to capture, and destroy his boats, maim and kill his people, and the remains of his boats were gifted to the fishermen.

 According to Barros, Gaspar was the Shahbandar of Goa. He also says that Gaspar originally deceived the Gama by showing a wooden cross, before asking to be invited to come on board. It was then that the local fisherman stated that Gaspar the ‘moor’ was actually a soldier of the king. Barros then explains all the rubbish Gaspar fed to Gama (after seeing his interest in the religion) about the country being heathen waiting to be led in the right path and all that. Anyway the Gama was about to sail for Lisbon and realizing the man would be useful to him as he spoke various languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldean (Caldeu) and Italian mixed with Spanish, Gaspar was to accompany Gama back to Portugal. Initially he was vexed about leaving Goa since he had a wife and son there, but Gama convinced him that the king would not do anything to them. Then he was baptized and provided the name Gaspar Da Gama and taken to Lisbon.

 He quickly became a favorite of the King of Portugal, whom it was said he would dazzle with tales of the Far East. He was indeed a grand story teller, befitting a king’s court…the King spoke to this Jew frequently, and took pleasure in listening to what he related, on which account the King did him many favours, and gave him many dresses from his own wardrobe, and horses from his stables, and servants from among those who became Christians whom Dom Vasco gave to him; and all the people used to call him Gaspar of the Indies, for so he wished them to name him. And thus Gaspar Gama became Gaspar Da Indies.

He told them in Portugal that his name was Gaspar and that he had been born in Posen, Poland. A local persecution compelled his parents to take refuge in Granada in Spain, whence they had migrated to Alexandria. As a young man Gaspar crossed the Red Sea to Mecca and travelled to India. Captured by slavers on the way, he remained in captivity for many years, eventually gaining his release by feigning conversion to Islam. He settled in Goa as a shipowner, marrying a woman and rearing a family. Entering Sambajo's service he had gained much experience at seafaring, becoming in time Sambajo's admiral.

 That was how the Jewish boy who ran away from his motherland during a persecuting period became a Muslim slave in Arabia, came to Goa and became a trusted Moorish officer of the king, then converted to Chritianity, sailed all the way across to Lisbon, met the king Manuel and became his trusted friend and later an official guide, pilot and advisor of the Portuguese admirals traveling to India. He was soon employed as a pilot, interpreter, and negotiator for subsequent voyages of Vasco de Gama as well as explorers Francisco d'Almeida and Pedro Alvares Cabral.

 Gaspar served King Manuel II well. He sailed in 1500 with Cabral, who had been appointed as a leader of an expedition and who, on Gaspar's advice, shipped west on a voyage which led to the discovery of Brazil. He had by now become renowned, one captain writing of him as "a trustworthy man who speaks many languages and knows the names of many cities and provinces, who made two voyages from Portugal to the Indies Ocean and journeyed from Cairo to Malacca, a province on the East of that Ocean. He also visited the island of Sumatra, and he told me he knew of a great kingdom in the interior of India which was rich in gold, pearls and other precious stones." Historians believe Gaspar da Gama was the first European to set foot on the new land of Brazil when he accompanied Cabral on a voyage to India. Thinking they had landed in India, da Gama went ashore to talk to the "Indians", but discovered his knowledge of the language was of no use. He was with Nicolau Coelho when he first stepped ashore in Brazil. On the return voyage he met Amerigo Vespucci, the Tuscan explorer after whom America is named, at Cabo Verde and was consulted by him.

 Within a few years, Gaspar had sailed round the Cape of Good Hope on a number of voyages. He sailed with Vasco da Gama to the Indies, with Francisco d'Almeida when he went to take possession of India as the first Viceroy, and with Cabral to Calicut and then to Cochin. Cabral had got into trouble with the Zamorin at Calicut and had bombed the place. But then he had no cargo or spices to take back. Enters Gaspar to the rescue - As the account goes - The Portuguese position was now very serious, the season had nearly passed, only two of the ships had any cargo at all, and they knew of no port on the Indian coast where they could safely pass the monsoon. In one of the councils, Gaspar da India suggested Cochin as a place where they might possibly get cargo. They were off that port on December 24th, a message elicited a promise of help; prices were arranged without any formal treaty or meeting with the Raja, and in less than a fortnight the ships were laden. And thus the Portuguese had a place to park themselves for the next few decades.

 In 1502 he was reunited with his wife (Some say he had another wife in Goa and now married the Cochin Jewess) who is now explained to be a Jewess from Cochin. So as one can infer, Gaspar did know the Malabar terrain well and had been in touch with the Jews of Cochin, As accounts go, she was from a wealthy family. In spite of his fame, Gaspar was possibly not altogether a happy man in the service of Manuel II. He was very insecure about his Jewish past. King Manuel was always wary of Jews and it was perhaps out of this fear and the risk of losing a good life that Gaspar tried hard to induce her to convert to Christianity. She had remained true to him and to Judaism since he was carried away by the Portuguese, but probably both of them considered it unsafe for her to join him. Gaspar again journeyed to Cochin in 1505 in the retinue of the first Viceroy of India, which also included the son of Dr. Martin Pinheiro, the Judge of the Supreme Court of Lisbon. The young Pinheiro carried along a chest filled with "Torah" scrolls which were taken from the recently destroyed synagogues of Portugal. Gaspar's wife negotiated the sale in Cochin, "where there were many Jews and synagogues." obtaining four thousand parados for thirteen scrolls. D'Almeida heard of the transaction, confiscated the money, and after severely admonishing Pinheiro, reported the matter to the King.

 After the murder of d'Almeida by the Hottentots on Table Bay, Gaspar served the next governor of India, Albuquerque. With him Gaspar made an attack on Calicut. The assault proved disastrous. Albuquerque was wounded and Gaspar was probably killed, for no more references to him are found after 1510. Nevertheless, his contribution to the rise of Portugal as a maritime power, in the few years he served King Manuel II, proved invaluable.

