A day visit to Kodungallur to explore the heritage sites that are familiar from the Kerala history books.
This has been the plan for a long time to visit Kondugullur (then Muziris) and explore the historical side of it. Kodungallur now, then Muziris is known to be a busy port back then which couldn't thrive much because of unknown reasons and then paved the way out to Calicut. This is just one line about it and there are various versions of this. From whatever I read, what I have understood is that Muziris's history is a complicated one and it is only fair to just go with the versions of it and not blindly accept those to be accurate irrespective of your political ideology.
I couldn't visit the complete list of places as I had planned. Major missings were Sahodaran Ayyappan Museum, Pandit Karuppan Museum, and a visit to the Muziris Heritage main office.
1. Chirakkal Kovilakam
This is a place of a royal family in Kodungallur and I had noted this down on coming across this place from one of the books. But, unfortunately, I could not find the correct place. Either, I was bad at navigating or as localities mentioned, those are not undertaken by the government and are still under the respective owners and are not public places. We reached the place suggested by Google maps but took a turn as there were some inmates staying there.
2. Cherama Juma masjid - Muziris heritage
I wanted to visit this place ever since Benny associates took over the project of renovating it. Being a fan of his works online, this was a validation of those online impressions. The masjid story is interesting and is a subject of controversy. A topic where it is better not to take sides. Unfortunately, I couldn't enter inside as there is a strict dress code and shorts are not allowed. Female entry is also not allowed. Hence, couldn't enjoy the inside architecture.
The Masjid exterior work is not yet complete and there is still some work going on.
3. Cheraman parambu - Muziris heritage
The next stop for us was Cheraman Parambu—another important archaeological site in Kodungallur. The site is generally regarded as the royal seat of Cheraman Perumal, the king of the Chera dynasty.
There are also a few historical sites which are of interest to students of Kerala history. The most important of these is the Cheraman Parambu situated near the ancient temple of Tiruvanchikulam in Cranganore. It is supposed to have been the place from where the Chera Emperors ruled over Kerala. In the trial excavations conducted at the place by the Cochin State Archaeology Department in 1945-’46 more than a thousand relics were discovered. Trikanamatilakam and Karurpadanna, situated only a few miles fromTiruvanchikulam, are also places of historical importance. There are practically no relics in these places today to proclaim their ancient historical greatness, but the former was in ancient days a great centre of learning and culture and the latter might have been Karur, the celebrated capital of the first Chera Empire. - From the book A Survey of Kerala History by Sreedhara Menon.
Another excavation called Pattanam excavation was also conducted near this region but was not continued and there are controversies arising from it. The excavators claimed that an ancient township at the cusp of the first century BC and the first century AD was discovered at Pattanam. However, some have questioned the authenticity of these claims and the interpretation of the findings. The group in the opposition (mainly RSS) claimed that the excavation was a conspiracy to promote the myth of St. Thomas and that the artefacts found were not significant enough to be considered archaeological evidence. Today, this stance looks extremely funny as now it is the same group who wanted excavations near masjids to look for temple remains. Hope, excavation politics doesn't reach Kerala as in that case most of the temples will also fall under the sword to look for remains of Buddhist and Jain shrines.
Unfortunately, the museum is not yet open and I wish they update the Muziris Heritage website properly on these developments.
4. Cranganore/Kottappuram fort - Muziris heritage
Originally built by the Portuguese, it was captured by the Dutch and later bought by the Travancore kingdom. In the end, the fort was destroyed by Tipu Sultan's army, and now we only have some minimal remains to show for it. It's a nice place to hang out in the evenings. There is a good amount of place to sit, relax and enjoy the view of the backwater/Periyar River. Unfortunately, the place closes by 6 PM! Early morning visits are not possible as it opens only by 10 AM. There is boat service from here, but always better to call the Muziris Heritage office and plan.
5. Paliam Nalukettu Lifestyle Museum and Paliam Palace - Muziris heritage
This was the best experience out of all the places that we visited.
A quick intro about the Paliam family - Paliam royal family was one of the most powerful Nair families during the Kingdom of Cochin time. Almost the entire area is of the Paliam family and also has around 41 temples under it! P Jayachandran, a legendary singer and prominent figure in our times, belongs to the Paliam family.
The Paliam Nalukettu is a Tharavadu of the family where women and kids used to live. The Nalukettu is undertaken by the Muziris heritage project, but for the annual Paliam family get-together, they hand it over to the family for a week or so.
Here, you will be allotted a guide (no need to pay extra, only an entry ticket of 50/30 needs to be taken) who will explain about the Paliam family and the Nalukettu. There is also an introductory video that gives you a glimpse of the family.
This was the official residence and office of the Paliathu achan (head of the family). Here too, a guide was allotted and she explained the palace structure in detail.
5. Chedamangalam synagogue - Muziris heritage
The only synagogue I had been to before was the Synagogue in Mattanchery, built by the Paradesi Jews. That also means that this is the second synagogue I have been to.
Juicy history of Jews in Kerala:
According to most records, Jews in Kerala began migrating around 70 CE. However, the reasons for their migration to Kerala are not clearly defined, and you can find different explanations. To summarize, it appears that the migration of Jews to Kerala was driven by exile from their homelands, trade opportunities, and the search for a place to practice their religion freely.
The Chedamangalam synagogue is supposed to have been built by Malabar Jews.
A quick overview of Malabar Jews and Paradesi Jews:
Malabari Jews, known as the "Black Jews," are believed to be the original Jewish settlers in the Malabar region, which is now part of Kerala. Their roots are claimed to date back to the time of King Solomon, but concrete historical records indicate a significant Jewish presence in South India following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
Paradesi Jews, known as the "White Jews," are descendants of Sephardic Jews who migrated to Kerala during the 15th and 16th centuries following their expulsion from Spain and Portugal due to religious persecution.
The synagogue in Chedamangalam has been partially reconstructed as a lifestyle museum under the Muziris Heritage project. However, this is not on par with how they have maintained the Paliam Palace. There is no official guide, but there are photographs available. There is a minimal entry fee and an additional charge for photography, which is again an amount under 50 Rs. The place is usually not crowded, and photography is allowed inside, unlike other places. So, you can take your time and explore at your leisure.
The sources for all the information above come from history books that I have read and from various websites and Wikipedia.
6. Jewish cemetery
The Jewish cemetery is located within 500 meters of the Synagogue, but it appears to be abandoned now. There are no details available as to why it has been left in this state. It could possibly be private property or something similar.
Suggested time to visit
Time for most of the places are between 10 AM - 5/6PM
There is a charm for every place. For places like Paliam Palace and Museum, you will have a guide to give you a brief.