If you say ‘ Calicut ‘ today, even in Kerala, people would look at you with patriotic eyebrows raised. The name has been changed, man. Kohikode (pronounced kohikod by the touts at the bus stations looking for passengers) would be a more acceptable nomenclature. However, if you are a student of Indian history and more precisely colonial Indian History, there is no way you could have escaped the town Calicut. This town and the area around has seen all those those bearded White Men with their sailing ships descending by the dozens on the pristine sandy beaches. And before that the bearded Arabs in their Dhows and before that the bearded Romans coming in for the spices? and in between the Africans (not bearded. Have you seen a bearded African?) brought along by the Arabs. Just about everybody came here except perhaps the Eskimos.
TheBlueDrive is a travel diary, not an expedition to explore the history of the country. We therefore need to be humble and stick to our brief (without foregoing the right to record and comment on what we see). What we see is mostly the following:
Fishing Harbors. Lighthouses. Seaside Forts. Temples, Mosques and Churches (with an occasional Synagogue thrown in) , Food, plant and animal life, more particularly Bird life, Monuments not attached to any religion ( which is very rare in this country) and a few other things that one sees whilst travelling.
KOHIKODE (Calicut) seems to have a little of everything and much more- a very distinctly superior air of historical importance.
We start on 1st of January from a disastrous celebration of the New Year at Mahe and drive down southwards to look at a fishing harbor at Chombal in Kohikode district. A protected fishing harbor and quite a busy place, despite it being 1st of January.We have a look around and check on the retail prices. The prices are dictated by the fish species which works against the fisherman. If a trawler has a bumper catch of the low-value fish like the red one below would be a disadvantage as compared to another one which has a lean catch of high value fish.
It has a monument to Fishermen. I don’t remember having seen any such monument except one at Alibaug in Maharashtra where we have a woman selling fish sculpted. It is unfortunate that the birds have been misusing the monument. They do it everywhere.The fisher folks deserve a better deal than these small monuments.
The Google map shows a small island called Chombala Rock Island. The fisher folks did not seem to have any knowledge of it or could not understand what we were talking about. We decided to drop the subject after some discussions.
We move on and drive south with a view to have a look at Kunjali Marakkar’s place which is at Iringal with a complex geography created by the River Kuttiyadi meeting the sea and creating several islands at its mouth. This would be extremely helpful in honing the navigational skills of the Marakkars. But for us , things are not made easy by the winding roads and the crossings of Indian Railways’ track.
Kunjali Marakkar is a title, not the name of a person. There were four of them. The origins of the followers or these seafarers are shrouded in mystery but were probably Arabs or Egyptians who had settled down around Kochin. The Portuguese drove them up north to Calicut where the Zamorin, the Samoothiri Raja welcomed them in the kingdom and made their leader the Admiral of his fleet.
The museum is maintained by the Department of Archaeology of the Kerala State. That explains too many people there and very little content.
Of late, there are many public places have been disallowing photography inside the premises. This establishment is one of them and we do not have pictures of what is displayed which is not much.
Indian Navy has erected a monument in respect of the Marakkars on the premises.
Notwithstanding the poverty of the museum in terms of contents, this small museum has a small garden with a number of beautiful flowering plants which are not deprived of the privilege to be photographed.
The people at the Museum are very friendly. They have a small function arranged ( perhaps to celebrate the new year) to which a couple of local political leaders are invited. We are asked to join. A cake is cut and when long speeches in Malayalam start We excuse ourselves and proceed to the Kunjali Marakkar mosque, of course after eating our pieces of the cake and having the tea.
Here one should remember a few things. The Zamorin was a Hindu King, the Marakkars were Muslims. Their alliance was one of convenience which did not last long. The Zamorin aligned with erstwhile enemies including the Portuguese. The alignment fell apart but the Marakkars continued fighting the Portuguese. The last of them is said to have been captured by the Portuguese and beheaded in Goa. I need to learn more about it but the young man at the museum showed me this picture as as the reference for Goa episode in this part of the history.
History in depth, as I said earlier, is not the brief of this travel. However we keep on driving into history. The mosque of the Marakkars is close by the Museum. It is not very difficult to reach it but unfortunately there is not much information available. I repeat for the nth time that we Indians are not good at recording and preserving our past. No, not at all.
Anyway the mosque looks like this:
By now we have seen almost all the olden mosques ( 500+years or older) ,and this must be the northernmost built in the Kerala architectural style without the Arabic Minars.
This does not appear to be the original construction, especially the roof which has the Mangalore tiles which appeared on the scene much later in the history.
More about these early mosques of Kerala and Tamilnadu in a later post.
Now, we want to have a look at the mouth of the river Kuttiyadi as it is preparing to drain into the Arabian ocean. And here it is. This is beginning of the beauty of Kerala backwaters, just the beginning:
At the place where the river meets the sea, the waters should be rich in minerals. The banks of the river are farmed for large quantities of shells for commercial use.
Whilst on the coast and before we get back to the Highway, we decide to have a look at the Cuddalore Lighthouse. We are mis-directed to several places on account of our not understanding Malayalam and even those places were beautiful even in their collapse.
Now we move on we with great difficulty on the narrow winding roads and somehow reach the Cuddalore Lighthouse passing an Islamic Academy on the way.
The lighthouse is closed and we can take some pictures from outside the gate..
I have decided to become a Buddhist with immediate effect because that entitles me for a rebirth. Modern religions like Islam and Christianity do not offer this facility as of now. They should have a re look at their policies. There is a big demand in this sector.
