History of the Gulf of Mannar pearl fishery on the Indian side of the Gulf from 7th-century A.D. to modern times.
This webpage is a continuation of the History of the Gulf of Mannar pearl fishery from the Indian side of the Gulf
This webpage is a continuation of the previous webpage, “History of the Discovery and Appreciation of Pearls – the Organic Gem Perfected by Nature – Page 4 – dedicated mainly to the history of the Gulf of Mannar pearl fishery from the 7th-century to modern times, mainly from the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf. The dominance of the Arabs in the Gulf of Mannar pearl trade from the 7th to 15th centuries A.D., followed by the Portuguese, the Dutch and finally the British, were dealt with in detail on this webpage. The webpage gives a detailed account of the Ceylon pearl fishery during colonial times, the most well known pearl fisheries in the world due to its perfect organization, ready accessibility, and maintenance of records of harvests taken and revenues realized. This webpage continues with the history of the Gulf of Mannar pearl fishery from the Indian side of the Gulf, from 7th-century onwards.
The Ceylon pearl fishery and the Indian pearl fishery were conducted as separate fisheries since ancient times
The Ceylon pearl fishery and the the Indian pearl fishery on either side of the Gulf of Mannar, were conducted as separate fisheries from ancient times, though the same people such as the Parawas, Indian Moors, Ceylon Moors, Arabs etc. were involved in the exploitation of the resources, and the two fisheries sometimes came under the jurisdiction of the same authorities, such as the Pandyas, Cholas, the Portuguese, Dutch and the British, who had controlled the regions on both sides of the Gulf of Mannar, in India and Sri Lanka. There were also periods when the two fisheries were prosecuted independently of one another, such as, by the Pandyas and the Cholas on the Indian side, and by the Sinhalese or Tamil kings on the Sri Lankan side. The pearl banks on the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf came under the exclusive control of the Jaffna kingdom from 1215 to 1619 (save for a short period from 1450-1467, when the kingdom was subdued by the Sinhalese king Sapumal Kumaraya of the Kotte kingdom), boosting the economic potential of the kingdom, by maximizing the revenue from pearls. After, the Jaffna kingdom was finally subdued by the Portuguese in 1619, the entire pearl fishery on both the Sri Lankan and Indian side of the Gulf came under their exclusive jurisdiction, and they exploited the resources to their full extent. From the Portuguese, control of the the pearl fisheries of the Gulf passed to the Dutch in 1658, and finally to the British in 1796. All three colonial powers prosecuted the pearl fisheries on the Indian side and the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf, independent of one another.
The antiquity of the pearl fishery of South India is authenticated by Kautilya’s Arthashastra written in 4th-century B.C.
The antiquity of the pearl fisheries of South India, on the Indian side of the Gulf of Mannar, is well authenticated by Kautilya’s Arthashastra written around 4th-century B.C. and the Periplus of the Erythrian Sea written by the unknown Alexandrian-Greek author in the first-century A.D. Kautilya’s Arthashastra refers to 10 areas in ancient India that produced pearls, out of which four areas were situated in southern India. The four pearl producing areas of southern India mentioned in the Arthashastra were Tambraparni, Pandyaka-vata, Pasika, and Curni. Tambraparni is a river in Tamilnadu, flowing through Tirunelveli and Tuticorin districts and entering the Gulf of Mannar near Punnaikayal. In ancient times the mouth of the Tambraparni river was situated inland, closer to Korkai, the first capital of the Pandyan rulers and the center of the pearl fishery on the Indian side of the Gulf of Mannar, during the period of Kautilya and the unknown Alexandrian Greek author. Later, from the 8-13th centuries, due to silting, delta formation and receding of the sea, the mouth of the river, moved to Kayal, which became the main port city and center of the pearl fishery. Kayal was the main port city and the center of the pearl trade at the time Marcopolo visited the Gulf of Mannar. By the time the Portuguese arrived in the Gulf of Mannar in the early 16th-century, the sea had receded further and two new port cities known as Pinnakayal (Pinnacoil) and Kayalpattanam had been established, occupied by the Parawa and Moor communities respectively, competitors in the pearl industry, both in pearl diving and the pearl trade. Pandyaka-vata was situated between the rivers Kumari and Tambraparni, and was a center of learning and an important commercial center and port visited by foreign ships to buy pearls, ivory etc. Pasika was the ancient name for Ramnad or Ramnathapuram, situated near the mouth of the river Vaigai, and was famous as a pearl fishing and trading center. Curni was the ancient name for river Periyar in Kerala State, in the southwest of India, and also the name of the place where the river joined the Arabian Sea, which was famous as a pearl fishing and trading port on the west coast of India.
A second line of evidence for the antiquity of the pearl fishery comes from the “Periplus of the Erythrian Sea” written in the 1st-century A.D.
In the Periplus of the Erythrian Sea, the unknown Alexandrian-Greek author, refers to the country under the government of the Pandiyan, and the coastal area known as “Paraha” occupied by the Parawa community, who were fisherman and pearl divers by profession. Reference is also made to “Kolkhoi” (Korkai), the second largest city in the Pandiyan kingdom and the center of the pearl fishery on the Indian side of the Gulf of Mannar, and “Komar” (Cape Comorin) which has a good harbor. The account also says that slaves and convicted criminals were used in the dangerous task of diving for pearl oysters, and mentions “Argaru” in the coast country (Coromandel coast), as the only place where pearls were drilled and converted into beads. The Periplus of the Erythrian Sea confirms that the peal resources around the mouth of the river “Tambraparni” with “Kolkhoi” as the center, was the main pearl fishery of India from the 4th-century B.C. to around the 7th-century A.D., until the emergence of “Kayal” as the main port city and center of pearl fishery from the 8th-century.
The lucrative trans-Indian Ocean trade between the Roman empire and the kingdoms of southern India and Sri Lanka between the 1st-century B.C. and 4th-century A.D. of which pearls were a significant component
During the period from 1st-century B.C. to 4th-century A.D. the Greek geographer Strabo records, that there was a lucrative trans-Indian Ocean trade in pearls between the ports of the Roman empire in the Red Sea, and the South Indian Pandyan kingdom, ruled by king Porus (Pandyan). Around 120 vessels were employed in this trade in 25 B.C. that made use of the seasonal monsoon winds for navigation. Apart from pearls other items exported from southern India were precious stones, ivory, ebony, sandalwood, spices and pepper. Pearls originating from Korkai in the Pandiyan kingdom, the main center of the pearl fishery found their way to Rome in this manner. Other ports from where pearls were exported to the Roman empire were Muziris (Cranganur), Nelcynda (Kottayam), and Bacare (Porakad), on the Chera coast (Kerala coast), under the domain of the Chera empire. Pearls harvested from the Chola coast (Coramandel coast) were taken to Argalou (Argaru), the main collection center for these pearls, like Kolkhoi (Korkai) and Modura Regia (Madurai) were the main markets or collection centers for pearls originating from the Gulf of Mannar. During the period of the trans-Indian Ocean trade between the Roman empire and Southern India and Sri Lanka, at least nine emperors are believed to have received embassies either from southern India or Sri Lanka, between 14 A.D. and 363 A.D. Ptolemy, the 2nd-century A.D. Roman-Egyptian geographer also referred to the pearl fishery on the pearl coast of southeastern India, mentioning all important places associated with the pearl industry of southern India. He mentions the country of the “Kareor” a reference to the country of the “Karaiyar” the caste name for the coastal dwellers engaging in fishing, pearl and conch-shell diving. The “Paravas” also known as “Parathavar” are a section of the “Karaiyar” caste. Ptolemy also mentions the towns of “Sosikourai” which was a reference to Tuticorin, and “Kolkhoi” which was “Korkai” the center of the pearl trade near the mouth of the river “Solen” the Greek name for river “Tambrapani.”
The History of the Paravas
Paravas were the pioneer exploiters of the pearl oyster resources of the Gulf of Mannar, and their history is closely linked with the history of the pearl fishery in the Gulf of Mannar
Pearl oyster resources of the southern Indian pearl fishery coast, also known variously as Paraliya, Kolkhie Gulf, Ma’bar coast, Cholamandalam coast, Coromandel coast, Comorin coast, Pescaria, Fishery coast, Tirunelveli coast, Madura coast etc. at different periods of its history, were mainly exploited since ancient times, by coastal dwellers of this region known as the “Paravas” or “Parathavar,” who were not only pearl and conch-shell divers and fisherman, but also the organizers as well as the chief beneficiaries of the pearl fisheries conducted along this coast. The “Paravas” were the pioneer exploiters of the pearl oyster resources of the Gulf of Mannar, just as much as the Arabs and their ancestors were the pioneer exploiters of the pearl oyster resources of the Persian Gulf. Thus, the history of the Paravas is closely interlinked with the history of the pearl fishery in the Gulf of Mannar. The “Paravas” and the Pandyan kingdom, from whose rulers they claim their descent, were mentioned in the writings of Greek and Roman geographers and authors of the early Christian era, such as “The Periplus of the Erythrian Sea” written by the unknown Alexandrian-Greek author in the 1st-century A.D. and the writings of Ptolemy, the Roman-Egyptian geographer in the 2nd-century A.D.
Traditional occupations of the Paravas
The Paravas were a coastal dwelling people since ancient times inhabiting the coastal regions on either side of the Gulf of Mannar, both in southern India and northwestern Sri Lanka, traditionally exploiting the valuable pearl resources of these coastal regions, and apart from pearl diving, also engaged in other sea-based professions such as conch shell diving and cutting, fishing, boat building, sea-faring, navigating and salt making, as well as trading the valuable products of the sea. In keeping with their sea-faring life style, they were also excellent ship builders, and their catamarans were the first type of ship encountered by the British with two hulls. Their long tradition of sea-faring seem to be linked to their early life style as warriors and members of the Tamil navy who fought for kings of the Pandyan dynasty from whom the Paravas claim their descent.
The Paravas also tended the palm trees that traditionally grew in their environment, such as the palmyra and coconut palms, and the laurel trees (punnai trees) that were considered sacred. They tapped the palmyra and coconut trees to produce their traditional drink toddy, a light alcoholic drink that was further distilled to produce the stronger alcoholic drink arrack. Toddy and arrack helped to elevate their spirits in the evening after a hard day’s work out at sea.
Ancient origins of the Parava community
The Paravas are an ancient community, whose origins date back to nearly three millennia and who had successfully preserved their way of life, their ancient traditions and customs and hospitality, despite their proseletization to Christianity in the 16th-century. Their mass conversion to Christianity by the Portuguese in the 16th-century, gave them the protection needed to pursue their traditional occupation – diving for pearls – unhindered, and gave the Roman Catholic Church their most faithful converts, whose faith and steadfastness even surpasses that of the western faithful. The ancient origins of the Parawa community, is authenticated by written historical evidence, such as the 1st-century A.D. “Periplus of the Erythrian Sea” in which the community and the land, under the domain of the Pandiyan kingdom, in which they lived is mentioned by name. Interesting accounts of the Paravas and their heroic sea-faring life and social customs are also found in the ancient Tamil literature of the Sangam Age, that extended from around 600 B.C. to 300 A.D. and also in later literature. The body of literature known as Sangam Literature, re-discovered in the 19th-century, consisted of 2,381 poems composed by 473 poets and deals primarily with secular life in a Tamil context, with everyday themes such as love, war, governance, trade and bereavement. In an ancient Tamil inscription reference is made to Parava men who fished for pearls by paying tribute to “Alliyarasani” daughter of the Pandiya king of Madura.
