The story of Dom João de Tanur

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When the Tanur king converted to Christianity

The scene - After Vasco da Gama’s unsuccessful attempts in obtaining a foothold in Malabar to increase the pepper shipments to Lisbon and after Cabral’s show of force failed to shake the Zamorin, the Portuguese settled down around 1500 with their newfound ally the Cochin raja. The furious Zamorin had decided then to teach the Cochin king a good lesson. Intrigues and battles followed, with one or the other ascending the ladder of supremacy. But the Raid on Cranganore (October, 1504) and the defection of the Tanur king to the Portuguese were serious setbacks for the Zamorin. These events pushed the front-line of battles north and effectively placed the Vembanad lagoon out of reach. Any hopes the Zamorin had of quickly resuming his attempts to capture Cochin via the backwaters were effectively dashed.

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 access 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, Vattathunad, Vattathukovil, Prakasha Rajya or land of light. Today the family that ruled these areas is extinct, and their story is not very easy to 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.

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. 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 UrinamaThe 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 left of the Zamorin and the Shahbandar koya of Calicut to his right.

The local kings of Vetathunaad, Beypore and Chaliyam did not quite like the policy adopted by the Zamorin (recall that they were connected family wise to the Cochin king already, not to the Zamorin) to conquer Cochin. The Vettath raja was the first to decide that he should align himself to the Portuguese and obtain an insurance against a Zamorin overture.

Initial forays in 1504 by the Portuguese to firmly ally with Tanur and find other allies in the region were not conclusive but the Tanur Raja helped some shipwrecked Portuguese in 1528 by giving them shelter & support. Da Cunha who succeeded Lopez finally sued for peace with the Zamorin towards 1529, after a tumultuous period where fortunes seesawed. Da Cunha seizing the opportunity sought support from him to build a fort in Tanur. However the building materials shipped for that purpose were lost in a shipwreck.  Tanur continued to be in the Portuguese eyes for they not only had rice, coconuts and tradesmen, but also a number of ships. But the Portuguese had established a fort in Calicut instead and this lasted during 1513-1525 before being destroyed.

At Calicut a new Zamorin had come to the sthanam in 1531. Da Cunha, hell bent on securing that strong foothold in Malabar, enticed the Chaliyam Raja - Unni Rama by offering 2000 pardaus and 50% of the customs revenue, and requested permission to build a fort, which he agreed to after persuasion by his neighbor the Raja of Tanur. Using stones from the tombs and the old mosque (quoting Zainuddin Mukkadam) at Chaliyam or Pappu kovil, the Franks finally started building their base much to the annoyance of the local Muslims. With the help of the Chaliyam raja, a fort and a chapel ‘Santa maria de Castello’ were built at Chalium in 1532, together with a house for the commander, barracks for the soldiers, and store-houses for trade. The thoroughly incensed Moplahs and Arab moors appealed to the new suzerain at Calicut (Note that Tanur, Chaliyam and beypore were always under the Zamroin’s suzerainty). As you will realize, the fort at Chalium was strategic for it controlled the entrance to the sea and the waterways providing much control over trade in the region.

When the Zamorin remonstrated, the Chaliyam raja immediately agreed to stop support for the Portuguese, but the Tanur (Vettath) Raja decided to formally side the Portuguese and even take a step further by converting to Christianity to get the full support of the Franks (the Cochin king had meanwhile, refused to convert) and protect himself in future endeavors. The dates go a little awry here, for Krishna Ayyar mentions that these events took place in 1531, however Jesuit documents reconfirm 1545 as the date when the conversion of the king was planned to be carried out in secret.

It was sometime in 1545 that Francis Xavier came to Malabar. He left Lisbon in 1541 and by fall 1542, he had reached the fishery coast to tend to the Paravas (Read my articles listed under references for further details of his work and the persona of Joao da Cruz). While Xavier did succeed in getting many conversions done, his work was considered to be very unsystematic. This was the time when a new iron handed rector named Antonio Gomes entered the scene and soon locked horns with Xavier, but Xavier was on his way to Japan already after being disappointed by the Indians (barbarians, inconstant, and liars according to him) compared to the Japanese whom he found likeable. Xavier who was in theory Gomes’s superior, also found the Portuguese bureaucracy stifling. Gomes using his stronger connections in Lisbon, decided to start a number of Jesuit colleges and Chale or Claliyam was one of the locations he chose. Gaspar Barzaeus was to take care of this college. Xavier complained that António Gomes had no qualifications “to be in charge of the brothers in India and of the college”. But while the Jesuit college proposal for Chale never took off, Gomes did end up in Tanur.

Quoting Zupanov - From April until September 1549, he resided in part in Tanur, close to the Portuguese fortress in Chale, and in part traveled down the Malabar Coast. Officially, he had been sent by Bishop Juan de Albuquerque to instruct the king, who had been secretly converted to Christianity the previous year and who, in Gomes’s words, was “a man of good prudence and knowledge and, in what he shows he does not aspire to anything more than his salvation. In fact, more than or in addition to his spiritual salvation, the king of Tanur banked on Portuguese temporal, that is, military, support.

So we see that the king converted in 1548. Stepping back in time and looking into Jesuit records, we see that the Tanur King expressed his desire to convert in 1545, but as the whole idea of making a grand spectacle of baptism very risky, and since other matters were more pressing, delayed the event and then again, Xavier was away in Malacca. Another reason was that the King actually wanted the conversion to be done privately “in order to preserve the external signs of his caste and religion, such as the (sacred Brahman) thread and other pagan rites” (Note here that unlike the Zamorin who was a regular Nair, the rest of the Tamburans including the Tanur king were considered to be Samanthan Kshatriyas who could wear a poonool). This was not acceptable to Goa in 1545, but the resistance decreased in the next two years (It also appears that Diogo de Borba who was sent to Chaly on a fact finding mission felt that the Tanur king was just trying to use this ruse to get concessions from the Zamorin). But following Gomes’s intervention and involvement, the king allowed himself to be secretly converted following a concerted effort by João Soares, the vicar in Chale, and the Franciscan Frey Vicente de Lagos, who gave the neophyte a metal crucifix to hang onto his thread, “hidden on his chest.”

Now you see Gomes, entering the scene, having had a bigger win at converting a noble man compared to the lower classes Xavier had converted. Gomes spent five months at Tanur educating the new Christian Dom Joao, into Christian ways. He also converted the wife of the king, christening her as Donna Maria later in 1549.

In Goa, Albuquerque grandly stated: “It is the same in our case of Dom João de Tanur, who on the outside is dressed like others and in his heart wears the Catholic faith (en seu coração traz vestida a fé catoliqua), for the goal of converting many grandees and Nayars in his kingdom. . . . And when the time comes . . . he will break the Brahman thread, and will tear his old clothes and will be dressed in Christian clothes, which are Portuguese, just as the knight St. Sebastian did.

Perhaps the Tanur King felt a little insecure now, for he expressed his desire to travel to Goa. His relatives and the people of Malabar dissuaded him, so also the authorities at Goa. They wanted their pepper economics to be stable and to keep the game in play. The Zamorin also refused permission, and even offered additional territory near Ponnani to prevent him from going, but he left anyway. He is accosted, and imprisoned in a temple in Cannanore, but he escaped and reached Goa.

As the story goes, the Tanur King was warmly received in Goa in Oct 1549

It was yet another reason for Goa to celebrate it like a carnival. According to Juan de Albuquerque, Dom João received all the honors due a king, marked by three types of sounds: musical instruments such as trombetas, atabales (kettledrums), and charamellas (shawms); artillery discharges; and church bells. In this way, he was symbolically, or rather acoustically, co-opted into (or captured by) the Portuguese social, military, and religious orbit. At least for a short period of his stay in Goa, the king went “native”; he became a Portuguese because that was still the undisputed goal of conversion to Christianity. Thus, before entering the town, Dom João was “dressed in a Portuguese manner in honorable and rich clothes, with a very rich sword fastened [around the waist], with a rich dagger, one golden chain, black velvet slippers, a black velvet hat with a printed design (com uma estampa).”Fittingly caparisoned, he was paraded through the equally bedecked streets animated by dances, mimes, and gypsies performing along the Rua Direita and led in a solemn procession from the palace to the cathedral for the Mass. The next day he visited the monasteries and, at the invitation of António Gomes, spent the night in the College of St. Paul. He was then confirmed by the bishop and, on October 27, Dom João embarked the fusta, loaded with honors and gifts, and returned home to Tanur. Also his mother and son were converted and baptized.

The Goan Governor paid a return visit to Tanur, following which more conversions occurred and a new church was built. This was all to affect the people of Malabar for in 1598 one of the Zamrin’s nephews converted. We will get to that story soon.

Now why did the Tanur king feel so insecure to adopt this huge risk? As he admitted to the bishop of Goa, his position vis-à-vis the neighboring kings might be weakened by his conversion, and his younger brother who had fled Tanur was only waiting for a chance to snatch his kingly title. Moreover, he was a substitute king for his older, feebleminded (não capaz de siso) brother.

