Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Old Malabar

A mosque in the Malabar Coast in the period 1919-1929. Note the traditional architecture very similar to any other structure in the region. The influx of money from the Gulf replaced these with the dome structure,  removing a big cultural legacy that was essentially a trademark of the integration of the Mappila community into the society in Kerala.

Looks like a muslim village by the riverside.. Above ankle dressing and bearded figures.

Malabar Coast Hindoos.
From a military officer's collection dated 1800-1899. See a domed structure in the distant background? What could that have been?

Het Vader onse in de Malabaerishe tale en letteren.

Het Vader onse in de Malabaerishe tale en letteren. (1672)
Old Malayalam script I guess.

Naauwkeurige beschryvinge van Malabar en Choromandel,  ... (Frontispiece)

This is what google Dutch - English translation could tell me ( why dutch ? - guessing from the era ;) )
Accurate to describe and Coromandel Malabar, of adjacent ryken yourself, and the mighty land Ceylon ... Together with a detailed discovery and searched and grondigh wederlegginge afgoderye of the East India Heyden. Where inne der yourself largest geheymenissen, so Uyt the eygene writings, as t'zamenspraak and bywooninge of the principal Brahmins, and other Indian law scholars, faithfully been kicking revealed, being here by gevoeght a Malabar Australian voice constable; very dienstigh for all who desire it being countrymen to go ... By Philip Baldaeus
The man in the full dress looks like an Arab. Can anyone figure out what this is?

A large draught of the MALLABAR COAST from bassalore to cape comaroone
  A large draught of the MALLABAR COAST from bassalore to cape comaroone
Map of Malabar  1702 ( This gives a good overview of how people in those days felt the distances. Notice the comparitive distances between the towns )

A chart of the Coast of Persia, Guzarat & Malabar.

:  A chart of the Coast of Persia, Guzarat & Malabar.


(Note here the intense knowledge of multiple towns on the coastal areas while almost no awareness of any of the inner regions and the assumed sizes of the tiny coastal islands.)

Photos: Courtesy New York Public Library Digital Archive
1.  Low Resolution Files (Only Non-Commercial Uses Allowed).  Materials downloaded from the NYPL Websites may only be used for personal, educational, or research purposes.  They may not be used for commercial purposes.  

Monday, April 12, 2010

Islam in Kerala : A study - Part 1

This is the first post in a series on the history of Islam in the state of Kerala and its growth and existence over the years. This study intends to analyze the socio-cultural, political and economic aspects of the community and present the reader an overview of the journey of the Mappila community throughout the ages. Some of the main areas of focus are:
  • Origins of the Mappilas, arrival and growth
  • Overview of the society they landed into
  • Stages of Mappila history and conditions that distinguish them
  • Reasons behind acceptance of Islam into the society
  • Demographics over the ages and reasons for regional variations
  • Growth of superstitions into the community
  • Relations with other communities over the ages
  • Contribution to resistance against foreign invasions
  • Cultural contributions to arts and literature
  • Contribution to economic growth of the land
  • Setbacks over the ages and reasons behind them
  • Importance of the community at a national and international level
Overview of Kerala

The strip of land covering the present day state of Kerala has maintained a unique cultural and historical identity over the ages, due to its unique geographic position and the nature of its territorial boundaries. The hilly terrain across its eastern borders has prevented major land invasions into its territory though a few instances have occurred over the ages. The terrain also made trade difficult between the region and Northern parts of India though travellers, saints and scholars have overcome the geographical barriers to come to the land.[1]The vast coastal belt on the southern end of the subcontinent on a major sea route developed it as a major destination for maritime trade and commerce. Close commercial relations with maritime traders from across the world brought its population closer to the people in these trading nations than the rest of modern day North India. In days without modern satellite maps, Malabar was regarded as a distant land from North India, as evident in this description in Khazain Al-Futuh by Amir Khusrau of Alauddin Khilji’s attempt to reach the South : [6] There remained Ma‘bar, which is so far away that from the city of Delhi. that with all the speed possible one has to travel for a full twelve months to be able to reach there…” This distance can also be felt from the fact that during the Portuguese invasions, help was requested from and provided to the Malabar and Gujarat by kingdoms as far as the Mamluk Sultans of Egypt and Ottoman Caliph but no mention can be seen about the Mughal Empire (then at the peak of its power) coming to the aid of these states[5].

Ancient Kerala had very strong trade relations with Rome and Alexandria.According to Strabo, by the time of Augustus, up to 120 ships were setting sail every year from Myos Hormos ( A Red Sea port in Egypt) to India:[2] I learned that as many as one hundred and twenty vessels were sailing from Myos Hormos to India.The destinations of these ships can be assumed to be Kerala and Gujarat as described in Periplus [3]:Then come Naura and Tyndis .. and then Muziris and Nelcynda.(Naura is believed to be Kannur, Muziris somewhere near Kodungalloor ,Tyndis - Ponnani/Thondi and Nelcynda-Kollam).

The trade was mostly in spices like pepper and ginger. So valuable were the spices from Kerala, that in AD 408,when the Goth Alaric invaded Italy, the ransom for Rome was negotiated to 3000 pounds of pepper alongside 5000 pounds of gold and a couple of other items.[4] In the Middle Ages, there was a French saying, 'As dear as pepper' and the spice used to be an accepted currency in Medieval Europe. Aramco World has an interesting article about the story of pepper. The importance of this in Mappila history is very significant, because after all, it was for trade monopoly in pepper that the Portuguese came to Calicut and destroyed a beautiful way of life built over the centuries in Kerala.

Part two of this series can be found in Story of Islam in Kerala - Part 2.

  1. Pg 2 "A Survey of Kerala History" - A Sreedhara Menon,S Vishwanathan Publishers, 2006 Ed
  2. “The Geography of Strabo published in Vol. I of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1917”.
  3. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, 53-54
  4. Pg 177, History of the later Roman Empire from the death of Theodosius I to the death of Justinian, Volume 1 - J. B. Bury - Courier Dover Publications, 1958
  5. Pg 52, 92 - Tuhfat Al Mujahideen (Nainar 2006)- narrates an incident related to the Emperor Akbar's ships being captured by the Portuguese, but does not talk anywhere about a direct appeal or at least hope that he would come to the aid of Malabar. The author only prays that may Akbar drive them out of Gujarat.
  6. Pg 63, Handbuch der Orientalistik(Handbook of Oriental Studies.), Volume 4, Issue 1 By Annemarie Schimmel, Jan Gonda, BRILL, 1980 (NB:The assumption of Ma'bar to be Malabar by the author looks like a typo or a misunderstanding, since Ma'bar was another kingdom near Madura. The analysis of the distance though stays relevant to our context)