How the Bohras enriched Kozhikode's cultural heritage


Kozhikode: This historical city on Kerala's coast has been a cultural melting pot for long. For centuries, people belonging to different religions and communities coexisted with peace and harmony here. Its heritage, including that of rich cuisine, is largely the fallout of foreign influences of those hordes of seamen who landed on its coast over the past several centuries. The land also became home to diverse people who came in from the northern parts of India and other southern states. During earlier times, the famed travellers rightly hailed the city, then known as Calicut, as the 'City of Truth,' and it could well be chronicled as the 'City of Love' too.

And to this city, which embraced all faith and religions, came the Bohra community about 150 years ago. Now, this community with its unique spiritual and culinary preferences has become one of the faces of Kozhikode city. But the periodic slide in business and industrial activities forced the Bohras, like others, to leave this city in search of greener pastures.

Presently, 30 Bohra families are staying put in this city and they reflect the past heritage of this close-knit community. The Bohras have their own language – Lisan al-Dawat — that has a Perso-Arabic script.

The Bohras are even ready to sacrifice their lives for their country of residence and will also give due respect to the local language. The community, which migrated to Gujarat from Yemen about three centuries ago, also gives immense importance to female education and equality for women.

The Bohras came to this Kozhikode from Kutch, Surat and Rajkot in Gujarat for trading purposes. They have also settled down in Kannur, Alappuzha, Fort Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram through their business interests in coconut, copra, and coir.

Enterprising traders

Many 'aalath' companies run by the Bohra community once flourished in the present-day South Beach in Kozhikode city. As many as 16 'aalaths,' the moniker they gave for coir firms, worked overtime in the days gone by. The coir produced by these companies was used in building 'urus,' large dhow-style wooden ships, in Beypore and in similar vessels touching the shores of Kozhikode. The coir is mainly used to plug the holes in 'urus.'

Unique attire

The Bohra women stand out with their distinctive dress code. Instead of 'purdah' worn by Muslim women, the Bohra women wear their traditional costume 'rida,' which comes in all colours except black, with skirt and top.

The Bohra men don white ‘jooba,' pyjama and overcoat.  

A distinct palate

A dash of Yemeni touch and Gujarati flavour make the Bohra cuisine special and enticing. The Bohras' main credo is not to waste food and they have formed 'dana' committees in different countries to stop wastage of food.

The Bohras of Kozhikode also follow the practice of community kitchen like in other places and food for the Bohra families is prepared at a kitchen near mosque. The aim of this concept is to make sure that no Bohra lives on an empty stomach.

Great man

The name Dawood Bhai Mulla Jivaji Kapasi is engraved in the psyche of Kozhikode city. He is one person from the Bohra community who had won the hearts of city residents.

Born inJamnagar in Gujarat in 1930, Dawood came to this city for business activities. He was involved in the export of coconut, coir products and other items and also showed keen interest in education and industrial production.

Dawood was the managing committee member of Gujarati School, vice president of Urdu Prachar Sabha, secretary of the Bohra Jamaat and an office-bearer of the MES.

Dawood, who was the founder vice-president of the city unit of the Muslim League, joined the Congress party after Independence.

As a mark of respect, a road near the South Beach had been named after Dawood.

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