History of Kollam

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Quilon or Coulão (Malayalam: ക്വയ്ലോണ്‍), officially Kollam (Malayalam: കൊല്ലം) is one of the ancient civilizations in India. Kollam is the oldest port city in the Malabar Coast and was the capital city of historic Venad Kingdom and Travancore Kingdom.[1] Quilon was once one of the most important trading ports in India.[2] It was also known as Desinganadu. Kollam is world-famous for its historic importance and business culture. It is now known as the "Cashew Capital of the World".[3]

Since the ancient times, city of Kollam(Quilon) has played a vital role in the business, economical, cultural, religious and political history of Asia and Indian sub continent. Even the Malayalam calendar(Kollavarsham) is also known so with the name of the city Kollam. City of Quilon is mentioned in historical citations dating back to Biblical times and the reign of King Solomon, connecting with Red Sea ports of the Arabian Sea (supported by a find of ancient Roman coins). The teak wood used in building King Solomon’s throne was taken from Kollam.[4][5] Desinganadu, old name of Kollam, had a sustained commercial reputation from the days of the Phoenicians, Chinese, Arabs, Dutch and the Romans. It is closely related with the ancient and modern life of Keralites through Kollavarsham, Tharisapalli plates, arrival of Christianity in Kerala etc.

The history of the district of Kollam as an administrative unit can be traced back to 1835, when the Travancore state consisted of two revenue divisions with headquarters at Kollam and Kottayam. During the integration of Travancore and Cochin states in Kerala in 1949, Kollam was one among the three revenue divisions in the state. Later, those revenue divisions were converted as the first districts in the state.[6]

City of Quilon during AD.1500


The city name "Kollam" is believed to have been derived from the Sanskrit word Kollam (Sanskrit: कोल्लं), which means Pepper. During the ancient times, Kollam was world-famous for its trade culture, especially for the availability and export of fine quality Pepper. The sole motive of all the Portuguese, Dutch and British who have arrived the Port of Kollam that time was Pepper and other spices available at Kollam[7]

Pre-history of Kollam

Kollam is the most historic and ancient settlement in Kerala, probably in South India. Ingots excavated from Kollam city, Port, Umayanallur, Mayyanad, Sasthamcotta, Kulathupuzha and Kadakkal proved that the whole district and city were human settlements since Stone Age. Teams of archaeologists and anthropologist have conducted visits to Kollam city and Port many times for treasure hunts and researches.[8][9]

The period between 1000 BC and 500 AD is referred to as the Megalithic Culture in South India and is similar to the culture in Africa and Europe. In January 2009, the Department of Archaeology discovered a Megalithic age cist burial ground at Thazhuthala in Kollam Metropolitan Area, which had thrown lights to the past glory and ancient human settlements in Kollam area. Similar cists had been earlier discovered from the south east of Kollam. The team discovered three burial chambers, iron weapons, earthen vessels in black and red and remains of molten iron after their first major excavation in Kollam. They found a cairn circle in 1990 during their first major excavation. In August 2009, a team of archaeologists led by Dr P.Rajendran, UGC research scientist and archaeologist at the Department of History of Kerala University, had discovered Lower Paleolithic tools along with the Chinese coins and potteries from the seabed of Tangasseri in the city. This is for the first time that prehistoric cupules and Lower Paleolithic tools were discovered from below the seabed in India.[10] These tools prove that the Stone Age people lived in present Kollam area and surroundings had moved to the coastal areas during the glacial period in the Pleistocene, when the sea-level was almost 300 feet below the present sea-level.[11] Those tools are made of chert and quartzite rocks.[12]

Voyages to Quilon/Kollam

After AD.23, so many merchant travellers, explorers, missionaries, apostles and army commanders visited Quilon, as Quilon was the most important trading port in India. Pliny, Saint Thomas, Mar Sabor and Mar Proth, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta and Zheng He are a few of them.

Pliny had mentioned about the port city of Quilon much accurately. By the ninth century AD., Quilon has evolved as political and trade centre of Kulsekhara dynasty of Venad Empire.

