Prof. George Menachery & Fr. Werner Chakkalakkal, CMI  

Mar Thoma Pontifical Shrine 2000

The impressive facade and the granite obelisk double-cross at Puthenchira, the seat of the last Archbishops of Kodungallur.

Published by Fr. J.B. Puthur, CMI, Rector, Marthoma Pontifical Shrine, Azhikode - Kodungallur.
Typeset by Ben Computers, Thrissur
Printed at Ebenezer, Thrissur
Released by H. Em. Joachim Cardinal Meisner on January 10, 2001 at Kodungallur, Price Rs. 75.00
Copyright © 2000 by MPS


Kodungallur, known as Musiris in the whole ancient world, and where St. Thomas the Apostle first landed in our India, was till the 15th century the "Rome" of India both as the centre of the Indian Church and as its gateway to world-trade through its famous harbour at the mouth of the river Periyar.

Hence it was most appropriate to choose Azhikode-Kodungallur for the Mar Thoma Pontifical Shrine to deposit the relic of the right arm of Apostle Thomas brought by Cardinal Tisserant in the year 1953.


Although we do not claim to have presented all that could be said about Kodungallur or the Apostle’s visit to Kodungallur here in this brief study prepared at short notice, we hope that some of the new threads of thought traced therein could be the starting point for fresh studies on the Apostle and his mission to India and to Kerala. Our attempts to draw the attention of the reader to the vast body of resources on the topics dealt with we hope will be of special use in promoting research into the glorious past of the land and the people here and into the captivating story of the Church in India. Of especial use might be the many references to local sources from the fields of archaeology, anthropology, numismatics, customs, traditions, folklore, place-name studies, geography, trade and commerce, art and architecture, literatures...In this connection we are glad to inform our readers that many of the classical source books mentioned are now available in a reprinted form in such works as the Indian Church History Classics (The Nazranies), The Thomapedia, and various other such publications.
May Thomas and his Master guide and protect our Church and Country.

Ollur, Thrissur City 

Christmas 2000

C O N T E N T S 

Chapter I

        Cranganore : Past and Present
        The Glory that was Cranganore
        Kodungallur Today
        Ancient Primacy of Cranganore 
        Agreement of 20th Century Historians
        Ancient Indian, Greek, and Roman Authors
        Pepper : Yavana Priya
        Roman Coins

Chapter II

        Special Problems of Indian History
        The "Thomas Question" in the course of centuries
        APOSTLE THOMAS IN INDIA : Early Testimonies
        Kodungallur as the See of St. Thomas

Chapter III

        The Secular Story
        The Early Church of Kodungallur
        Metropolitan of All-India
        Mediaeval Church of Kodungallur
        Pattern of Society in Mediaeval Kodungallur
        Encounter with the Christian West
        Century of Transition
        Eclipse and the Dawn

Chapter IV

        Veneration of the Tomb in India
        Translation of the Relics to Edessa
        From Edessa to Chios
        At Ortona
        Mylapore Tomb down the Centuries
        "Second Landing" of Thomas at Kodungallur

Chapter V

        An Afterword
        Kodungallur : Mission Headquarters
        Kodungallur : Mission Successful
        The Seventy-two Privileges
        Incidents at Kodungallur
        The Cap - Bearer
        The Royal Couple
        Spread of christianity in kerala
        Coastal Expansion

        Geographical Dispersion

        Common roots of christianity in india





K.P. Padmanabha Menon, writing at the dawn of this century, laments:

The present condition of Cranganore is, indeed, deplorable. Having continued to be prosperous and important almost from pre-historic times till the middle of the 14th century, it has since fallen into complete ruin and decay.

Cranganore was already on the decline when the Portuguese arrived in India. "Years ago," says the Revd. Richard Collins, "by one of those strange vicissitudes which so often mark the progress of time, Cranganore was shorn of her glory. It was no Nebuchadnezzar, no Alexander, no Titus, that blotted out her name from history, and ‘laid her stones and her timbers and her dust in the midst of the waters;’ and made her ‘a place to spread nets upon’ - a mere village, as she is now, of a few fishermen’s huts. She fell a prey to the geological instability of the coast, before referred to. Like so many things of the earth, the very foundation on which she was built was insecure; the entrance to her harbour became choked up; the remorseless monsoon washed away her bulwarks, and, losing her trade, she lost also her inhabitants".

The opening of the Cochin outlet for the discharge of the monsoon flood of waters into the sea and the consequent choking up of the Cranganore outlet led to the forming of the present beautiful harbour of Cochin. That tolled the deathknell of the commercial prosperity of Cranganore. Deprived of its natural harbour, it gradually dwindled into insignificance. Its trade fled northwards to Calicut and southwards to the new harbour of Cochin, and with its trade its prosperity also. The subsequent efforts of the Portuguese to revive Cranganore were of no avail, and it now remains only a name in history.

Pliny described Cranganore as primum emporium Indiae. Well did it deserve that proud distinction. Situated on the coast, eighteen miles to the north of Cochin, at a place where the great rivers that form the only means of comunication with the interior debouched into the sea, it attained an unrivalled prosperity from very early times.

It was through this port that the Hindus received from the Phoenicians their art of writing; it must have been from this port that the shipmen of Solomon of Israel, ‘that knew the sea’, obtained their valuable cargoes of gold, ivory, sandalwood, etc.

It was to this port that the Greek merchant and mariner Hippalos, that Columbus of ancient times, in his voyage for the discovery of a sea-route to India, was carried by the western monsoons.

It was here, according to common tradition, that the Apostle St. Thomas landed first, planted the Cross and preached Christianity in the opening years of the first century of the Christian Era (52 A.D).

It was here, not long after, that the Jews arrived after the destruction of the second temple and the final desolation of Jerusalem (A.D. 69) and founded a colony.

It was at this port, that the Romans had, according to one version of the Peutinger Tables, set up a temple of Augustus and stationed a garrison to protect their trade.

It was here that Thomas Cana landed from Syria, when he brought with him a fresh colony of Syrian Christians.

It was here that the early Chera Kings had their seat, and the Chera king Chenkudduvan held his prosperous court, and ruled over the Chera Empire in the first century of the Christian era.

