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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Muchunti Mosque – Could it be Muchanti ?

Muchunti Mosque in Kuttichira is one of the most ancient mosques in Calicut. It is of particular importance to historians of Calicut’s heritage for several reasons: Firstly, it bears a stone inscription of circa 13th Century, itself a rare occurrence. The only other stone inscription of the Zamorin era is the one in Guruvayur Temple. Secondly, the inscription provides interesting clues to the linguistic evolution of Malayalam in the 13th Century. Thirdly, the contents of the bilingual inscription (in Malayalam and Arabic) records the grant of land for the up-keep of the Mosque, evidencing the continuation by the Zamorin of the secular tradition of the earlier Chera period grants of Sthanu Ravi to the Christian Church (Tarisappalli) and Bhaskara Ravi’s grant to the Jewish guild (Anchuvannam). According to historian Pius Malekandathil, however, this grant represented a reward to the Muslims by the Zamorin for supporting his state-building efforts. (Coastal Polity and the Changing Port- Hierarchy of Kerala)
Why is this Mosque called the ‘Muchunti Mosque’? Prof. MGS Narayanan explains: “Perhaps the name is a corruption of ‘Muchiyanre palli’ meaning the mosque founded by a person called ‘Muchiyan’. The term ‘Muchiyan’ itself appears to have contracted into ‘Muchin’ in course of time. There is an old aristocratic Muslim house called ‘Muchinrakam’ or the ‘house of Muchin’ close to the mosque. A  Jaram or burial monument is also found there. It is likely that a certain Arab merchant prince called ‘Muchiyan’ came and settled down here and built a mosque which was endowed with landed property by the Zamorin also.” (Cultural Symbiosis in Kerala , 1972)
This is admittedly a conjecture. Could there be an alternative explanation, we wondered?. Sure enough we found an alternative possibility on the streets of faraway Penang in Malyasia. On Pitt Street to be exact, named by the British after the Prime Minister, William Pitt, the Younger. The street is now called Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling,  after a mosque built by a South Indian Captain of a ship. Down the street one finds the Tamil area of Chulia Street, formerly called Muchanti (junction). A little away from this junction on the Penang Road, we come across a notable Malabar monument, in Kampung Malabar (the Malabar colony), named after a faith healer from Calicut named Syed Mustafa Idris Koya. The entire Penang Road is known in Tamil locally as Ezhu Muchanti (the junction of seven roads).  Muchanti in Tamil means a junction and perhaps meant the same in 13th century Malayalam, too. Muchunti Palli in Calicut is also situated on a junction where three paths meet. Did Muchanti Palli become Muchunti Palli in due course?
This could have been an idle guess, unless we had a more tangible evidence to support it. And we stumbled upon a piece of evidence in the form of a judgement of the Madras High Court delivered exactly a hundred years ago ( dated  16th July 1912). The learned Judges, Justice Sundara Aiyar and Justice Sadasiva Aiyer were adjudicating a dispute relating to this Mosque between Muthalakkandi Kattori Koya Molla and Palliveettil Abubacker regarding their respective rights to perform religious ceremonies in the Mosque. ( Lo and behold, the learned Judges called this Mosque Muchanti Mosque, not once but throughout the judgement. We, therefore, conclude that the Mosque was called Muchanti palli (and not Muchunti palli as now) till a century ago. Linguists may be able to enlighten us as to how the transformation took place over the last hundred years.


  1. There is perhaps an interesting story and a couple of hypotheses behind this. An inscription on the mosque states that the 13th century mosque was built by a freed slave Shihabuddin Raihan with his own money and on land gifted by the Zamorin. Now can see from the Jain concept of things (or even the extinct Ajivika religion) that souls accomplish their journey (sijjhanti), are enlightened (bujjhanti), set free (muccanti), and finally emancipated (parinivvdinti). So it is possible that Muccanti stands for freedom from enslavement. Thus the ‘Sanskrit’ term Muccanti connected to the palli.

    Or thus - Recall also that Kuttichira was a Guajarati/Jain enclave, so the palli could have been a Jain temple of the past. Or finally, it could have been at the junction of three roads, as used in Tamil, but I doubt it.

    Anyway all of this is just IMHO

    A little bit more about its history - The Kuttichira Siva temple that had been desecrated by bloodshed during the Polathiri war was made over to the Moplah’s (History of Kerala - KVK Iyer) to construct a mosque. But is that the Muchchundi mosque? And then Balakrishna Kururp opines, the Porlathiri palace became the Juma’ath mosque. The Zamorin built a palace close to it and this was where he met the Vasco Da Gama and this was the palace that Coutinho tried to destroy. This Zamorin’s palace became the Muchundi mosque later.

