History of Kozhikode

Kozhikode, also known as ‘Calicut’, has a vast history with a lot of significance. Today, Kozhikode has been ranked as the second best city to reside in due to the history that is attached to it. Famous travelers like Vasco Da Gama and Ibn Battuta have left us with details about Kozhikode from as early as the 12th and 13th century.

Foundation of Kozhikode

Invaders had invaded Kozhikode, and finally with the National Movement and the fight for Independence, Kozhikode got its freedom. Kozhikode has been tagged with different names, like the ‘City of Spices’ and the ‘City of sculptures’. Today Kozhikode is known for the trade that it is doing with the European countries. If it wasn’t for its history, when Vasco Da Gama landed in Kozhikode and opened the trade route by sea, this wouldn’t have been possible. From more than 500 years, Kozhikode has been in trade with the Arabs, Chinese, Jews, Phoenicians and others. The illustrious history of Kozhikode is given below.

Foundation of Kozhikode

The 3rd and 4th century BC was known as the ‘Sangam period’. During this period, the Chera Empire had an uninhabited land. This is the land which is now known as Kozhikode. The Chera Empire had control over the ports of Kerala and they played a very important role in fostering relations of trade between the outside world and Kerala. Even a seaport to the south of Kozhikode became a part of this Empire. They were the rulers of this territory for many centuries. But according to references made by famous traveler Ibn Battuta in his accounts the rise of Kozhikode as a major center for trade seems to have happened only in the 13th century or after that.

There was no reference of Kozhikode by traveler Marco Polo who had visited Kerala almost at the end of the 13th century, which is another proof of this fact. However, according to Prof. Krishna Ayyar, the year of the foundation of Kozhikode was 1034. Cherman Perumal, who was the last King of the Chera Empire, had partitioned the kingdom and gone to Mecca to spend his remaining days. This partition proved to be a major turning point in the history of Kozhikode. Following his disappearance and the partition of his kingdom, the governors in charge of each partitioned land gained independence and proclaimed their land as a ‘gift’ from Cheraman Perumal himself.

There have been contradictions in this story. Prof A. Shreedhara Menon entirely rejects this story about Cherman Perumal. He says that Kozhikode along with its suburbs were part of the Polanad Kingdom. According to him, people of Ernad (presently known as Kondotty), the Ernadis, wanted an outlet to the sea for trading purposes. They marched towards the Polanad Kingdom and raged a war which lasted for 50 long years. After winning the war, the Ernadis shifted their base to Kozhikode. The Governor of the Ernadis, after the war, built a fort to safeguard his interests. The fort lent its name to ‘Koyil Kotta’, from which the word Calicut was formed.

The title of the King of Ernad, evolved gradually into Saamoothiri or Saamoori over the years and was called Zamorin by the Europeans. With such information, it seems that Kozhikode’s foundation was laid in the early years of the 12th century. There are various versions of the foundation of Kozhikode. But there are several periods in the history of Kozhikode and each period is marked with epoch-making events. The invasion of Mysore, the arrival of the Dutch and the Portuguese, the power of the British, the National Movement and finally the Independence in 1947, are all part of the history of Kozhikode.

Chronicles of Kozhikode Travelers

Many travelers from all across the globe can in search for something or the other to Kerala. They had written articles about the city of Kozhikode and from those articles we get to know quite a lot about the history of Kozhikode. Some of the important travelers who visited Kozhikode are:

  • Vasco Da Gama: The greatest traveler ever known, Vasco Da Gama, landed at Kozhikode on 20th May 1498. This opened the trade between European countries and especially Portugal. Though this was a good thing, it gave rise to competition between the Arabs and the Europeans, both of whom wanted commercial supremacy. But if it wasn’t for Vasco Da Gama, history might not have seen trading between the two continents so early.
  • Ibn Battuta: He visited Kozhikode six times in five years (1342-1347). He gave us the glimpse of how life was in Kozhikode during that time. In brief, he described Kozhikode as the greatest port in the Malabar District; the merchants from all over the world are found there. He also described the King of Kozhikode as the one who used to shave his chin in a similar way as the Fakeers of Rome used to. He said that many of the Muhammedan merchants of Kozhikode were so rich that they could have bought the whole cargo of the ships calling the port of Kozhikode and many others like them.
  • Ma Huan: He was a traveler during the 1400s AD. He was a Chinese Muslim sailor, who said that the city of Kozhikode is a ‘great emporium’ of trade. He made note of the 20 odd mosques that were built to cater the needs of the Muslims and the unique system of calculation used by the merchants which is even followed till this day by the Muslim merchants in Kozhikode.
  • Abdur Razzak: He was the ambassador of the Emperor of Persia who said that he found the harbor of Kozhikode to be a very secure place.
  • Niccolo de’ Conti: He was an Italian and the one who described the city that was abundant in pepper, ginger, cinnamon, lac, zedary etc.. He called Kozhikode a noble emporium just a eight mile circumference.
  • Athanasius Nikitn (Russian), Ludivico di Varthema (Italian) and Duarte Barbosa were a few other travelers who had made notes about the city of Kozhikode. Though they are all part of history, their notes have made us live that glorious history of the city of Kozhikode.


