Tag Archives: Kuttichira

Played on Pepper: Kerala’s Moplah cuisine

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ANURAG MALLICK & PRIYA GANAPATHY visit Kannur, Thalassery and Kozhikode to unlock the scents of Arabia wafting out of the kitchens of Malabar   

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“They may take the pepper vine back to England, but can they also take the Thiruvathira Njattuvela?”
– Zamorin, king of Calicut (on the 14-day period of steady rain in June-July that triggers pepper growth)

Watching the waves of the Arabian Sea lap against Overbury’s Folly, we wondered what made Thalassery more special than other places on Kerala’s Malabar Coast. It was at Tellicherry Maidan that cricket was first played by natives in 1802 under Arthur Wellesley, it was here the first cake had been baked in Kerala, it was also the cradle of India’s circus industry and in almost every conversation on food, Thalassery was reverentially referred to as the Mecca of Moplah cuisine. With the afternoon’s subtle semiyan biryani (vermicelli and shreds of mutton) and aloo bonda still sitting pretty in our bellies, we dragged ourselves back to Ayisha Manzil for some culinary enlightenment. 

Mimicking our plight, the car creaked up the hillock to the beautiful 150-year-old homestead. Mr. Moosa led us straight into the kitchen where his wife Faiza was neatly arranging the ingredients. His soft reassuring voice and twinkling eyes made us feel like children about to listen to a suppertime story from a favourite uncle. ‘Thalassery’s hospitality is legendary and the level of refinement is quite high. Though the English established the Tellicherry Fort to protect their trade interest in pepper, the irony is that we don’t use pepper at all in our cooking. Except to garnish eggs’ he chuckled. ‘And to brand our cooking lessons – Tellicherry Pepper! I’ll leave you with Faiza now.’

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In under an hour, Mrs. Faiza taught us chemmeen vertiyattu (tamarind prawns), its accompaniment neyi choru (ghee rice) and vattilappam, a Malabari version of Creme Caramel, with coconut milk and jaggery replacing milk and sugar. Dinner was soon laid out in the open patio and the evening’s apprentices had transformed into gourmet chefs by candlelight. The spread, like the thousand odd dinners Mrs. Faiza had helped guests conjure earlier, was well appreciated.

Looking at the bottle of whole black pepper on the kitchen shelf made us wonder how the humble pepper vine with its heart-shaped leaves managed to entrap the world with its charms. Over centuries this fiery spice notorious as ‘Tellicherry Black’ had launched ships laden with Arab and Mediterranean seafarers to establish trade links with Kerala, an emporia of exotic spices. Maritime trade bolstered tremendous commercial activity that eventually led to the famous spice wars.

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The rise of the Ottoman Empire and the Arab trade blockade prompted Portuguese voyagers like Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco Da Gama to bypass the Arab middlemen and find a direct trade route to India. Using the tempestuous monsoon winds, they set sail around the African continent and across the Indian Ocean to reach Malabar in 1498, triggering the Age of Discovery for Europeans – paving way for the Dutch, the English and the French.

While each of the different cultures that infiltrated the western coast left an indelible impact on the region and society, the most lasting influence in Malabar was that of the Arabian traders. When the incessant monsoons prompted several rich Muslim merchants to stay back until favourable conditions returned, many settled down and married local women. The alliance was usually a short-term arrangement, solemnized with the payment of a mehr or token bride price. The young local brides and their children were initiated into Islam. This temporary marriage was conveniently annulled when the traders had to set sail and return to their original homes.

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Historians suggest that the natives fueled this move as an escape from the prevalent caste system and Brahmin domination of the times. This intermingling resulted in the creation of a distinct Malayalam speaking community of Muslims that came to be known as Mapilas (or Moplahs). Derived from Maha-pillai, the term referred to the son-in-law or new groom, who was held in high esteem and treated as a special guest. A fact that is beautifully reflected even today in the elaborate courses of food served to the groom’s family in a typical Moplah wedding.

As the second largest community in Kerala accounting for nearly a quarter of the population, the Mapilas are known for their diverse cuisine with influences from across the globe. Many signature dishes were conjured up in the joint family system where women stayed indoors and had the time to experiment and come up with imaginative names for their creations. Mutta mala, a steamed egg white pudding with lacy garnishing of yolk was named after its garland-like appearance while Unnakaya, a spindle-shaped fried dumpling of mashed bananas with coconut filling resembled the unnakayi (silk cotton pod).

