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Glory of Kollam Port

The artefacts dredged up at the Tangasseri harbour lend credence to historians’ claims of a thriving port centuries ago

Despite little archaeological evidence in hand, it was claimed by historians that Kollam used to be a flourishing port city of yore where ships from ancient empires used to call regularly for trade. Now, antique Chinese coins and other artefacts surfacing at the Tangasseri harbour complex are backing those claims. The artefacts, lying on the seabed probably for centuries, are being brought up through the suction dredging under way to increase the draft of the newly constructed Kollam cargo port within the harbour complex, and have triggered interest in the history of the ancient port of Kollam. The pottery and the ceramic ware, likely remaining intact in the deep, are in bits and pieces now after being sucked by the dredgers and passing about 300 meters through metal pipes before being deposited in the harbour yard. These are being collected by the Archaeological Department for studies.

Travellers’ accounts

The historians based their claims about the ancient Kollam port on the written accounts of famous travellers and explorers who had been to Kollam and had seen the good old days of the port. They include Fa-Hien from China (337 to 422 CE), Hsuan Tsang from China (602 to 664), the Arab geographer Al Kazwini (1203 to 1283), Italian Marco Polo (1254-1324), Moroccan Ibn Battuta (1304-1369) and Arab traveller Suleiman (date disputed). Those were the days when Kollam was the global capital of the spices trade, especially of that in cardamom, pepper, and ginger. Teak and indigo were the other products. An old English translation of Marco Polo’s description about Kollam reads as follows: When you quit Maabar (for Malabar) and go 500 miles towards the south-west you come to the kingdom of Coilum (for Kollam). The people are idolaters, but there are also some Christians and some Jews. The natives have a language of their own, and a king of their own, and are tributary to no one. A great deal of brazil is got here which is called brazil Coilumin from the country which produces it; ’tis of very fine quality. Good ginger also grows here, and it is known by the same name of Coilumin after the country. Pepper too grows in great abundance throughout this country, and I will tell you how. You must know that the pepper-trees are (not wild but) cultivated, being regularly planted and watered; and the pepper is gathered in the months of May, June, and July. They have also abundance of very fine indigo. This is made of a certain herb which is gathered, and [after the roots have been removed] is put into great vessels upon which they pour water and then leave it till the whole of the plant is decomposed. They then put this liquid in the sun, which is tremendously hot there, so that it boils and coagulates, and becomes such as we see it.


The merchants from Manzi (for South China), and from Arabia, and from the Levant (eastern Mediterranean countries) come thither with their ships and their merchandise and make great profits both by what they import and by what they export.

There are in this country many and diverse beasts quite different from those of other parts of the world. Thus there are lions black all over (could be the description on seeing a caged lion tailed macaque), with no mixture of any other colour. In short, everything they have is different from ours, and finer and better… Corn they have none but rice. So also their wine (for toddy) they make from palm-sugar; capital drink it is, and very speedily it makes a man drunk. All other necessaries of man’s life they have in great plenty and cheapness. They have very good astrologers and physicians. Man and woman, they are all black, and go naked, all save a fine cloth worn about the middle. They look not on any sin of the flesh as a sin. They marry their cousins and a man takes his brother’s wife after the brother’s death; and all the people of India have this custom.

It is said that Ibn Battuta reached Kollam from Kozhikode through the inland waterways after his ship sank in a storm. A translation of Battuta’s Kollam experience reads as follows: I decided to travel thither, it being a ten days’ journey either by land or by the river, if anyone prefers that route. I set out therefore by the river, and hired one of the Muslims to carry the carpet for me. Their custom when travelling on that river is to disembark in the evening and pass the night in the villages on its banks, returning to the boat in the morning. We used to do this too. There was no Muslim on the boat except the man I had hired, and he used to drink wine with the infidels when we went ashore and annoy me with his brawling, which made things all the worse for me. On the fifth day of our journey we came to Kunji-Kari, which is on top of a hill there; it is inhabited by Jews, who have one of their own number as their governor, and pay a poll-tax to the Sultan of Kawlam (Kollam).

Al Kazwini in 1263 described Kollam as one with magnificent markets and wealthy traders, and another Arab traveller, Suleiman, observed that Kollam was the only port in the Indian subcontinent touched by huge Chinese ships on their homeward voyage from Persia. Later, during the early 1500s, Vasco Da Gama and Saint Francis Xavier also arrived at the Kollam port.