Theories put forward by historians on the origin of the Paravas
1) Paravas have a regal Pandiyan ancestry
Parava historians and writers of the Dravidian school, support the theory of a regal Pandiyan ancestry for the Paravas. According to this theory, the Parawas are considered to be an aristocratic, sea-faring, warrior people of Tamilnadu, who founded the ancient Pandyan empire, more than five centuries before the beginning of the Christian era. According to the Mahawamsa, the historical chronicle of Sri Lanka, the Pandyan kingdom was already in existence at the time of the Indo-Aryan migration to Sri Lanka, by Prince Vijaya, and his followers around 543 B.C. After Prince Vijaya settled in Sri Lanka, it was to the Pandyan kingdom he turned to, to seek for a princess of noble birth to be consecrated as his queen, signifying an Arya-Dravidian alliance in the early written history of Sri Lanka. Thus, the origins of the Pandya kingdom appear to be much older than 543 B.C., perhaps as old as 1000 B.C. The capital of the Pandyan kingdom was initially at Korkai, which was also the center of the pearl industry at that time, the principal source of revenue for the kingdom. The pearl resources of the kingdom were exploited by the Parava pearl divers. The capital was later shifted to Madurai, but the Pandyan king of Madurai left his heir apparent at Korkai to oversee the pearl fishery, which was an important source of revenue for the government. The Paravas settled in 22 fishing hamlets in the pearl fishery coast of the Gulf of Mannar, of which Tuticorin emerged as their stronghold. The Paravas had a succession of kings among them, distinguished by the title “Adiarasen,” of whom some seem to have resided at Uttara Kosamangay, in the neighborhood of Ramnad.
2) The Paravas have an Aryan-Sanskrit heritage, originating from Ayodya
The Paravas believe that they originated from the region of Ayodya or Oudh, and before the Mahabharatha war they inhabited the territory bordering river Jamuna. Paravas are said to be descendants of king Bharathan, from whom they acquire the name Bharathar or Parathavar. They were also known as Bharathakula Kshatriya, to distinguish them as Kshatriyas, the ruling caste. Bharathan or Bharathar is believed to be the grandfather of Kulasekera Pandya, the founder of the Pandya dynasty in Tamilnadu. According to researches, 21 emblems and insignia used by the Paravas seem to support their regal status. The fish flag used by the Paravas, was the principal flag of the Pandyan kings, being the emblem of the fish goddess Minakshi. Twenty other banners depicting birds and animals belong either to the Bharatha kings of the north or the Pandya kings of the South.
3) The Paravas originated in the Indus Valley, the cradle of human civilization
According to Father Henry Heras, the Paravas originated from the cradle of human civilization, the Indus Valley. According to him the Moon Paravas were most probably the ancestors of the Pandyan kings of Madurai and their Parava subjects of the fishery coast. The Paravas left their birthplace in the Indus valley, and migrated southwards in search of fame and fortune. They settled on the southeast coast of India, from Cape Comorin to Ramanathapuram and along the northwest coast of Sri Lanka, from Negombo to Mannar, where they consolidated their position and became a distinct entity of the region.
4) The Paravas originated from the ancient Naga tribes of Sri Lanka
A radical viewpoint expressed by some Tamil historians, is that the origin of the Paravas is not from either Northern or Southern India, but from Sri Lanka. At the time of the Indo-Aryan migration to Sri Lanka, there were two indigenous tribes living in the island, the Yakkas and the Nagas, according to the Mahawamsa. The Nagas occupied the northern parts of the island, and the Paravas are believed to have originated from these Naga tribes. It is believed that in pre-Vijayan times it was the Nagas who served as pearl divers in the lucrative pearl fisheries around the Mannar island. The Paravas are believed to have acquired their skills in pearl diving from their Naga ancestors.
5) Post proseletization theory of a Judeo-Christian origin for the Paravas
Edgar Thurston quoting from the Historica Ecclesiastica states that the Paravas and the Paravaims of the Scriptures refer to the same people. According to him, the Paravas in the time of King Solomon were famous as sea-farers, and established trade connections with his kingdom. The Paravas are said to be the Paravaims, one of the last tribes of Israel, and their present settlement of Uvari in Paravanadu, believed to be the Ophir of the Bible.
Religious beliefs of the early Paravas
The Paravas worshipped Varunan, the god of the wide ocean. One way of worshipping Varunan was by planting the jaw of a shark on the sands of the beach and making offerings to it. The fisherfolk revered the sea as a Goddess, and generally referred to the sea as Mother Sea. It is believed that the temple at Cape Comorin was built by the Paravas for their Sea Goddess or Fish Goddess Meenakshi Amman. The reverence shown by the Paravas to the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple, also signifies the great reverence to their Mother Goddess. Early Paravas also worshipped the sun and the moon. Full moon and new moon days, were a day of rest for the Paravas. They did not go out fishing on these days, taking a holiday, adorning themselves, eating well, drinking toddy, and taking bath in the sea from time to time throughout the day. The Paravas considered the palmyra and punnai trees under which local business was conducted, as sacred, in the belief that such trees harbored divine spirits. They also performed elaborate rituals on full moon days, with a view of increasing their chances of getting a good catch in their day to day fishing activities. Such rituals include men and women dancing around shark horns, with movements imitating boats floating on the sea, men casting their nets, and drawing them full of fish etc. During the period of the Cholas and later Pandiya kings, the Paravas embraced Saivism, the community producing many highly learned and spiritually motivated Saivites.
The pearl fishery coast in pre-Christian times and until the 3rd-century A.D. was controlled and exploited by the Pandiyan kings
The pearl fishery coast in pre-Christian times were under the control of the Pandiyan kings, who derived valuable revenue from it by exploiting the pearl oyster resources of the coast, making use of the expertise of their Parava subjects. It was during this period that the Pandyan kings established trade contacts with the Roman empire, and pearls were exported in large quantities to the Roman empire. The early Pandyan dynasty of the Sangam period (600 B.C. to 300 A.D.), went into obscurity after the invasion of the Kalabhras from northern Tamil country, who ruled most of south India for the next 300 years.
After the ousting of the Kalabhras from the Tamil country in the early 6th-century, the sovereignty of the pearl fishery coast was restored to the Pandyan dynasty, who revived the pearl fishery, that lasted until the mid-9th century
The Kalabhras were eventually pushed out of the Tamil country by the Pandyans and Pallavas in the early 6th-century. Kadungon revived the Pandya dynasty, ruling from Madurai. The Pallava dynasty was restored by Mahendravarman I, who set up their capital at Kanchipuram. It is not known to what extent the Kalabhras exploited the pearl oyster resources of the fishery coast. Even if they had exploited the resources, they would undoubtedly have depended on the Paravas for such exploitation, as they were the only experienced pearl divers during that period. The revived Pandyan kingdom restored the pearl fishery of the southeastern coast, as its principal revenue source, and continued the exploitation of the resources until the collapse of the dynasty again in the mid-9th century.
The golden period of Tamilnadu, the Chola period from 850 A.D. to 1280 A.D.
The power conflicts between the Pandyas and the Pallavas in the early 9th-century, paved the way for the revival of the Chola dynasty in 850 A.D. by Vijayalaya Chola, who captured Thanjavur and made it his capital. The Chola kings who followed captured all territories formerly controlled by the Pandyas and the Pallavas, and extended the empire into neighboring Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The greatest of the Chola kings, was Raja Raja Chola, who ruled from 985 A.D. to 1014 A.D. Raja Raja Chola, conquered all of peninsular south India, subduing the navy of the Cheras, and invaded Sri Lanka, annexing Anuradhapura, the seat of the Sinhala kings and the northern provinces of the island. His son Rajendra Chola continued the campaign of conquests started by his father, and set up a powerful combined land and naval force that undertook a great campaign, invading and subduing most of the lands surrounding the Bay of Bengal, such as Kalinga, Bengal, Burma, Thailand, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Malaysia and Pegu Islands, Sumatra and Java (Srivijaya). The Chola empire reached the zenith of its glory under Rajaraja Chola (985-1015 A.D.) and Rajendra Chola (1015-1044 A.D.), becoming the most powerful empire in India, reaching its maximum extent, and excelling in the arts, architecture and literature, the period now being referred to as the golden period of Tamilnadu. The Chola dynasty began declining in the early 13th-century and ended finally in 1279.
Chola control of the pearl fishery on the Indian side of the Gulf of Mannar from 985 A.D. to 1250 A.D. The Chola kings used not only Parawa divers, but also Arab and Indian Moor divers to exploit the pearl resources
The Pearl fishery coast that was under Pandyan control until the mid-9th century, came under Chola control, after Rajaraja Chola captured the Coromandel coast (Cholamandalam coast) and then invaded Sri Lanka, capturing Anuradhapura in 993 A.D. This was the first time that the pearl fisheries on both sides of the Gulf of Mannar, both on the Indian side and the Sri Lankan side, came under the control of the same authority, the Chola king of south India, who also exploited the resources on both sides. However, such exploitation took place only for around 77 years, until 1070, when the Cholas were driven out of Sri Lanka, by king Vijayabahu I. Korkai was no more the hub of the pearl fishery, but due to silting, delta formation and receding of the sea, the new port city of “Kayal” became the new hub of the pearl industry from the 8th to 13th centuries. The lucrative pearl banks of the Gulf of Mannar became a principal source of revenue for the Chola kingdom, as it was for the Pandyan kingdom that preceded it. Thus, the Gulf of Mannar pearl fishery, on the Indian side, was under the total control of the Chola kings from around 985 A.D. to around 1250 A.D. During this period the Chola kings made use of not only the Parava pearl divers, but also Arab divers from the Persian Gulf, as well as Indian Moors, who were descendants of Arab settlers, to exploit the pearl resources on either side of the Gulf of Mannar. After, the fall of the Roman empire in the 5th-century A.D. the vacuum created in the trans-Indian Ocean trade from the ports in the Red Sea and the Arabian coast and the Persian Gulf to the Indian sub-continent, was effectively taken over by Arab traders, beginning from around the 7th-century A.D. and continued until the arrival of the Portuguese in the early 16th-century. During this period some Arab traders also settled down on the Malabar coast and the Coromandel coast. and their descendants came to be known as the Indian Moors, who resided in large settlements along the coast, such as Calicut on the Malabar coast and Kayalpattanam and Keelakarai on the Coromandel coast.
Pandya control of the pearl fishery was restored around 1250, but after 1370 the fishery coast comes under the control of Vijayanagar
During the 300-year Chola rule of Southern India, the Pandyas allied themselves with the Cheras of Kerala and the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka, in harassing the Chola empire, until towards the end of their declining years in the late 13th-century, the Pandyas rose to prominence once again, under Maravarman Sundara Pandya in 1251, with Madurai as their capital. The period of rule of Maravarman Sundara Pandya and his younger brother, the celebrated Jatavarman Sundara Pandya, extending from around 1250 to 1350 is known as the golden age of Pandya rule in southern India. Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan, expanded the empire into Telungu country, conquered Kalinga (Orissa), and also invaded and conquered the kingdom of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka. During this period, extensive trade links were also developed with the southeast Asian kingdom of Srivijaya in Sumatra and Java. After Maravarman Sundara Pandya, the control of the pearl fishery coast was restored to the Pandya kingdom. Kayal was the center of the pearl trade, and it was during this period, that Marcopolo visited Kayal in 1290 A.D.