St. Thomas stamp brought out by the Government of India in connection with the Bombay International Eucharistic Congress and the visit of Pope Paul VI to India in 1964.

Government of India's St. Thomas 19th death centenary stamp released on 3rd July 1973. 

It was here that the great Cheraman Perumal, Bhaskara Ravi Varma, lived and ruled over Kerala prosperously for thrice the period of his allotted term. It was here that he was visited by certain Muhammadan pilgrims, who, according to tradition, succeeded in inducing the Perumal to turn Muhammadan and undertake the Haj; it was here that the Perumal, on the eve of his renunciation of religion and empire and embarkation for Mecca, is reputed to have distributed Malabar among the many princes who own it even now; it was here that his emissaries from Mecca founded a Muhammadan colony and built the first mosque in Malabar.

The Portuguese, the first European nation to arrive and to found an empire in India, had seriously thought of making Cranganore their seat of Government, but preferred Cochin, as that place offered, since the formation of the harbour there in the year 1341, a better site. Nevertheless, the Portuguese fortified Cranganore and made it the seat of the first Roman Catholic Arch-bishopric in India. The Dutch ousted the Portuguese, and were of opinion that Cranganore was the key of Malabar. Verily it proved to be too, when Hyder and Tippu led the Mysorean hordes to the west coast. The purchase by Travancore of the fort of Cranganore and its destruction by Tippu led to the third Mysorean war, at the close of which Malabar passed into the possession of the English, who had, as early as 1616, established a factory there, and entered into a treaty with the Zamorin, perhaps the very first treaty between the English and an Indian sovereign.

At present, the site of the fort is a wilderness which is being gradually cleared and brought under cultivation. Where once the noble Cathedral walls resounded to the sonorous prayers chanted by the Roman Catholic priests, the jackals now keep up a chorus of monotonous howling. The old fort is no more. It is in utter ruins. Even its very site is soon changing its configuration. Its old moat is a haunt of crocodiles and paddy birds. The solitary tower that had for years withstood the corroding influence of the dashing waves has at last succumbed and fallen into the backwater.

"The solitary stranger", says Day, "perhaps disturbs a snake in his path or an owl in the dense overhanging trees, but rarely a mortal will meet his eye." What strange tales would history unfold if only the gift of speech were allowed to the stones and pebbles that lie embedded in the bosom of the river that flows by the once famous fort of Cranganore! (History of Kerala , I)


The city of Kodungallur, known variously by Muziris, Shinkli, Cranganore and by many another name1 down the centuries, stood at the meeting-place of different trade routes connecting the East with the West and the North with the South. These trade - routes, which carried the bulk of the traffic passing by sea between India and foreign parts, played an all important part in the history of Cranganore, for it must have been mainly to them that the city owed its initial existence as well as its subsequent prosperity and greatness, and it was due to their diversion or decline, when trade contacts with foreign countries were interrupted, that Cranganore sank eventually into insignificance. 2

Oceanic Trade Routes to the West, North and the East

While the monsoon route connected Muziris (Cranganore) directly across the Arabian Sea with cities in the west (e.g. Alexandria, Aden) the West Coastal route gave its ships ready access to the Indus (leading to Taxila) and Ctesiphon by land and beyond to Ormuz and Mesopotamia. a third route, hugging the coast of East Asia linked the Imperial Capital of the Cheras with the Mouth of the Ganges and with China. 3


A chain of backwaters/lagoons running parallel to the sea receive the drainage of the rivers flowing down from the hills and meet the sea at Cranganore and nearby Chettuvai. These backwaters with their subsidiary canals stretch to Trivandrum, almost at the Southern end of Kerala, and to Ponnani in the the North and have numerous branches leading towards the interior. Almost throughout their length they are navigable for all sizes of country boats throughout the year.4 They are affected by flood tides twice in every 24 hours, except during the monsoon months, when the frequency is according to the volume of the freshes. 5 The accessibility of Cranganore, by sea and by the backwaters, made it the foremost trading station of Kerala and India both for internal and foreign commerce. 6


Kodungallur was in the administrative Taluk of Kodungallur in the Trichur District of the erstwhile Cochin State. The Trichur District of Kerala which is identical with the central region of Kerala is rich in history and cultural tradition. Of all the administrative divisions of Kerala State this district holds out the greatest fascination to the student of ancient history, archaeology and culture.

After the birth of the new Kerala State of the Indian Union on November 1, 1956 a number of changes have been effected in the administrative division of the District and Revenue Division of Trichur making comparison of demographic growth/decline figures somewhat complicated. At present Kodungallur Taluk consists of 9 villages with Kodungallur as headquarters. 7

This coastal town, situated 40 Kms. to South-West of Trichur lies in 10o 100 North latitude and 76o 10o East longitude. 8 According to the census of 1931 (Cochin State) Christians were 6% of the population in the Taluk compared with 29% in the Trichur Taluk, 32% in the Mukundapuram Taluk and 40% in the Cochin - Kanayannur Taluk.

The Marthoma Political Shrine, Azhikode is 46 kms, from Thrissur 45 kms, From Ernakulam and 6 kms, From Kodungallur

Industries and Institutions

The main industries of the area are connected with the manufacture of coir, mats and handloom clothes. The Government have set up a fishing centre at Azhicode and plans are under way to develop Cranganore as a major fishing harbour on the west coast. There are today a number of educational institutions and Government offices at Kodungallur. The nearest big town is Irinjalakuda some 16 Kms. away. Cochin is at a distance of 25 Km. by road after crossing a ferry(1984).


Azicode is the present harbour area near Kodungallur at the mouth of the river, which recalls the ancient Muziris harbour. This was what prompted the Shrine to receive the Relics of St. Thomas to be built in Azhikode. The area of Azhicode Village in 1971 was 18.27 Km2 with a population of 12580. according to a very recent survey made in 1987 by Marthoma Social Mission which covered 1021 families (6275 pop.), the religious break-up is as follows:

Hindus-37% (High Caste 7%, Ezhavas 75%, Other backward communities 18%)

Christians-11% (Latin Rite 90%, Syrian Rite 10%)


Almost 80% of the families live by fishing, mat weaving or doing coolie-labour.