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Barely two days ago, in the sun-dappled courtyard of Kannur Beach House at Thottada, Rosie had given us a cooking demo of unnakaya under the shade of a bougainvillea shrub. She explained in her clipped polished accent, ‘Mapila cuisine is labour intensive. Most dishes have meat, egg, coconut, bananas and ghee involved. They are subtle and rich but not heavy.’ She deftly stuffed the coconut filling into the pliant banana dough and shaped them into oval pods. Looking at the oil in the pan, our eyes grew large as slender lorises and Rosie laughed, ‘Completely submerge it in oil, my mother would say, but partially is ok too’!

Her husband Nazir, gourmet cook and her top critic plied us with delectable trivia. ‘In the Vadakkan paat (Northern ballads), when the hero Ali is getting ready for battle, his mother is preparing neyi choru (ghee rice) for him, not biryani. So definitely, neyi choru is more authentic Mapila fare,’ he justifies. ‘Biryani came later, perhaps a Moghul influence via the Deccan. But the Malabari biryani, especially in Thalassery, is subtler and not heavily flavoured like its North Indian counterpart.’ Rosie gave a quick presentation of the hand-patted wafer-thin ari pathiri, which are rolled out like chapatis and much thicker in Calicut. ‘Amazingly the method of preparing a dish varies over short distances’ Rosie added.

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At Shanti Theeram, our beachside base at Kannur’s Ezhara beach we enjoyed the lively company of our host, the matronly Mythili aunty who churned out a feast of homely Malabari food. We sampled her chicken biryani, tapioca-fish mash, fish curry meals, delicious snacks like ari unda and the softest puttu with kadala curry. We figured the only way to deal with aunty’s loving heapfuls was a good workout.

In came energetic Mr. Sathyan, the much-lauded Tourism Police officer, famous for his ability to read the indecipherable Olde Dutch inscription on a stone tablet inside St Angelo Fort. ‘Your Dutch has improved, but your Malayalam has weakened’, we ribbed him as we set off on a whirlwind tour of Theyyam performances, the fishing harbour at Mapila Bay, Arakkal Kettu Museum of the Arakkal Ali Rajas (Kerala’s only Muslim royal family), two 400-year-old mosques Mohiuddeen Palli and Jumaat Palli, the Folklore Museum, and Muzhappilangad’s drive-in beach before drifting on the serene Valiyaparamba backwaters in a houseboat. In between, we refueled at Kannur’s busiest lunch home. Odhen’s on Onden Road specialized in set meals with an array of fresh fried seafood – from aikora (kingfish) to aila (mackerel) cooked with dizzying swiftness in a smoky, aroma filled kitchen.

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Back at Thalassery, dawn had broken and it was time for a walk to the frenetic fish and vegetable market. Green mussels shone in the sun like ornaments and a wisp of a lane lined by dry seafood and vegetable stalls led to a large shed by the seafront where the morning’s catch had been unloaded. It was like meeting the who’s who of the Arabian Sea – stingrays, baby sharks, snappers, garfish with fisher folk shouting out their strange local names. One species was called ‘pudiya mapilakora as it was bright pink like a ‘new bridegroom’!

We made a quick stop at Harbour City Mall to visit the iconic Mambally’s, Kerala’s first bakery. In 1883, Carmae Brown (son of Murdoch Brown who built Ayisha Manzil), an English planter with cinnamon estates at Anjarakandi asked a local biscuit maker Mambally Bapu to bake a plum cake for Christmas. Sourcing recipes from English ladies and using homegrown spices like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg, Bapu baked the best plum cake this side of London. And thus, Kerala’s bakery revolution was born. To commemorate the 129th anniversary of the first cake baked at Thalassery, Brownnies of Kannur recently created a 350ft long special edition cake!

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An serendipitous invitation to visit one of Thalassery’s old Muslim homes took us to a nondescript cul de sac opposite the maidan. The Bengla, the home of VB Ishaque, Hon. Secretary of the Cannanore District Cricket Association is an exquisite structure built in 1760. With wood lattices, a massive doorway, coloured glass windows and old chandeliers, it has survived five generations.

Renowned for its fantastic collection of cricket memorabilia lovingly chronicled by Ishaque’s uncle Mackey Sahib, we were in for a double treat when we were ushered into the inner chambers where five Muslim women were rolling out karaka appams (date-shaped savories) and baskets of snacks to be sent to the Gulf. They insisted we try some of each. ‘The beef ada (filled with dried beef masala) can stay for a month’, said one of the ladies. ‘Only if one has the willpower not to eat it’, we piped back!

