Pattanam: A Rupture in the Cultural History of Kerala


Pattanam excavation site
Pattanam excavation site, North Paravur, Ernakulam

On reading my article on Buddhism in Kerala on this very blog, Prof P J Cherian the director of Kerala Council for Historical Research invited me to visit the excavation site at Pattanam near North Paravur in Ernakulam district in central Kerala.

Prof P J Cherian, Director, KCHR
Prof P J Cherian, Director, KCHR talking to Sunderbabu and Laxman at Pattanam

It is in connection with the Muziris heritage project to re-invent and conserve the cultural history and archeological legacy of Kodungallur/Muchiri or Muziris that this extensive digging up is done in various locations on the northern side of the Vadakekara bridge towards the west of NH 17.

Strands of Kerala history
Strands of Kerala history: Tangible layers of various time periods at Pattanam excavation pit

Kerala’s historic connections with the rest of the world as far as Arabia,China,Rome and the Mediterranean  are unearthed through concerted and dedicated effort of KCHR under the leadership of Prof Cherian.  Researchers and expert students from various parts of the world including Britain are involved in the work in progress that began a couple of years ago.

Pattanam excavations
Researchers from Oxford and Britian participating in Pattanam excavations

I visited Pattanam along with Prof Laxman of Madras Institute of Developmental Studies, Dr George K Alex of Kozhanchery St Thomas College and Dr Sundarbabu of Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai.  We were together in an international colloquium on Caste, Religion and Culture at Kochi.

excavations at Pattanam
Local women involved in community based excavations at Pattanam

We reached Pattanam just a few miles north of Paravur that still spots its Jew street, cemetery and synagogue around 7am on the bright sunny morning of May 3, 2011.  Pattanam means port city in ancient Tamil and even in current Malayalam like Valapattanam in Malabar or Nagapattanam in Tamil Nadu.  Most of the old place names in Kerala that was part of the Chera kingdom of the ancient Tamil country were formed during the ancient Tamilakam era during or soon after the Sangham period (BC 5th to AD 5th centauy) that is known for ancient  Sramana Tamil epics Chilapatikaram and Manimekhalai.

Prof Cherian explaining the methodology to Laxman, Sunder and Alex
Prof Cherian explaining the methodology to Laxman, Sunder and Alex. A researcher from Oxford involved in the right

Prof Cherian welcomed us and showed the details of excavations and allowed us to see and touch the strands of Kerala’s past that is preserved in the various layers of the soil in the pits.  He explained to us about iron based early human habitations here in the BC era.  According to him Jews reached these shores probably around first century BC and they could be the first converts to Christianity here.  The legend of St Thomas reaching Malankara in AD 52 could not be an impossibility according to him.  The myth of the first Brahman converts is clearly a later bogus fabrication by a threatened minority community under Brahmanical hegemony that persecuted minorities like Jains and Buddhists and annihilated them from the soil of Kerala for ever.

Students showing broken parts of Roman amphora
Students showing broken parts of Roman amphora to us and explaining its features at Pattanam

Then with the help of terracotta ware called Indian rouletted-ware  belonging to around fourth or third century BC  he explained that there was a  clear presence of Sramana groups and trading communities from the north from the third century BC onwards.   Brahmi script used to write on the terracotta ware in old Tamil language was introduced in south India by these Sramana or Chamana or Amana sages who reached the south with their trading and mercantile brethren.

Key to Kerala cultural history
Key to Kerala cultural history: Indian rouletted ware that marks Sramana presence at Pattanam

The Hindu daily has recently reported the finding of these earthen ware with the inscription in Brahmi Tamil script “Amana” meaning Sramana or Jain/Buddhist in origin.  It clearly establishes the fact that Kerala was civilized by Sramana sages in BC fourth/third century itself.

Mediterranean beads unearthed at Pattanam
Mediterranean beads unearthed at Pattanam

This concrete historical and archeological evidences prove that the light of letters and ethics were spread among the people of south India by Buddhism and Jainism as early as fourth or third century BC against the Hindu hegemonic claims of Brahmanism civilizing Kerala in the seventh or eighth century AD.

Dedicated experts involved in patient and painstaking perusal and careful classification of thousands of potsherds everyday. Prof Cherian says “they don’t lie…” about our pasts

Prof Cherian showed us small beads and Roman amphora and other vessels belonging to the Mediterranean lands.  The Vesuvian volcanic minerals in the potsherds are clearly visible even after 2000 years.  The bitumen coating in some of them are still intact and they belong to West Asia.  These handicrafts of clay from ancient civilizations never lie about their time and place according to Prof Cherian.  Chera coins with the impression of bow and arrow (symbolizing the Villava legacy) were also recovered from the site.  These findings establish the  historical validity of Sangham literature and early literary references in old Tamil regarding the cultural pasts of Chera land and the ancient Tamil country comprising Chola and Pandya kingdoms along with it.  After all we got vivid references of Muchiri from ancient Tamil epics.

