Calicut: The land of Zemorin’s

Calicut, is the most important coastal city of Malabar the north region of state of Kerala. It was a leading trading centre for spices on the West Coast of India during the medieval period. Ruled by the Zamorin dynasty, calicut found a place in World History with the discovery of sea route to India in 1498 by the Portuguese navigator Vasco Da Gama. He landed at Kappad a coastal fishing village and the history was changed the political scanario of India, which ultimately ended with it’s colonization by the British. It remained under the Madras Presidency till the formation of Kerala in 1956 after independence.

The early history has it that during the sangam age, Calicut known as Kallikkottai in Tamil formed part of the Chera Empire. It played a leading part in fostering trade relations between Kerala and outside world. Tondi, the present Kadalundi as per scholars, was one of the most flourishing seaports of Kerala that time. In the 9th century, Calicut became a part of the Second Chera Empire. The Chera’s also known as Perumals, ruled the territory till 1122 AD. The kingdom was divided into many independent districts called ‘Nadus’ such as Ernad and Polanad with the fall of Chera emppire. Originally Calicut area was under the Porlarthris, rulers of Poland. It became an important town in 13th century with the conquest of Polanad by the King of Ernad.


The Udaiyavar of Ernad, whose headquarters was at Nediyiruppu wanted an outlet to the sea and after fighting with the Polatthiri King for 48 long years conquered the area around Ponniankara and build a fort at a place called Velapuram. Thus the city of Calicut came into existence sometime in the 13th Century AD.

With the accession of Calicut, the status of Nediyirippu increased and he come to known as Swami Nambiyathiri Thirumulpad, which gradually became Samuri or Samuthiri over the years. The Europeans called him Zamorin. The place surrounded by the fort was known as Koyil (palace) Kotta (fort) and hence the name of the place became Kozhikode. Foreigners called it by different names, For Arabs it was Kalikat, for Chinese it was Kalifo while the city is known to outside world by its European name – Calicut. Calicut became a mighty seaport, where the Arabs and the Chinese met to exchange the products of west with the east and vise versa. Religious tolerance, good administration, which gave security and impartiality to all and the friendly attitude of Zamorin to all traders, made Calicut the chief centre of trade in Malabar region. Zamorin gave special concession to Arabs (the Moors) to carry out trade.

According to K.V. Krishna Iyer, the rise of calicut is at once a cause and a consequence of Zamorin’s ascendancy in Kerala. By the end of the century, Zamorin was at the zenith of his powers with all princes and chieftains of Kerala north of Cochin acknowledging his suzerainty.


Vasco Da Gama arrived in 1498 and obtained permission to carry out trade from Calicut. The Arabs sensing the threat posed by Portuguese to their commercial supremacy, opposed the Europeans. Bitter fights started between Portuguese and Arabs. The Portuguese went to Cochin for trade and the Raja of Cochin had an alliance with the Portuguese with aim of attaining sovereignty from Zamorin.

The hostilities between the Zamorin and the Portuguese continued for many decades and the role played by the Kunjali Marakkar in these battles can not been forgotten. Kunjali Marakkar were the hereditary admirals of the zamorin and organized a powerful navy to fight the Portuguese.

Kunajali II, the greatest of Zamorin’s Admirals, fought bravely and captured the Portuguese ships and massacred the crew members. Kunjali III built a fort at Kottakkal and enjoyed all the privileges enjoyed by the Nair chiefs. The caused heavy damages to the Portuguese shipping and trade but with the defeats in 1528 and 1538 they lost their glory. The Portuguese built a fort at Chaliyam at the mouth of the Baypore River in the middle of the Zamorin’s territory. Due to the prolonged struggle, zamorin’s strength deteriorated and entered into a treaty in 1540 and allowed the Portuguese to have monopoly over trade at Calicut port. The peace was temporary and war broke out again resulting in the demolition of Chaliyom Fort in the 1571 by the Zamorin.

The battles continued unabated till 1588 when the Portuguese were allowed to settle down at Calicut. However Kunjali opposed the move. Moreover the Kunjali IV declared himself as the ‘King of the Moors’ and disobeyed the Zamorin. Zamorin could not digest this and sided with Portuguese to destroy the powerful Kunjalis and in 1600, kunjalis surrendered and subsequently executed. It was really ironical that Zamorins had to ally with Portuguese and to fight the Kunjalis, who saved the Calicut Kingdom for decades in its fight against Portuguese.

In the meanwhile, the Dutch, English and the French arrived in Kerala. Zamorins allowed the Dutch to trade in Calicut and sought their help to drive out the Portuguese. The position of Portuguese weakened gradually due to international events and their position in Kerala deteriorated. Dutch captured Cochin and Cannanore and established trade. However, by 1721, the Dutch formally withdrew from all interference in native wars.

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