But all this wonderful stuff came to naught in the politics of the pepper trade. The Casa da India in Lisbon wanted Malabar pepper and this came from the Zamorin’s lands or from Cochin. If somebody was reason enough to reduce this regular outflow of pepper, Christian or not, the reason had to be snuffed out.

More wars and tussles took place, the Cochin king and the Zamorin had bones of contention with the Portuguese. The Tanur king tried to mediate unsuccessfully, and the fourth pepper war took place in 1550 over the territory of Bardela (Vaduthala?). The Goan establishment had also started to sense some disenchantment with the Tanur king who they now believed to be insincere. A rebellion of sorts took place against Gomes and Henriques who was appointed as confessor to the king, refused to listen to this pagan. Perhaps realizing the impractical nature of the situation and the complex relationship with the Portuguese, the Tanur raja soon returned to Hindu beliefs and deserted the Portuguese and instead allied with the Zamorin in the pepper war.

Pepper cargo to Lisbon was delayed until 1551 and soon enough Governor Jorge Cabral left for home and Gomes lost his political support in Goa. According to Gaspar Correa, whose Lendas da Índia ends with the Pepper War of 1551, it became obvious to everybody that the conversion of the King of Tanur was a fraud. His only reason for conversion was to renegotiate with the Zamorin certain territorial possessions along the river Ponnani.

We also hear a small story of the Tanur kings treachery and support for the Portuguese, in his papers about the two Dutchmen who were first invited by this king from Achen and Maladives and who were later handed over through the Cochin king and hanged by the Portuguese.

But the region would soon become the scene for more bloodshed, and for details of what happened, and how the Chalium fort was demolished in 1571 and eventually how the marakkars lost out, see the story of Kunhali marakkar narrated earlier. It appears also that when the fort of Chalyam fell, the residents were taken to the king of tanur. It could of course be said that this alignment was commercially better for the merchants of Tanur and the king himself, for they stopped paying the dues to the Zamorin.

The Tanur principality was to play a continuing role in regional politics. This became a base for Jesuit fathers trying to make forays into the Malabar towns. This was also where Father Fenizio started his work about which we will be discussing soon. We see that the descendants of the king also supported the Portuguese and they built more churches there in the early 17th century. But troubles continued when one of them was destroyed and then a plague hit Tanur and the Jesuits left for Calicut.

They not only supplied princes for adoption to the Cochin kingdom, but also Travancore. In 1658 when the Cochin crown fell vacant, five princes from the Tanur and Aroor royal families were taken into the palace by the regent. What followed was a war where the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Zamorin were involved with a lot of intrigues. Later the Tanur royal family lost a lot when the Mysore sultans attacked. Eventually, the EIC took over and finally with no natural or adoptive heirs to succeed the last king of Tanur, the kingdom was declared forfeit to the EIC and the temple was transferred to the Zamorin in 1842. For details on the relations with Travancore and ravi Varma, see the article Raja in Ravi Varma..

Tanur was instrumental for some important events though, for the Vettath sampardayam in Ramanattam (which later became Kathakali) originated from Vettah nadu and is attributed to a later raja of Tanur (1630-1640). During British times, Tanur Sardine oil was popular.

Journal of Kerala Studies, Volume 10 – The king of Tanur on the Malabar coast and the Indo Portuguese trade in the 16th century – KS Mathew
One civility but multiple religions – Ines Zupanov
Missionary topics – Ines Zupanov
Jesuits in Malabar – D Ferroli
The raja in Ravi Varma

The St Katevan legend and the million dollar bone fragment

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Mario, the great cartoonist and Goan resident got me started on this, with his chapter (in his book ‘Legends of Goa’) ‘An unsolved mystery’ which ended in a question about some ancient relics. Time passed since I read it and in the meanwhile, matters of the relics had come to a head, with the question being answered once and for all, earlier this year. The story which started and ‘kind of’ ended far away in Georgia in the mid 1620’s, moved later to Persia and finally trickled down to Goa in India. Fittingly a closure was applied by an Indian scientist, but with a ghoulish price tag – a million dollars (as stated in news articles, but not substantiated!). Two things triggered the story in my mind recently, one was the chance meeting of an American of Iranian descent from Shiraz at a Persian restaurant (while eating some succulent Kobide kebabs) and the other being a completion of my study of migration  and how genetic analysis helped in determining some conclusions about it. Time is I suppose right to get back to this marvelous story. It is important to get some background on the order of Augustine and the church itself, for we are going to Goa at the end of the story, once again…

From Augnet - Augustine incidentally was a saint who lived in Italy and Africa between 383-430AD. In his spiritual tradition all good things come back to the one thing: love, the very center of Christian existence. The heart, which artists have often portrayed Augustine holding, is a key to this spiritual tradition. For Augustine the heart is a metaphor for all that is deepest, truest and personal in every individual person. Around 1535, two friars Villa Franca and Montoya with Dom Joao’s support preached the virtues of this particular order and brought about the golden age of the Portuguese Augustinians 1569-1630. The Order of Saint Augustine began to send men from Portugal to Goa in 1572 and this became the center for members of the Order until its decline around 1834.  The Augustinians initiated the construction of the Convent and Church of St. Augustine on the Holy Hill soon after. This new Augustinian monastery, became the richest monastery in Goa, and next to it was the massive Church - the largest church in Goa. This tall church was a great sight and the Italian architect ensured that it was solid by firing cannon balls at it.  The Augustinians are soon busy with conversions and rescue of child slaves being shipped to Persia and Arabia.

The Church of St. Augustine, was a very spacious building, with its facade looking to the west. A
long and beautiful staircase led up to it. It had two towers which were very high, and contained bells of enormous size. It had a nave, with a vault which was the best constructed in Goa, and was therefore admired by strangers. Captain Franklin says that the building of the choir belonged to the Gothic style. The edifice had eleven altars, all richly adorned, but the main altar is said to have been a masterpiece of workmanship. This beautiful church was erected almost at the same time as the convent; and there is a curious tradition about it. An Italian architect, who was entrusted with the construction of its vault, twice built it, but his labors were on both occasions rendered fruitless by its fall. Being reduced to despair, he rebuilt it a third time, and to try its stability placed himself and his only son directly under it and ordered a heavy cannon to be fired near the building, choosing rather to lose his life in the event of the vault falling through than to undergo a fresh disappointment. Fortunately the vault resisted the shock; he was satisfied as to the durability of the work, and received a suitable remuneration for his pains.

An important event occurred towards the end of the 16th century in Persia for Hamza Mirza, the heir to the throne fell critically ill and recovered after his Christian wife from Georgia brought him back to normalcy with Christian prayers. His promise was that he and his nation would convert and this message reached Goa through an Armenian who was living in Persia. Recall also that Cappadocia in Turkey was home for many Christian monks and Georgia had adopted it as a stage region early on. Priests reporting to Rome could be seen until early 16th century after which internal strife resulted in the local post at Georgian Tibilisi becoming vacant. The events which followed come from the religiously colored eyewitness account of an Augustinian missionary present at Shiraz and published as recently as 1982.

Shah Abbas, the Shehenshah of Iran came to the throne during a troubled time when the neighbors the Ottomans and Uzbeks were busy taking over parts of the country after a weak rule by his father. In 1588, Murshid Qli Khan a Qizilbash leader, overthrew Shah Mohammed in a coup and placed the 16-year-old Abbas on the throne, but the wily kid took over control quickly. To get rid of the Qizilbash prevalent powerbase, he used Georgians, Armenians and other Ghulams who were brought in and placed in court employment, after due conversion to Islam. As you can imagine, these Georgians and other new groups were already heavily vying with the Qizilbash for power and were often involved in complex court intrigues.

In Georgia meanwhile, Queen Ketevan gets married to Prince David of Kakheti. David’s father, King Alexander II had two other sons, George and Constantine. Constantine was converted to Islam and was raised in the court of the Shah Abbas I.  However, the young king David who has risen to the throne, dies suddenly, survived by Ketevan, and two children, Teimuraz, and Elene. At this point Constantine is asked by Shah Abbas to get rid of Alexander. He goes on to kill his father and brother and decides to take Queen Ketevan as his wife. The people finally revolt and kill Constantine. Teimuraz grows up, he and Shah Abbas become friends, Teimuraz’s wife Ana dies of throat cancer, and eventually he and the Persian Monarch are no longer friends, but Teimuraz takes over the throne.  In 1614 Shah Abbas informs Georgian King Teimuraz that his son would be taken hostage, and Teimuraz is forced to send his sons and mother Ketevan to Persia.

Now those who have studied the history of that region will remember that the Shah was aligned to the British and had expelled the Portuguese from Bahrain and Kisijhne. By 1622 the Portuguese had relinquished Homruz to the British who gave it back to the Persians. When the Portuguese requested the Shah’s help to restart their relations afresh, the Shah asked for Portuguese for forces to fight the Turks, but the Portuguese then under Spanish yoke could not provide it.

