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The town of Cochin and its Muslim heritage on the Malabar coast, South India1

  • Mehrdad Shokoohy

Extract

In South India Cochin is well known for its Jewish settlement, but the rich Muslim heritage of the town has so far remained almost unknown. A reason for this anonymity lies perhaps in that the Muslim community of Cochin – unlike that of Calicut – while highly influential in the commerce of the region, kept a low profile with regard to political affairs, at least from the time of the appearance of the Portuguese. Cochin, situated at 9° 58′ N and 760° 14′ E, occupies the northern part of a long stretch of land, about half a kilometre south of the Island of Vypin (Baypin or Vypeen) and 1.5 km west of the shores of the mainland, now occupied by the modern town of Ernakulam. Between Cochin and Ernakulam is a long expanse of sheltered but navigable water, at the mouth of which is Willingdon Island, housing the modern sea port and the airport.

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The survey of the Islamic monuments of Cochin was carried out as part of a larger project to record the architecture of the Muslim trading communities of South India. The project has been supported by the British Academy and the Society of South Asian Studies. Natalie H. Shokoohy assisted in the field-work, and Bahram Leissi helped with the production of the final drawings in London. The author wishes to express his gratitude to Dr Javad Golmohammadi and Mr Ala Qods for useful suggestions with regard to the reading of the inscriptions.

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2 Encyclopaedia Indica, II (New Delhi, 1981), p. 990.

3 Shokoohy, M., “Architecture of the sultanate of Ma'bar in Madura and other Muslim monuments in South India”, JRAS (1991), p. 75.

4 Muḥammad b. 'Abd'ullāh called Baṭṭūṭa, Ibn, Tuḥfat al-nuẓẓār fī gharā'ib al-amṣār wa 'ajā'ib al-asfār, ed. Harb, Talal (Beirut, 1987), pp. 574–5.

5 The location of the old settlement is identified by P. M. Jussay as the old site of Chennamangalam a few miles east of Cranganur where on a slope of a hill are the remains of houses and cemeteries of the Jews and the Muslims, as well as the remains of a palace, an ancient Hindu temple, a mosque and a synagogue, the last two of relatively late origin. Near the synagogue, now deserted but still well preserved, is the tombstone of one Sara daughter of Israel, datable to A.D. 1269. This identification is not yet attested archaeologically, and it should be borne in mind that apart from the community in Cochin there were many other Jewish settlements in South India. See Jussay, P. M., “The songs of Evarayi’, in Timberg, Thomas A. (ed.), Jews in India (Shahiabad, 1986), p. 151; for the tombstone see Segal, J. B., A History of the Jews of Cochin (London, 1993), p. 11.

6 In Arabic the sound ch is represented with the letter j, and Indian g or gh with the letter k; thus the name may be read as Konchi Ghari. Ibn Baṭṭūṭa's record of Kunjī instead of Kujīn may be an error of memory as he wrote his travel accounts some years later, but, as usual in India, there may have been more than one pronunciation for the name, and Ibn Baṭṭūṭa recorded the one closest to what he had heard. As we shall see Kochi (from Malayalam kochchī, a small place) is also recorded as the name, with slight variations, by later Muslim historians.

7 Mandelbaum, David G., “Social stratification among the Jews of Cochin in India and in Israel,” in Timberg, Thomas A. (ed.), Jews in India (Shahiabad, 1986) p. 67.

8 “The travelles of Nicolo de Conti in the East”, in Frampton, John, The Most Noble and Famous Travels of Marco Polo together with the Travels of Nicolò de' Conti, edited from the Elizabethan translation with introduction notes and appendices by Penzer, N. M. (London, 1937), p. 135; also see a nineteenth-century translation in Major, R. H., India in the Fifteenth Century (London 1857) Part ii, p. 19.

9 Major, R. H., India in the Fifteenth Century (London, 1857), ii, p. 17, in the Elizabethan translation the circumference of Coleon is given as three miles, which seems to be incorrect.

10 Muḥammad Qāsim b. Hindū Shāh known as Firishta, , Tārīkh-i Firishta (Lucknow, 1864), ii, p. 371, see also note 5 above.

11 Zain al-Dīn, , Tuḥfat al-mujāhidīn fī ba'd aḥwal al-burtakalīyī, Arabic text in Lopes, David, Historia Portugueses no Malabar (Lisbon, 1898), most pages, see for example pp. 3641; English translation, Tohfut-ul-Mujahideen, an Historical Work in the Arabic Language, tr. by Rowlandson, M.J. (London, 1833), p. 12.

12 Baṭṭūṭa, Ibn, op. cit., p. 574.

13 Day, Francis, Land of the Permauls or Cochin, its Past and its Present (Madras, 1865), p. 79; Logan, William, Malabar (Madras, 1906), i, p. 304.

