Trumpets blared. The clear waters of the Periyar were cut through by busy oars, the sailors in layers of fancy colourful robes bearing loads of gold cruised up the river. They could get a clear view of Muzuri Pattinam, the town called Muziris. They were the Romans who crossed the Mediterranean to visit the sons of Chera; attracted by the fragrance of pepper, the Black Gold , they brought loads of real gold for exchange. That was the beginning of centuries-long history of commercial contact. Greeks, Portuguese, and Dutch – all the adventurers of the world voyaged to this famous port. The combined forces of Time, and floods in the Periyar wiped Muziris off the face of the world. This, is history.
Fast forward to the present times. In the lap of that ancient Muziris is a small town called Pattanam. We set out on a journey of discovery, along with a German tourist. We felt that the modern folk stared at that German guest, a red new Porsche Boxster, with the same curiosity that their ancestors had bestowed on ancient traders in their sailing ships.
At North Paravur, Pattanam and Kodungallur we glimpse the remains of ancient Muziris. And also gaze at the beauties of the Kochi coast. Very early morning, we start from Kochi in the Porsche, and across the Goshri Bridge, off along the coast. The view of Kochi from the bridge is unforgettable.
Njarackal: We can spend a day at Rs. 100/- at the Fisheries Centre. We may catch all the fish we can; and they will make curry of them for us – but of course we have to pay extra! We move on
Kuzhipilli Beach: We pass between heaps of shrimps – beautiful! And here is a lad who could be a hero in archery – he tries to fish by shooting arrows made of wire from a little bow fashioned out of the ribs of an umbrella! Could he be a potential Olympian in archery, we wonder! The beach is comparatively safe here – we take time off for a bath.
Raktheswari Beach: Three kilometres further on is Raktheswari Beach. It is also called 'Ambedkar Beach' because there is a statue of his.
Cherai Beach: Is just one and a half kilometres further on. Crowded, touristy and attended by Coastal guards, people believe it is safe, but the largest number of accidents has occurred here.
Pallipuram: The sand is sugary between sea and backwaters. If the sea is high, the waves overtop the sea-wall and wash across the road. Tippu Sultan is believed to have targeted a fort here – at Pallippuram. It is now an uncared old structure between Cherayi and Munambam. The myth is that Tippu had to turn back due to other pressures when he had reached Malyankara nearby. It had been built by the Portuguese in 1507. Neglected though it is, the odour of antiquity attaches strongly to it.
Sahodaran Ayyappan's house: He had challenged the caste system by arranging inter-dining of all people – are we yet able to live up to it? Even the road in his name has been abbreviated to 'SA Road'!
Munambam Beach: The Muziris beach at Munambam has been beautified. The pathway on top of the groins built into the sea to prevent erosion has been tiled. The 'Homely Food' offered by Kudumbasri here is an additional attraction.
Glories of Pattanam: Chathedam Boat Jetty at Gothuruth is not crowded. It is the only functioning one on the projected National Waterways that is still on paper. Hard to believe that time was when all the world camped here! Kerala Govt., have launched a Heritage Tourism package based on Muziris: to impress on the natives the rich history of their own past, and to further establish Kerala's position as premier tourist destination in the world. Close by is St Sebastian Parish Bungalow at Gothuruth. Surrounded as it is by modern buildings, it is difficult to distinguish this two-century old mansion.
Paliam Palace: Paliath Achan-s (as the members of this family used to be known) were traditional Dewans of Kochi. Their official residence here had been built as a gift by the Dutch in 1663. Nearby is the traditional Nalukettu home of the family, and a number of temples of their tutelary deities. In the Muziris Plan, these structures have been included as heritage sites. (Visitors not allowed on Sundays)
The Seminary at Vyppikotta: This seminary used to press printed matter in Kerala. The remains now lie neglected, without roofs, only the walls upstanding. None of the inscriptions on the granite slabs in the courtyard is decipherable.
Synagogue: Originally, the ornaments in the Synagogue were gold-plated. A thief peeled it all off, taking a week over it. Fortunately, the Synagogue remains.
A Slice of history
The Ramayanam mentions a 'Murachapathanam'. Pliny recorded it as the foremost port in India but Muziris was not only the gateway to trade. Through here entered Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Here, it is believed, did St. Thomas and Malik Dinar disembark. The Periyar flows into the sea through two distributaries. From the sea, this was not pretty, and hence the name Muchiri ('three-lipped'). In the 14th century was scripted a new chapter in history by the same Periyar that had raised the town to prosperity. It flooded the town and the port out of existence. The flood waters forced a new opening that was to become Kochi. The present project for recovering the ruins of Muchiri seeks to wake up the relics from their slumbers. The excavations reveal a well-organized town. Amphorae peculiar unique to the Romans have been recovered only from this site. Troves of foreign coins and shards of pottery are being excavated.
We have to travel not only across land but also along backwaters to know the full story. Pallipuram Fort, the great temple at Thiruvanchikulam, the market places trading through barter, Cheraman Mosque, and several other monuments await travellers. The first Christian Church in India (Marthoma Church), the first mosque (Cheraman Palli), are at Kodungallur. The Synagogue is within half a kilometre of the Fort, which also accommodates the Palace. Nearby in the backwaters, a few rocks raise their heads. The associated myth: once Siva and Parvathi were flying on their vehicle, the Bull Nandi. Enraged by a sudden lovers' quarrel, Siva tore off the bells from the bull's neck and cast them down. There they remain as the rocks.
Footnote Not a day, nor even a week will suffice to see all of Muziris. Devoted in mind and body, those who desire to study its history are welcome, to imbibe the rhythms of the backwaters of Varapuzha and Kodungallur, enjoying the native cuisine.
Also read Muziris project: Reliving the past