Total Pageviews

Popular Posts

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Jews Street in Calicut?

A view of the Jews Street with shops at the far end
It was young Thoufeek Zakriya, a history enthusiast, avid blogger ( and an accomplished calligrapher ( who alerted us on the possible existence of a Jews Street in Calicut. He got the lead from an advertisement of an electrical shop on the net. Phone calls to the listed number got the response that the number did not exist.

Our team led by Advocate Madhusoodan started looking for clues on the ground. Local historians did not know (or in one case belittled the importance of the finding, which made us more curious). 

At the end of the week, we got information that there does indeed exist a small locality called Jootha Bazar in the heart of legendary Thekkepuram ( between Kuttichira and Idiyangara. 
We know that of all the communities which had once strong presence in Calicut, there is no evidence of only two - Chinese and Jews. 

This is true of not only Calicut, but even of other centres of trade like Panthalayini-Kollam. It is only recently when the Geniza papers are being deciphered that we get to know that a Jewish trader, Abraham Yiju had once made purchase of spices from Panthalayini-Kollam (Fandaraina) around 1120 AD. He records in one of his letters (232 T-S 
A Jaaram (tomb) at the entrance to the street
20 quoted by Amitav Ghosh at page 227 of his The Imam and the Indian:
'...I bought for (al Basara?) from Fandaraina two bahars (of cardamom) as a substitute for 17 mithqals.' Please click here for details.

 Almost 200 years later, the Franciscan Friar, Odoric of Pordenone had visited Panthalayini and had this to say about the Jews there and their conflict with the Christians :In Flandrina both Iewes and Christians doe inhabite, betweene whom there is often contention and warre: howbeit the Christians ouercome the Iewes at all times. 

As Prof. A. Sreedhara Menon observes, 'There are no traces of Jewish colonies in these places except that there is a 'Jew's Hill' at Chowghat and a 'Jew's Tank' at Madayi'. (A Survey of Kerala History, p.95) Could this Jews Street in Calicut be a remnant of a forgotten past ? We decided to verify.

As we walked down from the Miskal Mosque heading south, one road leads east and turns south again towards Idiyangara. There are a few shops on this street and this place is now called Jootha Bazar or Jews Street. Local people had different explanations for the origin of the name. An elderly person said that perhaps the origin could be traced to mothers calling their naughty offsprings children of Jews as a curse. But, why should the name called stick to a place, unless only children of that locality were mischievous. Another ingenious explanation given was that naughty young people of that locality would gather in the Jootha Bazar and gamble and, therefore, the name stuck. 

A third person, who appeared to be more knowledgeable about the history and culture of the place explained that it was just possible that the location of the present Jews Street was once a flourishing market run by the Jews, like the Silk Street, Gujarati Street etc.

We do not yet know whether the Jews Street has any historical significance. But, considering the irrefutable evidence of both Jews and the Chinese having once been a strong presence in Calicut and are now obliterated without any trace, we wonder whether there was some similarity in the sudden disappearance of the two communities.

Zheng He, the Chinese Admiral made his last voyage to Calicut in 1433 and died during this voyage. The date is significant from the point of view of direction of Calicut's trade. For, Abdul Razzak who visited Calicut just 9 years after the death of Zheng He noted that the trade had already shifted from the east to west. Recent research has revealed that Emperor Yong-le who had deputed Zheng He had already decided to shift his trade relations from Calicut to the newly emerging Cochin, prompted perhaps by the pressure on Chinese traders from the Arab trading monopoly. The Chinese Emperor's overtures to Cochin in the form of a poetic epistle (click here)dated 28th December 1416 was carried by Zheng He. (The Chinese had unwittingly shown the Portuguese how to pit Calicut against Cochin!)

The massacre of the Chinese which took place soon after the last voyage of Zheng He could have encompassed all foreign traders, including the Jews. For, there is not much record of the Jewish presence in Calicut after the 15th Century.

Pereira de Paiva, a Dutch Jew of Portuguese origin who visited Cochin in 1686 on behalf of the Amsterdam Jewry reported that there were only 465 Malabar Jewish families, all in and around Cochin. It is likely that along with the Chinese traders, the Jewish traders of Calicut also migrated to Cochin. 