14 Barbosa, Duarte, A Description of the Coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century, tr. by Stanley, Henry E.J. (London, 1866), pp. 156–7.

15 Greenlee, William Brooks, The Voyages of Pedro Álvares Cabral to India from Contemporary Documents and Narratives (London, 1938), pp. 4850, 85–9, 95, 98, 121–2, 127–8, 148, 197–8.

16 Correa, Gaspar, The Three Voyages of Vasco da Gama and his Viceroyalty from the Lendas da India, tr. by Stanley, Henry E.J. (London, 1869) p. 340.

17 Affonso Dalboquerque the Younger, The Commentaries of the Great Affonso Dalboquerque, Second Viceroy of India, tr. by Birch, Walter de Gray, 2 volumes (London, 1875).

18 al-Dĩn, Zain, op. cit., Arabic text, p. 37; English tr. pp. 82–3; Firishta, , op. cit., ii, p. 371.

19 Whiteway, R. S., The Rise of Portuguese Power in India (Westminster, 1899), pp. 9798.

20 Logan, W., Malabar, ii (Madras, 1887), Appendix XXI, p. 418.

21 Day, Francis, Land of the Permauls or Cochin, its Past and its Present (Madras, 1865), p. 115; Logan, William, Malabar (Madras, 1906), i, pp. 338–9.

22 Segal, J. B., A History of the jews of Cochin (London, 1993), pp. 37–8.

23 For a more detailed account of the Dutch and the Mysore domination in the region see Logan, William, Malabar (Madras, 1887), i, pp. 340476; for an account on Cochin see Menon, K. P. Padmanabha, A History of Kerala, Notes on Visscher's Letters from Malabar, i (Ernakulam, 1924), Letter III, pp. 161227. Vol. ii (Ernakulam, 1929) is concerned mostly with the social structure of Cochin and neighbouring towns during the Dutch and British periods.

24 Logan, William, Malabar (Madras, 1887), i, p. 715.

25 Danvers, Frederick Chares, The Portuguese in India (London, 1894), i, p. 121.

26 de Laval, F. Pyrard, The Voyage of François Pyrard of Laval, ed. Gray, A. and Bell, H. C. P. (London, 1888), PP. 434.

27 Terlado da patente per que El-Rei Dom Joâo noso senhor fes a vila de Cochim sidade e a petisáo porque foi terladada juridiquamente de purgaminho em que primeiro estava em papel, in Mathew, K. S. and Ahmad, Afzal, Emergence of Cochin in the pre-industrial era: (a study of Portuguese Cochin) (Pondichery, 1990), pp. 13.

28 Burnell, A. C., The Voyage of John Huyghen van Linschoten to the East Indies (London, 1885), i, p. 69.

29 This shallow water made the Portuguese Cochin virtually an island, and was an important factor in the early battles between the Portuguese and the Calicut forces, see for example the account of Durante Pacheco Pereira's battle of 1504 in Danvers, i, pp. 105–9.

30 Baldaeus, Philip, A True and Exact Description of the Most Celebrated East India Coasts of Malabar and Coromandel, tr. by A., and Churchill, j. (London, 1732), ch. 18.

31 Lawson, Charles Allen, British and Native Cochin, second ed. (London, 1861), pp. 1754. Lawson gives a long and vivid description of both the European and the Indian towns, of which only a few highlights are quoted here.

32 For a plan of the Portuguese fort in 1663, when the Portuguese town was extended to its largest size, see Menon, K. P. Padmanabha, A History of Kerala, Notes on Visscher's Letters from Malabar, i (Ernakulam, 1924), map facing p. 168; for a plan of the Dutch fort showing the street layout of the town in 1780 see ibid, map facing P. 174.

33 ARIE, 19731974, 159, D 164; Desai, Z. A., A Topographical List of Arabic, Persian and Urdu Inscriptions of South India, (New Delhi, 1989), p. 38, insc. no. 388.

34 Menon, K. P. Padmanabha, A History of Kerala, Notes on Visscher's Letters from Malabar, ii (Ernakulam, 1929), letter XVIII, p. 519; Mandelbaum, David G., “Social stratification among the Jews of Cochin in India and in Israel,” in Timberg, Thomas A. (ed.),Jews in India (Shahiabad, 1986), p. 67.

35 For an early traditional Jewish history of Cochin apart from Menon's A History of Kerala, ii, Letter XVIII, see Koder, S. S., “Saga of the Jews of Cochin,” in Timberg, Thomas A. (ed.), Jews in India (Shahiabad, 1986), pp. 121–42.

36 Segal, J. B., A History of the Jews of Cochin (London, 1993), pp. 30–1, foundation stone of the Cochangadi Synagogue in p.l 4.

37 Ibid.

38 ARIE, 19651966, B 61. The report contains the date and a brief description of the content of the inscription, but the text itself has not yet been fully studied.

