The History of My City: Kollam

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Table of Contents

  • Pre-Historic Times
  • Capital – Commercial and Political
  • Trade to Conquests
  • Assimilation of Culture
  • Cashew Capital of the World
  • National Movements
  • Conclusion

Generally historians give more importance to contemporary big cities, highlight their role in history and ignore small towns, their culture and social activities. But, each town has its unique culture and history, its own different behavior, attitude and worldly approach in their daily life, evolved through centuries of vibrant existence. They have different linguistic expressions as well as their own special products like sweets, fruits and handicrafts. These products have made these towns significant in the annals of trade history. One such product of Kollam is Pepper or Black Pepper (Piper Nigrum) which had attracted commercial attention of the world since the days of Phoenicians and the Romans.

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Kollam has a prosperous socio-cultural history in the early times. The region has always been a core of royal supervision during the days when it was the central of the ancient Venad territory. Its closeness to the sea and the existence of natural harbor at Neendakara had vacationed commercial deals with outsiders from early times. Quotations of the region are also found in Roman and Phoenician accounts. In more recent times, the region has found acknowledgements I travel prints of Europeans, Chinese and Arabs.

Pre-Historic Times

Excavations since 1974 have been revealing the vibrant presence of human settlements in Kollam during the pre historic period. Evidences of Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and megalithic cultures have been registered by archaeologists in different parts of Kollam like Mangad, Poredam and Thenmala. Utensils, ornaments and implements found in many places indicate the expertise of the inhabitants in these places, in basic metallurgy. Maybe, the foundation of this port city lie in the Iron Age achievements of its people.

Physiographically too, Kollam has been significant throughout history. Pleistocene period is divided into Lower Pleistocene, Middle Pleistocene and Upper Pleistocene and it lasted from 2 million down to 10,000 B.C. The Stone Age evidences from different parts of Kerala discovered since 1974 authentically prove that this region was well inhabited since the Lower Paleolithic and continued through Middle and Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Chalcolithic and Megalithic ages. (The interior forests of the region still retain primitive tribes who had inherited earlier cultures).

During the Pleistocene there were Glacials and during the Glacials sea level had fallen to almost 300 feet due to ice formation which happened by drawing water from the sea. During Inter Glacial, due to waning of ice, sea level had increased by almost 300 feet, reaching the former level. This waxing and waning during the Glacials caused sea-transgression and regression. This has affected all the continents, particularly the coastal regions. Strati graphical evidences in various part of the region clearly shows segments of stratum, beginning from the top laterite (ferricrete) running 10 to 15 meters in thickness. This is underlined by floral fossils of varying thickness from 1 to 2 meters. Below this formation Limestone which consist of Molluscs and shells of marine origin is seen.

A popular myth about the origin of Kerala is related to Parashurama, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. Parashurama is believed to have thrown his sacred axe from Gokarnam in the north into the sea and reclaimed a stretch of land from the sea, which is present day Kerala. This myth remains just a story in the minds of Keralites. But, it is interesting to note the archaeological coincidences.

Capital – Commercial and Political

In 825 A.D., Kollam became the capital of venad during the reign of ayyanadikal thiruvadikal. It was an independent principality under the Chera kingdom which spread across a large extent of south India. The Malayalam era or Malayalam calendar, Kollavarsham was founded after the city of Kollam by king Udayamarthanda Varma. At least a few centuries before Christ, Kollam had established itself as a port along the Arabian Sea which later developed into a major transshipment hub in the historical sea routes extending from the Mediterranean to south East Asia and further up to china. Not just ancient Rome, Arabia and Egypt had strong trade relations with Kollam; almost all great civilizations of the ancient and medieval periods has Kollam in its list of top trading priorities. The quality of its products made Kollam stand above other trading ports of Malabar Coast. References about the flourishing international port of Kollam can be seen in the history of China’s Tang dynasty. Marco polo and ibn Battuta too have registered the significance of Kollam in their travelogues.