  2. Muchunti Palli in Calicut-"Prof. MGS Narayanan explains: “Perhaps the name is a corruption of ‘Muchiyanre palli’ meaning the mosque founded by a person called ‘Muchiyan’." Is it called so being a mosque in the junction Muchanti meaning junction as stated and not because of any name of the founder? So this is a very pertinent question. Maddy has given his version and hope more will follow.Unfortunately my knowledge of history is minimal.

  3. Very interesting topic,
    I have been to this place and visited three mosques there in kuttichira, Misqalpalli, Kuttichira jumath palli and Muchundipalli. And met the Kazi of Misqalpalli who explained me about the history of Misqalpalli.
    After reading this article the word muchanti stuck in my mind. And I recollected my visit to the place. I still remember that I lost my way after leaving Muchundipalli as it was situated in the center or corner of the junction. Following upon that memory and suspected meaning of the word, I had a small conversation with few of my Tamil friends. And I enquired about the meaning of the muchanti,
    முச்சந்தி (muchanti) means junction, few of my friends said it also has some other meaning that is “center” or “corner end”, but further more into details the word has a meaning ie a “junction where three paths meets or ends” or “three way junction” from my humble knowledge in Tamil I came to a conclusion
    மு (mu) a short form of மூன்று (mundr) which means three.
    சந்தி (santhi) means junction, meeting point or joining point.
    So this word muchanti which is directly associated with the prominent charecterstics (being in one corner of three way junction ) of the mosque might be the root of its name.
    Other points that validates this influence of the prominent charecterstics or significants in the name, can be proved from the name of another mosques
    Chembittapalli, in Cochin – This mosque is roofed with bronze tiles, so named after that notable charecterstics, and the usages like Pazhaya palli(old mosque), Puthiya palli/ puthen palli (new mosque), and Valliya palli (grand mosque) indicating the significance.
    Further more, in Parappanangadi, Malapuram dist there is a mosque named Angadi palli, (a mosque situated in market street) signifies its location.
    So we can conclude that the root of the name Muchundi is the tamil word Muchanti. Which would have taken its new form Muchundi due to colloquial influence and/or due to the ignorance of the word or its meaning, (otherwise this discussion would’nt have happened).
    To get a clear idea of location you can see the panoramic view of mosque, (select option for“muchundi mosque outside” and view)
    Thoufeek Zakriya

  4. I favour muchanti to mean a mosque at the junction despite the scholarly views of Maddy.

  5. @Maddy
    Thanks, Maddy, for the interesting comment. One feels the linguistic evidence (if any) from the Jain origin must be supported by some references. There is no reason to disbelieve the inscription in the mosque. We can further thicken the plot by bringing in the observation of a noted Chinese researcher (DR. Tan Ta Sen) who affirmed that these old mosques of Calicut were all built by the Chinese Muslim traders who used to frequent Calicut port. He showed me photographs of similar architecture of some Malaccan mosques. In the absence of any tangible evidence, we have to treat it as mere conjecture. Hope to hear from you on the sources which you have relied upon for the Jain/ Gujarati traditions.

  6. @Swansong
    Thank you for the visit and the comment. I feel the issue boils down to one of phonetics. Many Malayalam words which are pronounced with a mid-vowel 'a' (transcribed as an inverted 'e') are written in English with a 'u'. Thus, Muchanti could be written as Muchunti and pronounced as Muchanti. This, again, is guess work!

  7. @Thoufeek
    Many thanks for your detailed analysis of the Tamil origins of the word. Your interesting explanation of the location of the mosque at a tri-junction clinches the issue!

  8. @P.N.S
    Thank you for the comment. I am sure Maddy has something up his sleeve! He will reveal it at the right moment!!

  9. Interesting. Did you know that there were a few more similar mosques\pallis in the vicinity, that were completely broken down and rebuilt. A palli called Halara palli was on the north-west corner of Kuttichira Jamathu Palli (Juma Masjid), was a very a small beautiful structure, made completely of wood in a very typical local architectural style. Some idiots destroyed it (not too long back, just 10 or 15 years ago).

  10. Many thanks, Yusuf, for the details on Halara mosque. Could you please be more specific on the location? What a pity that such historically important buildings are pulled down by people with no sense of history. We noticed a similar case with the Cheenam Palli in Panthalayini. IT was a historic structure but has been demolished and in its place stands a garish marble structure with a small board which has Cheenampalli in brackets!

  11. More than five years after this was posted, we have further proof, this time from Manipravalam literature. Verse 79 of Unnuneeli Sandesam, ( incidentally, supposed to have been written around the same time that the Muchanti mosque was built), mentions about a market place (chandha) in Kollam (Quilon) which is situated in a Muchanthi, literally a tri-junction!


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