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Soon, we bid our goodbyes and drove past the hookah shops of Quilandy and the Sargaalaya Art & Craft Village at Iringal towards Calicut. To accommodate Calicut’s sheer number of eating options, we politely declined all meals at Hari Vihar, the Ayurvedic homestay, much to Dr. Srikumar’s chagrin. ‘What about ‘Hindu’ Malabar cuisine?’, he stressed. ‘About as important as Italian cuisine in Punjab’ we teased and set off again.

Sagar, a family-run eatery housed in signature laterite buildings prided itself in doing things the old-fashioned way. ‘Masalas are hand-pounded, we use water from our own wells, only wood fire is used to make biryanis and all the recipes have been crafted by my father Hamsa Haji’, Gafoor the 3rd generation owner explained on our kitchen tour. The day begins at 6:30am with parottas, appams and idiappams served with mutta (egg) roast, fish curry and cherupayar (moong dal) curry. ‘To put it bluntly, our pricing is reasonable, our service is zero, but our quality is excellent,’ he say wryly before adding, ‘And that’s why people come back! Our biryani is over within 2 hours.’

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Another landmark was Bombay Hotel on Silk Street, started in 1949 by Kunhi Ahmad. Fame of its Moplah snacks like pazham nerchadu (banana stuffed with coconut, dry fruit), pazham pori (sweet batter-fried banana slices), bonda, samosa, mutton cutlet and erachi pathiris (rice flour pancakes with meat filling) had spread so much, that after 60 years, the small eatery was remodeled into a 250-seater restaurant. But why ‘Bombay’? Mohammed Najeeb smiled ‘In those days, it seemed exotic for eateries to be named after port towns – Colombo, Paris, Tashkent, Bombay!’

Meeting Zainabi Noor, Calicut’s first woman restaurateur at Zain’s was akin to meeting the lioness in her den… at lunch hour! Like a drill sergeant, she roared orders at her helps in a high-pitched tone and instantly transformed into a petite picture of piety as she turned to us with ‘Masha Allah’ on her lips. In a land known for its hospitality, the idea of ‘selling’ food didn’t go down well initially, she reminisced. But her Afghan husband Noor Mohammed had been away in the Gulf for 15 years and she wanted something to do.

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Thus Zain’s was born, winning patrons over with Moplah specialties like ari kaduka (mussels stuffed with rice), kozhi nerchadu (chicken fry), mutta surka (small egg pancakes) and pathiris with beef, fish or just rice flour. After losing her husband 2 years ago, Zain-tha’s efficient daughter Shireen and son-in-law Mustapha help her run the place.

Liju and Sumesh of Paragon are another couple who define Calicut’s foodscape. While Liju focused on Salkaram, a restaurant named after the traditional welcome feast in a Moplah wedding, Sumesh looked after business expansion and experimentation. ‘For us the challenge was to cater to the 2 million strong local populace who wanted something beyond the ordinary. So we took the Moplah essence a few notches higher.

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Everybody grew up on the taste of pachha maangam (raw mango), so we created the Spicy Raw Mango Salad and Mango Prawn, our biggest hits. In the rains, mothers would give children a fortified chicken broth that was reduced with spices, so we introduced Naadan Kozhi Soup. Chilli Orange Juice and Lime Mint Juice are spiced up concoctions that pair well with our food and tropical climate. Our biryanis and dry fries are so popular that people pack and take it abroad, so we opened shop in Dubai!’

Chef Thomas, Paragon’s executive chef spoke about a peculiarity. ‘Unlike other regions, in Malabar, it’s fairly common for people to start their day with a breakfast of meen molagattu, a medium spicy thin gravy, that can also be made with chicken and mutton.’ Sumesh adds ‘Food is so important to the Mapila community that families in Thalassery used to compete to treat the groom’s party during salkaram until they went bankrupt!’

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Over the next few days, we sampled almost everything Calicut could throw at us – the fish curry meals at Hotel Alakapuri, beef biryani at Rahmat, fish fry at Amma hotel, Kumari Banana Chips and the Nannari Sherbet ‘Shop-with-no-name’ near Paragon, Strawberry milkshake opposite Mananchira Square, Sankaran Bakery and Maharaja Sweets on SM Street for Kozhikode Halwa, we tried it all.

But the best was yet to come, an encounter with Abida Rasheed, the Grand Dame of Moplah cuisine. A cuisine consultant with leading hotel chains and veteran at several Malabar food festivals across India, to her cooking was more art than commerce. We were invited to her beautiful riverside home on Calicut’s quiet outskirts for a live demo of her specialty – Fish Biryani.

