Calicut Notebook I - Through the streets, Parsi Temple, Kappad Beach and Zamoothiri's Kovilakam
Blog :Astitva - Search for an Identity
Date: 7/17/2012 8:09:00 AM
It was not a good day to start a journey. That was the first thought came to my mind when I reached Calicut bus stand at 5.30 in the morning. Reason - Rain was getting stronger. Anyway I waited for a bus to reach Calicut University. I saw the Silhouette of a yellow bus moving at a distance. It was going to Thrissur, without wasting much time I ran towards it. It helped me to reach university before sunrise. After having bath and breakfast, we - me and Shihab - set out to see the historic Calicut City. Out first destination was Mananchira Square.
Before going forward let me tell you the history of Calicut city - third biggest in Kerala. From time immemorial Calicut (Kozhikode) attracted traders across the world - Jews, Arabs, Chinese etc. One of the main reasons was the freedom and security it offered to her merchant guests. Famous travellers who visited the City includes Ibn Battuta, famous Chinese admiral Zheng He, Ma Huan (1421, 1431), Abdur Razzak (1442–43) the ambassador of Persian Emperor Sha-Rohk, Italian Niccolo de' Conti (1445), Russian traveller Athanasius Nikitn, Afanasy Nikitin, Italian Ludovico di Varthema (1503–1508), Duarte Barbosa etc.. the list is long. When we say about Calicut we have to say about Samoothiri (Zamorin) rulers who controlled the medieval kingdom of Calicut for sixth centuries from 12th to 18th.
It was in Kappad - approx 18km away from Calicut city, where Vasco Da Gama first landed in India (1498 May 20). Dutch followed them. Later in 1766 Mysore under the command of HyderAli defeated Zamorin and annexed Calicut. Later during the Third Anglo-Mysore war, in 1790, entire Malabar fell in to the hands of British after two decisive battles at Calicut and Kannur. From that point till independence Malabar was part of British India.
Mananchira and SM Street
Mananchira, named after Manadevan Samoothiri, is a man-made lake in the middle of the city. I first read about this lake through the lines of famous writer S. K. Pottekkad during school days, S.K is a must read for Corallites. We looked towards the lake for some time. Shihab - who is currently doing an MPhil in history told me that many of the buildings in and around Mananchira lake was part of Zamoothiri administration, which now hosts various government departments. From here we walked towards S M street (the name came because of a sweet - Calicut Halwa, known as Sweet Meat to English traders) which is more than 600 years old. Well, I went some centuries back - imagining the soldiers walking through the streets, women purchasing the vegetables and bangles, kids running around...
Now streets are tightly packed with small stores. Looking both sides we continued our searching for Parsi temple and Dutch cemetery. Finally we located a small board on an old iron gate. Nobody was there; we slowly opened the door and went in. There was an old style building in front of us; it was like we suddenly reached a world of silence from the middle of a busy street. Cemetery was on my right side, we moved towards a small door on further right. Suddenly, I heard somebody calling my name. I turned towards Shihab; he was looking towards a big dog walking towards us without making any noise. Shihab: 'Anybody here?', for our good luck a mid-aged woman came out. Unfortunately we need permission from a guy located near to beach hospital in order to go inside the temple.
That was the first Parsi temple I ever saw. So we started walking towards beach hospital to see the guy for permission, only to hear that he is out of station for next two days. May be the old saying is correct - 'Everything has its own time'. With a heavy heart we walked towards the beach. The beautiful Arabian Sea who witnessed the Rise and Fall of Calicut was lying in front of us. I slowly walked through the sand and touched the water. It was a wonderful experience; I was touching the water of Arabian Sea for the first time. Each wave brought more water and tried to remove the sand over which I am standing. Some fishing boats were trying their luck some kilometres away. I stood there for some time, thinking about the other side - Africa, which I can’t see from here. The realization of standing on one of the free ports and trading centre of old world generated a special respect in my mind towards Calicut.
Our next destination was Kappad beach. After the initial confusion in the routes and walking a lot we finally reached the main road. There was a Koilandi bus standing on the bus stop, we went in. Overnight journey and walking made me so tired that I slept in the bus, sometime later my friend sitting in the back seat shouted - 'It's the stop'. Ok fine I got down, after light refreshment we took an auto to reach Kapad beach. My second interaction with Arabian Sea in the same day...We spent some time there, thinking about the events happened in May 20, 1498 - the day Vasco Da Gama landed there. According to history, Gama's expedition to Calicut was successful and he bought a cargo worth 50-60 times the cost of expedition.
Suddenly one thought came to my mine. Calicut was a port city and a famous trading centre in the old world, records shows that she was visited by mariners of the Orient, West Asia and from many other places as well. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about their expeditions!!! I think our look east policy started in the early years of 90s is yet drill down its roots to our history texts. Close to the beach there is a monument - probably built very recently - in the memory of Vaasco Da Gama arrival at Kappad. We stood there for some time and then started our journey back to Calicut City.
Padinjare (Western) Kovilakam
Next destination was Samoothiri Kovilakam (House of Zamorin). Here we lost our route, after much back tracking and enquiring finally reached Padinjare (Western) Kovilakam located at 'Cheriya Mankvu'. There was no one in the gate; we were in a confusion to go inside or not. Finally we decided to go forward. It’s a big area with buildings and one temple scattered over the place. But the striking thing was there is no difference between the kovilakam and any other home in the eyes of Kerala government.
We reached the entrance, it was empty. May be in the heydays these front yards may be filled with people and festivals. Now only silence remains. We went through the small and narrow path in front of us and reached another road.
We started comparing the current status of kovilakam and its best days. First reason came to my mind was Land Reform Acts started under first communist government elected in 1957 under the leadership of EMS. This law broke the back bone of feudal system in Kerala; subsequent legislations in 1960, 1963, 1964, 1969 and the last nail on the coffin on 1 Jan 1970 brought revolutionary changes in Kerala's land holding pattern. Feudal system never woke up again, but so as the people and temples which commanded a lot of land in earlier days. Suddenly an old news paper report came to my mind - one of the former land lord families is now doing manual labour after unable to sustain themselves in government pension. But the land reform act gave land and new hope to a huge section of people.
Searching Jain Temple
According to our plan next destination was an old Jain temple. Only thing we knew about the location of Jain temple was it’s opposite to Pushpa theatre. On our way back from 'Cheriya Mankombu' we got down at a junction close to the theatre. One traffic police man was standing in the junction we approached him.
Police Man: "Jain temple?"
Me: "Yes, Jain temple"
Shihab: "According to the information given to us there is a Jain temple opposite to Pushpa Theatre"
Police Man: "Pushpa is dead".
Police Man: "Closed, I am new here, check with auto drivers sitting there".
Shihab (slowly towards me): Poet is sitting inside his uniform.
Pushpa was indeed dead. Interestingly nobody knew where the Jain temple is. A porter suggested us to check with people in the nearby church. They too don’t know about a Jain temple opposite to Pushpa theatre. But, told us that there is one at - Gujarati Colony near to Railway Station. Finally we got Jain temple but Dutch cemetery eluded us. We walked towards Railway station from there we can easily reach Gujarati Colony. But Beypore was calling, if we missed some more time we may not be able to go to Beypore at all. So we took a 'U' turn - deciding to visit the temple tomorrow and boarded a Beypore bus.
Me:"2 Beypore" (conductor giving the tickets) "When the last bus will leave Beypore to Calicut"
The road was very much straight and finally we were in Beypore. My third meeting with Arabian Sea...