Workshop Report: Towards a new history of Calicut

—Fathima Thesni

The PG & Research Department of History at Farook College (Autonomous) in Calicut, in collaboration with the Centre for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences ‘Religion and Urbanity’, based at the Max Weber Centre in Erfurt (Germany), organized an international book project workshop titled ‘Towards a New History of Calicut’ on 5 & 6 January, 2024 at Virtual Hall, Farook College. The workshop aimed at finalizing the concepts and methodologies for writing a new history of Calicut drawing from emerging frontiers of historical research. The workshop was attended by the authors of the book and assisted by two local reseachers, Sabna K and Fathima Thesni.

T Muhammedali welcomed the audience. Susanne Rau introduced the ‘Religion and Urbanity’ project and she provided detailed insights into the book project, emphasizing that it would be a ‘comprehensive monograph on Calicut’. The first paper presentation by T Muhammedali discussed ‘From Nediyiruppu to Vikramapuram: A Consideration of the Rise of Zamorins’. He began with a critical analysis of the existing literature and delved into the historical shift of Zamorin’s capital from Nediyiruppu, an inland location, to Calicut, situated near the coast. He presented similarities between the Nediyiruppu swarupam and the Uymaq system of Central Asia and Iran. He also focused on the prominence of Calicut over Chaliyam. A truly enriching discussion happened after his presentation. Several meaningful questions arose like why Zamorins selected Calicut, instead of Beypore or Chaliyam? And who was the ‘Kunnalakkon’ (overlord of the hill and the sea) mentioned in the Muchunti inscription, Zamorin or Porlathiri? K S Madhavan commented on Chaliyar and its connectivity with the Oceanic trade highlighting its role as the resource base of political structure, swarupam, with the multiple kind of resource mobilization process. He also mentioned about the nature of political authority of Eradis and Porlathiris, elucidating their linkages with the political power capturing various local areas, especially around the river Chaliyar.

Image: Fathima Thesni

Susanne Rau presented a paper on ‘Urban spaces in the perception of Arab, Chinese and European travel writers (14th – 17th c.)’. She began with asking some central questions such as when the shift from ‘Nadu’ to ‘Nagaram’ happened? Who designed the city and what is the main criteria of calling a ‘city’? Whether the rulers’ moving household creates the city? She shared some insights from the foreign travel accounts on city, ports and marketplaces. The ensuing discussion was focused on internal and external perceptions of space, highlighting how external factors shape perceptions and how much a non-native view was pre-conditioned while the natives’ perception may be mediated by their own experiences, culture and other social factors.

Then, M R Manmathan presented his paper titled ’Medieval City Planning: Native and Cosmopolitan Elements in the Spatial Formations of Calicut’ co-authored with Manjula Poyil, Kannur University. He began with the sources and historiography of studying the urban history of medieval Calicut and presented first insights on the genesis of the city. He detailed the cityscape of Calicut, encompassing houses, temples, mosques, marketplaces and settlement patterns. He argued that the medieval city of Calicut exhibited the coexistence of complex elements of mercantilism, cosmopolitanism, religiosity and cultural exclusivism. During the discussion, Shinoy Jesinth argued that it was not a case of cosmopolitanism but rather of the multicultural nature of the society that existed in Calicut because separate entities like Bohras, Gujaratis, Parsis, and others, and trading and religious communities coexisted.

Next, Selvakumar V (Tamil University at Thanjavur) presented his paper titled ‘Archaeology of Kozhikode region from the Iron Age to the medieval period’ in hybrid mode. He presented the evidence of human existence from the prehistoric times to the medieval period. Through this paper he is clearly marking the archaeological evidence which corroborates the growth of Calicut as a long distance maritime trade hub. He also narrated the commercial significance of Calicut, Pantalayani Kollam and Beypore.

The second day of the workshop began with the presentation of C A Anaz. His paper titled ‘A study of place names at the Cityscapes of Kozhikode’ vividly describes the role of place names in documenting the history of a specific region by analyzing various place names in Calicut. The following discussion focused on the methodology of onomastic and the territorial limits or boundaries of Calicut.

Image: Fathima Thesni

Then, Shinoy Jesinth (Malabar Christian College) presented his paper titled ‘Spatial Processes, Cartography, and Representation: Mapping the Urban Landscape of Medieval Calicut’. He delineated the spatial layout of the city into different components such as the ports and waterfront, marketplaces and commercial maps, religious and cultural spaces, residential areas, fortifications and palaces and administrative centers. He showcased several city views and maps collected from various records and even maps drawn by himself. Beyond that, he highlighted some place names like Parankinilam (the term ‘Paranki’ was used to denote Portuguese) which is a Portuguese settlement, Paranthris Parambu which is French, and Lantha parambu, a Dutch settlement. He made use of the maps of different periods to identify the spatial changes occurred to the city in the course of time and examined the agents and the decision-making processes involved in their formation over space and time.

After these general views, Abdul Nisar M narrowed the focus to one particular neighbourhood. In his paper titled ‘Cosmopolitanism in Micro spaces: The structure and functions of the Akams of Kuttichira in Calicut’ he presented Calicut as a meeting point of the lively diasporic communities of the world during the pre-colonial period and a ‘melting pot’ of cultures. Beyond that he focused on the role of Muslim trading communities and their settlements in Calicut like Kuttichira, Idiyangara, Kundungal, Parappil and Thekkepuram and how they become the catalysts behind the urbanization of Calicut. He also enquires how certain separate spaces had marvelously created, maintained and exclusively allocated to certain groups who were in trade with Calicut. He studies the background of the emergence of akams and how it became the space of interaction of the foreign traders with Calicut port. This study of Akams may unravel the early settlement pattern of the Muslim traders in the city.

Continuing the presentations, Shumais U discussed ‘Urban Life in Medieval Calicut: People and Trading Regulations in Granthavaris’. The study is based on the Granthavari records of Zamorins which is popularly known as ‘Kozhikkodan Granthavari’. The rules and regulations mentioned in Granthavaris provide valuable information on the trade networks and the urban life of Calicut. Discussions were made on the challenges of reading these manuscripts and decided to focus on the aspects of trade, regulations for urban life and religious practices especially between 16th and 18th centuries.

Kozhikodan Granthavari, Zamorin records No.52, Palm leaf 6, Vallathol Vidyapeetham, Sukapuram

The workshop came to an end with the concluding remarks of Susanne Rau and T Muhammedali, the project coordinators at Erfurt and Calicut respectively. Both acknowledged the collaborative efforts that fueled the success of the workshop, extending appreciation to the participants, presenters, and supporting institutions and expressed optimism about the forthcoming book and its potential to contribute significantly to historical scholarship about South Indian urban history.

Kozhikode/Calicut in relation to the Indian subcontinent.
Workshop poster

Fathima Thesni is currently a guest lecturer at the Department of History at Farook College and acts as the editorial assistant of the above mentioned book project.

Cite this entry:

Thesni, Fathima. “Workshop Report: Towards a new history of Calicut”. Religion and Urbanity Blog. KFG “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” (FOR 2779). 29/01/2024.

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
urbrel (January 29, 2024). Workshop Report: Towards a new history of Calicut. Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations. Retrieved July 17, 2024 from

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