Zamorin – An etymological discussion
Malabar’s history recounted in the Keralolpathi, a Malayalam work (presumably penned by Tunchath Ezhutatchan) from the 17th century or later starts with the Parasurama epoch where he reclaims the land from the seas. The Keralolpathi, a work which elevates the importance of the Nambuthiris of Kerala, goes on to retell a version of the history of Kerala until the 19th century. Beset with inaccuracies, it was disregarded by most historians but it is now felt that the document does have many sections which are quite factual. The advent of the Zamorin is detailed in this work, and we come across the tale of the abdication of the Cheraman Perumal and the installation of various chieftains to rule over various areas. This is more on the topic of the Zamorin himself, his titles, and the advent of the well-accepted usage Zamorin.
The last days of the Chera king, the Perumal who abdicated and left Tiruvanchikulam (today's Kodungallur) are quite obscure and has not been detailed by historians, save for the effort of another doyen of Malabar history MGS Narayanan. The Chera rule has been factually studied by him and well documented in his seminal work ‘Perumals of Kerala’.
We have gone over many parts of the long journey as well as the administration and tribulations of the chieftain of an area Eranad (todays Malappuram) who later became the Kunnalakonathiri after taking over Tirunavaya and the conduct of the Mamankham, and eventually the suzerain of a large area between Kolathunad in the North and Venad in the South. Over time, the Zamorin collected a number of names and titles, namely Punturakon, Kunnalakonathiri, Nediyirippu swarupi, Tamuri, Samiri, Samuri, Samuthiri, Samuthirpad, Sailabhdhiswara and eventually, the anglicized Zamorin which is now the established and popular usage. What did one or many of these titles signify and which are the correct ones?The earliest documented mention of the family of rulers, a dynasty so to say, is the title Ernad Utayavar, dating back to 1000 CE, on the Jewish copper plates, even though we know that from the 8th century onwards, he had been the utayavar of Eralnad of Eranad. It is stated by historians that Eranad was the most significant of the 'nadu' divisions under the Chera dominion and that more completely, the Eranad ruler’s title in the Chera period was Eralanatutaiya Manavepala Manaviyan.
During the later period circa 12th century, this title was replaced by the swarupam title when the ruler of Eranad became the head of the Nediyirippu Swaroopam. According to Ayyar - The ancestors of the Zamorin were the governors of Ernad, their family seat was Nediyiruppu and the head of the family was known as the Ernad Utayavar. He was a feudatory of the first rank, having no less than 30,000 nayars under his command. He was the son either of the last Perumal or more probably his immediate predecessor by sambandham. With the collapse of the Kodungallur monarchy the chief of Ernad also became independent like the others and now headed the Nediyirippu Sawroopam.
But then, how did it become Samoothiri or Samoothiripad? Krisha Ayyar explains - In Sanskrit there is a word which means emperor. It is Svami. It is used in some inscriptions to denote an emperor as distinguished from king. In Tamil and Malayalam Svami becomes Tami, Sami, Chami, Tamu, Samu, and Chamu. Hence there is no doubt that Samu in Samuri is derived from Svami. Ri at the end of the word stands for Tiri. According to Caldwell, Tiri is a corruption of Sri. But the honorific Tirumulpad figuring in the titles of the four princes below the Zamorin suggests that Tiri must be a contraction of Tirumulpad. In Samutiri Tirumulpad of the granthavaris we have a double honorific, which can be explained on the analogy of the double plurals and superlatives of the English language. Samuri is therefore a contracted compound of the Sanskrit Svami and Tirumulpad.
But we also know that the Arabs called him Samiri. “The sultan of Calicut,’ says Ibn Batuta, who came here in 1342 on his way to China, ‘is an idolater, known as the Samiri (The sultan of Calicut is an infidel, known as the Al Samiri. He is an aged man and shaves his beard, as some of the Greeks do). Later, Portuguese scribes writing in the 16th century called him Chamodri, Chamidri, which comes after shamidri or Samudri. Later works like the Sofaliya by Ibn Majid also term the Zamorin as Samiri. Siddi Ali Reis in 1553 also calls him Samiri.
Hermann Gundert while in Malabar, did continue the usage Tamuri in his Kerala Pazhama, but provided a different meaning in his dictionary which created quite a bit of confusion. He sticks to the sea lord explanation based on kunnala signifying Kunnu = Hill, Ala =waves thus kunnala konathiri is lord of hills and waves. (see image extracted from the dictionary - pp 264, 444, 1053) and opines that samuthiri is samudri where samudram = sea, thiri = thirumalpad or lord.
