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5. Kunhali Marakkar

Kunhali Marakkar I or Mohammed Kunjali Marakkar (also known as Kunhali Marakkar) was a Kunhali Marakkar (Muslim naval chief) of the Samoothiri Raja, a Hindu king of Kozhikode (anglicized Calicut), in present day state of Kerala, India during the 16th century. He was the first of the four Kunjalis who played a part in the Raja's naval wars with the Portuguese, who arrived in India in 1498. The Marakkars are credited with organizing the first naval defence of the Indian coast, to be later succeeded in the 18th century by the Maratha Sarkhel Kanhoji Angre.

The title of Marakkar was given by the Raja. It may have been derived from the Malayalam word marakkalam meaning ‘boat,’ and kar, a termination, showing possession.
The four key Marakkars:
  1. Kutty Ahmed Ali - Marakkar I
  2. Kutty Pocker Ali - Marakkar II
  3. Pattu Kunjali - Marakkar III
  4. Mohammed Ali - Marakkar IV


According to tradition, Marakkars were originally marine merchants of Kochi who left for Ponnani in the Samoothiri Raja's dominion when the Portuguese came to Kochi. They offered their men, ships and wealth in the defence of their motherland to the Samoothiri of Kozhikode-The Raja took them into his service and eventually they became the Admirals of his fleet.

Another version suggests that they were merchants of Cairo who settled in Kozhikode and joined the Samoothiri's navy. Of the four Marakkars, Kunjali Marakkar II is the most famous.


The Portuguese initially attempted to obtain trading privileges in 1498, but soon had troubles because the pressure from the Arabs over the Raja, since they had traditionally been trading in his ports, and did not want to lose the monopoly in trading spices. The Raja resisted these attempts which resulted in the Portuguese trying to destabilise his rule by negotiating a treaty with his arch enemy, the Kingdom of Kochi in 1503. Sensing the Portuguese superiority at sea, the Raja set about improving his navy. He appointed Kunjali to the task.
The fight between the Raja and the Portuguese continued on until the end of the 16th century, when the Portuguese convinced the Raja in 1598 that Marakkar IV intended to take over his Kingdom. The Raja then joined hands with the Portuguese to defeat Marakkar IV, ending in his defeat and death in 1600.

Key events

kunjali marakkars house

The staircase captured from a Portuguese Ship on the event of one of Marakkar’s victory over Portuguese. Madonna can be seen engraved on it. It is kept in the Kottakkal juma masjid and used as a platform during the ‘juma’ prayer.

