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On the location of Muziris………..

Posted by Maddy Labels: Muziris and Roman trade

Muyiri or Mirjan

Today most people including me accept that the location of Muziris is close to Kodungallur. We accept that the Periyar River changed its course and silted, resulting in the closure of the old port and the move of trading centers elsewhere. But there are still a few people who believe that the real location of Muziris and for that matter Nelcynda are elsewhere, in varied locations such as Mirjan, Karur and Chitambaram. I thought it an interesting task to analyze the information we have, so that the mystery is revisited, if not cleared and also take a second look at the presently accepted conclusions of Pattanam’s discoverer Dr Shajan.

I had consciously stayed away from the subject of Muziris, straying only once to discuss the papyrus, but a persistent reader made me take a relook at the location of Muziris. His contention was that it was surely around Mangalore, as Dr Vincent & Maj Rennell had said many years ago. It raised interest in me for another reason, for I recalled my pet project – the story of the trader Yiju who was located in Mangalore in the 12th -13th century. With that background, I was aware that there was a shipping channel open between the Red Sea ports and Mangalore and I was also reminded of the peculiar anomaly where Yiju himself could not find a Jewish wife nor could be find a Jewish husband for his daughter. So much so that he married a Nair girl and he wandered off later to Cairo in search of a bridegroom for his daughter. Now if there was a big contingent of Jews at nearby Muziris (i.e. if Muziris was close to Mangalore) it may not have been an issue. That there were Jews in Muziris is pretty clear, at least after the start of this century (but then It is said they were at Shingly since 562 BC even though trade started much before, in King Solomon’s times).Anyway Yiju came to Mangalore 11 centuries after the mention of Muziris, so Yiju has no standing here. I was also reminded of the study of the Payyanur Pattu which mentioned much trade with Arabian and Yavana sailors which was located close to Nileshwaram, which again dates to the 12th century. Due to all this in my mind, Muziris surely felt farther away from Mangalore. Am I right? I have to revisit the conclusions by eminent historians to check the reason for ambiguity. And I finally reread my study of the Udyavara.

But the main point to note here is that Muziris, like Prestor John is somewhat mythical. It is important to note that Muziris was first mentioned briefly by just one western writer, in the 1st century AD and repeated by Ptolemy in his copied notes. After a century the port disappeared from texts and historians who have studied this subject in greater detail agree that for all practical purposes, just as Malabar ports and activity shifted in time, the port of Muziris vanished with the fall of Roman trade. Many also state after studies that Muziris was just a frontier town as opposed to a well established port of long standing, so it quickly got disbanded. Other aspects such as the Augustus temple shown in the Tabula Peutingeriana, amphorae of wine and Garum etc have been explained as necessities for the expatriate Yavanas who waited for the next year of the monsoon or for commodities to be delivered from inland locations. 


First and foremost, one should realize as I explained in past posts that the Arab or for that matter Greek and Roman traders did not typically venture beyond Malabar. They used Malabar ports or Lymurike ports as transshipment points. From Malabar the stuff went eastwards or inland. Similarly the Chinese & SE Asian goods reached these Malabar ports through Kalingan ships or overland and changed hands with the traders. Why did the traders not venture eastwards? One reason being lack of propulsion, second being lack of knowledge, but the third and more probable reason was a clever use of misinformation by Indians. For example outlandish stories about monsters were spread and the location or source of goods were never divulged. The Adams Bridge finally ensured that only shallow bottomed Malabar boats and not oceangoing yavana ships could go to the other side of India.

Still the question is where is the port of Muziris? Starting with Forbes, followed by Rennel and later, Dr William Vincent conclusions were made that Muziris was in the Mangalore area. Their hypothesis was based on some reasoning as below

The problem started with Forbes in 1783 who said in his Oriental memoirs

Sir James Sibbald, for many years the English resident at Onore, informs me that Mirzee (the Musiris of the ancient Greeks) is situated twenty-two miles to the northward of Onore. At spring tides large ships can sail over the bar, at the entrance of the river, and remain in safety during the monsoon.

The supposition in brackets was used by some to bolster their case.

Major Rennell around 1788 concluded that Nylcanda was Neeleswaram.

Ptolemy's ideas are these: Tyndis (going southward) succeeds Nitria; then Muziris; Becare (which is one of the readings of Barace) Melcynda, or Nelcynda; Cottiara; and then Comaria, or Cape Comorin; whose proper name is Komrin or Komry. And the Periple (my information is from M. D'Anville) enumerates in the same order, Tyndis, Muziris, and Barace: allowing 500 stadia between each, respectively. No three places appear more convenient to this relative disposition, and to the circumstances of the pirate coast and pepper country, than Goa, Meerzaw (vulgarly, Merjee) and Barcelore, or Baflinore. The first, namely, Goa, is just clear of the pirate coast; having Newtya, possibly the Nitrias of Pliny and Ptolemy (near which the pirates cruised on the Roman vessels in their way to Muziris) on the north of it. The second place, Meerzaw, or Merjee, has even some affinity in sound, with Muziris and is situated on a river, and at some distance from the sea. And Baccelore, or Baflinore, which may possibly be Barace, is one of the principal pepper factories, at present: and therefore answers so far to Barace. Nelcynda, I take to be Nelisuram: and do not, with M. D'Anville, suppose Barace to be the port of Nelcynda, but a distinct place. It is said by Pliny, to be situated within the kingdom of Pandion; which is pretty well understood to be Madura: or to be comprised, at least, within the southern part of the peninsula: and therefore, the farther south we go for Nelcynda, the less we are likely to err. But even all this is conjecture as far as relates to particular positions: nor is it of much consequence for we are clear that the ports of merchandise, must be situated, in or near to the country of Canara, the Cottonara, or pepper country of Pliny: that is, between Goa and Tellicherry; as before observed.

