The story of Muziris starts from early 3000 BC when Babylonians, Assyrians and Egyptians came to the Malabar Coast in search for the spices. Later these Middle-East groups were joined by Arabs and Phoenicians. And gradually Muziris in Kodungallur entered into the cartography of World trade map. Then onwards Muziris holds the key to a good chunk of Kerala's ancient history now the ancient trade route.
Muziris was a port city, among the earliest of its kind in the world. Spice City to the ancient reporters, Muziris was also known as Murachipattanam. In Ramayana, Murachipattanam is the place where Sugreeva's (one of the Monkey King) sleuths scurried through while looking for the abducted Sita.
When Kerala established itself as a major center for spice, it was the ancient port of Muziris that emerged as its hub. Sangam literature describes Roman ships coming to Muziris laden with gold to be exchanged for pepper. According to the first century annals of Pliny, the Elder and the author of Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, Muziris could be reached in 14 days' time from the Red Sea ports in Egyptian coast purely depending on the monsoon winds. However, tragedy struck in 1341, when the profile of the water bodies in the Periyar River basin on the Malabar Coast underwent a major transformation - and Muziris dropped off the map due to flood and earthquake. However, the remnants of the port and its erstwhile glory still remain as reminders of an eventful past. They are being conserved and preserved for future generations through one of India's largest conservation projects - the Muziris Heritage Project. Supplementing the Muziris heritage sites are 21 museums and other landmarks that aim to educate people about 2000 years of Kerala history.
The Muziris Heritage Project is one of the biggest conservation projects in India, where the state and the central governments have come together to conserve a rich culture that is as old as 3000 years or more. This region forms a part of the heritage tourism circuit between North Paravur in Ernakulam and Kodungallur in Thrissur. Shrines, forts, palaces, seminaries, cemeteries, boatyards and markets spread over the municipality of North Paravur to the municipality of Kodungallur will be preserved accordingly. Various performing arts that represent the non-physical aspect of the Muziris region are also under the process of conservation.
In the initial phase of the project, four of the 27 museums have been opened to the public- the Paliam Nalukettu, Paliam Dutch Palace, the Chendamangalam Jewish synagogue and the Paravur Jewish synagogue.
Two archaeological sites, Pattanam and Kottappuram where archaeological excavations and explorations are being undertaken will also be in focus. Many artifacts of interest have been unearthed at various sites in North Paravur-Kodungallur region of Kerala, through excavations as part of the Muziris Heritage Project .Utensils, clothes, coins, agricultural tools and inscriptions on plates or papyrus, along with folklore, tell us about the lives of the people of that time.
Muziris has the distinction of having yielded a complete human skeleton for the first time in India, from the Kottappuram fort area. Some of the items excavated here include Chinese coins, Chinese inscriptions, and pieces of decorated porcelain, West Arabian pottery pieces, iron nails, bullets, stone beads, 17th century Dutch coins and tiles. These will eventually go into the museums to be set up.
Pattanam is about one-and-a-half kilometres from Kodungallur on the North Paravur route in Kerala and the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) has undertaken a massive research project here. One of the first ever multi-disciplinary excavations undertaken by the Govt of Kerala, the main objective of these excavations was to identify an early historic urban settlement and the ancient Indo-Roman port of Muziris on the Malabar Coast. The structures unearthed indicate the same and they suggest that the site was first occupied by the indigenous Iron Age people. A large number of objects of Roman origin have been unearthed from the site. This serves as evidence to the extensive maritime contacts of this region during the early historic period.
The excavation carried in Kottappuram area has unearthed a Portuguese Fort and numerous remnants of other past cultures. The Kottappuram fort, also known as Kodungallur fort was built in 1523. Chinese wares, red slipped ware other pottery artifacts and iron objects are also included in the list of Kottappuram findings.
Other parts of the Muziris Heritage Project that awaits the excavation are Cheraman Parambu, Kottayil Kovilakam, Pallippuram fort among others.
Tracing back to the history of Muziris is not an easy task. Ancient literature provides some vital clues in this regard. Early Tamil literature known as Sangam Literature and the Greco-Roman accounts are clear in linking this port town with the early Cheras.
