The Portuguese period in Kerala - a review and Kunjali Marakars and their struggles

The Portuguese period in Kerala - a review and Kunjali Marakars and their struggles

The Portuguese period in Kerala is a subject of great debate.  Their rule and the methods adopted by Malabar and other regions to combat it should be marked with great significance.  Especially the struggles of the Kunjali Marakars.

Studies and significance of the Portuguese colonial rule in Kerala.

In his book Asia and Western Dominance (1953), historian KM Panicker assesses that the arrival of Vasco da Gama in Kerala marked the beginning of a "gamma period" in Asia.  A rethinking of what changes this period has made in the history of Kerala is historically relevant today.  From a European point of view, historians such as Danvard and Boxer have studied this Portuguese period.  However, in the Indian context, K.M. analyzed the influence of Portuguese relations in relation to the history of Kerala.  The builders.  His book 'Malabar and the Portuguese' (1929) was written in this way.  This book was later included in a book titled 'History of Kerala' published by Annamalai University in 1959.  In his book "The Kunhalis" (1963), OK Nambiar describes the history of resistance in Malabar against the Portuguese.

British and Portuguese in Kerala 

KS Mathew also gives a detailed history of Portuguese trade.  In the light of such studies and other studies, a review of this period is needed today.  The Portuguese sought to maintain their dominance in the Arabian Sea for more than a century and a half from 1498 when Gamma landed at Kozhikode to 1663 when the Portuguese captured the forts.  In the fifteenth century, continuous efforts were made to counter this commercial and naval domination in Kerala.  Kozhikode's reputation as an independent international trade center gradually waned and the region came under intense political and commercial rivalry from European powers.  As a decaying political force, Kozhikode and the ruling Zamorin were unable to resist the foreigners and in 1192, Kozhikode, like other political elements in Malabar, came under British rule.

Within this framework of Kerala history, a review of Portuguese relations sheds new light on the areas of reciprocity of technology and political relations.  As Panicker stated, the Portuguese could not build a society in India.  According to Portuguese historians, this was a society that was only able to conquer Goa as a territory with a handful of naval forts and bases.  Even before the beginning of the Christian era, the ports of Kerala influenced trade groups from the Greco-Roman countries.  A Greek center was established at Arikamedu near Pondicherry on the east coast.  Later, travelers such as Kozhikode and Abdul Razak described the importance and richness of Kozhikode as a major center of naval trade for foreigners such as Egyptians, Turks, Arabs and others in medieval history.

Arriving at such a center with the message of medieval political rivalry and sectarianism, the Portuguese came up with two proclaimed ideas, military-protected trade and monopoly trade.  They clung to a philosophy of fascism that had emerged in overseas commerce.

The anti-Portuguese struggles in Asia and Kerala were aimed at maintaining former trade and political ties and maritime independence.  It was the clash of these ideas that persisted in Kerala for a century and a half later.  These conflicts were so complex that successes and failures could not be assessed.  The Portuguese were unable to conquer and colonize an entire territory as they had done in Goa and elsewhere.  The characteristics of the resistance here are particularly significant in this context. 

Commercial community in Malabar and East Coast

 As it flourished in Venice, Egypt, Aden, etc., a sect of merchants who were well versed in overseas trade gained strength in Malabar, the East Coast and the Pulicat region in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  This trade group on the east coast was directly involved in trade with the South East Asian islands and countries and the trade section in Malabar with the Aden and Mediterranean regions.

 They were in every way equal to the commercial capitalism that had grown up in the European centers during these centuries.  Their technological know-how was not far behind that of naval and shipbuilding technology, which had been eliminated by European commercial capitalism.  But ideologically they did not understand the idea of ​​a maritime naval monopoly or a naval protected trade.

The goal of the Portuguese in trade

Ashindas Gupta and others have elaborated on the role of Malabar as a central component of Asian trade.  One of the aims of the Portuguese commercial power was to seize the position by expelling the commercial elements of Malabar from such tradition.  Their aim was to control the transnational maritime trade in Asia by trying to enforce a policy that no ship should sail in the Asian seas without receiving their passes.  One fact that helped them to this end was some of the technology that Western Europe had acquired in certain areas of the military.  Such technical knowledge has grown slowly here.  In addition, the powers that be, including the Portuguese, were able to take advantage of the contemporary growth in technology and resources in India to some extent.These foreign powers had the opportunity to use the resources and technology of this country effectively in enslaving this country.  The struggle against the Portuguese here for a century and a half shattered the national political forces and later completely destroyed their ability to confront the political forces that had conquered the Portuguese. 

Ships in Malabar and Portuguese ships

In making such an analysis it is necessary to analyze the Portuguese period in the light of a comparative study of national and foreign technology.  In the case of Kevubharam, the ships at Malabar were not far behind the Portuguese ships.  The ships built in Malabar were comparable to their two-tiered naval ships.  Peda Alvarez ordered the capture of Kabal at the request of the Zamorin, a ship carrying seven elephants by a Cochin merchant.  There were three hundred soldiers on board.  They resisted with bows, arrows and cannons but failed.  This fact helps to estimate the total weight of the Malabar ships of that time.  Portuguese records show that some ships found silverware and maps needed for sea voyages. 