Vincent Williams in 1805 added his analysis stating

For the position of Nelkunda, I am obliged to major Rennell, who is the first geographer, as far as I have learnt, who has fixed it at Nelisuram. That he is correct in this, I am persuaded, admits not of presumptive proof only, but demonstration:

For we may first observe, that Nelisuram is not only a mart itself, but gives name to a district. This district is not in Canara, but Malabar: the frontier of Malabar, the boundary wall which runs from the sea to the foot of the Ghauts, is at Dekly, or Dekully, immediately north of Nelisuram. This wall is still visible; and this in a peculiar manner 

A second proof may be derived from the name itself, which Orme writes Nelleaseram. Nella, according to Paolino, signifes rice, and Ceram a country; and if Nellaceram be the country of Nella, Nelkunda must be the fort of Nella, resembling Golconda, Inna-conda, or Conda-poor, on this identical coast of Canara.

But the last and best testimony is that of major Rennell himself, who mentions ' a large river, named Cangerecora, whose course is from the N. E. and which falls in about four miles to the north of mount Dilla; previous to which its course is parallel to the sea-coast for about eleven miles, being separated only by a spit of land. The forts of Nelisuram, ifamdilly, and Mattuloy, are situated on this river, which is joined by several others that descend from the Ghaut Mountains, which in this part approach within twenty-two miles of the coast. I cannot help considering this Nelisuram, which is situated twelve miles up the river, as the place meant by Nelcynda or Melcynda, by Pliny, and Ptolemy—a place visited by the Egyptian and Roman ships.'

Let us then observe, that the Nelkunda of the Periplus lies actually the same twelve miles up the river; and after this ask, whether all these circumstances can be accidental? For it the correspondence is evident, it is but reasonable to assume this proof as a demonstration."

Naoora is the first port of Limurike, and Mooziris the last. The Periplus places Mooziris fifty miles to the north of Nelkuda, Tundis fifty miles north of Mooziris, and a third fifty north are assumed to Kaoora.' These positions agree with Mangaloor, Barceloor, and Onoor. These stations are certainly assigned with, much greater probability than those adopted by former geographers.

Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d' Anville opines that Calicut or nearby Chaul was Muziris and nelcynda somewhere near Goa, but I could not quite understand or follow his train or thought and any interested reader may peruse his conclusions by checking page 43 and 44 of the book.

But Burnell, Caldwell and Yule after further studies fixed Muziris close to Cranganore. Casson strongly agreed with it, just like Schoff and Warmington and the only dissenter, with a (?) mark against the Muziris location in her studies was Vimala Begely. Many others followed convention since then. The primary reasoning was based on the situations of the Tamil kingdoms of the Cheras and Pandians in the old days. The only way Muziris could be Chera held and Nelcynda to be Pandyan held was if they were located near Cranganore and Porakad. The rivers are also seen as stated and things fit though there are some inconsistencies possibly created by passage of time and the changing geography of the cpoastal towns and rivers. A detailed analysis can be read in Kanakasabhai’s book with some older place names in Kerala.

So what does the Periplus state actually? Let me quote the paragraphs from Schoff’s book

53. Beyond Calliena there are other market-towns of this region; Semylla, Mandagora, Pala-patmae, Melizigara, Byzantium, Togarum and Aurannoboas. Then there are the islands called Sesecrienae and that of the Aegidii, and that of the Caenitae, opposite the place called Chersonesus (and in these places there are pirates), and after this the White Island. Then come Naura and Tyndis, the first markets of Damirica, and then Muziris and Nelcynda, which are now of leading importance.

54. Tyndis is of the Kingdom of Cerobothra; it is a village in plain sight by the sea. Muziris, of the same Kingdom, abounds in ships sent there with cargoes from Arabia, and by the Greeks; it is located on a river, distant from Tyndis by river and sea five hundred stadia, and up the river from the shore twenty stadia. Nelcynda is distant from Muziris by river and sea about five hundred stadia, and is of another Kingdom, the Pandian. This place also is situated on a river, about one hundred and twenty stadia from the sea.

55. There is another place at the mouth of this river, the village of Bacare; to which ships drop down on the outward voyage from Nelcynda, and anchor in the roadstead to take on their cargoes; because the river is full of shoals and the channels are not clear. The kings of both these market-towns live in the interior. And as a sign to those approaching these places from the sea there are serpents coming forth to meet you, black in color, but shorter, like snakes in the head, and with blood-red eyes.

