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Maryam Zamani – Still an enigma

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Jahangir’s mother and Guardian

This is a mystery that had endured for many a decade and every historian working on Moghul history and Agra has come up with their own twist to it. When I started on this topic some years ago, I believed I could get to the crux of the matter with some effort, but it proved to be so difficult to peel the onion, as they say.  I spent so much time and effort in this study, perusing countless articles and sources, reaching nowhere conclusively. Were Maryam Zamani and Jahangir’s mother the same person? Or was it that there were two people in the picture?  

Why is there so much of a problem in this case? Was it because Akbar had women of multiple religions in his harem? Did confusion in the mind of historians arise because Akbar had allowed his Hindu consorts to practice their beliefs and rituals? Did further complications arise when researchers connected the Portuguese, Hindu, Christian, Turkish and Armenian wives of Akbar to Maryam Zamani and Jahangir, proving nothing? Perhaps so. The other issue was that the translations of many of the primary sources are considered conflicting, doctored over time and inadequate by some experts.

Birth Of Jahangir
But it is a fact that the biological mother of Jahangir was never named in any record. Jahangir’s memoirs do indicate that that a lady of very high standing and titled Maryam uz Zamani was considered to be the Wali Nimat Begum. The Mughal times were replete with adoptions, god mothers, and nursing mothers, so it proved to be pretty difficult to figure out who could be the biological mother of Jahangir and who became the titular mother of Jahangir. From all studies, one thing is amply clear, that Maryam Zamani was the definitely the titular mother of Jahangir.

Another issue was the palace of Mary (Maryam ki Kothi) or Mariam at Fathepur Sikhri which many attributed to Maryam Zamani. Many argue about the presence of pastors in that specific palace, the presence of the image of Mary, a cross and so on and so forth, confounding the situation. Some others clarify that it was in actuality, a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

So I decided to take a different route after having exhausted normally followed routes. Why not try a different method and just focus on Maryam uz Zamani, the so called queen mother? And thus I got back to the records which I had collected while researching the sinking of the queen mother’s ship Rahimi. At that time the identity of the queen mother was secondary, so I had not paused while repeating the oft stated belief that she was potentially Jahangir’s mother, the daughter of the Kachwaha Rajput. Now let us check what we know from British records.

We know that the queen mother was the owner or at least the patron of the ship Rahimi, one of the biggest, plying the seas between Surat and Mocha, carrying goods and approximately 1500 pilgrims for the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. We know that she got miffed when British and later the Portuguese held her ship to ransom, and in turn with her powers in the Mughal court put the English and the Portuguese into no amount of trouble. All records state clearly that ship was somehow connected to the queen mother. The title Maryam uz Zamani is not used (This has however been inserted as a foot note by translators & late researchers). And interestingly she was perhaps never the titular owner of the Rahimi.

We also know that she was involved in the Indigo trade. Some English and VOC Dutch traders saw the potential behind exporting the much vaunted Bayana indigo to Europe, and this indigo was needed for cloth dyes as well as for the Dutch porcelain industry. Finch’s transactions record the indignant queen mother who took revenge on Hawkins when he usurped stock which was not meant for him. Most of the indigo crop came from a place called bayana and we note that Bayana was an area patronized by Maryam Zamani. She had built the water tank (a baoili or step well), a residence and the gardens at Ibrahimabad in Bayana and guard posts on the route from Agra to Bayana, to protect the Indigo industry. These structures were built in 1612-13 (If she was from Amber in Rajasthan, she would have made some investments there, right, why Bayana?) and was also an occasional residence for Maryam Zamani, at a period when the indigo producing tracts in Bayana were doing well, trade in Indigo was brisk and the Dutch and English were the buyers. The Baoli has two gravestones which have not been identified and it is felt that one of these may even belong to Maryam Zamani.

All this points to the fact that she was a shrewd businesswomen and well respected by traders and in the Moghul court. She certainly had the powers to execute hukum’s /written orders (they were not strictly speaking farmans as some have noted) or edicts under her own seal and in those documents she terms herself ‘the Wali nimat Begam mother of King Nuruddin Jahangir’. Now Wali Nimat is a term that has been translated in differing ways. In Persian, which was the legal language of the Mughal court, it means ‘A benefactor, a generous patron’. The full sentence is ‘Wali Ni’mat walida I Jahangir badshah’ where it is clear that Maryam Zamani is the titular mother. Otherwise adding the adjective such as ‘generous patron of’ makes little sense, mother would have been enough and powerful.

She was a certainly a person of high standing as certified by Hawkins for she was known to receive a jewel from every nobleman "according to his estate" each year on the occasion of the New Year's festival. Interestingly Hawkins refers only to Jahangir’s mother, not a Maryam Zamani.

We also know that while she had a residence in Agra, her home was at the village of Dahr near Lahore, where she spent her time and invested time and effort, also building gardens. We can see that Jahangir visited her repeatedly at Dahr for important occasions such as weddings and ceremonial weighing’s. This is stated in the contemporary Persian texts.
Maryam Zamani Mosque - Lahore
And of course we have the very famous Maryam Zamani mosque which she built in Lahore in 1614, one of the earliest mosques in Lahore which was built under her patronage (the inscription states- founded by Maryam Zamani, the Queen). The architectural style it seems, marks a transitional period between the two periods, i.e., Pathan and the Mughal with the gigantic domes is taken from the old Pathan period mosques and the construction style for example, the gateways, the balconies etc. are reflective of later Mughal architecture. For me, it is difficult to imagine a Rajput woman practicing Hinduism and living in Agra as Akbar’s wife building a splendid mosque in faraway Lahore. We also know that there are no known records of temples or places of Hindu or Christian worship patronized or built by Maryam Zamani, thus making it somewhat clear that she was a serious practicing Muslim. Also it is clear, she took the wellbeing of thousands of Hajj pilgrims seriously, and interaction with Mecca and trade there. Why would the daughter of Bihari Mall do that? One could argue that she took to Islam a 100% and was an overt believer, but we see little reason for her to do that as she had been allowed to practice her religion and live in peace and harmony by Akbar. But it is also somewhat clear that many of these Hindu wives, for the purpose of marriage could have been given Islamic names for the record.

There is an intriguing reference that the title of Maryam Zamani was given to the lady posthumously (Monserrat). That does not sound quite correct for we do know that the title was used by Jahangir in his writings and the stones laid at the mosque in Lahore as well as the baoli in Bayana state her name. But it cannot be found in any contemporary accounts of Akbar, though we can find Mariam Makkany and the usage queen mother mentioned often in British and Dutch accounts. Perhaps those writers mistook one of Akbar’s wives to be Maryam Makani, who was actually Hamida Banu, Akbar’s mother and there was a similarity in the first name on both titles.

Then we have the so called tomb of Maryam Zamani in Agra, which has its own intrigue. She was not cremated after death. Instead, it is mentioned that Maryam Zamani was buried at Sikandra at the Lodhi garden. Now that again is a troubling subject because Jahangir did not build his revered mother a tomb of her own, but appropriated a garden and building used by Ibrahim Lodhi, which is quite strange and inappropriate according to many researchers.

Coming to nursing mothers, we know that Sheikh Bayazid (Moazzam Khan) was grandson of Sheikh Salem. And it was Bayazid's mother nursed Prince Salem (Jahangir) on the day of his birth.
Finally we know that Jahangir himself believed and mentioned that he was originally the son of one of Akbar’s consorts, not a regular wife of Akbar. The Tabaqat-i-Akbari Vol 2 states as follows - As one of the consorts became enciente at this time, His Majesty took her to SikrI, and left her in the house of the Shaikh; and he himself remained sometime in Agra, and sometime in SikrI. He gave the name of Fathepur to SikrI, and ordered the erection of bazars and public baths there.

Knowing this, how could we possibly comb through the 5,000 or so women in Akbar’s harem (and some 300 wives) as well as the palatial homes of many other royal ladies to get to the hidden persona of Maryam Zamani or for that matter Jahangir’s mother? It is made somewhat easier by the many hundred researchers who have traversed this route and have recorded their findings. I was fortunate in accessing and perusing many of them but decided sadly to forgo their conclusions as each came up with a different outcome.

13 of Akbar’s more famous wives have been traced by historians. The first was Ruqaiya Begum and she was childless. The second was the daughter of Jamal Khan and the third was with Abdulla Khan’s daughter.  The fourth was with Bairam Khan’s widowed wife and Akbar’s cousin Salima Sultan Begum. He had four Rajput alliances and they were with the daughter of Bihari (Bhar) Mall of Amber, the niece of Rai Kiran Mall of Bikaner, the daughter of Rawal Har Rai of Jaisalmer and finally the daughter of the Raja of Dungarpur. There were many other marriages, such as the scandalous taking of Abdul Wasi’s beautiful wife (which I had written about earlier).  Then there was Qasima Banu daughter of Arab Shah, later Bibi Daulat Shad and finally the daughter of Naquib Khan. From all these wives, only one son survived, that was Salim who later on became known as the emperor Jahangir.