Temples and Mosques

Kodungallur is famous for its ancient temples which are among the worthy specimens of the Kerala style of architecture. One of the earliest is the Siva Temple at Tiruvanchikulam in Cranganore Taluk, which is said to have been founded by the Saivaite saint Sundara Murthi Nayanar and his royal friend Cheraman Perumal Nayanar.

The Kiztali Siva Temple, one of the 18 Tali Temples of Kerala, is situated very near to the Tiruvanchikulam temple. Moreover in Cranganore, there is also the famous Kurumba Bhaghavati Temple supposed to have been built in the Sangam age to commemorate the martyrdom of Kannaki. Kannaki is depicted as the ideal wife in the celebrated legend of Kovalan and Kannaki, presented in the Tamil epic Silappathikaram. Chenkuttuvan enshrined her as the goddess of Chastity.

It was mentioned earlier how the first mosque in India was founded here in 629 by the followers of Cheraman Perumal, believed to have been converted to Islam. The present Cheraman Masjid stands on the site of the original mosque built in Kerala style.

Oldest of the existing Christian churches is the Kottapuram Church near Kodungallur, further up the mouth of the river, where the Portuguese built a fortress. More about the history of the churches will be dealt with in later chapters.



Almost all historians who have written about South India are uniformly of opinion that for considerable periods of time Cranganore was the pre-eminent trading station of India, at least as far as seaborne commerce was concerned.

K. P. Padmanabha Menon : "Of all places in Malabar, Cranganore is perhaps the most important from a historic point of view. We catch glimpses of its early glory through a long vista of misty antiquity. Situated on the western sea-board at a point where the river system that afforded untold facilities for communication with the interior opened its mouth into the sea, Cranganore formed a great emporium of trade from very early times. The Phoenicians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans, each in turn, carried on commerce with the East."9

V. Nagam Aiya : "Varaha Mihira, the great Hindu astrnomer (who lived about the year 550 A.D.) notices in his Brihtsamhita both the country and the people by the names of Kerala and Kairalakas, and mentions Baladevapattanam and Marichipattanam as important towns in Kerala. Kern, Varaha Mihira’s translator, identifies these places with the Baliapattana and the Muziris of Ptolemy and other Greek geographers respectively." 10

T.K. Velu Pillai : "Muziris was in ancient times the most important seaport in the east. From the Chera country was exported to the nations of the west, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and other spices. This commercial intercourse drained the gold of Europe into India to such an extent that, so far back as the first century A.D., Pliny calculated that fully a hundred million sesterces were withdrawn from the Roman Empire to purchase ‘useless’ articles from the east." 11

 K.M. Panikkar : "The great hoards of Roman coins discovered in Kerala bear ample witness to the extensive character of this trade.

"The main port in Kerala which was the centre of this trade, as Pliny says, was Muziris or Cranganore. It was known in Kerala as Muyirikkodu - it is so mentioned in the so called Christian plates. The earlier Tamil poets allude to it as Mucciri. Periplus mentions that Muziris is a city at the height of prosperity frequented as it is by ships from Arriake and by Greek ships from Egypt. The exports of Kerala consisted mainly of ‘pearl in considerable quantity and of superior quality; pepper in larger quantities and gems of every variety’"12

A. Galletti and The Rev. P. Groot : ".............. Vypeen, which stretches from the Cochin to the Cranganore passage from the sea to the backwater. The spot is one of great historic interest. Cranganore (Kudangalur) said to have been formerly Muyiricodu, has been confidently identified with the Muziris of the ancients, the greatest emporium of India according to Pliny the Elder, which stood ‘on a river two miles from its mouth’, according to the Periplus Maris Erythraei, the river being known as the Pseudostomos or False Mouth, a correct translation of Alimukam, as the mouth of the Periyar is still called. The Greek or other traders of the Roman Province of Egypt were probably as familiar as the Portuguese with the low land or islands fringed with cocoanut trees to the water’s edge of the river and lagoons about Cranganore. These lagoons were the first settlement of the Portuguese when they re-discovered India and established themselves almost simultaneously at Cochin near one passage into the backwater and near Cranganore at Palliport, where the well-preserved remains of their small three-storied octagonal castle built in 1507 A.D. are still to be seen. At Ayacotta, near Palliport, Van der Meyden met the heir of the Zamorin of Calicut and the King of Cranganore and later on the Zamorin in person, and it was agreed to attack the Portuguese forts of Palliport and Cranganore, to divide the loot if the attack should be successful, the Dutch to keep Christian captives, all Portuguese priests to be expelled, the forts to be pulled down, expenses to be shared, the land revenue and other taxes to be shared, the Dutch to administer justice, the Dutch to have all pepper at a fixed price except one-third which the native chiefs or their merchants should keep for their own trade."13

Col. Yule : "It is to Cranganore that all Malabar traditions point as their oldest seaport of renown; to the Christians it was the landing place of St. Thomas the Apostle. The tradition is that the Apostle landed on Malankara, a small island in the lagoon or backwater close to Cranganore in A.D. 52., and planted Christianity for the first time in India; and it is significant that the Metropolitan of the Jacobite Syrians in Malabar still takes his title Bishop of Malankara from that little island." 14

Erakkaddur Thyankannanar : The early Tamil poet Erakkaddur Thyankannanar describes Muchiri (Muziris) or Kodungallur (Cranganore) situated near the mouth of the Periyar as follows: "The thriving town of Muchir - where the beautiful large ships of the Yavanas, bringing gold, come splashing the white foam on the waters of the Periyar, which belongs to the Cherala (Chera or Kerala) and return laden with pepper." 15

Paranar : "Fish is bartered for paddy, which is brought in baskets to the houses; sacks of Pepper are brought from the houses to the market; the gold received from ships, in exchange for articles sold, is brought on shore in barges at Muchiri, where the music of the surging sea never ceases, and where Kudduvan (the Chera king) presents to visitors, the rare products of the seas and mountain". 16

Vincent Smith : "The Tamil land had the good fortune to possess three precious commodities, not procurable elsewhere, namely, pepper, pearls and beryls. Pepper fetched an enormous price in the markets of Europe............ Thamil States maintained powerful navies and were visited freely by ships from both east and west, which brought together merchants of various places eager to buy the pearls, pepper, beryls and other choice commodities of India, and to pay for them with the gold, silver and art-ware of Europe".17

