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About Calicut - My Birthplace

Calicut (now known as Kozhikode) is an important town in Malabar in Central Kerala. It had a history dating back to several centuries and was the capital of a big kingdom extending many miles towards the north Kerala, to the hinterlands upto the slopes of Western Ghats to the East and to the South upto Cochin. It was ruled by the legendary Cheruman Perumal, the warrior king who abdicated the throne handing over the kingdom to the Zamorins. The Zamorins were powerful kings and ruled the Kozhikode Kingdom for several centuries. They welcomed traders from countries from Europe and Middle East. It was famous as a trading centre and a gateway to India for traders from Europe and Middle East. It finds a place in historical records by virtue of its being the place where the famous Portugese traveler and discoverer Vasco de Gama landed in India in the year 1498. The ruler of Calicut the Zamorin welcomed him with open arms and accorded him all the facilities to ply his trade. In course of time English and Dutch traders from Europe also landed at Calicut in search of trade. All these European traders settled themselves in the city building forts and trading centres employing many locals. They exploited the internecine quarrel between the many chieftains and a weakened Zamorin to establish themselves firmly. They went on to establish Churches and converted many Hindus into Christianity. The rulers of Mysore from across the Western Ghats Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan also attacked the Zamorin’s kingdom destroying temples and palaces and killing or converting Hindus in thousands. Calicut is also famous for its natural port, which enabled several traders from West Asia and the Arabian countries besides the European traders to enter the country through this town which served as a port of call to land their merchandise. These Arabian merchants with their flowing white gown like dress covering from neck to foot and the strange head gear resembling the Indian turban were a familiar sight in the town in those times. These merchants picked up the locals as friends and there are instances where they have married local Muslim women by paying large sums of money. It is a different matter that these women have been abandoned by their ‘husbands’ once they leave the shores heading back home. Calicut thrived as a big business centre in the west coast of Kerala and had a large floating population. It would not be far from truth that the Arabian culture permeated every aspect of life in those days.

These Arabian merchants married into the Muslim families from Calicut and neighboring areas and left a large number of families of mixed culture. In most cases they left their families back when they left for their native lands. Today you can see the descendants in parts of Calicut. They wear all white dresses (mundu and head gear) and follow the religion of their forefathers. Calicut therefore has a distinct place in the cultural and political life of the country.

The population of Calicut consisted of Muslims of mixed parentage, Nairs who are the descendants of the Zamorins, the former rulers of Kozhikode (Calicut), the Gujarati and Parsi traders, Marwaris the money lenders and the Portugese and English merchants. The priestly class of Tamil Brahmins migrated from the neighbouring Madras Presidency across the Western Ghats and settled in the southern district of Palghat and later moved north and settled in Calicut. They stayed around temples like the ancient Shiva temple in Tali. I was born into one such family.

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