Whither goeth the Porlathiri?

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The Bayanor of Cartinaad, or the Ballanore Burgarie…

In a previous article, we covered the highlights of the Zamorin’s tussle with the Porlathiri and the annexation of Polanad, which locale by the way, is more or less today’s Calicut. We also mentioned that the Porlathiri fled to the Kadathanad region. Many questions continue to be asked about the Kadathanad raja, and so I thought it best to add a bit more about him. I did touch upon it while penning the Tatcholi Othenan article, for Othenan from that area. And so, we go to Kadathanad, searching for answers on the later life of the Porlathiri, who had once been the lord of the seas.

Battle of Calicut - 1502

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A Turning Point

The people who sailed and commanded the battleships for the Zamorin, used for fighting the Portuguese were a misunderstood lot. While the Portuguese and other Western scribes collectively grouped them under the heading Moors, current writers tended to group them under the Moplahs or Mappila community. The reality is far from the truth. The original seamen who commanded the small fighting craft were Pardesi Arabs and as time went by, the rice trading Marakkayars from the Tamil regions of Kayal, with their own customs and traditions, those who had moved from Kayal near Tuticorin first at Cochin and later Ponnani and Badagara, took command after the Pardesi Arabs had either been driven away or drifted. While we can discuss the change in command and the control structure of the Zamorin’s naval forces in more detail another day, we will spend some time now covering the very important sea battle of 1502, one that proved detrimental in ensuring Portuguese ascendancy of the seas.

Diego Garcia – Indian connections

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Diego Garcia - A remote island, in the middle of nowhere

South of the Maldives, some 1,000 miles below Trivandrum, located at the center of the Indian Ocean, lies the small archipelago comprising the Chagos islands, and among it, the Island cloaked in mystery, Diego Garcia. It is of strategic importance these days and occasionally there is talk about its displaced islanders and the island’s relationship between the US and the British, the US military base there as well as the US long-term lease of the islands. But this is a little article uncovering its medieval history and its relation to India.

Mangat Achan – The Zamorin’s Commander in Chief

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An important dignitary in the Zamorin’s court

Even though most people familiar with the Zamorins know of the Manghatachan, very few know of any details other than some hazy mentions and a few myths. It is still not clear, but drawing from various sources, we can get a general picture. Recall also that while the Zamorin was a titular position provided to the senior-most Thamburan in the various Zamorin lines, the governance was quite decentralized through the council of ministers, as well as the heir apparent, the Eralpad, and others. Though some Zamorins directly led military attacks in the ancient past, the Eralpad and the Munalpad were usually the ones who were at the front lines. Though the Zamorin gave any strategic event his final stamp of approval, he was, during such times, physically based at the Ponnani Kovilakom, another fact which many overlook, assuming that his primary seat was always at Calicut.

Othenan – The Supreme Warrior of Kadathanad

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Tatcholi Othenan – As narrated in the Ballads of the North

The Northern ballads (Vadakkan pattukal) are a series of folk songs sung by working women in the paddy fields, to fend away boredom and drudgery, composed mainly in colloquial North Malabar Malayalam dialects, without complex Sanskrit infusions. Typically, these are songs about the heroes of the Kadathanad region, especially their armed exploits, and the skill shown using the 18 plus combat techniques learned from their Kalaris. In general, it is believed that the Tatcholi ballads were composed during the 16th and 17th centuries (the Puthuram Aromal ballads are believed to date to an earlier, period, perhaps closer to the 12th century). Over time, many of the ballads were lost, with changes in social structure, lifestyles, and cultivational methods. Tatcholi ballads as they were called, remained in the popular sphere, and close to a hundred of them are still extant, so also a few on the Aromal Chekavar.

The Moothan Community in Kerala

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The Moothan, Guptan, Mannadiar and Tharakan communities

The Moothans are a trading or Vaishya community, migrants from the Tamilakam of yore, comprising broadly, the Moothan, Mannadiyars, Guptans, and the Tharakan subgroups. A decade ago, a classmate of mine, Mr Aravindakshan, provided me the gist of a legend connected to the arrival of the Moothans at Cheranadu, after having to depart Cholamandalam, in a huff. It was quite an interesting story, but after I found more details in the copy of an old book, I decided to narrate the details here, for there could be broader interest in this community and their links to the Tamil trading world.