Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Jews of Calicut, History reread......

Believed to be formed after the collapse of the Chera dynasty, Calicut as a maritime city was prosperous in the hands of Zamorins. The overseas trade with the Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch, English and many more from west and Chinese from eastern world as a whole has many stories of friendship, warship and victory to share with us. But most of those stories are untold ones or would have gone into the graves of history….

But the clues of those events and happenings if found would reveal those untold stories and mysteries to the 21st century, It came in reality when some of the pages of “The voyages of Francois Pyrard of Laval, to the east indies, the Maldives, the molucass and Brazil.” were turned, the possibility of existence of a Jew street in Calicut was found.
Among others, the Jews have their own quarter and synagogue, which none enter but they.

 The existence of the Jew Street was not accepted by some of the Local historians and topographical location was not identified till it was re-explored by the team of Calicut Heritage Forum and I am glad for being the one who alerted the research team.

The origin of the Jewish settlement of Calicut is not known, but it would have been an off shoot of the Jews of Madayi, Shaliat (Chaliyam) Flandrina (Panthilayini Kollam). Could have settled after the up gradation of Calicut as thriving Port city or later, Portuguese travelers and historians mention about the Jews of Calicut is in 15th century. And believed to be the first record about them and from the Dutch abstract of Hebrew chronicles of Cochin, a Jewish prince of Jews of Malabar is said to be died in 17th century. But this community would have nourished by later by Jews of south or more precisely by Cochin Jews in a later period just for trade purpose or this last Jewish community the northern Kerala would have coupled with south. But the dwindling phase of this community is unknown.

Shaliat and Flandrina, both close to Calicut, are mentioned by Muslim and Christian geographers of the 12th and 13th centuries as having Jewish settlements. i.e.
Chaliyam was called as Shaliat by Arabians, Chale by Portuguese, Chaly by Francois Pyrard. Arab historian and geographer Abu’l Fida Ismail Hamvi’s (1273 - 1331 AD)  Taqwim al-Buldan, mentions “ The town of Shaliyat that is inhabited by Jews”. 

Reports of Friar Odorico De Pordenone (1286 – 1331 AD) an Italian medieval traveller (The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the ... By Richard Hakluyt Pg 412), mentions pepper & trade at Flandrina. He also mentions that Christians and Jews reside there. 
“And the forest in which the pepper growth for a good eighteen day’s journey, and in that forest there be two cities, the one whereof is called Flandrina and the other Cyngilin. In the city of Flandrina some inhabitatnts were Jews and some are Christians; and between those two cities there is always internal war, but the result is always that the Christians beat and overcome the Jews.”

The presence of Jewry in Calicut is even mention along with the arrival of Vasco da Gama. With the coming of the Portuguese to India, travelers such as Girolamo Sernigi (1453 - 1510) refer to the Jewish association with Calicut.
He (a jewish pilot) says that there are not many Jews there (Calicut) ; and that there is a King of the Jews of the ten tribes of the Jewish people which went out of Egypt.”

Ludovico di Varthema (early 16th century) mentions
There was also a Jew here who had built a very beautiful galley and had made four mortars of iron. They said Jew going to wash himself in a pond of water was drowned.”

 Abraham Farissol ben Mordecai in his Iggeret Orḥot Olam (completed in 1524A.D; printed Venice, 1587 A.D) alluded to the presence of Jews in Calicut and the neighboring islands. While the Portuguese historian Gaspar Correia speaks in 1536 of the great number of Jews in Calicut, the Yemenite traveler Zechariah b. Saadiah (16th century) looked in vain for coreligionists there.  

A rare Dutch abstract record of the “Hebrew Chronicles” found in custody Jews of Cochin, by Leopold Emanuel Jacob Van Dort (AD 1757), a Jewish convert to Christian says “A.M. 5410, and A.D. 1650, on the 5th day of the month Sh’vat (i.e January), died the last of the family of their Rabbi, Whose name was Joshiah, Prince of the Jews of Malabar, Who resided at Calicut.” 

Dr. David G. Mandelbaum, an American anthropologist in his article "The Jewish Way of Life in Cochin," records the following tradition current among the Jews of Cochin, India: “While the Jews could scarcely defend themselves against great armies of marauders, it is clear that they were proficient in arms. The two great opponents of the Malabar coast, the Raja of Cochin and the Zamorin of Calicut, each had a brigade of Jewish soldiers in their forces.”
This also gives us a hint of existence of the Jewish presence in Calicut, i.e. Jewish soldiers.

But above all, the information from Francois Pyrard and Van Dort, i.e. a Jewish quarter and a synagogue, a Jewish prince or community leader had made me to think about the possibility of a Jew street in Calicut. I had browsed in the net to get any address from Calicut with the suffix Jew street, I found an address of an electric appliances company, with a phone number and I had a forwarded it to Mr. Ramachandran the author of the blog Calicut Heritage, whom I had thought would be the best, and he was. He took it so serious and his enthusiastic approach has made Adv. Madhusoodan, to find this place. The pin code mentioned in the address was the key to find the place.  You can fetch more details from his blog – Calicut Heritage
As per Calicut Heritage’s exploration,
As we walked down from the Miskal Mosque heading south, one road leads east and turns south again towards Idiyangara. There are a few shops on this street and this place is now called Jootha Bazar or Jews Street. Local people had different explanations for the origin of the name. An elderly person said that perhaps the origin could be traced to mothers calling their naughty offspring children of Jews as a curse. But, why should the name called stick to a place, unless only children of that locality were mischievous. Another ingenious explanation given was that naughty young people of that locality would gather in the Jootha Bazar and gamble and, therefore, the name stuck. 
A third person, who appeared to be more knowledgeable about the history and culture of the place explained that it was just possible that the location of the present Jews Street was once a flourishing market run by the Jews, like the Silk Street, Gujarati Street etc.”
                                   Courtesy to Calicut Heritage

But we cannot stick to these folklore or narratives  and says that there were no Jews lived here in this street. We can even assume that a mother cursing their offsprings as “Children of jews” is not a common usage and even this usage could be a hint that speaks about the presence of Jewish community there in a sense. But when written history is reread that may takes us to new explorations.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful history of Calicut. Calicut (Kozhikode) or Kozhikode is historically known for welcoming Vasco da Gama, way back in 1498 AD. Check out best hotels in Calicut.