 As you have seen, he was certainly a colorful and resourceful character who survived all his life with his well endowed gift of the gab. He talked himself out of any situation, served many master and travelled back and forth across continents. Not only that he had wives and children in most of the places he lived in and as mystery would have it, vanished at Calicut in 1510. Why was his death not accounted if he died with Coutinho in Calicut? (Of that event, please check out my article written earlier). His lesser actions were always reported in Lisbon. What really happened in Calicut? But of course, the mysterious Jew with the long white beard would be never too far from intrigue. Others believe that he returned to Portugal where he died (he had a wife there too). Some say that his death occurred between 1510 and 1515, or even by about 1520 after nearly eighty years. Certainly a specimen of resilient humanity, to have survived as long as he did!

Gaspar Gama’s son Baltazar also served Almeida’s court in Cochin as an interpreter and figures for his work in Cannanore and also in the well accounted spying mission to Vijayanagar in 1506. Of his wife, there is no further information, but I assume that a good search can turn up something.

Sanjay Subrahmanyam – Vasco Da Gama
The rise of Portuguese power in India, 1497-1550 – R S Whiteway
Penumbral visions: making polities in early modern South India - Sanjay Subrahmanyam
A journal of the first voyage of Vasco da Gama, 1497-1499 - Alvaro Velho, João de Sá
Travel and ethnology in the Renaissance: South India through European - Joan-Pau Rubiés
The last Jews of India – Nathan Katz


Osorius calls him a Sanuate by nation and Jew by religion; Barros says a Polish Jew; Castanheda says he announced himself as a Levantine Christian, and that at a distance of two hundred leagues from Anchediva he confessed he was a Moor, and later he was converted, and it was said afterwards that he was a Jew, because it was found that he was married to a Jewess who lived in Cochim. Correa's account is the most probable.
  1. Quotes from A journal of the first voyage of Vasco da Gama - By Alvaro Velho, João de Sá
  2. Correa (Lendas da India) usually refers to him as Gaspar da Gama, but also calls him Gaspar de las Indias, or Gaspar d'Almeida. King Manuel, in his letter to the Cardinal Protector, calls him a "Jew, who turned Christian, a merchant and lapidary".
  3. Sernigi held a conversation with him at Lisbon. He speaks of him as a Sclavonian Jew, born at Alexandria.
  4. According to the information given by Barros and Goes, the parents of Caspar fled from Posen, in Poland, at the time when King Casimir cruelly persecuted the Jews (about 1456). After a short residence in Palestine they removed to Alexandria, where Gaspar was born
  5. Vespucci (He accompanied Cabral as interpreter) met him on his homeward voyage at Cape Verde, and in his letter of June 4, 1501, published by Baldelli (II Milione, 1827), he speaks highly of Gaspar's linguistic attainments, and refers to his extensive travels in Asia.
  6. Lunardo da Cha Masser, who came to Lisbon in 1504 as ambassador of the Signoria, in a letter written about 1506 and first published in the Archivio Storico Italiano (Florence, 1846), says that Gaspar married a Portuguese lady, and was granted a pension of 170 ducats annually, in recognition of the valuable information which he furnished respecting the Oriental trade.
  7. Moncaide, who came on board Vasco da Gama's vessel at Calecut, is stated by Barros and Goes to have been a native of Tunis, who, in the time of King John II had done business with the Portuguese at Oran, and spoke Castilian. He accompanied Vasco da Gama to Portugal and was baptised. In King Manuel's letter to the Cardinal Protector he is referred to as a " Moor of Tunis". The author of the Roteiro calls him a "Moor of Tunis" whom the Moors of Calecut suspected of being a Christian and emissary of the King of Portugal
  8. Correa savs that he was a native of Seville, who, having been captured when five years old, turned Moslem, although "in his soul he was still a Christian". He generally refers to this man as "the Castilian", and says that his true name was Alonso Perez.
  9. If Correa can be trusted, he still had a wife at Cochin in 1506. Sernigi (see p. 136) credits him with a wife and children at Calecut.
  10. Lipiner his biographer mentions a wife and family in Brazil - Bento Teixeira, who is considered the first Brazilian poet, had been consulted by Lianor da Rosa "if the said niece of his had married the said Gaspar de Almeida formerly, in the tempo dos judeus, if the children of such a marriage would be legitimate.”


Tipu’s Waterloo

Posted by Maddy Labels:

The Travancore lines - Tipus ‘Contemptible wall’

Today there is much talk about the Padmanabha treasure, the immense hoard of gold and coins at the temple in Trivandrum. Was its existence known in the past? Well, Tipu for one certainly believed in the wealth hidden by the kings and Naduvazhis of many parts of Malabar and many of his temple plunders were to unearth the hidden wealth in temple vaults. And as we all know he tried hard to get into Travancore subsequently and failed. Did he perhaps have an inkling of what existed in the Padmanabha vaults?

But how did this David and Goliath story pan out? What happened? Let us take a look and as we do, thank the efforts of a Flemish captain who strayed into these lands, a person named Eustachio de Lannoy, the person fondly known as ‘valia kapitan’, in stopping a possible plunder.

Most of you believe that Tipu met his might at the battle of Seringapatanam with the English, where he eventually died, but it was in an earlier battle where he saw defeat from a smaller army. Before I get to it, let me thank two people, Manjith & Bernard. One started me on this route by asking a question about Dillani kotta; the other provided me much information to complete Lannoy’s part of the story. I will not get too deep into the Lannoy story right now, but will instead hover above the battle of Nedumkota. I must also thank the person who first called it Tipu’s waterloo; it is somebody who goes by the pen name a_kumar writing in the Bharat-rakshak forum.