It is most likely that the Jewish traders in Calicut belonged to the Black Jews (the original tribes who had been trading from the days of Solomon). The White Jews , descendants of Spanish, Portuguese and Iraqi arrived on the Malabar coast much later in the 16th Century.


  1. This is absolutely amazing stuff. Our history,long neglected by historians is being brought to light street by street, cinnamon by cardamon and pepper.may I suggests that all this be complied and brought out as e books? Congrats and the language is simple and easy on the reader.
    Uday Balakrishnan

  2. Greatly appreciate the persistence of the team.I share with you the view that Arab pressure must have forced Jews like Chinese to move out of Calicut to Kochi.Was this the start of the Jews in that area?

  3. Thanks to the Team for unfurling this hitherto unknown yet very interesting matter. From the photograph, the 'Jew Street' of Calicut quite strangely resembles the equally narrow one in Cochin. Is there an initiative to delve deeper ? I concur with Premnath's view of publishing the findings online once they are vetted and finalised.

  4. Very interesting finds and write up. Dr Jussay did state about the existence e of Jews at both Calicut and Pantalayani basing it on an article or paper by MGS. It also tells you much of the migratory nature of the traders. So far we know that they moved northward from Kollam to Calicut, now we find the reverse as well, if the move to Cochin was from Calicut. But natural, I suppose.

    Some time back I started the study around the copper plates and sort of left it for a future date. But this was what I found out then..

    One account of Jews in Calicut was made by Abraham Ferissol around 1523, he records

    In the twenty-fourth chapter, speaking of the Indian Ocean, he says, "After passing the great gulf towards Ethiopia, one reaches the continent of Mekka, which is near the Indian Sea. In the upper part of this country are great deserts, and settlements of Jews, who are on the river Ganges, which is the Biblical Gozan, as I have already written, and as it is also explained by the Christians. And so it is written in recent books, that, in the regions above the country of Mekka, and also those above the deserts of Calicut, there are to be found numerous Jews and many kingdoms, but they are far one from the other—viz., the Jews above Mekka and those above Calicut; and in the islands of the Indian Ocean their number is endless, and they are everywhere rich in gold and spices. The Ganges (according to Ferussol, the Gozan or the Sambatyon), has its source above Calicut, and divides the Indians from the Jews. About the real existence of the Sambatyon he refers to the Talmud and Josephus, and his controversial book, called "The Shield of Abraham." Moreover, Ferussol says "that the Christian writer mentioned above stated that he found many Jewish merchants at Calicut, descendants of the Tribes settled above Calicut, between the mountains of Gozan and its rivers, and there is the Sambatyon, which separates the Jews from the Indians, whilst on the continent of the country of Mekka lies, on the nearest side to us, the desert of Habor. But between the two families of Jews—viz., those who dwell between the mountains of Gozan and its rivers, and those who are at Habor, beneath Yemen—there dwell Ishmaelite tribes, who harm them, and prevent them from joining together, as I have already said. Therefore it is possible, as I heard at Rome, that the Jew from the Tribes came to Italy from Habor by way of Yemen, which lies above Mekka." At the end of the twenty-eighth chapter, Ferussol says, in the Book on the New World, it is stated that the Prester John is found in the country above Calicut, distant from the sea. Ferussol says, further, that the black priests of the Prester John always say that Jews are numerous in the neighbourhood of the country of Prester John.

    Quoted from - Neubauer in 'Where are the 10 tribes'.

    But as you can imagine, it is pretty vague and requires much extrapolation & fertile imagination to make any sense.

