From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Marakkars
Mains level : Various conquests during colonial expansion
The big-budget Malayalam film Marakkar: The Lion of the Arabian Sea is set to be released. It is a war film depicting the heroics of the Marakkar clan, whose leaders were naval chieftains of the Zamorin of Calicut during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Who were the Marakkars?
- By some accounts, they were of Arab origin and had migrated from Tunisia to Panthalayani near Koyilandy in present-day Kozhikode, and later moved to the region around present-day Kottakkal and Thikkodi near Payyoli.
- By other accounts, the Marakkars were descendants of affluent businessman from the Cochin kingdom who migrated later to Calicut.
- Historians say the name ‘Marakkar’ could have originated from maram or marakkalam, meaning ship, as these families lived along the coast and used ships.
- Alternatively, it could have originated from the Arabic word markaba, meaning those who migrated via ships.
- The Marakkars were mostly Muslims, but in some parts, they have been found to be Hindus as well.
What was the war against the Portuguese about?
- The Zamorin, Samoothiri in Malayalam, was the title given to rulers of the Calicut kingdom on the Malabar coast.
- Faced with invading Portuguese ships, the Zamorin reached out to the Marakkars to defend the coast. The Marakkars fought against Portuguese invaders for nearly a century.
- They were led in succession by four Marakkars, chief admirals who were appointed by the Zamorin with the title of Kunjali.
- Related by bloodline, they were Kuttyali Marakkar (Kunjali Marakkar I, appointed in 1507), Kutty Pokker (Kunjali Marakkar II), Pathu Marakkar (Kunjali Marakkar III) and Muhammad Ali Marakkar (Kunjali Marakkar IV, appointed in 1595).
- Their strategy was similar to guerrilla warfare. The Portuguese had massive ships which could not make easy manoeuvres in the sea.
- The Marakkars used small ships which could easily surround the Portuguese ships, enabling the fighters to attack at will.
Who is depicted the ‘Lion of the Arabian Sea’?
- Kunjali Marakkar IV earned his reputation with his fierce onslaught on Portuguese ships, the favours he gave those who fought against the Portuguese, and his efforts to strengthen the fort at Kottakkal.
- When he took charge in 1595, relations between the Zamorin and the Marakkars were deteriorating.
- The Zamorin was feeling threatened by Kunjali Marakkar IV’s popularity, and by reports (said to be spread by the Portuguese) that he was planning to create a Muslim empire.
- In 1597, the Zamorin signed a peace treaty with the Portuguese and attacked Kottakkal fort. For months, the Marakkars resisted the attack by the Zamorin’s Nair soldiers and the Portuguese fleet.
- Eventually, as Portugal sent more forces and the Zamorin mounted his effort, Marakkar surrendered to the Zamorin on the assurance that their lives would be spared. But the Portuguese violated the terms, arrested him, took him to Goa and beheaded him.