However, in the year 1316, the Pandya capital of Madurai was sacked by troops of the Delhi Sultanate of Alauddin Khilji, led by General Malik Kafur. Muslim incursions into the kingdoms of southern India, triggered the establishment of the Hindu Vijayanagar empire in the Deccan, which conquered the entire Tamil country by 1370 A.D. The pearl fishery coast now come under the control of the the Vijayanagar empire, that lasted for almost two centuries, till the defeat of Vijayanagar in the Battle of Talikota in 1565, by the combined forces of the Deccan Sultanate. Muslim invasions led to the establishment of the Madurai Sultanate in the 16th-century, after which the Pandyan kingdom finally became extinct. The pearl fishery coast now fall under the jurisdiction of the Madurai Sultanate, with disastrous consequences for the traditional Parawa community.
The arrival and settlement of Arabs in the coastal areas of southern India, the island of Ceylon and Malacca
Arab traders had settled in southern India and Sri Lanka even before the advent of Islam
After, the fall of the Roman empire in the 5th-century A.D. the vacuum created in the trans-Indian Ocean trade from the ports in the Red Sea, the Arabian coast and the Persian Gulf to the Indian sub-continent, was effectively taken over by Arab traders, beginning from around the 7th-century A.D. and continued until the arrival of the Portuguese in the early 16th-century. During this period some Arab traders also settled down on the Malabar coast, the Fishery coast and the Coromandel coast, and in the coastal regions of Sri Lanka, and further east in Malacca and Sumatra. It is believed that Arab traders had settled in India and Sri Lanka, even before the advent of Islam in Arabia. Recorded evidence in Sri Lanka shows that Arabs had settled in the kingdom of Anuradhapura, during the reign of king Pandukabhaya. According to Fr. S.G.Perera (S. J.), as mentioned in his book “History of Ceylon for Schools” – Vol. I, “–The first mention of Arabs in Ceylon appears to be in the Mahavansa (Ancient Sri Lankan history) account of the reign of the King Pandukabhaya, where it is stated that this king set apart land for the Yonas (Arabs) at Anuradhapura. It is estimated that Arabs had settled in India, Sri Lanka and Sumatra by the 1st-century A.D. According to Dr.K.M. De Silva, as published in his book “Historical Survey of Sri Lanka,” –by about the 8th century A.D., the Arabs had formed colonies at the important ports of India, Ceylon and the East Indies. The presence of the Arabs at the ports of Ceylon is attested to by at least three inscriptions discovered at Colombo, Trincomalee and the island of Puliantivu.
Arabs who settled in Sri Lanka, were either descendants of Arabs who had previously settled on the Malabar and Coromandel coasts, or Arabs who arrived directly on the island
Arabs who had settled on the Malabar and Coromandel coasts used to travel from the port of Cranganore to Sri Lanka on a regular basis, on pilgrimage to pay homage to the foot-print at the top of a mountain, which they believed to be that of Prophet Adam, the first human being created by God Almighty. The mountain came to be known as “Adam’s Peak” by which name it is known until today. Some of these merchants, fascinated by the scenic beauty of the island and captivated by the traditions associated with Adam’s peak, and the cordial treatment and hospitality received from the local rulers and its inhabitants, decided to settle down in the coastal regions of the island. Before the end of the 7th-century a colony of Muslim merchants had already established themselves on the island. Dr. Tikiri Abeysinghe in his book “Portuguese Rule in Ceylon” published in 1966, states –the first Mohammedans of Ceylon were a portion of those Arabs of the House of Hashim, who were driven from Arabia in the early part of the 8th. century by the tyranny of the Caliph, Abdel Malik bin Marwan, and who proceeding from the Euphrates southwards made settlements in the concan in the southern parts of the peninsula of India, on the island of Ceylon and Malacca. The division of them which came to Ceylon formed eight considerable settlements along the North-East, North, Western and Southern coasts of that island; viz., one at Trincomalee, one at Jaffna, one at Mannar and Puttalam, one at Colombo, one at Barbareyn (Beruwala), and one at Point de Galle.
Arabs professing the religion of Islam are believed to have arrived in southern India and Sri Lanka around 7-8th centuries A.D.
Thus, according to available historical records, it appears that there was a settled community of Arabs in Ceylon in pre-Islamic times, who were in constant touch with their Arab ancestors back at home, and developments in their country. In fact the news of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad and the religion of Islam he founded reached Ceylon during the Prophet’s reign from Medina, during the rule of King Aggrabodhi of Sri Lanka. The king of Ceylon is reported to have sent an embassy from Ceylon to Medina to extend his good wishes to the Prophet of Islam, but the embassy reached Medina only after the death of the prophet, during the reign of Caliph Abubakar. After the advent of Islam, Arabs professing the religion of Islam, are believed to have arrived in southern India and Sri Lanka around the 7-8th centuries A.D. The early Muslim Arab settlers in the coastal regions of southern India and Sri Lanka, were mainly traders, who were interested in commodities such as spices, precious and semi-precious stones, pearls, ivory, elephants, peacocks etc. that were available in large quantities in these regions.
The descendants of inter-marriages between Arab men and Parava women came to be known as “Kayalars” who settled in the port city of Kayalpattanam
Thus, the early Arab settlements were situated mainly around the port cities of these coastal regions. Most of the Arab settlers married local women after converting them to Islam, and raised large families, whose descendents came to be known as Indian and Ceylon Moors. On the Fishery coast in southern India, Arab settlers married Parava women, and their descendants came to be known as “Kayalars.” Large numbers of Paravas were converted to Islam by marriage alliances, and as their population grew, they became a strong community, who settled down in the new port city of Kayalpattanam, that was created between the 14-16th centuries as the sea receded further over the centuries, with the mouth of the river Tambraparni moving closer to Punnaikayal (Pinnacoil), the other new port city that was occupied mainly by the Paravas.
The conflict of interests between the Paravas and the Kayalars
The arrival and settlement of Arabs on the Fishery Coast heralded the entry of a new player into the pearl industry of the Gulf of Mannar
The Paravas as stated earlier were traditionally fisherman and pearl divers, who had hitherto exploited the pearl fisheries of the Gulf of Mannar, both on the Indian and Sri Lankan sides, unchallenged by any rivals. However, the arrival and settlement of Arabs in their midst, who were equally proficient in pearl diving, with a history of exploitation in the Persian Gulf, dating back to several millennia, became a serious challenge to their traditional life style, and heralded the entry of a new player into the pearl industry, which had hitherto been the exclusive preserve of the Paravas. The “Kayalars” who were descendants of Arabs and Paravas, seem to have inherited the pearl diving skills of both their talented ancestors, and were considered not only as expert pearl divers but also as skilled navigators, sailing through the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mannar, containing many coral reefs, in their highly maneuverable, narrow and speedy canoes. The Portuguese, who settled closer to Kayalpattanam, in the declining Vijayanagar empire, initially made use of the skills of the Kayalars, and to acquire navigational knowledge of the Gulf of Mannar.
The Muslim Kayalars take over the entire pearl fishery on rent from the king of Travancore and the Madurai Nayak in 1516, and the Paravas for the first time ever in history lose their right over the pearl fishery
The common occupation of the Paravas and Kayalars, led to a conflict of interests, and competition between the two communities for the pearl resources of the fishery coast. The fishery coast around this time was under the domain of the Vijayanagar empire, and was administered by their viceroy, the Madurai Nayak, who did not exercise absolute control over the fishery. The lease on the pearl fishery, was enjoyed by the highest bidder, which invariably went to the rich Muslim Kayalar merchants, depriving the Parava pearl dealers of a lucrative source of income. In 1516, the Muslim Kayalars, took over the whole pearl fishery on lease from Udaya Marthanda Varma, the king of Travancore, who controlled the southern half of the fishery coast, and Vanga Tumbichi Nayak, the Madurai Nayak who controlled the northern half of the coast, and for the first time ever in history, the Paravas lost their right over the entire pearl fishery. This was mainly a strategic economic move by the Kayalars to dominate the fishing, and not a punitive move to punish the Paravas, who refused to embrace Islam, as some historians would like to portray. The Paravas who were converted to Islam during the early stages of Arab settlement, embraced Islam either due to marriage alliances or on their own accord, without any compulsion. Conversion to Islam necessarily entailed compliance to a strict code of conduct, that prohibited the consumption of intoxicating drinks like alcohol. This was total anathema to the Parava style of life, in which alcohol played a significant part in their day to day life. Hence, it was unthinkable that a majority of the Paravas, would have ever contemplated in joining the folds of Islam. After the establishment of the Madurai Sultanate in the 16th-century, the Paravas feared that their competitors the Kayalars, being Muslims would receive preferential treatment from the rulers, and felt that their traditional source of livelihood was in jeopardy. It was during this uncertain political atmosphere that the Portuguese landed on the Fishery coast, and established their first settlements in the Muslim dominated ports.
The Portuguese arrive on the Fishery Coast at the time the Paravas were losing out to their competitors and rivals the Kayalars
The arrival of the Portuguese was considered a blessing both by the Paravas and the Vijayanagar rulers, who looked upon them as saviors, who could rescue them from their common enemy, the Deccan Sultanate. Vijayanagar rulers allowed the Portuguese free access to the Fishery coast in the hope that the Portuguese would assist them in the war against the Deccan Sultanate. The Paravas on the other hand were keen on regaining their lost rights to the pearl fisheries, which was usurped by their traditional and more affluent rivals, the Kayalars, at public auctions. The Portuguese adopted a cautious approach initially maintaining good relations with all sections, including the Muslim Kayalars.
The rich and powerful Muslim Kayalar who took over the fishery on rent continued to employ Parava fisherman to exploit the pearl fisheries
The rich and powerful Muslim Kayalar, who took over the fishery on lease in 1516, became the virtual master of the coast, and was honored by the people as much as the king. He employed both Parava and Kayalar fisherman in exploiting the pearl fishery. According to Duarte Barbosa, the Portuguese writer and officer at Cannanore between 1500 and 1517, the fisherman both Paravas and Kayalars, toiled for him for a whole week at the close of the season, and for themselves for the rest of the time, except on Fridays, when they worked for the owners of the boats (The Book of Duarte Barbosa, Vol.II, pp 123-24). Thus, it appears that though the rich and powerful Muslim Kayalar was in overall control of the fishery and reaped the maximum benefit from it, the Paravas were not completely left out of the fishery and their means of livelihood. The Portuguese, who were hitherto watching the conduct of the fishery by the Moors from the sidelines and the enormous profits realized by them, coveted this business, and soon wrested control of the fishery from the Muslims. In 1523, the King of Portugal appointed Joao Froles, as captain and Factor of the fishery coast, who seized control of the fishery from the Moors in 1525, and in turn rented it out to the Adigars of the Paravas for one thousand five hundred cruzados per annum.
