Thursday, 16 July 2015

The hard working Marakayar Muslim community, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, India - a brief note

Former President of India Abdul Kalam, well-known space scientist with his
Farook Marakayar. ex CM of Ponicherry and former Governer of
The name  Maraicar  / Marakayar is derived from and Tamil word "maraikkalayar" meaning people engaged in shipping trade synonymous with the  Tamil word "maraikkalayar" meaning people engaged in shipping trade. They hail from Kayalpatnam, a seashore town on the east coast  in Southern Tamil Nadu, India. It refers to a  distinctive Tamil and Malayalam-speaking Muslim people of the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in India and Sri Lanka.

The Kayalpatnam and the surrounding areas are steeped in history, having years of mercantile trade links with the Arabs. Arabs, centuries ago, had a flourishing business  with the Pandian Kingdom (capital at Madurai), the rulers of Malabar (Kerala) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).  Kulasekharapatnam was  a major international port with trade relations with the Arabs, Europeans & Chinese. Marco Polo, the great international traveler, never failed to give an account of the thriving international business going on in Kayalpatnam.

The Arabs were mainly interested in natural pearls harvested from plenty of  oysters  available in the Gulf of Mannar, Palk Strait separating Ceylon (Sri Lanka) from South India. These high quality pearls were exchanged with horses brought from Arabia. The Kunhali Marakkars and others of Kerala are descendants of  one of the missionaries in the team of twelve sent to Kerala during the time of Prophet Muhammed(sal). It is believed,  the Hindu Maharaja of the then Kerala, Cheraman Perumal went to Arabia and accepted Islam in Mecca. He died there in Mecca and was buried there. He sent a team of 12 messengers back to Kerala

to preach Islam. The missionaries married the local women and their descendants settled in many parts of Kerala. The Marakkars were the leading business group of the region when the Portuguese arrived in Kerala. In 1500s  they supplied the Portuguese with spices from Malaysia (Malacca) before the Portuguese themselves established  in Malacca.There was a close  interaction among the Ceylon, Ramanad and Kayalpatanam Marakkars. The Marakkars had very close relationship with Zamorian rulers of Kerala in 1500s

Islam was introduced in Kayalpatnam and adjacent areas by the Arab traders who used to throng this place on business. As they had to stay there for a long period of time, they married the local women now their descendants live in such places as Kulasekarapatnam, Kayalpatnam, Kilakarai, Maricarpatnam, Adirampatnam, Tondi, Karaikal etc. along the Tamil Nadu coast; many settlements on the Malabar / Kerala coast and the southern sea coast of Ceylon like Galle, Batticola. The Jainism and Buddhism were under stress by resurgent Hinduism when Islam was introduced to Tamil Nadu and Kerala regions of southern India (650–750 AD). The majority of Jains embraced Islam and they still retain some Jain habits. Even to day, a majority of
Marakkars are engaged in commerce.

Legend has it that in 875 AD about 224 men, women and children, all descendants of the first Caliph of Islam, Abubacker Siddique (Ral), belonging to the Bakhri tribe, left Qirafathul Kubra, near Cairo for good under the leadership of Mohamed Kalji. The set sail  towards east in a ship made of wood - hence the name Marakkars and at last landed on the shores of Kayalpatnam. The second wave of people arrived from Egypt, escaping repression and natural disaster in about 1284 AD. They were led by Syed Jamaludeen, believed to be the 21st descendant of Prophet Muhammed (Sal). When they reached Kayalpatnam, the local Hindu King Sundarapandya Thevar (Pandya ruler) accommodated them well.  It is believed, Syed Jamaludeen developed a close rapport with the local ruler and became an emissary to the court of Kublai Khan. Ultimately Syed Jamaludeen became an army commander of the local ruler.

The  have a distinct Arab -Tamil composite culture and are traditionally very conservative. There was a time when the language had a strong Arabic flavor as most of their vocabulary was derived from pure Arab and classical Tamil. One of the well-known
Marakkar is Dr. Abdul Kalam Maraikkayar, the 11th president of India and a noted scientist and aerospace engineer.