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Kunhali Marikkars: myth and reality

IS THE popular image of Kunhali Marikkars as valiant admirals of Zamorins who routed the Portuguese only a myth? K.J. John Ochanthuruth, Head - Department of History, University of Calicut, believes it is.

Kunhali Marikkars are believed to be the naval chieftains of Zamorins of Calicut in the Sixteenth century.

It is also recorded that the "Marikkar dynasty" fought 100 years of relentless war against the Portuguese.

In historical treatises they are treated as Kunhali 1, Kunhali 2, Kunhali 3 and Kunhali 4 in succession who served under the powerful Calicut Zamorin until they became "overgrown subjects" of their masters and were wiped out by the Portuguese through his connivance.

Disproving beliefs

Talking to The Hindu , Dr. Ochanthuruth claimed his research findings disproved the popular beliefs about Kunhali Marikkar.

According to Dr. Ochanthuruth, "the traditional view of Kunhalis as patriots supporting feudal lords like the Zamorin needs to be corrected.

In the light of Kunhali Marikkar's own actions and Shayk Zaynuddin's statements, it is clear that they wanted an Islamic Principality in their own Malabar. (Shayk Zaynuddin was an Arab scholar who lived in Ponnani).

"After 1600 when the Kunhalis were almost silenced by the Zamorin through a political operation with the help of the Portuguese, the Muslim religious leaders in Malabar elevated Kunhali Marikkar as a cult figure for having attempted to unite the Muslims belonging to different ethnic groups and established their identity on the basis of an Islamic dream as visualised by Shayk Zaynuddin.

"This is the starting point of Muslim fundamentalism and communalism in South Malabar, later described by Ines and Evans as "fanatic zone," he says in his paper presented at an international seminar on `The Portuguese and Kunhali Marikkars - myth and reality'.

"My attempt in this paper is to trace the truth about the origins, growth and struggles of the Marikkar family. Most of the Portuguese sources treat the Marikkar as enemies. Shayk Zaynuddin, an Arab scholar of Ponnani, in his Tuhfat-ul Mujahidin, states that the Marikkars had turned against the Portuguese only by 1524.

According to Dr. Ochanthuruth there is a big gap in historiographical literature about Kunhali Marikkar from 16th to the present century. Till the publication of Malabar and the Portuguese in 1929 by Sardar K.M. Panikkar, there was no serious writing on the Kunhali Marikkars except a few ballads.


Dr. Ochanthuruth's views contradict the opinions of well-known and highly rated historians Sardar K.M. Panikkar, A.V. Krishna Ayyar and O.K. Nambiar.

He also questions claims that Marikkars were Mappila Muslims (Mappilas are children of Arabs married to Malabar women), and contends there is no evidence to support the belief that Marikkars lived in Pantalayani - Kollam, then in Tikkodi and then in Kottakkal, which was their last headquarters.

"Available evidence suggests Marikkars were of Tamil origin and many of them were Parathava converts from Coramandel," Dr. Ochanthuruth claimed.

By R. Madhavan Nair

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