  5. സർ,
    കോഴിക്കോട്ടെ ജൂതത്തെരുവിനെപ്പറ്റിയുള്ള കുറിപ്പുകണ്ടു.ഇപ്പറയുന്ന പ്രദേശങ്ങളെല്ലാം സ്ഥലനാമസർവേ (A Study of placenames in the Calicut district -calicut University1987) നടത്തിയിരുന്നു.ഇടിയങ്ങരപ്പള്ളിക്കു സമീപമെങ്ങും ജൂതത്തെരു കണ്ടിട്ടില്ല-രേഖയിലും ഇല്ല.അവിടെ മുഴുവൻ മുസ്ലീം അധിവാസ കേന്ദ്രങ്ങളാണു.ഇത്തരമൊരു കെന്ദ്രത്തിൽ സാധാരണരീതിയിൽ ജൂതർ സ്റ്റ്രീറ്റ് ഉണ്ടാക്കുകയുമില്ല.അവിടെ മുസ്ലീങ്ങൾ തമ്മിൽ കശപശ കൂടുമ്പോൾ “നീ ജൂതനാണു“ എന്നു വിളിക്കാറുണ്ട് .ഇവരുടെ ശത്രുതയാണിതു.
    ഇതിനപ്പുറം ഇതിനു സാംഗത്യമില്ലെന്നു തോന്നുന്നു.പരപ്പിൽ മുഹമ്മെദ് കോയയുടെ അഭിപ്രായവും(കോഴിക്കോട്ടെ മുസ്ലീങ്ങൾ എന്ന പുസ്തകം)ഇതുതന്നെ.സ്ഥലനാമങ്ങളുടെ പഠനം വിഷമകരമാണു.jumping into conclusion ടോപ്പോണമിയിൽ അബദ്ധമാനു.
    Dr N M Nampoothiri

  6. Thank you, Nomad. Your suggestion for compiling the posts into an e-book will be considered.

  7. Premnath - Many thanks for the appreciation. We must hasten to clarify that Jews existed in the Cochin area long before the 14th Century; they perhaps migrated from Kodungalloor (which they referred to as Shingly) to Cochin after the 1341 Periyar floods. It was perhaps from Shingly that they migrated to all other places in Kerala. We are here talking about possible reverse migration.

  8. Thank you, Ashish for your suggestion. Please keep visiting!

  9. Maddy - Many thanks for the erudite comments. There is ample evidence about the strong presence of Jews in Calicut. However, Abraham Farissol's account appears to be a fanciful compilation of the more bizzare accounts he might have come across as a copyist in Ferrara. He had written in similar vein that original Americans were all Jews!
    Whether Jews existed in the Jews Street is not material - we must make an effort to find out where they did exist in Calicut and when and why they disappeared.

  10. Prof. Dr. Nampoothiri- We are grateful for your learned comments. At the same time, we are unable to appreciate your argument that because a certain study of place names conducted in 1987 did not find any reference to Jew Street, it could not exist.
    We would respectfully submit that in Social Sciences we have to be less dogmatic.
    Firstly, experts in Toponymy have observed that it at best supplements and enriches the findings of archeology and history. Secondly, new facts and evidence come to light which persuade the historian to reinterpret earlier dicta.For instance, we have quoted from two sources (Geniza fragments about the transactions in Flandarina and the letter that Zheng He carried to the ruler of Cochin on his fifth voyage) which were not available to historians till some time back. Thirdly, as we had stated in our post, we also came across some respected local historians trying to gloss over the fact of there being a Jootha Bazar by such cock and bull stories about it being a term of abuse. Frankly, we are not persuaded by this explanation for the simple reason that Malabar Muslims are much more creative and colourful in their choice of epithets of vituperation! Even granting that they called each other 'children of Jews', how does one explain the fact that a certain place is still called Jootha Bazar? We did not invent this place name; it exists and anyone can verify this. As we had stated, we do not know whether it has any historical significance, but the anxiety to dismiss this possibility raises our suspicion. Finally, we have not come across any toponymy study conducted of Malabar which has identified a place as having been a Jewish habitation. Are we, therefore, to conclude that the Jews never came to Malabar?
    We are very tentative and circumspect about our findings and are careful 'not to jump to conclusions'. At the same time, we tend to look askance at dogmatic assertions based on flimsy evidence!

  11. No study can be said it is the final.New evidence will surface, new justifications will be put forth.We will have to modify our thoughts and conclusions based on the present facts.We must also be prepared to accept when newer logic are put forward.Once nobody said earth was round. There were lot of proofs given to substantiate that earth was flat.Now we know that earth is not flat but round , let us accept newer facts till we hear another one.