Following the analysis of Edward Hurbert Bunbury in his History of ancient geography, we note

The territory of Limyrice was subject to an independent sovereign of its own, who resided in the interior, and whom our author calls Ceprobotras, evidently the same name with the Coelebothras or Celobothras of Pliny. The first ports in this district were Naoura and Tyndis, and beyond these to the south Muziris and Nelkynda, which were become the chief places of trade at the time our author wrote. Nelkynda however was not properly speaking included in Limyrice, but was subject to another king named Pandion, whose dominions appear to have comprised the whole southern extremity of the peninsula of India. The writer of the Periplus tells us that it was 500 stadia from Tyndis to Muziris, and again 500 stadia from thence to Nelkynda.

Nelkynda was situated on a river, about 120 stadia from the sea, and there was another port at its mouth, which was called Bacare: evidently the same with the Barace of Pliny, which he places in the territory of the Neacyndi, probably also a false reading for Nelcyndi. It is clear therefore that the ports referred to by both authors are the same: but there is much difficulty in determining their precise position on the western coast of India. Nelkynda was placed by Major Rennell at a place called Nelisseram, at the head of an estuary, the mouth of which is a few miles to the north of Mount Delli, in latitude 12° 10': and this identification was adopted by Dr. Vincent, as well as by the most recent editor of the Periplus.

In accordance with this view Muziris was placed at Mangalore, Tyndis probably at Cundapoor, and Naoura at Honauer in 14° 16', at the opening of a considerable estuary formed by the river Sherramutter. But the most recent writer who has investigated the subject, Colonel Yule, has transferred the whole group of ports, and with them of course the district called Limyrice, nearly three degrees farther south: identifying Muziris with Cranganore, which was a port much frequented in the middle ages, though now decayed, situated in about 10° 12" N. latitude. This change has the advantage of being in accordance with the 7000 stadia given as the distance from Barygaza to Limyrice—an estimate greatly in excess of the truth, if that district be supposed to coincide with the modern Canara: and of affording an explanation of some expressions very obscurely worded in the description of the coast from Tyndis to Muziris and Nelkynda. But on the other hand no site can be found on this part of the coast that corresponds nearly as well with the description of Nelkynda and its port of Bacare as that selected by Major Rennell. The difficulties attending the identification of the ports in question are certainly not altogether surmounted by either theory.

So many opinions can thus be found, but the one conclusive follows the identification of the name Muyiri with Cranganore in a Hebrew translation of a Tamil document dated 774AD which became one of Dr Burnell’s bases for establishing that Muziris is near Cranaganore. The Copper scrolls state -

I Erveh Barmen . . . sitting this day in Canganur. ..." {Madras Journal, xiii. pt. ii. p. 12). This is from an old Hebrew translation of the 8th century copper-grant to the Jews, in which the Tamil has "The king ... Sri Bhaakara Ravi Varman . . . on the day when he was pleased to sit in Muyiri-kodu. . . ."thus identifying Muyiri or Muziris with Cranganore, an identification afterwards verified by tradition ascertained on the spot by Dr. Burnell. 

Gundert however makes a cryptic comment about the part concerning Muyiri kotta (Moderi oota or Muyeri oodu) which I have not been able to understand. Ellis another expert who studied the copper plates agrees it is Muyiri kotta. 

To this if you add some inputs from some ancient Sangam Tamil literature; leads one to concur with Yule & Burnell. The Akananuru (5th century BC?) by Erukkadur Thyankannanar mentions how the Pandyan king attacked the Muziris port belonging to the Chera king and mentions the plunder of the (Augustus) temple and explains the subsequent shift of trade to Nelcynda. There are additional inputs from Silappadikaram and the distances travelled by Kannagi to establish Vanchi, but I will not complicate this more than it already is.

As Peter Francis puts it ‘There may be another reason why Muziris is difficult to locate today, it may not have functioned as a port for very long..The admittedly scant descriptions of it suggest that it was more of a frontier town than a city with substantial architecture.’ And probably that is the reason why not so many Roman antiquities have not been found as yet. Muziris traded for a short time during 1AD and quickly gave way to Mantai in Ceylon. Was it perhaps set up quickly by a clever king, then based in inland Karur for this trading purpose? Could be.

But let us go back to Udyavara in Udupi for a moment, for here appears a little twist. As we know, the Oxyrynchus Papyri from 2AD show the intercourse between the Greek Nile river town of Oxyrunchus and Odora (not mentioned in the Periplus). Some scholars determined the mime to be a Kannada form (Tamil + Tulu) language. You can also see an ancient temple purported to be from those times where a goddess was worshipped. Does it have anything to do with our Augustus temple? Did the Yavana sailors stop at those northerly points due to the fear of pirates in the southerly areas? Was that the mythical Muziris? Or was Odora somewhere else? One thing is for sure, the answers still lie on the Malabar Coast, the Lymurike of Ptolemy…..

Summarizing again the Periplus - Tyndis is of the Kingdom of Cerobothra; it is a village in plain sight by the sea. Muziris, of the same Kingdom, abounds in ships sent there with cargoes from Arabia, and by the Greeks; it is located on a river, distant from Tyndis by river and sea five hundred stadia, and up the river from the shore twenty stadia...Nelcynda is distant from Muziris by river and sea about five hundred stadia, and is of another Kingdom, the Pandian.