However, JA Thorne who spent a number of years with the Zamorins of Calicut, contributed exhaustive notes on the Mansel Longworth Dames edition of Barbosa’s travels. Dames explains - Mr. Thorne's note on the titles of the Malabar kings is very full, and brings forward a new explanation of the word Zamorin and other titles. He rejects the accepted explanation of Zamorin (according to Gundert) as equivalent to Samudri from Skr. Samudra (sea)= Lord of the Sea. Thorne considers this improbable as the Zamorins never were Lords of the sea and finds the origin in Swami + Sri. The latter word, as in many other words, becomes tiri and is found in other titles such as Kolattiri and names of castes such as Nambutiri. Thorne adds - The true etymology of “Samutiri” was suggested to me by an Indian gentleman ( I assume this is KVK Ayyar) and has, so far as I know, never appeared in print. The word is a compound of two Sanskrit words, Swami and Sri. Swami becomes sami or samu commonly in proper names. Sri becomes tin by ordinary tadbhavam rules as in countless other words. So, we get Samitiri or Samutiri. The second syllable becomes lengthened so often before the termination -tiri (e.g., Nambutiri) and we get Samutiri. It is surprising that this derivation should have been overlooked so long. The termination -tiri, which is almost universal in the designations of Malabar dynasties and is common in the names of high castes, e.g., Nambutiri, Embrantiri, Bhattatiri, Akkitiri, Somattiri, should have given the clue.
A popular derivation still more far-fetched than "lord of the sea " supposes the name a compound of Samudra and giri, i.e., "lord of the sea and hills" or "lord of the land between the sea and hills. According to the derivation I have suggested Samutiri is merely a grandiloquent term for "lord’’—and that is quite in keeping with South Indian royal titles generally. It is noticeable that Barbosa is on the right scent in speaking of the title as " a point of honour above the others."We also know that the Zamorin maintained the punturakonathiri or Punturakon title in most documentary records. We do see him called as Nediyirippu chief by others, but when signing something himself, he used the Punthurakon title. Kunnalakon and Sailabhdhiswara were terms used mostly in Manipravalam literary works extoling his virtues and were therefore known among only the literary few. They were certainly not official titles and thus the translation of a poetic terminology by Gundert is perhaps erroneous. The Zamorins were also referred to as Valia Eradis and as mentioned previously, as the Samutiri Tirumulpad. Note here that the Muccunti mosque inscription also mentions Punturakon.
The use of the term Samuri or Tamuri could also have come from Arab documents. To establish that let us take a look. Ibn Batuta and later Abdu Razak writing in the 14th century, mention the term Samiri as we saw earlier. There is an opinion that Al-Samiri as is mentioned in various Arab chronicles including the local Fath al mubyin ( Fatḥ al-mubīn li-muḥibb al-Muslimīn al-Sāmirī ṣāḥib Kālikūt ) stands for Samiri – signifying the ox worshipper (as-Sāmirī is a phrase used in the Quran to refer to a rebellious follower of Moses who created the golden calf and attempted to lead the Hebrews into idolatry).
An Egyptian chronicle by Abu al -Mahasin ibn Taghri-birdi, recording a period (circa 1450 C.E) preceding the Portuguese arrival in Calicut, mentions the following in relation to the flight of the Amir Timraz from Jeddah to Calicut. Amir Sayf al-Din Timraz min Baktamur al-Mu'ayyadl al-Musaril was a customs inspector and confidante of Sultans Barsbay and later Sultan Jaqmaq. As the story goes, he absconded with a lot of money and sailed on to Calicut (I will write about this interesting story, shortly).Taghribirdi writing about all this, states that the ruler of Calicut was a Samiri and all the people of the city were Samara (ox-worshippers), making it also clear that Calicut was also home to Mohammedans, who obviously were not samara. As the story goes, Timraz arrived at Calicut after a long voyage and the Al-Samiri king of Calicut who had been informed about the event by the other Arabs in Calicut, ordered Timraz to return the money to the Sultan Jaqmaq, but the crafty Timraz tried to bribe the Zamorin with a large gift and then explained that he had actually brought in the money to buy the pepper for the Sultan. The Zamorin made sure that Timraz purchased pepper and loaded it on the return ships to Jeddah. Timraz however, stopped at Yemen, got involved in a war and was killed.
So now we can see that the Arabs considered the Zamorin to be an Al-Samiri because he was a cow/ox -worshipper and the people of Calicut to be Samras. A detailed study on this by Dr Muhammad Hamidullah explains - Samary is the Arabic name for Samaritan, it is usually understood that the Samaritans or their ancestors were responsible for the making of the golden calf. May be, the Samiri of the Qur'an has a relation with the Raja Samiri of Calicut in Malabar (India), the Zamorin of the European languages. The cow-worship and the untouchability of Hindus are in accordance with the Qur'anic description of Samiri. Thus, the adjective took hold and the rulers of Calicut were Al Samiri’s. The Samiri usage perhaps became Tamuri, Chamorym etc and finally the Samuthiri.An alternative path can be imagined from the situation in Malabar during the medieval times. All chieftains were termed Thampurans. What if the Calicut Thampuran + Tiri became tamuri and was an oft used expression? This is different from the Swami+tiri = Samuri expression, but connects to Tamuri and also with the 16th century explanation provided by Varthema. If you disregard the ox worshipper stories, one can also conclude that the Arabs may have heard the term Tamuri or Samoothiri and termed it as al-Samiri since it made more sense to them.