  12. സർ
    താങ്കൾ പറഞതു ശരിയാണു.ഏനിക്കു കാണാൻകഴിഞ്ഞില്ല എന്നേ അർഥമക്കേണ്ടു.അതുപോലെ മറ്റൊരു പഠിതാവും പറയുന്നു.അദ്ദേഹം കുറ്റിചിറക്കാരനാണു.പുസ്തക കണ്ടിട്ടുണ്ടാവും.
    നാമപഠനത്തിൽ പുലറ്തേണ്ട ഒരു തത്വമാനണു പെട്ടെന്നു നിഗമനത്തിലെത്ത രുത് എന്നതു. കൂടുതൽ തെളിവു കിട്ടേണ്ടതുണ്ടു എന്നു മാത്രം.പുതിയ സ്ഥലനാമപഠനങ്ങൾ നടത്തുന്നവർ ശ്രദ്ധിച്ചാ‍ൽ നന്നു.
    N M Nampoothiri

  13. Thank you Mr.Ramachandran, for considering my lead, and taking it in serious consideration. In fact,it is a great news to know about about Jew street in Calicut and effort was fruitful. Congratulation to all concerned.
    Francois, a french navigator (1607) had mentioned that "the Jews of Calicut had their own quarter and Synagogue, nobody enters to their quarter, but Jews." This was the main point which made me to think about the possibility of existence of Jew street. I had figured it out in my mind that it would be some where near to any mass water body (Sea,River or Lake) and would be within a 500 mtr range. I hope that the present site is almost near to a water body. So calculations were almost correct.
    Even I am compiling a note on "Jewish synagogues in Kerala" it is about to finish, I will for sure add this point in it. the post even mentions Jews of Northern Kerala which includes Calicut, Chaliyam, Panthalayini, Madayi, Ezhimala, which would have extended up to the vicinity of Canara.

    I hope this will be the start up for new findings about the bygone glorious era of Jews of Calicut.....

  14. Hai Prof. Nampoothiri, I would like to explain some normal feature of some Jewish settlements of Kerala, Which would help us to know the general characteristics of the Jewish settlements of Kerala. Like most of the foreign settlers Jews also established their settlement near a Market and water body, but kept their residence more private from others. There also existed many other settlements of co-religionists near to their settlement.
    Madayipara (Cannanore) One of the oldest Jewish settlement, still there exists a Jewish pond. A famous Mosque was established by Malik Bin Habib in Madayi, and the place was also residence for Jews, Buddists, Brahmins and Christians.
    Chennamangalam (near paravoor, Cochin) one of the oldest Jewish settlement. Jews, Muslims, Christians and Hindus were living together and all the place of worship were too close to each other. The Mosque and Synagogue is quiet closer. The Jewish and Muslim Burial grounds are still there in one compound without any boundary in between.
    Jew Town, Cochin. There existed three synagogues in one street. Among those Kadavumbagom synagogue, one of the oldest synagogue (which is near to cochin's famous Paradesi synagogue) is near to a Muslim street(known as Darsalam road). A small old mosque is there. Motoring further from Jew town we will reach Kochangadi, one of Oldest settlement of Jews in Cochin, now there exists no Jews or Jewish buildings but fully occupied by Muslims. But there existed another synagogue and Jewish quarter here.
    The Semitic religions like Judaism, Islam and Christianity lived together, even though quarrelling was there between those communities. There exists many place in Ernakulam, Paravoor, Mala, Palayur with the names Jew street, Jootha kambolam, Jewish bazaar etc it is now near to either Christian or Muslim dominated area. As the Jews disappeared gradually these places would have gone into their hands. In Calicut also there existed Jewish communities where they had their own Quarter and Synagogue mentioned by Francois Pyrard in 1607 AD. Many earlier travelers also had mentioned about this as explained by MR. Ramachandran.
    The above mentioned places in South of Kerala had lively Jewish communities till the 1950’s. But the fall of Jewish communities of Northern Kerala is not clearly known (would have migrated to the south due to some reason). But we cannot just evade the fact that Jews existed in Calicut and nearby areas including Chaliyam, Panthilayini Kollam. Dr. David G. Mandelbaum, in his article "The Jewish Way of Life in Cochin," records the following tradition current among the Jews of Cochin, India: “While the Jews could scarcely defend themselves against great armies of marauders, it is clear that they were proficient in arms. The two great opponents of the Malabar coast, the Raja of Cochin and the Zamorin of Calicut, each had a brigade of Jewish soldiers in their forces.”
    This also gives us a hint of existence of the Jewish presence in Calicut, i.e. Jewish soldiers.

