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Vasco da Gama set foot at Koyilandy not Kappad, says historian

Nidhi Surendranath
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The Vasco da Gama memorial at Kappadnear Kozhikode.— File Photo
The Vasco da Gama memorial at Kappadnear Kozhikode.— File Photo

“Vasco-da-Gama landed here, Kappkadavu, in the year 1498,” says an inscription at the Vasco-da-Gama memorial at Kappad beach near Kozhikode. Schoolchildren in the State are taught the same through history books too — that Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama first landed in the country at Kappad beach on May 20, 1498.

Recent research, however, suggests that the explorer may have landed at Koyilandy in Kozhikode district. “Research in the last two decades or so has shown that Gama landed at Koyilandy, and not Kappad as is widely believed here,” says historian M.G.S. Narayanan. Prof. Narayanan says accounts written by those who accompanied Gama to Kerala’s shores have been deciphered and translated in the last few years. “These say that the group landed at Koyilandi,” he says.

Ancient texts quoted by researchers say that Gama’s ship dropped anchor off the coast of Kappad. “Explorers in those days would not directly sail to the shores of new lands. They were suspicious whether local people were hostile or friendly,” says Prof. Narayanan. A bunch of criminals who were sentenced to death in their home country accompanied ancient European explorations. They would be the first to be sent to scope out new lands in order to spare the precious lives of sailors and explorers. When Gama’s strange ship anchored off Kappad, local fishermen approached them and carried news of their arrival to the rulers. “The Zamorin was at Ponnani when he got the news. He sent word that Gama should sail to the harbour called Pantalayani Kollam [called Fandarina in some European texts], which was then the name for Koyilandi. The Zamorin received them there. So it is Koyilandi where Vasco-da-Gama actually landed,” says the historian. While Prof. Narayanan says that the correction is now common knowledge among historians, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is cautious about the suggestion. “There are arguments that Gama did not land at Kappad. But they have not been finalised,” said an archaeologist of the ASI. The researcher said ASI did not have researchers in Kerala who had studied the subject in detail. All their textbooks, including the latest ones, say that Gama landed at Kappad.

Historian K.N. Panikkar takes a similarly cautious tone. “You have to be careful when studying history using multiple sources,” he says.

The latest study on Gama’s journey to India is by historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam. “It does not say otherwise about Gama’s landing at Kappad. It has to be looked up as history is not a matter of opinion, but of fact,” says Prof. Panikkar.

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