The History of Marakkar: The lion of the Arabian Sea

The lion of the Arabian Sea is a familiar story of Mohammed Ali Marakkar aka Kunjali Marakkar IV, a Naval Chief of the Zamorin’s Kingdom of Calicut.

Marakkar Memorial by Indian Navy

Being a historical adaptation, the film visualises 16th century India in a grand style. The article provides the historical background of the Marakkars of Calicut Kingdom, Erstwhile Kerala.

When Constantinople fell into the hands of Ottoman Turks in the 15th century, Europeans lost their trade route in the Middle East and were compelled to explore an alternative route to the East. The arrival of Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer circumfering the Atlantic Ocean to reach Calicut in 1498 changed the course of history.

The monopoly of the trade of Arabs with India came to an end with his arrival. Arabs were long term traders who settled in India in the coastal regions. Islam spread here during Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime. Cheraman Juma Masjid was the first mosque to be built in the Indian subcontinent in 629 AD.

The Kunjali Marakkars of Arabic descent were the hereditary naval chiefs of Zamorin. Four Marakkars organised the first naval defence of the Indian Coast by defending Portugal invasion from 1520 – 1600.

According to the Portuguese, they were pirates. But Portuguese were the  real pirates doing it with the Portuguese East India Company which had seaport fortresses and trading posts in the Indian territories like Calicut, Cannanore,  Mangalore, Cochin and Goa where they looted the wealth of India by acquiring spices at rock-bottom prices leading to the loss of poor farmers.

Marakkars along with the Zamorin fought against this. Marakkars have a separate fort and four harbours Moutingue (Muttungal), Badara (Vadakara), Chombaye (Chambal), and Cangelotte (Kaniyaram Kottu) under the ambit of Zamorin.

Kunjali Marakkars had war-paroe, a small craft carrying 30 – 40 men who emerge from small creeks and inconspicuous estuaries attacking the Portugal ships and setting fire to them inflicting heavy damage and casualties and safely disperse in the shallow waters.

Indian navy honoured Marakkars who showed their mighty prowess on the Arabian coast by naming the naval air training centre at Colaba, Mumbai as Naval Maritime Academy INS Kunjali II.

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