The Zamorin of Calicut
The red line gives an idea of the Silk Road, an important route to transport goods from Asia to Europe. The blue line represents the spice-trade routes that were blocked by the Ottoman Empire (1453), a disastrous event which prompted the Europeans to search for an alternative sea route around Africa, and finally beginning the Age of Discovery.
The Zamorin of Calicut was the hereditary monarch of the kingdom of Calicut (Kozhikode) on the South Malabar region, an important trading port on the south-western coast of India. At the peak of their reign, the Zamorin ruled over a region from Kollam (Quilon) to (Koyilandy).
It was after the dissolution of the kingdom of Cheras of Kodungallur in the early 12th century, the Eradis of Nediyiruppu (originally autonomous chiefs of Eranadu) demonstrated their political will under the title of Zamorin. The Zamorin maintained elaborate trade relations with the Muslim Middle-Eastern sailors in the Indian Ocean who were the primary spice traders on the Malabar Coast in the Middle Ages. Calicut's prominence grew as an important trading port in south-western India where Chinese and West Asian traders met.
The Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama visited Quilandy in 1498, opening the sailing route directly from Europe to Asia. His arrival started a vicious circle of violence and brutality against the established Muslim traders of the region. The Portuguese efforts to seize the spices trade monopoly from India, and to fully control the commerce was repeatedly hampered by the forces of Zamorin of Calicut.
The Kunjali Marakkars, the famous Muslim warriors, were the naval chiefs of Calicut who resisted and attacked the Portuguese in every possible way. The firepower of the Portuguese ships were far superior to the extent that a joint fleet of more than 100 ships of all the native stakeholders in the region were unable to win in a direct fight against 20 ships of the former.
By the end of the 16th century the Portuguese – now commanding the spice traffic on the Malabar Coast – had succeeded in replacing the Muslim merchants in the Arabian Sea. The Dutch later replaced the Portuguese in the 17th century, who in turn were replaced by the British.
In 1766, Haider Ali of Mysore defeated the Zamorin of Calicut – an East India Company ally at the time – and absorbed Calicut to his state. After the Third Mysore War (1790–1792), Malabar was placed under the control of the East India Company. Eventually, the status of the Zamorin was reduced to that of a pensioner of the Company (1806).
1. Painting showing the Zamorin of Calicut on his throne, by Veloso Salgado, 1898 (Image source: Wikipedia)
2. Map image source: thevintagenews