History books call this the Third Anglo Mysore war. Let us get the background and perspective set, to start with borrowing from Wikipedia entry. The kingdom of Travancore had been a target of Tipu for acquisition or conquest since the end of the previous war. Indirect attempts to take over the kingdom had failed in 1788, and Archibald Campbell, the Madras president at the time, had warned Tipu that an attack on Travancore would be treated as a declaration of war on the company. The rajah of Travancore also angered Tipu by extending fortifications along the border with Mysore into territory claimed by Mysore, and by purchasing from the Dutch East India Company two forts in the Kingdom of Cochin, a state paying tribute to Tipu. In 1789 Tipu sent forces onto the Malabar Coast to put down a rebellion. Many people fled to Travancore and Cochin, a state paying tribute to Tipu, in the wake of his advance. In order to follow them, Tipu began, in the fall of 1789 to build up troops at Coimbatore in preparation for an assault on the Nedumkotta, a fortified line of defense built by Dharma Raja of Travancore to protect his domain. Cornwallis, observing this buildup, reiterated to Campbell's successor, John Holland, that an attack on Travancore should be considered a declaration of war, and met with a strong British response. Tipu, aware that Holland was not the experienced military officer that Campbell was, and that he did not have the close relationship that Campbell and Cornwallis had (both had served in North America in the American War of Independence), probably decided that this was an opportune time to attack.

I must also admit that whenever I write about the Mysore Sultans, I disregard (right or wrong, I cannot say conclusively, but my studies show these two characters to be somewhat poor specimens of humanity) all the rubbish about them being freedom fighters fighting for a greater India and all that. They were simply greedy rulers in the larger context, misusing the power of religion (inciting the moplahs) and had no reason other than annexation of riches for themselves and plundering their neighbors for no good reason other than to collect finances to later pay foreign powers like the French for arms and ammunition. That their enemies were later enemies of a united India is another matter, but in the period we talk about there was no united India, so the point is moot.

But first a few more words about the scheme of things and the period setting. Malabar had been decimated by the attack and plunder by the troops of Hyder Ali and later by Tipu Sultan. It was ruled by by the governors placed in Ferokabad and the Zamorins had lost their power after many hundred years. Their families had fled and so had the wealthy land owning Nair’s and Namboothiri’s, to the southerly kingdoms of Venad or let us say for convenience Travancore. The Dharma rajas of Travancore had kindly given them asylum. The Cochin king had already aligned with the Dutch and so were supported by a western power with military facilities. The returns from Malabar were not sufficient for the wars Tipu was fighting with the Marathas as well as the English and other petty kingdoms. He had more than he could chew and more finances were needed. His sights were trained at Travancore, for he believed that he could easily trample over them as well, like he did at Malabar in order to get what he wanted.

But step back a little (in jest - people who have seen recent Malayalam films may understand the back & forth technique used in direction), for we have to go backwards in history to an earlier period when the Zamorins were powerful and were fighting regularly and wastefully over petty reasons with the Cochin king while the Portuguese and the Dutch were making merry with the spoils and watching the fun. The Travancore Kingdom which was somewhat calm and sedate until now was getting a bit alarmed with the Zamorin’s growing powers. Marthanda Varma first imported a number of mercenaries (even Mogul and Maratha) from various places and many were provided the titles and rights of Nairs. They did have their periods of diplomacy and tributaries with the Dutch, the Mysore Sultans and the English, but I will not get too much into those details or this will become longer prose that it is going to be.

So we are in the year 1741.The Dutch VOC is in a strained situation with Travancore’s Marthanada Varma, over pepper supply and prices. They decide to take a different route to trouble the Travancore king and precipitate armed conflict by supporting the Kottarakara king, but this as desired, starts an armed attack of the Travancore Nair’s by a Dutch fleet headed by Capt. Hackert. In an engagement at Colachel, the Dutch forces led by Hackert are defeated by Marthanada Varma and his forces.

Here traditional history books and usual accounts go wrong. The Dutch are by now a demoralized lot, they had not been paid for two years, the army and naval personnel had no respect for their immoral captains and had no stomach to fight. The person who first deserted the VOC and joined Marthanda Varma was actually a German named Carl August Duyvenschot who had deserted in April 1741. Carl August then gave Travancore chieftains instructions on retaking Colachel. De Lannoy was never the captain who headed the fleet at Colachel, nor did he surrender at that battle as is oft mentioned.

Captain de Lannoy and other Dutchman deserted later in August and were imprisoned in Iraniyal. Carl August convinced Marthanda Varma to let them and some 40-50 European prisoners join the Travancore Nair brigade. Now comes one of those strange twists of fate. Lannoy was just a soldier in the Travancore army. The ailing German captain was to be succeeded by a Sgt Hartman. But one fine day, Marthanda Varma sees the smart and affable Lannoy, takes a good look at his face (most you may not know this, the king was also a face reader, a physiognomist). He foresaw that Lannoy had a great future and chose him over Hartman to succeed Carl August… and as history tells us, Lannoy would prove him right many times over.

By 1744, Lannoy had trained and created an able army for the raja and had built many forts for him. He was also entrusted with making a cannon foundry and a gunpowder making factory. By 1747 Travancore had wrested control over the area upto the Cochin borders. The political and military stages of Malabar were by now no longer directed by the Dutch or the Portuguese or English, though they were looking from afar and waiting….like many a medieval tale, the kings were at play, the vultures were hovering above for the spoils of war. The Zamorin attacked Cochin and was about to annex it in 1757 when the Cochin raja in desperation signed a treaty with Marthanda Varma. But well, as luck or the lack of it would have it, by 1758 both the warring Zamorin and Marthanda Varma died. Rama Varma took over in Travancore and charged Lannoy to build fortifications to prevent any further incursions into Travancore. It was soon 1763.

Thus the Travancore lines or Nedumkotta took shape. 35 miles long, 12 miles tall, it was though not massive or grandiose as the Great Wall of China, built with the same purpose. A ditch 16-20 feet wide and 16 feet deep kept attackers at bay. Starting at the isles of Vypeen (Pallipuram Kotta), it continued upto the Anamalai hills. The wall was raised mainly with clay and mud, and reinforced with stones, laterite and granite at strategic places. There were underground cells to store gunpowder and other war materials, special chambers for soldiers to live, and look-outs and mounted field-guns all along the fortification. Besides, on the north side of the fortification, ditches were dug twenty feet wide and sixteen feet deep, and filled with thorny plants, poisonous snakes, and hidden weapons. On the south side as well as on the top of the fortification, wide roads were laid for the convenience of military movements.