Arab and Moor retaliation against Portuguese control of the pearl fisheries
The Moors (Kayalars) who were left out of the fisheries by the Portuguese, teamed up with the Arabs who visited the fishery seasonally from the Persian Gulf and the Moors settled in Sri Lanka, presenting a serious challenge to the Portuguese in the Gulf of Mannar. They set up armed squads to harass the pearl fisheries whenever they were conducted by the Portuguese, but the brunt of these attacks were borne by the Parava pearl divers, who co-operated with the Portuguese, in exploiting the pearl resources. Such attacks became a menace for the Portuguese, who maintained a fleet of guard vessels to beat off the attacks of the Muslim “Corsairs,” as they termed their enemies. In fact in a confrontation in the high seas with vessels commanded by Captain Joao Froles, in 1528, the Muslim Cosairs inflicted heavy casualties on the Portuguese, killing most of the men on board, carrying away heavy weapons and ammunition, setting fire and sinking the ships, and escaping to the northwestern Sri Lankan coast, the domain of the Jaffna kingdom, not yet subdued by the Portuguese.
Circumstances that led to the mass conversion of the Paravas to Christianity
Paravas retaliate against the Moors by deliberately raising a dispute at a pearl fishery in Tuticorin, in which thousands of Moors were killed
Hostilities between the Moors and the Portuguese turned out to become a conflict between the Moors and the Paravas, as the latter were always at the receiving end of attacks by the Moors. Matters came to a head in 1536, when at a pearl fishery held at Tuticorin, the Paravas deliberately raised a dispute with the Muslim Kayalars, on the pretext that a Parava had his ear torn out by a Muslim Kayalar in his attempt to forcibly take possession of an earring. The incident sparked off a civil war between the Paravas and the Kayalars, in which thousands of Kayalars were massacred and their vessels burnt and destroyed.
Unable to ply their trade and fearing retaliation from the Moors, the Paravas seek the assistance of Joao da Cruz, who advise them to accept mass conversion to Christianity, that would assure them protection by the Portuguese
A Muslim flotilla took control of the coast, making it impossible for the Paravas to ply their trade. Moreover, the Paravas feared retaliation by the Moors, who were certain to join hands with the Cosairs of Calicut. The Paravas in desperation sought the assistance of Joao da Cruz, an Indian converted to Christianity by the Portuguese, when he was sent to Portugal by Zamorin of Calicut, a powerful sea-chief of this period, to negotiate a treaty with them. Joao da Cruz, who was now a horse dealer, was respected by the Portuguese, and happened to be at Cape Comorin, waiting for payment for a deal, when the Paravas approached him for help. Cruz saw no way out for the Paravas, but accept mass conversion to Christianity that would assure them not only the protection of the Portuguese as compatriots in the same religion, but also the right to invoke the aid of the Portuguese Padroado.
Joao da Cruz lead a delegation of Parava leaders to Cochin, to appeal for Portuguese protection. The appeal is granted on condition that the Paravas embrace the Roman Catholic religion en masse
The Paravas were left with no alternative but agree to the suggestion of Cruz, who led a deputation of 70 Parava leaders to Cochin in 1532, to plead for help against the Moors. The delegation first met with, Pero Vaz, the Vedor da Fazenda, and Michael Vaz, the Vicar General, who in turn pleaded their case with the Governor, Nuno da Cunha. The appeal was granted, after consultation with the Portuguese headquarters in Goa, on condition that the Paravas embrace the Roman Catholic religion en masse and the Paravas pay 60,000 fanams to the Portuguese as protection money.
Father Michael Vaz carries out the historic mass conversion of an estimated 20,000 Paravas in 1533
Accordingly a naval expeditionary force was sent to the Fishery Coast in 1533, accompanied by Father Michael Vaz and other missionaries. The Muslim flotilla dispersed as soon as they sighted the Portuguese vessels, but on landing the Portuguese sought out the Chiefs of the Moors, who were executed. Soon after that, in 1533 Father Michael Vaz carried out the historic mass conversion of an estimated 20,000 Paravas, hailing from 30 coastal villages. The new converts were encouraged to settle down around seven ports, including Tuticorin, in order to provide better security for them. The new converts were accepted as subjects of the King of Portugal, and bound by the laws of Portugal, and exempted from the local laws imposed by the Rajahs and Nayaks of the coast. The Portuguese reserved for themselves the command at sea, the administration of the pearl fisheries, the sovereignty over the Paravas, their villages and ports. The safety and security of the lives and property of the Portuguese were the sole responsibility of the Portuguese. The Nayak of Madura, who was the subject of the king of the Carnatic, after the decline of the Vijayanagar empire, exercised sovereignty over the lands around Madurai, and the lower countries from Cape Comorin to Tanjore. St. Francis Xavier, who arrived on the Fishery Coast from Goa in 1542, described Fr. Michael Vaz as the “father of the Comorin Christians.”
Saint Francis Xavier’s missionary activities on the Fishery Coast
Saint Francis Xavier, his early life and the founding of the Society of Jesus, with St. Ignatius Loyola
Saint Francis Xavier born in 1506, to an aristocratic Basque family of Navarre, Spain, was a pioneering Christian missionary, and co-founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), with St. Ignatius Loyola. He is considered to have converted more people to Christianity than anyone else since St. Paul. In 1525, he entered the University of Paris, where he studied theology, and graduated in 1530. While in the University he acquainted himself with Ignatius Loyola, who together with Francis Xavier, Pierre Favre and four others, bound themselves by a vow at Montmarte in 1534, that led to the formation of the Society of Jesus.
St. Francis Xavier is sent as missionary to the Portuguese colonies of the East
His first assignment as a missionary came in April 1541, when at the request of King John III of Portugal, he was sent with two other Jesuits and the viceroy Martin de Sousa, on board the Santiago, for missionary work in the Portuguese colonies of the East. In August 1541, he landed in the Portuguese east African colony of Mozambique, where he remained until March 1542. He then left Mozambique and reached Goa in mid-western India, the headquarters of the Portuguese colonies in the east, on May 6, 1542, where he served as the Apostolic Nuncio. On September 20, 1542, he left for southern India, with two young ecclesiastics who knew Tamil, for missionary work among the Paravas, the pearl fishers, living along the east coast of southern India, north of Cape Comorin, known as the Fishery Coast or “Costa da Pescaria,” Land of the Pearls.
St. Francis Xavier describes his missionary work on the Fishery Coast in a letter written to St. Ignatius Loyola
His missionary work on the Fishery coast is clearly described by Francis Xavier himself in a letter written to St. Ignatius Loyola in 1543. The relevant section of the letter reads as follows :- “they only replied that they were Christians, but that as they are ignorant of Portuguese, they know nothing of the precepts and mysteries of our holy religion. We could not understand one another, as I spoke Castilian and they Malabar; so I picked the most intelligent and well-read of them…….translated the Catechism into the Malabar tongue. This I learnt by heart, and then I began to go through all the villages of the coast, calling around me by the sound of a bell as many as I could, children and men…. taught them the Christian doctrine….I kept telling them to go on teaching in their turn, whatever they had learnt to their parents, family and neighbors. It often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptizing : often in a single day I have baptized whole villages. Sometimes, I have lost my voice and strength altogether with repeating again and again the Credo and the other forms.
Francis Xavier’s missionary work from 1543 to 1545 in India, after which he leaves for the Far East.
After 15 months of missionary work on the Fishery Coast, towards the end of year 1543, Francis Xavier returned to Goa to procure more assistants for his work. On returning to Goa, he was placed in charge of the Seminary of Faith, which was founded for the education of young Indians. In the following year he returned to the Fishery coast with a team of evangelists, both Indians and Europeans, who were stationed in different towns of the region, catering to the spiritual needs of the people. It was during this period in 1544, that St. Stephen’s Church was built in Combuthurai. During this period, Francis Xavier, visited kanakankudiyiruppu, Sankanankulam near Anaikarai, Ramnathapuram, and Pazhayakayal, baptizing whole villages and placing them under the care of Jesuit missionaries. In any account of Francis Xavier’s work on the Fishery Coast, special mention must be made of his attempts to woo the Parava community away from their excessive drinking habits, in which he was only partially successful. Francis Xavier was furious with the headman of the Paravas, known as “Pattangattis” for setting a bad example to their people, by their free indulgence in arrack, a strong alcoholic drink. He went to the extent of threatening them to sent them in chains to Cochin if they did not reform. However, his greatest source of displeasure was the unchristian life and manners of the Portuguese themselves, that was contrary to what he preached to the Parava laymen, and impeded proselytizing work. In frustration, Francis Xavier left the Fishery Coast for Malacca in 1545, appointing other Jesuit missionaries to take care of the coast.
Father Anrrique Anrriquez is credited with continuing the missionary activities started by St. Francis Xavier and consolidating the Catholic Church on the Fishery Coast
Fr. Antony Criminali was appointed as Superior of the mission, and he became the first missionary who learned to read and write Tamil. Father Antony Criminali was succeeded by Father Anrrique Anrriquez as Superior of the mission, who too learnt Tamil, translated the important prayers to Tamil, set up a Tamil printing press and published many books in Tamil that included the Tamil Bible in 1554. Father Anrrique is credited with building on the work started by Francis Xavier, continuing with missionary activities, expanding the Catholic community many folds, estimated at around 50,000, and building of new churches and hospitals.
Post conversion measures taken by the Portuguese to protect the Parava community
The Portuguese provided protection to the Parava community not only in the sea from pirate attacks by Muslim Cosairs but also on the land from attacks by the forces of the Vijayanagar empire
After the mass conversion, the seven major ports and their environs, where the Paravas were concentrated were fortified by the Portuguese. The Paravas changed their allegiance from the Vijayanagar emperor to the Portuguese sovereign, and the pearl fisheries were declared as royal property. Immediately after the conversion of the Paravas, Vijayanagar rulers who lost all income from the pearl fishery sent its forces under the Vadugars, to harass the Paravas and the pearl fishery coast. Thus, the Portuguese had to provide protection to the Paravas not only in the sea from pirate attacks by the Muslim Cosairs originating from the Malabar coast as well as the Fishery coast itself, but also on the land by the forces of the declining Vijayanagar empire.
The Portuguese imposed heavy taxes and tributes on the Paravas to meet the high costs of providing security
Initially the protection money of 60,000 fanams paid by the Paravas, were used by the Portuguese to defray the high costs of providing protection. But, soon they were compelled to impose taxes on the Parava fisherman in order to meet the costs of providing security. These taxes came not only in the form of cash payments, but also as tributes in the form of pearl harvests. According to the Dutch traveler, John Huyghen van Linschoten, who gave an account of the Gulf of Mannar pearl fishery, on the Indian side of the gulf, which he visited in 1590, when the fishery was administered by the Portuguese, the harvest of pearl oysters at the end of the day’s fishing, was divided into four equal heaps, of which one part went to the king, the second part to the captain and soldiers, the third part to the Jesuit missionaries who maintained a church in the region, and the last to the pearl divers. Thus, three-quarter of the pearl harvests were taken by the Portuguese leaving only one-quarter for the fisherman. Hence, by agreeing to a mass conversion to Christianity, if the Paravas hoped to gain an economic advantage over their rivals the Kayalars, it did not materialize, and most Parava boat owners left the Fishery coast in disappointment and settled in the Coromandel coast, while the poor Parava divers remained in the Fishery coast and continued to be exploited by their Portuguese masters.
