Calicut through the Eyes of Abdur Razzak

"In the year 845 (A. D. 1442), the author of this narrative, Abdur Razzak, the son of Ishaq, in obedience to the orders of the sovereign of the world [Mirza Shah Rukh of Persia] set out on his journey towards the province of Hormuz and the shores of the [Indian] ocean...". 

Abdur Razzak was the ambassador of the Timurid ruler Mirza Shah Rukh (r: 1405-1447) of Iran (Persia) to the Samoothiri (Zamorin) of Calicut. Abdur Razzak chronicled his Indian mission in his book titled 'Matla-us-Sadain wa Majma-ul-Bahrain'. 

Calicut, on the coast of Malabar, From James Forbes'"Oriental Memoirs"

Narrative of the Journey of Abdur Razzak to Calicut:

Abdur Razzak started his journey from Herat (in Afghanistan) on January 13, 1442, through Qohistan. He reached the shore of the Sea of Oman, and the port of Hormuz towards the end of February. He remained at Hormuz for two months, thereafter he set out for Muscat from whence to Qurayyat. Razzak and his companions then moved to Qalhat and then to a place called Sur. At length he departed for Hindustan and after a voyage of 18 days he anchored at the port of Kalikot [Calicut] in South India in November 1442. 

Calicut is perfectly a safe harbour, and like Hormuz [on the Persian Gulf] it attracts merchants from every part of the world. Here one can find abundance of precious articles brought from maritime countries such as Abyssinia [Ethiopia, Northeast Africa], Zirbad [Indonesia, Southeast Asia] and Zanzibar [East Africa]. From time to time ships come from Mecca and other towns of Hejaz and stop for a while in this port.

Calicut is a city inhabited chiefly by Hindus but a considerable number of Muslims also resides there, who have built two mosques where they assemble for Friday prayers. Such security and justice reign in Calicut that wealthy merchants bring from maritime countries large cargoes of merchandise which they store them in lanes and the bazaar as long as they wish without having to worry about guarding them. The officers of the custom house have it under their protection. If it is sold they take a custom duty of one-fortieth.

According to Abdur Razzak, some ambassadors of Mirza Shah Rukh while returning from Bengal had to stay at Calicut. They had described the wealth, prosperity and power of Shah Rukh's realm to the Samoothiri, the ruler of Calicut. The Samoothiri had also heard from reliable people that the rulers of the inhabited quarter of the globe, east and west, land and sea, had sent emissaries and messages to [Shah Rukh's] court, which they considered the solution to their every need and refuge of their every hope. This time the Mirza was called upon to regulate an outstanding dispute between the Sultanates of Bengal and Jaunpur. 

Having heard of all this, the Samoothiri gathered all sorts of gifts and tribute and sent a messenger to say that in his port in the Friday prayer and the holiday prayer the khutba of Islam was recited, and if the Persian monarch would allow it, they would recite the khutba in his royal name. 

The emissaries coming from Bengal arrived at Herat and presented the Samoothiri's petition to the monarch. The chief envoy who was sent to Herat was a Muslim. He represented that if Shah Rukh will send an ambassador to Calicut the Samoothiri might convert to Islam. 

This proposition seemed reasonable to Shah Rukh. Thus Abdur Razzak Samarqandi was chosen as ambassador to India and dispatched with rich presents consisting of horses, robes of gold cloth, caps and other valuable items.

When Abdur Razzak landed at Calicut he saw a tribe of people of which he had not seen before. They were black and they went about with nearly naked bodies, wearing only pieces of cloth, extending from navels to above their knees, called langots. In one hand they bore a dagger and in the other a leather shield. Both king and beggar look alike, but the Muslims wear rich luxurious costumes like the Arabs. 

At Calicut a quarters was assigned to him, and three days after his arrival he was given an audience with the Samoothiri: "When the Samoothiri dies, his sister's son takes his place and the throne is not given to son, brother or other relative [Marumakkathayam or Matrilineal System]. No one becomes king by force. The Hindus are of many sorts: Brahmins, Yogis and others. Although they all share the same polytheism and idolatry, every group has a different system. There is one group whose women have multiple husbands, each of whom has a specific tasks to perform. They divide the day and night, and each one goes to her quarters at a specified time. So long as one is there no other can go in. The Samoothiri is of this group."

Audience with the Samoothiri:

The Samorin of Calicut, 1604, anonymous, after Johann Theodor and Johann Israel de Bry, 1644 - 1646

When Abdur Razzak had his audience with the Samoothiri, who was in an assembly of 2000-3000 Hindus; chief Musalmans were also there. The letter from Shah Rukh is read out and the gifts were also handed over. But the Samoothiri paid little respect to the embassy, so Abdur Razzak left the court and returned to his quarters.

He was very much distressed and he remained at Calicut [from November 1442 to April 1443]. He says that "we were afflicted by having to stay in that infelicitous place". It was at this time that Abdur Razzak was invited to Vijayanagar by Deva Raya II

Final Words of Abdur Razzak About Calicut: From Calicut vessels are continually sailing for Mecca, mostly carrying pepper. The inhabitants of Calicut are adventurous sailors and are known as 'Sons of China'. The pirates of the sea do not molest the ships of Calicut. Everything is procurable in that port. Nobody can kill cow which is held so sacred that they rub the ashes of its dung upon their forehead.

Further Reading:

Deva Raya's Kingdom As Seen By Abdur Razzak

Note: The views expressed here are solely of Abdur Razzak.