Let’s back up a little bit now. By 1757, Hyder had marched into Malabar and the Zamorin had killed himself and the family had fled to Travancore as we know already. The new enemy for all of Malabar was the marauding Mysore Sultan, and their atrocities had by now been well explained to the Travancore nobility by the asylees, and it was amply clear that the Sultan had eyes for Travancore. It was now the period more popularly known as the ‘Padayottakalam’ or the period when militaries marched and ran amok. The common man had no respite; it was a period of turmoil, fear and anxiety. The calm Malabar was a boiling caldron with religious animosity, foreign soldiers, atrocities, plunder and mayhem. The only area that was calm was Travancore and the Dharma Raja’s wanted to keep it that way. Lannoy’s wall was created with that purpose, for there was no Zamorin to worry about, he had died already.

It was in 1774 or thereabout that Hyder expressed his intentions of overrunning Travancore in clear terms. But to get to Travancore, he had to pass Dutch territory; they would not give him permission. Hyder then asked the Rajas of Cochin and Travancore, to compensate him for his Malabar campaign. Cochin was asked to pay a total of Rs.400,000 and 10 elephants, while Travancore was asked to pay Rs.1,500,000 and 30 elephants. Hyder warned the Raja that if Travancore refused, "He will pay a visit". Typical bullying I would say or extortion and that of course, coming after Hyder’s destruction of the Zamorin’s suzerainty over a failed demand over 12 lakhs.

Although the Cochin Royals agreed to pay the amount and accepted the Mysore's superiority, King of Travancore replied, stating that it was "neither to please him nor in accordance with his advice that the invasion of Malabar was undertaken". But he stated that if Hyder Ali withdrew from Malabar with his forces and reinstated the local Rajas back in their kingdoms, he will provide some amount of money.

And so, the Mysore army began to move to Travancore from the North. But after a series of incursions and fort takeovers, Hyder had to return to Mysore after trouble in Malabar where his forces lost a few battles. By 1782, he was dead (as fate decrees and as we saw earlier, cruel people have painful deaths), suffering from cancer. Tipu, his son took over.

In the meantime, the strength of Travancore Army had reduced after many battles. The death of De Lannoy in 1777 further diminished the morale of the soldiers. The death of Makayiram Thirunal and Asvati Thirunal in 1786 forced the Travancore Royal Family to adopt two princesses from Kolathunad. Tipu Sultan had planned the invasion of Travancore for many years, and he was especially concerned with the Nedumkotta fortifications, which prevented Hyder Ali from annexing the kingdom. On December 29, 1789, Tipu Sultan marched his troops from Coimbatore and decided to attack and destroy the Nedumkotta and enter Travancore.

Travancore purchased the strategic forts of Cranganore and Ayacottah from the Dutch as a preparation for the war. The deal was finalized by Dewan Kesava Pillai and Dutch merchants David Rabbi and Ephraim Cohen under the observation of the Travancore Maharajah (Dharma Raja) and the Dutch governor (John Gerard van Anglebeck). Travancore also held a treaty with the British East India Company, under which two battalions of the Company army will be stationed at the Travancore-Cochin frontier.

Kesava Pillai was appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of the Travancore Nair Army. He was to prove himself a master at strategy.

Battles at Nedumkotta

It was December 1789. Here we first take a look at the words of Nagam Aiya and Shungoony Menon. The location is near today’s Chalakkudy, locally known as Kottamuri. The first battle took place at Vedimaraparambu in the Muringur village.

Nagam Aiya’s Travancore State Manual.

Tippu not satisfied with these replies sent, on the 24th December 1789 A. D., another embassy with two caparisoned elephants ostensibly meant for taking the two Rajahs of Cochin and Travancore, and on the night between the "28th and 29th of December encamped at a place six miles distant northward from the main entrance to the lines. Leaving most of his forces to maneuver at daybreak in front of the principal gate, Tippu marched with 14,000 infantry and 500 pioneers by a roundabout way at 10 o'clock in the night being guided by a native of the country. Before day-break he found himself in possession of a large extent of the rampart on the right flank of the lines. His aim was to gain the gate about nine miles from the point of entrance, to open it to the division of his army placed to maneuver in front of it and to place his whole force within the lines in one day. About 9 o'clock in the morning the Sultan had come three miles along the water in the inner side with his whole force without any opposition, and he at once commanded his pioneers to level down the rampart into the ditch which was there 10 feet wide and 20 deep and thus make a road for him to pass. This was found rather difficult and so he advanced along the rampart in one column, the Travancoreans retreating from successive towers until finally they made a stand in a small square enclosure within the works employed as a magazine, storehouse and barrack, and having drawn a small gun inside they poured grape upon the advancing Mysoreans. The Sultan at once issued orders to take the place at the point of the bayonet. But as they were advancing to execute this ill-advised order, a party of twenty Travancoreans at once poured in a heavy fire which killed the commanding officer and created a panic and inextricable chaos.

"The relieving corps awkwardly advancing along the tame Hank was met and checked by an impetuous mass of fugitives; the next corps caught the infection, the panic became general and the contusion irretrievable. The Sultan himself was borne away in the crowd; the rear, now become the front, rushed into the intended road across the ditch, which had been no farther prepared than by cutting down the underwood, and throwing a part of the rampart on the berm; the foremost leaped or were forced into the ditch: and such was the pressure of the succeeding mass, that there was no alternative but to follow. The undermost, of course, were trampled to death; and in a short time the bodies, by which the ditch was nearly filled, enabled the remainder to pass over. The Sultan was precipitated with the rest, and was only saved by the exertions of some steady and active chelae, who raised him on their shoulders, and enabled him to ascend the counterscarp, after having twice fallen back in the attempt to clamber up: and the lameness, which occasionally continued until his death, was occasioned by the severe contusions he received on this occasion."''

He then made the best of his way out with very great difficulty and was soon carried in a dhuli unperceived to his tent. In an intense fit of rage and humiliation he swore that he would remain in that camp until he took what he described as ' this contemptible wall'.