The mass conversion of Paravas – was it an economic attempt on the part of Paravas to regain their lost fishing rights ?
Most historians tend to depict the mass conversion of Paravas to Christianity as purely an economic attempt on the part of the Paravas to regain their lost rights and privileges as fisherman and pearl divers, which they had enjoyed from time immemorial, and was usurped by their traditional rivals the Muslim Kayalars. However, it appears that the Portuguese did not see it that way, as evident from the unfair burdens placed on the Paravas, in the form of taxes and tributes. The Portuguese were after the proverbial “pound of flesh” be it from the faithful or the pagans. On the contrary, the Jesuit missionaries were totally sympathetic towards the hopes and aspirations of the Parava people, and tried to minimize the extortionary tendencies of the Portuguese rulers on the innocent Paravas. Thus, initially if the main objective of the Paravas in agreeing to the mass conversion was for economic reasons, the efforts of the Jesuit missionaries subsequently changed the hearts and minds of the people, to the extent that the mass conversion appeared to be purely out of conviction. The Jesuit missionaries and their order Society of Jesus, led by St. Francis Xavier undoubtedly gets the credit for recruiting to the Roman Catholic Church their most steadfast flock whose faith and steadfastness even surpasses that of the western faithful.
The Pearl fisheries under Portuguese control
The political situation on the Fishery Coast at the time the Portuguese took control of it
At the time the Portuguese landed on the Fishery Coast in the early 16th-century, the region was under the jurisdiction of the declining Vijayanagar empire, administered on their behalf by their viceroy, the Nayak of Madurai. However, the Madurai Nayak did not have total control over the fishery. While the Nayak controlled only the northern half of the fishery coast, the king of Travancore controlled the southern half. The arrival of the Portuguese was welcomed by the Vijayanagar rulers, who hoped to enlist their support against the invading forces of the Deccan Sultanate. The Vijayanagar empire of Telungu rulers was founded in the early 14th-century, in response to Muslim incursions of the Delhi Sultanate followed by the Deccan Sultanates, that led to the defeat of the Kakatiya dynasty of Warangal in 1323 A.D. and the Hoysala Ballala rulers of Karnataka in 1333 A.D. By 1370 A.D. the entire south Indian region, including the Tamil-speaking areas came under their total control. The empire served as a bulwark against Muslim incursions for the next 200 years, and became not only a mighty economic power, but also excelled in the arts, music, dance and literature. The Portuguese established lucrative trade relations with the Vijayanagar empire after their settlement on the Fishery Coast. Domingo Paes, the Portuguese trader who visited the Vijayanagar capital in the 1520s, wrote of its prosperity and splendor and the bazaars dealing in gold, diamonds, all types of precious stones and pearls.
The ascendancy of Nayak rulers on the Fishery coast after the decline and defeat of the Vijayanagar empire
At the time the Portuguese arrived on the Fishery Coast, the Vijayanagar empire was in the process of losing its grip on the outskirts of the empire. While the Portuguese were busy making settlements on the coast, the Nayak of Madurai was busy exerting his authority on the coastal areas from Cape Comorin to Tanjore, fighting and expelling all princes and land owners living and reigning there. However, it was only in the 1940s that the Nayak rulers were able to consolidate their power in the region. Finally in 1565, after the battle of Talikota, in which the King of Vijayanagar fell before a combined force of Deccan Sultanates, the Nayak rulers of Madurai became totally independent, and their dynasty prevailed until 1736, when the last of the dynasty fell before the power of the Nawab of Carnatic, the ally of the British.
The balance of power that existed between the Portuguese and the Nayak rulers surrounding the fishery coast
Under the terms of the mass conversion that took place in 1533, the Portuguese exercised sovereignty over the Paravas, their villages and ports and administered the pearl fisheries, while taking care of the security of the lives and property of the Paravas. The Madurai Nayak on the other hand, always suspicious of the motives of the Portuguese, habitually lent his support to the Moors, perhaps in the hope of eventually being able to drive out the Portuguese and take control of the coveted pearl fishery. However, none of the Nayaks were strong enough to oust the Portuguese, and a balance of power usually existed between them. The Portuguese even granted certain privileges to the Madurai Nayak, in return for facilities given to pearl merchants to travel through his territory without exactions, to the scene of the Fishery, such as the granting of a certain number of free boats and divers for the fishery.
The Portuguese had their headquarters initially at Pinnacoil and after 1580 at Tuticorin. The Muslim Kayalars set up a new settlement and seaport at Kayalpattanam
The Portuguese initially had their headquarters at Pinnacoil (Pinnakayal) from where they administered the pearl fisheries, but subsequently around 1580 made Tuticorin their chief settlement on the Pescaria coast. After the settlement of the Paravas around seven major ports including Pinnacoil and Tuticorin, the head of the Muslim Kayalars, Mudaliyar Pillai Marakkayar encouraged his people to settle down in another coastal area formed by the silting and shifting of the mouth of the river Tambraparni, known as Kayalpattanam, which eventually became a major seaport rivaling Pinnacoil and Tuticorin. In recognition of Mudaliyar Pillai Marakkayar’s efforts in settling a large number of his people at Kayalpattanam, and thus creating for the Nayak of Madurai an alternative seaport able to rival Pinnacoil and Tuticorin, the Nayak gave several gifts to him, which included the grant of free divers at the fishery.
The Sethupathi of Ramnad was also granted free divers in every fishery in return for his contribution to the success of the fishery
Apart from the Nayak of Madurai, the Portuguese also maintained excellent relations with the Sethupathi of Ramnad, a petty sovereign who was nominally under the Madurai monarch, but virtually independent of him, leaning more towards foreign sea powers, for his lands being coastal and insular, the danger was greater from the sea than form the land. His domain included the strategic narrow strait known as the Pamban pass separating the mainland from the Island of Rameswaram, the line of Islets and sandbanks connecting the islands of Rameswaram and Mannar, known as Adam’s bridge, and the coastal areas on the fishery coast as far south as Keelakarai, the great Moor pearl diving center. The European lords of the pearl fisheries, such as the Portuguese, Dutch and the British always sought his help and assistance in prosecuting the fisheries, and while guarding the narrow straits, he also provided pilots for the foreign ships for their safe passage through the straits and by virtue of the sovereignty exercised by him over the pass, levied dues on vessels passing through. The Sethupathi (Lord of the Causeway) who was the head of the Maravar caste was the hereditary guardian of the temple of Rameswaram. The Portuguese granted 60 free divers to the Sethupathi in every fishery, in return for his contribution to the success of the fishery. Apart from the 60 free divers the Sethupathi was also granted one day’s fishing from all his subjects, a privilege enjoyed by the Madurai Nayak too.
An estimate of the value of the pearl fisheries during the Portuguese period
Nothing is known for certain about the conduct of the fisheries by the Portuguese, as most of the records pertaining to the fisheries, such as the dates of the fisheries, the interval between successive fisheries, the number of boats that took part in the fisheries, the number of pearl divers employed, the estimated total harvest of oysters, the number and quality of pearls found, the revenue collected from the fisheries, etc. have disappeared and perhaps been destroyed over the years. However, the Portuguese colonial authorities based in Goa were well aware of the great benefits and revenue that would accrue to the King of Portugal from the pearl fisheries, and appointed in the name of the King, military chiefs and captains to superintend it. It was reported that the captains obtained from the fisheries each time a profit of 6,000 rixdollars for the king. Further evidence that the fisheries were indeed flourishing in the second half of the 16th-century comes from the fine churches and great monasteries that rose in centers such as Pinnacoil, and Tuticorin, whose construction was funded from the offerings and profits of the divers and merchants during this period. The fisheries under the Portuguese appear to have been of great collective profit during the first half of the period of their rule from around 1525 to 1600, a period that marked the height of their power, when they had no European rival, and were free to concentrate their forces entirely against the native races. After breaking the power of the Arabs, who had dominated the east-west trade routes of the Indian ocean for nearly eight centuries, from the 7th to 15th centuries, the Portuguese became the dominant power in the Indian ocean, filling the vacuum created in the international east-west trade.
Details of the status of the fishery during the Portuguese period come to us from travelers and writers who visited the area during this period
Even though records of the pearl fisheries during Portuguese rule are not available, details of the status of the fishery during this period come to us from travelers and writers who visited the area during this period. Among them are John Huyghen van Linschoten, a Dutchman who visited the region in 1590, Caesar Frederick, a Venetian trader and traveler, who visited India, between 1563 and 1581, Jeane Baptiste Tavernier, traveler and jeweler from France, who traveled to India between 1631 to 1668, and Juan Ribeiro, a Portuguese writer who gave a detailed account of the pearl fishery in the Gulf of Mannar in his book “History of Ceilao” (History of Ceylon) written in 1685. Relevant sections from their writings were dealt with in detail in the previous webpage, dealing with the Gulf of Mannar pearl fishery from the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf – Please refer to the webpage :- History of the Discovery and Appreciation of Pearls – The Organic Gem Perfected by Nature – Page 4.
The Portuguese exploited the pearl resources on the Indian side of the Gulf from around 1525 until their ouster by the Dutch from Tuticorin in 1658. On the Sri Lankan side they were able to exploit the pearl banks only after 1560
During the period of Portuguese rule of the coastal areas of southern India and Sri Lanka, from around 1505 to 1658, the Portuguese were able to exploit the pearl resources mainly on the Indian side of the Gulf, on the fishery coast, starting from about 1525, when they first took control of the fishery, until when they were ousted by the Dutch from Tuticorin in 1658. On the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf, initially from 1505 to 1560, they were not able to exploit the pearl banks as they were under the control of the Arya Chakravarty kings of the Jaffna kingdom, who successfully kept the Portuguese at bay, probably with the help of the Muslim Cosairs from Malabar and the Fishery Coast. In fact king Sankili I who ruled from 1519 to 1561, successfully fought the Portuguese and even massacred 600-700 Parava pearl divers in the Island of Mannar, who were brought from the Fishery Coast in India, to exploit the lucrative pearl fisheries on the Sri Lankan side. The Jaffna kingdom successfully fought off all attacks by the Portuguese, and the first expedition that was partially successful took place in 1560, when Constantino de Braganca captured only the Mannar Island from the kingdom, but was not able to subdue Jaffna. Constantino de Braganca built a fort in Mannar, where the Portuguese usually took refuge from attacks by the forces of the Jaffna kingdom. It was in the fort of Mannar that the Paravas also took refuge, after the Portuguese temporarily withdrew from the Fishery Coast, with their Parava subjects, in response to attacks and harassments of the Vadugars of the Madurai Nayak. The Portuguese finally subdued the Jaffna kingdom only in 1619 after the defeat of Sankili II, destroying all Hindu temples in Jaffna and the Saraswathy Mahal Library in Nallur, the royal repository of all literary output of the kingdom. During the period 1560 to 1619, when the Portuguese were confined mainly to the fort in Mannar, it is not known to what extent they were able to exploit the pearl banks on the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf, that extended from Chilaw to Adams Bridge, connecting Mannar Island to Rameswaram. From 1619, the Portuguese were free to exploit the pearl resources on the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf, until 1658 when the Dutch captured Jaffna. During this short period of about 40 years, it is not known to what extent the Portuguese were able to exploit the pearl resources on the Sri Lankan side, as they were busy suppressing at least four rebellions against them in Jaffna, and the arrival of the Dutch in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka in 1602 was itself a destabilizing factor for them, as they lost no time in signing a treaty with their enemy the Nayak of Madurai.
