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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Melaka (Malaysia) 4 (Concluding)

Authored by
PN Sampath Kumar,
Cochin Shipyard, Kochi

The rule by the English East India Company, Calcutta, attracted Indians to Melaka and other parts of Malaysia to be employed in Plantations and Tin Mining and also to work in the Harbour. They reached Melaka and other parts of Malaysia through the Madras-Penang route. Their second and third generations are the people having Indian connections and still maintaining their contacts with India and are owning number of trading establishments and restaurants.

The Migrants of Parameswara era / or even prior to that were seafaring traders who controlled the Trade / banking in Melaka are limited in number and have no connection with India except their religion, i.e. Hinduism. They are the Melaka Chetties.

It is said that these Chetties who were controlling the trade along with the Chinese, supported the Portuguese in their war against the Sultanate. It would have been a retaliation against the possible attempts of Sultans to control the community including religious conversion.

The biggest beneficiary of the Portughese invasion was the trading community, the Chetties of Melaka and it would have been the golden period for them. It is astonishing that the Portuguese, who were notorious for religious conversions, spared the Chetties. But this supremacy was short lived. History has its funny ways of keeping the checks and balances. When the Dutch attacked the Portuguese to take control of the port, the first thing that they did was to demolish whatever the Portuguese had created including the business controlled by the Chetties. The Chetties had to abandon their profession and shift their base to other territories to engage themselves in Agriculture in the fertile lands of Melaka to cultivate rice, groundnut and sugarcane. It was during this period, they built innumerable temples to protect them as part of their agrarian culture.

The next day, after finishing our rounds in the temple circuit, and the Sai Baba Temple, we proceed on foot to the Chetty Street, in the outskirts of the city. We continued walking and decided to take a public transport en route, but unluckily, the views on both sides of the road prevented us from taking one. Roadside eateries are aplenty. We bought three polythene cover full of sugarcane juice from a lady extracting and selling sugar cane, opposite to a recent Chinese temple paying one ringit (about Rs.18) each. Further down, we misunderstood one huge Hindu temple dedicated to Kartikeya and Shiva to be the Chetty area. There was some meeting going on to sort out issues of parking space in the temple premises. Speaking in Tamil, they were complaining of non cooperation of members and their lack of interest even in attending meetings. After offering our prayers, we proceeded further.

At Gaja Street (Gaja = elephant) again a small temple welcomed us at the entrance. You have temples on both ends of the Tamil Streets. The street resembled some old Tamil Agraharams in Palakkad. The only difference is that they are all independent houses having sufficient space on all sides.

All houses are neatly maintained and roadsides are cleanly with flowering plants and flower pots.

Walking through the road, out of curiosity, we just knocked at the gate of one of the identical houses. A youngster came out to enquire what we wanted. When I told him that we were from India and had come to know about their culture, he welcomed us inside. I did not know how to begin and what to speak. There is a sit out, an elevated platform for the men at home and guests to sit and chat, typical of the Tamil Nadu houses. Sitting their I introduced me and my family to him. The youngster apologising for his inability to speak in Tamil, introduced himself to be Mr Jagan, a college student. While generally explaining to me about the Malayan architecture and he mentioned about the elevated platform on which we sat to be the THINNAI ( a tamil word)

By the time, his aunts, Janaki and Meenakshi, came out and took us inside. Other members of the house who then had gone out were Jagan’s parents and one sister, who is in law school.

Mr Pillai’s mother is of Srilankan origin. The grandparents at the maternal side are originally from Jaffna.

Inside the house, the furniture and interior resembled a decent old Tamilnadu house. They have preserved passionately items used by their predecessors and also collected from neighbourhood, big utensils made of bell metal and brass, idli makers, coffee filters, appakkarais to make pancakes, etc, to name a few.

Meenakshi took us even to the kitchen where we found a big fish is getting cooked in a Chenna Chatti (Chinese Frying Pan) by her elder sister Janaki. On enquiry about their food habits, suddenly came the invitation for lunch but we declined with due respect for being vegetarians. They cook Malay food - Rice, vegetables curry and fish are commonly liked food items. There was a time when the Chetties could not bring in brides from India due to ban on their travel of women to cross the seas. It was then these men were allowed to adopt Malayan women in to their community in marriage and caused the changed food habits.

Friday is the temple day for them and they don’t eat non vegetarian food on that day.

While chatting, having fruit juices and cut fruits, the father of Jagan, Mr Pillai, who had gone out came home with his Chinese wife and daughter. According to him, Melaka Chetties consists of not only Chetty community in Tamilnadu but also other castes like Pillais, Mudaliyars, Pandaram, etc, to name a few. After the fall of Melaka, many of them migrated to Penang and Singapore and gather together during festivals like Pongal, etc.

They cant speak Tamil, they shifted their food habits but are still maintaining their religion, Hinduism and Hindu names to their children.

They are patronising number of temples in Melaka. There are a dozen temples dedicated to different deities in Melaka.

The Poyyatha Vinayaka Temple, oldest Hindu Temple in Malay peninsula is the presiding deity of the Melaka Chetties.

It was time to leave. We walked to the end of the street to survey the temple at the other end (which was closed as it was noon) marking the border. While coming back we found Meenakshi at their gate with packet full of fruits as a gift to us as they could not feed us properly as per our choice. We were overwhelmed and had no words to express.

Now we have one more family friend outside India.

The Melakan authorities have done a wonderful job in conserving their heritage. They have shown passion towards their culture and heritage and are able to project it with glory and pride to the tourists. They have succeeded in conserving the sites and also ensuring that the city succeeds in its role as a living city for residents and business.

All the modern day constructions are along the coast of the Melaka Straits, consisting of major hotels, shopping malls and residential buildings. There are options like hop-on-off bus service throughout the city, duck bus, which travels on both road and water and of course the famous colourfully decorated cycle rickshaws. We tried the hop-on-off bus once to have an understanding of he length and breadth of Melaka.

There are a few very good shopping malls in Melaka selling all sorts of domestic products. We tried in a couple of malls so as to have a feel of it.

At last it was the turn to try some authentic Malay food. We found one vegetarian Chinese restaurant (meant for the monks and vegans) where we tried a Malay combo food having some rice, spicy chutney made of tamarind, ginger & mint and a portion of fried potato and beans. It was not that great but was tasty and did not damage our digestive system.

And it was time to check out. We thanked our friend Chua, our Host in Melaka and proceed to the bus station by noon to catch a bus to Singapore with fond memories of the land and people.


  1. An elaborately written post. with lot of info and great pictures to annotate..

  2. I did miss a chance to visit malaysia when i was in singapore , my cousin did say we could go for a day or two there.. now seeing this post and pics , I think i should have said YES ..


  3. very nice post..pictures are feast to the eyes..

  4. Wonderful post with images. This place is really interesting.

  5. I felt, I really walked through the streets with you, sampath. Your in depth narration was marvellous.Sreenivasan

  6. Excellent narration! Kept one spellbound. We had missed the Chetty history totally during our visit to Malakka and focused only on the Portuguese and Dutch history. Incidentally, if you want to read further on Parameswara, please see our post http://blog.calicutheritage.com/2008/11/tale-of-two-conversions.html

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  7. We tried really hard but couldn't get ourselves to like Malaysia in the two weeks we were there. Lucky you enjoyed your stay

  8. Wonderful post with pics. This place is really interesting.I reiterate again, I've been there twice and your posts about Malacca rekindles my love for it. :)

  9. विस्तार मे सचित्र अच्छी जानकारी1 आभार 1