What is also clear was the amount of intense rivalry and intrigue in the Mughal courts and particularly between the wives at the harem. Not that it is surprising in any way, for it was common in every royal household what with the endowments and titles the girls families expected from such matrimonial and consortia alliances. Everything depended on the relation the girl managed to keep with the monarch. They are known to have tried all the tricks of the trade, including opium, alcohol and so on. But that is not the topic, so let’s move on…

Noorudin Islam points out that the Tabakat page 281, vol II clearly mentions the mother was Salima Sultana. But I could not find any such reference other than the cryptic statement ‘As one of the consorts became enciente at this time, His Majesty took her to SikrI, and left her in the house of the Shaikh’. However it is true that Salima was in charge of Akbar’s Zenana and had mediated on Jahangir’s behalf. It is still a possibility that she was Maryam Zamani for Kaviraj Shyamal Das opines- Salimah Sultan was considered the guardian of Akbar's zanana, and all the children of Akbar and Jahangir were tended by her: it was for this very reason that she mediated on Jahangir's behalf, when he had fallen out with Akbar, and brought him to Court from Allahabad. Jahangir regarded her as his mother, and she in turn looked upon him as her son. She could in theory be therefore a strong contender for the identity of Maryam Zamani.

The learned Beveridge mentions - I still think the silence of all the leading historians remarkable. Neither Abu-l-Fazl, nor Nizamu-d-din, nor Badaoni, nor Firishtah nor Khafi Khan mentions Bihari Mall's daughter as Jahangir's mother. This cannot have been the result of bigotry; for Abu-l-Fazl, at least, was no bigot, and he and some of the others mention the marriage of Bihari Mall's daughter with approval. If they approved of the marriage, why should they not have approved of its resulting in the birth of a son? He however admits that the Tawarikh-i-Salim which he checked mentions that Jahangir married a daughter of Bihari Mall, and had by her his son Khusru.. But he adds - There is a curious statement in the Tawarikh-i-Salim (Price, p. 47), that Akbar had a son by Bibi Maryam who was placed under the care of Raja Bihari Mall, confounding the matter even further.

The book on the Kachhwahas makes their potential connection to Jahangir clear by quoting Jahangir himself - Tuzuk-i-jahangiri (p15)- I made Raja Man Singh who was one of the greatest and most trusted noblemen of my father, and had obtained alliances with this illustrious family, inasmuch as his aunt had been in my father's house (i.e. was his wife), and I had married his sister, and Khusrau and his sister Sultanu-n-nisa Begam, the latter of whom is my eldest child, were born of her. (Refeqat adds - Had Mansingh’s paternal aunt, i.e. Bharmall’s daughter been Jahangir’s mother, he would have mentioned it since he spoke highly of Mansingh). A table of births (Abul fazl) also shows a blank against Jahangir, which was the custom if it was a concubine and not a noble (Note here that the table shows Hindu mothers as daughter of and none is mentioned as d/o Bhram Mall). A related fact is that Mansingh, developed an intense dislike for Jahangir towards his later days.

Now let us take a look at a contemporary work - which is the record left behind by Dutch trader
Francisco Pelsaert. This was a very enterprising young man, who lived in Agra during Jahangir’s time and played with super high stakes. He gambled with VOC money, and had connections with Mughal women of high standing. In 1618 he sailed for the east in the Dutch company's commercial service and two years later was posted to India as junior merchant. After travelling overland from Masulipatam to Surat, he was sent to Agra where he stayed for seven years, becoming a senior merchant. He lived in Agra during 1620-27 for all of seven years and should have been in the thick of things. He loaned money, he hobnobbed with suppliers and other traders, he embezzled money for himself in the process and he traded in Indigo, a matter close to the heart of Maryam Zamani. In 1626 he wrote an account of the Mogul Empire, which was translated from the Dutch by W. H. Moreland and P. Geyl, and published as Jahangir's India -The Remonstrantie of Francisco Pelsaert

He mentions the following in his book, while describing Agra - Beginning from the north, 8 there is the palace of Bahadur Khan, who was formerly king of the fortress of Asir (5 kos from Burhanpur) . Next is the palace of Raja Bhoj, father of the present Rai Ratan, Governor of Burhanpur 4 (rank 5000 horse). Then come Ibrahim Khan (3000 horse); Rustam Kandahari (5000 horse); Raja Kishan Das (3000 horse) ; Itiqad Khan, the youngest brother of Asaf Khan (5000 horse); Shahzada Khanam, sister of the present king, who was married to Muzaffar Khan (formerly King of Gujarat) ; Goulziaer Begam, this king's mother; Khwaja Muhammad Thakaar (2000 horse); Khwaja Bansi, formerly steward of Sultan Khurram (the translator adds a foot note - This should represent Guljar Begam, but the name of Jahangir's mother is not elsewhere recorded, her official title was Maryam-uz-Zamani, which Pelsaert gives below as "Maryam Makani”.

Going on to describe the fort he says - There is little or no room within the Fort, it being occupied by various princely edifices and residences, as well as mahals, or palaces for ladies. Among these is the palace of Maryam Makani, wife of Akbar and mother of Jahangir, as well as three other mahals, named respectively Itwar (Sunday), Mangal (Tuesday), and Sanichar (Saturday), in which the King used to sleep on the day denoted by the name, and a fifth, the Bengali Mahal, occupied by ladies of various nations. Internally then the Fort is built over like a city with streets and shops, and has very little resemblance to a fortress, but from the outside anyone would regard it as impregnable.

We can see that the use of a term Maryam Zamani is missing and Palseart persists with Maryam Makani, who was actually the mother of Akbar, but what is glaring is the fact that he gave a proper name to Jahangir’s mother and that she had a Haveli at the edge of Agra and that another ‘mother’ potentially Maryam Zamani, had a palace within the Red Fort. Considering that Palseart was known to be very correct with his facts, it is clear that Jahangir’s mother was one Gulzar (Gulizaror Goulziaer) Begam.

Could that be one of the Gulizar Begam’s in the court and Zenana of Akbar, i.e. the two well-known women? One was the sister of Mirza Kamran, Akbar’s cousin, and the other was Kamran’s (unmarried) daughter, the latter being the one who went on a hajj with Gulbadan Begam (who wrote the Humayun Nama). Assuming that the elder Gulizar could be Maryam Zamani does draw some merit, since Kamran Mirza had intimate connections with Lahore. As we discussed previously, Maryam Zamani built a mosque in Lahore and had a house in the village of Dahr near Lahore. But we are not sure that she lived within the fort, all we know from Palseart’s writings is that she had her own haveli.

So we are left thus with three contenders, all staunch Muslims, for the god mother position. Salima Sulatan, Ruqayah Sultana Begam and the elder Gulizar Begam. One of the three above was Maryam Zamani who went on to build the mosque in Lahore and the baoli at bayana, as well as contribute liberally and be a patron of many charities. Now Salima and Ruqayah were Akbar’s wives, so they had their own quarters within the fort. The person who lived outside in a haveli could thus e the Gulizar Bagam.

According to Jehangir, Maryam Zamani passed away in 1623 (9th May 1623 "On this day news came from Agra that Her Highness (Hazrat) Maryam-uz-Zamani, by the decree of God, had died). Now we know that Salima passed away in 1613 and her body was laid to rest at the Mandarkar Garden in Agra. Ruqayah sultana passed away in 1626, and she was buried on the fifteenth level in the Gardens of Babur (Bagh-e-Babur) in Kabul, Afghanistan. If you cross those two out based death dates, the only remaining senior person who could have been Jahangir’s god mother or step mother is Gulizar, the sister of Kamran and the wife of the late Yadgar Nasir Mirza. Nevertheless, it is also a fact that the other two women cared very much for Jahangir.

The business transactions conducted by the royal women from inside the Zenana or around were through multiple layers and involved many other persons. Who therefore was the queen mother referred to by the traders and how about the fact that Maryam Zamani owned a ship Rahimi and traded with the English and the Dutch? As such the real owner of the ship was Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, Salima Sultana’s step son. Rahim was incidentally a ‘Navaratna’, a honored poet in Akbar’s court. It is only conjuncture that the queen mother was the real owner working behind him. Perhaps Salima Sultana was that person, not Maryam Zamani, and it is not mentioned so to my knowledge by Hawkins or others.

As for Maryam Zamani’s tomb, it is unlikely this had anything to do with any Rajput wife of Akbar, perhaps it was indeed Gulijar Begam’s tomb or for that matter, Maryam’s tomb is one of the two at the Baoli in Bayana where it is felt Maryam Zamani spent her final years.

And how about the Mariam palace in the Fathepur Sikri? That is another intriguing story which we will discuss another day.

As always, this is an open discussion based on various resources I perused. More research is needed to conclusively determine the facts, which I doubt will happen considering that most people seem comfortable identifying Bharm Mall’s daughter to be Jahangir’s mother.