Kozhikode under various Invaders

At first there were the Zamorins who were ruling Kozhikode. After Vasco Da Gama’s arrival in Kozhikode, which opened the trade route between Portugal and India, the Arabs sensed a threat. Due to this, bitter fights started between them. The Portuguese then went to the Raja of Cochin for trade. The Raja of Cochin found this to be an excellent chance to reign supreme over the Zamorins. Now the fights started between the Zamorins and the Portuguese. The struggle for supremacy lasted very long and in the end, the Zamorins military strength was heavily reduced. The Portuguese also suffered heavy losses, both in terms of their military strength and their fleet for trading in Kozhikode. The Zamorins signed a treaty finally in 1540 with the Portuguese which allowed Portuguese to have monopoly over the trade at the port of Kozhikode.

The Portuguese built a fort at the mouth of Beypore River which was under Zamorin’s territory. The peace did not last much and again a war broke out between them and this fort (Chaliyom Fort) was demolished in 1571 by the Zamorins. The Zamorins again surrendered and the Portuguese settled down in Kozhikode. But this time, the Kunjalis (The Admirals of the Zamorin army) opposed this and they moved out of the Zamorin army. The Zamorins and the Portuguese got together and defeated the Kunjalis in 1600.

After this, there was the arrival of the Dutch, English and French in Kozhikode. The Zamorins partnered with the Dutch and raged war against the Portuguese, promising them to provide facilities to trade in Kozhikode and Cochin and also huge storehouses. Finally, the Portuguese got defeated and the Dutch captured the city of Cochin and started establishing trade. Finally in 1721, the Dutch withdrew from any interference in the wars.

The wars did not end here. Hyder Ali became the King of Mysore in 1761. He arrived in Kozhikode. The fight broke out between the Zamorin and Hyder Ali. The Nairs besieged the garrison of Mysore. Hyder Ali took drastic measures to rebel. He withdrew from war on a condition that a war indemnity be paid to him. But he made another attempt in 1773 and gained authority in Malabar. This time the Nairs, along with the British, completely wiped out the Mysoreans by 1778. In 1783, it was Tipu Sultan who established rule over Kozhikode. He was anti-Hindu. He destroyed many temples and converted a lot of people to Islam by force.

His ambition was to shift the Capital from Kozhikode to somewhere south, which ended in failure. This was because the Nairs attacked Kozhikode. When Tipu returned in hope of re-establishing his authority over the city, he came in direct conflict with the British who were based in Madras. This resulted in four wars known as the Anglo-Mysore Wars. After the Third Anglo-Mysore War, Kozhikode and a few other districts were ceded to the British. The Madras Presidency acquired these possessions and organized them in to the Malabar District with the District Capital as Kozhikode.

The British had reached Kozhikode in 1615. They were made to sign a treaty which said that they had to assist Kozhikode to expel the Portuguese. But the British never fulfilled this. Zamorin was growing suspicious of all these European traders and that’s why he did not extend any favors to them of any sort. The British remained neutral in the war between Mysore and Kozhikode at first. Then the British helped the Nairs to recapture Kozhikode from Mysore. Lord Cornwallis had promised the exiled rulers that after the expulsion of Tipu from Kozhikode, they will be restored. But the East India Company did not stand by Lord Cornwallis’s promise. The whole of Malabar, including Kozhikode, came under the domination of the British by 1793.

National Movement in Kozhikode

Kozhikode did witness the several movements which were part of the struggle for Independence from the British. Congress had held a conference in Kozhikode in 1904. In 1930, Satyagrahis were attacked brutally because they broke the ‘Salt Laws’ at the Kozhikode Beach. More than 30 people were injured. Forcible seizure of the Indian National Flag by the Police over there was defended. The major center for the ‘Quit India Movement’ and Malabar’s rising Communist Party was definitely Kozhikode.

After India got its Independence in 1947, ‘Madras State’ was the new name given to the Madras Presidency. Malabar District, in combination with Travancore-Cochin formed a new state called Kerala. This Malabar District was later on split into 3 districts known as Kozhikode, Kannur and Palakkad.

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