It all began when my husband unearthed an article that spoke of the old port city that had the romantic name of Muziris, an ancient centre that brought in much revenue through its exotic spices.
The other story that held us in thrall was based on the Ramayana, where Muzaris or Murachipattanam was supposedly one of the spots where the Vanara king, Sugreeva, sent his sleuths to look for Sita, the abducted wife of Lord Rama.
As we read on, we could almost visualize the arrival of the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Egyptians who landed in Muzaris as long back as in 3000 BC in their stately vessels, cutting a swathe across the seas in search of ‘black gold’ or black pepper, and semi-precious stones in exchange for gold coins. Muziris remained an attraction to myriads of other traders – the Chinese, the Phoenicians, the Arabs, the Greeks and the Romans as well.
Thus, Muziris which is in Kodangallur, Kerala, made its presence felt in the world trade map and held sway for decades and decades.
However, in 1341, the mighty Periyar river changed its course, and the ensuing floods and earthquakes sounded the death knell of this once-flourishing city.
Forts have always written their own history, and the Cranganore Fort, located in Kottappuram is no exception. The word ‘Kottappuram’ itself means ‘a place around a fort’. In 1523, the Cranganore Fort also known as the Kodangallur Fort was built by the Portuguese. In 1661, the Dutch occupied it. Sadly, it was later razed by Tipu Sultan, as the legend goes.
Today, the prestigious Muzaris Heritage Project by the Tourism Department of Kerala has created a protective umbrella over the remains of this ancient fort, conserving and preserving it for future generations. Excavations were done from 2007 to 2013, and painstakingly, the vestiges of the fort were brought to light.
The Central and the State Governments have lovingly nurtured this project, to recreate the ambiance of the earlier shrines, markets, churches and cemeteries, just as they appeared in the hoary past.
Isn’t it fascinating to think of how the ancient story was pieced together with the help of the excavated objects that were discovered in the vicinity? The foundation of the fort was laid in 1503 and it was created in all its magnificence in 1523. History was narrated with the help of the excavated artifacts, chinaware, and iron objects that found their place in a museum set up nearby.
We stopped to buy tickets to the fort. Right before us were fishermen busy plucking fish out of their nets.
As we walked towards the ruins of the fort, we were hailed by a lady in pink from the State Archaeology Department. Her name was Lalji and she was a walking encyclopaedia of information about the ancient town of Muziris. She pointed out interesting details like a well that had been part of the fort, the ‘kodimaram’ (flag pole) and an inscription in 1909 describing how the Portuguese had set up the fort. She spoke animatedly about the various archaeological finds, the dimensions of the old fort and the impressive work being done by the Muzaris Heritage Project.
The front face of the fort was towards the confluence of the Periyar and the Chalakudy rivers. Earlier the fort was spread out over ten acres; today its remnants cover only two and a half acres.
In 2010, the skeleton of a young man, below the age of 20 years, was discovered. At the time the head was visible, but he had no left arm. Today, the preserved remains reveal the torso and one distinct tooth where the face must have lain before it crumbled. It is believed that in 1540, when the fort was under the Portuguese, many more bodies had been discovered, leading to the conclusion that there must have been a church with a cemetery in the vicinity. One can only hope that the spirits lie in peace within their sepulchres.
Walking along the waterfront was a pleasure, with the silhouettes of the Chinese fishing nets, the gentle waves undulating alongside, the motor boats that broke the silence, and the colourful eateries that dotted the borders. The picture postcard perfection of the landscape quite took our breath away.
My husband and I had worked up a healthy appetite and decided to walk into the most picturesque little riverside cafe, aptly named Portuguese. In no time at all, the food arrived, as we watched the waters swirl around us, the movement almost lulling us to sleep. However, the piping hot Kerala parathas, the chicken curry, the mutton roast and the plate of fish fry awoke us from our somnolence. The food was served in small portions, but large enough for us to ask for a doggy pack. Replete, we asked for one cup of payasam which came in a tiny cup, but was enough for the two of us.
After lunch, we walked along the riverside, savouring the balmy weather, and our hearts rejoiced to see ‘God’s Own Country’ in all its pristine wonder. The cobbled pavements were clean of litter as the buildings blended seamlessly into the ambiance of the place.
What added to the charm was the beautiful blend of religions, with the Marthoma Church, the Kodangallur Mahakali temple, the Jewish synagogue and the Cheraman Juma Masjid, all in close proximity, denoting the harmony of all faiths.
This harmony continued like a motif as we walked on, admiring the red-tiled restaurants and the colourful graffiti on the side walls that revealed how consciously the architects had retained the old-world charm of Muzaris.
As we drove back to Thrissur, it was with full hearts and a feeling of immense satisfaction. We needed to return one day. There were many more worlds to be explored, many more sights to be seen. And thereby hangs another tale!
“Give some tree the gift of green again.
Let one bird sing.”
From ‘When Autumn Came’ by Faiz Ahmad Faiz
Translated by Naomi Lazard
Photographs: Deepti Menon
How to get to Muzaris:
Guruvayur: 50km Aluva: 28km
Thrissur: 39km Chalakudy: 26km
Kochi: 29km Irinjalakuda: 17km