We now head to Fars, one of Iran’s 30 provinces; its capital city is Shiraz. As the story goes, the queen is finally on her way back to Georgia, and while at Shiraz, demanded the release of her compatriots imprisoned by the Shah. Various other reasons are attributed to the subsequent imprisonment of the queen (such as spying, support for Russians etc) and the castration and conversion of her grandsons, but eventually we see queen Ketevan in prison in Shiraz, and there she remained behind bars for a long period of 11 years. After five years of exile, the princes Alexander and Levan are separated from Ketevan and castrated. Alexander who could not endure the suffering died, while Levan went mad.

After some time Shah Abbas decided to convert Ketevan to Islam, and he also announced his intention to marry her. In case she agreed, she was to be honored as a queen, and case she refused, she was to be subjected to public torture.

What happened is narrated by the eyewitness, an Augustinian friar Ambrosio dos Anjos who had in 1623 been given permission to start a small hospice and church in Shiraz. Interestingly accounts mention that there were many Indians also living in Shiraz, even Brahmins!

What was Anjos doing in Shiraz? It seems a good number of Christians had moved to Shiraz after Hormuz was captured by the Shah in 1622. To take care of these Christians, the prior of Isfahan’s Augustinian convent, Sebastiao de Jesus, sent two clergymen to Shiraz, Ambrósio dos Anjos and Manuel da Madre de Deus. The contended Anjos states – “In Esfahan, Basrah and this one in Shiraz, the divine offices are celebrated with as much tranquility as in Goa”.

Ketevan clung on to her faith and exhorted everybody else to do so, refusing to convert or marry the Shah, infuriating the governor of Shiraz and also the Shah headquartered in Isfahan. Whether it due to Teimuraz’s affinity or involvement with Russians vying for territory or some other petty reason is not clear but the Shah had enough of Ketavan and her meddling in his affairs. Matters came to a head when the Russians sent an emissary on behalf of her son Teimuraz asking for her release.

The Persians tried hard to convince Ketevan that she could name her price to convert, but she would not. Finally the two torturers who were waiting in the courtyard were summoned. The rest of the graphic description is difficult to stomach these days, but I presume it was common stuff in Persia and up north.Bringing in two braziers filled with burning coals, they tied her hands, placed a heated copper bowl on her head and slowly tore off flesh from her with red hot tongs working their way down from her face. She is then horribly mutilated, killed and finally her dead body is bound up in a sack and buried in a deep pit nearby without any headstones.

Anjos, three Portuguese captives and Pedros dos Santos recovered the body some months later in Jan 1625. Anjos faithfully recorded the queen’s devotion with a plan to get her beatified. They brought the relics to the church and placed the bones in a small urn. Of the body itself, only the right hand and left foot remained, with flesh as white and beautiful as if the person was alive! They decided that it was not safe to keep this treasure in Shiraz (as the Carmelites wanted it for themselves) and moved it to the Augustinian convent at Isfahan in the care of Manuel da Madre de Deus.

In 1626, the Augustinians faced the latest wrath of the volatile Shah and had to flee. Anjos fled to Goa, but Deus could travel to Goa only ten months later. The right hand and a bone from the dead queen’s arm were carried to Goa with an intention to hand them over to Pietro Della Valle in Rome.

Remember Pietro Della Valle? He was a traveler who ended up marrying a Persian woman and lived for a while serving at Abbas’s court. He then went on to tour India, and was at Calicut as well. But why was he the consignee? Because he understood the region, the politics and because he was a gentleman of the bedchamber, appointed by Pope Urban VIII. As it occurred, the friars in Goa decided to retain the relics in Goa and sent only the lower mandible of the Queen to Della Valle who was happy with it. It is presumed that this is interred in the crypt in St Peter’s basilica.

Church politics was of course at play here and the Augustinians wanted to expand and establish a church in Georgia. To ensure that this went smoothly Anjos would be deputed to Georgia with the precious bones of the martyred queen. Eventually Anjos, Pedro and party reached Teimuraz in May 1628 and handed over Ketevans foot to Teimuraz. Teimuraz gladly gave the consent to the Augustinians to build a church in Gori. After the holy mission was accomplished, Pedro returned to Goa. Now the remaining task was only the canonization of the martyred queen, but that got stalled for a while as a question about her Catholicism and obedience to the pope was not quickly clarified. Even though records (Silva Regos works) stated – Guativanda Deadapoli has been instructed in the Christian faith by Friar Ambrosio dod Anjos and swearing obedience to the Roman Church encouraged by other religions, she renounced her marriage with the king of Persia (was she married briefly to Shah Abbas?) and for this reason she was tortured and finally put to death by her executioners on Sept 22 1624. Queen Ketevan was finally canonized by Patriarch Zachary of Georgia (1613–1630)

Sometime in the 18th century, the tiled scenes depicting the martyrdom of the queen were exhibited
in Lisbon, where you can still see them. At Gori things went well until 1634 when an attack of plague killed most of the mission except for our friend Anjos, who survived. Pedro had earlier gone back to Goa in 1633 did not return to Gori but stopped in Isfahan and later in 1639 had to sell off the convent after seeing the condition it was in. Anjos traveled again to Goa, returned to Rome but died in a shipwreck while going home to Lisbon.

Now we come to the relics themselves. The fragments provided to Teimuraz by Anjos were lost when his horse fell into a river. Those buried in Ispahan were never found. Those which landed up in a Russian monastery were returned to the Georgians. But the bits that were still left in Goa were still there until the archeologists hit a black box. The Goans friars, had preserved the bones in a black stone box which was displayed near the window in the church of Nossa Senhora da Graca.

The church of St Augustine in the meantime was on its decline. The end of Portuguese government funding to religious orders in 1832 meant that these things had to be closed or consolidated. As it happened, the buildings fell into neglect, and gradually became dilapidated, their ruin being precipitated by the fall of the sumptuous vault of the church, on the 8th September 1842, which buried under its debris the colossal image of St. Augustine, founder of the order, and that of Nossa Senhora da Grafa, patroness of the church. The Council of the Public Treasury ordered the sale of the materials in the following year. This church was closed along with the convent; the valuable articles belonging to both were sold or lost, and the principal bell, which weighed 4,800 lbs., was removed to the fortress of Agoada.

When it was completed in the 16th century, the grand Nossa Senhora da Graca Church was recognized as one of the three great Augustinian churches in the Iberian world, the other two being the Basilica of the Escorial in Spain, St. Vincente de Fora in Lisbon. But the church did not stand the test of time though it withstood the cannon barrage by the Italian architect who built it. Only a lone tower and parts of the faced remained.

Goatourism states -The tower is one of the four towers of St. Augustine Church that once stood at the
site. Initially built of laterite and colossal in size, almost forty-six meters high, it had four stories. The Tower was meant to serve as a belfry and the Church had eight richly adorned chapels and four altars and a convent with numerous cells attached to it. This remnant, the renowned St. Augustine's tower is all that remains of what was once one of the largest buildings in Goa -- The Augustinian Monastery

And as all that happened, the bones of Queen Ketavan rested near it…undisturbed…until now…

The importance of Queen Ketevan for the Georgian people led to hunt for this relic during the last decade, notably in Goa. Since 1989, various delegations coming from Georgia worked with M Taher of the Archaeological Survey of India to try to locate Ketevan's grave within the ruins of the Augustinian convent. In 2000-2001 Dr Kenchoshville of Georgia obtained permission from the Indian government and spent weeks excavating somewhere near the second window, but reached nowhere. In May 2004, the Chapter Chapel and window mentioned in the sources were finally discovered. Although the stone urn itself was missing, it’s coping stone and a number of bone fragments were found close to the window mentioned in the Portuguese sources.

Dr. Niraj Rai of the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, India carried out DNA analysis on these human bone remains excavated from the St. Augustine convent by sequencing and genotyping of the Mitochondrial DNA. The investigations of the remains revealed an unusual mtDNA haplogroup U1b, which is absent in India, but present in Georgia and surrounding regions. Since the genetic analysis corroborates archaeological and literary evidence, it is likely that the excavated bone belongs to Queen Ketevan of Georgia.

However as the scientific paper on the DNA analysis states - it is important to keep in mind that Ketevan's palm and arm bone fragments were kept in the same urn as the complete remains of two European missionaries, Friar Jerónimo da Cruz and Friar Guilherme de Santo Agostinho. Therefore, it would be crucial to determine the sex and the kind of bone of the fragments tested in order to have conclusive results.

The Huffungton post article concludes with a geneticist’s views -The study is well done and honest, Jean-Jacques Cassiman, a geneticist at the University of Leuven in Belgium who was not involved in the study, wrote in an email.”It is a bone presumed to be of the queen and will remain so until its DNA can be compared to that of preferably living relatives and if not available dead relatives," Cassiman said, referring to nuclear DNA that is in all the body's cells. But until that point, the conclusion is based on statistics. Those statistics strengthen the idea that the bone belongs to St. Ketevan, but aren't strong enough to positively identify the remnant, Cassiman said. The Georgia news article puts a million dollar price tag, but it does not corroborate it.