Present Chendamangalam, in the Muziris heritage region, and the original name of which was Jayanthamangalam, named after the Pandyan King Jayanthan, supports the view that Pandyan sway extended up to Periyar in the 7th century AD. The fact that 10 out of 13 important Vaishnavite temples of Malanadu were situated south of river Periyar in the 9th century indicates the Pandyan influence in the region during the time of Jatila Parantaka (765-815) who claimed to be a Parama Vaishnava. Part of Malabar, south of Kerala, was under the sway of the Pandyans of Madura. In the first century AD, Pliny has recorded that Neacinda in the Pamba valley was in the domain of the Pandyans.
Musiri was subjected to attacks from the pirates of Nitrias. And the attack of the Nitrians must be in reprisal to the conquest of Musiri by the Chera King. And the Tamil literature Agom 2 says that Utian Cheral was the first Chera king whose territory is said to have extended up to the Western sea.
In the Tamil literature, Agom 149 there is a statement that a Pandya King invaded Kodungallur of the Cheras with a large elephant force. This means that the Pandyan Kingdom extended up to the river Periyar at that time. The much quoted Akan Anooru poem 149 mentions that the well build crafts of the Yavanas or Yona came on the Periyar. PuRan Anooru 57 poem mentions that a Pandya Vantan besieged the port of Muciri/Muziris. PuRan Anooru 343 graphically describes the backwater scenario around Muciri/Muziris. Patirrupattu 55.4 mentions about the 'Bantar' where the ornaments that came through sea are stored.
Many a literary reference can be found on Chendamangalam. In the 'Kokilasandesa 'of Uddanda Sastrigal, the place is referred to as 'Jayantamangalam', which may have been the Sanskrit version of Chendamangalam. In the 'Kokilasandesa', a love message is sent by the hero from Kanchi through a parrot to the heroine who resides at Chendamangalam. The place has been noted for its opulence and the temple of Vishnu. Another reference to the Vishnu temple can be seen in the Vishnu Vilasa Mahakavya by Ramapanivada who wrote it under the patronage of the Paliathachan Ramakubera.
Muziris was the 'first emporium of India' for the Romans, where the ships of the Yavanas arrived in large numbers and took back pepper, and other products in exchange of gold. Evidence from a papyrus in the Vienna museum, speaks of trade agreement between Muziris and Alexandria, following a trade agreement between a trader from Muziris and a trader from Alexandria. All these references indicate that a substantial amount of trade flourished between India and the Greco Roman world that passed through Muziris.
The Paliam family owned a good collection of manuscripts in Malayalam and Sanskrit. This later became part of the Kerala University Manuscript Library, when the family partition took place. The rare and important drama in Sanskrit from this collection named 'Bhagavadajjukiyam' used to be performed in Chendamangalam Siva temple.
The most important port cities in the early centuries of Christian era, as seen from ancient records were Naura of Periplus or Naravu of Sangham poetry which may be modern Valapattanam. Further south was Thondi of Sangham poetry or Tyndis of western geographers which must be Kadalundi or Beypore of today. Then comes the most important port city of Malabar, Muziris of the Westerners, Musiri of Sangham poetry and Kodungallur of today.
In the first century, the country consisted of three political divisions. The author of Periplus and Pliny (1st century AD) has recorded that at that time Thondi and Muziris were under the rule of Keralaputras who were none other than the Cheras of Karur. From the statement of Pliny, it would appear that the Cheras who were foreigners took possession of the West Coast only recently. This view is supported by the statement that Musiri was at that time subjected to attacks from the pirates of Nitrias. Nitrias of Pliny and Nitran of Ptolemy is the modern port of Mangalapuram, upon the mouth of river Netravadi. That was the principal port of Thondi and Musiri until the Cheras took possession of them in the first century. This view is further supported by the Sangham poetry.
The contests for ocean supremacy continued for centuries. The Cheras established out-posts at Kodungallur and Thondi and made that part of Malayalam a province of the Chera country, called Kudanadu. Kudanadu means Western province. Later, Kodungallur became the capital of Kudanadu where from the Chera princes ruled until the end of 10th century.
The Perumals-Rulers - were all raised to that position after serving the Chola Empire as commanders, military governors or petty kings. The installations of the first Perumal took place in 887 AD at Thirunavai. He was Thanu Ravi. The reign of Thanu Ravi cannot be earlier than the last quarter of the 9th century. Thanu Ravi and many of his successors were Cheras. Bhaskara Ravi who issued Jewish copper plate from Musiri was not a resident of that place. It is clearly stated in the document that he was only camping at that place when he issued the document.