  15. Reading it altogether bring to us some points that
    • Jews existed in Calicut.
    • They had their own quarter and prayer houses.
    • Like the other foreign settlers they mostly established their settlements in port cities, market or any water bodies.
    • They had private streets same like their co-religionists had.
    So the name Juda bazaar or Jew street, if found near any place where Muslims dwell, It is more logical to think that there existed a Jewish community there than taking a non reliable folklore as the evidence. A best example for this is, above mentioned Kochangadi, (believed to be evolved from Kochu Angadi) some historians says that etymology of the words can be explained as Kocha Angadi (“Kocha”- In Cochin a Jew was addressed by “Kocha” and a Jewess was addressed by “Achi”) means Jewish Market or Market of Jews, where the etymology of this name is dated to 14th century.
    So it’s just some facts that can be read along with the history, to come to a better conclusion. Hope that some archeological evidence could be fetched from there, something like a tombstone, any Jewish artifacts or Hebrew inscriptions.

    With Respect
    Thoufeek Zakriya

  16. If you look at this summary, it is clear there were Jews at Calicut. Considering that, they would have lived in their own enclave.With that established, the location now discovered has to be further studied relatively..

    With the coming of the Portuguese to India, travelers such as G. Sernigi (1499) refer to the Jewish association with Calicut. L. di Varthema (early 16th century) mentions a Jew in Calicut who had built a fine galley and had made four iron mortars. ... While the Portuguese historian Correa speaks in 1536 of the great number of Jews in Calicut, the Yemenite traveler Zechariah b. Saadiah (16th century) looked in vain for coreligionists there. Half a century later Pyrard de Laval lists Jews among the various religious groups in Calicut with their own quarter and synagogue. The outstanding Calicut Jew in the 18th century was Isaac *Surgun (d. 1792), a wealthy merchant who hailed from Constantinople.

    Fischel, in: REJ, 126 (1967), 27–53. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J.B. Segal, A History of the Jews of Cochin (1993).

  17. Dear Maddy,
    I strongly believe so, There is no doubt in the fact that Jews existed in Calicut, and this finding I hope would open up the unrevealed facts about the Jews of Norther Kerala who can be called Malabari Jews with no doubt. The an extract or the abstract copy of Sefer Yasher (Would have written by various people through time), mentions "in 1650 AD died the last of the family of the rabbi, whose name was Joshiah, Prince of the Jews of Malabar , who reside at Calicut."

    Adding to this, many rare historical document or manuscripts from Jews of Cochin were taken to the library of Cambridge university. further studies on those document would give more information regarding the old settlements.
    It is believed along with manuscripts original "Sefer Yasher" (the Chronicles of Cochin Jews - which served as a communities daily event record) was also taken which is considered to be the most valuable.
    If the original manuscript if found and subjected to studies would be giving clear and reliable details regarding all the Jewish settlements.

  18. Its great to see that the blog has become active after nearly 6 months.

  19. Very fascinating discovery. Maddy has added spice to it. Thanks and congratulations to the team.

  20. I am late to post this because of some personal problems though had gone thr' the post earlier. Calicut becomes a centre of integration again with this discovery. We had Chinese, Arabs and now we find that Jews were also here.What ever might have been the reasons, it is sad to note that we do not have any remnants of these ancient settlers and I do hope that historians will be able to find out what really happened.It is difficult to agree with the opinion of Sri.Namboodiripad that the name of Jhoota street may be just a name meaning nothing more.Abraham Ferisso's comments quoted by Maddy, as the forum clarifies might have been a lot of imagination, but may be there is an iota of truth also in it, though most of the things he says reads like a part of historical fiction.Any way congratulations Mr.Zakria for this interesting discovery and to the forum for following this thread with all the seriousness it deserves.