The Portuguese withdraw temporarily from the Fishery Coast to the Mannar Island with their Parava subjects, in response to harassment by the Vadugars
There was a short period around 1560-1570, when the Portuguese temporarily withdrew together with their Parava subjects from the Fishery Coast to the Fort on the Mannar Island and the string of islands skirting the coast from Tuticorin to Pamban. This was in response to the attacks and harassments by the agents of the Nayak of Madurai, the Vadugars, the Nayak’s tax-gatherers of Telungu origin, belonging to the same caste as the Nayak himself, described by a Jesuit writer of the time as “collectors of the royal taxes, a race of over-scaring and insolent men.” After withdrawing from the Fishery Coast, the Portuguese imposed a blockade of the Nayak’s seaboard, and using their vessels destabilized the entire fishery coast, pillaging and plundering, bringing the pearl fishery to a standstill, that resulted in great loss to the Nayak, that his renters and overseers requested the Nayak to call the Portuguese back. However, in spite of the disturbances, the Paravas continued to hold pearl fisheries from the small islands along the Madura coast and the island of Mannar. One such island was the Nallatanni-tivu (freshwater island) lying off the coast between Tuticorin and Keelakarai, where unmistakable evidence of a fishery camp was discovered among its sand dunes in recent times. During this period, the Island of Mannar became the main center of the Gulf of Mannar pearl fishery, giving rich dividends to both the Portuguese and their subjects and allies the Paravas.
In the second half of Portuguese rule revenues from the pearl fishery decline
The Portuguese returned to the Fishery Coast and continued the exploitation of the pearl oyster resources with the help of their Parava subjects, and a state of normalcy returned to the coast. However, in the second half of their rule from around 1600 to 1658, revenues from the fisheries appear to be on the decline either due to low harvest of oysters or disruptions caused after the appearance of the Dutch on the fishery coast in the early half of the 17th-century. The Dutch competition in trade drastically reduced the revenues of the Portuguese, who imposed unbearable taxes on the Paravas, forcing some of them to leave the Fishery Coast for the Malabar and Coromandel coasts. The flight of the Parava divers totally disrupted the pearl fisheries during the last years of Portuguese rule, which was restored only after the Dutch took control of the fishery.
Revenues from the pearl fishery were attractive but not constant and reliable
Even though the pearl fishery was an attractive source of revenue, the administrators of the fishery be it the Portuguese, or before their arrival, the Paravas or the Kayalars, were well aware that it was not a constant or reliable source of revenue, as a successful fishery depended on many factors, such as climatic factors, favorable ocean currents etc. Storms and strong underwater currents can disturb the oysters on the pearl banks, or cause them to be washed off with the shifting sands, and the pearl banks could be ruined in a very short time. Hence during some years the pearl fisheries were a failure, or pearl fisheries did not take place for sometime until the pearl banks were restored to their previous condition.
Why the pearl banks on the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf were generally much richer than that on the Indian side ?
It is believed that strong underwater ocean currents bring water from the Bay of Bengal to the Gulf of Mannar through the Palk Straits. Such ocean currents are stronger on the Indian side of the Gulf of Mannar, than on the Sri Lankan side, causing the oysters to be washed off from the banks. This was attributed to be the main reason, why the pearl banks on the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf were generally much richer than that on the Indian side. This was so during the Dutch as well as the British periods.
Historical evidence to show that the pearl banks on the Mannar side was not always the most lucrative, and the pearl banks on the Tuticorin side were sometimes more lucrative than those on the Mannar side
However, during the final years of the Portuguese period as reported by Juan Ribeyro in his book the “History of Ceilao,” the inhabitants of Mannar became impoverished by the decadence of the Pearl fishery on the Ceylon coast, and its transference to the Tuticorin side. Juan Ribeyro believed that the oysters had migrated from the Mannar side to the Tuticorin side. This was probably caused by underwater currents from the Bay of Bengal, which were much stronger on the Mannar side than the Tuticorin side, which led to the washing off of the oysters from the pearl banks of the Mannar side, leaving the pearl oysters on the Tuticorin side in tact. This probably happened continuously for several years, causing impoverishment on the Mannar side, by the decadence of the pearl fishery. The significance of this observation by Ribeyro in the second half of the 17th-century, is that the pearl banks on the Mannar side was not always the most lucrative throughout history, as generally it was believed to be. Likewise, on the Tuticorin side of the Gulf, it appears that during the Portuguese period the pearl banks were quite lucrative, but subsequently during the Dutch and the British periods there was decadence of the pearl banks on this side.
The arrival of the Dutch in Sri Lanka in 1602, who assisted the King of Kandy by ousting the Portuguese from their forts, the last fort falling in 1658
The Dutch first landed in Sri Lanka in 1602, on the eastern coastal town of Batticaloa, which was under the domain of the Central Kandyan kingdom, ruled by King Wimaladharmasuriya I. The king of Kandy welcomed the arrival of the Dutch, and gave them all assistance to set up a Dutch fort in Batticaloa, where they took up residence. The king of Kandy eventually sought the assistance of the Dutch, against the Portuguese, who were well entrenched in their forts in the coastal cities of Colombo, Galle, Negombo, Mannar, Jaffna and Trincomalee, as the persecution of the local population was becoming unbearable. Eventually Dutch assistance was given to the king, and the Dutch with the assistance of the Sinhalese army, began ousting the Portuguese from their forts, one after another. The last Portuguese fort to fall to the Dutch was the Jaffna fort in 1658.
The Dutch sign a treaty with the Nayak of Madurai and are given port facilities in the Muslim port of Kayalpattanam and freedom to trade in his territories
As the Dutch were consolidating their hold on the coastal towns of Sri Lanka, they set up the Dutch East India Company around 1644, to carry on trade and commerce with the coastal cities in India and Sri Lanka. They also established contacts with the Nayak of Madurai and the Muslim kayalars of Kayalpattanam, the enemies of the Portuguese on the Fishery Coast. This led to the signing of a treaty with the Nayak of Madurai to enable them carry on trade in his territories with security and freedom. The Dutch were given port facilities in the Muslim controlled port of Kayalpattanam, where they set up their dwellings and warehouses to carry on trade with the interior of the Nayak’s territory. The Portuguese who were then occupying the neighboring port of Pinnacoil, plotted with their Parava subjects to attack the Dutch East India Company’s warehouses in Kayalpattanam, and seize their goods and murder their workers. However, in the latter attempt they failed as a Dutch ship appeared unexpectedly, in which the men took refuge and escaped from death.
The Dutch take possession of towns, forts and ships of the Portuguese on the Fishery Coast, and finally capture the Portuguese headquarters of Tuticorin in 1658
The Dutch increased their presence on the Fishery Coast, taking possession of towns, forts and ships of the Portuguese. Eventually, the Dutch attacked and captured the Portuguese headquarters at Tuticorin in 1658, bringing to an end the 133-year Portuguese rule over the Fishery Coast. The Dutch East India Company now took control of the entire Fishery Coast, all its seaports, the pearl fisheries, as well as the Christian Parava subjects of the Portuguese. The Muslim Kayalars of Kayalpattanam now heaved a sigh of relief after being set free of over a century of Portuguese oppression. The Christian Paravas on the other hand felt sorry that their foreign masters who not only looked after their interests and security but also gave them a new philosophy of life was no more. However, even the Paravas felt relieved when the Portuguese were finally evicted, since in the declining years of their rule, due to Dutch competition in trade they were losing valuable revenue and to compensate for the loss increased their exactions from the Paravas, forcing some of them to leave the Fishery Coast for the Coromandel or Malabar coasts. Moreover, due to falling revenues they were unable to give the Paravas, adequate protection, especially at sea.
The Pearl fisheries of the Fishery Coast under Dutch Control
The first and second pearl fishery under the supervision of the Dutch East India Company was held in 1663 and 1669 respectively
The Dutch held their first pearl fishery on the Fishery Coast, under the supervision of the Dutch East India Company, in 1663, five years after they took control of the coast. On the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf of Mannar, the Dutch held their first pearl fishery three years later in 1666. The first pearl fishery held by them on the Fishery Coast, resulted in a profit of 18,000 florins. During this fishery in keeping with traditions set by the Portuguese a certain number of free boats were allocated to the Nayak of Madura, the Sethupathi of Ramnad and the Moor head of Kayalpattanam. The second Dutch fishery was held 6 years later in 1669, but the profit realized is not known.
Possible reasons for the delay of the third fishery held after a long interval of 22 years in 1691
The third Dutch fishery took place after an unduly long interval of 22 years, in 1691. The fishery was successful but the revenue realized is not known; however, it has been recorded that in keeping with tradition 385 free stones were granted, out of which 96 went to the Nayak of Madura, 59 to the Sethupathi of Ramnad and the remainder to the headman of the divers. The reason for the long interval was due to oyster populations becoming scarcer, probably due to overexploitation, unsuitable weather conditions or strong underwater currents that disturbed the oyster beds or some other unknown factors. The Dutch Commandant of Jaffna, by the name of Croon, writing about the pearl fishery of the Gulf of Mannar in 1697, states, “the pearl fishery is an extraordinary source of revenue, on which no certain reliance can be placed, as it depends on various contingencies which may ruin the banks or spoil the oysters. If no particular accident happens, it may take place for years successfully, but if the oysters happen to be washed off the banks or to be disturbed by storms, the banks may be totally ruined in a very short time. The examination of the pearl banks is supervised by specially appointed commissioners, and is conducted in dhonies by Fattangattys and other native headmen, who understand the business.”
The disastrous three-day fishery of 1700 that resulted in serious losses to all participants
What Croon prophesized in 1697, materialized just three years after that in 1700, which has gone down in history as a “disastrous three-day fishery.” The pre-harvesting testing carried out prior to the fishery was most encouraging and predicted a profitable fishery. Accordingly, an unusually large number of boat-owners took out licenses to take part in the fishery. But, unfortunately when the fishery started, it proved to be one of the most disastrous in the history of the Gulf of Mannar, pearl fishery. On the very first day of the fishery only a few thousand oysters were taken by all the divers put together, and just a day or two afterwards not a single oyster could be found anywhere on the banks. The reason given for the sudden disappearance of the oysters was, that due to some unknown cause strong under-currents had set in, washing off the oysters from the pearl banks. Whatever might have been the cause of the disappearance of the oysters, the results of the failure of the fishery were most ruinous to the participants. Several merchants and pearl dealers had advanced large sums of money to the boat-owners on speculation, in the hope of recovering them after the fishery. The dealers thus lost their money. Likewise, the boat-owners had advanced money to the divers and others taking part in the fishery, and they too lost their money. Thus, the disastrous fishery of 1700, discouraged the merchants and dealers, who were the ultimate losers, from investing in anymore speculative ventures. The Dutch authorities too allowed the pearl banks to rest giving it sufficient time to regenerate and reach optimum levels. This happened after eight long years, when it was found that the pearl banks had satisfactorily regenerated itself, and was ready again for exploitation.