A few of the references perused

The story of Akbar’s Christian Wife - Rev H Heras
Mughal marriages, A politico-religious and legal study- Ansari Zahid Khan (Pakistan Historic society journal)
Maryam Zamani’s baoli at Bayana – A note – Rajiv Bargoti
Farman of Maryam Zamani, mother of Emperor jahangir – Khan Sahib Zafar Hassan
Jahangir’s india - The Remonstrantie of Francisco Pelsaert WH Moreland
Edicts from the Mughal harem – SAI Tirmizi
Akbat the greatest Moghul – SM Bruke
Waterworks of Mediaeval Bayana – Natalie Shokoohy
Maryam Zamani mosque - the earliest dated Mughal period mosque at Lahore – Saeed Tahir
ShahJehan – Fergus Nicoll
Akbar’s Queen Mary - HS Hoston
The topography of the Mughal empire as known to the Dutch - Joannes De Laet ( Tr-E Lethbridge)
East India Company records 1602-1613
Early travels in India – 1583-1619 Ed William Foster
The female missionary intelligencer May 1, 1868 (Tomb of Mariam Zamani)
History behind the terracotta paintings – Md Noorul Islam
The Kachhwahas under Akbar and Jahangir – Kunwar refaqat Ali Khan
Identity of Jahangir’s mother- Aparna Chattopadhaya (Journal of Indian History 68-71, 1192)
The Mother of Jahangir - H. Beveridge and reply by Kaviraj Shyamal Das
The Tuzuk Jahangiri

Pics – Maryam Zamani mosque (courtesy Dawn 13-05-2015 ) 

Farrukhi – A capital shortlived

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Tipu Sultan’s new Malabar Capital and the Farrukhi mint

There is some mystery involved in the town of Feroke, and its antiquity boasts of it being the capital of Tipu’s Malabar, though quite short lived. The first hint of the town’s name comes from Tipu’s own writings about his dreams, where he mentions of a particular dream involving white elephants (and later, a second one dealing with a bear) from China while returning from Farrukhi (near Calicut) and camped near Salamabad (Satyamangalam near Coimbatore). More precisely, in history it is named as Paramukku, a desam in Beypore amsham about 6 miles distant from Calicut town wherein 1788 Tipu apparently built a fort and projected the founding of a new capital. It is indeed cryptic and we have only very little information on the establishment of Feroke and its instilment as a Malabar capital in the amsam of Nelluru. Let’s take a look at what we have.

But before Tipu’s arrival in Malabar, the region boasted an ancient habitat. Let us check out that story. The person who brought it to fame was one Madam Blavatsky. Helena Blavatsky was a very interesting person and deserves more than an article to just introduce her. If you did not know her already, she was a Russian occultist, philosopher, and author who co-founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. Theosophy according to her was reviving an "Ancient Wisdom" which underlay all the world's religions. In 1880 she and her American husband friend Olcott moved to India, where the Society was allied to the Arya Samaj, a Hindu reform movement and were later headquartered in Adayar. The couple became the first Westerners to officially convert to Buddhism. Theosophy spread rapidly in India but experienced internal problems after Blavatsky was accused of producing fraudulent paranormal phenomena. In 1885 she moved back to Europe and published many works, with “The Secret Doctrine’ as one of them.

In Secret Doctrine, she stated - E. Biot, a member of the Institute of France, published in his Antiquites de France, Vol. ix., an article showing the Chatam peramba (the Field of Death, or ancient burial ground in Malabar), to be identical with the old tombs at Carnac -- "a prominence and a central tomb." . . . "Bones are found in them (the tombs)," he says, "and Mr. Hillwell tells us that some of these are enormous, the natives (of Malabar) calling the tombs the dwellings of Rakshasas (giants)." Several stone circles, "considered the work of the Panch Pandava (five Pandus), as all such monuments are in India, so numerous in that country," when opened by the direction of Rajah Vasariddi, "were found to contain human bones of a very large size." (T. A. Wise, in "History of Paganism in Caledonia," p. 36).

I perused the original Biot article, but he had never mentioned Chatanparamba, in fact he just mentioned the existence of circular formations illustrated with sketches and adding some of the above text. Deccan and the mention of Raja Vassiriddi etc started giving me the feeling that something was off in Balavatsky’s quotes. Furthur research led me to an authoritative note by A Aiyappan on the very subject which confirmed the stone structures, capped kudakallus (umbrella or mushroom covers), the rock cut tombs in Feroke and the details of the excavations in 1931 by Prof Dubreuil and Ayappan himself. Ayappan believes there were Samadhi or Nirvana locations of an old Buddhist community. The tombs were complete with some tripod stands, urns and a few more artifacts, though they had already been ravaged by treasure hunters by the time these 20th century archeologists reached there. Prof Dubreuil believed they were of Vedic origin, and he thought they were agnidriyas or fire houses. In all they acquired about twenty-five objects of burial urns, pottery, four-legged urns, clay models of doga, brinjals, iron objects, cornelian beads etc The general conclusions after a detailed study was that these were pre 200BC rock tombs. The location of these in Feroke is at Chenapparambu, not Chatan parambu.

Let us not dwell too much on it now and go to another period, when Tipu Sultan following on his father Hyder’s heels, decided to move his administrative headquarters to Feroke. Was it because the old Samoothiri Kovilakom had been burnt down to ground after the Zamorin immolated himself in 1766?

In English and Mysore records you will find the town variously mentioned or transliterated as Ferokhi, Furkhy, Farrukhi, Furruckabad or Ferrockhee, Feroke cutchery or Ferokhabad. The translations and origins of the name Feroke are also varied while some historians believed it was from a man of fame named Umar Farukh while others insist it is Feroke meaning ‘prosperous town’. In Tipu’s writings, he calls it Farrukhi. Some others explain that Farrukhi means happiness. Tipu also had a coin mint established in the area, after destroying the Zamorin’s mint at Calicut.

The joint commissioner’s report mentions Tipus visit in April 1788 as when the decision was taken to move the capital to Feroke. On the occasion of this visit which Tippoo made to Malabar as sovereign, he projected the removal of its capital from the old seat of it at Calicut, to a much preferable station between seven and eight miles from its mouth (which is better adapted to become a seaport than any other within the province), where he laid the foundation of a fort and city, on which he bestowed the name of Furrukabad or Ferokhia, and compelled the natives of Calicut, much against their inclinations,(though apparently with the wisest political intentions) to remove thither: but since the war in 1790, they have all returned to their former abodes, so that hardly a vestige now remains of the new capital.

An analysis of the Farokhi Pagoda (Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Volume 52) coin reveals the following summary- This coin is known as the "Farokhi pagoda" and, according to Hawkes, "is supposed to have been so called by Tippu in honor of a new sect of this name." Others state that it was so designated from the circumstance, that Farokhi was a title of one of Muhammad's successors. Marsden (Vol. II, p. 717) observes regarding the term "on some of the copper money we shall find it to stand, apparently, for the name of a place, otherwise called New Calicut." At first I was inclined to adopt the last suggestion, and there seems little doubt that in some cases the words Farokhi patan do indicate that the coin was struck at a fort near Calicut, which, according to Wilks, was called "Ferrockhee." In other instances this cannot be the case. Thus on the hun described by Marsden, Part II, p. 716, the place of mintage given along with the word Farokhi is Hyder Nagar (Bednur). Probably the term was originally adopted as a pious token of respect for one of Muhammad's successors, and subsequently in some cases did double duty by expressing this and also the place of mintage.

The English reports of Tipu’s rule (though it should not be believed as such) are not flattering. They state - Calicut, having with other parts of Malabar cast off the yoke of Hyder, was, in 1773, reconquered by the Mysorean ruler, whose forces were, however, in 1782, driven out by the British. Tippoo Sultan retook the place in 1789, and treated the inhabitants with a studied and detestable cruelty, thus described by Bartolomeo, who was then in the vicinity: "He was preceded by 30,000 barbarians, who butchered every person who came in their way, and by his heavy cannon, under the command of General Lally, at the head of a regiment of artillery. Then followed Tippoo Sultan himself, riding on an elephant, and behind marched another corps, consisting of 30,000 men also. The manner in which he behaved to the inhabitants of Calicut was horrid. A great part of them, both male and female, were hung. He first tied up the mothers, and then suspended the children from their necks. The cruel tyrant caused several Christians and heathens to be brought out naked, and made fast to the feet of his elephants, which were then obliged to drag them about till their limbs fell in pieces from their bodies." Such of the men as were not immediately massacred, whether Brahmins or Christians, were forcibly subjected to the initiatory rite of Mahomedanism, or at best had the option of submitting thereto or being hanged. The foreign merchants and factors were expelled; and with the view of utterly ruining it, the cocoanut trees and sandal-trees in the adjoining country were cut down, and the pepper-vines torn up by the roots.

The city was almost completely demolished, and most of the materials taken to Nellura, six miles to the south-eastward, where they were used to build a fort and town called by Tippoo Sultan, Furruckabad, or Fortunate Town, "a fancy," says Colonel Wilks, "which afterwards nearly proved fatal to his troops, by leaving them the choice of a ruin or an unfinished work as points of retreat and rendezvous." In the latter part of 1790, the Mysorean force, having been concentrated in the neighbourhood of Calicut, was attacked by a British detachment commanded by Colonel Hartley, and totally defeated ; Tippoo's general was made prisoner with 900 of his men, and 1,500 more laid down their arms at the "fortunate town," whither they had been pursued by the conquerors. Under the treaty concluded in 1792, which deprived Tippoo of half his dominions, Calicut fell to the share of the East-India Company, and was formally incorporated with the British dominions. After this event the scattered survivors of the population returned and rebuilt their dwellings; and Buchanan, at the time of his visit in 1800, found the number of houses considerable, and the prosperity and population rapidly on the increased.