  21. There is evidence of Chinese presence in the form of pottery and tiles which is still strewn over many part of the city, especially parts close to the beach. I remember picking up pieces while studying at St Joseph's High School.

  22. Thank you, Nandagopal, for the comments. You are right about the Chinese presence and the porcelain remnants. But, we feel that our enquiry should go beyond the available evidence. Recently, we stumbled on evidence which probably suggests that the Chinese remained in contact with Calicut long after the Zheng He visits during the Ming period (early 15th Century). You may like to see a recent report in the Hindu:

  23. There are evidences of Malabar Judeo settlements.
    Jewish settlers looking for safer places from persecution in Europe.

    The settlers in Malabar were also threatened by the
    Portuguese and the arab traders. Some of
    these settlers either became muslims or christians
    over time. Some left to other cities which
    had a Jewish population.

    Some of the muslim families may have jewish ancestry. I have observed such architectural
    and ritual influences from this region amongst
    old mapila joint families.

  24. Prester John:: Fiction and History, Meir Bar-Ilan(Senior Lecturer,Bar-Ilan University, ISRAEL)

    Present a Latin text with its Hebrew translation (and an English text where the Latin is missing) as follows:

    ""Praete janni invenitur ascendendo in Kalicut in arida... and this is true proof and well-known knowledge about the Jews who are found there near Prester John.The editors make this comment on the text:If this refers to India, see W. J. Fischel article COCHIN in Encycl. Jud

    Second, Kalicut which was one of the most important port-cities in Malabar in southern India, is mentioned in one of the letters.Third, these facts would definitely suffice but further evidence appears in the form of statement....""

  25. സർ,
    ഞാൻ കേട്ടതും ,എനിക്ക് ലഭ്യമായ രേഖ കളുടെ അടിസ്ഥാനത്തിലും ഞാനിതെഴുതുകയാണ് , മലബാർ കലക്ടർ കനോലി സായിപ്പിന്റെ കാലത്ത് നിയമിതരായ രണ്ടു തഹസിൽദാർ മാരെ പറ്റിയാണ് . എന്റെ അമ്മയുടെ മുത്തച്ഛൻമാരായ സഹോദരങ്ങൾ , ഒരാൾ ''കുട്ടൂസ തഹസിൽദാരും '' സഹോദരൻ '' കുഞ്ഞായിൻ കുട്ടി തഹസിൽദാരും '' ആണ് എന്നാൽ എനിക്ക് കുട്ടൂസ തഹസിൽദാരുടെ ഒരു രേഖ കിട്ടിയിട്ടുണ്ട് , മറ്റാളുടെത് ലഭ്യമാകാൻ എന്ത് മാർഗം .

  26. സർ,
    ഞാൻ കേട്ടതും ,എനിക്ക് ലഭ്യമായ രേഖ കളുടെ അടിസ്ഥാനത്തിലും ഞാനിതെഴുതുകയാണ് , മലബാർ കലക്ടർ കനോലി സായിപ്പിന്റെ കാലത്ത് നിയമിതരായ രണ്ടു തഹസിൽദാർ മാരെ പറ്റിയാണ് . എന്റെ അമ്മയുടെ മുത്തച്ഛൻമാരായ സഹോദരങ്ങൾ , ഒരാൾ ''കുട്ടൂസ തഹസിൽദാരും '' സഹോദരൻ '' കുഞ്ഞായിൻ കുട്ടി തഹസിൽദാരും '' ആണ് എന്നാൽ എനിക്ക് കുട്ടൂസ തഹസിൽദാരുടെ ഒരു രേഖ കിട്ടിയിട്ടുണ്ട് , മറ്റാളുടെത് ലഭ്യമാകാൻ എന്ത് മാർഗം .

  27. Thank you, Mr. Mohd Kutty for visiting the site. Fortunately, most of the records pertaining to Mr. Connoly's time are well-preserved in the Calicut Archives (in the civil station ) and you can search therein. Best wishes!


Powered by Blogger.