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‘There are three things I never travel without – my palakadan chatti (clay pot of palakkad mud, the most flavoured one), cheen chatti (cast iron vessel) and puttunkutti (wooden ladle)! Besides the utensils, even the type of firewood used affects the taste of the dish.’ We didn’t see her ithathas (traditional women cooks) with headscarves and heavily jeweled ear ornaments, but her other helpers swung into action – stone grinding the masalas and frying the fish. ‘In our biryanis, we only use small-grained Bengal rice, usually from a windswept valley and infused with an aroma.’

Between rapid stirs of the ladle, Mrs. Abida would slip in a tip or two from her cache of centuries old kitchen secrets. ‘The key to our cooking is the oil – we fry the onions, remove it and reuse the oil which is imbued with a certain flavour. And, this mix of seven spices,’ she said with a twinkle, sprinkling some on the rice, before the lid was closed and sealed. Parallelly, some muttappams and prawn kakkathi, a secret from the royal kitchens with a rich tangy tomato-base had been churned out in minutes.

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Lunch with her husband and daughters was sprinkled with lively conversation and anecdotes. ‘Like language, the pathiri changes every few kilometers. Moplah cuisine is subtle and pepper tends to overpower all other flavours. But our forefathers were smart too. Why eat pepper, when you can sell it for the price of gold!’ But if Malabar’s Moplah cuisine was so distinct, why wasn’t it well known to the outside world? ‘For years, to most tourists Kerala started Cochin southwards and its main dish was karimeen pollichathu! But with the opening up of the Calicut Airport, emergence of homestays, awareness of Theyyam and food festivals, Moplah cuisine too is slowly getting the recognition it deserves.’

It was amazing. Like tapioca, potato and pineapple, the unnakaya, mutta mala and country biscuits (still called biscot) were Portuguese in origin. The biryani came from Persia. Suleimani chai and turka pathiri had Turkish lineage. Alissa (broken wheat and meat porridge) was Arabic. The women’s headscarf (thattam) and the green belt worn by men came from Yemen. Yet, it was a Malayali sense of enterprise that adapted all these influences and gave it a new identity – Moplah!  ‘How many Moplah dishes do you know?’ we ask. Mrs. Abida’s dimples deepen, ‘Over 500.’ There’s a lot we haven’t tasted.  But then again, after this food trail, we felt as stuffed as a camel in a Bedouin wedding feast – stuffed with a goat stuffed with a lamb stuffed with a chicken stuffed with eggs!

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Where to Stay

KANNUR

Shanti Theeram
Ezhara Beach, Ph 9947193896, 9995868880 http://www.shantitheeram.com Tariff Rs 4,500 incl. breakfast and dinner.
A lovely spacious beachside villa with five rooms, it is the perfect perch to put your feet up. Mrs Mythili, the host ensures that you are thoroughly pampered with her culinary skills.

Kannur Beach House 
Thottada Beach, Ph 0497-2836530/2708360, 9847184535 http://www.kannurbeachhouse.com Tariff Rs.2,400 incl. 2 meals
A charming homestay run by Rosie and Nazir with a rustic flavor, backwater boat rides and fine Mapilla cuisine.

Ezhara Beach House 
Ezhara Kadappuram, Ph 0497-2835022, 9846819941, 9846424723 http://www.ezharabeachhouse.com Tariff Rs.2,400 with breakfast and dinner.
A century old blue bungalow by the beach overlooking a garden and a rocky outcrop in the sea.

THALASERRY

Ayisha Manzil 
Court Road, Opp Sea View Park Ph 0490-2341590, 9847002340 http://www.ayishamanzil.com
Tariff Rs.10,000 with all meals (15% off-season discount, May-Sep), Rs.3500 for 1-hr cooking course
A stunning 150-year old colonial hilltop bungalow overlooking the Arabian Sea with an exclusive cooking school, private swimming pool and boutique homestay run by gourmet cook Faiza and CP Moosa.

The Pearlview Regency 
Pearlview Junction, Koduvally Ph 0490-2326702-4 http://www.pearlviewregency.com Tariff Rs.1500 + taxes

Paris Presidency 
New Paris Complex, Logan’s Road Ph 0490-2342666-8 http://www.parispresidency.com Tariff Rs.700-950 incl. tax
A regular city hotel with a popular restaurant attached. 