I do not know if the relics finally found their way back to Georgia.

The mission of the Portuguese Augustinians to Persia and beyond (1602-1747) – John M Flannery
The martyrdom of Queen Ketevan in seventeenth century Iran: an episode in relations between the Georgian Church and Rome – John Flannery
A Historical and Archaeological Sketch of the City of Goa: By José Nicolau da Fonseca
Edge of Empires: A History of Georgia - Donald Rayfield

1.       It seems the movie Gunnam – the suspense thriller was shot near this church! Strange isn’t it, also to note that a singer of Goan origin (from the Mangeshi village) Lata Mangeshkar is singing the spooky song - Gunam hai koyi remember ti?? You can even see the ruins of this very church in the movie

2.       Gori incidentally is also popular for being Stalin’s birth place!

Charles (Claude) Gabriel Dellon, the Frenchman in Malabar – Part 2

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His observations about Malabar circa 1668-1672

In Part 1 we covered his travels around the South of India, his misfortune, the connections with the Goa Governor’s mistress and the inquisition.

Just to get a little perspective, Charles Dellon (a.k.a. Gabriel Dellon/Dillon and Claude Dellon in various books) was a French Catholic physician and traveler to the East Indies., A physician by training, Dellon sailed to India in 1668 with the French Compagnie des Indes (q.v.).Dellon, spent some time in North Malabar and was operating out of the French factory in Tellicherry for five years after which he left the French services. Six months later, he was in jail In Daman, labeled a heretic by the Inquisition of Goa.

Dellon is always specific and precise in his observations and that is why they are so important to a student of history. He starts off by defining the region termed Malabar (malavar). Stating that most people have this impression that it stretches from Surat to the southern tip at Cape Comorin, he clarifies that it is actually South of Mount Eli (under the 12th degree of the North latitude) where the people assume the name Malabars or Malavars. This two hundred leagues (each league is roughly 3 miles) long tract of land had many petty kingdoms according to him and each of those king/lords administered his land independently and were not tributaries of any other prince. Note also that his writing is somewhat confined to the customs of Kolathunad, between Balipatanam and the northern borders of the Zamorin’s territory.

We have in the past read so much about the wars and the difficulties faced by the people of Malabar from the Portuguese, Dutch and the English. Few wrote about the land, though many detailed the customs they felt curious or wrongful. Some like Van Rheede, helped by local experts documented the flora and fauna in great detail in the Hortus Malabaricus, but Dellon wrote freely about what he saw.

Considering that he lived in Tellichery, we can understand it when he stated that the most powerful of them all is the king of Cannanore or Cotitri, the most respected and dreaded of them all. The Samorin who has more territories is considered to be inferior in strength. He goes on to say that it is a very healthy place with clean air, reaps rice twice a year and has a lot of different fruits. Spending a number of paragraphs to the coconut or ‘tencar’, he errs when stating that the tree dies after the coconuts are harvested but spends a while explaining the tapping of its liquor ‘Tary’ collected by Tieves (Tiyyas) who are responsible for coconut husbandry.

Interestingly he observes that the toddy which is sweet to drink, becomes sour by the day, tuning to an equivalent of cooking vinegar and used as such (for cooking) and also further distilled to make a kind of local brandy! The toddy with a little lime tastes as sweet as honey and is boiled to make cane sugar called jagara (chakkara) or the Portuguese jagerry. He observes that the young coconut provides Eliner, the tender coconut water (observe that they are all the very same words we still use..). And of course, he does not forget coir or hemp, used to make ropes used for ship building and also notes that the husk is used for cooking and by goldsmiths. The oil from the tree is used for cooking meats and burning lamps, and the waste kernel is used to feed cattle and hogs (thenga punnak). In essence, he concludes that it is a magnificent tree, providing so much to mankind…Oh! So true…

Other trees are mentioned, but I will skip the details and mention that he then spends a para on the jackfruit and another on the mango which was even in those days pickled (Achar) or eaten ripe. In fact he says that there is a green pepper pickle based in vinegar, and pepper is sometimes preserved in sugar. He does not fail to mention the pepper and cardamom plants of Malabar and the resulting trade. The cinnamon of Malabar is inferior to that from Ceylon and he notes that the Cardamom is mainly added to rice by the people of Arabia and Persia (Foodies take note - perhaps the talassery biryani had not arrived!!). Chewing betel with lime and areque (adekka) was popular, and something new to our friend Dellon but something he liked and recommended to his friends. He even notes that most Europeans living there enjoyed chewing betel like the natives who always offer betel if you visit them.

He observes that Malabar people are not too fond or gardens or flowers unlike the Mughals of the North. He also makes it clear that the women of Malabar are not vain, all they use is a little coconut oil on their hair and persona and not any kind of perfumes, unlike the women of the North. Parrots could be found in plenty and Indians do not bother training them to speak unlike the people of Europe and there are plenty of wild fowls and peacocks roaming round.

He is fascinated by the elephant, whom he accords the first rank among the beasts of the world. Considering them intelligent, he explains that they can drench a person they bear a grudge against in a mighty sprout of water from their trunks and he notices that they have a great memory (which he professes to explain with a small and interesting story of a sweeper boy who insulted the elephant and how the elephant taught him a lesson after several days when it came back to that place). 

Interestingly he also mentions the story of the elephant that was sent to Lisbon and how the mahout scared the elephant about its being sent to a life of slavery. The elephant would not board the ship and the viceroy threatened to kill the mahout after which the mahout told the elephant that it was going to live a life of great happiness with the king of Portugal. Hearing the changed version the elephant finally boarded the ship to cross the seas. The mahout is termed ‘cornac’ by the locals. He also mentions that if a Malabar king is angry with somebody he lets his elephants loose on his grounds and the resulting destruction of property a just retaliation. He then observes that they are used in temples and in all kinds of hard labor situations.

But what astounded me was that he observed that there were plenty of Tigers in Malabar and notices three distinct types. The first is cunning and not bigger than a large cat (they had one in the French quarters), the second is the size of a calf (here is where I learned that mutton meant the meat of a slender calf). Anybody who killed the second type got a gold bracelet from the prince as reward and observes that people could wear a gold bracelet only after getting it or after being permitted to wear one by the prince. The third is the royal tiger, as big as a horse, but actually found only in parts north of Goa. And of course he mentions oxen, civet cats, jackals and plenty of apes. He is surprised that the men worship these monkeys and observes monkeys robbing wares laden on the heads of women who are headed alone to the market. The monkeys also try to drink the toddy from the tapping containers on coconut trees. Then he notices that there are plenty of boars in Malabar and the Nairs or gentlemen of Malabar hunt them often (panni vetta) and eat pork. The Nairs do not eat rabbits and they sell them to the Europeans. And of course there were snakes, plenty of them (called bambou – pampu) and he considers the natives stupid to worship them in temples and records some of the superstitions concerning snakes in vogue those days and is surprised they never kill a snake.

As you can see, Dellon has by now settled down famously, observing and penning his diary with good accuracy. If you read his accounts, you would be amazed at the seriousness with which he went about the task of understanding his new world. His study of the flora, the fauna, the people, the animals were outstanding, be they the Tiyas or the Nairs, or the coconut tree, which he rightly termed the greatest tree of the universe. He observes that pickles are called achar and toddy called exactly as it is today, but sees so many parrots, peacocks and wild boars and so on in Malabar, now all gone. Having observed the animals, the flora, the fauna and the region he gets to the people of Malabar.

The working class is well shaped, brown or black, but not as ugly as Africans, they wear their hair long. Dellon considers them treacherous, and the Mohametans even more perfidious and notes that breach of faith is commonplace. The working class serves the upper echelons of society which is four in number, the first being princes, the second being Namboothiris or chief priests, the third being normal Brahmins or assistant priests and finally the Nairs or the gentlemen. Only the Nairs have a birthright to bear arms and bear that responsibility without obstructing normal activities. The Tiyas take care of coconut trees and are allowed to bear arms with prior permission. The mukkuvas of course take care of fishing and live near the seashore and are not allowed to take on any other employment. The weaver tribes are called mainats. The pulayas are the despised accursed, and best avoided.

He also notes poignantly – It is a fundamental law amongst the Malabars, as well as most other nations of the Indies, which they look upon as unalterable and never to be neglected to wit, that nobody can rise beyond the degree of his tribe, wherein he is born, and let his riches be never so great, neither he nor his posterity can exclude themselves from that tribe or change their condition.

He spends a full chapter on the Nairs, that they are always the travel guards for anybody and escorts for any group. If they were not part of an entourage, no prince will accept any claims or complaints. As they moved from region to region, Nairs of that particular place took over from the previous escort. The daily going rate was 8 silver tares per diem ( ½ panam). When a nair is guarding your house, he gets only 4 tare as salary. They are most courageous and if a person in their care gets killed on travel, the Nair escort also kills himself instead of surviving him as a coward. He also notes that in case a traveller is escorted by a nair child, the child is never accosted by robebrs as it is a custom never to harm a child. In these cases the Nair boy carried a sharp 1 ½ foot long stick and not arms. Poor travelers used this method and paid only a small amount to the child.