Bjorn Landstrom : "From the ports around the Bab el Mandeb Straits it was now possible to sail in a fortnight with the Hippalus winds to Muziris (Cranganore) in India , where the vessels were loaded with pepper, drugs, dyes, and precious stones-many of these goods coming from countries and islands in the East which Europeans were still almost wholly ignorant of. Indian ambassadors came to the Emperor Augustus at Samos as early as 20 B.C with gifts of various kinds including a tiger and a python". 18

K. V. Krishna Iyer : "In the first three centuries of the Christian era Kodungallur was the centre of the world commerce ............The Roman settlement was called Yavanacheri. Most probably the temple for Augustus dominated it with the characteristic Roman games and festivals ...........A peculiar feature was the hetaera, handsome women skilled in music, dancing and ancillary arts, for the out-of-wedlock companionship of kings and nobles...Kodungallur was not only the hub of the world commerce but also a studium generale or university. Teachers and students flocked to the mantapas or discussion halls of the numerous pandits or Professors , vying with one another for superiority."19


"As is generally the case in India, there has been no regular or continuous record kept of the kingdom of Kerala, its origin and progress, its peoples or its ancient administrations. As Bishop Caldwell justly remarks, ‘It is a singular fact that the Hindus though fond of philosophy and poetry, of law, mathematics and architecture, of music and the drama, and especially of religious or theosophic speculations and disquisitions, seem never to have cared anything for history’. Its history therefore remains to be written. There are, however, ample materials for a good and reliable account lying scattered about all over the land." 20

The Antiquity of Kerala

Believed to have been reclaimed from the sea by the mythical sage Parasurama, Kerala was really formed by the annual deposit of silt brought down by the rivers from the slopes of the Western Ghats. It is one of the smallest states of India with an area of 37940 square kilometers (14820 square miles). Hemmed in between the mountain and the sea, it is but a ribbon of land 580 kilometers (360miles) long, with a width ranging between 8 and 122 kilometers (5 and 76 miles) 21. Recent archaeological evidences indicate that Kerala had become the home of man at least as early as 4000 B.C.

Geographical Factors

As the mountain-ranges to the north and the seas to the south have decisively influenced the history, culture and character of the peoples of India, so also the Western Ghats in the east and the Arabian Sea in the west have influenced the political, cultural and economic life of the people of Kerala. "This land itself was a secret, shared between the sea and the mountain, an illegitimate child of the two natural forces, protected by and provided for by them in a special way. Therefore there was an assurance of plenty and of peace."22


Kerala is as old as any Puranic Kingdom referred to in the ancient Indian epics. In Valmiki’s Ramayana Sugriva the king of the monkeys commands his messengers looking for Sita devi to; "Seek and search the southern regions, rock and ravine, wood and tree . Search the empire of the Andhras, of the sister nations three , Cholas, Cheras and the Pandyas dwelling by the Southern sea."

Again Hanuman jumps over to Sri Lanka from the Mahendragiri, a lofty peak in South Kerala. The Chera king is said to have supplied provisions for the belligerent armies in the field of Kurukshetra besides furnishing large contigents of fighting men. Katyayana (4th century B.C.) appears to have been acquainted with the geography of Kerala.The second and thirteenth edicts of Asoka (3rd century B.C.) refer to the territories of Keralaputra as the ‘Pratyantas’ of the imperial dominions. The vivid description of the enchanting land in the Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa and its mention in Srimad Bhagavatha and the Vayu, Matsya, Padma, Skanda and the Markandeya puranas show that Kerala was not an unknown land at the time of their composition. 23

According to Megasthenes (303 B.C.) its King Cheraman had only sixty elephants while his neighbour the pandyan had as many as five hundred . In the Arthasastra (300 B.C.) Chandragupta’s minister, Kautilya, mentions the pearls of the Churna or Periyar and the ivory of the elephant forests of Mahendragiri in the erstwhile Travancore among the precious articles brought every year to the Mauryan treasury. He says also that South India is richer than North India and its roads better and easier to travel. So Chandragupta’s successor, the warlike Bindusara Amitraghata (297-272 B.C.) invaded the south in 278 B.C., and slaying the king and ministers of sixteen capitals, attempted to enter Kerala by levelling the Aramboli route for his war chariots. But the Tramiradesasanghatam or confederacy of Tamil states drove the Vampa Moriyas or arrogant Mauryas back to their homes. 24

The second and thirteenth rock edicts of Bindusara’s son, Asoka (272-232 B.C.) as already mentioned, give clear evidence of Kerala, one of the border-lands of his empire. Kerala was the kingdom of the Chera King who was known as ‘Keralaputras’ at the time of the edicts of Asoka. The ‘Colobotras’ of Pliny, the ‘Keprobotras’ of The Periplus, the ‘Kerobotras’ of Ptolemy were Greek equivalents of the Keralaputra of the Asokan edict of 257 B.C. The ‘Limurike’ or the ‘Damurike’ of the Greek writers of the centuries before and after Christ seems to be identical with Kerala. 25


Pliny : Pliny the Elder (Caius Plinius Secundus, A.D. 23-79), Roman naturalist has left us in his Encyclopedic Natural History, in 37 books, a prodigious collection of second hand information. In his description, given below, we have accurate accounts of the journey to India and to the Malabar coasts in the first century.

"To those who are bound for India, Ocelis is the best place for embarkation. If the wind, called Hippalus happens to be blowing it is possible to arrive, in forty days at the nearest mart in India, Muziris by name. This however, is not a very desirable place for disembarkation, on account of the pirates which frequent its vicinity, where they occupy a place called Nitrias, nor in fact, is it very rich in articles of merchandise. Besides, the road stead for shipping is a considerable distance from the shore, and the cargoes have to be conveyed in boats, either for loading or discharging. At the moment that I am writing these pages, the name of the king of this place is Caelobothras. Another port, and a much more convenient one, is that which lies in the territory of the people called Neacyndi, Barace (Porakkadu) by name. Here king Pandion used to reign, dwelling at a considerable distance from the mart in the interior, at a city known as Modiera (Madura). The district from which pepper is carried down to Barace in boats hollowed out of a single tree, is known as Cottonara." 26.