The 1708 fishery was perhaps the most successful fishery held by the Dutch East India Company, and the last open fishery conducted by the Dutch on the fishery coast
The 1708 fishery was perhaps the most successful fishery held under Dutch control, by the Dutch East India Company, registering record profits of 106,176 florins (about Â£9,000 at the exchange rates prevalent at that time)). The total number of stones (divers) employed was 4,321, which in comparison was higher than the total of 3,922 employed in the Ceylon pearl fishery of 1903 under British control. The total harvest of oysters in the Ceylon pearl fishery of 1903, was 41,169,637 with a government gross revenue of Â£55,303, in which two-thirds of the catch went to the government. Thus, the revenue of 106,176 florins (approx Â£9,000) realized by the Dutch, almost 200 years earlier in 1708, at a time when the fishery was more profitable to the subjects than the government, making allowances for the strength of the currency two centuries later, would represent a fishery that compares well in magnitude and output with the British pearl fishery of 1903.
The allocation of free stones to the local rulers and chiefs by the Dutch, and the breakdown of Christian and Moor divers selected by them
398 free stones (divers) were granted in keeping with traditions, out of which 96 went to the Nayak of Madurai, 60 to the Sethupathi of Ramnad, 10 to the Head Moorman of Kayalpattanam, 185 to the Pattangatis of the Paravas, 30 to the Adigars of Mannar and 13 to the Adigaars of Jaffnapatnam. The Nayak of Madurai employed 92 Moor divers mainly from Kayalpattanam, falling under his domain and 4 Christian (Parava) divers, and the Sethpathi of Ramnad employed Moor divers only (60) from Keelakarai coming under his territory. The Head Moorman of Kayalpattanam, though allocated only 10 free stones, employed 5 each of Christian and Moor divers, depicting his willingness to be fair and even-handed when dealing with his subjects, irrespective of religious persuasions. The 185 free stones granted to the Pattangatis, were all given to the Christian Paravas. The Pattangatis were granted this favor, as compensation for assistance in inspecting the banks, guarding any oyster banks discovered, recruiting divers and superintending operations during the fishery.
On a recommendation made by Van Imhoff the open fishery system was discontinued and with effect from 1746 the fishery was rented out to private entrepreneurs for exploitation
After the five successful fisheries held in the years 1663, 1669, 1691, 1700 and 1708 by the Dutch East India Company, no further fisheries were held on the Tuticorin side, until 1746, when on a recommendation made by G.W. Baron Van Imhoff, the former Governor of Ceylon, who was now the Governor-General of Netherlands Indies (Indonesia), the pearl fishery was rented out to private entrepreneurs for exploitation. The reasons given by Van Imhoff for advancing this change was that the disadvantages in the former system far outweighed the advantages. Among the disadvantages he listed were the expenses involved in running the fishery, the employment of militia to guard the fishery, the consumption of provisions, the risks to which the commissioners and policemen employed in maintaining law and order were exposed, their exposure to death and disease and the stench of deteriorating oysters during and after the fishery, the jacking up of prices of provisions during the period, and smuggling activities taking place during the fishery that resulted in loss of revenue to the Government. Accordingly, Governor Van Imhoff advocated the discontinuance of open fisheries, and the renting out of the fisheries possibly to a single individual, who gets the absolute right to conduct the fisheries, with the abolishing of the age-old practice of granting free boats and stones; a suggestion that was accepted by the new Governor of Ceylon, Van Gollenesse.
Strong objections raised by the Nawab of Carnatic, for abolishing his privilege of free stones, which was reluctantly restored by the Dutch in 1747
The 1746 fishery both on the Tuticorin and Sri Lankan sides were conducted under the new arrangement, with the fisheries being rented out to private entrepreneurs, but the opposition raised by the Nawab of the Carnatic, who ousted the Nayak dynasty of Madura in 1736 was so strong, that the Dutch could not ignore his objections, and in the 1947 fishery his traditional entitlement of free divers were reluctantly restored, but to lesser number of free divers (35 divers), with a proportionate reduction in the stipulated price of the rent. Objections raised by the Sethupathi of Ramnad, the Pattangattis of the Paravas and others were totally rejected by the Dutch. The reason for this differential treatment was because the Dutch feared the Nawab of Carnatic, who was an ally of the British, and had the power and the resources to make life difficult for them, and had the potential to attack and destroy the Dutch linen factories that was more profitable than the pearl fisheries. In 1747, the Tuticorin fishery was rented out for 60,000 florins (Â£5,000), and the unproductive cycle that had prevailed so long on the Tuticorin side was broken that year. The condition of the pearl banks being satisfactory in the succeeding two years, permission was granted for the conduct of the fishery in 1748 and 1749, the fisheries being rented out for 114,720 florins (Â£9,560) and 63,600 florins (Â£5,300) respectively.
The Tuticorin fishery of 1771 at which the privileges of the Sethupathi of Ramnad was restored
The next pearl fishery after 1749 was held 22 years later in 1771. However, prior to this in 1767, the Sethupathi of Ramnad signed a treaty with the Dutch, under which the possession of the Pamban Pass and the right to levy dues on shipping passing through the pass, was transferred to the Dutch, in exchange for the granting of two free diving boats at all future pearl fisheries held on the banks off the coast of Madurai or under the territory of Tuticorin, together with the privilege of purchasing from the Dutch Government, at every fishery held on the Ceylon side, five boats at the same price as the renter should contract. Accordingly article XXX of the contract signed by the Renters of the Tuticorin fishery of 1771 reads as follows :- “Lastly the renter of the fishery must admit 20 dhonies of the Armanie or Regent of Madura, with 96 stones and two dhonies on the part of the Catte Theuvers, manned in the same manner as the renter’s dhonies, which 22 dhonies, together with 180 of the renters, shall fish throughout the whole fishery without the renters being permitted to make any demand on that account.”
The treaty signed by the Sethupathi of Ramnad with the Dutch gives an idea of the true value of the pearl fishery
The above article shows not only the granting of a special privilege of two dhonies to the Catte Theuver, the Sethupathi of Ramnad, but also the surprising restoration of all 20 dhonies and 96 stones to the Nawab of the Carnatic, as previously enjoyed by his predecessors, the Nayaks of Madurai. Another, interesting fact that emerges from the treaty signed between the Dutch and the Sethupathi of Ramnad, is about the extra-ordinary value of the pearl fishery, the returns from just two dhonies being equivalent to or more than the total levies collected from shipping passing through the Pamban Pass, perhaps for several years. Hence, the decision of the Sethupathi to transfer the possession of the Pamban Pass together with the right to levy dues, in exchange for the granting of special privileges at the pearl fisheries.
The Pearl Fishery of 1784, the first conducted by the English East India Company, when Tuticorin was temporarily in their hands
The 1784 fishery was the first conducted by the British East India Company, when Tuticorin was temporarily under their control. The fishery was held on the Tolayiram Par, giving the company a gross revenue of 20,000 cull chucrums.
The Dutch deliberately postponed the fisheries to avoid giving-in to exorbitant demands of the Nawab of the Carnatic, until a settlement was effected on equitable terms
The long period of blank years after the successful fisheries of 1746, 1747, 1748 and 1749 was up to 1768, perhaps due to imperfect pre-fishery inspection or natural causes such as storms and under-currents, or a combination of the two. However, after 1768 an additional factor emerged that was responsible for the Dutch postponing the fishery indefinitely. This was the reluctance of the Dutch to agree to the pressing demands of the Nawab of the Carnatic. who laid down exorbitant conditions in sharing of the profits arising from the fisheries, both on the Indian and Sri Lankan sides. In fact in the Ceylon fishery held at Arippu in 1768, violent disputes arose between the Dutch and the envoys of the Nawab, who attended the fishery accompanied by a large body of armed sepoys, and tried to dictate terms at the fishery. The Dutch instead of going into a violent confrontation with the Nawab, that would threaten their cloth monopoly in Madurai, preferred to postpone the pearl fisheries deliberately under various pretexts, until a settlement was effected on equitable terms.
In 1786, the Dutch are forced to give-in to the demands of the Nawab under pressure from the British, the ally of the Nawab
Finally, in 1786 the Dutch under pressure from the British Government of Madras, an ally of the Nawab, gave-in to his demands conferring on him greater advantages than he had enjoyed 20 years earlier. The Dutch were compelled to agree to this due to their dwindling power, and the rapid expansion of the military power and commercial supremacy of the British East India Company. Under the terms of the agreement with the Nawab, the Dutch granted to the Nawab, one-half of the profits realized from any fishery off the Madurai coast, and 36 free dhonies at any fishery held on the Ceylon side, in return for the confirmation of the Dutch trading monopoly in Madura cloth, one of the most lucrative sources of revenue for the Dutch East India Company.
The 1787 and 1792 fisheries are the last two fisheries conducted by the Dutch on the Fishery Coast, before the control of the pearl banks on both sides of the Gulf, passed to the British in 1796
The terms of the agreement became effective with the fisheries of 1787 and 1792, the profits of the two fisheries being shared equally between the Government of the Carnatic and the Dutch company. The pearl fishery of 1787 was conducted on the Tolayiram Par, which gave a gross revenue of Rs.63,000, shared equally between the two parties. The fishery of 1792 was held on four different pars, known as Uti, Uduruvi, Kilati and Attuveiarpagam, lying inshore of the Tolayiram par, and yielded a revenue of Rs.42,525, that was shared between the two governments. These were the last two fisheries conducted by the Dutch off the Madurai coast, before the Dutch control of the pearl banks on both sides of the Gulf of Mannar, passed to the British in 1796.
Pearl Fisheries of the Fishery Coast under British control
Circumstances under which Britain took possession of the pearl banks on the Indian and Sri Lankan side of the Gulf of Mannar
Events taking place in Europe towards the end of the 18th-century, mainly Napoleon Bonaparte capturing the Netherlands and the Prince of Orange escaping to London, led to British forces from Madras making a quick move, and taking over all Dutch possessions in Sri Lanka and southern India in 1796, with or without a fight, fearing that French control of the Netherlands, might deliver such possessions to the French. It is under these circumstances that the pearl banks on the Indian and Sri Lankan side of the Gulf of Mannar, came under the control of the British.
The British taking control of the districts abutting the fishery coast ensure safe passage of participants to the fisheries, eliminating the need to grant special privileges to the local rulers
Soon after taking control of the pearl banks on the Indian side of the Gulf, the British also brought under their suzerainty, Tinnevelly and Ramnad districts bordering the fishery coast, previously under the control of the Nawab of Carnatic. These were the two districts from where most of the Parava and Moor divers originated. The control of the two districts was crucial for the successful conduct of any pearl fishery, as the merchants and pearl dealers traveling from Bombay, Madras, Madurai and Ramnad, had to pass through these districts to reach the fishery coast. Previously, during the Portuguese and Dutch periods, safe passage through the districts was guaranteed by local rulers such as the Nayak of Madurai and the Sethpathi of Ramnad, who were compensated for their co-operation by the granting of free boats and stones, that necessarily led to losses and decrease in revenue. However, with these two crucial districts coming under the control of the British, who were powerful enough to take care of security in these areas, the special privileges granted to the local rulers, were abolished, except for the Chief of the Paravas, known as the “Jati Thalaivan,” on a reduced scale, in return for services rendered during the inspection of the banks and the conduct of the fisheries.