Local people and workers active in the digging at Pattanam, Muziris.

This indeed is a break and rupture in Kerala’s cultural history and archeology.  It marks a moment of paradigm shift and radical departure for all who served the dominant and hegemonic Hindu Savarna or Brahmanical versions of the pasts of Kerala repressively established through epistemological violence and erasure and covet silence by some of the high priests, sacred ideologues and Savarna headmen who monopolized and policed speech, letters, politics and history in this small part of the world.

Abundance of potsherds and clay ware: Undeniable markers in archeology and history at Pattanam

Even the orthodox and official historians who are keeping mum would have to accept the concrete tangible evidences this excavation has rediscovered in an undeniable and profounder way.  Let us appreciate the phenomenal work materialized by KCHR under the leadership of Prof P J Cherian and friends.

Prof P J Cherian
Prof P J Cherian, Director, KCHR leading the excavations at Pattanam and disseminating knowledge to the people and enlightening us on our cultural pasts and legacies

This radical moment prompts us to continue our search and excavations in other parts of Kerala especially in Cherthala and Alapuzha regions where the huge wooden ship was unearthed in similar attempts earlier.  The extensive archeological studies in Kuttanad and neighborhoods especially Karthikappally, Mavelikara, Karunagapally, Kayamkulam, Thotapally, Trikunapuzha, Aratupuzha regions would also produce valuable findings regarding the real and vital past of Kerala.

Pattanam excavation
People digging up their own past erased by hegemony: Pattanam excavation as a break in Kerala’s cultural history and archeology

The Government, departments concerned and other institutions in the field may address these key cultural tasks ahead with revitalized energy and ethical commitment to people and their lived history.  Let us recover our real history and make it visible and tangible for posterity.

Pattanam excavation
Half buried and challenging: A terracotta vessel yet to be recovered from soil at Pattanam

12 thoughts on “Pattanam: A Rupture in the Cultural History of Kerala”

  1. prof cherianil oru cheran olinjirippundallo-i mattial aa i aakunnu cheran alias cherian-pattanam kuzhikkumpol cheranmar uyarnnu varunnu…..

  2. There is absolutely no mention of Jews or Christians in Manimekhalai or Sangam Literature.

    This fraud is started by Kerala Churches.

    ACTA INDICA-P.V.Mattews misquoted Manimekhalai by quoting from its Malayalam Translation.

    In Manimekhalai all living religion scholars explain their claims against Logic scholar and Manimekhalai

    Saiva vathi says- Isan is my God.

    Isan is the tamil name for Vedic God Rudra Siva

    Mattews quoted it as Esanite or Essanis of Dead Sea Scrolls.

    Entire Pathirrupattu is about Cheranadu and fully talks about Four Vedas and Brahmins, few passing reference to Jains and Buddhism and even tells about Thiruvanantha puram Ananthapadmanaba Temple but no mention of any Jews or Christians.

    As per “Standard Jewish Encyclopedia” Jews came to India only in 7th Century living in Persian Gulf Arabia after Romans converted to Christianity and were abusing them where now tortured by Muslims.
    ps: I am publishing it in my blog also

  3. sir,
    there are lot of lost cities in the world and muchiri pattanam
    may be one among them. i think some part of the city may be still submerged in the river or washed away by that terrible flood. is any under water excavations done for muzris ? let me congratulate the team work of dr cheriyan and dr shajan. i hope some more materials will aso unearth soon

  4. it was a common custom in kerala that ladies dont cover their upper part.all people from namboothiris to pulayas this practice was prevalent.only Muslims and Christian ladies used to cover their upper part.bhrahmin ladies cover themselves from neck to foot with a white sheet while going outside their house even though they dont use to cover their upper body while at home.but due to modern education people began using upper cloths.but older custome loving people did’t liked it and they teased the people who used upper cloths.when they were not alone and in groups they they even dared to tear the cloths.but this was clear case of attacks on ladies and this caused bloody struggle .one thing too.because of that stuggle was conducted by the ladies today the system has changed and ladies can enter any temple wearing the temples run by uneducated culture less people churidars is not allowed.only because churidar is heard by them rescently nothing to say of pants and jeans.but men hahahaha.still have to take off their shirts before entering into many temples of kerala.