The Malabar ships did not have a well-equipped artillery.  The cannons were made of iron and the rear rod was loaded with ammunition.  The bullets were made of granite and the Portuguese cannons were made of brass.  The ammunition was stuffed through the mouth and the bullets were made of iron.  These cannons were far ahead in practicality.  That is why the Zamorin trained his workers in artillery construction with the Venetians Pora Ananio and Jomaria and tied the ropes and parts of the Malabar ships together.

These bundles were destroyed by fire in artillery fire.  But the Portuguese ships were iron-clad.  According to the construction style of the Mediterranean, the use of copper plates and ironwork on the outer surface of the base was also adopted in Malabar ships.  All this shows that Malabar was ready to adopt new technology. 

Battle of Chaul near Gujarat in March 1508

 At the Battle of Chaul near Gujarat in March 1508, the combined forces of the Egyptians, Indians, Venetians and Turks defeated the Portuguese.  Malik Ayyas led the army in Gujarat, Bijapur, Kozhikode and Ahmednagar.  Their victory made the Venetians very happy.  However, during the Portuguese counterattack in 1509, Ayaz was forced to make peace with them.  The Venetians continue to lament the inadequacy of the Muslims in using the weapons they have sent and in adopting their military method.

Shipbuilding by the Portuguese in India

The Portuguese used Kamena Indian resources for their military and commercial domination.  They built ships in Kochi, Goa and Basin using the Malabar "Nau", which is best suited for shipbuilding.  Indian workers and experts were used extensively and ships were built sparingly.  He built his own ship and gave the rank of captain to those who joined the army.  The Portuguese expert also supervised the Moro phase of construction.  Santa Catherine Dimana Sinai, an 800-tonne Portuguese geese 'tongue' ship, was built in Kochi in 1513.  The ships built here often did not reach Portugal due to the increased weight of the ships.  So the king forbade them to build more than 500-800 ships.

The Portuguese were able to use the shipbuilding and naval traditions of India in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to establish their dominance.  Similarly, skilled ironworkers lived on the east coast of Pulicat and other places.  They set up special agencies to use the two bullets they had made for their artillery and to buy iron bullets as far as they could.  Pirard DeLaville, a French traveler, likened the shipbuilding of Bassein to the richness of the BK area of ​​spain.

The most important market for metals such as gold and silver was Malacca in Asia.  When the Portuguese conquered it, they also seized the monopoly of existing trade between the Indian East Coast and Malacca.  They also leased the ships of local merchants such as Sethu and Nainar .Thus they sought to establish a commercial monopoly within Asia.

Kunjali Marakars and their struggles

The Zamorin's navy and the Portuguese period in the column - A Review 15 The Kunjali Maraikans who led it played a major role in resisting the Portuguese's struggle for commercial political domination for over a century.  The story of their resistance and counter-attacks is an important chapter in the history of the Indian Navy.

But due to the scarcity of documents and descriptions we have not even got a partial history of it.  Their idea was an independent Indian community.  They were able to see that the commercial and political freedom of the place would be jeopardized when these maritime powerhouses were conquered.  They constantly clashed with the Portuguese navy in various parts of the Indian Ocean.  They devised a military strategy of resistance and counter-attack.  They were able to attack the enemy using small speedboats and seek refuge on the river faces when needed.  They gathered the necessary information about the enemy's movements by setting up observation stations at key points along the coast.  This system, which replaced today's scientific surveillance with radars, strengthened the work of the Malabar Navy.

Kunjali IV built a naval jetty similar to the one built by the Portuguese at Kottakal, the mouth of the Puthupattanam river.  It was a center of great military importance.  The Portuguese warships 'Galiwat' also built models here.  They used new naval techniques and tactics.  But the wars on land did not proceed from the old Kalaripayattu style.  There was no attempt to turn the soldier's personal courage into the systematic fighting style of a military force.  Perhaps one reason is the traditional reluctance of the Nair army to adapt to the new style.  It was Marthanda Varma in Travancore in the first half of the eighteenth century who adopted and implemented a change in the Western model.  When it helped him to unify the country, the power of Kozhikode was declining due to the continuous wars of the sixteenth century.
 It was through the strong resistance and counter-attack of the Kunjali Marakkans that they kept it from sinking and did not turn it into a Portuguese colony like Goa, and built a navy using their own resources and recruiting their own relatives.  These activities helped to maintain national political dominance on the Malabar coast.

In this way, the Malayalam language and literature flourished because the independence of Malabar was protected from the Portuguese for a century.  Otherwise, Malayalam would have developed into a unique language without its own script and development like the Konkani language of Goa.  Credit for this goes to the naval tradition of the Kunjali Maraikans, whose only need to prevent genocide is to preserve their own resources and national culture.


In this context, a comprehensive rethinking of the most important Portuguese period in the history of Kerala is needed today.  Technological and scientific changes need to be analyzed.  The Portuguese and their successors sought to establish political and commercial domination using Indian resources and technology of the day.  The failure of the Portuguese domination was partly due to the resistance here.  These lessons of history help us to understand that the strategy adopted by foreigners in the new colonial system is one of subjugation of such resources.


Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form