Various people are involved in these studies today, some study sails, some study beads, some study boats and others study topography. Some concentrate on the red sea ports, some look for clues in Inda. The compilation Migration, trades and peoples summarizes much of it. As times went by, the coast lines changed, it went inland and then stretched out and back again. Not necessarily global warming, but the changes in global sea levels were due to many reasons. Roman remains were found in Pattanam to clinch the location spotted by KP Shajan showing that it was a port of call. But was it Muziris? It has been established so. KP Shajan came to his conclusions by following satellite imagery of the course of the river, finding Chera coins, Roman pottery and believes that Muziris a.k.a Muciripatannam existed since 500BC. Once cannot say it is totally conclusive but evidence suggests so. Major archeologists and many historians seem to accept it. With Muziris hopefully out of the way, we will study Nelcynda or Niranam another rday.

So we determine that trade existed, ports existed, some were famous at a time and declined quickly as the ports moved to the next one for various reasons. While Muziris was one of the oldest, the Calicut area ports remained popular for a long time till it went back to Cochin. In between I am sure there was a time when Mangalore and Mirjan ports were popular for one or the other reason.

Let us now try and check some questions

Why should Pattanam be Muziris? Why not Karur in Coimbatore? The answer lies in the fact that according Periplus, the distance between Musiris and the sea was only some 120 stadia (31 km).Why is Nelcynda not Neeleswaram? If it is, then it follows that Muziris is North of Neeleswaram and close to Mangalore. Neeleswaram was never ruled by Pandian kings. Also see the analysis provided by Edward Hurbert Bunbury, as above and the conclusions of Shajan.

Sagam writings mention Vanji and Periyar. All rivers were Periyars and Cheras at Cranganore were not established by 1st century. So why is Cranganore associated with Cheras? This argument hinges on the fact that Karur on Amravati was the Vanji or Chera capital. This questions the fact that the Cheras were located at Mahodayapuram or Tiruvanjikulam or Cranganore area earlier than they actually were. Now such an argument will of course mean that the known borders of the Cheras cannot be used to displace Rennel’s argument. To get to the answers one must read the analysis by Prof A Sreedhara Menon in his ‘A survey of Kerala History’ pages 70-75. In addition we do have records of Chera trade with Yavanas (though dated 155AD, we know of the king Iamaiavaramban Nedunjeral Adan who poured oil on their heads & imprisoned some Yavanas who upset him). And the Valmiki Ramayana mentions Mucaripatannam.

The present arguments supporting the Cranganore area fit in reasonably with later studies and stands up to most tests if not all. So I tend to go along with the present conclusions, but for the Udyavara angle. But it is a continuing study…..

This is in no way any kind of formal analysis but just my way of trying to understand and tabulate the diverse opinions. We all agree that much trade took place between the western shores and the red sea ports as well as kingdoms beyond. Many of the traces have been washed away by the sea, so it is an ongoing attempt at trying to compare what was in the mind of that unknown sailor to what we see today. Whether there is sense in it or not, I cannot say, but it is a life’s work for some, and a passage of time wasted for others, just like study of history is. And the whole exercise may just turn out to be flexing the grey cells for a few hours, farfetched from reality. As for me, I am happy I got a chance to read relevant parts of most of these books below in the past few weeks, and can only marvel at the availability of these at the nearby NC State university library.


A geographical illustration of the map of India - Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d' Anville
Cathay and the way thither – Henry Yule
The Tamils 1800 years ago – Kanakasabhai
Oriental memoirs - Forbes 
Map of Hindoostan – Rennell
The periplus – William Vincent
The periplus – Casson
The periplus – Schoff
Proposed identification of two south Indian place names – Schoff
Rome and the distance East – Raoul Mc Laughlin
History of ancient geography among Greeks and Romans., Edward Herbert Bunbury
A survey of Kerala History – A Sreedhara Menon
Madras journal or literature & science – Vol 13
The Periplus – McCrindle
Asia’s maritime bead trade – Peter Francis
Rome & India – Begley & De Puma
Commerce between the Roman empoira & India – Warmington
Migration, trade and peoples – Ed Michale Willis
Maddys Ramblings – The Chariton mime & Udyavara 

Pattanam image from KP Shajan’s paper. Roman trade - Wikipedia




  1. babu 

    Mirjan was an active port in ancient days.From Goa Up to Nileswaram was under Chera in first century. Nileswaram under pandya.( dowson,Cunningham). The map shown is not a part of Periplus of erithriyan sea and not authentic.It was published in a missionaries book and lifted by Wikipedia and later lifted by Muziris heritage officials.Though the entire coastal area appears to have full of ports according to this map after Goa no port till kadalundi.Since the ship takes the south west mansoon it cannot curve downwards. Like the one shown to Barigaza it can curve upwards. from barnike or Mayos Hormos it is straight line haing alittle bent upwards.

  1. Maddy 

    Thanks babu..I studies your notes as well, briefly. Sailing ships can change direction, and so can curve downward.