My application for becoming a Buddhist will be accompanied by an application for employment at a Lighthouse. I guarantee you there is no better employment than that. Take my word for it. I am saying this after visiting a very large number of lighthouses. These guys enjoy their life! Ask them what they do the whole day!!
We move on or drive on, to be precise. We pass by the road to Payyoli, P T Usha’s hometown and reach Calicut. Payyoli Express- do you remember?
By an error we booked ourselves at a hotel which is far away from the city. This happened because the same hotel has another property in the city. The place where we are put up is quite far from the town and nearer the airport.
This place is supposed to have a Bird Sanctuary nearby which led us astray. Birds in Kerala are called berds. Please note. You should not be surprised as even the God is called Goad, to rhyme with boat and Goat. So the God’s Own Country should be Goad’s Own Country, to reflect the reality.
So the first thing we do after check-in in is to go for the Berd Sanctuary. It is located on two sides of a railway track and there are hardly any berds there. Instead we find the boys collecting shellfish which is a better way of spending time than watching berds. You can also watch the Fiddler crabs in the creek.
What next? Lighthouse, of course. One should have proper knowledge of places where one seeks employment in the next birth and therefore a visit is a must.
The Lighthouse we reach is called Beypore Lighthouse. Its location is not in Beypore. Beypore is across a creek and one needs to drive quite a bit to reach there. We will do it tomorrow.
We start the second day from the old Calicut town. These towns are typical. They have history written all over. Calicut (Kozhikode) port-side has that charming character. Very narrow pre-motorcar streets, each having its own purpose or trade which has now become redundant.
We are looking for the very old Masjids located in the old town. Using the Google map we drive into a street which can be used by one car at a time. We stop the entire traffic with everyone cursing us.In desperation we drive into the compound of a house by the roadside. Once we are in, the owner assures me that there is no way I can drive the car back on to the road.Impossible!!! We have to cut it into pieces to take it out.
I put together all my driving skills and expertise to move around. The entire mohalla of this Muslim locality has gathered to watch the fun. The kids are keenly watching. At last after about 20 minutes of acrobatics we get out of the place and drive back on to the main road. Once on the main road, it is a simple drive to the Masjid. Lesson: dont trust the Google maps to much at the micro level. The map does not know the one-way streets, the closed roads, the bridges which has recently collapsed etc. We have, in the last 5 months of travels , faced all these.
Now the Masjid or the Mosque. Actually there are three of them.
The first one is the most famous and the biggest. It is called the Mishkal Mosque, named after the person who built it. Nakhuda Mishkal was an Yemeni merchant who had settled down in Calicut. ‘Settled down’ can be interpreted as having a ‘family’ here. If you are surprised by the nationality ‘Yemeni’, you need to do a bit more of reading on the subject. The Hadramaut coast of Yemen has had a long connection with India.’ Hadramis’, as they are called have formed part of the armed forces of a number of Indian kings and princes, not necessarily Muslims. Their employers include the Gaekwads of Baroda and and , hold your breathe, the Peshwas of Pune.
Let me get back to the matter at hand.The Masjids. Here is the Mishkal Mosque.
Kerala is perhaps the only place where the local architecture prevailed over the one which followed in the wake of the new Gods and new beliefs from the west. The influence of the temple architecture is unmistakable here. The absence of the minars is a Fashion Statement.
And here we meet Mohammed Ali.
‘ What are you looking for?’ he.
‘Old Mosque, the Mishkal Mosque.’ I
‘Come let me show it to you’
He takes us back to the place and brings us back to the pond which is opposite the Masjid and which I thought is a part of the Masjid complex.
. ‘This is much older, older than the mosque.’ and continues.
‘But there are two more masjids, older than this one’
‘Yes. Let me show them to you since you have come all the way from Pune’
It so happens that these Masjids follow a chronology in their history. The one we saw was built in the 15th Century AD.
There are two others in the same locality one each built in 14th and the 13th century. The problem is not much is known about them. The first one was built by Nakhuda Mishkal. The other two might have been built by other Nakhudas. ‘Nakhuda’ in Arabic means the captain of the ship which most of the time doubled up as the Owner of the ship and the trader as well.
Here are the pictures of the Kattichira Jama Palli (14th Century) and the Muchundipalli ( 13th century), respectively. I am not able to comment on them except that their architecture is one hundred per cent local and has no Arabic influence except perhaps in the location of the Mihrab and other essentials inside the Mosque.
Muchundipalli here. It is difficult to get an overview of these monuments as they are in the densely populated areas.
The subject of these Masjids will recur in this blog as it is an integral part of the history of coastal India. For the time being let me thank Mohammad Ali for taking us to the two other masjids which we would not have seen but for him. He is a retired accountant and works as an amateur guide here. He does not have a cellphone.
From here we move on the more contemporary places. The Kohikode beach which has a number of young people and many things to eat. The boys in the picture below asked us to send their photographs to them and gave us incorrect e-mail Ids.
The things to eat include Quail’s eggs.
And it also has a lighthouse. I am not sure if it is functional but it seems to have been painted recently.
We come out from here are advised to visit Kappad beach. Kappad is known as Kappadkadavu and is the place where the great Vasco da Gama of Portugal is supposed to have set his feet for the first time on the Indian soil. We did not find any signs of it, neither did we find any reasons for him to land at this place. He or his fleet might have just been blown away by the winds.
In this search for the past we did not find much time for the present of the city. We had to move on after visiting a temple in the city.
We had to give a miss to the two of the museums in the town as they were closed on the days we were in there.
Calicut’s people are very enterprising and intelligent. They are also very innovative.
Text & pictures by Suryakiran Naik – firstname.lastname@example.org
& pictures by Mrs. Veena naik