According to the English dispatches the ditch was said to have been filled with bales of cotton by the Mysoreans for the purpose of passing in and an accidental inflammation of the cotton made them seek another passage. Mr. Powney in his account written from Parur on the first of January 1790 states:Tippu has met with a repulse from the raja's troops. He breached a weak part of the lines and filled the ditch with bales of cotton and earth for his cavalry to enter. He made the attack with seven thousand men. They carried it and possessed the lines for three miles in extent, but reinforcements of the Raja's troops coming from the right and left, the enemy were hemmed in between two fires and were driven out with great slaughter. Near a thousand were left dead within the lines, some horses and prisoners were taken. Zemaul Beg, commander of a cussoom was killed, likewise another person of consequence; it is said to be a son of the late Meer Saib. The enemy as soon as he fell, cut off his head and carried it with them. About two hundred of the Raja's people were killed and wounded. By all accounts they behaved very gallantly. A Brahman of some consequence is among the prisoners; he says that Tippu was at the attack, and had a horse shot under him. We apprehend he is meditating some grand attack. Report says he has crossed the Chetwa River and is advancing along the sea-side with the intention of attacking Cranganore and Ayacotta. I think we shall be prepared for him at these places. He has certainly drawn oil his army from the lines."

The account of bales of cotton having been used for the purpose of passing over the ditch is not corroborated by other accounts, though it is affirmed by all that the mass of bodies in the ditch were consumed by fire after the retreat, fuel being supposed to have been added for the purpose by the Travancoreans. Tippu's palanquin, his seals, rings and personal ornaments, sword etc, fell into the Dalawa's hands as trophies, which were duly forwarded to the Nawab of Arcot at his request. Shortly after this, he had nearly lost his life in an attack on the lines of Travancore where he was forced to leave his palanquin behind him, together with his pistols and a small signet or sealed ring which he usually wore, and which the editor of these sheets has seen, and so very small that the finger on which it was worn must have been delicate in the extreme."

Shungoony Menon’s History of Travancore

On the 11th Dhanu (24th December), Tippoo encamped at a place four miles distant from the Travancore lines, where he began to erect batteries on the 12th (25th). On the night of the 15th Dhanu, 964 M.E., (28th December 1789 A.D.), Tippoo's powerful army, under his personal command, attacked the Northern frontier of Travancore and attempted a breach of the barrier; but the attack was ably and gallantly resisted by the troops on duty, generally known by the designation of "Paravoor Battalion”.

On the morning of the 15th Dhanu (28th December), the Sultan's force, consisting of 14,000 select infantry and a body of 500 pioneers, paraded in front of the line. The pioneers were ordered to clear a part of the ditch where the wall was not guarded, and they proceeded with the work which was not successfully completed during the night. However, the Sultan ordered the force to proceed and effect an entrance within the walls during the night. By day break on the 16th Dhanu (29th December) he gained an entrance and succeeded in possessing a considerable extent of the ramparts. The troops of the Maha Rajah, occupying those ramparts, retreated before Tippoo's army as the latter was marching by the side of the wall with the full view of reaching the gate. The Travancore garrison opposed their progress. Tippoo found it necessary to bring in a reinforcement to afford help to the leading corps. In the hurry of the moment, the order was misunderstood and ill-executed. In this confusion, a party of twenty men of the Travancore garrison, who were stationed at a corner of the rampart, threw in a regular platoon on the flank which killed the officer commanding, and threw the corps into inextricable disorder and flight. The advancing relief was met and checked by an impetuous mass of fugitives.

The panic now became general and the retreating men were borne on to the ditch, while others were forced into it by the mass which pressed on from behind. Those that fell into the ditch were, of course, killed. The rear now became the front. The bodies that filled the ditch enabled the remainder to pass over them. The Sultan himself was thrown down in the struggle and the bearers of his palanquin trampled to death. Though he was rescued from death by some of his faithful followers, yet he received such injuries that he never forgot in this episode in his invasion of Travancore.

Tippoo's State sword, signet ring, and other personal ornaments fell into the hands of the Travancore army; several officers and men were taken prisoners, and of the former, five were Europeans, and one a Mahratta.

Tippoo retreated with great shame and chagrin, and Dewan Kasava Pillay returned to Trivandrum in triumph, bringing with him Tippoo's sword, shield, as trophies. The Maha Rajah communicated the news of his success to his friends the English and the Nabob, and received their warm congratulations. The Nabob requested the Maha Rajah to send Tippoo's sword, shield, dagger, belt, palanquin, and they were accordingly forwarded.

Tippoo was now determined on retaliating on Travancore. He remained in the vicinity of the northern frontier and concentrated a large army there which consisted of infantry, cavalry and artillery. The rest of the story involves the British who were asked by the Maharaja for help. The bureaucracy, after some stonewalling by J Holland (some say bribed into inactivity by Tipu) finally decided to enter the fray. Tipu in the meantime was methodically destroying the Nedumkottah which was becoming a long and arduous task.

The British did not receive orders to attack though stationed in readiness. By the time they received it, Tipus forces had become very big and the officers decide to retreat. Keshava Pillay also decided to retreat.

The Sultan's first object was to destroy the "contemptible wall" and fill up the ditch, and so he took a pickaxe himself and set an example which was followed by everyone present and the demolition of the wall was completed by his army without much delay.

The wall was smashed down and Tipous forces pillaged and burnt their way forward, but then another fate befell them, for the master strategist and planner from the placid plains had never seen the fury of the South west monsoon, the very same winds that helps the country with trade.

The south-west monsoon broke out with unusual severity and the beautiful Alwaye river, a stream which usually rises after a few showers, filled and overflowed its banks causing Tippoo's army great inconvenience and rendering their march almost impossible.

Tippoo was certainly in a very awkward predicament and one for which he was not prepared. He had no idea of what a Malabar monsoon was. His army had no shelter; no dry place for parade; all their ammunition, accoutrements etc got wet. Even the very necessaries of life were washed away by the impetuous current of the flooded river.

Cholera, small-pox and other epidemics broke out. Provisions became scanty, and the scarcity was followed almost by famine. Numbers began to perish by disease and hunger.

