Malabar Mail: Celebrating the spirit of the region

Kozhikode: A city that ‘lost’ its history

Illustraion for The Hindu

Illustraion for The Hindu

Armed with a broken sword and a conch, when Vikraman, a chieftain of the Nediyiruppu Swaroopam, set about to found Calicut from a marshy tract in 12th century, Thiruvananthapuram could well have been a lesser known coastal village compared to the city that became a port of call for traders from around the globe.

Arabs, Chinese, and Africans, anyone worth their salt, had found their way to this “city of truth” on the south-west coast in centuries to come. The writ of the Calicut rulers, the Zamorins, ran large over a vast expanse of land till early 16th century, when their power weakened before the marauding Western powers, and finally collapsed in late 18th century at the hands of Hyder Ali.

But, save some religious places of worship, not much remains now in Kozhikode to showcase that heritage.

Mentioning about the visit of Mahuan, the Chinese chronicler of Cheng Ho’s imperial expedition in 1405, American-Indian journalist Aparisim Ghosh wrote in Time , the U.S. magazine in 2001: “...Calicut, after all, was the objective of the Admiral’s great voyages; this was Mahuan’s ‘great country of the Western Ocean.’ The principal city of the magical Malabar coast, it was a necessary port of call for traders and adventurers alike. Marco Polo visited Calicut on his way back home from Kublai Khan’s China. The Chinese did not just stop here, they built homes and warehouses. But driving from the airport, I can’t see a single building that might be more than 100 years old. Half a history? Modern Calicut seems to have no history at all” (reproduced in Calicut, The City of Truth Revisited , by M.G.S. Narayanan). Ghosh had claimed that the old structures here are either conceived by the British colonial masters or their imperial predecessors.

Fast forward to the stormy days of the freedom struggle. The Calicut under British Madras Presidency was a crucible of political action as the headquarters of the Malabar unit of the Indian National Congress. It is said that the Communist Party as well as the trade union movement in Kerala had its origin here. The socialist parties, Naxalbari movement - each chapter in Kerala’s political history had a Kozhikode link.

To what extent those nuggets of history are preserved for posterity is anybody’s guess.

But, look at today’s Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi, which were part of Travancore and Cochin that emerged after the fall of the Zamorins. Umpteen number of palaces, forts, and museums could be spotted there. Kozhikode has very few such structures. The museums in the city, named after Pazhassi Raja and V.K. Krishna Menon, offer not much. The one set up by P.K.S. Raja, former head of the Zamorin family, near the Tali Temple, is in disuse and the museum dedicated to the Kunjali Marakkars, the naval chieftains of the Calicut royals, is situated far away.

When a Chinese delegation visited Kozhikode sometime ago, a proposal was moved to build a memorial to mark Cheng Ho’s visit. Well-known archaeologist K.K. Mohammed, who hails from Kozhikode, once suggested renaming the Calicut airport after the Zamorin. Not much progress was made.

Efforts to conserve the remaining structures have been sloppy too. The example of the razed Hajoor Kacheri is a case in point.

Responding to Ghosh’s observations, M.G.S. had pointed out that “Kerala specialised not in monumental buildings, but in sprawling complexes of small structures.” “...The traditional temples and mosques give us a clue to the appearance of the old [Calicut] city. From the half-destroyed godowns, dilapidated multi-storied centres of worship, large neglected tanks, the rusty old piers projecting to the sea, and crowded modern streets, the intelligent traveller will have to reconstruct the medieval splendour of the place....”

We learn from history that we don’t learn much from it. Perhaps we may not need imposing buildings to reconstruct our heritage, or we just want to forget all that is past and move on.

(Malabar Mail is a weekly column by The Hindu 's correspondents that will reflect Malabar’s life and lifestyle)

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Printable version | Jun 29, 2022 1:32:05 am |