Research scientist and archaeologist of the University of Kerala, P Rajendran, who had been exploring this area for the past four decades, told Express about a few of his magnificent findings from the coast.“Since 1974, at the initial days of my career, I started exploring the shores of Thangassery. Travel accounts of traders to Thangassery from China, Europe and Arab had mentioned about the coast.“But now, we are getting more material evidence,” said Rajendran, who did his post graduation and PhD in Archaeology from the Deccan College of Pune University. When the news on Chinese coins and artefacts spread, Rajendran showed two exquisite testaments of lower Paleolithic period which he found along Thangassery coast.“The chopping tools which I found dates back to over 1.5 lakh years to one million. They are prehistoric cultural remains,” Rajendran said.“This is the first such recovery of tools, from below the sea level, in India”, he claims.He discounts the chance of these tools coming from other main lands to the shore since their edges are too sharp.“This substantiates the fact that they were left here as such by the users”.Rajendran pointed out the uniqueness of a coin in his collection.“It was a shocking sight for me to see this coin with Chinese script on one side and Arabic scriptures on its back. It is absolutely a rare discovery. This might be the remnants of a rare trading system exclusively between the Arabs and the Chinese,” Rajendran said.The previous experiences of finding a white celadon ware in 1991 and red ceramic supports the claim of Chinese settlement there long back. He said a trained eye would detect more historic material. Rajendran is planning to move ahead to explore more wonders from his “favourite coast” in his home town.

COYLAN : Kollam ( Quilon )

Coylang [later Quilon,now ‘KOLLAM’ CITY]  MAP 1672 

Title Coylang
Maker Baldaeus
Year Amsterdam, 1672 (published by Jansssonius van Waasberge en van Someren.
Description Antique map of  the city of Coylang ofCoylan, Malabar Coast, India ( copper engraving) printed in 1672.(first Dutch edition )
Location/Subject Antique maps / Asia / India / Malabar Coast /Coylan

The Queen of Coylang [receiving Nieuhof]

The Dutch representative William Van Nieuhoff describes the Rani as:

“… I was introduced into her majesty’s presence. She had a guard of above 700 Nair soldiers about her, all clad after the Malabar fashion; the Queens attire being no more than a piece of callicoe wrapt around her middle, the upper part of her body appearing for the most part naked, with a piece of callicoe hanging carelessly round her shoulders. Her ears, which were very long, her neck and arms were adorned with precious stones, gold rings and bracelets and her head covered with a piece of white callicoe. She was past her middle age, of a brown complexion, with black hair tied in a knot behind, but of majestick mein, she being a princess who shew’d a great deal of good conduct in the management of her affairs ” 

Umayamma Rani
Kulasekhara Dynasty

Born: – Died: 1705

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Rajah Aditya Varma
Rani of Venad, Attingal Mootha Thampuran
Succeeded by
Rajah Ravi Varma


The city of Coylang,” with Dutch East India Company ships in the harbor; from ‘Wouter Schouten’s travels into the East Indies’, 2nd ed., Amsterdam, 1708

The Royal Pagoda and Palace Conquerer [by the Dutch, Dec. 1661 ]

Quilon surrenders to Dutch :  “Two black kings come to Coulang” [and submit to the Dutch

From a Portuguese atlas, 1630

A plan published by the Van Keulen family in ‘De Zee En Land-Caarten en Gizigeten van steeden en landvertooningen van oost-indien’, 1752

Today, Tangasseri Fort (built by the Dutch in the 1500’s) survives only as a few ruined walls

Photograph taken about 1900 by the Government photographer, Zacharias D’Cruz of a general view north from the bridge, Quilon. It is one of 76 prints in an album entitled ‘Album of South Indian Views’ from the Curzon Collection. George Nathaniel Curzon was Under Secretary of State at the Foreign Office between 1895-98 and Viceroy of India between 1898-1905. [this photo copyright does not belong to Britain just because they were the rulers in India at that time ;because Travancore was not under British rule and the photos were taken by Travancore official ,not a British man.Britain got the tendency to claim copyright over Indian photos and try to sell it as if they are the owners of India still DUE TO THE PRESENT FINANCIAL CRISIS IN BRITAIN AFTER LOSING THE COLONIES