Concerning the return journey, Pliny thus continues; "Travellers set sail from India on their return to Europe, at the beginning of the Egyptian month of Tybia, which is our December, or at all events before the sixth day of the Egyptian month Mechir, the same as our Ides of January; if they do this they can go and return in the same year. They set sail from India with a south-east wind, and upon entering the Red Sea, catch the south-west or south."

The Periplus : The author of the Periplus speaks in admiring terms of the chief Malabar ports of Muziris (Cranganore) and Barace (Porakkadu). "There is exported pepper, which is produced in only one region near these markets, a district called Cottonara (Kuttanadu)27.

It has been said that the Romans lacked interest in geography, that they merely counted the mileposts along their roads, whereas the Greeks attempted to map the world. And true it is that one of the most important geographical documents from Roman times, the Periplus Maris Erythraei - Navigation of the Red Sea (i.e. the Indian Ocean) - was written by an Egyptian Greek. He wrote his navigational manual for the benefit of others in 90 A.D., and we are still able to read it in transcription today in the Codex Heidelbergensis. The interest evinced by Pliny and the author of the "Navigation of the Red Sea" in Kerala and in her exports was however only the culmination of trade relations that existed for many centuries before the commencement of the Christian Era between India in general and Kerala in particular on the one hand and African, Arabian and European ports on the other. Consequent to the invasion of India by Alexander the Great geographical and cultural aspects of India became widely known in the west. Perumalil S.J. in his work already mentioned 28 has collected a large number of references to India from or based on Arrian, Strabo, Plutarch, Herodotus, Diodorus, the Periplus, Pliny, Ptolemy, Megasthenes, Deimaches, Dionysios and others. 29 Considering the nature and occasion of the present volume and also limitations in the matter of time, it is not possible to make more than passing references to the great store of Indian information possessed by the ancient writers. However perusal of even a few of these authorities will completely shatter the notion that the ancients when talking about India did not really know what they were talking about. 30

Traces of trade along the Persian Gulf route are to be found in the 14th century B.C. cuneiform inscription of the Hittite kings of Mittani in Cappadocia 31. In the Moon Temple of Mugheir in Chaldea and in the palace of Nebuchad Nezzar, both of the 6th century B.C., the teak-wood of Malabar has been discovered. Malabar teak has been discovered at Ur and king Solomon’s fleet had contacts with Kerala. 32

The Adventures of Eudoxus : Eudoxus from Asia Minor was one of the first private explorers we hear mention of. He made his very remarkable journeys about 110 B.C. He was a relatively rich man willing to sacrifice his fortune at the altar of high adventure. There is an Indian, who plays an important role in this adventure story. Now it so happened, so the story goes (Strabo/Poscidonius), that a certain Indian was brought to the king by the coast guards of the Red Sea who said that they had found him half dead and alone on a stranded ship, but that they did not know who he was or where he came from, since they did not understand his language; and the king gave the Indian into the charge of men who would teach him Greek, and when the Indian had learnt Greek, he related that on his voyage from India he by a strange mischance mistook his course and reached Egypt in safety, but only after having lost all his companions by starvation; and when his story was doubted, he promised to act as guide on the trip to India for the men who had been previously selected by the king; and of this party Eudoxus, also, became a member.

"So Eudoxus sailed away with presents; and he returned with a cargo of perfumes and precious stones............ But Eudoxus was badly disappointed, for Euergetes took from him his entire cargo".

Hippalus : Today it is believed 33 that Hippalus the pilot accompanied Eudoxus on his voyage to India, and that the route, which the Indian pilot showed them in gratitude for their saving his life, was the monsoon route. The Arabians and Indians must, of course, have known and made use of the monsoon winds for centuries. These winds blow over the Indian Ocean from the north-east in winter and from the south-west in summer; if a man knows the right season to choose, they will carry him straight across the sea in reasonable comfort. When direct passage from India to Egypt became more common, it was these winds that were used, and they came to be called the Hippalus Winds.

After the records of the early Greek authorities mentioned earlier, there appears a break in the western accounts of Malabar and India, perhaps due to the rise of a new Parthian Empire which formed a sort of barrier between the Greeks and the Indians.

Then Rome started to absorb the remnants of the Empire of Alexander. Syria had fallen; Egypt became a Roman province in 30 B.C. 34 After Actium Augustus settled down to organise and regulate his vast possessions. Already at the time of Augustus, about 5 A.D., Strabo speaks of noticing about 120 ships sailing from Myos-Hormos to India 35. These ships must have gone to the coast of North India along the coastal waters of Arabia and the Indus mouth. The Romans were not satisfied with such a circuitous route to South India. We read in Strabo (15-1-4) of the South Indian king, Pandion sending an embassy to Augustus; and in Pliny, 6.22 (24), of the king of Ceylon, impressed by the unheard of justice of the Romans whose denari were all of equal weight, despatching to Nero’s Rome 4 ambassadors of whom the chief was Rachis (Raja). It was in Nero’s reign that the Arabs first came under Roman dominion, and Aden and Socotra became Roman colonies. By this time not even the routes to China were unknown. When the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D. many Jews emigrated and many arrived in India, and even to China according to Hebrew and Chinese inscriptions.

When, as seen earlier, the Romans finally established a direct searoute to India, Muziris was the chief port they touched, not only because it was the nearest and most accessible port, but also because Muziris and Porakkad could provide them with the commodities which they most valued.