  5. forged story of sole nair soildership

    There are some popular beliefs in kerala .even historians are not free from these prejudices .one such prejudice is nairs were the sole warriors or soilders in kerala during the earlier period.can it be true by any means.actually answer is european person who were in kerala during the middle of 1700s wrote that ,there were some 15 lakh soilders in kerala.he gives the army strength of each princely states eg 50000 regular army in travancore,another 1lakh using traditional weapons.samudhiri had some 50000 to 75000.kochi had 35000 and palakkad raja had 20000etc.this goes on and on.even that list was not complete.but we know even in the census taken in the last decades of 1800s ,the total savarna population was less than sustain a 15lakh army is not easy.even india in 21st century find it too expensive.and population strength is one main concern.any country can rise a army which will be some 5% to 10% of its youths population.may be the kerala armies were not regular armies.still 15 lakh soilders is not so easy to be formed from a section of the society which forms only a minority of the society.but we shall better look at the records and make an understanding of the actual fact.

    palace records does not use the word nair army.samudiri granda varikal never refer to nair army.the word used is lokar.why would they have not used the word nair pada,if it the usual usage or the pada was actually consists of nairs.they should have used it surely .but the reason is evedent the then army was not consists entirely of nairs.samudhiri letters have also been it also he never used the word nair pada.there also he used the word lokar.the famous naval battles fought during that time was betteen portugeese and naval army of samudhiri led by marakkar .the naval army was mainly consists of mappilas.
    there is one incidant,once a portugeese army group invaded calicut and marched upto samudiris palace.samudiri was not there ,nor his army.lokar or people around the place or in the city got alert and attacked the portugese.many portugeese were wounded and some killed ,portugese were forced to return to their ships,never again they dare to do such a thing.majority of people in calicut city are ezhavas or thiyyas,even now.if there is another major group its the muslims.(mukkuvar or deevara are also there.but lesser in beech area compared to more southern and norther parts.also muslims were converted from ezhava and deevara families for serving in navy. )the greatest lord (or family )in calicut that time was a ezhava having granded many titles and positions from samudiri.when haider attacked calicut this lord came to see haider ali and presented gifts before him and requested to spare the people of calicut.while samudhiri family and many brahmin familes fled to travancore.

  6. During last decade of 19th century ie during 1890’s a man called C.V.raman pillai who was living kerala wrote a novel,a historical was one of the first novels in Malayalam.the novels name is marthanda varma-the famous king of travancore who enlarged travancore to a bigger country and made it strong with new revenue administration .he also weakened the feudal system there which was slowly emerged and formed from 14th century.C.V.Raman was very high caste spirited person (as was like many at the time.even now its said that nairs are the most caste spirited persons in kerala ).so he named all the important characters of the novel with surname pillai, some of the characters were real historical figures .they too were christian-ed with pillai surname.this novel was very popular and was taught in schools and colleges(even now) .many thought foolishly that it was the real history.but actually many characters were his creation which he thought needed for a love story.he knew many folk songs and from that he formed his own story.some parts of these songs are including at the start of each chapter.

  7. nair caste name was alloted to a group during 1916 after great pleading and request to the maharaja. actually there were no such word used in malayalam before that. about 66 communities joined to form the a society named thiruvidankure bhrithya gana sangam. it was like as trade union. later it was renamed to NSS after the word nair was alloted to them. why people search for the long past history of this caste. it is fully clear that this caste was formed very recently.
    the word nair/nairos/nayaries etc were used by european foreigners to denote the soildiers of kerala. but that word has nothing to do with a particular caste.

  8. There are numerous archeological and literature evidences showing that thread wearing brahmins or later self proclamed brahmins coming to different parts of india. story of parasurama throwing axe , donating land etc are not really unique. similar stories are there in different parts of india where ever brahmins are there like in gujarath, maharashtra , karnataka etc. rashrakuda inscription during late AD 700 tells brahmins were allowed to settle in his country. It should be noted that the inscription doesnot use the word brahmin but those who read it interpreted as brahmins. Those who have studied indian history knows that during the islamic wars in middle east, the people from persia , frequently referred as fire worshipers by islamic sources, fled to india. Thread wearing as a part of religious beliefs was common in persia, egypt etc. These people came to india, then eventually they claimed to be brahmins, which was known in india before as learned sanyasin and was not a caste word. By and by they became the ruling class of india adjusting and moulding as and when required. may be india has not yet able to throw the reigns of outsiders.

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