Before its apparent destruction by Tipu, the town of Calicut apparently contained between 6,000 and 7,000 houses. When the province of Malabar was conquered by the English, in 1790, the former inhabitants of Calicut returned to their old abode. In 1800 Calicut again contained more than 5,000 houses. The new town of Feroke, had thus, a short lifespan of only twenty four months - from May 1788 to December 1790.

I had covered the last battle at Feroke in an earlier blog, but catching up to Mahtab Khan who had retreated to Feroke, Mahtab Khan had retreated to Ferokabad, and the Colonel resolved to pursue him, and accordingly marched next morning, 11th December, but as he approached the place, he heard that Mahtab Khan had fled the night before with 200 men, and all the treasure loaded on elephants, towards Tambercherry Pass. Fifteen hundred men laid down their arms as our Troops entered Ferokabad, Beypore, and all the vessels in the Calicut Harbour submitted, and six thousand inhabitants. Colonel Hartley's success will be followed with the most important advantages. The whole country is now reduced from Tellicherry to Cochin, and the Zamorin again put in possession of his hereditary dominions. He has sent out his Nayrs to clear the country of Tippoo's adherents.

Now having seen what the English had to say and the very little the Mysore rulers mentioned, let us go on to study the antiquity of Nellura. In fact there are some doubts that the Paramukku fort was built by Tipu. A study by S Nalapat states - Paramukku (The corner of Parappanad) now called Feroke after Tipu named it as Ferokabad with a ferry (Beypuram ferry) and 2 miles above it in Ernad is the field with megalithic remnants of old Cheranad, Ernad families and ancestors. Beads and urns were excavated here. The agate beads and urns are ancient settlement remnants of the people. Captain Gillham found a very ancient fortress at the mouth of Beypore River the walls strongest at west and northwest and north angles where foundations were 13’ across and 2’-3’ deep commencing on coarse sand and shelly bottom. Southwest it is of laterite stones and chunamb, and there are small portions of masonry and concrete leveling. Who made that fort, a Parappanad Raja maybe? The assumption that it was Tipu’s fort was by the British and not quite proven.

In reality, only a well and a small building for storing magazine were constructed at the site. The remnants of the fort built in laterite at Paramukku, Kottasthala, was declared an archaeological monument in 1991 under the Protected Monuments Sites and Remains Act of 1968. A well with a 12-metre diameter can be found in the compound with two mini wells inside this huge well. There is a long tunnel that leads from the premises of the fort to the river. Tipu’s dream of founding a new capital had to be abandoned after he was compelled to retire to Coimbatore due to the approaching monsoon. But it is certain that his administrative officers lived in Farrukhi during 1788-1790. Tlpu himself visited Malabar early in 1788 and made a stay of several months, during which arrangements were made for transferring the seat of government from Calicut to Feroke. Calicut was taken by British troops towards the close of 1790, and by the treaty of Seringapatam in 1792, the Malabar district came under the jurisdiction of the East India Company. The usual spelling of the mint-town is that given above, but on some of the coins it is 'Kallkut'.

From Tipu’s letters we can see that in his communications during 1786 concerning Athan Gurukkal (who together with other Malabar Moplahs are not considered as Muslims by Tipu!), Arshad Beg is addressed as Faujdar of Calicut and Abdul Kareem as Sipahdar of Calicut. By 1788, he is seen to be writing to Husain Ali khan, faujdar of Farrukhi and later Muhammad Ali, Second Diwan of Farrukhi , confirming that the move/change of capital took place in 1788 and remained so in 1789. In his 1789 letter to Badruzzaman Khan, he states “Seven months ago [that is in August 1788] we proceeded in splendor for the purpose of settling the country of Farrukhi (Calicut), when calling together all the Nairs and Mopillas, we made enquiry respecting the state of the receipts and disbursements of the rayats; and having ascertained the same, remitted a third part of the amount which they had been accustomed to pay to the Sarkar, delivering at the same time to every one of the rulers or chief men of the country, a Hukm-namah (or mandate) to the following effect………In 1790, he writes to Syed Abdullah “Through the divine favour, and with the assistance of the refuge of prophesy (Muhammad) the whole of the infidels inhabiting the districts of Farrukhi (Calicut) have received the honour of Islamism [that is, have become Musalmans].

About the mint at Farrukhi, the following is stated by Sanket and Kapoor - One of the major mints during Mysorean rule over Malabar was Kozhikode (Calicut). This mint struck gold and silver coins, generally fanams and rupees, as well as copper coins. Coins have been recorded bearing dates 1195 AH to 1201 AH (1215AM) which coincides with 1780-1787 AD. However in 1788 AD the mint in Calicut was closed and destroyed and the Mysorean administration centre in Malabar was moved to Farukhabad (Farrukhi). This newly founded mint took over the tasks of the earlier Calicut mint. Gold fanams and copper paisas were struck here. The last date recorded on coins from this mint is 1218 AM (1790 AD). The fort at Farrukhi was taken by Colonel Hartley, after the defeat of Tipu’s army under Husain Ali and the mint ceased was shut down.

Quoting Bhandare & Stevens, Farrukhi is the name was given to the place now known as Feroke situated on the south bank of the Beypore River, about seven miles to the south of Calicut. In 1788, Tlpu Sultan, no doubt prompted; by similar reasons to those which led to the destruction of the town of Mysore, demolished Calicut and commenced the erection of a fort a few miles away, around which in course of time it was, hoped a new Calicut would arise. The fort was still unfinished on 10th December 1790, when it was taken by Colonel Hartley, after the defeat of Tipu's army under Husain All. The designation of this mint is no more intelligible than are most of Tipu's newly invented names, but in this case it has persisted to the present day, thus affording a solitary instance of the term which he adopted coming into general use.

During the Mysore occupation, currency m Calicut is seen to have undergone a drastic change Initially, Tipu ordered a variant of the gold 'Vira Raya' Fanams to be struck there This variety is inscribed with a Persian letter he and called the 'Bahadun Vira Raya' Fanam In tune with Tipu's currency reforms after he ascended the Mysore throne in 1782, he introduced a Paisa-Rupee-Pagoda system in Calicut He also opened a new mint in the region at Feroke (Farrukhi), located near Calicut, which, during the later part of his reign, became the principal mint for copper and gold While gold and copper issues of both Calicut and Feroke under Tipu (namely fanams and paisas) are fairly numerous, silver is exceedingly rare for these mints This phenomenon was probably an outcome of the large issue of French and British silver fanams in the preceding years

Tipu's fort - Feroke
PP Mohammed Koya writing about Feroke states that the fort building started in April 1788, and the view from atop the Mammally hill, 105 ft above provided a clear view of Kallayi, Beypore, Calicut, Chalium etc. proving that it was a strategic selection for a capital and a fort at Nallura. The fort was situated in a 9 acre area. Farrukhi was notable for the imprisonment of Ayaz Khan and the hanging of the Mangat Achan. The nearby Pettah housed the trade establishments and the ‘jivahani parambu’ was where hangings took place. A mosque in that vicinity was where Tipu met the Kondotty Thangal. It appears that there are still some Hanafi Deccani Muslim families living in the area, remnants of Tipu’s soldiers and administrators from Mysore. Later it became a camping area for British soldiers and was known as Paramukku. The area behind the fort was the Kottapadam. Other place names connected to this fort are Kottakadavu, Kottakkunnu, Kottasthala and Kottakkal Puzha. It was later acquired by one Hofman, then the commonwealth works and later Dr TP Muhammad.

So much for a capital of the Mysore sultan, which remained a work in progress..

The coins of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan – JR Henderson
A Unique Over-struck Paisa of Tipu Sultan - Purnanand Sanket, Mohit Kapoor
Dreams of Tipu Sultan –
Original letters of Tippoo Sultaun – asiatic annual register, For the Year 1810-11.
"Bombay Billys" The British Coinage for the Malabar Coast - A reappraisal By Drs. Shailendra Bhandare & Paul Stevens (Oriental Numismatic Society Newsletter # 172, 2002)
Kozhikode Muslimgalude Charitram – PP Mohammed Koya
History of paganism in Caledonia – Thomas A Wise
Rock cut cave tombs of Feroke – A Aiyappan (Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society Vol.23)
The secret Doctrine - Blavatsky

Fort photo courtesy Kallivalli.blogspot 

Checkout the following videos on the Feroke Tipu Fort, 1 and 2

The many mysteries behind the Cheng Ho Voyages

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Much is written about the voyages of Cheng Ho. In fact there is even a voluminous book just listing bibliography of published works detailing Cheng Ho’s life and time. But how much of all that is conjecture, myth, lore and legend and how much of it is fact? That seems to be the biggest problem, because the scribes of the Ming period rewrote history and fudged fact with fiction with impunity, so much so that filtering truth from them is an art in itself. The importance of the voyages, the treasure ships themselves which awed and terrified onlookers from any shore, the expenses in making them, the reasons for these voyages and the reasons which ended the voyages are still steeped in mystery. The man behind it all, the seven foot tall Muslim eunuch, is who they say brought Islam to Melacca, defeated pirates, established relations and leaders, fought a war with a Lankan Monarch and took away Buddha’s tooth to Nanking. But Zheng He or Cheng Ho, who suddenly found himself adrift when his patron Chu Ti (Zhu Di - the Yong Le, Yung Lo monarch) passed away mysteriously, also met a mysterious end.