And thus Tipu limped back to Mysore, defeated at his own waterloo. The limp was to remind him constantly of his misadventures into Malabar, through the rest of his miserable life.

Today there is no physical evidence of the historic Nedumkotta in the form of even ruins anywhere in the Mukundapuram Chettuva, Parur, Kodakara, Chalakudy, Mullurkara, Enamanakhal and Karikodu areas through which it passed. However, some place-names having a reference to the historic fortification are still popular in the northern borders of the erstwhile Cochin and Travancore States - Krishnan Kotta (meaning Krishnan Fort), Kottamukku (fort corner), Kottamuri (part of a fort), Kottaparampu (fort land), Kotta Vazhi (fort road), Kottalaparampu (magazine ground), Palayam (cantonment), etc.

The people at Trichur, Chalakkudy and other areas continue to live their lives in peace, mostly unaware of the stories of 1790, with no physical remains of the wall to remind them of the ghastly events of that war.


Shungoony Menon – History of Travancore
Nagam Aiya – The Travancore State manual
A Dutchman in the service of Travancore Eustache Lannoy – By Mark De Lannoy


Was it a decisive battle in anyway? I historians believe so, for the Travancore battle pitched the EIC into the third Anglo Mysore war providing them the reason and permissions, after forming a coalition with the Marathas & the Nizam. Tipu hastened back to placate the Marathas but it was too late. Soon he too met a violent death in battle at Srirangapatanam. But most people do not even know about the story at Nedumkotta.

Why is it Tipus waterloo? A_kumar gives a good explanation – In 1789, Tipus attack with 14000 soldiers was repulsed by a small Travancore army, enraging him. He then waited three months for reinforcements, giving his enemies valuable recouping time. Tipu then bribed Holland into inaction and the Calcualla high command of EIC when they found out, became furious about the traitor in their fold, forcing them to look closer into the matter. Tipu batters the wall, but loses other minor battles locally, and while stuck in the morass, hears about the treaties between the Nizam, the Mahratas and the EIC. In the meantime the rain decimates his troops and he finally trudges back, demoralized, and is defeated in future campaigns, even having to supply his sons to the EIC as ransom..

Some historians like Kareem, Ibrahim Kunju etc continue to question if Tipu really participated in these battles or lost his sword, if he even became limp from the above battle etc while maintaining that he was a benevolent and honorable King, who only believed in the well being of his subjects. I will get to this topic another day, but for now I think of him only as an example of an unworthy person desiring the crown of greatness and one who believed that violent pursuit of his goal through despotic wars was the answer.

The Sha-mi-ti mystery

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Ming China and Calicut – Part 1

This study resulted from the reading of a very complicated document covering China and Calicut relations during the early Ming period. The excellent article by Roderich Ptak would have reached a complete and proper conclusion if he had access to more Malabar history books, but then again, Malabar history is neither well understood and recorded by indigenous people living then, nor are the relations with foreign traders well documented. There is a reason for that of course since trade was kept at arm’s length by the rulers and the local populace who went about their normal course of living, leaving the sailing and port handling to expatriate Arabs and other nationalities who were free to come and work as they wanted, provided they kept to themselves and paid the duties in time. And with that background, we go to Beijing, the new capital of imperial Ming China…

In 1403, Yung Lo (Yong Le – Zhu Di) had come to power in China, and was about to project the Ming capital into limelight, with the massive building efforts of a new city, a new palace and plan and organize the dispatch of a vast armada of ships under the admiralty of Zheng he (Cheng Hu). The new emperor, the representative of heavens received many emissaries from countries that it had relations with. The how’s and why’s will be discussed in another more detailed article, but let us look at an interesting entry into various Chinese manuscripts which thence pose a few questions. Quoting Ptak…

An envoy sent by the ruler of Calicut (now referred to, for the first time, as "Ku-li"), Sha-mi-ti (Samutiri), came to China in the wake of Yin Ch'ing's returning ships. This Calicut emissary was entertained twice by the Chinese, together with other envoys including the one from Hsi-yang, once on 21 October 1405 and once on 6 November 1405. Note here that we are actually talking about two emissaries from Calicut (His-Yang Kuli was also Calicut). While we do not learn anything about the subsequent departure of the Calicut envoy, it is important to realize that this is the first instance where a Calicut ruler is said to have been formally granted a Chinese title (on 3 October); perhaps Sha mi-ti had acceded to power some time in 1403 or 1404 and news of this only arrived in China with Yin Ch'ing, hence the Calicut envoy who accompanied Yin received all honours on behalf of his king.

However, the situation is complicated by the fact that envoys representing a place called Ch'e-li (here probably not identical with the Yunnan tribal office in MS, ch. 325) were received, as indicated, on 23 September 1405 together with ambassadors from Hsi-yang (representing perhaps Chola) and Java, and on 25 February 1403 (erh-yueh jen tzu), together with diplomats representing Korea and Siam. Since, quite obviously, Ch'e-li in both events is linked to other maritime countries it could be that we are dealing with an Indian Ocean country here and not with the Yunnan tribal office. There is little reason, however, to believe that "Ch'e-li" is a mistake for "So-li" or "Ch'e-li (a)" or for any of the other forms representing "Chulya" since no other text alludes to such a possibility. Moreover, Ch'e-li is listed together with Hsi-yang (which may have something to do with Hsi-yang So-li or So-li, as shown above) as two places in the entry of September 1405. Furthermore, Hsi-yang and La-ni (if these stand for two places) submitted tribute in 1403, i.e. in the same year in which the first Ch'e-li diplomats were received; in other words, if Ch'e-li and Hsi-yang (So-li) were to stand for the same place, there would have been two envoys from that place submitting tribute in one and the same year which is highly unlikely. A second possible interpretation of Ch'e-li is to consider this name as a variant form of Ku-li.