File:1904-ൽ ഉദ്ഘാടനം ചെയ്ത കൊല്ലം തീവണ്ടി സ്റ്റേഷൻ (1904-05).jpg

Railway station kollam(quilon) 1904

File:Residence of the Maharaja of Travancore at Thevalli in Quilon .jpg

Residence of the Maharaja of Travancore at Thevalli in Quilon-Photograph taken about 1900 by the Government photographer, Zacharias D’Cruz

File:ബ്രിട്ടീഷ് റസിഡൻസിയും ഗസ്റ്റ് ഹൗസും. ആശ്രാമം, കൊല്ലം. (1900).jpg

British residency at Quilon[kollam] 1900-residencies were buildings made for British resident officer who controlled and guided all maharajas ,in their respective kingdoms this was done to prevent the recurrence of revolt against British rule as happened in 1850

Max PAM, Waterway to Quilon, Kerala


Best of Bloggers to Express Kerala

In yet another unique online campaign, Kerala Tourism has set the ball rolling for bringing together 25 ace bloggers from around the world, who will board a branded luxury bus – Kerala Blog Express for a two-week-long road journey that will take them from the southern part of the State to its north. Slated to take place in March this year, the process for selecting the bloggers has begun and for the purpose Kerala Tourism has launched –, which would facilitate online voting as part of the selection.

Shawn Coomer got his hands dirty eating, but relished every moment of it. Dina Rosita’s epiphany came while hauling a fishing boat. Daniel Nunes discovered the longest dance drama – Kathakali. Just a few experiences the lucky participants of Kerala Blog Express enjoyed. Now it’s your turn. 

Kerala Blog Express is back for its third year and it invites travel bloggers like you from around the globe for a two-week road trip in God’s Own Country. What will you discover?

Mangroves thriving anew -Ayiramthengu

Once on the brink of extinction, the mangrove forest at Ayiramthengu in Kollam district is now home to a variety of flora and fauna.

A 25-acre spread of mangroves at Ayiramthengu in Kollam district that was on the brink of extinction 10 years ago is today a thriving ecosystem. It is the habitat of a number of creatures, marine and terrestrial.The transformation from a haven for illicit breweries to that of various flora and fauna is an example of how mangrove forests can be revived with the right initiative. Ten years ago, trees in the forest were felled and used as fuel for the breweries. Within a couple of years, the forest started vanishing and the ecosystem it supported stood threatened. The area began turning into a mudflat.

It was then that the State Fisheries Department stepped in with a restoration programme. A team under the leadership of K.M. Lethi, the then Deputy Director of the department, camped at Ayiramthengu and planted nearly 10,000 red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) saplings. Security personnel were posted to protect the saplings and keep anti-social elements away.

Their efforts paid rich dividends. The saplings have now grown into trees to create a lush, green cover. In between the red mangroves, the rare Lumnitzera racemosa species of mangroves can also be seen. The trunks and roots of these trees are the habitat of a number of creatures. The mangroves are a nursery for a wide variety of fish fries. The forest is also home to a colony of otters. The glittering, waxy green canopy of the forest provides a nesting place for a wide variety of migratory birds. Efforts are now on to convert another 25 acres in the area into a mangrove forest.

A Mangrove-Lined waterway for Kollam

If things move as planned by the Kollam district unit of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB), sailing through the Kollam course of the TS Canal, which forms part of the larger 168-km Kollam-Kottapuram National Waterway-3, will soon give the traveller a feel of passing through rich mangrove forests. The project is being initiated under the People’s Mangrove Reforestation Programme (PMRP) conceived by the district coordinator of the KSBB, P. Radhakrishna Kurup, a retired botany professor.After securing the nod from the State government, the project is now under implementation.Prof. Kurup said that the PMRP was being taken forward in association with the respective local bodies and the KSBB.Since some portions of the canal banks were under private ownership, a campaign to earn the cooperation of the private landowners had also been launched, he said.A good part of the canal’s course used to be mangrove forests in the past. Later, without realising the environmental importance of the mangroves, these were wantonly cut down.If the programme was successfully implemented, the district course of canal, by itself, would become a major tourist attraction, in addition to complementing environment protection and rejuvenating marine life. But the PMRP was not restricted to Kollam district alone, he said. “My goal is to revive the mangrove forests of the State from wherever they were eradicated,” he said. Prof. Kurup said that the seeds of love for mangroves were sown in his mind by his guru N. Ravi, a retired botany professor of Kollam SN College, who is known as ‘a champion of the rights of plants.’