Those 35 or so years in history are testament to the heights reached by the Ming dynasty and the depths they sunk to, as events took its toll on the uncle who usurped the throne from his nephew. They are all connected in a way and it is always interesting to see just how fate intervened and upset a merrily trundling apple cart. And for that, we have to start at the very beginning with an ill-fated child king named Chien Wen, for it is, as Julie Andrews put it , ‘a very good place, to start’.

The Chien Wen period 1398-1402 was a turbulent phase in Ming history. It is closely tied to the succession issues which cropped up after Chu Yuan-Chan, the Hung Wu (1368-1398) Ming emperor died. Even though he had a number of powerful sons well placed in positions of governance in various provinces, he chose Chu Piao, the son of his principal consort Ma as his crown prince and successor, but as destiny would have it, this bloke passed away before his father, in 1392. The Emperor for some reason then chose this Chu Piao’s second son and his grandson, the 15 year old Chu Yun-Wen, as the crown prince. Chu Yun-wen ascended the throne in Nanking on 30 June 1398, at the age of twenty-one, a few days after his grandfather's death, much to the dismay of Chu Ti, his powerful warrior uncle, the 4th son of Chu Yuan-Chan and Prince of the Yan province (Yanjing, Beiping, Peking, Beijing). The position was very important for it was the Mongol frontier and at that time, an invasion by Timur was anticipated. Thus started the apparently benevolent Chien Wen reign, a period which is still a mystery due to its erasure from all records by Chu Ti, who usurped the throne a few years later following a civil war and much intrigue.

JianWen - Chu Yun-Wen
The changes the new emperor brought about were more for centralized governmental rule and the enforcement of the rule of civil law, reduction of taxes and finally clipping the powers of the regional chieftains, i.e. his own uncles, by abolishing their princedoms. But naturally, they were furious and the person who spearheaded the rebellion was the lone remaining (of the 5 who fell, two had died) Yen prince, his uncle Chu Ti. Now one should also take note that a rule existed that no princes should head to the Emperor’s capital Nanking (Nanjing) in the South unless there was a potential threat against the emperor by wicked officials. Secondly Chu Ti’s sons were being held in Nanjing as hostages. In 1399, Chu Yen-Wen made a blunder by sending back those sons to Peiping and Chu TI seizing the opportunity, rose against his nephew resulting in a 3 year civil war. By mid-1402, Chu Ti and his eunuch supported army (Zheng He included) broke through the Chin Chuan palace gates which had been clandestinely kept open by conspirators.

During the melee that followed with the arrival of the Yen prince's armies, the palace compound within the Nanking city walls was set ablaze. When the fire subsided, several badly burned bodies were produced and declared to be those of the emperor, his wife empress Ma, and his eldest son.The emperor's second son, Chu Wen-kuei, just two years old, was captured along with other surviving members of the imperial family. He was spared but was jailed with the others and released many years later. The true fate of the deposed Chien Wen emperor however remained a mystery.

As legends go, Chu Yun-Wen knew what was coming. He had been provided a lacquer box some time ago by a monk. He opened this, as Chu Ti broke through the gates. The sealed box contained a tonsuring knife, 10 pieces of silver and monk’s garb, enabling him and nine followers to escape from the palace through a secret passage. Some 13 more followers joined them later in exile. So stated the lore.

Yongle - Chu Ti
Chu Ti took over as a new emperor after ensuring that his nephews reign was expunged from all records and proclaimed the following year, as the first in the reign of Yung-lo (Lasting joy). Nevertheless, there was as it seems, popular sympathy for the previous emperor’s suffering and legends about his mysterious fate spread. Whether Chu Yun-wen died in a palace fire (as was officially announced) or escaped in disguise to live many more years as a recluse is perhaps a puzzle that troubled Chu Ti until his own death and has been a subject of conjecture by Chinese historians ever since. Some believe that Chu Ti did little to kill the rumors because he wanted people to believe that he had not killed his nephew, and had taken over the throne at a time of unrest in the country’s best interests. Whatever said, he would have desired to know where Chu Yen-Wen was and keep an eye on him.

The first Zhu Di confidante who was sent out to track down the Chien Wen emperor in the land areas around Nanjing and afar was one Hu Jung. He set out and came back twice with no information but assured the emperor that Chu Yun-Wen had no populist support and was no more a challenge. Many years later, in 1440 a monk named Yang Hising Hisiang appeared with 12 followers and claimed to be the Chien Wen emperor but this was quickly debunked as he was over 90 years old and the real emperor would have only been 64.

Zheng He’s (Ma he, San bao or Cheng Ho) association with Chu Ti had started in the 1380’s after he was captured from the Mongol armies and was castrated to become a eunuch. A huge, commanding man (his family records claim that he was seven feet tall, with a waist five feet in circumference, glaring eyes, and a stentorian voice), he was considered to be a fierce warrior and was very much involved in campaigns against the Mongols from 1393 to 1397. He is also believed to have played a key role in Chu Ti's move to Nanjing and the usurpation of the throne. Chu Ti was now in place, the eunuchs had replaced the scheming monks and the king was building up his image and power base while planning a move of the nation’s capital to Beijing. Getting back to the Chien Wen story, it was believed by some that Zhu Di requested Zheng to check all sea ports and countries he visited, if the Chien Wen emperor was hiding in any of those nations.

Meanwhile, Chu Ti was perturbed with the relations with Timur the Mongol whom he feared the most, for his envoys had not returned, not did those his father had sent some years earlier and it was becoming clear that Timur wanted to annex China next. Timur deputed his armies to build forts and farm the land at the borders well ahead of his attack so that when his large armies arrived, they had no supply issues. In Dec 1404, he commenced his march to China with some 200,000 troops. But as luck would have it, he died enroute in Feb 1405 and his son Shahrukh decided that war with China was not a good idea.

This was the background to the Ming voyages touching ports at South East Asia and South India. Many reasons were provided by subsequent historians as to why these apparently expensive voyages were planned and carried out under the captainship of Cheng Ho. While it could have very much been for the new monarch (who had secured the throne by force) to cement his position and obtain a tacit approval and formal recognition from the rest of the neighboring countries, especially those they traded with, it could have been a number of other reasons.

The reasons usually discussed are a) to search for and weed out the deposed Chien Wen emperor Chu Yun-wen, who was rumored to be wandering around the SE Asian countries in the guise of a monk b) to obtain support from Muslim countries and ward off a potential invasion by Timur c) encourage tributes and endorsement by the various foreign states of the fragile legitimacy of the new emperor d) to display China’s military prowess and extend the new emperor’s political influence e) to bolster and improve trade relations e) Southern expansion policy f) to fight off piracy in the South China seas.

It is quite clear that there was no need for a huge armada to go hunting for the Chien Wen emperor who was actually rumored to be lurking in the North Vietnam (Annam) area (South Vietnam was Champa) . Also by that time private shipping was virtually banned and only state sponsored ships piled the seas. But then again, Zhu Di could always have asked Zheng He to keep an eye out and the ears open for news about the absconding emperor. So that was not a reason, nor was the Timur invasion a reason for the attack was aborted and Chu Ti would definitely have heard of Timur’s demise, in time.

A treasure ship 
Starting in 1405, six expeditions were launched and continued through the reign of Chu Ti. With Chu Ti’s mysterious demise, the expeditions stopped, though a final 7th voyage captained by Cheng Ho traversed SE Asia, circumvented South India and touched African shores, one last time. When the ships came back, they were without their admiral, for he had met his end, as they say, at Calicut in 1433. The voyages, their composition and the routes are covered in so many sources, so I will not get into them. But let us for a moment check again some of the remaining reasons. Why were they launched with much fanfare and expense, when the very same Chinese had already been trading with the very same countries for many centuries before the Mings? They had a tributary system in place with Maabar and Quilon, as well as many other countries since the Sung period (I had covered some of this in the Sha-mi-Ti mystery article

During the Sung period, foreign trade flourished under private management, and half of the government's revenue came in the form of returns from monopolies and excise taxes. As much as twenty per cent of the cash income of the state came from maritime trade. The Emperor even stated: The profits from maritime commerce are very great. If properly man- aged they can be millions (of strings of cash). Is it not better than taxing the people? Before the fall of K'ai-feng in 1127, thirty-five per cent of the tribute with trade missions came to China by land and sixty-five per cent by sea. After this date, all tributes came by sea. So you can imagine how important sea trade was to China in those times and this continued through the Yuan period.

Even before Kublai Khan’s regime, Maabar was considered a Chinese tributary. During the Yuan period, Yang Tingbi had been deputed in 1280 to secure Qulion’s participation, perhaps also some other kingdoms with ports such as Xincun matou (Punnaikayal). Later, several delegations were sent from China either to Maabar and Quilon and, in fact, tribute trade between South India and Yuan-China flourished – particularly between Quilon and China as attested, for example, by Ibn Battuta.