About Europe in general and England in particular which was the last western power involved with India it has been said, "the history of Modern Europe and emphatically of England, is the history of the quest of the aromatic gum, resins and balsams, and condiments and spices, of India etc. 36"

"it should not escape notice that gold and silver, after circulating in every other quarter of the globe, come at length to be absorbed in Hindustan.37" When Persia and Egypt fell beneath the power of the Arabs one of the spoils of their victory was the Indian Trade. 38 Herodotus tells us that India is the wealthiest and most populous country on earth. As Sir George Birdwood has remarked. "The entire record of the intercourse between countries of the west and India from the very earliest times to the present day may be said to be the story of the struggle for the Indian trade". 39


The chief commodity exported from Cranganore was pepper and the fair reputation of Malabar pepper had already reached the four corners of the known world from the earliest centuries B.C. So much so it is called Yavana Priya (beloved of the Romans). We have already seen the description of the hillocks of pepper bags at Muchiri (Puram 343). In addition to what the periplus has to say on the area where pepper is produced in Malabar (56. Vide infra note 26), we also have there a list of ports(viz. Thundis, Muziris, Nelcynda and Barace) from which pepper was exported. Cosmas Indicopleustes in the 6th century speaks of ‘Male where pepper grows’ and of ‘Male which has fine marts that export pepper’ (b.3).

Pepper was in great demand in Rome at the time of Pliny. "It is quite surprising that the use of pepper has come so much into fashion, seeing that in other substances which we use, it is sometimes their sweetness, and sometimes their appearance that has attracted our notice; whereas, pepper has nothing in it that can plead as a recommendation to either fruit or berry, its only desirable quality being in certain pungency; and yet it is for this that we import it all the way from India. Who was the first to make trial of it as an article of food? And who, I wonder, was the man that was not content to prepare himself by hunger only for the satisfying of a greedy appetite?"40.

Yet, in spite of Pliny’s complaints this demand for pepper continued in Roman circles. The continued use of it in cooking raised its price to 15 denarii a pound for long pepper, 7 for the white, and 4 for the black pepper. 41.

This vigorous trade in pepper and other spices of India began to drain the Roman Empire of its wealth. Pliny is stupefied at the thought of this drainage. He says; "The subject (of setting forth the whole route from Egypt to India) is one well worthy of our notice, seeing that in no year does India drain our empire of less than five hundred and fifty millions of sesterces, giving back her own wares in exchange, which are sold among us at fully one hundred times their prime cost". and elsewhere: "At the very lowest computation, India, the Seres, nd the Arabian peninsula drain from our empire yearly one hundred million sesterces; so dearly do we pay for our luxury and our women". What infuriates him further is that, "Both pepper and ginger grow wild in their respective countries, and yet here we buy them by weight like gold and silver". 42

[Some 300 years later pepper was still valued highly in Rome, Alaric the Goth we find, asking for 3000 pounds of pepper as an important part of the ransom to raise the siege against Rome. (Gibbon, Decline and Fall, XXXI)] Pliny minces no words when speaking out against that inordinate and costly fondness of Roman women for the luxury goods from Muziris:

"Our ladies glory in having pearls suspended from their fingers, one, two or three of them dangling from their ears, delighted even with the rattling of pearls as they knock against each other; and now, at the present day, the poorer classes are even affecting them as people are in the habit of saying that ‘ a pearl worn by a woman in public is as good as a lictor walking before her: Nay even more than this, they put them on their feet, and that not only on the laces of their sandals, but all over the shoes; it is not enough to wear pearls, but they must tread upon them, and walk with them under foot as well". Again, "I once saw Lollia Paulina, the wife of the Emperor Caius - it was not any solemn ceremonial, but only at an ordinary betrothal entertainment - covered with emeralds and pearls, which shone in alternate layers upon her head, in her hair, in her wreaths, in her ears, upon her neck, in her bracelets and on her fingers, and the value of which amounted in all to 40,000,000 sesterces; indeed she was prepared at once to prove the fact by showing the receipts and acquittances".


Large numbers of Roman coins have been discovered on the Malabar coast (e.g. from Eyyal between Cranganore and Palayur, and from Kottayam in North Kerala). Just two years back more than a thousand Roman gold coins were found buried in Parur, also not very distant from Cranganore. What is interesting is that the majority of these coins belong to a period of some 80 years from Augustus to Nero (B.C. 27 to A.D. 68).

The Periplus has this remark, "There are imported here (the Malabar Ports), in the first place a great quantity of coin, ...." The Roman could, it is believed make a profit on the sale of gold coins in India, perhaps because these were not only used as currency but also for ornament as is evidenced by the fact that many gold coins found in Kerala have been pierced through. 43

Roman silver coins of 1st Century B.C / A.D from Eyyal between Kodungallur and Palayur.

Exports from Muziris included, according to various authors, Pearl in considerable quantity and of superior quality; Pepper in large quantities; Gems in every variety, Diamonds, Amethyst or ruby and a variety of other commodities.44

Other aspects of Cranganore, especially as the capital of the Chera Emperors have already been dealt with.

Thus we can see from the foregoing accounts that Muziris or Cranganore was the most important city of South India, at least for considerable periods of time, that it was the capital of the Cheras, that it was prosperous on account of its trade relations with the East and the West.

It was to this city that St. Thomas the Apostle is believed to have come at the beginning of the second half of the first century A.D.

Notes :

Cranganore was variously called Muziris, Muchiri, Mahodayapuram, Mahadevapattanam, Makotaipattam, Muyiri Kodu, Tiiruvanchikulam etc. in the early periods.

Mediaeval travellers refer to the place under various forms (Cfr. K.P. Padmanabha Menon, History of Kerala, I, p.313. Also Hobson - Jobson: Glossary of Anglo-Indian Colloquial Words and Phrases by Yule-Burnell, 1886, P. 627):

Al Biruni... 970 A.D. ...Jangli

Benjamin of Tudela 1167 ...Gingaleh

Friar Odoric 1287 ...Cyngilin

Roman gold and silver coins unearthed around the Palayur-Kodungallur-Parur belt at Eyyal (1945) and Valuvally (1984) Shown above are some gold coins of Tiberius Caesar, Nero and from these collections.

Chinese Annals 1286 ...Shinkali

Rashiduddin 1300 ...Chinkli/Jinkali

Shemseddin Dimishqui 1320 ...Shinkli

Friar Jordanus 1328 ...Singuyli

Abulfeda 1330 ...Shenkala

Marignolli 1349 ....Cynkali

Nicolo Conti 1444 ...Columguria

Barbosa 1505 ...Cranganore

Assemani 1510 ...Chrongalor

Colonel Yule thinks that the name Shinkalai or Shigala was probably formed from Tiruvanchikulam. He points out that the data to identify Cranganore with the Gingaleh of Rabbi Benjamin are too vague, though the position of that place seems to be in the vicinity of Malabar.


