A peep into the life and times of the Marakkars

A peep into the life and times of the Marakkars
Marakkar Museum. Photos: Manorama

Mohanlal-starrer period drama ‘Marakkar-Arabikadalinte Simham’ (Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea), which bagged the national award for the best feature film for the year 2019, has started roaring in the cinema halls from December 2. The much-anticipated movie, canned by ace director Priyadarshan, had hit close to 3,000 screens across the world when the clock struck a minute past midnight on December 2.

The natives of Kozhikode have high hopes after the big-budget film opened in the cinemas. The movie buffs will get a taste of the fearless wars that were waged on the land of Zamorins, which never found a prominent space in the rich history of Kerala. Till now, only the gallant military forays of the Kingdoms of Travancore and Cochin were raved about. The tale of Kunjali Marakkar IV is not just a story as he was more than a valiant warrior for the people of Kozhikode.

A walk through history
With the ‘Marakkar’ movie hogging the headlines in recent times, it is quite worthwhile to visit the nerve centre of the Marakkars in Kozhikode and turn the clock back by over five centuries.

You will reach Iringal after passing Koyilandi and Thikkodi while driving on the Kozhikode-Kannur national highway in pursuit of the legacy of the Marakkars. Vadakara is not far away once you enter Iringal. Take the road near the board announcing the presence of the Iringal Sargalaya Craft Village on the left side of the NH. After passing a railway gate, the craft village will definitely catch your eye. As your mission is to delve into the history of the Marakkars, it is better to visit the village some other time, but don’t delay the visit too much as the alignment of the proposed K-Rail passes through the craft village.

You will reach Kottakkal, which got its name after a ‘kotta’ (fort) that once stood in the area while travelling west on this road. A small wall on the roadside has a board saying that the Kunjali Marakkar memorial is right here. You will have to take entry tickets and also pay a nominal amount if you want to take snaps inside the memorial. Memorial staff P Vigil and Shanul will draw a clear picture of the past with their expert knowledge about the region’s and Marakkar clan’s history.

House of Marakkar
A small stupa, which was erected by the Indian Navy to honour Kunjali Marakkar, will greet you as you step inside the premises. It is noteworthy that Kunjali Marakkar is considered to be the first naval chief in the history of India and no wonder the navy had a Naval Air Station by the name of INS Kunjali, which is now known as INS Shikra.

The narrow walkway will take you to the foreground of a small house. The roof of the house, which was once thatched, is now paved with tiles. History has it that Kunjali Marakkar III stayed at this house for one year after defeating the Portuguese. The Valiyapeedika family, which is the descendent of Kunjali Marakkar, handed over the history-laden house to the archaeology department in 1975.

Two cannons could be seen on two sides once you enter the house, which has a spacious hall as long as the structure. Three rooms, which boast of wooden doors and windows, hug the hall and each room has enough ammunition for the cannons. Once you step out of the house, you can find a pathway on the backside of the modest building.

Museum reflects history
A museum put in place by the archaeology department could be found just behind the historic house of the Marakkar. The museum houses swords that were dug out from the area and cannon projectiles apart from the miniature of the fort that was built by the Marakkar in Kottakkal. As one steps into the museum, a neatly framed proclamation of the Zamorin would be seen on the left side. The edict elucidates how the Zamorin granted the position of Kunjali Marakkar to people belonging to different generations of the Marakkar family and different Kunjalis had led the naval forces at different periods of time. Shanuj, who is an employee of the archaeology department, would explain in detail the history of the Marakkars, fort and Kottakkal.

Kozhikode became the most prominent port in the country during the reign of the Zamorins. A Ponnani-native Marakkar helmed the naval operations of the Zamorins, when the monarch and his subjects were annoyed by the autocracy of the Portuguese who came after Vasco da Gama. And that Ponnani-resident was Kuttyali Marakkar who was the Kunjali Marakkar between 1524 and 1538. Kuttyali’s son Kunjali Marakkar II held the position from 1538 to 1569. But it was Kunjali Marakkar III who held sway over the Arabian Sea with an iron fist between 1569 and 1595. Kunjali Marakkar III, who had sobriquets such as ‘Pattu Marakkar’ and ‘Pathu Marakkar’ was a master of sea warfare and defeated the Portuguese in the high seas in 1594. After the death of Kunjali Marakkar III in 1595, his son-in-law Mohammed Marakkar took the mantle of Kunjali Marakkar IV.

Fearless Marakkar
Kunjali Marakkar III gave the idea of building a fort at Vadakara to the Zamorin after capturing the Portuguese fortress at Chaliyath as there can’t be a better place than Vadakara to build a fort for the navy.

The Kuttiyadi River merges with the Arabian Sea at Iringal near Vadakara and the beaches of Kolavi and Thazhathangady are nearby. The Iringal beach was surrounded by water on three sides and the huge rock opposite to the beach acted as a vantage point to detect any activity in the Arabian Sea.

Kunjali Marakkar III constructed a fort to the west of the Iringal rock as the area was enveloped by water on three sides, and there was only one way to enter the fortress through the land. His house was situated in the middle of the fort with a mosque and a pond on the western side.

Though Kunjali Marakkar III vanquished the Portuguese in 1594, he was badly injured after falling into the sea. After returning from war, he stayed at his house in Iringal for close to one year and died in 1595.

The archaeology department has recorded in the museum that Kunajli Marakkar IV was a self-proclaimed king but there are theories that negate this contention. The Portuguese by joining hands with the Zamorin, who was incensed by the open rebellion of his vassal, attacked the fort from all three sides in 1599 and people didn’t get food and were in great distress as the only path leading to the fortress was also closed. Finally, Kunjali Marakkar IV surrendered before the Zamorin on March 16, 1600 and the Portuguese captured him through deceit and hanged him to death in Goa.

While touring this historical place, make sure to visit the mosque and estuary which are replete with history.

The historic mosque
After travelling close to 500m to the western side from Kunjali Marakkar’s house, one can come across a sign board of the Kottakkal Juma Masjid. On the left side of the narrow road, one could instantly notice the mosque, which is a reflection of the days of yore, standing tall on a vast expanse of land. An old pond with red stone steps could be seen in front of mosque on the opposite side of the road. Soft sand gives a touch of class to the foreground of the mosque.

After washing your hands and feet, you can enter the mosque. An exquisite wooden lamp will catch your eye after you step inside the holy place. A round wooden piece could also be seen above the lamp, and it is believed that the round board was the shield used by the Marakkars. There is also a double-edged sword, which was also wielded by the Marakkars, in the mosque. The hilt of the sword is indeed a piece of art with graceful design. The mosque also houses a throne confiscated by the Marakkars from the Portuguese and the mosque authorities are preserving it with utmost care. The graveyards of many people belonging to the Marakkar family could also be found on the mosque premises.

The waves have a story to tell
The shores of the estuary would be dotted with seabirds and on the opposite side, one could see the beautiful Vadakara Sand Banks. And on the other side is the Kolavi beach where turtles come to lay eggs.

Undoubtedly, the shores and waves of the sea were mute witnesses to the life and times of the Marakkars.  

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