During the early Ming period, even though maritime commerce was an exclusive monopoly of the state, and they believed in a larger Chinese world, the state readily accepted the contributions of the Arabs and Hindus in the fields of astronomy, geography and navigation. Places like Calicut and Berawala were of "strategic" importance within the larger networks of fifteenth century emporia trading, whereas older locales such as Kayal only had a minor significance (Perhaps due to the silting up of coastal waters in the Tambraparni delta and a subsequent deterioration of harbor facilities). So one reason would have been to cement ties with the Calicut Zamorin after the rise of Calicut and its establishment as a port. That the Chinese were close by and observing all this, is clear with the Chaliyum activities, as previously discussed when I mentioned the Sha-mi-ti story. 

And so the trips continued, tributes were made, Zheng he and party came and went a few times, they meddled around with some local affairs, placed steles and promoted trade, got some ‘ponnadas’ now and then for Zhu di. Large numbers of people came and went with the treasure voyages, ambassadors went and came back presumably with stories of the magnificence of China, especially the Forbidden City. Many who studied these made mentions of immense expenses incurred in these voyages, with good returns due to the opening up and promotion of trade with China. The treasure ships came back laden with what the Chinese needed. Glue, Gum, Cobalt blue, pepper, spices, hides, wood and so on arrived, while silk, clothes, umbrellas (palm leaf type), paper currency left its shores to pay for the goods.

The ships themselves were not that much of a drain to the state as is widely believed. Of the 2342 ships ordered during 1403-12, some 62-94 were large treasure ships. Also, 249 older transport ships were converted to handle Ocean voyages in 1408. An ocean going ship in 1408 cost aproximately 1000 piculs of rice (375 taels). Considering the state revenue which was 30 million piculs of rice or approximately 200,000 taels of silver, this shipbuilding was not really a huge drain on the coffers (in 1408) as some scholars felt. But by 1410 floods arrived, accompanied by famines and plague and the decade which followed was a disaster period (some felt that the plague came with Zheng he’s ships return voyages). Deaths were numerous and Chu Ti responded with subsidies to farmers and reduction of taxes. From 30 million piculs of rice, the state revenue dropped to 20 million. But Chinese reputation suffered and the paper currency depreciated terribly. A thousand strings of 1000 paper cash which fetched 1000 taels of silver or 250 taels of gold during the Hung-wu (pre Chien Wen) era was now worth only 12 taels of silver or 2.5 teals of gold!

As the Chinese economy suffered, the Mongols in the north invaded and troubles in southern Annam (Vietnam) areas surfaced. Chu Ti moved the capital to Peking in 1421 and further away from the sea ports at a huge expense. Perhaps many of these voyages were also meant to bring in material and equipment for the new capital, but that is a topic we will revisit another day. The entire expense in creating this new capital, feting of other nations ambassadors and so on was frowned upon by Chu Ti’s bureaucrats while he was busy trying to shore up the country against the marauding Mongols in the North leaving his son Shan Chi in command at Peking. All government expense was slashed, travel was curtailed and the treasure ship voyages temporarily stopped. But the 6th voyage of Cheng Ho was already planned and there were embassies of 19 states waiting to go back home. As the Mongols attacked from the north, Hsia Yuan Chi, Chu Ti’s commerce minister protested, was jailed and his war minister killed. Chu Ti then set out on his 5th campaign to take charge of the battles personally.

On August 12, 1424, the 64-year-old Yongle Emperor Chu Ti died on the march back to Beijing, at Yumachuan, after a fruitless search for the fleeing Oirats. Some say he was frustrated at his inability to catch up with his swift opponents, and that he fell into a deep depression and illness, possibly owing to a series of minor strokes or as one mention states, elixir poisoning. Some accounts mention that the emperor was partially paralyzed and took potions laced with arsenic as a stimulant and may have been slowly dying of arsenic poisoning. The king who was famous for his one finger Ch’an (whenever Chu-Ti was asked anything, he would just raise one finger) was gone.

Shan Chi took over, reinstated Hsia Yuan Chi as finance minister, reduced taxes and brought about a series of austerity measures. All sea voyages were banned. All imports were stopped, so also purchase of horses and teak. But there was a problem with the large numbers of crews (some 200,000 of them) in Cheng Ho’s fleet. Shan Chi ordered Zheng He’s deputies to round up all those sailors and proceed to Nanjing and garrison the palace.

Cheng Ho had at this point of time been deputed on a special mission to Palembang, in order to confer a seal of office on the Ming appointed Chinese chief of that Sumatran city. He knew of his master’s death only after he returned. He was then placed in command of the Nanjing palace forces in 1425. The new king now decided to move the capital back to Nanjing but he died in the same year. The sailors were next put to work on repairing the palaces at Nanjing and the great tomb of Chu Ti. Later as the insurgence in Annam grew, many of these sailors were sent south to fight that battle, but as fate would have it, they were trapped and many were decimated. Some were deputed to the grain transportation barge service.

Cheng Ho continued to work on palace repairs with the remaining men, even requesting the new monarch that they be rewarded for their hard work, but got his wrists slapped for making frivolous requests. They were then commanded to complete the mausoleum for the empress Ma. Presumably many were frustrated about all this and a number of them dispersed, many retrained themselves for other jobs and thus the huge number of sailors of the great treasure voyages were soon mostly gone.

No more ships were built, for those shipwrights were no longer available, and the stores had no supplies of wood or other building material, by 1426. The techniques of constructing these massive ships had also been lost. In fact much of that wood was given to the people of Nanking in 1424, when there were fuel shortages, for a pittance. Many of the remaining 118,000 shipbuilders were moved in 1426 to Peking in order to build the mausoleum for the Hung-hsi emperor.

In 1430, the finance minister Hsia Yuan chi died and the new king finally sanctioned the last or 7th voyage. It took a year for Cheng Ho to get everything ready, and it was made up of reconditioned ships from earlier voyages and a few sailors Cheng Ho could find, plus a few new recruits. The voyage which set out in 1431 returned after two years, this time also touching new shores in Africa and the Middle East and Mecca. That Cheng Ho died in this voyage is clear, for in 1434, Wang Cheng was appointed to his post as chief supervisor of the department of ceremonials.

Cheng Ho as is reported, died at Calicut and was apparently buried at Niu-erh-shan outside Nanking. The ships were in Calicut in the last days of March and Mid-April 1433, so that was the time when he passed away. And with his demise, the death knell was sounded on the Ming voyages. The economy continued to deteriorate, the troubles in Annam became worse and the new emperor had to sue with them for peace. Up North, the Chinese lost to the Mongols and the Ming king was taken prisoner. And with all that, Ming China shuttered its gates, ports, and shores, effectively walling itself off from the outside world.

A dynamic era had come to a close….

People ask, what would have happened if Cheng Ho had to contend with the new entrants, the Portuguese, at the shores of Malabar? It is difficult to say, but with the information above, it is apparent that the contest would not have been one sided or fully in favor of the Chinese, but at the same time, the Portuguese would not have acted with impunity as they did, after 1498. 

The Cambridge History of China- Volume 7, the Ming Dynasty 1368-1644
Yuan and Early Ming Notices on the Kayal Area in South India – Roderich Ptak
The Emergence of China as a Sea Power during the Late Sung and Early Yuan Periods: Jung-Pang Lo
The termination of the early Ming naval expeditions (papers in honor of Prof Woodbridge Bingham) – Jung-Pang Lo
The Formation of Chinese Maritime Networks to Southern Asia, 1200-1450 - Tansen Sen
Cheng Ho and Timur – Any relation – Morris Rosabi
On the ships of Cheng Ho – Pao Tsen PAng

The Chien-wen reign name was belatedly restored by the Wan-li emperor in October 1595 as part of an abortive project to compile a history of the Ming dynasty. However, it was not until July 1644, 242 years later, that the Southern Ming ruler the Prince of Fu (Chu Yu-sung, d. 1646) assigned to the emperor the temple name Hui-tsung (Magnanimous Ancestor) and the posthumous name Jang Huang-ti (Abdicated Emperor). The latter honorific title was chosen in response to the popular belief that the emperor did not die in the palace fire, but willingly abdicated the throne in favor of his uncle in order to mitigate the general disaster of the civil war.

The Zheng He ships are a subject of much discussion, and their sizes vary greatly in different accounts. They were supposedly 44 chang long, 18 chang wide (1 chang=3.3mts) and built at Lungkiang near Nanking. Woodcuts of these ships show 4 masts, while some showed 3, but they were not complete records. General design notes stated that for every 10 chang length, two masts were required. Further studies by Pao Tsen Pang and others establish that the big ships should have had 9 masts and that the armada comprised many types of treasure ships. The pictures of the largest with more than 4 masts are not available.

The Rowther community

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On the origins and history of the Rowther Muslims

Ravuttar, Rowther, Ravuther

Most people from Palghat would recognize this community name, for a number of them are settled in various parts of the district. As a child, I would hear stories of them being remnants of Hyder’s and Tipu’s cavalry forces. If you recall these forces were camped around Coimbatore, Pollachi, Dindigul and thereabouts during their many forays into Malabar. Growing up in Koduvayur, I came across many Rowthers, mainly traders in and around Palghat. The Palghat community spoke a kind of Tamil signifying that they once belonged to Tamil regions and were not connected with the Malayali Moplah communities. OV Vijayan frequently mentioned them in his books, and even had a few characters in his famous Khasakinte Ithihasam (legends of Khasak). That reminds me, it is time for a reread of that great book, I have forgotten most of it.