The Chinese continued with the same usage when they arrived and traded in Calicut Cira the 13th – 15th century. They recorded the Zamorin to be the Sh-mi-ti (hsi) which is roughly pronounced ‘shamishi’ close to Shamiri, and clearly as an ox-worshipper. The Portuguese term was Chamorym (Samudi, Chamolim, Chamory, Chamarji, Chamudi, Zamorino) or Samorim which eventually morphed to Zamorin. Gundert’s conclusion coincides with the translation provided by Rudolfo Dalgado as ‘rei do mar’ Lord of the sea, who in turn concluded so based on Crooke’s translation of the Malayalam kunnalakkon, lord of the hills and tides.
A 1720 Portuguese dictionary states- Zamorim or Samorim, the title which the Indians give to the King of Calicut on the Coast of Malabar. Anciently, a single prince was lord of all the coast from Goa to Cape Comorim, but Samari Perymal, after embracing the faith of Mahomet, desiring to end his days in peace in the city of Medina, divided his estates, namely, the kingdoms of Calicut, Cochim, Cananor, and Coulão, among his friends, on condition that the King of Calicut should be recognised as the chief sovereign, and gave to him the title of Samorim; the signification of which is :“Supreme Emperor and God upon earth.” Dom Raphael Bluteau, Vocabulario Portuguez. Lisboa, 1720. Sub v. Zamorim, Samorim.
Varthema perhaps the only traveler who attempted to paraphrase Malayalam in his accounts, more correctly explained that in the Pagan language Samory meant lord on earth thus connecting it to the word Thamburan (he used the term Tamereni for Thampuran). He mentions - Now I will speak of the king here in Calicut, because he is the most important king of all those before mentioned, and is called Samory, which in the pagan language means God on earth. His conjecture based on Thamburan + thiri = Thamuthiri = Tamuri, makes sense, and stands for ‘Lord’ as Thorne summarized. Of course, one must note that Varthema’s work was originally in Italian, which then got translated and annotated by English translators who added their own opinions confounding the original intent, in many places.
Buchanan during his travels sums up the result of enquiries that he had made concerning the Zamorin and his family. He states that the head of the family is the Tamuri Rajah, called by Europeans the Zamorin, and adds : "The Tamuri pretends to be of a higher rank than the Brahmans, and to be inferior only to the invisible gods, a pretension that was acknowledged by his subjects, but which is held as absurd and abominable by the Brahmans, by whom he is only treated as a Sudra”.
Some examples of treaties show that the legal title used was Punturakon.
A Dutch agreement - I, the King Samoorin Pundorrecon, give my powers to Jacob Christovo Suytman, who came by the order of the Governor of Tranquebar to this port of Calicut to trade where I gave him a place in Vallappy Cadavattu in breadth from south to north, 72 Malabar koles and in length from east to west 332 koles for the purpose of building a factory with godowns to reside and carry on trade.
The 1615 Keeling treaty states - "UNDERECON CHEETE, Great Zamorin, &c. to JAMES, King of Britain, &c. Whereas your servant and subject, William Keeling, arrived in my kingdom at the port of Cranganore, in March 1615, with three ships, and at my earnest solicitation came ashore to see me; there was concluded by me for my part, and by him for the English nation, as followeth. Note that Undercon Cheete is Punturakon Theet (Punthuracon’s order).
During the later British period the title became quite complex - Srimatu Sakalaguna Sampannarana Sakala dharma paripalakarana Mitrajana manoranjitarana Akhandita Lakshmi Prasannarana Raja manya Raja Sri Mana Vikrama Zamorin Maharaja Bahadur Avurgal. Manavikrama, Manaveda and Viraraya were the names given to male members in the royal family, the Samoothiri always being known as Manavikrama. Historians assume that Manaveda might be a corruption of the old Malayalam title "Manaviyata" and some historians identify Manaviyata and Manavikrama with the titles of the elder and younger brothers of the original legend.
So, the Samiri usage (not in my opinion that far-fetched as some others opine) by the Arabs and the colloquial usage Tamutiri (Sheik Zainuddin used the term Samuri in Tuhfat Al Mujahideen) would have been in vogue among the Muslim quarters of Calicut where the Portuguese were subsequently ensconced, thus resulting in the origin of the term Samorym which over time got anglicized to Zamorin. It was in all, an interesting thought process, though not conclusive from an etymological sense.
Zamorins of Calicut – KV Krishna Ayyar
The Book of Duarte Barbosa - Dames, Mansel Longworth
Zamorins and the political culture of medieval Kerala – VV Haridas