Meeting 14


February 2010


Prof.M.R.Raghava Varier gave an illuminating lecture on Calicut’s heritage. Most cultures, in his knowledge, strove to preserve their invaluable heritage. But Calicut is an exception, as we seek deliberately to destroy all vestiges of our past in the interest of crass commercialism. But, our heritage is attached to us so deeply that without our knowing , we preserve large parts of it. He gave the example of place names and drawing from his long study of place names in and around Calicut, went on to draw a brilliant word-picture of the physical structure of the city of Calicut and its government.

He started with the centre of Calicut during the Zamorin’s days – the Kottapparambu, a name which is still current. It was the location of the fort and palace, as the name suggests. This was the seat of government, as many travellers from Vasco da Gama to Abdul Razzak to Payrard had described. A part of the structure (towards the present LIC ) was the living quarters and descriptions found in the records of the Zamorin strolling in the courtyard on moonlit nights indicate the vastness of the living space inside the fort-palace.

At the south eastern extreme of the Kottapparambu (at the present Palayam junction) is a property whose name is given in records as Thekke Kothalam Parambu ( Southern Rampart). Corresponding to this, near the present Muthalakkulam is a property named Vadakke Kothalam parambu (North Ramparts). Between the two crops up a name Gopuram parambu (Gateway) for a property where Neelakantan Vaidyar’s shop is located today. The original Kizhakke Kovilakam was to the east of the Gopuram and the original Padijare Kovilakam was the main Mananchira Palace itself. During the Mysore invasions, Kizhakke Kovilakam shifted to its present location at Kottakkal and Padinjare Kovilakam further east to Mankave. Opposite the east Gopuram, there exists a Gopura Vathil Parambu on the western fringe of the fort, where the Saraswathi Musical Store exists today. This was the western gateway which opened into the Rajaveedhi (the royal street) and further to the busy commercial centre leading to the buzzling port of Calicut.

When Hyder Ali and his forces descended on Calicut for the decisive encounter, his army camped outside the southern rampart and thus the name Palayam (military camp) came about. We get interesting vignettes from contemporary records about the Zamorin and palace politics during those turbulent days. The ruling Zamorin and his 3 sisters were all adopted from the Neeleswaram Palace and he was, thus, alien to the Calicut culture. Enough indications exist to show that the ruling bureaucracy was also reluctant to accept the ‘outsider’. The difference of opinion which arose about the engagement with Tipu’s forces and the humiliating defeat of Zamorin’s forces at the battle of Iringal, led to the ouster of Mangatt Achan, the Prime Minister-equivalent. As the situation became hopeless, the Zamorin instructed the ladies to be escorted to Ponnani (Trikkavu Palace) and then he was supposed to have entered the arsenal and killed himself by setting fire to the gunpowder on the 27th April, 1766 .

Thus ended the glory of Calicut, but the descendants of the ruling family appear to have survived by carving out and selling in bits and pieces their glorious legacy. Thus we find land records showing the sale of the Kottapparambu to various people – among them one Ayisumma of Koilandy bought a piece of land on which stands the present majestic Moideen Palli. Small portions of land from the palace complex were also found to have been sold to one Beeran and one Kandan.

We get a picture of Calicut after the Zamorin in the writing of Buchanan (1800) who gave a graphic account of the producing economy. Buchanan found that Calicut had salt pans in abundance and was a large manufacturer and exporter of salt. Following the same approach of Toponymy , Varier corroborates by quoting the several properties named Uppukootaram parmbu, Uppalam, Chungathara (where salt was taxed). Thus, the place names help us reveal new ways of land use and local resources.

Some more place names : the Nediyiruppu Mootha Eradi (as the Zamorin was referred to in many local records) had his office in Nagaram Katchery ( although this is doubtful, as the name ‘katchery’ is most probably an import from the Mysore administrative vocabulary). Next to that is the Veerattan parambu (Veerarayan Thattaan Parambu). Behind the Jain temple (adjacent to the Railway Station link road) is Akkasala parambu (Akshasala – mint).

There was a Kalavaniatheru (potter’s street) where the SBI Mananchira branch stands and a Poovaniatheru (flower sellers’ street) north of that – all evident from the names of compounds today. Close to the beach, we have a Pattutheru (Silk street) and west of that is the Cheenakkotta parambu, indicating where the Chinese traded in silk (It may interest readers that a beautiful statue of two Chinese silk traders has been erected on Silk Street recently (see link :

The compound where the Corporation Office stands today is called Parankipparambu (Portuguese quarters) and where the French bakery stands is known as Paranthreeskaran parambu. Between the General Hospital and the Jayanthi Nagar colony, there is a Kazhumara paramba. It was here that criminals and others sentenced to death were hanged. The two Tharakkal Varier brothers, powerful sthanis under the Zamorin who refused to join him in the Mapranam battle were beheaded at this place.

Responding to queries, Prof. Varier dwelt in brief on the evidence of rulers prior to Zamorins. According to him, historians today do not brush aside all of Keralolppathi as fiction. There could be some truth in the description of the successors of Cheraman Perumal, Manichan and Vikkiran occupying Kokkozhikkode hill and the chullickad, as described in Keralolppathi. Kokkozhikkode hill (between Cahalppuram and Mankavu) is a vantage point and commands a clear view of the territory and even territorial waters. Chullikkad, the place between Mooriyad and Puthiyapalam  was prime salt pan and the main manufacturing base.