He notes that different castes did not intermingle, especially in respect to eating and drinking, and details the caste rigors which we already know about. He notes that if a Namboodiri or Brahman girl are seen to transgress at this point, then the prince takes the ultimate decision of excommunication (the older version of smarta vicharam) by selling the girl to the highest bidder, especially foreigners who consider them the fairest of the Malabars. He then goes onto narrate a firsthand account of meeting one such lady who later converts to Christianity.

He notices that there are no jails, but that convicted persons do get chained in fetters till they are discharged or executed. Larger cases are tried by the prince and here he talks about a special type of ‘kaimukkal’ ordeal, different from the usual oil version. The person who pleads not guilty is asked to stretch his hand upon which a banana leaf is laid and on it a red hot iron is placed till it becomes cold. The hand is then covered with a piece of cloth dipped in gruel water (kanji vellam) by the prince’s washer man and sealed by the prince. After three days the seal is broken and the hand checked. If there are no marks, he is excused and if there are any, he is punished accordingly. There is never any appeal to any prince’s decision. Executions are conducted by Nairs, wherein a lance is run through the accused’s person after which they are cut into quarters and hung on trees.

He then explains the method of succession in the princely families of Malabar where the oldest prince succeeds the dead. The next is the most important aspect, the choice of a chief lieutenant/minister or the highest dignitary of the state who is always chosen by the ruler and is a person of outstanding quality, a Nair or a chetti!!! This was a bit surprising to me, for usually these are also from the ruling family in most cases. Did Dellon err? He notes that all matters of importance are recorded on palm leafs with iron quills. The chief minister then takes over the management as the old titular ruler retires to a life of comfort.

He notes that the Kolattiri king always wore a huge gold crown weighing 200 guineas and later gets into the details of the matrilineal kinship in Malabar. He rightfully observes that the daughters of princesses are wedded to Nambuthiris, and notes that the Nairs and others can marry one level below theirs, in caste. He also notes with some surprise that the women can have multiple husbands, and that there is no jealousy in this regard with the norm that the man leaves his arms at the door when he is with a lady. He affirms that this is the reason why children owe their pedigree to only their mothers and that is the reason why sister’s sons or nephews become the next heirs. He also makes it clear that the Mohametans observe the same (marumakkathayam) system of inheritance in Malabar and that 12 is typically the marriageable age for girls and that there are hardly any midwives and delivery is usually very easy compared to Europe. He explains that Malabar women are generally well shaped and not ill featured, that the little ones are more popular than taller girls and that Sati is not practiced in Malabar unlike the rest of the country. Both men and women wear their hair long and are naked to the waist, and he is surprised that the women do not try to wear finery, but are satisfied with just pure calico cloth. The richest wear girdles of gold and silver, even horn, but women wear just a ring. They, both men and women do have pierced earlobes which hang down to their shoulders, and wear heavy two ounce earrings in them. Only men favored by the king wear gold chains and all mean are clean shaven, though some are mustachioed.

Houses are typically mud based with thatched (coconut leaves) roofs, use mud pots for cooking and some baskets, even kings do not use gold or silver vessels and at night just use coconut oil lamps for light. They always eat with their backs to the lamp, and mainly based on rice. Since sauces are not used for cooking the food is bland and very basic in taste. They sleep on boards, and mattresses are not used even by the rich, though the upper classes sometimes use tapestry bed sheets. Every house has its own well and each is self-contained, with village life with shared facilities quite rare.

The temples are rich, coated with copper or silver and a tank in front, and have in addition places for travelers to stay as well as large tracts of land under their control ( more about that concept another day!) for yearly revenues. These grounds are holy and any act of bloodshed in this land sacrilege. Mentioning that the sun and the moon are revered, he notes that eclipses are greatly feared. But what surprises him the most was the ardent respect for elders, and that even the fiercest Nairs stand up before their elders. The calendar was based on the moon cycles, and he describes the temple festivals with good accuracy. He sees many training schools or kalari’s and he mentions that the Nairs of 1670, were sharp shooters carrying both muskets and the ball making molds, firing them with the rifle butt on the cheek, unlike Europeans who kept the butt on the shoulder. They had other arms too like the six foot bow and arrows, scimitars and lances. But then again, according to Dellon, even though courageous, the Nair’s never maintained order while marching, and were not structured or disciplined during combat. There are frequent exhibitions of skill attended by many people and he details the ankham or duels to settle a quarrel. Unlike the Malayali Nairs of today the Nairs then were patient and not too jumpy or over passionate. What surprises him the most was that after a battle most of the spoils are returned to the original owners!

In matters of commerce, Nairs are never involved and bazars are always full of foreigners and strangers conducting the trade. He spends a few paragraphs on the Moplah’s and notes that many of them are involved in piracy. He also explains that a tenth of the proceeds of their piratical endeavors were submitted to the prince of the land. Their paros carry 500 men and sail as far as the red sea, but they stay away from European ships. Even though sailing is somewhat unsafe due to these corsairs, traveling by land is safe, with the conduct overseen by Nair escorts. The Mohametans live near the town center and market.

The French factory is permitted by the prince Onotri (Kolatri) and the place given to them in Cannanore is called Tatichery, renamed Tellicherry by the French. Dellon and Flacour set about getting things started up. The Zamorin facing problems with the Dutch decided to approach Falcour to discuss an alliance. The French agreed and were provided a place at Aticote near Cochin to conduct their business from the Zamorin’s kingdom. But as it happened, the Zamorin lost the battle with the Dutch and the French ended up going back to where they were before, to Tellicherry. Dellon was then deputed together with Flacour to Srinipatanam (Srirangapatnam in Mysore) though it was the monsoon season and not ideal for travel, with a palm tree leaf umbrella common in Malabar. The trip was not very nice, with bad weather, leeches, and all kinds of other issues. It was a difficult ordeal and Dellon decided to return taking the support of Kunhali the most famous corsair of the time, at Badagara. He then visits Calicut and Tanore and makes the usual observations, some quite interesting.

Eventually Dellon goes back to Tellichery, but by then he was weary and bored and asked to be relived from Malabar duty. The following January he left Tellichery bound for Mangalore and later for Goa…

A voyage to the East Indies – M Dellon
Historic alleys – Dellon in Malabar part 1
Historic alleys – Ankhams of Malabar
Maddy’s ramblings – Pope and the elephant

The role of camels in the history of trade

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Recently there has been some uproar concerning camels and the Bible and JK covered it at his nice blog Varnam. According to the report by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology mentioned in Varnam,  - The origin of the domesticated camel is probably the Arabian Peninsula, which borders the Aravah Valley and would have been a logical entry point for domesticated camels into the southern Levant. The arrival of domesticated camels promoted trade between Israel and exotic locations unreachable before, according to the researchers; the camels can travel over much longer distances than the donkeys and mules that preceded them. By the seventh century BCE, trade routes like the Incense Road stretched all the way from Africa through Israel to India. Camels opened Israel up to the world beyond the vast deserts, researchers say, profoundly altering its economic and social history.

NY Times counters - There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place. Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac. These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history.

But this article is not going to be anything to do with such theological and mythological accounts however historic or authentic they may be. Look at our own Keralolpathi or Kerala Mahatmyam, all written with specific purposes, nevertheless offering only tidbits of historical value. So this note will hover around how important the animal was to further trade with India, the very aspect the TAU article has concluded with.

Another important discussion these days is about the battery used for hybrid and electric cars. They say rightly - If only it could be made more reliable and higher capacity, these vehicles could then become popular and run long distances, reducing our dependence on fossil fuel! Well it was the same many millennia ago when the horse and the donkey were the vehicles for transport. They too just could not be used for long distance travel without regular supplication and refueling. Interesting, right? That was about the juncture when a super-efficient camel and its saddle design saved the day and stated long distance trade. Let us see how.

One could start here looking at prehistoric animals like the Protylopus (40 million years ago) which roamed the North Americas and which perhaps in the centuries which followed, crossed the Beringia land bridge to move to the Eastern hemisphere. The ones which remained in the Americas perhaps fell prey to carnivorous animals and the ones which crossed over to the Asian regions failed to fare better, at least initially. But evolution helps in such matters and their ability to store large amounts of fluids allowed them to migrate to inhospitable arid deserts where they multiplied and thrived, by being far away from the carnivorous lions and other beings which preferred to live near the wetter areas. As time went by, they found an ally which would help this slow moving animal to survive, that being the human.

The human being evolved to become a complex creature, for not only did it want to survive, multiply and do well, it also wanted to congregate and make its life better by eating a variety of things, wearing brighter and cooler or warmer clothes, learn all kinds of social and survival skills and so on. Man was also very inquisitive and selfish in all its endeavors. In those early forays, especially in the Middle Eastern regions, the silent companion which aided and abetted the human was the camel, as the conduit for long distance land trade by becoming the ship of the desert as it came to be known. Today it is connected sarcastically with the Arab Bedouin, but it was very prevalent in the Western parts of India and many other places too.