    Check this for how

    but yes, the real Muziris could have been at another place. For now people are only choosing candidates based on our limited understanding. These ports were transient and did not last through ages of form big port cities. the traders were not local but foreign, as i said in many earlier blogs. when they left the port collapsed.Focus on why the Romans left, it was not necessarily the silting of the river. So I agree there is some misleading information here & there.

    Let us see what the historians come up with..until then I am going back to North Malabar.Muziris does not interest me too much to remain. It is too fictional, no flesh & blood - highly imaginary.

  1. Maddy 

    an adder - I meant sailing ships with square sails as the Romans had. The Arabs had very maneuverable lateen sails.

  1. P.N. Subramanian 

    Musiri is mysterious and remains evasive. I was at Pattanam on the day when a pot with Tamil Brahmi inscription reading "Amana" was discovered. Pattanam seems to have been a point at which ships could have anchored. The crew might have remained there for an year or so but it is difficult to establish that Pattanam was Muzris.

  1. BVT 

    i dont know this has anything to do with Muziris… but i am little bit interested in the port "Calliana" mentioned in the "Christian Topography" by Cosmas Indicopleustes 

    such as Male,(ie Malabar) where pepper grows, and to Calliana(?) which exports copper and sesame-logs, and cloth for making dresses, for it also is a great place of business..
    Again we know from Topography that 

    "In the Island of Taprobane (Ceylon), there is a church of the Christians, and clerks and faithful. Likewise at Malé where the pepper grows; and in the town of Kalliana there is also a bishop consecrated in Persia.”

    As far as i know most of the historians identify calliana and modern Kalyan near Bombay but the archaeologists failed to identify any trace of Persian Christianity in these area but on the other hand recently excavated cross with Pahlavi inscription near Goa(An archaeological discovery (on 27 April 2001 by Jose Cosme Costa, SFX) of a 'persian cross' hidden in a smallish monument, surmounted by a Latin Cross, near the old Goa harbour (now on the Zuari river, near Agacaim) lends support to this thesis. The Cross bears an inscription in Pahlavi, which, Costa reports, was the liturgical language of the church associated with the Metropolitan of Fars(Iran)) suggest that it was a center of Persian Christians(between 5-7th century).

    Again if port sibor mentioned in the topography is same as the present day chaul(present day Kalyan) why cosmos mentioned Calliana as different port(The most notable places of trade in India are these: Sindu, Orrhotha, Calliana, Sibor, and then the five marts of Male)

    Again the ancient port Mirjan is less than 50-60 km from Goa....

    In a conclusion i think the port mirjan is same as the Calliana(of cosmos.

  1. Maddy 

    thanks BVT 
    calliana is another disputed port and I will get to it separately.
    remember that many historians also thought it as either quilon or calicut.

  1. Esmeralda 

    Just came across your comments with reservations regarding the location of Muziris.
    Find the arguments for and against totally fascinating.
    I've been wondering with a certain amount of scepticism whether "Selling Muziris" as Pattanam is more in the interest of the Kerala Tourism dept. than that of establishing the facts. 
    Ramble on Maddy!

  1. Maddy 

    thanks esmeralda..
    the location has been a subject which suddenly came to the news but actually one which requires more study and excavation..
    thanks for visiting..keep coming



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Muziris to Vallarpadam, A Dream Unfulfilled

Vallarpadam project is ‘full of faults,’ says Hon’ble Union Minister of Road Transport. Vizhinjam will be a ‘nil-benefit’ project, says E Sreedharan. Yet if the Kerala and Central governments are convinced that it is worth pumping in a huge amount of money into the proposed Vizhinjam project, the obvious question that crops up is, who is to be believed, seasoned politicians or a seasoned visionary and performer? If the Rs 3,500-crore Vallarpadam project is literally a non-starter and is performing at 35 per cent capacity, all the related factors are to be looked into and analysed thoroughly so that the same are not replicated at Vizhinjam. But both the State and Central governments are silent on how a Vallarpadam-like situation will not recur at Vizhinjam. It is common knowledge that political expediency often overtakes normal business sense; but closing your eyes to the harsh realities on the ground is unpardonable.

Although we have been boasting of challenging the Colombo port all these years, with the latter marching ahead aggressively with active Chinese support, nobody is seen making such tall claims these days. The obvious question now is about the fate of the younger cousin, a new entrant and competitor in an industry which is fiercely competitive. There is nothing like a friendly fight in the present day corporate world and it should not be forgotten that when the crisis deepens, promoters have their own well-charted escape routes and ultimately, it is the State which may have to hold the under-nourished babies one day or the other.

In a highly politically sensitive and articulate State like Kerala, where majority of the population are more comfortable living outside the borders, there is nothing wrong in clamouring for an international airport in each district, a railway station at walking distance and a few ports here and there.

If the politically and economically powerful Pathanamthitta district had a coastline of its own, they too would have bargained for one of these ports. On paper, all these projects would be ‘technically feasible’ and ‘financially viable’ and we could hire any number of consultants who would prepare neatly bound project reports which would vouchsafe for its viability. And based on such voluminous project reports, the cash-rich NRI-backed banks of Kerala would be too happy to extend their lending arms. However,  situations change dramatically when the implementation is on, due to a host of factors which are commonly identified with Kerala. Although Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) is an honourable exception, the state cannot afford to have the luxury of too many success stories at the same time.

