The word Zamorin sounds a bit non-Indian, but it is very much Indian. The royal family of Hindu Eradi Nair Zamorin ruled over the Malabar coast of present day northern and central Kerala for centuries based at the city of Calicut( now Kozikode). The reign of nearly 120 Zamorins continued from 1300AD till 1806 AD while dealing with the Arabs, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and English. The rulers were known as Zamorin and not by individual names. Hence, their personal names are hardly known to the public. The Zamorin rulers were among the most cultured and accomplished sovereigns of Kerala, states well- respected historian A. Sreedharan Menon in “A Survey of Kerala History”. The kingdom of Polanad was ruled by the Porlatiri. Calicut was part of Polanad. The Eradis of Nediyiruppu marched with their Nairs towards Panniankara and besieged the Porlatiri in his headquarters. The war lasted in a desultory manner for about half a century ! Menon presents the roots of the Europeanised word Zamorin : The kingdom of Calicut also came to be known as Nediyiruppu Swarupam after the original house of the Eradis at Nediyiruppu. Its ruler was popularly known as the Samuri, the term “ Zamorin” being its Europeanised form.
The Zamorins declared Calicut a free port and attracted the Chinese and Arabs. The rulers protected the commercial and religious interests of the merchants. Both, the Chinese and the Arabs, had the commercial rivalry but the policy of Zamorin facilitated the foreign traders and Calicut became important centre for the international trade. Of course, the ruler’s sympathy was for the Arab merchants and he granted special concessions to them. In return “the Arabs help the Zamorin with ships, horses and soldiers in his wars with the neighbouring chieftains”. The administration of Calicut under the Zamorin was based on liberal principles. The king was no doubt an autocrat but his powers were not unlimited. He was oblised to obey the customary law of the land and listen to the counsel of his ministers. The Zamorin maintained an efficient military machine. Travellers from Ceylon, China, Mali, Yemen, Persia, etc., visited the port. The policy of the rulers helped the merchants to merchandise freely without fear about caste, religion and nationality, and this led to the development of Calicut into an international port in the medieval period. “By the end of the 15 th century, the Zamorin was the most powerful sovereign in Kerala and his empire consisted of nearly half of the entire country. His authority extended from Puthuppatanam in the north to Kayamkulam in the south,” notes another historian Dr. G. Krishnan Nadar in “History of Kerala”.
A remarkable contribution was made by the Zamorins in the cultural progress of Kerala. One would be surprised to know that the Zamorin had eighteen and half poets! Nadar explains: The court of the Zamorin was adorned by 18 Sanskrit scholars and a Malayalam poet Punam Namboothiri who was given half of the status of a poet. In the early days of the Revati Pattathanam, the yearly 7-day cultural assembly under the Zamorin’s patronage in the Tali temple at Calicut, it was a difficult task for any scholar to win the title of “Bhatt”. The assembly was attended by scholars and poets from all parts of Kerala and outside. The scholars who emerged from the deliberations of the assembly as the most distinguished of the lot were honoured with the title of “Bhatt”. In May 1498, arrived Vasco Da Gama at Calicut and was received in Durbar as the ambassador of the king of Portugal by the Zamorin. Gama discovered the new sea-route to India. The Zamorin, under the influence of the Arabs, was keen that Gama needed to make payment of the usual customs duties.
The Portuguese ambassador was not happy with the attitude of the Zamorin and left Calicut in August 1498. He reached Cannanore where he was received by the Kolathiri ruler, the hereditary enemy of the Zamorin. Both entered into informal arrangements for loading their ships. Gama mission was a great success and profitable when he was back to Portugal in 1499. Of course, it led to rift between the Arabs and the Portuguese. The Zamorin tried to make peace with the Portuguese, but the Portuguese made the Raja of Cochin rebelled against the Zamorin. Gama left for Lisbon with a cargo of seven vessels of cardamom and other spices. The new Governor of Portuguese, Francisco De Albuquerque, was smart enough to join hands with Krishna Deva Raya of Vijayanagar for help against the Zamorin. But there was a treaty with Calicut to be broken soon by the Portuguese. They shifted their headquarter to Goa but continued to meddle in the Malabar affairs. In the meanwhile, the Dutch came but when the English arrived, their influence evaporated.
When Hyder Ali and his son, Tipu Sultan, set their eyes on the Malabar coast, it became difficult for both the Zamorin and the Raja of Cochin to survive. Hyder Ali took Calicut in 1766. The Muslim Moplah helped Hyder and Tipu in their brutal actions against the Hindus and Christians. The Travancore Maharaja, Karthik Tirunal Rama Varma also known as Dharma Raja(virtuous king), did not accept the supremacy of the rulers of Mysore. He gave asylum to the Zamorin, the Kolathiri and even to the members of the Cochin family. When Tipu attacked Travancore, the English stood by the Maharaja. Tipu ceded the whole of Malabar to the English by the treaty of Seringapattam in 1792. The Mysore rulers committed religious excesses by forcible conversion, plunder and destruction of Temples. The Zamorins became the British protectorate since 1792 and lived as a mere pensioned landlord ever since.What a sad state of affairs!
The last titular Zamorin, PKS Samoothiri Raja, died four years back. The Congress-led United Democratic Front(UDF) government had to arrange to provide a monthly pension of Rs.2500 per member for all 826 members of the three branches of the Royal Zamorin family that ruled the Malabar coast in north Kerala for centuries! The then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had to defend the move when it led to state-wide controversy. While defending the move he said : “It is not just a humanitarian gesture. It is fair compensation for the properties and wealth they gave for the progress of Kerala.” The Kerala government had to face opposition to the proposal as the late Prime Minister and Congress leader Indira Gandhi herself managed to amend the Constitution to get away with the Privy Purses to the rulers, which was promised by Sardar Patel while integrating nearly 565 Princely States with India.
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( The writer is a Socio-political Historian. E-mail : [email protected] )