Tomb of Mar Sabor at Marth Mariam church, Thevalakkara in Quilon
Time Traveller Country from which he/she came to Quilon Name they used to mention Quilon
A.D. 23–79 Pliny Roman Empire --
A.D. 522 Cosmas Indicopleustes Alexandria, Greece Male[13]
A.D. 825 Mar Sabor and Mar Proth Syria Coulão
A.D. 845–855 Sulaiman al-Tajir Siraf, Iran Male
A.D. 1166 Benjamin of Tudela Tudela, Kingdom of Navarre(Now in Spain) Chulam
A.D. 1292 Marco Polo Republic of Venice Kiulan
A.D. 1273 Abu'l-Fida Hamāh, Syria Coilon / Coilun
A.D. 1311–1321 Jordanus Catalani Sévérac-le-Château, France Columbum
A.D. 1321 Odoric of Pordenone Holy Roman Empire Polumbum
A.D. 1346–1349 Ibn Battuta Morocco --[14]
A.D. 1405–1407
A.D. 1409–1411
Zheng He China --[15][16]
A.D. 1503 Afonso de Albuquerque Kingdom of Portugal --[17]
A.D. 1502–1503 Vasco da Gama Kingdom of Portugal --[18]
A.D. 1503 Giovanni da Empoli Kingdom of Portugal --
A.D. 1510–1517 Duarte Barbosa Kingdom of Portugal Coulam[19]
A.D. 1578 Henrique Henriques Kingdom of Portugal --[20]

Arrival of Saint Thomas

The arrival of Christianity in Kerala begins with the expedition of Saint Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus in AD 52. He founded Seven and a half Churches in Kerala, started from Maliankara and then Kodungallur, Kollam, Niranam, Nilackal, Kokkamangalam, Kottakkavu, Palayoor (Chattukulangara) and Thiruvithamcode Arappally (a "half church").[21][22][23]

Inception of the Port of Kollam

In 822 AD, two East Syrian bishops Mar Sabor and Mar Proth, settled in Quilon with their followers. After the beginning of Kollam Era (824 AD), Quilon became the premier city of the Malabar region ahead of Travancore and Cochin.[24] Kollam Port was founded by Mar Sabor at Thangasseri in 825 as an alternative to reopening the inland Seaport of Kore-ke-ni Kollam near Backare (Thevalakara), which was also known as Nelcynda and Tyndis to the Romans and Greeks and as Thondi to the Tamils.[24]

Migration of East Syrians to Kerala started in 4th century. Their second migration is dated to the year AD 823 and that was to the city of Quilon. The tradition claims that the Christian immigrants rebuilt the city of Quilon in AD 825 from which date the Malayalam era is reckoned.[25]

Beginning of Kollam Era

Kollam Era (also known as Malayalam Era or Kollavarsham or Malayalam Calendar or Malabar Era) is a solar and sidereal Hindu calendar used in Kerala, India. The origin of the calendar has been dated as 825 CE (Pothu Varsham) at Kollam(Quilon).[26][27][28] It replaced the traditional Hindu calendar used widely else where in India and is now prominently used in Kerala. All temple events, festivals and agricultural events in the state are still decided according to the dates in the Malayalam calendar.[29]

There are many theories regarding the origin of the Malayalam calendar - the Kolla Varsham. A major theory is;

According to Herman Gundert Kolla Varsham started as part of erecting a new Shiva Temple in Kollam and because of the strictly local and religious background, the other regions did not follow this system at first. Then once the Kollam port emerged as an important trade center the other countries were also started to follow the new system of calendar. This theory backs the remarks of Ibn Battuta as well.[30][31]

Venad - Kingdom of Quilon

Venad with other major chieftaincies and the Chera Kingdom, c. 11th century.[32]

The Kingdom of Quilon or Venad was one of the three prominent late medieval Hindu feudal kingdoms on the Malabar Coast in South India. The rulers of Quilon, the Venattadi Kulasekharas, traces their relations back to the Ay kingdom and the Later Cheras. The last Chera ruler, Rama Varma Kulashekhara, was the first ruler of an independent state of Quilon. In the early 14th century, King Ravi Varma established a short-lived supremacy over South India. After his death, Quilon only included most of modern-day Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts of Kerala and Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. Marco Polo claimed to have visited his capital at Quilon, a centre of commerce and trade with China and the Levant. Europeans were attracted to the region during the late fifteenth century, primarily in pursuit of the then rare commodity, black pepper. Quilon was the forerunner to Travancore.[33]