Vallarpadam had been a dream-come-true to me. Not my dream, but the dream of some of my favourite characters in the novel Marupiravi (Re-birth) based on the history of the ancient port Muchiripatinam, conveniently changed as Muziris by the Greeks and Romans. Fascinated by the initial finds in the excavations in our nearby village Pattanam by a team of historians and archaeologists from the Kerala History Council, I spent more than four years delving into the history of Muziris, which was a prominent port on the Arabian coast about two thousand years back. Muziris, a major international hub trading with Alexandria on the Mediterranean, is believed to have disappeared from the face of earth after the deluge in the Periyar River in the year 1341. When the river in spate found a new course to the Arabian Sea, a new port called Kochazhi emerged that later became the present Cochin port. Historians and travellers have recorded that small ships without engines set sail from the port of Bernice on the Red Sea used to reach our western coast on the 40th day with the help of the southwest Monsoon winds so as to return a couple of months later backed by the easterlies. There were a few other ports like Naura, Tindis, Nelkyinda, and Bakare on the western coast and it is estimated that around 120 ships used to anchor at these ports every year for trading in spices, mainly pepper.

Although the finds from Pattanam excavations could not provide conclusive proof that the port of Muziris was located there, there are sufficient indications to come to a reasonable conclusion that Pattanam area was part of the Muziris related activities.

In a part of the novel, I had tried to fictionalise through myths, legends and imagination the life and times of the people who had inhabited the area during that period. This includes the story of a rich Greek merchant who developed an intimate relationship with Vadakkoth Thanka, a charming local woman. Obviously, he showered his largesse on the family during his annual Monsoon sojourns and when his visits stopped during the decline of the Roman trade, the avaricious woman did not know what to do with the huge bounty of wealth accumulated during the glorious era of Muchiri. When her dream of putting up transhipment warehouses on the shore fails, she had to lead a miserable life. This story is carried forward into subsequent births where her granddaughter Vadakkoth Kunkamma accomplishes her grandma’s dream by entering the cargo business in a big way. She dreams of the upcoming Vallarpadam Container Terminal growing into a huge transhipment hub and a major global player. For her Vallarpadam was the re-birth of Muchiripatinam and always an inveterate optimist, she was sure that the golden days of Muchiri are to return. It will be a new Muchiri with all the trappings of the contemporary hi-tech world. So despite the initial hiccups, when the first stage of the Terminal was commissioned, she is excited and draws up ambitious plans for business expansion through various futuristic moves and she was confident that the Vallarpadam Terminal would prove to be an icon in the history of Indian Ocean exchanges.

As the creator, I feel sad that these brilliant moves of my dear Kunkamma have gone awry. I will not be surprised if this young entrepreneur would put up her hands one day accepting defeat and would pray for returning to her own small world of unfulfilled dreams.

The author is a  Malayalam novelist  and former MD of South Indian Bank.  E-mail:



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Muziris Explained

Native Name:Muccirippattanamenowned
Map Type:India
Map Size:200
Location:Kerala stateIndia
Region:Ernakulam district
Type:Ancient port
Part Of:Malabar Coast
Built:ca. 1000 BCE
Abandoned:ca. 1341 CE
Excavations:Started in 2007
Archaeologists:Archaeological Survey of India [ASI], Archaeology Department, Govt. of Kerala
Ownership:Kerala state.
Public Access:Prior permission necessary for visitors.

Muziris (Muchiri or Mucciri, (Malayalam: മുസിരിസ്) is an ancient sea-portand urban center[1] in south-western India on the Periyar around the beginning of the Christian era. Muziris has found mention in the classical Tamil Sangha literature and a number of European historical sources. In a massive flood of thePeriyar in 1341 CE, Muziris is said to be destroyed and the centre of commerce was shifted to other ports on the Malabar Coast. Soon the exact location of Muziris was forgotten and currently it is believed to have been located close to the present day Kodungallur.[2]

The multi-disciplinary and multi-seasonal archaeological research was conducted by Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) at Pattanam, a small village at North Parur. It is hypothesized that Pattanam could be an integral part of Muziris. Pattanam was the first site in the Indian Ocean to yield archaeological evidence for the Mediterranean, North African, West Asian and Chinese maritime contacts. The evidence suggested that Pattanam was a commercial location exposed to long distance and regional trade, prior to Roman contact.[3]


The derivation of the name Muziris is said to be from "Mucciripattanam," "mucciri" means "cleft palate" and "pattanam" means "port". Near Muziris,Periyar was branched into two like a cleft palate and so the name "Mucciripattanam. "

Other names that are often used are MuraccipattanamMariccipattanam,Mucciri, or Muzirikkod. Muziris is referred to as Muchiri in Sangam literature's AkananuruMurachipattanam in Valmiki's Ramayana, and as Muzirikode in the Jewish Copper Plate of Bhaskara Ravi Varma (c. 1000 CE).[4] [5] In his Brihtsamhita Varaha Mihira refers to both 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. Muziris was also mentioned in the 1st century Natural History of Pliny the Elder, the 2nd century Geographia of Ptolemy, the 2nd century Muziris Papyrus (p. Vindob G480822), and the 4th century Tabula Peutingeriana.



