Splendours of Muziris, the erstwhile port town in Kerala

Boat ride at Muziris

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s sea visit with fisherman in Kollam was much talked about. How about visiting something special this time? Muziris Heritage Project in Thrissur seems to be an ideal destination. We can even try a boat ride. 

The Muziris Heritage Project was launched by the Kerala Government in 2006. Both North Paravoor Taluk (Ernakulam) and Kodungallur Taluk (Thrissur) was included in this project, along with Kodungallur Township and North Paravoor Township. Ernakulam district’s Chendamangalam, Chittattukara, Vadakkekkara, Pallippuaram Panchayaths, Trissur’s Azhikode and Methala are the other panchayaths included in this project. Its main attraction remains Cherai Beach.

The Muziris Heritage Project utilises at a global level the possibilities of a region, which lost its glory centuries ago. Muziris, which is an ancient port town in Kerala has historical and cultural relevance and that’s precisely why the Government of Kerala has initiated the Muziris Heritage Project - to reinstate the historical and cultural significance of the place. The region is dotted with numerous monuments of a bygone era that conjure up a vast and vivid past. The entire project is designed to involve and integrate the local community in all intended developmental initiatives. In the initial phase of the project, four of the 27 museums have been opened to the public- the Paliam Nalukettu, Paliam Dutch Palace, the Chendamangalam Jewish synagogue, and the Paravoor Jewish synagogue.

History of Muziris

The story of Muziris starts from early 3000 BC when Babylonians, Assyrians and Egyptians came to the Malabar Coast in search of spices. Later these Middle East groups were joined by Arabs and Phoenicians. And gradually Muziris in Kodungallur entered the cartography of the World trade map. Then onwards Muziris holds the key to a good chunk of Kerala's ancient history now the ancient trade route. Known as a Spice City to the ancient reporters, Muziris was also known as Murachipattanam. In Ramayana, Murachipattanam is the place where Sugreeva's (one of the Monkey King) sleuths scurried through while looking for the abducted Sita. When Kerala established itself as a major centre for spice, it was the ancient port of Muziris that emerged as its hub. Sangam literature describes Roman ships coming to Muziris laden with gold to be exchanged for pepper. 

According to an archaeological study in 2007-08, Muziris which was located on the banks of the Arabian Sea was an important Trade and Cultural Centre. Muziris also had trade links with West Asia and Europe. Cheraman Masjid, St Thomas Pilgrimage Centre, Kodungallur Bhagavathy Temple (famous for Bharani festival) continues to have a lot of visitors yearly. 

Muziris excavations 

Muziris has the distinction of having yielded a complete human skeleton for the first time in India, from the Kottappuram fort area. Some of the items excavated here include Chinese coins, Chinese inscriptions, and pieces of decorated porcelain, West Arabian pottery pieces, iron nails, bullets, stone beads, 17th-century Dutch coins, and tiles. These will eventually go into the museums to be set up. One of the first-ever multi-disciplinary excavations undertaken by the Govt of Kerala, the main objective of these excavations was to identify an early historic urban settlement and the ancient Indo-Roman port of Muziris on the Malabar Coast. The structures unearthed indicate the same and they suggest that the site was first occupied by the indigenous Iron Age people. Many objects of Roman origin have been unearthed from the site. This serves as evidence of the extensive maritime contacts of this region during the early historic period.

Muziris excavation. Photo: Manorama

Jews in Muziris

The study of Jewish settlements is an integral part of the Muziris Heritage Project. The Jewish immigration to Kerala was the direct effect of the early commercial contacts with Israel. According to tradition, some 10,000 Jews came to the Kerala coast in 68 AD to escape from religious persecution at home.

They landed first at Muziris and founded a settlement. The Jews developed into a prosperous business community with the generous patronage of the native rulers. They enjoyed a high standing in society till the arrival of the Portuguese who persecuted them and compelled them to leave Kodungallur for Kochi in 1565 temporarily.

Jewish community became a force to be reckoned with in the social, economic and political life of Kerala. Apart from the fact that the services of the Jews were necessary for the economic development of the Chera Kingdom, and particularly for the commercial prosperity of Muziris, their unstinted support and co-operation had become an imperative need in the Cholas to the territorial integrity and independence of the Chera Kingdom. Apart from the historic, cultural, and aesthetic importance, Jewish Synagogue at Chendamangalam also has great potentiality as a tourist destination.

Project highlights 

• The largest heritage conservation project in India

• The first Green Project of the Government of Kerala

• Involvement of multiple Government Departments and convergence

• More than 25 museums to appreciate the Muziris Heritage

• Research and academic institution to support the project

• Major improvements in infrastructure

• Integration with local communities through native resource persons for data collection, survey etc.

Muziris Children’s Park 

The Muziris Children’s Park is near the Kottappuram Boat Jetty township. There are various recreational facilities and equipment for children. The park was constructed as there was a steady flow of families along with historians into this place. The Boat Jetty near the park is also a popular waterfront. The main location of the Muziris Heritage Project is the Kottappuram Amphi Theatre. 

Muziris Backwater Paddle 

The Muziris Backwater Paddle held in February this year was widely appreciated. The paddle was organised jointly by the Muziris Heritage Project and Jellyfish water sports. The journey which started from the Amphitheater ended at Kochi Bolgatti palace. The Muziris paddle was started to promote water sports like Kayaking, Sailing and Canoeing. Over 100 kayakers (20 were women) from all over the world participated in the event. 

Devotional places around Muziris region

Places of religious importance around the Muziris region in Paravur- Kodungallur area attracts devotees from all around the world. Each place has got its own history, rituals, and religious practices apart from the annual festivals being celebrated. The Chendamangalam region is well known as a place that tolerated people of all religions. The many temples, mosques, churches, and synagogues are living examples of the harmony that existed in the region.

The St. Stephen's church at Gothuruthu is popular in connection with the annual church festival, the Chavittunatakam performance and the annual Gothuruthu boat race. The Jewish Synagogues at Chendamangalam and Paravoor synagogue have a long history to tell. Azhikode Marthoma Church. Kottakkavu St. Thomas church are other churches of importance. The Cheraman Masjid is said to be the very first Mosque in India built in 629 AD by Malik Ibn Dinar.

Thiruvanchikulam temple, Kizhthali Siva temple, The Alwar temple complex, Shringapuram Mahadeva temple, Kannankulangara temple, Mookambika temple, Kurumbakavu Bhagavathi temple, Kunnathi Thali temple, Puthiyathrikkovu Siva temple, Shree Shankara Narayana Moorthy temple, are among the many temples of importance in the region.

Traditional trades

The Muziris region, Paravoor- Kodungallur, still boasts of several traditional trades and industries. This region is still famous for its hand-woven fabrics, coir products, and pottery and fishing nets. The small locality called Vavakkad is known for its coir industry. Attempts at modernisation have helped this industry to survive the onslaught of time. There was a time when this place used to employ as many as 3000 people directly and about 5000 indirectly. But today the place can employ only about 40 people. This testifies to the decline of traditional trades, but this locality still holds hope for a good future for its traditional industry.

Visitors to the Muziris region would find it interesting to watch coir and coir products still being made in the traditional way. While industrialization poses a threat to the art that coir-making originally is, that perhaps is the only way the trade can survive a future that thinks only in terms of speed and efficiency of production. 

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