While the first types were the double humped long haired Bactrian camels of Asia, the Middle Eastern evolution figured the modern single humped Dromedary camel. More knowledgeable people opine that this evolution was to reduce surface area and thus reduce evaporation of moisture - by increasing the body temperature to reduce perspiration. Anyway the docile and hardy dromedary (dromados – Greek for running) animal became a friend of the Arab and Asian nomad, to join goats, donkeys, sheep, dogs, chicken, cattle and so on in his stable as well as becoming an animal producing food and milk for some others. It is said that at the outset they were milk producers rather than objects of transport in Arabia, but eventually they took over from the donkey by about 1500 BC. As Bernstein explains, a single driver herding six animals transported about two tons of cargo for about 30-60 miles per day, drinking once in three days, and this gradually increased as saddle technology improved. The Asian camel became domesticated even earlier, perhaps by 2500BC, but soon its territory was overtaken by the hardy dromedary cousin and soon the hybrid variety, supremely capable of trekking long distances and took over the silk road trade route thriving in the region between Morocco and India, and up all the way to Western China. In fact its survivability was high and it could even survive on brackish water.

And this brought about what we know as the caravanserai or rest stations roughly every 100 miles over the 4,000 mile long Silk Road, during the hey days of the land trade route. As wiki explains - Most typically a caravanseai was a building with a square or rectangular walled exterior, with a single portal wide enough to permit large or heavily laden beasts such as camels to enter. The courtyard was almost always open to the sky, and the inside walls of the enclosure were outfitted with a number of identical stalls, bays, niches, or chambers to accommodate merchants and their servants, animals, and merchandise. Caravanserais provided water for human and animal consumption, washing, and ritual ablutions. Sometimes they had elaborate baths.

The main item that traveled westward was of course silk, while the easterly route had incenses (frankincense and myrrh) from these arid areas. The objects of trade changed with time and demand as well as development. Palestine for example produced the prized opobalsam (Myrrh, balm of Gilead – a sap or oleo resin). That was of course the biggest material of trade for the people of Arabia and much prized by the people in the west as well as the east. As a small load was enough to provide a decent profit, it was easily transportable by the royal road to Rome and also down by the side to the Red Sea to Aden where it went on ships to India.

So now you know how caravans, convoys or camel trains traversed these ancient trade routes not as early as 3500 years ago, but somewhere between 3000-3500 years. As this trade developed,
kingdoms came into being, people along the route flourished and got militarized, theft became commonplace, raiders became bolder and wars were fought between those with vested interests.

The Trans Saharan trade became an important one at the turn of the anno domini or somewhat earlier. The general contention shared by Ilse Kohler and Paula Wapnish is that the 12-15th century BC is when the camel got domesticated. However considering Mason’s theory that it evolved in Arabia around 3,000BC, the period in between needs further analysis. It is also clear that there were three broad classifications of the dromedary, the beast of burden or the baggager, the riding camel and the milking camel. It is also clear that those North African Muslim traders usually set out with their camels well laden, in a fat and vigorous condition; and brought them back in a bad state, that they commonly sold them at a low rate to be later fattened by the Arabs of the Desert (Consider the analogy with second hand cars!).

But let us get back to trade. Everything you see today in day to day life and take for granted originated step by step, due to a desire for change, be it food, clothing or life partners. Let us take a look how. It was as you can see, the desire for exchange of goods and traditions that led to development of currencies and currency rates. The difference between such rates resulted in profit and this resulted in the concept of risk, where a trader decided whether it was worth travelling 4000 miles with a load of expensive trading goods from one end of the world to the other, braving robbers who developed the concept of theft, weather and natural calamities (forecasting and cartography, travelogues). Managers managed the caravans, the procurement and disbursement of goods and policing came about for the protection of the caravan routes. Armies and armed personnel were the prerogative of the king and so the power of the king evolved with the size of the army or quantity of armaments. The concept of luxury evolved. Agriculture and production of raw material primarily for trade and not just for own consumption evolved and became a business, creating the producer and the trader. And as trade volumes and portability improved, agreements between diverse rulers created alliances to share the spoils and concentrate power.

In previous articles, we went over a number of subjects set around the ocean trade, especially the Red Sea and Indian Ocean trade. This will also look at another kind of ocean trade, the sand ocean trade where the transport was across the vast Sahara desert (3 million square miles of it), then the Gobi desert and finally the central Asian Mongol desert. Fittingly the ship was the camel, when the organized trade started around the 2nd century AD. It had the Han china on one end, Parthian Persia in the middle - the westerly connections to the Romans and the Egyptians. The establishment of the Silk Road made the travel organized and the movement of gold, silk and spices smooth. As time passed, it became a vehicle for the passage of yet another commodity – that being religion. I call it a commodity because it was regulated in its spread and consumption.

The trade groups which were formed were a result of religious and family associations, just like the Islamic merchant sea associations or the smaller land trade associations around the south of India.
During those periods it also became a war animal, and the N Arabian saddle invented around 500BC helped. Even though it was slow compared to a horse, it was dependable, a specialized breed of riding dromedary could maintain a speed of 8-10mph for up to 18 hours. During the winter, the camel can travel fifty days without being watered, while in the hot summer it can traverse roughly five days without water. A thirsty camel can drink up to eighty liters of water in one session, and at the rate of twenty liters in one minute.

Alistair Boddy-Evans in his article Trade across Sahara mentions - The sands of the Sahara Desert could've been a major obstacle to trade between Africa, Europe, and the East, but it was more like a sandy sea with ports of trade on either side. In the south were cities such as Timbuktu and Gao; in the north, cities such as Ghadames (in present-day Libya). From there goods traveled onto Europe, Arabia, India, and China. Muslim traders from North Africa shipped goods across the Sahara using large camel caravans -- on average around a thousand camels, although there's a record which mentions caravans travelling between Egypt and Sudan that had 12,000 camels. They brought in mainly luxury goods such as textiles, silks, beads, ceramics, ornamental weapons, and utensils. These were traded for gold, ivory, woods such as ebony, and agricultural products such as kola nuts (which act as a stimulant as they contain caffeine). They also brought their religion, Islam, which spread along the trade routes. Until the discovery of the Americas, Mali was the principal producer of gold. African ivory was also sought after (over Indian) because it's softer.

So the real link up was when the Trans Saharan network linked up with the silk route, mainly due to the Akan gold mining efforts. And that brings us to Timbuktu. Strange that this place in Africa got connected to English usage as a place in the middle of nowhere! It was someplace in those days, an important place, perhaps not today. Its long history as a trading outpost that linked west Africa with Berber, Arab, and Jewish traders throughout north Africa, and thereby indirectly with traders from Europe, has given it a fabled status, and in the West it was for long a metaphor for exotic, distant lands: "from here to Timbuktu." It was also a place where rock salt was mined. Gold, sought from the western and central Sudan, was the main commodity of the trans-Saharan trade. The traffic in gold was spurred by the demand for and supply of coinage.
Gold Road

According to the Heilbrun timeline, From the seventh to the eleventh century, trans-Saharan trade linked the Mediterranean economies that demanded gold—and could supply salt—to the sub-Saharan economies, where gold was abundant. Increased demand for gold in the North Islamic states, which sought the raw metal for minting, prompted scholarly attention to Mali and Ghana, the latter referred to as the "Land of Gold." By the end of the twelfth century, however, Ghana had lost its domination of the western Sudan gold trade. (Check Timothy Insoll’s work for details). But it was the Portuguese discovery of new sailing routes and trade routes that started the demise of the trans-saharan trade and decrease dthe importance of African ports and trading locations. The battle of Tondibi in 1591 destroyed much of the western locales like Timbuktu and Gao.

Nevertheless, the incense route where Arabian frankincense and Myrrh which were in high demand, were transported by camels from Hadhramaut to Mediterranean ports like Ghaza together with shipments from India, was the most lucrative of all trades. Frankincense and myrrh, highly prized in antiquity as fragrances, could only be obtained from trees growing in southern Arabia, Ethiopia, and Somalia. The incense land trade from South Arabia to the Mediterranean flourished between roughly the 7th century BCE to the 2nd century CE and involved transport of Indian goods northwards and Arabian goods southwards to Arabian ports. As Nabataea states - At its height, the Incense Route moved over 3000 tons of incense each year. Thousands of camels and camel drivers were used. The profits were high, but so were the risks from thieves, sandstorms, and other threats. The Incense Route ran along the western edge of Arabia’s central desert about 100 miles inland from the Red Sea coast; Pliny the Elder stated that the journey consisted of sixty-five stages divided by halts for the camels.

For those who are curious, Frankincense the balsamic resin is Benzoin or the Sambrani we use in Pujas and Myrrh is used even today in Ayurvedic medicines (a.k.a polam).