There has been much research about the exact location of Muziris. It was long considered to be in Kodungallur in Thrissur district because,

  • all major ports in ancient times were situated at river mouths.
  • the Malabar Manual of William Logan, Collector of Malabar District during the British raj, assumed Kodungallur, hub of the Chera dynasty and with its medieval forts and monuments, was Muziris
  • Kodungallur’s status as the gateway to all three major religions in India— JudaismChristianity and Islam —contributed to this belief.
  • Jews claim that it was to Kodungallur that their ancestors sailed sometime in the 1st century CE.
  • Christians believe it was here that , Saint Thomas, one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ, arrived in AD 52, bringing Christianity to the subcontinent.A Church built by him and first Jewish synagogue of India could be seen at North Parur (Paravur) close to Pattanam and Kodungallur.
  • it is believed Cheraman Perumal sent a missionary group, headed by Malik Ibn Dinar, to spread the faith and build mosques in India. So that’s how the Cheraman Juma Masjid, said to be India’s first mosque, came to be in Kodungallur.

It is not hard to see why Kodungallur thought of itself as Muziris. But a series of excavations there, starting 1945, yielded nothing that went back to before the 13th century.


See main article: Pattanam. But in 1983, a large hoard of Roman coins was found at a site about six miles from Kodungallur in a small village called Pattanam on the northern shore of Paravur Thodu, a branch of Periyar. It is in the Chittatukara Panchayat, of Ernakulam District, 2 km north of North Paravur and 25 km north of Kochi. Now this village is one of the most significant archaeological sites in South Asia. The Excavations carried out at Pattanam from 2007 to 2011 have uncovered evidences which may support its being the location of ancient sea-port Muziris.[6] [7] [8] [9] Historian M. G. S. Narayanan has criticized attempts to commercialise the Pattanam excavations in the name of Muziris conservation project. He points out the need for collecting sufficient evidence before proclaiming the site as Muziris. According to M. G. S., there is a deliberate move keep away the major institutions including the Archeological Survey of India from the developments taking place at the excavation site.[1]

It is also postulated that the name Pattanam is an abbreviation of what was originally Musiripattanam, the local name of Muziris.

Early descriptions

Pliny the Elder

Pliny the Elder (c. 23- 77 CE) gives a description of voyages to India in the 1st century CE. He refers to many Indian ports in his work The Natural History.[10]

"To those who are bound for IndiaOcelis (On the Red Sea) is the best place for embarkation. If the wind, called Hippalus (Southwest Monsoon), happens to be blowing it is possible to arrive in forty days at the nearest market 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 (Keralaputras). Another port, and a much more convenient one, is that which lies in the territory of the people called Neacyndi, Barace by name. Here king Pandion (Pandya) used to reign, dwelling at a considerable distance from the market in the interior, at a city known as Modiera (Madurai). The district from which pepper is carried down to Barace in boats hollowed out of a single tree is known as Cottonara (Kuttanadu).



"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 Indiawith a south-east wind (Northeast Monsoon), and upon entering the Red Sea, catch the south-west or south."


Periplus of the Erythraean Sea

The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (c. 60–100 CE) gives an elaborate description of the Tamil country:[11]


"...then come Naura and Tyndis, the first markets of Damirica (Limyrike), and then Muziris and Nelcynda, which are now of leading importance. Tyndis is of the Kingdom of Cerobothra; it is a village in plain sight by the sea. Muziris, of the same Kingdom, abounds in ships sent there with cargoes from Arabia, and by the Greeks; it is located on a river, distant from Tyndis by river and sea five hundred stadia, and up the river from the shore twentystadia...Nelcynda is distant from Muziris by river and sea about five hundred stadia, and is of another Kingdom, the Pandian (Pandya kingdom). This place also is situated on a river, about one hundred and twenty stadia from the sea...



"There is exported pepper, which is produced in only one region near these markets, a district called Cottonara (Kuttanadu)"


Sangam literature

A tantalizing description of Muziris is in the Akananooru, an anthology of early Tamil poems in the Sangam Literature, poem no. 149 .[12]

"The well built crafts of the Yavanas came, beating the white foams of Periyar to the prosperous and beautiful Muziris (valam kezhu Muciri) and then return laden with Black pepper paying for it in gold. (Ponnodu vantu kariyodu peyarum)."


Decline and fall

It is not clear, however, why its activities as a major trade port ended and what led to its decline:

  1. The transference of the capital of Roman Empire to Byzantium in the year 330 CE had far reaching effects on the effects on the trade with Rome.[13] Then otherIndian Ocean regions took charge of the commerce and spread it to other seaports of India and South Asia.
  2. During the Ptolemaic Roman period (3rd century BC to 6th century AD), Berenike and Myos served as key transit ports between ancient Egypt and Rome on one side and Muziris on the other.[14] With the fall of Roman Empire these transit ports slowly disappeared.
  3. Though trade continued with the other Indian ocean ports, one theory attributes it to an earthquake or the great flood of 1341 recorded in history, which caused the change of course of the Periyar.and the Muziris harbour silted up.