The sword used by the last Kunjali Marakkar at the mosque at Kottakkal, Vadakara
  • 1498 - Raja builds a fort at Ponnani.
  • 1500 December - Raja expels Portuguese from Kozhikode.
  • December 24, 1500 - Portuguese (led by Pedro Álvares Cabral) take refuge at port of Kochi, where the King offers them spices.
  • 1501 January - Portuguese conclude a treaty with Tirumulpad, the King of Kochi, allowing them to open a feitoria there.
  • 1503 - Portuguese crown the new King of Kochi, effectively making him a vassal of the King of Portugal.
  • 1503 March - Samoothiri Raja attacks foe Hindu Kingdom of Kochi, also known as Perumpadapu Swaroopam.
  • 1503 - Portuguese Afonso de Albuquerque arrives in Kochi to find it destroyed, and after helping in the defense of the king, manages to obtain permission to build a fort. Thus the first European fort is built in India by 1505 called Fort Manuel or Manuel Kotta.
  • 1505 November - murder of the Portuguese factor António de Sá, the other Portuguese men and the destruction of the church of St. Thomas in Kollam.
  • 1506 - Samoothiri Raja now approached Raja of Kolathiri. The Portuguese had behaved contemptuously to the Muslims at Kannur, and so Raja of Kolathiri also intended to teach them a lesson. The Raja laid siege the St. Angelos fort at Kannur. But the Portuguese won this battle, and the Raja of Kolathiri was forced to plea for peace.
  • 1506 - Raja's naval forces join the Turkish and Arab navies to defeat the Portuguese navy led by D. Lourenço de Almeida, son of the Portuguese Viceroy. However, Portuguese repel the attack.
  • November 14, 1507 - Portuguese under Almeida attacked Ponnani.
  • 1508 March - Sultan of Cairo's navy defeats Portuguese at Battle of Chaul, killing D. Lourenço de Almeida
  • 1509 February - Portuguese counter attack and defeat the Samoothiri's forces and the Mamluk Egyptian/Turkish Navy at the Battle of Diu. Turks and Egyptians withdraw from India, leaving the seas to the Portuguese.
  • 1513 - Raja and Portuguese sign a treaty giving Portuguese right to build a fort at Kozhikode, in return for their assistance in the Raja's fight with the Kingdoms of Kochi and Kolathiri.
  • 1520? - Assassination attempt on Raja
  • 1524 - King of Portugal re-sends Vasco Da Gama back to India to control the Raja.
  • February 26, 1525 - Portuguese navy led by new Viceroy Menezes raids Ponnani, but the Raja defeats them with assistance from Tinayancheri, and Kurumliyapatri.
  • 1530 - Formation of Chalium (also known as Challe, now Chaliyam) fort by Portuguese - the Raja of Vettattnad enabled the Portuguese to erect a fort at Chalium at the mouth of the Beypore river. Chalium was a strategic site, for it was only 10 km south of Kozhikkode. Raja of Chaliyam or Parappanad also helped the Portuguese.
  • 1540 - Samoothiri Raja entered into an agreement with the Portuguese and stopped the war. Treaty allows the Portuguese a trade monopoly at Kozhikode port.
  • 1550 - Portuguese attacked, pillaged and plundered Ponnani. They set fire to several houses and four mosques, including the Valia Palli.
  • 1569-1570 - War between the Portuguese and Samoothiri's forces at Chaliyam fort. The battle of Talikota in 1565 in which Vijayanagar, the ally of the Portuguese, was defeated, emboldened the Samoothiri to start large scale operations against the Portuguese.
  • 1571 September 15 - Portuguese lose the war and surrender Chaliyam fort. Samoothiri Raja destroys the fort.
  • 1573 - Pattu Marakkar (Kunjali III) obtained permission from Samoothiri to build a fortress and dockyard at Puthupattanam. This fort later came to be called the Marakkar Kotta (Marakkar Fort).
  • 1584 - Samoothiri Raja needed free navigation without the passes of the Portuguese, to the ports of Gujarat, Persia and Arabia, to continue his trade. So an agreement with the Portuguese is made. The sanction to the Portuguese to build a factory at Ponnani is given. By now the Raja has clearly shifted his policy towards the Portuguese.
  • 1586 - Marakkars defeat the Portuguese in a naval battle.
  • 1588 - The Portuguese settle again in Kozhikode with the Samoothiri's permission.
  • 1589 - Marakkars inflict a crushing defeat on the Portuguese.
  • 1591 - Samoothiri Raja allows the Portuguese to build a factory at Kozhikkode. He lays the foundation stone of their church and grants them the necessary land and building materials. His commanders like Kunjali III who were sworn enemies of the Portuguese were ignored again. Kunjali III begins to distance himself from Samoothiri.
  • 1595 - Kunjali IV becomes the Chief of the Marakkars. Marakkar, who had been given the powers and privileges of any Nair noble in the Samoothiri's service, strengthens the fortress at Kottakal and openly challenges his master by styling himself as the "Lord of the Indian seas". He cuts off the tail of one of Samoothiri's elephants and ill treats a Nair noble and his wife, who had been sent to get his explanation for the deed.
  • 1598 - The rebellion by his vassal exasperates the Samoothiri, who joins up with the Portuguese and fights Kunjali Marakkar IV. The first joint operation goes very bad for the allies, owing to a lack of communication between the Portuguese and the Samoothiri. They suffer heavy losses.
  • 1600 - In the second battle, the Samoothiri attacks Marakkar Kotta from the land with an army of 6000 and the Portuguese navy under André Furtado bombards it from the sea. Left with no choice, Kunjali Marakkar surrenders to Samoothiri on a solemn promise of pardon, but the Samoothiri breaks his word and hands his former Admiral over to the Portuguese, who executes him and his men, after taking them to Goa.


  • Cochin University of Science and Technology in Cochin, Kerala, India, has got its new Marine Engineering department named after Kunjali II as 'Kunjali Marakkar School Of Marine Engineering'.
  • The Indian Navy shore-based naval air training centre at Colaba, Mumbai is named Naval Maritime Academy INS Kunjali II in honour of the second Marakkar.
  • The Indian Department of Post issued a Rupee 3 colour stamp commemorating the maritime heritage of Kunjali Marakkar on 17 December 2000 on the 400th anniversary of the end of the Marakkars. The stamp design shows the war-paroe, a small craft used by the Kunjalis, which, manned by just 30-40 men each, could be rowed through lagoons and narrow waters. Several of these crafts were deployed at strategic points and they would emerge from small creeks and inconspicuous estuaries, attack the Portuguese ships at will, inflict heavy damage and casualties by setting fire to their sails and get back into the safety of shallow waters. In these guerilla raids, the Marakkars had shown remarkable prowess.
  • At Payyoli, a village about 35 km north of Kozhikode, a small museum has been built in a hut that used to belong to the Marakkar family, with collection of ancient swords, cannonballs and knives. This is maintained by the State Archeology Dept .
  • The Kunjali Marakkar Centre for West Asian Studies at Calicut University is named in honour of Kunjali Marakkar.
  • There is a place called Marakkarkandy in Kannur City, in Kannur district.
Source : Wikipedia

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