Calicut through the Eyes of Abdur Razzak

"In the year 845 (AD 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 served as the ambassador of Mirza Shah Rukh, of the Timurid Dynasty of Iran (known earlier as Persia), to the Samoothiri (Zamorin) of Calicut. Abdur Razzak documented his experiences in his work 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:

On January 13th, 1442, Abdur Razzak began his exciting journey from Herat, Afghanistan. His travels took him through Qohistan, to the coast of the Sea of Oman, and the port of Hormuz. He stayed in Hormuz for two months before taking a journey to Muscat and then onward to Qurayyat. Continuing his journey, Razzak and his companions proceeded to Qalhat and later on to Sur. Finally, he made it to India, after a 18-day voyage, landing in Kalikot (Calicut) in South India in November 1442.

Calicut is an incredibly safe harbour, just like Hormuz on the Persian Gulf, that brings together merchants from all over the world. Here one can find abundance of valuable items from maritime countries like 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 mainly inhabited by Hindus, yet there is a sizable population of Muslims who have constructed two mosques, where Friday prayers are held. Under the fair and secure administration of the city, wealthy merchants bring large cargoes of merchandise from maritime countries, and store them in the lanes and bazaar for extended periods without worrying about security. The custom house officers guarantee its safety; a custom duty of one-fortieth is applied upon sale.

According to Abdur Razzak, some ambassadors of Mirza Shah Rukh, had to stop by Calicut during their return from Bengal. These ambassadors had conveyed to Samoothiri, the ruler of Calicut, an account of the wealth, prosperity, and strength of Shah Rukh's realm. The Samoothiri had also heard from reliable sources that rulers from all corners of the world - land, sea, east and west - had sent emissaries and messages to Shah Rukh's court, which they considered the solution to their every need and refuge of their hopes. Most recently, Mirza was asked to settle the ongoing dispute between the Sultanates of Bengal and Jaunpur.

Razzak further notes that upon learning all this, the Samoothiri assembled numerous gifts and tribute and sent a messenger to inform Mirza that the Islamic kutbah was recited in his port during the Friday prayer and the holiday prayer, requesting that if the Persian monarch permitted it, they would recite the kutbah in his royal name.

Upon arriving in Herat, the emissaries from Bengal presented the Samoothiri's petition to the monarch. The chief envoy sent to Herat was a Muslim, who proposed that if Shah Rukh will send an ambassador to Calicut the Samoothiri might be open to embracing Islam. This proposition was accepted by Shah Rukh, who subsequently sent Abdur Razzak Samarqandi as ambassador to India, with generous gifts of horses, gold-clad robes, caps and other valuable items.

When he landed Calicut, Abdur Razzak noticed a tribe of people he had never seen before. The people were of a dark skin tone and clad in minimal clothing, wearing only a langot - a piece of cloth extending from the navel down to just above the knees - with a dagger and leather shield in each hand. Both king and beggar look alike, but the Muslims wear rich luxurious costumes like the Arabs. 

At Calicut, a quarters was allocated to Razzak, and after three days he was granted an audience with the Samoothiri, amidst a grand assembly of 2000-3000 Hindus and distinguished Muslim leaders. "When the Samoothiri dies, his sister's son takes his place [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

During Abdur Razzak's audience with the Samoothiri, the letter from Shah Rukh was read out and the gifts were presented. However, the Samoothiri showed minimal respect towards the embassy. Consequently, Abdur Razzak left the court and returned to his quarters.

The experience left Abdur Razzak feeling distressed, and he remained at Calicut from November 1442 to April 1443. He expressed his affliction at being forced to remain in such an infelicitous place. It was during this period that Abdur Razzak received an invitation to visit Vijayanagar by Deva Raya II

Abdur Razzak's Final Words on Calicut: Vessels from Calicut regularly sail to Mecca, mostly laden with pepper. The people 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.