A factor that led to the ascendancy of Cochin over Cranganore is thus narrated by K.P.P. Menon (History of Kerala, Vol. I, p. 161):

The town of Cochin is situated on the southern side of a natural harbour. It was formerly the capital of the Native State which took its name after it. Previous to the year 1341 A.D., a small river flowed by Cochin having a narrow opening into the sea, the main outlet for the discharge of the waters that came in torrents down the Ghats, being at the well known opening at Cranganore, some twenty miles to the north of it. In the year 1341, an extraordinary flood occurred which brought down from the Ghats such a large volume of water that it converted the land-locked harbour of Cochin into one of the finest and safest ports in India.

A local era called the "Putu Vaipu Era" was commenced in commemoration of this event in 1341 A.D.

3 .

A clear idea of the most important trade routes touching Muziris (modern Cranganore) can be gathered from the map given by Bjorn Landstrom. The Quest For India, Stockholm, 1964(Doubleday’s English Edition pp.52,53) Also see the Atlas section by G.M., in Menachery, George (Ed.) STCEI, I especially the maps dealing with the "Journeys of Apostle Thomas", "Marco Polo’s Voyages," "Journeys of Francis Xavier," and "India in the 17th & 18th centuries".


A. Sreedhara Menon (Ed.), Kerala Gazetteer for Trichur District, 1962, p7.


 Id., Ibid.


 Pliny describes it as "primum emporium Indiae"


Census of India 1971, Series 9, Kerala, Part X-A and X-B

8 .

Ptolemy has E. Long. 117.00 and N. Lat. 14.00 for Muciris Emporium and 117.20 and 14.00 for the Azhimukham (Pseudostomas) See K.V. K Ayyar, A Short History of Kerala, Ernakulam, 1966, Appendix II, pp. 193, 194, 195 for some two score and ten places in the area mentioned by Greek and Roman authors of the century between c. 50 and 150 A.D.

9 .

K. P. Padmanabha Menon, History of Kerala, vol.I, Ernakulam, 1924, p.297.


V.Nagam Aiya, The Travancore State Manual (in 3 volumes), Vol I, Trivandrum,1906, pp 231-232.

11 .

T.K Velu Pillai, The Travancore State Manual (in 4 volumes), Vol. II, Trivandrum, 1940, p.10.

12 .

K.M. Panikkar, A History of Kerala, Annamalai Nagar, 1959, p.3.

13 .

Galletti, The Dutch in Malabar, Madras 1911, p.9 (Introduction v)

14 .

Yule-Cordier, Cathay and the Way Thither, London.

15 .

Akam, 148. Quoted in K.P. Padmanabha Menon , op.cit., p.307

16 .

Puram, 343. Quoted Id., Ibid. The following note by Menachery, George, appears in one of the papers presented by him at the First World Malayalam Conference, Trivandrum, 1977: " The passage in 343 which says that the gold (gold ornaments) brought by ships arrive on the shore in boats, (thonis) corroborates what Pliny mentions in 6.23 (26): ‘besides, the road-stead for shipping is a considerable distance from the shore, and the cargoes have to be conveyed in boats, either for loading or discharging’. A better rendering of the Puram passage would appear to be, "The heaps of paddy procured in exchange for fish make the boats ( carrying the paddy) and the houses indistinguishable from each other. further, spectators would be put to hardship to distinguish the pepper bags piled up in the houses ( which thus mislead the onlookers ) from the land that is noisily busy’. The prosperity and commercial bustle of the thriving seaport of Muchiri could hardly be better described or in fewer lines".


 Vincent Smith quoted in T.K. Velu Pillai, op-cit., vol.II. p.10

18 .

Bjorn Landstrom , The Quest for India , Stockholm, 1964, (Double day English Edition). p.48


K.V. Krishna Iyer, Kerala’s Relations with the Outside World, pp. 70, 71 in "The Cochin Synagogue Quatercentenary Celebrations Commemoration Volume" , Kerala History Association, Cochin, 1971.

For a discussion of a Roman harbour and its arrangements see ‘Caesarea Maritima", The National Geographic, 171/2, February, 1987.

Roman coins discovered in Kerala c. 1942 are discussed in Coins of Kerala, Archaeology Dept., Trivandrum.

For Megalithic remains of Kerala visit the Archaeological Museuem, Trichur and cf. Ancient India,1952(8) and other issues.

20 .

Nagam Aiya, op.cit, p.43

21 .

Krishna Iyer, op.cit. p.65

22 .

M. G. S. Narayanan, Cultural Symbiosis in Kerala, 1972, p. vii

23 .

Nagam Aiya, op. cit. and T. K. Velu Pillai, op. cit.

24 .

Krishna Iyer, op. cit., p.67

25 .

For a scientific but short discussion and proofs of early Greek and Roman knowledge of India and Kerala nothing better can be suggested than "The Apostles in India, Fact or Fiction ?" by A. C. Perumalil S. J. first published in 1952 (Patna). The quotations there from the Greeks and Romans are often in the original languages, fully corroborated by competent translators. Perumalil appears to have been at great pains to clearly and accurately bring out what the Greek and the Latin writers have said.
Also cf. Pliny, 6.23 (26); Schoff, H. Wilfred, The periplus of the Erythraean Sea, Longmans, 1912, p. 232; McCrindle J. W, Ancient India as described in Classical Literature, Westminister, 1901, p.111.

26 .

However Pliny appears to confuse certain other ports with Muziris when he condemns it as "not a very desirable place for disembarkation." Because, the author of the Periplus, who had been to Muziris in the same year (A. D. 77) in which Pliny published his book says: "Muziris, of the same kingdom, abounds in ships sent there with cargoes from Arabia, and by the Greeks" (Periplus, 54) and again he adds that Muziris and Nelcynda are now of leading importance (Id. 53). Actually Nitrias was the town situated quite some distance from Muziris on the Netravati river in South Kannara and the pirate coast lies north of Mangalore and south of Bombay. The port of Barace, thus spelt both in the Periplus and by Pliny, is Bakare or Porakadu, some 10 miles south of Alleppey. Cottonara is the present Kuttanadu. Ullur, "Which was the Chera Capital?" article published in 1939 in the journal of the Pan Kerala Literary Academy.