KOZHIKODE

Hari Vihar 
Bilathikulam, Ph 0495-2765865, 9847072203 http://www.harivihar.com Tariff Rs.6,600 with all meals & taxes
an exclusive Green Leaf accredited 150-year-old heritage homestay in a renovated royal home offering traditional Ayurveda treatments and yoga run by Dr. Srikumar and Dr. Neetha. 

The Beach Hotel
Beach Road Ph 0495-2762056 http://www.beachheritage.com Tariff Rs.3,000 + 17.65% tax with breakfast. 
Overlooking the beach, this 6-room bungalow was the preferred halt for the business elite and aristocracy. Built in 1890, it still echoes the colonial aura of its former avatar as the Malabar English Club. 

Alakapuri Hotel 
MM Ali Road Ph 0495-2723451-4 http://www.alakapurihotels.com Tariff Rs.900+tax (Non-AC) without breakfast.
Centrally located hotel with simple, warm, old world hospitality and excellent fish meals 

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Where to Eat

KANNUR

Broad Bean Hotel 
Central Bus Terminal Complex, Thavakkara Ph 0497-2717777 http://www.kk-group.in 7am-10am, 12noon-3pm, 7pm-10pm Mon-Sun; Meal for two Rs. 500
If you could eat ambience, Broad Bean would be the best hotel in town. But the food is just average. They also have rooms for Rs.1,400 incl. breakfast.

Hotel Odhen’s  
Onden Road, behind Kannur Market Ph 9895188722 7am-4pm Mon-Sun; Meal for two Rs. 350
Easily Kannur’s best sea-food lunch home 

Indian Coffee House 
South Bazaar Ph 0497-2765213 http://www.indiancoffeehousekannur.com 6am-10pm Mon-Sun; Meal for two Rs.75-100
Reputed chain with branches across the state run by the Indian Coffee Workers’ Co operative Society.

MVK  Restaurant 
SM Road, Padanapalam Ph 0497-2767192, 8547017192 10:30am-10pm Mon-Sun; Meal for two Rs.300.
A small eatery with delicious Malabar food. Their chicken roast and pathiri is finger-eating good. 

THALASERRY

Paris Presidency 
New Paris Complex, Logan’s Road Ph 0490-2342666-8 http://www.parispresidency.com Meal for two Rs.300
Famed for its chicken and mutton biryani, the well-known restaurant also serves Indian, Tandoori and Chinese cuisine.

Paris Restaurant
Paris Lane Ph 0490-2320370, 2341666; 6am-11pm Mon-Sun; Meal for two Rs.200
Established in 1942, Paris is set in a quaint old building and known for its moplah snacks like bonda, sugeen, pazham nerchadu and biryani  

Pyngoli 
Near old bus stand Ph 9847233497 7am-9pm Mon-Sun; Meal for two Rs.100
A small hole-in-the-wall eatery started in 1963 is known for its meals, dosa and parota

KOZHIKODE

Paragon Restaurant
Kannur Road, Ph 0495-2767020, 2761020, 9846497611, 9846029760 http://www.paragonrestaurant.net 6am-12am Mon-Sun; Meals for two Rs.600-800
Old-time favourite among locals and travelers alike,  offers a fine dining experience spread over 3-levels and blends superb food, wide range of cuisine, presentation and ambience.

Zain’s Hotel 
Convent Cross Road Ph 0495-2366311, 9847269041 12 noon-11pm Mon-Sun; Meals for two Rs.300
A popular local eatery run by Zainabi Noor whipping up authentic Mapilla fare like unnakaya, kozhi nerchadu, ari kaduka, chatti pathiri and chicken/fish biryani.

Sagar Restaurant  
Near KSRTC Bus Stand and Mofussil Bus Stand, Mavoor Road Ph 0495-4025222, 2724725, 2724555 http://www.sagarhotels.com 6am-1am Mon-Sun; Meals for two Rs.350
A much loved joint that has crowds coming for appam, parotta and idiappam in the morning and meals or biryani and biryani chai at lunch time. 

Bombay Hotel
South Beach, Silk Street Ph 0495-2366730 6am-12 midnight Mon-Sun; Meals for two Rs.200
Once a well-known city landmark, Bombay was renovated recently and has been serving a huge variety of Malabari snacks and biryani since 1949.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the April, 2012 issue of Lonely Planet magazine. 