Mushikas and Venadu Kings were subservient to Karnataka and the Pandyan rulers respectively, the central region of Malainadu viz, Kerala, continued as a province of the Chera Kingdom. Hence Malanadu got the name Kerala and the institution of Perumal came to be known as Kerala Perumal.
As Eastern Cheras were vassals of Karnataka, they were known as Kongu Cheras and that part of the Chera country came to be known as Kongunadu. This region which was the hinterland of Musiri and Thondi, was the cause of importance and glory of the two port cities. With the loss of that territory, the primacy of Musiri was lost and Thondi faded into oblivion.
Once the Palace of the Perumals - Chera rulers of Kodungallur, Kerala- was at the Cheraman Parambu. Till it has been included in the prestigious Muziris Heritage project, Cheraman Parambu was a deserted place. The word Perumal means Chief. Perumals in the Chera rulers of Kodungallur is also known as Kulasekharas of Mahodayapuram. The title of Perumal was not hereditary and that each Perumal had a different capital.
Kerala was the Kingdom between Mushika country and Kupaka country alias Venadu. The Kulasekharas of Mahodayapuram were the protectors of the Brahmin settlements of Malainadu, but they never enjoyed any supremacy over Venadu or Mushika Kingdom.
We know only of three Kulasekharas. The first is Ravi Kulasekhara, the patron of Sankara Narayana, the author of Laghu Bhaskareeya Vyakhya. Ramakulasekhara, the patron of Yamaka poet Vasudeva Bhattathiri is another. The third is Kulasekhra Varma, the dramatist. Kannadikas were known as Kongus in the Tamil country. Although the Cheras of Kodungallur continued their relation with the Kongu Cheras, Kerala became the weakest of the three Kingdoms of Malainadu. As the Kongus were Jains, the Brahmins from Kongunadu migrated to Kerala and set up settlements up to Pamba Valley. The Cheras of Kodungallur who patronized the Brahmin immigration, thus extended their influence up to the Pamba Valley through the Brahmin settlements.
History of Paliam should be read along with the history of Kerala. Muziris Heritage project promotes the importance of the history of Paliam. During the period following the break-up of the Kulasekhara Empire in 1102 AD, Kerala lost its political unity. A number of independent Swarupams (States) rose in different parts of the country.
The Perumpadappu Swaroopam had its seat at Chitrakutam in the Perumpadappu village in Vanneri in Malappuram till the end of the 13th century but its Chief had a palace of his own at Mahodayapuram in Thrissur.
When the Zamorin of Calicut invaded Valluvanad in the latter half of the 13th century the Perumpadappu Swarupam abandoned the Vanneri palace and migrated to Mahodayapuram on a permanent basis. It continued to have its capital at Mahodayapuram till about 1405, when it was transferred to Cochin.Relationship between Paliam and Kochi was there from the earlier period. Along with Perumpadappu chief, Paliath Achan also started living in Thiruvanchikulam.
Today, the members of the Paliam family live at Chendamangalam, and in many other parts of India and abroad as well. The rich and historic tradition of the family keeps them close together even today. The fact that Paliathachans held the position of Prime Minister in erstwhile Cochin State in Kerala for more than 150 years proves their historical background. And for the same reason, Paliam holds a significant position in the Muziris Heritage Project.
Ms. M.Radhadevi Retd. Professor of Maharajas College, Ernakulam in Kerala and a member of the Paliam family has contributed information on the family in the 'Paliam Info'. Ms. Radhadevi writes in detail about the three eminent 'Achans' - Komi Achan 1, Komi Achan II and Govindan Achan who were the three most remarkable figures in the history of Paliam. Komi Achan I, is supposed to have gone to Colombo seeking Dutch help and signed a treaty with them, thus setting the beginning for a long Paliam Dutch friendship. Komi Achan II was a daring adventurer and is believed to have mastered many languages and the use of weapons. Govindan Achan well-known as Govindan Valiachan was the last to hold the office of the Prime Minister. It was he who retrieved the lost picture of Virgin Mary and permitted the islanders to install it at Vallarpadom, Kochi. Until recently, the practice of keeping alight the 'kedavilakku' donated by Achan to the Vallarpadom church, with oil taken from Paliam continued.
Roman trade at Muziris had special peculiarities. During the first centuries, roman trade was carried on by extraordinary big vessels, whose size was comparable with the big ships. Such unusual size was required for the volume and the weight of pepper which were imported from the Malabar Coast.
Muziris flourished in ships coming from Roman Egypt. Ships bound for Muziris sailed according to a fixed timetable, already traditional in AD 51.