Recently a student asked me details on the Rowther’s, and since it had been in my plans to cover them sometime, I got hold of a few interesting articles and papers, and was soon engaged in pursuit of the origins and development of this interesting community. It was a tricky subject for I could glean that the narrative was over time getting tailored by vested interests, tending towards irrelevant Turkic origins. Anyway, let us see how it all came about though one thing is amply clear, that the term Ravuttan came from the Tamil ‘irauttar’ meaning horseman or cavalry trooper and that they once belonged to the Tamil regions. As times progressed, the uniqueness of the community seems to have suffered and Thurston even defines it as a title used by the Labbais, the Marakkayars and Jonagan Muslims of the Coromandel (The reasoning is that during the 19th century many Tamil Muslims believed that any kind of martial ancestry gave them a superior status compared to a lowly trader or sailor).

As far as Tamil Muslims are concerned, the conversions and adaptions to Islam followed either out of trade or out of invasions. In the case of the Kayalars (Tarakanar - broker) and the matrilineal Marakkayars, the communities arouse out of intermingling with Arab traders at various sea ports such as Kayalpatanam and Kalakkadu. These Shafei School followers (though there are instances of Hanafi Marakkars) are better known to us, since a number of Marakkars graced Malabar history in later times. The low density Pattanis are Urdu speaking North Indian (also known as Dekhani – from Deccan) origin Muslims, while the Rowthers descended from Tamil Hindu communities which converted to Islam and later served as cavalrymen in the Nawab’s army. Many of the Pattanis went on to own land away from ports and classified themselves as Zamindars, living near their Sufi shrines or dargas.

Fanselow brings in an interesting dimension when he explains the origins of the Rowthers and the Tarakanars, he says they are people without a history, in that they lack any conventional, collective, standardized account of their origins, and possess only some vague and ambiguous legends purporting to be statements of their origin. But one thing was always clear, that they were once Hindus and they were Tamils who converted at some point in history, not from one caste, but from a wider spectrum of castes including Brahmins. Why they converted is also not clear, if it was caste reasons or due to saintly influences. Strange, but not so strange considering the above, is the fact that many of them preferred to support the DMK or AIDMK, rather than the Muslim league! The Marakkars and the Pattanis on the other hand always preferred to consider themselves non-Indian.

The Rowthers however insisted that they were just like any other Muslim and not influenced by caste claims such as foreign or first Muslims etc. in order to create separations or hierarchies. They started out as a client community, under the Pattanis and the Marakkayars descendants of the Nawab’s soldiers during the 18th century. Once the Nawab’s rule was replaced by the British, the Rowthers started to adopt new professions and moved to new regions. As the Madras presidency started reclassification, the Rowthers and Tarakanars were placed in the Labbai Tamil speaking category, while the others remained in an Urdu speaking category. From a strict point of view the Rowthers belong to the Hanafi sect, though they generally take no objections to marrying the Shafi sect Tarakanars. The Rowthers incidentally are called Appa Kootam while the Tarakanars are termed the Wapa Kootam, from the way their fathers are called. In a social level, the Rowthers stood between the Trakanar on the low end and the Pattani on the high end and both communities still carried some of their old Hindu beliefs and traditions.

JBP More contends that even during the time of the Hindu rulers in Tamilakam, the horsemen were known as Ravuta or Ravats and the term is seen in Tamil literature as early as the eighth century. It is also interesting to note that the earliest conversions in Madurai were carried out by Sufi saints and before the arrival of the Delhi Sultans. The terms used after the arrival of the Turkic sultans are as we know, Tulukan or Tulukar and until the 16rth century, there were just three categories, Tulukar, Ravuttar and Sonagar (Chongar or Yonaka). Note here that the Sonagars originally encompassed the Arab origin Labbais and Marakkayar communities and later on were associated only with the Marakkayars.

BA Beeran’s thesis however provides differing origins – he states (Citing Kamal’s book Muslimgalum Tamilagamum) “The Tamil speaking Muslims of central and south central areas of Tamil Nadu are understood as Rowthers. The ancestors of the Muslims of Rowther group were attached to horses. The wide utility of horses was not known to the people of Tamil country up to the medieval period. When the later Cholas and Pandyas understood the importance of horses of Arabia and their usage, they contacted Arab horse traders for the supply of horses. Accordingly, the traders brought horses in large number to the ports of Malabar, Konkan and Coromandel coasts. From there they were brought to interior parts of Chola and Pandya kingdoms. Along with horses, the Arabs arrived in Tamil Nadu as traders, agents, trainers, breeders and soldiers and settled down in the Tamil Kingdoms. They were also known as Kudirai chettigal. Some of them married Tamil women and converted Tamil population into Islam. In course of time, the descendants of the Arabs, offspring of the Arabs and the converts constituted a Muslim community which was named after their profession. Thus emerged the group called Rowthers among the Muslims of Tamil Nadu”. This as you may note contradicts the inferences of all other researchers.

He adds - Considering the territorial origin, the Rowthers are classified into a number of denominations which are named after their profession and areas from where they migrated to different parts of Tamil Nadu and settled down. Parimala Jamath, Puliyankudiyar, Eruthukarar, Vaigaikarayars, Nallampillayar, Musuriyar, Jambaikkars and Palakkad Muslims are the major denominations. The Parimala faction for example, migrated from Nagalapuram, Kovilpatti and Ettayapuram of Tirunelveli district to different pockets of Tamil Nadu are collectively named as Parimala Jamath (perfume trading). Puliyankudiyar were the migrants from Puliyankudi, a town in Tirunelveli district. Their origin was Karupatti a town located near Cholavandan, on the banks of river Vaigai. Being the migrants from banks of Vaigai they are styled as Vaigaikarayars. Those belonging to Eruthukarar group are seen in Tenkasi, Rajapalayam and Cumbum. The earlier generations of them were cattle breeders and traders through which they obtained the name Eruthukarar, a Tamil word meaning people dealing with Bulls. Members of this group living in Cumbum are understood as Rajapalayattar as they migrated from Rajapalayam. The Nallampillayar group is inhabited in Dindigul and Theni districts. Their ancestors belonged to Nallampillai village, located near Attur of Dindigul district. It was founded by Chinnakattiranayakan, Poligar of Kannivadi. In course of time a batch moved towards west and inhabited at Uthamapalayam, Cumbum and Gudalur, towns in Cumbum valley. They were basically agriculturalists.

The Muslim migrants from Musuri, a town of Karur district are called as Musuriyar. Their major settlements are eight in number located at Velvarkottai, Ilangakuruchi, Pillathu, Sittuvarpatti, Rajakkapatti, Puttanatham, Natham and Kovilur of Dindigul district. They have engaged in trade, professions and small scale industries. The Muslims who trace their origin from Ilayankudi and nearby areas to it in Sivagangai district claim themselves as Ilayankudiyars and they are found in Paramakudi, Chennai, Thiruchirappalli, Madurai, Poona and few towns of Karnataka and Kerala. They engaged in trade in leather, rice, grains and groceries in Burma and Malaysia before the Second World War. The Muslims hailed from Jambai, village located near Bavani town of Erode district are understood as Jambaikkarars. They are now inhabited at Erode, Avinasi, Mettuppalayam, Edappadi, Kothagiri and Conoor, they are engaged in leather, iron and jewelry business from 1970’s through which they have attained upper middle income status.

The Muslim migrants from Pothanur, Kuniyamutthur and fort area of Coimbatore and Pollachi are concentrated at Pudunagakaram, Tattamangalam and Kolinjamparai, towns of Palakkad districts of Kerala. . They are the Palakkad Muslims. Speaking Tamil they have flourished in rice, iron and real-estate business and maintained matrimonial links with the families of the places from where they migrated.

The Ravuttans of Madura and Trichinopoly believe that they were persuaded to change their religion by Nathadvali whose tomb exists at Trichinopoly and bears the date of his death 417 A.D. Among the Ravuttans there are also the Nagasurakkarar and the Vettilaikodikarar who yielded a place of honor at social functions to the members of the other sub-divisions. "Rabithu" in Arabic, ' Ravuth" in Telugu "Raw in Tamil, "Rahootha" in Sanskrit - all terms are titles connected with horse traders, cavalry soldiers, horse riding or training and this title was applied to all those who were connected with these activities; later it came to be retained by a section of Tamil speaking Muslims only.

Mohammed Raja’s research concludes the following - The well-known legend of the Siva Saint Manikkavasalgar of the eighth century A.D. is connected with the purchase of horses for the Pandya king. In that the Lord Siva who appeared in disguise as a horseman to protect Manickavasagar and he is called by the name Rawther ‘Lord Muruga is praised as Rawther by saint Arunagiri. Thus the term Rawthar was also being used as a title of respect and honor. Though the present day Rawther Muslims are without horses and activities connected with it, the title Rawther stayed among them and was faithfully followed to this day. There are many place names like Rawthamatham (Kallakurichi) Rawthanpatti (Kulithalai) Rawthan Vayal (Pudukkottai Dt) Rawthanpalayam (Thiruneiveli). These places might have been their early settlements or their stronghold. They remember their ancient trade and heroic valor in their marriage ceremonies and the bridegroom is conducted in procession on a horse.