In the name of Allah: Beautiful mosques of Malabar

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY travel down North Kerala’s historic Malabar Coast to discover ancient mosques from Kasaragod to Kodungallur

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Long before Islam burst into India through the northwest frontiers, Kerala’s Malabar Coast witnessed the spread of Islam not by the sword but with a smile. The region had ancient trade ties with Arabia and when the last Chera king Cheraman Perumal witnessed the splitting of the moon, a Muslim troop enroute to Ceylon explained that it was one of the miracles of the Prophet. According to legend, Cheraman embraced Islam, divided his empire among various subsidiary rulers, made his nephew the Samuthri (Zamorin) of Calicut and set sail for Mecca. He landed at Shahr, where he changed his name to Tajuddin and eventually died at Zaphar, marked by a tomb with an inscription noting his death. But before he died, he wrote letters in Malayalam advocating the spread of Islam among his people in Kerala. Several Arab religious leaders, including Malik Ibn Dinar and Sharaf Ibn Malik, sailed to Malabar to spread the message of Islam. Cheraman’s decree, historic mercantile ties with Arabia and the religious tolerance showed by the Zamorin of Calicut, the Chera king of Mahodayapuram and other rulers helped in the spread of Islam. However, Kerala’s artisans had no idea what a mosque should look like (the Indo-Saracenic style was yet to come) and built these early mosques in the local architectural style. Spread across Kasaragod to Kodungallor, these fascinating mosques of Malabar are excellent examples of religious tolerance and Hindu-Muslim unity.

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Cheraman Perumal Juma Masjid, Kodungallur
Built in 629 AD, the Cheraman Perumal mosque at Kodungallur is widely considered to be the first mosque in India. Though rebuilt and renovated over the years, which gives it a modern architectural façade, it does retain a bit of the original style in the interiors. Unlike other mosques, this one faces east, not Mecca in the west. A huge bronze lamp, a feature common in temples, continues to be kept lit inside. And in a time honoured practice, people belonging to all religions bring oil or contribute money to buy oil for the lamp on auspicious occasions. In an anteroom, there is a small mausoleum where Muslim priests light incense sticks, yet another Hindu practice not followed in other mosques. A few years back, the mosque also started Vidyarambham, the custom of initiating children into reading and writing. This is a shrine that has set a practice of intermingling religious rites over the years to come up with a unique Indian ethos. Syed Mohammed aged 85, has been doing baang (meuzzin’s call) since 73 years.

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Malik Deenar Juma Masjid, Kasaragod
One of the historic mosques believed to have been established by Malik Ibn Deenar on the Kerala coast, this holy shrine is located in the Muslim quarter of Thalangara. The original mosque was a small structure with thatched roofing and a floor of marble stones brought with him from Mecca. Later, it was replaced by a bigger, more elaborate structure like the palace of a local king, replete with conical roofs and gables. The same artisans who had built the palace constructed the new edifice using doors and marble stones from the original shrine. An extension was added later. Several tombs dominate the foreground as a walkway leads up to the mosque, which contains the grave of Malik Ibn Mohammed, one of the descendants of Muslim saint Malik Ibn Deenar. Historical details about its construction are also carved on the latticed woodwork in Arabic. Owing to the sanctity of the place and a school for Islamic studies, Kasaragod has become an important center of Islam on the west coast. The town is also famous for the hand-crafted Thalangara thoppi (skull cap), a beautifully embroidered accessory of Islamic identity.

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Khizar Juma Masjid, Kasaragod
Tucked away in a plot barely visible through the narrow gate sandwiched between the rows of shops, the Khizar Juma Masjid off Station Road is a stunning mosque resembling a double-storeyed mansion. A narrow walkway leads to a sprawling structure with a row of arched windows, conical turrets, gabled roof and a slender spire to the right, which presents a beautiful sight. Located in the heart of town, Theruvath Mosque is another notable Muslim shrine. The annual Uroos, held to commemorate the arrival of Malik Ibn Dinar, attracts pilgrims from all over India.

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Ichlangod Mosque
It is said 12 saints sailed to Kerala from the shores of Arabia to spread Islam. Hazrath Rafih Idnu Habeeb Malik Deenar came from Medina in Hejira 37 with his family and seven disciples – Umar, Haroon, Usman, Adbullah, Ali, Abdul and Rehman. They came in an ozhi (boat) up the river from the coast and settled here in a Hindu temple after the Namboodris were relocated to Kidoor. The Hazrath died at the age of 73 and later, his disciples were also laid to rest beside him. Though the mosque is believed to be 1200 years old, a newer structure was built in its place 30 years ago. The only proof of its antiquity is a brass ball with ancient Arabic inscriptions and a stepped pushkarni (temple pond). The Udayasthamana Uroos, a month-long celebration in March-April, is held once in five years. En-route you can also visit the Baba Fakir Wali Ullah Alarami mosque at Pachambla. The Uroos is held every two years and the weekly jumma (every Friday) is a big celebration with devotional songs that go on late into the night.

