The 'Muziris Heritage Boat Ride' offers a rewind to Kerala's eventful history. The travellers in the boat which covers many areas of the backwaters in North Paravur can witness the past at first hand. For a moment they can imagine a thriving market, traders, the king and the Portuguese army. There may be ships belonging to Jewish traders from the West who arrived to buy pepper. Country boats move around with spices. Traders loudly haggle over the prices. The local people crowd the banks of the lake with baskets. The Portuguese soldiers are present with guns and lathis. This was the scene on the coast of Kodungallur, then known as Muziris, in that age.
There were forts at Pallippuram and Kottappuram and a Jewish synagogue. The market was quite big. Sometime later Sahodaran Ayyappan, the social reformer, lived here. The popular ruler Cheraman Perumal and the protector of Kodungallur Paliyathachan had homes in the area.
Bema and Mezuzah
The name Muziris became popular thanks to the Biennale. After the state government beautified the old Muziris area, travellers started arriving in Kodungallur again. Now hop-on hop-off boat services are available in the lake connecting Paravur, Pallippuram, Kottappuram and Gothuruthu. The trip starts from the boat landing near the vegetable market at North Paravur. Before entering the boat, the Jewish synagogue in Paravur can be visited. The project manager of Muziris is Dr Midhun. Guides like Charles, Abhijith and Vysakh can make the trip interesting.
“Around 1000 years ago, Jewish traders arrived in Kodungallur. The white Jews built the synagogue in Fort Kochi. Those who settled in North Paravur were mostly black Jews. But only one family house remains here now. The members are settled in Israel and visit the place rarely,” says Charles pointing out the gate of the worship place. The word 'Beth Nest' is inscribed there. It means a place to assemble.
“The Mezuzah will be found near the main entrance of every Jewish home. It has an inscription of two phrases from Torah, the holy book of the Jews,” says Vysakh.
The synagogue has a striking appearance with a wooden roof carved with flowers. The hooks that once supported chandeliers are stately. There is an Ark and Bema inside. Ark is a cupboard on the wall displaying a model of Jerusalem. Inside it, the Torah is kept. Bema is the platform where the priest stands for chanting the Torah. Worship takes place only if at least 10 male devotees are present. Women are barred from entering the altar along with men. In the Paravur synagogue, women can join the prayers from a balcony. A separate staircase and an overhead walkway for women is a peculiar feature of the Jewish synagogue in Paravur. Evidence of Jewish presence in Kerala like Tharissapally inscription and Jewish inscriptions can be seen here in the form of copies.
The hop-on hop-off service starts in the morning. Initially, the boat travels through the middle of the lake which is studded with Chinese fishing nets. Then it enters the Kottappuram-Kollam National Waterway, which extends from Kodungallur to Kollam. An office and staff functions at Paravur for the waterway but the potential of the path is yet to be fully utilized.
The waterway is in a bad shape. Unauthorized fishing is rampant, making a boat ride very difficult. Another encroachment is the presence of Chinese fishing nets in the middle of the lake. Official crackdowns have not deterred law-breakers.
The boat reaches the house where Sahodaran Ayyappan was born. The old mud structure with thatched roof is preserved and the place turned into a tourism centre by the Muziris Project and Kerala Cultural Affairs Department. Exhibits relating incidents in Ayyappan’s life like digging a well when he was ostracized and community feasts are displayed. Other attractions at the place are the house of Achuthan Vaidyar, Ayyappan’s elder brother; library and an auditorium.
Across the lake from there is an island, Pattanam. It was once known as Muziris or Muchiripatnam. Coconut trees line the banks. The boat landing is near the ‘Manju matha church’. There are, in fact, two churches here. While one was built by the Portuguese, the other was set up by the Dutch. The altar was constructed by the former while the small church near the cemetery is a contribution of the Portuguese.
Tipu Sultan had made plans to attack the church but heavy fog (‘manju’) appeared and the Mysore army could not approach the area, according to local lore. The church came to be known as ‘Manju matha church’ afterwards. Now it too is included in the Muziris Project.
The sea port
The next destination of the tourist boat is Munambam. The route passes the Pallippuram - Maliankara bridge. Munambam flaunts the biggest boat yard in South India and some fishing boats built here are almost half the size of ships. A fishing boat that can employ 20 hands would cost Rs 1.5 crore and most of these boats remain at sea for at least 15 days.
Thousands of boats operate from Munambam, which is the second biggest fishing harbour in India. While the harbour is located in Ernakulam district the other side is Thrissur. The Munambam harbour is often referred to as a ‘sea mouth’ because the Periyar river joins the Arabian Sea here. Only fishing boats are allowed beyond the harbour to the sea. A coast guard station also functions here. Another curious sight is that of local people catching fish from coracles.
The church and the market
It is believed that the ship carrying the apostle St Thomas reached Muziris in 52 AD. A church commemorating the event stands at Azhikode. A relic of the holy man has been brought from Italy and is preserved at the Marthoma Pontifical church, which resembles the shrine in Rome.
An eatery near the church serves meals with fish curry which is relished by the travelers in the tourist boat.
The waterfront walkway can be reached after passing the Moothakunnam-Kottappuram bridge connecting the VP Thuruthu. The walkway has been beautified under the Muziris project and invites visitors to spend a relaxed evening. An amphitheatre right next to the lake and shady trees are venues for cultural events.
The path from here leads to the Kottappuram market, which comes alive on Tuesdays and Fridays. The market scenes in the movie Ezra were shot here and Dutch architecture is the attraction of the place.
Even though Vasco da Gama landed at Kappad in Kozhikode he could not subjugate the Zamorin, who was militarily strong. The Portuguese made no gains from the trading activities in Kozhikode. Later another Portuguese navigator named Cabral landed at Muziris, taking the advice of Gama. The Paliyam rulers in Muziris were facing threats from the Zamorin and welcomed Cabral, who supported them in the battles.
Having received the facilities to carry out trade in Kodungallur, Cabal built a fort on the lakefront. Later, the Dutch destroyed the fort with cannons. Recently, the Archaeology Department excavated the remnants of the fort. The remains of a Portuguese man were among the items found and they have been displayed at the fort now.
The tourist boat’s next stop is Gothuruthu, an island that was once totally isolated. Interestingly, it is the birthplace of the art form Chavittunadakam. The local people have kept the ancient tradition alive and a permanent venue has been built on the island under the Muziris Project. The art form will be performed based on bookings.
From the boat jetty at Paliyam, a short walk takes visitors to the Paliyam Kovilakom (palace). It was once the centre of power in the area. The three-storeyed building is protected and maintained under the Muziris Project. Visitors can enter the area after purchasing tickets. A Nalukettu (four-winged house) is another attraction.
Paliyam Palace is the last destination on the boat ride. North Paravur jetty, the starting point, is barely 4 km from here. A short drive along the Kodungallur route can also take visitors to Cheraman Juma Masjid. History overhangs the mosque and premises. By following the traditions, travellers can enter the mosque.
The Muziris boat tour starts by around 10 am and winds up by 5.30 pm. The tour, which is becoming more popular day by day, is arranged by the Kerala Tourism Department. For more details, contact 9020864649. Website: www.keralatourism.org/muziris