And so friends, that was a bit about Camels, without whom we would not developed. The Trans Saharan road will take over the desert camel routes, the Silk Road is still there and the sea routes have developed though fraught with piracy. But the Camel can still be seen and is used in Northwest India and Arabia, and various other places, though taken over by the four wheeler when it comes to land trade…

Incidentally there is a tradition (Food Culture in the Near East, Middle East, and North Africa - By Peter Heine) that Prophet Muhammad said – who does not eat from my camels is not my people, signifying a religious connotation to eating camel meat unlike the Jews where both camel milk and meat are taboo! The reasoning behind this is perhaps evident in the tale narrated in Nabatean history site about the theft of the Jewish camels by the Arabs.

But there is also this Sufi saying, 'Trust in God, but tie your camel first.' You can see that in the days when religion evolved, the motto sounded right and pragmatic and it does even today, except that some people have forgotten it and still continue to forget it.

A splendid exchange – William J Bernstein
The Camel and the Wheel Richard W. Bulliet
Nabataean history
Cross Cultural trade in world history – Philip D Curtin
World History: Journeys from Past to Present - Candice Goucher, Linda Walton



The Wandering Y

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A Discussion on genetic deciphering to understand human migration

I have been getting into this subject and out of it so many times, so I finally decided to put down what I gleaned and be done with it, till more definitive answers were available. It was indeed a complicated subject and one which was very subjective. As you may have noticed it started with comments that one can get to our roots easily by studying the genetic makeup and divide it by castes and tribes. Easier said and done and that I agree with after so many forays into the subject. Ethiran kathiravan an eminent blogger and one who like me, loves movies and music had previously written a great article on this subject. I will refer to it often and augment it with inputs from a few other books, papers and a text book my ‘medical student’ son gifted me in exasperation (did not want me to come up with half-baked theories, as he said)after some arguments on migration.

Anthropology is an exacting study exemplified by eminent persons like the late LA Anathakrishna Iyer of Palghat, one of the first to venture into it. However, nowadays the methods have drifted more towards genetic studies and involve microscopes and computers. That such studies provide much insight to migration is amply clear and the methods used are quite interesting. Let us first see what is done from a very superficial level, and please note here that I am neither an expert nor a recurring student of this topic, but just somebody who tried to glean through some of these studies with interest.

Armed with all that I got into a brief study of what they term Proto Dravidians, in an area where much mingling of people occurred, both aborigines, invaders as well as visitors, to create thirty four or so groups. When a man belonging to one such group bonds with a girl of another, the resulting offspring carried properties of both. As time goes by and as generations of people are created by the offspring of this union the genetic sequence that one studies, exhibits what one could term a secret diary of the years and what happened. A genetic Sherlock Holmes puts meat into the study and comes up with startling results by unraveling the gene sequences and structure. How would that be possible? Well, as we note, a child carries chromosomes from both parents in a standard genetic structure or sequence. But then again, there are slight variations and these are called polymorphisms which can sometimes be observed over a wider population.

If parents have differing polymorphisms, the child carries both (John Tainer explains scientifically - For genetics, a polymorphism refers to genetic variants within the population that allow evolution by natural selection. A mutation may create a polymorphism in the population if the resulting variant form is transmitted to subsequent generations without causing major defects in biological functions). There is one other term one has to understand to get going and that is a term called Allele. An allele is defined an alternative form of a gene (one member of a pair) which is located at a certain position on a chromosome. This kind of genetic coding determines very distinct traits which are passed on from parents to their children. Gregor Mendel was the first to study this and formulated what is known as the Mendel's law of segregation (It is also to be noted here that organisms have two alleles defining each trait). Typically alleles of a heterozygous pair have one which is dominant and another, recessive. A study of distinct alleles can help one study migration or events in a specified population over time. These are the signatures or unique codes which a genetic detective studies to get to the point of singular origin.

Perhaps this is all quite confusing to the lay person, so a paragraph on the fundamentals would be useful. As we all know our body comprises zillions of cells. Some cells are somatic which compose the body structure and others are gamate or reproductive i.e. comprising of sperms or eggs. Every cell has 23 chromosome pairs (a genome) and each of these chromosome pairs have some 25,000 genes. The nucleus of a somatic cell thus comprises of 46 chromosomes, 23 from each parent whereas the gamate comprises only 23.  Of the 23 pairs, 22 are termed autosomes and one sex chromosome. Alternative versions of genes account for variations and are based on inherited characteristics - termed alleles. Getting a little deeper, each gene comprises four different arrangement of atoms called bases or nucleotides. These are termed as G, A, T & C, each being a unique arrangement. So when one goes on to decipher a genome, he ends up writing a very long sequence using these 4 alphabets (In addition to the 25000 or so of these genes, there is also a lot of junk DNA).To summarize, genes are made of DNA, a genome is made up of genes and the genome has some 3 million bases or bits of information in them. This field is quite interesting and produces many pointers to where we are headed. As some of you may be aware, males have an X and a Y chromosome and females have 2 X chromosomes. The Y chromosome is gene poor and deteriorating, so will be gone in another 125,000 years, so you never know, males may become extinct!!!

And so looking back into our own history thus far, you will realize that it becomes a story of the wandering Y. But well, a study of alleles (certain specific ones like the HLA or Human leucocyte antigen) and their distribution frequency over a certain area can establish certain conclusions. In general this kind of study is a study of haplotypes. Put in simple words, haplotype is the group of genes that a progeny inherits from one parent. As time goes by you will see many more of these statistical studies to determine community migration paths and family history, triggered by for example Nairs who want to determine their ancestry, Ezhavas who want to determine theirs, each caste tired of the old myths and legends which talk about gods and kings having determined their fate.

Reference paper 1:  One of the first analyses were tabulated in reference paper by Thomas, Nair and Banerjee in 2006. This analysis of HLA-A & C alleles in Pulayas, Nambuthiris, Malabar Muslims, Syrian Christians, Ezhavas and Nairs was conducted using a number of genetic samples. Some very general conclusions on genetic drifts were arrived at by these experts after comparing the HLA alleles. They were
  •          The tribal Dravidians of Kerala stood somewhat pure and isolated compared to a veritable mix in N India. The Pulaya and Kurichiyars seem to the original aborigines or ancestral stock.
  •           Malabar Muslims and Syrian Christians, based on the B35 and CW04 alleles show a characteristic Mediterranean influence showing a migratory pattern more consistent with history.
  •          Nairs show an influence of the European B07 and CW07 more often seen in Belgium Germany and Scottish populations. They also have the highest mix of alleles and corroborate North Indian influence, with connections to the Newars of Nepal.
  •           Ezhavas and Nambuthiri’s also exhibited influence from European as well as central and East Asian genetic pools.
  •           The Ezhava shows an eastern and Mongoloid influence, signifying a possible Buddhist past.
Reference paper 2:  But that was one study, let us look at the study by Seema, Ashwathy and Chippy done in 2011 which focused on the Ezhava population after analyzing the 8Y STR markers on the Y chromosome. They focused on the Y chromosome and its genetic markers. It took a direction that the Ezhava’s were influenced by the East European (60%) and East Asian (40%) genetic pools and pointed to a genotypic resemblance with the Jat Sikhs of Punjab and the Turkish population thus concluding a parental lineage of European origins. However for some strange reason, the paper linked the conclusion relating to the Nairs from the previous study, erroneously to Ezhavas.

Reference paper 3:  Now we look at a third study by the same group, this one focused on the 17 YSTR marker over 168 males which showed a peculiar connection to the males of Vasterbotten in Sweden as well as East Asian (Taiwan, China, Thailand) countries. Some connections were also seen to Afridi’s, Pathan’s and so on.

Reference paper 8:   Ethiran Kathiravan also dwelt on some of these studies and agrees that no definitive pattern could be identified while it becomes clear that Pulayas and other hill tribes were the original aborigines of Kerala whereas all other non-Dravidian groups had much of intermixing, with significant contributions from other wanderers.

Reference paper 9:  Andrew J Bohonak, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA states provides an interesting explanation - Genetic drift consists of changes in allele frequencies due to sampling error. Even if all individuals in a population have the same opportunities to mate, their reproductive contributions to the next generation will vary due to random chance alone. In any population of finite size, this sampling error will cause gene frequencies to fluctuate from generation to generation. Genetic changes due to drift are neither directional nor predictable in any deterministic way. Nonetheless, genetic drift leads to evolutionary change even in the absence of mutation, natural selection or gene flow.