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Kakkulangara mosque, Valapattanam
The ancient capital of the Mooshika-vansham or Kolathri Kings of Ezhimala, Valapattanam was an important trading town on the banks of the Valapattanam River. The old mosque Kakkulangara Palli was built with laterite that was excavated from nearby, creating the picturesque green pond beside it. This mosque has one of the oldest existing minarets in Kerala and has the graves of Abubakr ibn Muhammad, grandson of the first Caliph Abu Bakr As-Siddiq (573–634 CE) and his companions who settled in Valapattanam to propagate Islam. There’s also a dargah of Ahmed Jalaluddin Bukhari close by.

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Korome Mosque, Wayanad
A 400-year-old mosque, built in traditional Kerala style, with extensive woodcarvings. Originally built by the Nair community, the mosque is seen as an excellent example of communal amity. A newer structure was built 250 years ago under the leadership of Athilan Bappan. The annual Uroos festival in April, draws thousands from all communities. Such was its importance that janazas (funeral processions) would come to Korome from as far as Varampetta. It also enshrines the dargah of Syed Shihabuddin Imbich, a Muslim saint. Located 23 km from Mananthavady, Korome lies on the Kuttiyadi route and can be reached via Tharuvana, Vellamunda and Makkiyad.

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Moideen Palli & Jumma Masjid, Kannur
Kannur was home to Kerala’s only Muslim dynasty, the Arakkal Ali Rajas. Once, a princess of the Kolathiri royal family was saved from drowning by Mammali, a Nair functionary who had embraced Islam. Subsequently expelled from the family, the king granted her land around Kannur, a small treasure and a palace called Arakkal Kettu. Remnants of the old palace and mosques remain in Arakkal Kettu, a large court next to the Moplah quarters of Thakkiavu. An ancient belfry within the compound is used to call the faithful to Arakkal Mosque. The original building that housed the offices of the Ali Rajas (later the office of the Collector of Malabar) is now a museum showcasing numerous royal artefacts. Moideen Palli, the roadside mosque at Ayikkara nearby is an excellent piece of craftmanship while the renovated Jumma Masjid in the backlanes of Arakkal Kettu has a beautiful old dargah of Sayyed Muhammed Moula Bukhari.

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Odathil Palli, Thalassery
An unusual structure with Hindu-Buddhist style copper roofing, the 270-year-old shrine follows a mix of Hindu and Muslim architecture. It has neither a central dome nor minarets, instead there is a roof covered in copper sheets and wooden walls and pillars with intricate carvings. The mosque was built on a piece of land in the heart of Thalassery, donated by the rulers to a rich Arab merchant. Chowakkaran Moosa, a local trader of Thalassery, one of the earliest to source and supply spices from Malabar to the British, was later made in charge of the upkeep of Odathil Palli, counted among the oldest surviving mosques in Thalassery. The adjoining cemetry belongs to the Moosa family and CP Moosa, the great great grandson of the founder of the Moosa clan, runs the boutique homestay Ayisha Manzil in Thalassery.

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Kunjali Marakkar Mosque, Vadakara
The Kunjali Marakkar mosque or Jumayat Palli at Vadakara is where Malabar’s brave admirals offered prayers. It houses the royal chair and sword used by them. The Marakkars, admirals of the Zamorins of Calicut are credited with organizing the first naval defence of the Indian coast. Originally marine merchants of Kozhikode, they left for Ponnani when the Portuguese came in 1498. After obtaining trading rights, the Portuguese pressurised the Zamorin to give them a trade monopoly and evict the Arabs, the traditional traders of spice. Rebuffed, the Portuguese negotiated a treaty with the Zamorin’s archenemy, the Raja of Kochi in 1503. Sensing the Portuguese superiority at sea, the Zamorin set about improving his navy and appointed Kutty Ahmed Ali to the task. Kutty Ali or Kunjali (derived from Kunnu Ali, meaning Junior Ali) eventually became the Admiral of the Zamorin’s fleet and was honoured with the title Marakkar, after marakalam the wooden boats used by Muslim traders to ply the seas. The old Marakkar house has been converted into a small museum and houses swords, cannon balls, daggers and other war relics. As tribute to the four Kunjali Marakkars and their great naval battles, the Indian Navy erected a memorial at Vadakara. Recognizing their contribution to naval defence, the Navy also christened its Naval Maritime academy in Mumbai as INS Kunjali.

