Calabashes or Plastic Pots?

(Photograph by author)

Many winter solstices back, a study compared certain parameters like life expectancy, infant mortality etc. of Kerala and United States and found they were equal. Thus it was concluded that Kerala is equal to United States. So the state assembly stopped debating mundane roti, kapda, hartaal issues and engaged in discussions of historical importance like if the final destruction of the library of Alexandria happened during the Muslim invasion in 642 CE.
A new study, done exclusively based on news reports, suggests that Kerala is not United States, but Nigeria. Few years back helmets were made mandatory in Kerala and as usual we Malayalees protested. No words can express what high literacy combined with anger can do to a society than this picture or this.
Recently Nigeria enforced helmet laws on motorcyclists and they protested in a way which would have made every Malayalee proud.

Motorcyclists in Nigeria have been wearing dried pumpkin shells on their heads to dodge a new law forcing them to wear helmets, authorities say. Road safety officials said calabash-wearers would be prosecuted. Calabashes are dried pumpkin shells more commonly used to carry liquid. [Nigeria bikers’ vegetable helmets]

In Kerala, everything is attributed to “western conspiracy”; in Nigeria, fear of voodoo.

Stories have also appeared in the local papers highlighting passengers’ fears that the helmets could be used by motorcyclists to cast spells on their clients, making it easy for them to be robbed. “Some people can put juju inside the helmets and when they are worn the victim can either lose consciousness or be struck dumb,” passenger Kolawole Aremu told the Daily Trust newspaper. [Nigeria bikers’ vegetable helmets]

The similarities do not seem to end. Prof. Amartya Sen should factor this into his studies of “Kerala’s experience of development.”

Oldest fort in Kerala?

Before the Cheras established themselves as a major force in Kerala, it was ruled by the Ay dynasty sometime between 7th to 11th century AD with Vizhinjam as the capital.The Ay dynasty ruled the land between Nagercoil and Thiruvalla. In A History of South India, Nilakanta Sastry writes that the Ay kingdom lay around the Podiya hill, the southernmost section of the Western Ghats. He also writes that the Greek geographer Ptolemy wrote about one ‘Aioi’ was ruling the country at that time which included Cape Comorin and Mount Bettigo.
Last year there was news that a 9th century Vishnu temple was being rebuilt due to the initiative of the local people. This temple is unique since it is one of those which have a circular sanctum santorum. Much before this, when the kings of the Ay dynasty shifted their capital to Vizhinjam, they built a fort which is now considered to be the oldest fort in Kerala dating to the eighth or ninth century.

A preliminary investigation by the team has revealed the fort might have originally been 800 sq. m in area. The fort’s wall can be found on the northern and western (seaside) parts and has been constructed using large boulders set in mud mortar. The wide base of the wall tapers on its way up. According to Dr. Ajit, one important clue in dating the fort is that the walls have no battlements or `loop holes’ (holes to place cannons in). This is typical of early forts, he says.
The team was also able to trace literary and epigraphical references – of 9 AD to 12 AD vintage – to a fort and port at Vizhinjam. Sangam literature such as `Pandikkovai’, `Iraiyanar Ahapporul Urai’, `Kalingattup-parani’, of Jayamkondar, and `Vikrama-solan-ula’ are said to have numerous references to the existence of a fort, port and a mansion at Vizhinjam.
Moreover, the Srivaramangalam copper plate s of Pandyan King Nedum Chadayan ( 8 AD) have clear reference to Vizhinjam and its fort. “Here, the fort is described as surrounded by waters of three seas, protected by a wide moat, high walls which the sun’s rays do not touch and so on. Leaving aside the hyperbole typical of such inscriptions, the ground evidence at Vizhinjam that we got fits this description of the old fort. In fact the port at Vizhinjam has been mentioned in the work `The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea’, a work of the first century AD. Here Vizhinjam has been called as Balita,” said Dr. Ajit. [Ninth century fort discovered at Vizhinjam]


Kadakkarapally Boat

The Thaikkal-Kadakkarappally Boat, Kerala

Last year we had some posts about an ancient boat discovered in in Kadakkarappally, Kerala. This boat was considered to be somewhere between 600 to a 1000 years old and the 72 foot boat, according to initial reports was built using anjili, a wood found in Kerala. The boat according to report was built by foreign seafarers
According to a new research paper we have more details on this boat, which was apparently used to transport people or commodities between coastal ports and interior backwaters. Traditionally boats built in Kerala never used iron and it was assumed that such practice started with the arrival of Europeans in Kerala, starting with Vasco da Gama in 1498.
This boat which has been dated between 13 and 15th centuries, provides proof that shipmakers in Kerala were using iron fastners before the arrival of Europeans. The authors suggest that since Kerala was a main port in the Indian Ocean trade network, it is possible that local shipmakers would have encountered ships using iron fastners and got â??inspiredâ?.
What about the theory that it was built by foreigners?

The Thaikkal-Kadakkarappally boat, therefore, has features in common with several different traditions of boatbuilding. The form of the boat appears to mirror one strand of Chinese boatbuilding and the lashed lugs are a feature commonly found in South-East Asian shipbuilding. The use of lap joints between adjacent planks is typically Indian while nails clenched over a rove are normally only identified with north European building traditions. The boat itself, however, was clearly built locally. All three species of wood identified in the remains are indigenous to Kerala. Anjily, in particular, is used for almost all of the plank-built craft in Kerala today as it is strong, resilient, fairly cheap and widely available. It is possible that the boat was constructed by foreign shipbuilders settled in Kerala, but there is no reason to conclude that the Thaikkal-Kadakkarappally boat is not an Indian vessel, built in India by Indian shipbuilders.[The Thaikkal-Kadakkarappally Boat]

It was expected that the climate of Kerala would not allow for the preservation of of archaeological material, especially in waterlogged areas. But this boat somehow survived.

Terracota idols in Kerala

Now a days you see only dieties made of stone or marble in temples; very rarely you see ones made of terracota. But during Harappa times, objects made of terracota were common. There was an economic class distinction also there. Stone, metal and ivory were materials of the rich, while terracota was used by the poor.
Crude clay figurines of godesses, some of which were early forms of Durga, were worshipped by the lower class before they were included in the orthodox pantheon. Usuallu most of the terracota objects did not even have any religious significance. There were figurines of mother and child and many figures of man and woman and divine heads. Such figurines are dated from the Mauryan time to the Gupta period, but there has been evidence of modeling in later Buddhist sites in Bihar[13].
Though most of these terracota objects were found in North India, now we have some evidence of such idols being used in Kerala.

Several pieces of terracotta idols, believed to be dating back to the 15th century, have been dug up from the premises of a temple at Kadambattukonam near here. The broken pieces of idols and figurines have been referred to the Archaeological Department, whose experts said they appear to be at least five centuries old.
The figures, some of them so vivid with sharp facial features, were chanced upon the other day when the ground around the temple was being dug up using an excavator for building compound wall around the shrine. On sighting a couple of broken pieces, the local people went ahead with the job, delicately thinking that what was coming out could be remnants of a long buried temple.
According to Director of Archaeology Department, V. Manmadhan Nair, the practice of offering terracotta idols to temples was prevalent during the 15th and 16th centuries in parts of Kerala. Based on that, it could be assumed that these pieces could date back to the 15th century. Similar idols were unearthed in the past from Kodungallur in Thrissur district, known in the annals of history as Muziris centuries back.
“One difficulty in assessing the exact date of these objects is that the carbon-dating method for terracotta is not available in the country now. We are still looking for ways on assessing the date,” Nair said. The finds would be brought to the archaeology museum here, he added.[Terracotta idols found from temple site]