Trade to Conquests

As always happened in the history of colonialism, traders soon transformed into conquerors and within a few centuries, Kollam was conquered by foreigners. In 1502, the queen of Kollam started trade relations with the Portuguese. This created unrest among the Arab traders who had been enjoying highly profitable and uninterrupted commerce in the city much the European came. This led to conflicts and wars between the Portuguese and the Arabs. Thousands of Arab traders were killed in the war and they lost their supremacy in the export black pepper from Kollam. The Portuguese dictated terms both in trade and politics of Kollam for more than a century. In the seventeenth century, the Dutch took over the control of trade from the Portuguese. But, it lasted much less than a century. In the eighteenth century Travancore conquered Kollam and subsequently Kollam lost its status of the capital of venad, as Thiruvananthapuram was made the capital of Travancore by king Marthanda varma. Marthanda varma declared that Travancore belongs to lord Anathapadmanabhan (incarnation of lord Vishnu) and that he will rule over Travancore as ‘padmanabha dasa’ (servant of padmanabha). Ananthapadmanabhan is the presiding deity at the famous sri padmanabhaswamy temple, which as recently found, is abode to one of the biggest treasures in the world. The values of the treasure estimated under the supervision of Supreme Court of India runs up to lakhs of crores of rupees. Many chambers of treasure are still to be opened, aviating directions from the apex court.

Late in the eighteenth century, the British east India Company defeated the army of Travancore and brought Kollam under British control. Though Travancore tried to regain control over Kollam, the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Travancore army was crushed by the British and the most of its soldiers were hanged to death at the cantonment maiden, where the Lal bahadur stadium stands now.

Assimilation of Culture

The British had the biggest cultural impact on Kollam than all other foreign civilizations that had came in to contact with this ancient port town. Kollam still have a considerable Anglo- Indian population in thangassery, where the Portuguese and the Dutch build their forts. Before the European came, Arabs too had engaged themselves in to marital relationships with native families. Christianity and Catholicism in India and Kollam had received great acceptance during the Portuguese period of trade and power. Kollam was home to one of the oldest catholic dioceses of India. Christians of Kerala believe that their ancestors were baptized by St. Thomas, the apostle, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. St. Thomas church of Thevalakkara and St. Thomas for of thangassery in Kollam were built by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century A.D. Local historians say “arrival of the Portuguese were a pleasant surprise for the St. Thomas Christians of Kollam. It gave them an opportunity to have a view of the Christian world across the seas. But the meeting did not precipitate any pleasant memories. East received east and west received west; Christian or non-Christian”.

While Kollam exported its exotic commercial commodities to far across Europe, Persia and china, it imported technology and culture from those lands. The high end market of Kollam town is named ‘chinnakada’, which roughly translates as china town. The frying pan commonly used in this port of Kerala is called ‘cheena chatti’ (Chinese pan). It owes much for its design and metallurgy to Chinese civilizations.

Alongside Mattanchery in Kochi, Kollam too was one of the earliest Jewish settlements in India. The Jewish traders helped the advancement of trade from Kollam port to farther places of the world with their extensive trade networks. References to Jewish people in Kollam can be seen in the Jewish manuscripts of Cairo Genizah.

The sequence of historical events points out that many faiths of the world, which faced inquisition, persecution and even eradication in their places of birth had come to India, seeking friendly lands or asylum, during different periods right from the beginning centuries of A.D. up to nineteenth century. Kollam port town acted as a gateway to the conglomeration of different cultures, faiths and streams of humanity, which in turn made the town a better place to live, than ever before. The heritage of Kollam definitely is a composite one. But it continued to be an inclusive one even in the times of ugly casteism and fanaticism. It was this spirit and urge for inclusion that made the greatest social reforms of Kerala, Shri Narayana guru and mahatma aiyyan kali to choose Kollam as their favorite place of social action towards equality, in the first half of the twentieth century.

Cashew Capital of the World

In the latter half of the twentieth century, Kochi became the dominant port in Kerala and Singapore and Colombo established themselves as major transshipment terminals in Indian Ocean. This caused the rapid decline of Kollam port’s importance. Lack of political patronage also contributed to its downfall.