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Mishkal Palli, Kozhikode
Built in 1300 by a rich Arab businessman and ship owner named Nakhooda Mishkal, this five-storied structure is a historic landmark of the city. Originally a seven-tiered structure, the Mishkal Palli was once the tallest building in Kozhikode and the heart of the Muslim settlement at Kuttichira. On 3rd January 1510, in an attack by the Portuguese, the mosque was set on fire and the top floors were damaged. Later, when the Portuguese fort at Chaliyam was destroyed, the Zamorin handed over the rich haul of timber for the partial reconstruction of this grand edifice. Built in traditional Kerala style with extensive use of wood, the mosque has a laterite superstructure, Malabar roof tiles and Italian tiles paving the outer section. The building is supported on 24 solid pillars of carved wood and has 50 doors. Around 1300 devotees can be accommodated.
The mosque overlooks the Kuttichira tank, the focal point of the locality lined by old Koya houses dating back to over 200 years. Literally little pond, kutti-chira is spread over half an acre and is ironically one of the largest in Kozhikode! Old, weather-beaten laterite benches around the tank afford an inviting retreat to men who gather here for evening chats and feeding the fish. A local resident, Prof SM Mohammed Koya, has authored a book on Kuttichira, its ancient mosques and the history of the Koyas of Calicut.

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Kuttichira Juma Masjid, Kozhikode
Believed to be over a thousand years old, the Juma Masjid has the largest floor area among mosques in Kerala and can accommodate 1,200 worshippers in the inner hall alone. This sprawling single-storeyed shrine has large doors on the four sides on the ground floor with an unusual circular extension. The upper portion of the walls are covered in wood panelling. The intricate woodwork on the ceiling is reminiscent of ornate temple carvings. Verses from the Holy Qu’ran are etched in Arabic on the partly wooden walls and ceiling rafters.

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Muchundipalli, Kozhikode
Believed to have been constructed 1,100 years ago, this is the oldest mosque in the city. The building stands on a 1.5 m high plinth and has a semi-circular mihrab (prayer niche). The double-tiered roof has an ornamental gable, while the outer walls have elaborate beams supporting a coffered ceiling with delicate woodcarvings. Cornices and carved wooden pillars depict flowers like lotus and animals, akin to Hindu sculptural patterns. A 13th century stone slab inscribed in ancient Vattezhuthu (early Malayalam script), mentions that the property was donated to the mosque by a Zamorin. The slab has been installed on a wall inside the mosque. Two 14th and 15th century inscriptions within the mosque – in Arabic and Malayalam record the renovation efforts.

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Valiya Juma Masjid, Ponnani
Islam has very strong roots in Ponnani, harking back to the times of the early Arab traders. Legend has it that the ponnu nanayam (gold coins) the Arab traders brought were exchanged for goods at this ancient seaport, hence the name Ponnani. Others allude the name to the Nila River as pon-vahini or ‘the river that carries gold’. It is said that a Hindu and a Muslim were caught in a storm while at sea and vowed to build a temple and a mosque if they survived. As events turned out, they landed safely at Ponnani. The Trikkavu temple and the Juma’t Palli (Juma Masjid) stand testimony to their promise. An important pilgrim centre and hub for Islamic culture and education, this mosque has given Ponnani the name, Mecca of the East. The 600-year-old big Juma Masjid was built for theologian Zainuddin Ibn Bin Ahmed around 1519-20 by a Hindu carpenter Ashari Thangal. The architect’s signature adorns the mosque’s beam while his tomb lies inside. Legend has it that during the construction of the mosque, the carpenter fell from the roof and died, hence was buried there. The construction of the entire mosque was done from a single teak tree.

To counter the oppressive rule of the Portuguese, Sheikh Zainuddin decided to create a place of learning for the youth and a Madrassa was built near the mosque along the lines of Al Ahsar in Cairo. Zainuddin’s Tahrid jihad (war poem) called for a united Nair-Moplah front and is thus unique. Like the practice in Chishti dargahs, the Zamorin used to send a ceremonial robe to the Ponnani leaders during the accession ceremony. According to William Logan’s Malabar Manual, over 400 students were learning the tenets of Islam here in 1887. Nearby a mausoleum honours the Malappuram martyrs of the Moplah rebellion whose deeds have been immortalized in Mapila ballads. The four-day festival (nercha) is held in March-April.