Reference paper 4:  While all this was going on, a team of Indian scientists got working on the popular folktale related to Parayi Petta panthirukalam (we will get to it another day - for a detailed account read Dr Rajan Chungath’s book or the Aithihyamala). Ethiran Kathiravan also focuses on this tale and its impact. But for those who do not know, there is an ancient legend in Kerala titled ‘Parayi petta panthirukulam’ and deals with the twelve offspring of a low caste woman and their lineage. As the story goes, Vararuchi, one of the nine wise men in Emperor Chandragupta Vikramaditya’s (375 – 415 AD) court married a Paraya girl (an orphan who came with the raging waters of Bharatapuzha and was raised at the Naripatta mana). As he married a lower caste woman, he excommunicated himself and the couple then set out on a long trip or pilgrimage in the course of which they were blessed with 12 children – 11 boys and a girl. As each child was born, Varuchi would enquire if the child had a mouth and if the answer was in the affirmative, Varuchi would say ‘good, God will take care of him’ and they would abandon him on the way. Each of these children ended up being cared by families of various castes, high, medium or low. It is said that the families which adopted these children were Mezhathol Agnihothri (Brahmin), Pakkanar (Parayan), Rajakan (Dhobi), Naranathu Bhranthan (Elayathu), Karakkal Matha (Nair adopting the girl child), Akavoor Chathan (Vaishya), Vaduthala Nair (Nair), Vallon (Pulaya), Uppukuttan (Moplah), Pananar (Panan, country musician) and Perunthachan (Carpenter). Interestingly the last and 12th child was born without a mouth. Vararuchi sadly buried this child near a hill. This location is supposedly near Kadampazhipuram in Palakkad and known as “Vaayillaakkunnilappan” (Hill Lord without mouth).

The descendants of these children live at Shornur, Pattambi and Thrithala of Palakkad district of Kerala state and despite the differences in their caste and social status, these families are bound together by various rituals and religious customs. These were the subjects of the next study, but when the group headed by Suresh collected genetic samples from these families to study the patterns, they actually found that the results were contrary to the folktale and common haplotypes were not detected across the tested families with the result that co-ancestry could not be proven.

Why mention this? Well it is to prove that genetic sampling and studies are not always conclusive when you span many generations and so hype about genetic studies is not a good thing. The authors concluded thus -  Considering that the survival of a lineage from a single founder through 20 generations (approximately 700 years) is only 9.6%, the chance of survival of Vararuchi’s lineage, which is believed to have originated 1600 years ago (45 generations) is meagre. On the other hand, it is also possible that the haplogroups of different families, who adopted Vararuchi’s children, were different and had multiple own men at the time of adoption. The true descendants of Vararuchi’s sons may have been either extinct through time due to different genetical or social reasons or severely declined in relation to the descendants of the own men of a family lineage. Alternatively, the Vararuchi episode may be a pure myth.

Reference paper 5:  In the next paper covering directional migration, we come across another interesting conclusion - Migrants leaving the high status castes showed a greater probability of entering the middle-status castes than entering the low-status castes. Migrants leaving the middle-status castes showed a greater probability of entering the low-status castes than the high-status castes. Why so? The Hindu concept of anuloma, for instance, occasionally permits men to marry women of lower caste, while women are rarely permitted to marry men of lower caste. This mechanism of movement implies that females should be more “upwardly mobile” than males, and it has been suggested that anuloma is the source of greater female inter-caste mixing inferred from genetic data.

Reference paper 6:  The next paper on genetic affinities covers a wider study and concludes that - No significant difference was observed in the mitochondrial DNA between Indian tribal and caste populations, except for the presence of a higher frequency of west Eurasian-specific haplogroups in the higher castes, mostly in the north western part of India. On the other hand, the study of the Indian Y lineages revealed distinct distribution patterns among caste and tribal populations. The paternal lineages of Indian lower castes showed significantly closer affinity to the tribal populations than to the upper castes. The frequencies of deep-rooted Y haplogroups compared to the upper castes. However, Y-SNP data provides compelling genetic evidence for a tribal origin of the lower caste populations in the subcontinent. Lower caste groups might have originated with the hierarchical divisions that arose within the tribal groups with the spread of Neolithic agriculturalists, much earlier than the arrival of Aryan speakers. The Indo-Europeans established themselves as upper castes among this already developed caste-like class structure within the tribes.

Reference paper 7:  But one has to look at the Tamil areas to compare conclusions. So we look at yet another study where the conclusion is that Genetic data from Y-chromosome, mtDNA, and autosomal STRs are in accord with historical accounts of northwest to southeast population movements in India. The influence of ancient and historical population movements and caste social structure can be detected.

Times Of India article:   But CCMB scientist Kumarasamy Thangarajan states - There is no truth to the Aryan-Dravidian theory as they came hundreds or thousands of years after the ancestral north and South Indians had settled in India. The genetics proves that castes grew directly out of tribe-like organizations during the formation of the Indian society. The study provides an interesting conclusion

Between 135,000 and 75,000 years ago, the East-African droughts shrunk the water volume of the Lake Malawi by at least 95%, causing migration out of Africa. ``The initial settlement took place 65,000 years ago in the Andamans and in ancient south India around the same time, which led to population growth in this part,'' said Thangarajan. He added, ``At a later stage, 40,000 years ago, the ancient north Indians emerged which in turn led to rise in numbers here. But at some point of time, the ancient north and the ancient south mixed, giving birth to a different set of population. And that is the population which exists now and there is a genetic relationship between the population within India.''

Reference paper 11:   And the last paper emphasizes European connections - Our results show the presence of west-Eurasian typical mtDNA haplogroups in Indian tribes, presumably resulting from admixture with Indo-Europeans (i.e. who probably introduced the caste system in India). This interpretation would suggest that caste people initially possessed west-Eurasian mtDNAs rather than Asian mtDNAs. This view is reinforced by the fact that caste groups are more similar to west Eurasians than are the tribals .In summary, although the data support a recent India–Australia connection, we could not find in Indian tribals any unquestionable genetic signature of the approx. 60 000 year-old migration from Africa to Sahul following the postulated southern route. A possible explanation would be that such migration never occurred along that route. Alternatively, the early migrants from Africa may have made their way to Sahul following the southern route without settling in India. Another possibility, which is probably the most reasonable one, is that in India the genetic traces of early migrations along the southern route were erased by the subsequent migrations which shaped the present-day mtDNA gene pool of India

Reference paper 8:   This is all in line with Ethiran Kathiravan’s conclusions that you will find connections to lower caste tribes even in the progeny of the highest classes and there is always certain amount of intermixing in populations. So the notion of purity in races and classes or castes is a bigger myth.

But then again to detect migratory patterns, the study of genetics will help, only that you need access to a large amount of samples coupled with well-funded and dedicated research using proper tools. Presently it is sporadic, based on small amounts of samples and hardly conclusive.

While my own reading of all this was very stimulating, the potential for misunderstanding (If I have already done that please forgive me, for all I wanted to do was make some general summaries on the subject to show its general complexity, but also explaining the general methods adopted) was too much considering my relative lack of in-depth knowledge in the subject. So let us wait and watch as we leave the leg work to the experts….

  1. A crypto-Dravidian origin for the non tribal communities of South India based on human leukocyte antigen class I diversity R. Thomas, S. B. Nair & M. Banerjee
  2. Haplotype analysis of the polymorphic 17 YSTR markers in Kerala nontribal populations - Seema Nair Parvathy, Aswathy Geetha, Chippy Jagannath
  3. Y-short tandem repeat haplotype and paternal lineage of the Ezhava population of Kerala, South India- Seema Nair, Parvathy, Aswathy Geetha, Chippy Jagannath
  4. Co-Inheritance of Y-Chromosome Haplogroups And Lineages In ‘Parayi Petta Panthirukulam’: An Evaluation Of Human Motifs In A Popular Folktale In Kerala, India. Kumar U Suresh, R. V. Ratheesh, Rajan Chungath, George Thomas, George Sanil
  5. Directional migration in the Hindu castes: inferences from mitochondrial, autosomal and Y-chromosomal data - Stephen Wooding, Christopher Ostler, B. V. Ravi Prasad, W. Scott Watkins, Sandy Sung, Mike Bamshad, Lynn B. Jorde
  6. Genetic affinities among the lower castes and tribal groups of India: inference from Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA Ismail Thanseem1, Kumarasamy Thangaraj,  Gyaneshwer Chaubey, Vijay Kumar Singh, Lakkakula VKS Bhaskar, B Mohan Reddy, Alla G Reddy and Lalji Singh
  7. Genetic variation in South Indian castes: evidence from Y-chromosome, mitochondrial, and autosomal polymorphisms WS Watkins, R Thara, BJ Mowry, Y Zhang, DJ Witherspoon, W Tolpinrud, MJ Bamshad, S Tirupati, R Padmavati, H Smith, D Nancarrow, C Filippich and LB Jorde
  8. Kerala Kaumudi – Ethiran Kathiravan – Pulayar – The great grandfathers of Namboothiris, Christians and Muslims
  9. Genetic Drift in Human Populations Andrew J Bohonak,
  10. Reconstructing Indian population history David Reich, Kumarasamy Thangaraj, Nick Patterson, Alkes L. Price & Lalji Singh
  11. Mitochondrial DNA analysis reveals diverse histories of tribal populations from India - Richard Cordaux, Nilmani Saha, Gillian R Bentley, Robert Aunger, S M Sirajuddin and Mark Stoneking

Panthirukulathinte Pingamikal – Dr Rajan Chungath
Human Origins – Rob Desalle & Ian Tattersall
The Journey of Man – Spencer Wells
Deep Ancestry – Spencer Wells