The famous "Muziris papyrus" is a loan contract. In the first decades of Indo-Roman trade at Muziris, in order to exactly define legal responsibility in case of shipwreck, maritime loan contracts for Muziris must have explicitly specified that borrower would leave India by a particular date. The value of a cargo of a very big vessels sailing back from Muziris could thus be enormous.
The Kodungallur Gurukulam was an inexhaustible mine of knowledge; it could very well be called the first university of Kerala. In any discussion of the importance of the Muziris Heritage Project, the greatness of this noble institution will have a prominent place.
The Kodungallur Gurukulam was a centre of excellence as far as scholarship was concerned. Grammar, sculpture, Vedanta, astronomy and the medical sciences were some of the subjects handled very efficiently here. Scholars like Vidwan Kunjirama Varma, Kochunni Thampuran, Kunjan Thampuran were among the teachers who gave training here.
The students had the freedom to opt for the subjects of their choice. In those days, a poet's association known under the famous label 'Kodungallore Kalari' was in operation with the Kovilakam as its centre of functioning.
The Kodungallur in the Muziris Heritage region echoes with tales of its illustrious past. The Kodungallur royal family (Kovilakam) produced a new school of poetry. The most towering figure among the poets of the Kodungallur Kovilakam was Kunjikuttan Thampuran. He was one of the best and talented writers of Malayalam literature. Kovilakam always had gifted members and they made their imprints in the literary history of Kerala.
Kodungallur Kovilakam was known as the 'Nalanda of Kerala' and it was an abode of preceptor and had a great tradition of imparting knowledge in different topics like literature, science and art. Even foreign scholars were inmates in the Kovilakam.
Knowledge sharing tradition of Kovilakam from the period of Kodungallur Vidwan Ilaya Thampuran (1800-1851) was well known. His disciple, Kumbhakonam Krishna Sastrikal later became a great grammarian. Valiya Thampuran and Ilayala Thampuran were exponents in astrology. Goda Varma Thampuran was another famous member of the Kovilakam. Vidwan Kunjirama Varma Thampuran (1850-1917) was a poet and grammarian.
Kochunni Thampuran was an exponent in astrology and architecture and Kunjan Thampuran was an expert in dialectics. Cheriya Kochunni Thampuran was a poet and Bhatta Sree Goda Varma Thampuran was an expert in legal science and all these members hailed the glory of Kodungallur Kovilakam time to time.
Study of Jewish settlements is an integral part of Muziris Heritage Project. The Jewish immigration to Kerala was the direct effect of the early commercial contacts with Israel. According to tradition some 10,000 Jews came to Kerala coast in 68 AD in order to escape from religious persecution at home.
They landed first at Muziris and founded a settlement. The Jews developed in to a prosperous business community with the generous patronage of the native rulers. They enjoyed a high standing in society till the arrival of the Portuguese who persecuted them and compelled them to leave Kodungallur for Kochi in 1565 temporarily.
Jewish community became a force to be reckoned with in the social, economic and the political life of Kerala. Apart from the fact that the services of the Jews were necessary for the economic development of the Chera Kingdom, and particularly for the commercial prosperity of Muziris, their unstinted support and co-operation had become an imperative need in the Cholas to the territorial integrity and independence of the Chera Kingdom. Apart from the historic, cultural and aesthetic importance, Jewish Synagogue at Chendamangalam also has great potentiality as a tourist destination.
At Muziris, trade and religion grew together. Jews had settled in Paravur and Kodungallur regions and though they all but faded away, both the market in Paravur and the two synagogues still exist. The lives of the Jews and the monuments that tell their history have an important place in the Muziris Heritage Project.
Though there are no Jews living in this area, the region was sacred for them. The Hebrew tomb-stone inscription of Sarah Bat Israel stands in front of the Chendamangalam Jewish synagogue. The stone inscription from 1269 CE was erected on a concrete column with an additional slab that says the Govt of Kochi erected it in 1936. The epigraph in Hebrew says, 'here rests Sarah Bat Israel, who died and joined her creator on (day) (month) and (Year)'. It forms part of the Jewish custom to erect a Hebrew written stone with the Hebrew date on a dead person's tomb.
The Jewish cemetery situated a little away from the synagogue on the hillock Kottayil Kovilakam and near the Sree Krishna Temple, the Muslim mosque and the Christian church is ample evidence to the religious harmony.