This is possible in the case of 1403 but not in the case of the 1405 envoy since it is clearly stated in MSL that in 1405 Yin Ch'ing brought with him to China an ambassador from Calicut (Ku-li). So, why would two envoys from the same place (under two different names) have arrived almost simultaneously in 1405? Now, before continuing with the discussion of this name problem a second question has to be considered. Several of the geographical descriptions of Calicut, starting with the HYTC and TMITC, which do not list Sha-mi-ti's mission of 1405 claim that another Calicut ruler, Ma-na Pi-chia-la-man (Mana Vikraman), sent tribute to China in 1403 through his emissary Ma Shu, while other works, for example SYCTL, SIKC or TWL, speak of two tribute missions, of the one of Ma Shu in 1403 and the one sent by Sha-mi-ti in 1405. The SIKC even lists a third envoy for the year 1404. While the latter cannot be verified through any other account, we have seriously to consider the "two envoy option" Perhaps the 1403 tribute mission sent by Ch e-li (as listed in MSL) is identical to the Ma Shu mission dispatched by Ma-na Pi-chia-la-man. If so, we may again infer that a change in government took place at Calicut after Ma Shu had left, most likely towards the end of 1402 or during the years 1403/4………………..

Does this imply that Calicut was called "Ch'e-li" by the Chinese before and "Ku-li" after Sha-mi-ti's accession? Once again, there are no definite solutions to the above questions. We may only conclude that, in all likelihood, two Calicut envoys arrived, one in 1403 under the old ruler, one in 1405 under the new one. The part played by Ch'e-li, Hsi-yang and La-ni or Hsi yang La-ni remains unclear……….

Cheng Ho took back to Calicut Sha-mi-ti's envoy who had arrived, as we saw, on 3 October and remained in China until 5 November 1405. When Cheng Ho returned from his first expedition on 2 October 1407 he was accompanied by several emissaries including a new ambassador from Calicut. This envoy is also mentioned in KC. In MSL he is referred to as Pi-che-ya-man-hei-ti. Moreover, the sovereign of Calicut is now no longer called ch'iu-chang (chieftain) but wang (king), according to the status granted to him in 1405.44 ranted to him in 1405.

To get a better understanding of all this text, one should be aware of what the Chinese called a tributary system. Why did Calicut and the other countries listed have to send envoys and pay tribute to China? We will try to get a fair understanding from reading Fairbank’s article.

Quoting Fairbank - First is the fact that the emperor is the son of heaven. He had to maintain harmony between heaven and earth.

"The kings of former times cultivated their own refinement and virtue in order to subdue persons at a distance, whereupon the barbarians (of the east and north) came to Court to have audience. . The first tenet of this theory-and this is an interpretation-was that the alien, however crass and stupid, could not but appreciate the superiority of Chinese civilization and would naturally seek to "come and be trans- formed" (lai-hua) and so participate in its benefits. The formalities of the tributary system constituted a mechanism by which formerly barbarous regions outside the empire were given their place in the all-embracing Sinocentric cosmos

First of all the tributary ruler who tendered his submission was incorporated into the charmed circle of the Chinese state by several forms. An imperial patent of appointment was bestowed upon him-a document which recognized his status as a tributary. More than this, the tributary system was a diplomatic medium, the vehicle for Chinese foreign relations. Whenever a new ruler ascended the throne of a tributary state, he was required by the regulations to send an envoy to obtain an imperial mandate from the Chinese court. By imperial command he was then appointed ruler of his country, and the imperial patent of appointment was given to his envoy; after receiving this document, the new ruler sent a tribute mission to offer thanks for the imperial favor. A recognized vassal might appeal in time of need for Chinese help

In summary one can see that the early days of the Ming dynasty saw envoys being deputed from two kingdoms around Calicut, both vying for Chinese approval, one being the Manavikarama envoy from Calicut and the other from the neighboring principality of Chaliyam. And thus we see Chaliyam on the global map for the first time.

Some would wonder how a place like Chaliyam could be connected to the Ming king. Others would be surprised to know that this small principality was an independent kingdom. Some others wonder how a Chaliyam ambassador could rub shoulders with other bigwigs in imperial Peking, and conclude that there was a time when all this was possible, mainly due to the trade links that existed. In today’s measures, the trade was not that significant, but it was enough to encourage private traders to start the process and for a large kingdom to take notice, if only to cater for their rich men’s fancy tastes for things like spices. This kind of imagination becomes difficult when you know that those tastes have become common place now.

Anyway as we can see, the Chaliyam raja was also connected with the Chinese trade. Cheng Ho comes around in 1405 and established the superiority of the Zamorin and his accession as the ruler of Malabar, and places him above the Chaliyam king. Many history books wrongly mention that Zheng came to establish the Manavikrama Zamorin’s accession to the throne; it was actually to present the papers and install the stone monument establishing the relationship as a fact.

Chaliyam’s (the nearby locales of Parappanad, Beypore, Tirur, Tanur are all known in history from ancient times and form part of this locale) history is certainly checkered after that, and the events in that region were to determine the futures of many a king, namely the Zamorin, the Portuguese, the Chinese, the Arabs and Moplahs. One can think a bit and easily figure out why the place was important. One was the acess to the river Bharatapuzha, trade connected to it and secondly the geography of the vicinity. As you will note the serene Puzha flows over the Nila valley and empties the waters from the mountains into the Arabian Sea at Ponnani, so it was an important sea port that connected though a major river to inland centers where material for trade arrived. This locale in early Malabar history was called Vettathnaad, Prakasha Rajya or land of light. Today the family that ruled these areas is extinct, and their story is not very easy o piece together, but we do know that at one time, one of the chieftains for the sake of survival even changed religion to side with the Portuguese. Rivalry with the neighboring Zamorin of Calicut determined the future of that place. Sad events continued, after life had settled down somewhat and the British had taken charge. Violent events connected with the Moplah revolts shook the sleepy villages of Vettath naad, Chaliyam and the offices of the powerful EIC.