39 The ḥijra year 926 begins on 23rd December 1519. The actual date of the completion of the mosque must be 1520, leaving no discrepancies between the two Islamic and Puduvaipu dates.

40 Shokoohy, M., “Architecture of the sultanate of Ma'bar in Madura and other Muslim monuments in South India,” JRAS (1991), pp. 80–1.

41 Shokoohy, M., Bhadreśvar, the Oldest Islamic Monuments in India (Leiden-New York, 1988), p. 47, pl. 53b.

42 ARIE, 19651966, 136, D 50, D 53–4, D 57; Shokoohy, M., “Architecture of the Muslim trading communities in India,” in Islam and Indian Regions, ed. Dallapiccola, Anna Libera and Lallemant, Stephanie Zingel-Ave, Südasienforschung, Beiträge zur, Südasien Institut, Universität Heidelberg, no. 145 (Stuttgart, 1993), i, p. 303; ii, pi. 50.

43 Ibid, i, pp. 302, 304; ii, pis. 49, 53.

44 In Madura Qāḍī T¯j al-Dīn's mosque and the shrine of Sikandar Sh¯h each have an ante-chamber and a porch, but the mosque of ‘Al¯’ al-Dīn does not have ante-chambers, see ibid, pp. 311–18; ii, pp. 110–2, figs. 18–20; Shokoohy, M., “Architecture of the sultanate of Ma'bar in Madura and other Muslim monuments in South India,” JRAS (1991), pp. 52–6, 6274.

45 See for example the Langgar Mosque at Kota Bharu, the Pulai Chondong Mosque at Kampung Pulai Chondong south of Kota Bharu, in Nasir, Abdul Halom, Mosques of Peninsular Malaysia (Selangor, 1984), pp. 2631.

46 The information on Shaikh Makhdūm and his descendants was provided by Mohamooda Abdul Latheef, the Kaikkar (executive manager) of the shrine, and is based on the local records preserved in his house, near the shrine. The present author is most grateful for the information provided, and permission for carrying out the survey of the shrine.

47 Rowlandson, the English translator of Tuhfat al-mujāhidīn, notes at the beginning of his introduction: “Of Sheikh Zeen-ud-deen, the author of the Tohfut-ul-mujahideen, but little appears known. From that work we learn, that he lived in the reign of Sultan Alee-adil Shah, the fifth sovereign of the Adil-Shahy dynasty of Bejapoor; whilst, from his title of Al-maburee (al-Ma'barī), it may be concluded that he was a descendant of one of the original emigrants from Arabia; but beyond these points no information regarding him appears to exist”. Rowlandson, M. J., Tohfut-ul-Mujahideen, an Historical Work in the Arabic Language (London, 1833), int., p. vii.

48 For the Malayalam and Tamil texts see ARIE, 19731977, 47. B 97; for the Arabic text see ibid., D 161.

49 So far we have been able to decipher parts of the Arabic text from some larger and more detailed photographs as follows: the centre part; top two lines: part of Qur'ān 24: 61, and lines 3 to 5: two ḥadīth. On the right portion the top four lines contain Qur'ān 2:259 up to the word sharābika, and the middle lines (line 5–8) 2: 259 continues, followed by the second part of 3: 37 (from the phrase wa kaffalahä zakariyā). Lines 9–12 of the right portion contain Qur'ān 15: 19–20 followed by 17: 111, 18: 10, 15: 9, and 85: 20–21. At the lower part of the triangular space is a rectangle divided into three and containing a non-Quranic religious text with a prayer for peace and blessings on the shrine.

50 For the earlier reports of the inscription see ARIE, 19731974, 159. D 162; Desai, Z. A., A Topographical List of Arabic, Persian and Urdu Inscriptions of South India (New Delhi, 1989), pp. 37–8, insc. no. 385. The inscription was examined on the site. It contains two lines of Arabic text, the first line of which is Quranic as it begins with qāl allāh ta 'ālā, but the middle part of the first line is obscured by paint, and it seems that the line contains a longer verse than the one reported (Qur'ān: 72,18). The second line contains the reported ḥadīth, stating that those who build a mosque will later dwell in paradise. The date was not clear, nor could it be determined whether or not there is a date in the inscription.

1 The survey of the Islamic monuments of Cochin was carried out as part of a larger project to record the architecture of the Muslim trading communities of South India. The project has been supported by the British Academy and the Society of South Asian Studies. Natalie H. Shokoohy assisted in the field-work, and Bahram Leissi helped with the production of the final drawings in London. The author wishes to express his gratitude to Dr Javad Golmohammadi and Mr Ala Qods for useful suggestions with regard to the reading of the inscriptions.

The town of Cochin and its Muslim heritage on the Malabar coast, South India1

  • Mehrdad Shokoohy

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