Though the Portuguese left Kollam in the seventeenth century, they left behind one legacy to thrive even after three centuries; CASHEW. Nutritional and culinary values of cashew industry and cashew export flourish in Kollam. Processing units and factories we’re established in many parts of the district and around. A very large workforce was required for this labor intensive industry. The skills of women cashew workers of Kollam in processing cashew nuts into kernel were instrumental in building brand Kollam in the cashew world. More than ninety percentage of the workers in cashew factories are women. In Kollam district alone two and a half lakh women are directly involved in this industry. That means, one in ten person in the population of Kollam is engaged in this sector. The sine largest portion of exports in the global cashew market belongs to Kollam. For more than half a century, Kollam has been the cashew capital of the world. Lakhs of families have been benefitted from women being employed in this organized sector. When women became self reliant and economically empowered, children from socially as well as economically backward families began to enroll I. Schools and colleges. Statutory and universal public distribution system was established in Kerala in early 1960s. Establishment of Shri Narayanan College by R.Sankar and Fatima Mata national college by bishop of Latin Catholic diocese of Kollam in the town enhanced enrollment rates in schools and colleges. Stalwarts in all disciplines we’re recruited to teach in these colleges, from across the country, providing a golden opportunity for the scholastic youth to get exposed to the world of modern science, art and culture. The graduates, thus enlightened took the lead of social and political happenings in Kollam and Kerala. Among them were C.Kesavan and R.Sankar, who went on to become chief ministers of the state. O.N.V.Kurup, the great poet, who plunged into the communist movement during his student days in shri Narayanan College, would. The highest title of ‘gnanapeeth’, given for literature in India. Many first generation graduates from downtrodden communities and families confidently walked into leadership roles in all walks of life; some even at national levels. Guaranteed minimum wages and dignity at work places for women workers in cashew, coir and handloom sectors, in fact, not only lifted women to Independence but also the society as a whole to prosperity. However, the cashew industry leaders of present points the finger of accusations towards current day trade unions for triggering a decline in profitability in the industry. Many of them fear that, Kollam may lose its cashew capital status to Vietnam, if the local cashew industry continues to shift to other parts of the country, where abysmally cheap labor is available.

National Movements

Kollam has its own place in the history of Indian national movement. The prime minister to king of Travancore, veluthampi dalava led the first fight against British rule. On sixteenth January 1809 he addressed a big gathering at Kundara in Kollam and declared that the British rule. On the sixteenth January 1809 he addressed a big gathering at Kundara in Kollam and declared that the British were the enemy of people. He asked the people to fight against the British for independence of the motherland. This address to the people is famously known as ‘kundara vilambaram’ (kundara proclamation). However, in course of the struggle, he was forced to surrender by the British. But, he refused to be captured by them and at a temple in mannadi, near Kollam, he killed himself.

Another glorious chapter in the history of anti-imperial struggle was the ‘kadakkal revolt’ of 1938. It started as a peasant’s movement against unfair taxation and inhuman trade laws of the government. After many initial victories for the farmers and peasants, the government’s army was able to suppress the rebellion, finally. Fine leaders of the movement were hanged to death. A large number wee sentenced to life imprisonment. The kadakkal revolt was followed by numerous small and large upspring of farmers, workers and peasants all over Travancore. It made common people uninhabited and fearless to speak up against governmental repressions. The political culture of Kollam, even after independence continued to be pro-poor and pro-marginalized. The class consciousness thus evolved may have made communal riots very, very rare in this part of the country.


Communal riots are very rare in this part of the country. History of Kollam testifies that ordinary people and small towns play a big role in shaping the culture and destiny of their country. Small towns are abodes of the nameless and the history less. Only a humanistic and people’s reading of history can bring light to the countless contributors who not only earned foreign exchange for the country but also shaped the very identity of their country. In order to express your solidarity with the establishment, you have to embrace the socially approved story. But that doesn’t provide a key to what you were. It simply indicates what you want to be. And that’s not history; it’s only ambition.

History and politics have always been prone to single stoicism. Governments and rulers have generally reduced complex issues to simple fables without much roots in the composite foundation of happenings of the past.

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