Is there a Jew Street in Kozhikode? Yes, says a team of the Calicut Heritage Forum, engaged in studying history of the region. The team has claimed to have found evidence pointing to existence of a Jew Street.
Presence of Chinese and Arabs in Kozhikode centuries ago is known. But not much is known about Jews, leave alone the existence of a Jew Street. Acting on a tip-off from Toufeek Zakariya, a Kochi-based history enthusiast, about the existence of a Jew Street, the forum launched a search.
After nearly one week, the team got information that there does indeed exist a small locality called Jootha Bazar (Jootha is Malayalam for Jew) in the heart of the Thekkepuram region between Kuttichira and Idiyangara.
There indeed are some indications in some records about the presence of Jews. When the Geniza papers were deciphered, it became known that a Jewish trader, Abraham Yiju, had once purchased spices from Panthalayini-Kollam (Fandaraina) around 1120 AD.
Almost 200 years later, Franciscan Friar Odoric of Pordenone visited Panthalayini and commented about the Jews there and their conflict with the Christians.
The members of the Calicut Heritage Forum reported that “walking down from Miskal Mosque heading south, one road leads east and turns south again towards Idiyangara. There are a few shops on this street and this place is now called Jootha Bazar or Jew Street”.
Local people had different explanations for the origin of the name. An elderly person said perhaps the origin could be traced to mothers calling their naughty offspring “children of Jews” as a curse.
A more plausible explanation was that it was just possible that the location of the present Jew Street was once a flourishing market run by the Jews, like Silk Street and Gujarati Street.
C.K. Ramachandran, convener, Calicut Heritage Forum, said considering the evidence about the presence of the Jews and the Chinese in Kozhikode, many wonder if there was some similarity in the sudden disappearance of the two communities.
Chinese Admiral Zheng He made his last voyage to Kozhikode in 1433 (he died during this voyage). Abdul Razzak, a merchant traveller who visited Kozhikode nine years later, noted that the trade had already shifted from the east to west.
Recent research has revealed that Emperor Yong-le, who deputed Zheng, had already decided to shift his trade relations from Kozhikode to the newly emerging Cochin, prompted perhaps by the pressure on Chinese traders from the Arab trading monopoly.
There is not much record of the Jewish presence in Kozhikode after the 15th century.
Pereira de Paiva, a Dutch Jew of Portuguese origin, who visited Cochin in 1686 on behalf of the Amsterdam Jewry, reported that there were 465 Malabar Jew families, all in and around Cochin.
It is likely that along with the Chinese traders, the Jewish traders of Kozhikode also migrated to Cochin.
It is most likely that the Jewish traders in Kozhikode belonged to the Black Jews (the original tribes who has been trading from the days of Solomon).
The White Jews, descendants of Spanish, Portuguese, and Iraqis, arrived on the Malabar coast much later in the 16th century.