In the Sangam age most of the present-day Kerala state was ruled by the Chera dynasty, Ezhimala rulers and the Ay rulers. Venad, ruled by the dynasty of the same name, was in the Ay kingdom. However, the Ays were the vassals of the Pandyas. By the 9th century, Venad became a part of the Later Chera Kingdom as the Pandya power diminished and traded with distant parts of the world. It became a semi-autonomous state within the Later Chera Kingdom. In the 11th century the region fell under the Chola empire.[34]

During the 12th century, the Venad dynasty merged the remnants of the old Ay Dynasty to them forming the Chirava Mooppan (the ruling King) and the Thrippappur Mooppan (the Crown Prince). The provincial capital of the local patriarchal dynasty was at port Kollam. The port was visited by Nestorian Christians, Chinese and Arabs. In same century, the capital of the war-torn Later Chera Kingdom was relocated to Kollam and the Kulasekhara dynasty merged with the Venad rulers. The last King of the Kulasekhara dynasty based on Mahodayapuram, Rama Varma Kulashekhara, was the first ruler of an independent Venad. The Hindu kings of Vijayanagar empire ruled Venad briefly in the 16th century.[34]

Copper Plate Inscriptions from Quilon

Tharisapalli plates of AD 849 written at Quilon

The Tharisappalli Copper Plates (849 AD) are a copper-plate grant issued by the King of Venad (Quilon), Ayyanadikal Thiruvadikal, to the Saint Thomas Christians on the Malabar Coast in the 5th regnal year of the Chera ruler Sthanu Ravi Varma.[35] The inscription describes the gift of a plot of land to the Syrian Church at Tangasseri near Quilon (now known as Kollam), along with several rights and privileges to the Syrian Christians led by Mar Sapir Iso.[36]

The Tharisappalli copper plates are one of the important historical inscriptions of Kerala, the date of which has been accurately determined.[37] The grant was made in the presence of important officers of the state and the representatives of trade corporations or merchant guilds. It also throws light on the system of taxation that prevailed in early Venad, as several taxes such as a profession tax, sales tax and vehicle tax are mentioned. It also testifies to the enlightened policy of religious toleration followed by the rulers of ancient Kerala.

There are two sets of plates as part of this document, and both are incomplete. The first set documents the land while the second details the attached conditions. The signatories signed the document in the Hebrew, Pahlavi, and Kufic languages.[38]

The Portuguese Invasion (1502–1661)

Kollam in AD. 1670

The Portuguese were the first Europeans came to the city of Quilon. They came to Quilon as traders and established a trading center at Tangasseri in Quilon in 1502. The then Queen of Quilon first invited the Portuguese to the city in 1501 for discussing about pepper trade. But they refused that due to Vasco da Gama's close relations with the Raja of Cochin. Later the Queen of Quilon negotiated with the Raja and he permitted to send two Portuguese ships to the city of Quilon to buy fine quality pepper. That voyage was the beginning of trade relations between Portugal and city of Quilon, which became the centre of their trade in pepper.[39] But that trade relation got set back due to an insurrection happened at the Port of Quilon between the Arabs and the Portuguese. The captain of one of the Portuguese fleets saw an Arab ship is loading pepper from the Port of Quilon and that burst fighting between them. Aftermath, the battle started between them. 13 Portuguese men were killed and the St. Thomas church were burned down. To prevent further devastation, the Queen of Quilon signed a treaty with the Portuguese and as a result they got customs tax exemption and monopoly over the spice and pepper tread with Quilon. The royal family of Quilon agreed to rebuild the destroyed church.[40][41]

The Portuguese conquered Quilon till 1661. They fought with the Arab traders near Quilon and captured a huge amount of gold after killing more than 2000 Arab traders.[42]


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