Qadir Khan deals with the subject differently, showing that there had been much intermingling and misunderstanding during his times. He states ‘To this day, in the midst of whole areas peopled by Ravuttans, it is not uncommon to find single families of priests, preserving their original purity and enjoying the universal respect of the people around them. Like the Dakhnis these converted classes are as a rule Hanafites. Though Musalmans, they have naturally retained many of their original customs. The Ravuttans, as the derivation of the name from the Marathi Rava, ‘King’ and the Sanskrit ‘duta’ messenger signifies, were originally a class of cavaliers or horse-soldiers whose occupation was to look after and train horses. They seem to have been once largely employed in Tippu Sultan’s cavalry. They are mostly scattered in the Tamil districts, their centers being Melur and Palni in Madura, Pettai in Tinnevelly, and Pallapatti in Coimibatore. A great many of them live in the Vellore and North Arcot Districts, where however they have come under Dakhni influence to such an extent in dress, manners and even in language, that they form a separate class by themselves and are called 'Sahebmars'. The Sahebmars pretend to an Arabian descent like that of the Mappillai or the Marakkayars, but as Dr. Thurston puts it “their high nasal index and short stature indicate the lasting influence of short broad-nosed ancestors. The different sections of Ravuttans were converted at various times by missionaries who are venerated as saints and whose tombs exist to the present day. The most famous of these are the Nathad Vali (969-1039 A. p.) of Trichinoply, Syed Ibrahim Shahid (born about 1162 a. d.) of Srvadi, Sha-ul-Hamid (1532 to 1600 a. D.) of Nagore. The Ravuthans are a pushing and frugal not to say a parsimonious class. They have no dynastic longings or recollections like other Musalmans. They conduct the important trade in leather and do a great deal of the commerce of the country. Some of them earn a livelihood in making mats and in betel cultivation in both of which they are especially skillful’.

One thing I noted as I perused different accounts is the fact that while one expert stated that a community followed the Hanafi sect, the other would mention that they were actually Shafei. What this demonstrates is that there was some amount of intermingling over time and when they migrated to farther lands, the practices followed seems to have changed. One example is the case of marakkayars. While the studies in the Tamil ports showed that they were Shafeii, the studies of Mathur in Kerala mentions them as Hanafi’s. Similar is the case of Rowthers in Kerala, they belong to both sects and arrived at first in Palghat and Muvattupuzha, but spread all over now. The Palghat Rowthers are usually Shafei and seen in Pudunagaram, Kozhinampara, Koduvayur, Pudukode and Melrkode, and were traditionally weavers. It may also be noted that the Shafi Muslims in Travancore were termed as Methans.

Many Rowthers of Travancore adopted the Pillai surname and placed themselves above the Mappila. Interestingly a Rowther could walk through a Brahmin Agraharam, whereas a Tiyya or Ezhava was not allowed to! And they did not eat food cooked by an Ezhava or Tiyya! The old and established Rawther families even identified with a particular vamsam name which traces their Hindu origins. They celebrated the child’s first haircut, and the circumcision ceremony was according to Mattis, called Khatna ceremony (done in the old days by the barber – Ossan), rather than Sunnath. And like the Pattanis who were usually the moneylenders, some Rowthers also partook in this trade, accepting interest.

As far as migration to Kerala is concerned it is said that Pandyan persecution or post Nawab constraints led them to migrate, and they did, to Palghat, Trichur, Kottayam, Pathanamthitta and Quilon areas. Typical professions they adopted earlier were as butchers, frozen fish and meat vendors and petty vendors. Some of the Shafi Rowthers continued cloth weaving while others managed and indulged in Beedi manufacture. In Tamilnadu however, they excelled in trading dried lentils, betelnuts as well as beedi leaves and cloth. Known to have no qualms about travel, they were always shrewd businessmen.

As we saw earlier, the Kayalars had more slang in their Tamil and were Wappas while the Rowthers and Labbais were the Appas. For the Rowther, mother was amma, while it was Umma for the marakkar and brother was kaka for the Marakkar, while it was annan for the Rawther. Sister was raata for Marakkar while it was akka for Rowther. Grandfather was Appa for the Marakkar while it was tatta for Rowther.

And that brings us to the story of another demigod, the Muttal ravuttan, very much a part of the Draupadi cult of Tamilnadu, especially Gingee where the Ravuttan signifies a Muslim horseman, Draupadi’s guardian, and as Wendy Doniger puts it, ‘a folk memory of the historical figure of the Muslim warrior on horseback, whether he be the sufi warrior leading his band of followers or the leader of an imperial army of conquest’. At the Chinna Salem temple, the offerings to Muttal Ravuttan include marijuana, opium, cigars and Kollu (muthira – horse gram) for his symbolic white flying horse. The Muttal Ravuttan himself is known by many names, such as Muttal Rajputan (from Nepal), Muttal raja, Muttal Rajaputtiran etc. As the story goes, Muttal Ravuttan was born in Gingee. One night he had a dream in which Draupadi-amman told him that she would give him whatever he desired if he would sacrifice a pregnant woman to her. Muttal Ravuttan had a pregnant younger sister named Pal Varicai (Row of Teeth). He readied her for sacrifice, but Draupadi stopped him, thinking: "She is a woman like me." She praised Muttal Ravuttan's dedication, however, and told him that she would still grant him a boon. Whatever he thought of would be done; but he must give up his religion and come serve at her residence (i.e., her temple): "Serving at my feet, you can live with me." Muttal Ravuttan thus gave up his religion and came to serve Draupadi. Henceforth it was agreed that she would receive pure offerings of milk, flowers, vegetables, and fruits. And he would receive live sacrifices (uyirinankal paliyitutal; i.e., blood sacrifices) such as cocks, goats, and even humans. And Muttal Ravuttan, after he has apparently been tested by Draupadi in the dream that nearly brings him to sacrifice his pregnant younger sister, is told not to perform this rite before he "converts" to Draupadi's service as the guardian who accepts animal "and human" offerings. He thus gives up his mantravadi ways and his Muslim religion, but at the same time retains such traits, turning his "meat-eating'' religion and his magical gifts to the advantage of the "purer" Hindu deity whose grace now extends, in return, to include Muslims. There are many more versions, such as the Mutalakkani story where Muttal Ravuttan was the Muslim field general of a Hindu king named Muttala Maharaja of the North Indian kingdom of Muttalappuram who came over to serve the Pandavas when the king married his daughter Muttalakkanni to Dharma. Muttal Ravuttan did this because he had always been devoted to Muttalakkanni, and wanted to serve her until his death. So he also served the Pandavas as the guardian of the northern gate of their palace. Those interested in these myths and legends may refer to the two part work by Alf Hiletbeitel.

When they arrived in Kerala is not quite clear, but loose figures of different waves over 900 years are floated, some of them could have been the descendants of the Muslim soldiers who faithfully followed their Pandyan masters to Poonjar(1152 C.E) and Pandalam. Then again it is said that Raja Kesavadas invited them when Alappuzha port was formed, and during the later years (1799 - 1805), some Rowthers had to flee the religious persecution in the Polygar areas to settle down in the eastern parts of Kerala. Conversely, some Meenakshipuram Muslims also belong to the Ravuttar descendants of converts who served in the army of the Nawab of Arcot defending the area against neighboring Travancore in the early 18th century. There is also a strong belief that Ayyappan was a Vellalla and the close relationship enjoyed by the Rowthers and Velallas in the eastern districts of Kerala point to the possibility of Vavar being a Rowther Muslim. Their marriage symbol is a Thali (in the old days tied by the grooms sister), and are a patrilocal community

So that was a little journey into the past of the Rowther, a community which Fanselow stated had no history. Conjuncture put them as converted Hindus of Tamil Nadu, who originally served as cavalry to many kings. Over time, they migrated to various parts of S India, and Kerala as well. Today many of them are all well integrated into the vibrant Kerala Muslim community, dispersed into many occupations, and very well educated.

The disinvention of caste among Tamil Muslims – Frank S. Fanselow (Caste Today - CJ Fuller)
A handbook of Kerala Vol 2– T Madhava Menon
Social stratification among the Muslims of Kerala - PRG Mathur (Frontiers of embedded Muslim communities in India – Ed Vinod K Jairath)
The Political evolution of Muslims in Tamilnadu and Madras 1930-1947 - J.B.P More
Muslim merchants – Mattison Mines
The cult of Draupadi - Parts 1 & 2 – Alf Hiletbeitel
Muslims of Tamil Nadu and hajj pilgrimage to Makkah (Thesis) – Basheer Ahmad Beeran
Muslims of Tamil Nadu 712 to 1947 A D a study   - Jan, S F Naseem
Muslim politics in Tamilnadu 1906_1947 (Thesis) - Nazeer Ahamed, M
Maritime activities economy and social customs of the Muslims of Coromandel Coast 1750-1900 (Thesis) - Mohamad, J Raja
South Indian Mussalmans – Qadir Hussain Khan
Islamisation and Muslim Ethnicity in South India - Mattison Mines (Man, New Series, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Sep., 1975), pp. 404-419)
Islam in Tamilnadu: Varia TORSTEN TSCHACHER (In German)
People of India – Kerala – Vol XXVII, Ed KS Singh, (Rowthers D Tyagi)