The richness in archaeology as we find in the North, particularly the ancient period, is absent in the South. All important monuments we see today are from 10th Century onwards except at Mahabalipuram and Kancheepuram where there are some standing structures datable to 6th Century AD.
When it comes to Kerala the conditions are pitiable. Hardly we come across antiquities which could be placed before the 8th Century AD. Kodungallur (also known as Cranganore) is said to be the ancient port of Muziris. It is a place where all foreigners came. Jews settled there and later many of them shifted to Kochi. Apparently it was a great trading centre with hundreds of Jews and Arabs doing roaring business at the market place. It appears to me that Arabs were mainly engaged in maritime trade with India. Arab vessels remained at the port for months together unloading goods brought and then loading whatever they wanted. In the process a small settlement of people (in a colony) got created to look after their warehouses and the trading operations with the interior parts of India.
Now comes the question as to which faith they belonged. Definitely not Islam as it did not exist at that point of time. Here perhaps we can bring in Vavar or Arab who could have approached the Maharaja with a request to provide them a place where they could worship. Yes that was needed by them. The king was benevolent and the presence of Arabs was also beneficial to the State’s interests. The Raja ordered one less used Arathali temple to be handed over to the Arabs for the purpose. That way the earliest place of their worship became the oldest Mosque in our country said to have been built in 629 AD. It is known as Cheraman Perumal Mosque.
Old Cheraman Perumal Mosque
Whatever I have stated above is attributable to my own thought process. The story goes back to the second half of 1950’s. I was visiting my native place during school vacations. After lunch (it used to be a little early) I was sitting in an easy chair in the front varandah reading Indian Express.In the magazine section (Sunday) there was an article which said about the oldest Mosque where Muslims pray facing East. It also told about a very large oil lamp hanging inside. I discussed with my dad, he being a great story teller. He prompted me to visit Kodungallur and briefed me appropriately. It was at a distance of 30 kms.
Next day I took a bus to Kodungallur carrying an umbrella as the weather was cloudy. In those days I used to wear Full length pants and I was the only one in that area in that gear. My Malayalam was terribly bad but still I tried to manage. After getting down at Kodungallur I started making inquiries. I was suggested to take the Kotapuram road. The name fascinated me. Since buses were not that frequent I decided to cover the distance by foot. I reached the spot where an old house like structure stood adjoining a grave yard. Inside, it was carpeted and there was a pedestal for the Mullah to stand. Still inside, there was a room not larger than 12′ x 12′. A very large brass lamp was really hanging by a solid black beam. The chain also looked horrible. Then I was a boy of 16 and therefore it is difficult for me to estimate its circumference. I tried to talk to a bearded man, who seemed to be the care taker, in Urdu, but I could not get any confirmation with regard to the direction the Namazis faced. The mosque was facing East.
After seeing the Mosque, I thought of going to ‘Kotapuram’ as it seemed to invite me. I continued walking and found myself at a Boat Jetty. There was the Back Waters but far away, there was also an island. It was Paravur. The spot which I believed to be Kotapuram was also known as Krisnamkotta. The ruins of the Dutch Fort. I enjoyed the boat ride and returned to Kodungallur and had a fill at a wayside Restaurant. Perhaps I had the best Dosa and Chutney in my life.
People at the Restaurant were curious to know about me. I spoke in my broken Malayalam. Guessing my interests, they suggested me to go to Azhikode and catch a boat for Vypin. I thought of doing it some other day. I visited the local Bhagawathi temple and then caught a bus to my home.
Next week I again went to Kodungallur and then to Azhikode where I got a boat for Vypin Island. On the shore I made enquiries about the fort there. I was advised to take a bus. I boarded the bus and midway the conductor asked me to get down, There I saw a hexagonal tall tower. This one was the earliest European building existing on the Indian soil. I entered through a small Iron door and went up. One can watch the movement of ships in the sea. Then I reached the other end of the island catching a bus. From there people asked me to board a boat to Mattancherry. After roaming around, I took a Matcha or a round boat which took me to Ernakulam (Shanmukham Road).
Photo: Divya Diya