Periplus, 56

28 .

A. C. Perumalil, S. J., The Apostles in India.

29 .

Arrian: 2nd Century A. D. Greek author; Anabasis-Famed Greek prose history by Xenophon of "Retreat of the Ten Thousand from Persia" (c. 399 B. C.).

Strabo : (Born around ) 63 B.C. and died after A. D. 21). The only extant work of this Greek geographer and historian, a geography in 17 books, is a rich source of ancient knowledge of the world.

Plutarch : Greek biographer and essayist (c. A. D. 46-120): "The Lives" have charm and historical value. There are 46 paired Greek and Roman biographies and 4 single biographies in it.

Herodotus : (484? - 425? B. C.) Greek historian, called ‘Father of history’. The rich diversity of his contemporary secular narrative history makes it an important source book on ancient Greece.

Diodorus Siculus : Died after 21 B. C., Sicilian historian. Author of world history in Greek, ending with Gallic Wars; of its 40 books I - IV and XI-XX are fully preserved.

Ptolemy : Greco-Egyptian astronomer, mathematician and geographer born around 100 A. D., fl. 127 to 147or 151- Geographike Hyfegesis.

Megasthenes : He was sent in 302 B. C. by Selukos, king of Syria as ambassador to Chandragupta and remained for some time with the Indian kings, and wrote a history of Indian affairs, that he might hand down to posterity a faithful account of all that he had witnessed.

Deimachos : Sent to Bindusara by Antiochus Soter, the successor of Selukos. He also wrote a book about India.

Dionysios : Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt sent him to Pataliputra as ambassador "to put the truth to the test by personal inspection". He also wrote a book on India.


Maggy G. Menachery, Roads to India, STCEI, II, 1973, pp. 14, 15.

31 .

Rawlinson, "Intercourse Between India and the Western World"; Maggy G. Menachery. "Roads to India", STCEI, Vol. II, p. 14.

32 .

See T. K. Velu Pillai, op. cit., p.9: "According to Mr. Howitt the Assyriologist, teak-wood which was found in the ruins of Ur must have been imported by sea from the Malabar Coast. This takes back Malabar commerce by sea to so early a date as 3,000 B. C. About 2,000 B. C. cotton cloth from Malabar appears to have found its way to Egypt. The Phoenicians visited the coast of Malabar about 1,000 B. C. in search of ivory, sandalwood and spices. About the same period king Solomon sent his commercial fleet to Tarshish and Ophir."

For these ships of Solomon see II Kings, X, 22. The Hebrew Bible mentions apes, peacocks, and ivory by names derived (?) from the South Indian words for these: Kapi, Tokei, Habh. For the extensive use of other Malabar products by Hebrews see Exodus XXXV, 1-24. Also cfr.STCEI II, 26, 27. Also see M. J. Koshy’s article in the Journal of Kerala Studies on the Religious Policy of the Portuguese...(II, Part III, Sept. 1975, p.407-9).


Bjorn Landstrom, op. cit., gives this possibility although most writers give A. D. 44, 45, or 47 as the date of the Hippalus discovery. If Landstrom’s view is correct, then the Malabar trade with the west must have been even more considerable than is usually supposed, and from a much earlier date.


Rawlinson, op. cit., p. 101.

35 .

Strabo, 2.5.12


Prof. Jevonns’s letter in the London Times (April 19, 1879) quoted at length by Sir George Birdwood, The Modern Quest and Invention of the Indies, 1891. We must not lose sight of the thriving Chinese trade also. For Kerala’s foreign trade see also: Panikkassery, Velayudhan, Sancharikalum Charithrakaranmarum, Kottayam, 1971.


 Francis Bormer, Tr. Rock, 1826. This appears to be the case even today, to look at the heaps of gold biscuits captured by the customs departments of Indian ports almost everyday. The price of gold also appears to be comparatively higher in the Indian Market.


Edward Farley Oaten, European Travellers in India, 1909, introduction, p.14. Oaten continues, "And so between Cosmos indicopleustes and Marco Polo all the well known travellers in India were Mohummedan."


Sir George Birdwood, op. cit. p. 101; E. F. Oaten, op. cit., p.8. P. Thomas, Christians and Christianity in India and Pakistan, George Allen and Unwin, London 1954, pp. 6,7 (notes): "It is interesting to speculate on the part the humble pepper creeper of Malabar has played in shaping world history. As is well known Columbus was on the look-out for pepper when he stumbled on America. it was pepper that brought Vasco da Gama to Malabar; the subsequent interest the nations of Western Europe took in Indian affairs and its far reaching effects on world civilisation are too well known to deserve mention here."

40 .

Pliny, 12.7 (14).

41 .

Id. Ibid.

42 .

Pliny, 6.23 (26); 12.18 (41); 12.7 (14).


Further details could be obtained from the records of the Archaeological Museum of Trichur, the Trichur Museum, the Trivandrum Museum and the Archeaeological publications of the erstwhile Cochin and Travancore States. The kerala Archaeological Department’s monograph "Early coins of Kerala" throws a good deal of light on the numismatic evidences for Kerala’s Roman connections. Also see Thomas P. J., Roman Trade Centres in Malabar, Kerala Society Papers, II, p. 260; and James Hough, The History of Christianity in India, I, p. 28.


K. P. Padmanabha Menon, op. cit., I,305.


ST: Thomas And Cranganore

Special Problems of Indian History

Every scholar who essays an historical topic related to the pre-Portuguese or pre-Mughal India is seen expressing from time to time a complete sense of helplessness in the face of the paucity, often tending to non-existence, of reliable indigenous documentary or even other sources, apart from fables or legends, to base their studies on or to test their conclusions by. Even after the latest developments in the various branches of philology, geography, numismatics, and archaeology, and the accessibility today of the writings of travellers, historians and others in many languages and from many countries, many periods, persons and events in Indian history and in the histories of the different regions of India still remain shrouded in darkness. Although this is a condition common to all ancient civilisations and countries, in the case of India much fault has been attributed to the so-called lack of interest in history supposed to characterise Indi