CITYSCAPE How Kannanparamba won favour to be a cemetery
(A weekly column on the region’s past culled from historical documents.)
Kannanparamba is the final address of many notables in this city. The century-old cemetery for the Muslim community borders the beach and is now spread over 13 acres. History shows that obtaining this final resting place was quite a task for the administrators. In the late 19th century, when cholera, plague and smallpox spewed death in this coastal town, letters from district administrators touched upon the need to have burial grounds away from the mosque compound. Shallow graves around the mosque were a grave sanitary concern.
Though one letter mentions that Kannanparamba was bought by the government in 1862 to be used as a cemetery, nothing concrete happened till the mid-1890s. The 1895 letter from S. Swaminatha Iyer, Deputy Collector and Magistrate, to H. Moberly, the acting Collector of Malabar, is elaborate and seven pages long. He mentions the “closing of the existing Moplah grounds in the town of Calicut and locating them in sites selected by the Municipal Council.”
The Council had narrowed in on two sites, one in “Minchanda” and the other in Elephant Lines, to cater to the residents in different parts of Kozhikode. Elephant Lines more or less got a clean chit, but Kannanparamba was accepted after much deliberation. Iyer in his letter mentions the meeting he and the Municipal Chairman had with the members of the Muslim community. Though the Muslim gentlemen had “no objection to the proposal that burials within the compound of several mosques in town being discontinued”, they were “averse to take the corpses to the Minchanda, the site now proposed by the Municipal Council.”
A new option
Since Meenchanda was too far away for the residents of southern and eastern parts of Kozhikode for whom it was meant, the Muslim community and the officials agreed on Kannanparamba. “Kannaparamba which is now used for the burial of paupers dying on the roadside and in the hospital be used as the place of sepulchre of the moplahs that is the south of the Big Bazaar Street which constitutes the main portion of the moplah population of the town,” Iyer writes.
Before the other burial grounds were closed, the community representatives wanted Kannanparamba to be walled. They also wanted a wall to “be erected right across the middle of it from East to West to divide the site into two portions — one for the use of the opulent and the respectable moplahs and the other for the poorer classes.” In addition, they asked for a prayer space and a tank.
The Deputy Collector pitched hard for Kannanparamba. “As already stated many of the objectionable shallow graveyards are on the southern side of the bazaar street and if they are closed absolutely and the Kannanparamba is selected as a burial ground the danger to the health and safety of the town may be considered to have been greatly minimised,” he writes. But Iyer knew getting approval for Kannanparamba would not be easy as the space fell within the town limits and also had a few houses and wells. He made his case vehemently. “I have been all over the town with the Chairman and cannot find a more suitable site taking all things into consideration.”
To win the approval of the sanitary authorities, he even suggests “securing a clear belt of not less than 100 yards width all around free from habitations or wells.”
Iyer’s letter is an exhaustive one with attention paid even to Kannanparamba’s capacity to hold bodies. “Total number of moplahs who died in 1893-94 is 932 and it may be assumed that two-third of the number or 620 persons may have died in C, D and E division for whom the Kannanparamba is intended.” He draws up a plan with each grave measuring six feet by four. The graves in his representation are separated by two feet and there is also a three-foot-wide pathway on either side of the grave. “The ground will accommodate 4035 graves and will last for nearly seven years.” Though the ground measured a little over five acres then, Iyer suggests extensions in the future. The Collector also endorses Kannanparamba.
The letter from W.G. King, acting Sanitary Commissioner from Madras, to the Chief Secretary, Local and Municipal Department, has the ambiguities Iyer and the Municipal Chairman feared. Though he calls Kannanparamba a “judicious” choice, “the scattered houses and wells” on three sides of the property bother him. Worried about the sanitary conditions, he writes, “It would be essential to remove entirely the huts between the site and the sea.” To protect the houses in the South, he mentions the Collector’s idea of building a trench to help drain subsoil. “No hut should exist within 100 yards of the nearest grave and 300 yards of the nearest well as a minimum and by no means completely satisfactory requirement,” he writes.
From then on, confusion marks the official correspondence. Many options are mulled over including buying the adjoining land or even getting another strip of land nearer to the sea. An order from the Madras government asks the officials to give a clearer picture.
After drawing up estimates, the officials say buying an alternative piece of land will be more expensive than Kannanparamba with some extension. Finally, the Under Secretary’s letter in 1896 approves Kannanparamba. Instead of incurring expenses, he suggests “for the present the strip lying between the site and the foreshore is secured, and this, the council should accordingly take steps to carry out.” Later documents show the burial ground was gradually extended.
Source: Regional Archives Kozhikode