Early Contacts with Rome

Muziris to Rome

Indo-Roman relations were built on trade. The route from Muziris in South India to Rome in Italy started in Muziris; reached Berenice or Myos Hormos at the Red Seacoast of Roman Egypt; by overland caravans to Nile river; by boats to Alexandia and finally by ships to Rome.

Myos Hormos

See main article: Myos HormosMyos Hormos was a Red Sea port constructed by the Ptolemies around the 3rd century BC. Following excavations carried out recently by David Pea**** and Lucy Blue of the University of Southampton, it is thought to have been located on the present-day site of Quseir al-Quadim (old Quseir), eight kilometres north of the modern town of Quseir in Egypt. According to Strabo (II.5.12), by the time of Augustus, up to 120 ships were setting sail every year from Myos Hormos to India:

Berenike (Berenice Troglodytica)

See main article: Berenice TroglodyticaBerenice Troglodytica, now known as Medinet-el Haras, is located on the Red Sea Coast in the far south of the Egyptian Eastern Desert. It was built in 275 BCE, to bring in Indian elephants to be used in wars. Before the founding of this port, cargoes from Muziris to Egypt have to be conveyed by overland routes covering a considerable distance.[15]

Excavations were launched at Berenike in 1994 by a team of archaeologists from the University of Delaware led by Prof. Steven E. Sidebotham, continued till 2001. At this last outpost of the Roman Empire, large number of significant finds have been made providing evidence of the cargo from the Malabar Coast and the presence of people from South India. Among the unexpected discoveries at Berenike were a range of ancient Indian goods, including a large quantity of teak wood, black pepper, coconuts, beads made of precious and semi-precious stones, cameo blanks; a Tamil Brahmi graffito, etc.[16]

Discoveries related to Muziris

Muziris papyrus

When did Egyptians start trading with Muziris is not known, but a document discovered in Egypt in 1980 and first published in 1985 confirms that by 2nd century CE it was well established. Known as the Muziris papyrus or the Vienna papyrus it is now preserved in a Vienna Museum.[17] This papyrus document mentions a loan agreement made by an Egyptian merchant and a merchant in Muziris, for exporting Gangetic Nardivorys and textiles. It also estimates the value of goods and a 25% tax for the items.

That Egyptian merchant gave this agreement to the Roman government as a guarantee for a loan and that is how this agreement survived through the ages. This discovery has opened a strong base to ancient international and trade laws in particular and has been studied at length by economists, lawyers as well as historians.[18]

Wharf and a canoe

The most remarkable find at KCHR (Kerala Council for Historical Research) Pattanam excavations in 2007, is a brick structural wharf complex, with nine bollards to harbour boats and in the midst of this, a highly decayed canoe, all perfectly mummified in mud. The boat 6 meters long was made of Artocarpus hirsutus (Anhili, inMalayalam), a tree common in Malabar Coast, out of which boats are made off. It was identified by the Kerala Forest Institute, Thrissur.[19]

The bollards some of which are still in satisfactory condition is made of Teak (Texctona grandis). The word teak comes from the language of the Malabar coast,Malayalam word theykku.[20] The wood of the boat is carbon dated by scientists from Bhuveneshwar institute of physics. Radiocarbon dating using AMS Radio Carbon revealed that the date range of the canoe sample is 1300 BC to 100 BC, (that is, 700 plus or minus 600 BC with 95 per cent probability), making it the earliest watercraft excavated from an archeological context in India.

Tamil-Brahmi scripts

Three Tamil-Brahmi scripts are found in the Pattanam excavations. In a trial trench, laid earlier by Professor V. Selvakumar and K.P. Shajan, a pot-sherd with the Tamil-Brahmi letters reading "ur pa ve o" was found. Later, another Tamil-Brahmi script with the letters "ca ta [n]" was found. The last Tamil-Brahmi script (dated to c. 2nd century CE, probably reading "a-ma-na", meaning "a Jaina" in Tamil) was found on another pot-rim at Pattanam during the sixth season. If the rendering and the meaning is not mistaken, it establishes that Jainism was prevalent on the Malabar Coast at least from the 2nd century. The three Tamil-Brahmi letters are followed by two Megalithic Graffiti symbols which could not be identified. This is for the first time the excavators are getting direct evidence relating to a religious system in ancient Kerala.[21]

Project Muziris Heritage

The project was launched by the Department of Cultural Affairs, Govt. of Kerala in 2006 to scientifically retrieve and preserve the historical heritage of the N. Paravur-Kodungallur region. The project envisage a combination of heritage management initiatives in its restoration, conservation and access to the public. Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR), identified as the nodal agency for Muziris Heritage Project, provides academic guidance and undertakes archaeological and historical research in the region.[22]

Archaeological excavations

See main article: Pattanam. The site for archaeological research by Kerala Council for Historical Society (KCHR) at Pattanam near N. Parur covers about 45 hectares. Archaeological work done in this area from 2007 has revealed that the four-metre thick soil conceals the ancient maritime history of the world. This site seems to have been first occupied by indigenous population around 1000 BCE and continued to be active until the 10th century. This might be part of the ancient port Muziris.

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