Readers should note that there were two chieftains, one being the Tanur king or Vettath raja, the other being the vassal of the Zamorin called the (N) Parappanad raja. The Tanur kingdom was in those days very learned, and produced many famous people, mathematicians and artists. Tanur was thus a swaroopam. Somewhere during the 1350 period the wars between the upcoming Zamorin and the Vettah raja intensified and the dynasty were defeated by the Zamorin. The Ponnani port was very important for Arab trade and thus the strategic importance meant that the Zamorin had to have a long term relationship with the raja. Following this the Tirunavaya wars took place and in the uneasy truce that followed the Vettam raja was given a significant position in the ceremonious Mamankham where he stood to the right of the Zamorin and the Shahbandar koya of Calicut to his right.

Vettatnad (Vettam) or Tanur Swarupam comprised of parts of Ponnani and Tirur Taluks. It included within itself such places as Tanur, Trikkantiyur, Chaliyam, Triprangode etc. Chalium on the other hand was controlled by the Parappanad raja called Urinama. So note that the Parappanad swaroopma is different from the Tanur swaroopam, but then again entire area for foreigners was perhaps termed Chaliya.

What connection would the Chinese trade have with the principalities of Chaliyam or Tanore? To figure that out it must be noted that Ponnani was an important port where many of the trade ships berthed. The main exports specific to Chaliyam were the muslin shawls, Chalia (areca) nuts other than the usual trade goods & fine articles that came down the river. It rivaled Pantalayanai to the North of Calicut and eventually became the seat of the Yemeni Arabs as well as the Portuguese when they established a fort there. So how about the Chinese?

Ibn batuta had to say this in 1326 - I next came to the city of Shaliat, where the Shaliats are made, and hence they derive their name. This is a fine city. I remained at it some time, and there heard that the kakam (third sized vessels) had returned to China, and that my slave girl had died in it and I was very much distressed on her account. The infidels too had seized upon my property, and my followers had been dispersed among the Chinese and others.

A later observation by P Vincenzo is certainly curious. We passed Cinacotta", says P. Vincenzo, "at the mouth of the river Ciali, where the Portuguese formerly had a fortress" (liv. I, cap. xxxiii).. G De Orta certainly mentions a fort of the Chinese, whereas Vincernzo equates it to ‘little fort’. But the time lines covered in past and present tenses cross in translations and one cannot be sure, nevertheless, did the Chinese settle down in Chaliyam or were they mostly around Calicut?

Reading all these one can infer that there was a sizeable Chinese presence in the location, around the turn of the 15th century, even before Cheng Ho’s arrival in Calicut. It could have been so that they were mainly centered on Chaliyam and the mention of a Cinacotta probably signified a Chinese settlement around that location. Perhaps that was the very reason the Chaliyam raja had his envoys in China even before the Zamorin’s envoy reached Ming China.

Who could have been the emissary of Sha-mi-ti? Was Sha-mi-ti a translation for Samuthiri as Western historians conclude? Unlikely, for the word did not come into use until later in the 15th century, it was therefore just some confusion by the translators or could very well have been a name other than Samuthiri. But the mystery is still not solved, for suddenly the Paraksh Rajyam or Vettathnadu now delivers a ruler named Viraraya in ancient history notings. As people who study the Zamorins will agree, the Mana Vikaramas are understood, but nobody really knows how the Viraraya became a part of Zamorin titles. Nampoothiri concurs - He says that the Viraraya title seems to be acquired 15th AD, when Zamorins annexed Valluvanadu territory (or was it actually the Vettathnadu?).

Was there perhaps a time when the Virarayas of Vettath nadu were part of the Zamorin’s ruling coalition, i.e. not just standing to his right on important occasions, but also as part of the family? Did they drift apart in time to become enemies? But that drift is more difficult to analyze without more matter, and so we will try to do so another day.

Soon the Chinese were to leave Malabar shores entirely. I had covered it briefly in the past, but will get back to it in more detail soon. The Ming dynasty shifted its interests to internal problems and land border issues, forgetting their tributaries abroad. Probably the relationship between Calicut and China was broken already for other reasons as ‘Joseph the Indian’ mentions. The Portuguese came next and the Zamorin had to resort to asking the Egyptian and Turkish Sultans for help. The heavily armed Chinese armada of Zheng He was not available anymore and the tributary status was perhaps lost… but why? That will be another story for another day.

As for Chalium, the uneasy truce with the Zamorin continued till 1498 and the Portuguese appeared on the scene. Seeing an ally in them, the Vettath rajas sided with the Portuguese in the wars that followed, and allied with the royal families of Cochin and Travancore. By the 18th century the family became extinct, though the Zamorin was to send his family to Paonnani, just before his own death, when faced with danger from Hyder Ali.

The area around continued to be a prosperous trading center and became home for many a famous person including the Zainuddin Makkadum’s, the Maraikkars and so on, all figuring regularly in Malabar history. The weavers vanished in the turmoil’s that followed and the Shaliat manufacture was attributed to Kashmir. The Portuguese finally constructed a fort in 1532, fulfilling their their main aim. The fort was later (1571) demolished by the Zamorin and many big battles followed, resulting in the departure of the Portuguese from Malabar soil once and for all. It later became a terminus for the Madras railway in Malabar and slowly faded from notice. Today there are talks of creating a warship building center there. Perhaps the locales near Tyndis will become famous once again after years of obscurity.

1. Ibn Batuta states that Shaliats are made in Chaliyam, and it is possible that the fine cotton head scarf (Keffiyeh) worn by Arabs (muslin from cotton & silk weed) were manufactured by the Chaliyar weavers of Chaliyam in those days. However the modern day shawl is attributed to a Shaliat in Kashmir. As Chaliyars were always resident close to a river, this is likely. Batuta called the place Ash Shaliyat.
2. The Kilimanoor koil thampurans such as Marthanda varma are related to the Malabar Parappanad family. Vettathu Nadu annexes Chowara, one of the original list of 64 Namboothiri Gramams’ and Queen Gangadhara Lakshmi of Kochi adopted children from Vettathu Nadu for this reason.
3. The Vettath sampardayam in Ramanattam(which later became Kathakali) originated from Vettah nadu,.


Tributary Trade and China's Relations with the West – JK Fairbank
China & Calicut in the early ming period – Roderich Ptak
Samoothirinaad – NM Nampoothiri