Special privileges were provided only to the “Jati Thalaivan” of the Paravas for services rendered in the conduct of the fisheries
Apart from assisting in the inspection, the “Jati Thalaivan” provided guards for the banks to be fished, served as informer to the government on any accidental finds of oysters, acted as intermediary between the Government and his people, to ensure that sufficient numbers of boats and divers took part in the fishery. The British were satisfied with the duties performed by the “Jati Thalaivan” that in 1889 the Madras Government placed on record their appreciation of the assistance rendered by him, and recommended that his privilege of two free boats each carrying 10 divers be continued. In the 1889 fishery, the privilege of two boats gave the “Jati Thalaivan” a revenue of Rs.7,620. Later, in 1891 they slightly modified the privilege, by introducing a sliding scale, that allowed him one boat for 30 or less number of boats of the government, two boats if the number of government boats was between 31 to 60, and three boats if between 61 to 90 and so on, increasing the number of boats by one for every block of 30 boats.
A comparison of the pearl fisheries on the Indian side and Sri Lankan side during the British period
During the British period, extending from 1796 to 1908, pearl fisheries on the Fishery Coast were prosecuted approximately about 15 times. In comparison on the Sri Lankan side, the fisheries were prosecuted approximately 53 times, i.e. about 3Â½ times more than on the Indian side. The greater frequency and longer continuous periods of fishery on the Sri Lankan side, some as long as 10-15 years, have been attributed to the richer and more stable pearl banks on the Sri Lankan side, that are protected by the strong undercurrents originating from the Bay of Bengal. The yield of oysters on the Sri Lankan side was also much greater than that on the Indian side. In the greatest fishery on the Sri Lankan side in 1905, the yield of oysters was a whopping 81,580,716 oysters that gave a record revenue of Â£251,073 to the Colonial Government. In comparison the greatest fishery on the Indian side was in 1860, in which the yield was 15,874,500 oysters, bringing in a revenue of only Â£25,000 (approx.) to the Madras Colonial Government. Thus, the yield and revenue realized on the Sri Lankan side during their greatest fishery was respectively 5 and 10 times greater than the yield and revenue realized on the Indian side during their greatest fishery.
The Madras pearl fishery was similar to the Sri Lankan pearl fishery in all important respects
The headquarters of the pearl fishery on the Fishery Coast was situated at Tuticorin, as in the late Portuguese and Dutch periods. As in the Ceylon pearl fishery, a temporary camp made of bamboo and palmyra was erected on the barren shore closer to the pearl banks that were to be exploited. The camp was not as big as the camps erected for the Sri Lankan fisheries; probably around one-fourth or one-fifth of the size of the latter. The camp resembles the Sri Lankan fishery camps in all important features, such as the divers’ and merchants’ quarters, the bungalows for officials, the hospital, the bazaar, the collection and sale enclosure, the temporary Roman Catholic chapel, and the washing enclosures detached from the main camp and situated at a distance. The divers taking part in the fishery were Paravas from Tuticorin, Pinnacoil, and other settlements and Moors from Kayalpattanam and Keelakarai. In the manner of its prosecution too, the Madras fishery was similar to the Sri Lankan fishery in all important respects, such as the manner in which the boats were manned and operated; the time of fishing, beginning with the break of dawn and ending around noon, taking advantage of the early morning land-breeze for the boats to put out to sea, and the afternoon sea-breeze for the return journey; unloading of day’s catch and depositing them in the Government enclosures; division of the day’s catch into three equal heaps, one share going to the divers and the remaining two to the Government; the divers disposing of their share as they wished and the Government auctioning its share daily at the end of the day; rotting of the oysters and washing in special enclosures as was done in Sri Lanka.
An analysis of the pearl fisheries held during the Dutch and British periods in the Gulf of Mannar both on the Indian and Sri Lankan sides
The table below lists the years the pearl fisheries were held on the Indian side and Sri Lankan side of the Gulf, during the Dutch and British periods, from 1658 to 1908. The Dutch period lasted from 1658 to 1796. The British period extended from 1796 to 1907/1908, the last time the pearl fisheries were held under the British in Sri Lanka and India. The period covers 250 years from 1658 to 1908.
An analysis of the number of fisheries held on the Indian and Sri Lankan sides of the Gulf of Mannar during the Dutch and British periods
|Pearl Fisheries on Indian Side
|Pearl Fisheries on Sri Lankan Side
|Year of Fishery
|Number of Years
|Year of Fishery
|Number of Years
Information that can be derived from the above table
1) During the 250-year period from 1658 to 1908, covering the Dutch and British periods, 26 fisheries were held on the Indian side of the Gulf of Mannar and 64 fisheries on the Sri Lankan side.
2) The number of fisheries held on the Indian side during the Dutch period from 1658 to 1796 were 11.
3) The number of fisheries held on the Sri Lankan side during the Dutch period from 1658 to 1796 were also 11.
4) The number of fisheries held on the Indian side during the British period from 1796 to 1908 were 15.
5) The number of fisheries held on the Sri Lankan side during the British period from 1796 to 1907 were 53.
6) The number of times pearl fisheries were held on the Sri Lankan side was 2Â½ times greater than the number held on the Indian side.
7) The greater frequency of fisheries on the Sri Lankan side than the Indian side, indicates that the pearl banks on the Sri Lankan side was much richer than that on the Indian side.
8) Fisheries on the Sri Lankan side lasted for longer continuous periods than those on the Indian side, also indicating the rich nature of the banks on the Sri Lankan side.
E.g. On the Sri Lankan side :- 1694-1697 = 4 years; 1796-1799 = 4 years; 1814-1816 = 3 years; 1828-1837 = 10 years; 1855-1863 = 9 years; 1874-1888 = 15 years.
On the Indian side :- 1747-1749 = 3years; 1860-1862 = 3 years
9) The number of continuous periods on the Sri Lankan side was greater than those on the Indian side. This accounts for the great difference in the total number of fisheries conducted on each side, and also points to the richness of the Sri Lankan pearl banks. E.g. 10 continuous periods on the Sri Lankan side and 3 on the Indian side.
10) Another important observation that can be made from the table is that the year the fishery was held on the Indian side usually coincides with a blank period on the Sri Lankan side and vice versa, except in seven years, 1746, 1815, 1828, 1830, 1860, 1861 and 1862, when fisheries were held on both sides of the Gulf.
11) Out of the 26 Indian fisheries in 250 years, 19 fisheries were held when no fishery was held on the Sri Lankan side.
12) Out of the 63 Sri Lankan fisheries in 250 years, 57 fisheries were held when no fishery was held on the Indian side.
13) Any Indian fishery was preceded by a Ceylon fishery held 1-3 years earlier. Eg. 1669 Indian fishery preceded by 1667 Ceylon fishery
Eg. 1700 Indian fishery preceded by 1697 Ceylon fishery
Eg. 1805, 1807, 1810 Indian fisheries preceded respectively by 1804, 1806 and 1809 Ceylon fisheries.
Eg. 1818 and 1822 Indian fisheries preceded respectively by 1816 and 1820 Ceylon fisheries.
14) Each Indian Fishery was followed by the same interval of 1-3 years by a Ceylon fishery.
Eg. 1663 and 1691 Indian fisheries were followed by 1666 and 1694 Ceylon fisheries respectively.
Eg. 1792 Indian fishery followed by 1796 Ceylon fishery.
Eg. 1805 and 1807 Indian fisheries followed by 1806 and 1808 Ceylon fisheries.
Eg. 1810 Indian fishery followed by 1814 Ceylon fishery.
Eg. 1818 Indian fishery followed by 1820 Ceylon fishery.
Eg. 1900 Indian fishery followed by 1903 Ceylon fishery
Possible explanation for some of the observations made on the above table
James Hornell’s belief that the pearl beds on the opposite sides of the Gulf confer reciprocal benefits upon one another
According to James Hornell, the Director of Fisheries of Madras, as published in the Madras Fisheries Department Bullettin, Vol. XVI of 1922, “Such regularity of alternative succession extending over 75 per cent of the fisheries held on the Indian side appears to be more than a mere coincidence and lends weight to an opinion that has gradually been taking shape and developing in my mind that the beds on the opposite sides of the Gulf confer reciprocal benefits upon one another and that the Ceylon banks are frequently replenished from those off the Madura coast and, conversely that the latter obtain most of their deposits of spats from the Ceylon side.
What is a blank period and a productive period ?
The fact that blank periods alternate with productive periods on both sides of the Gulf, and the blank periods on one side corresponds with a productive period on the other side, raises the strong possibility that spats which are mobile can move freely from one side to the other side. A blank period was perhaps characterized either by the total absence of any form of oysters at whatever stage of development or the absence of oysters in the pearl-productive stage (4-7 years for Pinctada radiata found in the Gulf of Mannar) on a pearl bank. A productive period on the other hand was characterized by the presence of a sufficient population of pearl-productive oysters (4-7 years of age), that could provide a profitable harvest.
Sri Lankan pearl banks are richer than the Indian ones, because of the greater effect of the strong undercurrents from Bay of Bengal on the Indian side
A blank period in which there was a total absence of any form of oysters including spats can arise after continuous strong under-currents flowing over the pearl banks, such as currents flowing from the Bay of Bengal through the Palk Straits into the Gulf of Mannar, or vice versa. It is said that the effect of such currents was greater on the Indian side of the Gulf than the Sri Lankan side. This, was the common explanation advanced for the richer pearl banks on the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf than the Indian side.
Instances of pearl banks on the Indian side being more lucrative than the ones on the Sri Lankan side have been recorded in history
While this explanation might be partially correct, there have been instances in history when the pearl banks on the Tuticorin side was more lucrative than the ones on the Mannar side. This happened during the final years of the Portuguese period as reported by Juan Ribeyro, when the pearl fisherman of Mannar became impoverished by the decadence of the fishery on the Ceylon coast and its transference to the Tuticorin side.
This again was probably caused by undercurrents affecting the Sri Lankan side more than the Indian side, which means the direction and effect of the currents can change from time to time
Juan Ribeyro believed that the oysters had migrated from the Mannar side to the Tuticorin side, but in all probability this was caused by the strong under-currents that affected the Mannar side more than the Tuticorin side. If this explanation is correct, it means that the direction and effect of these strong currents can change from to time, sometimes affecting the Indian side and sometimes the Sri Lankan side. The side that was affected by the strong currents usually became non-productive.
Strong currents from the Bay of Bengal usually affected the Indian side more than the Sri Lankan side. Thus, disruption of the pearl banks on the Indian side was greater
The strong currents originating from the Bay of Bengal usually affected the Indian side more than the Sri Lankan side. Thus disruption of the oyster beds was greater on the Indian side than the Sri Lankan side. Hence, the pearl banks on the Sri Lankan side was usually richer than those on the Indian side.
An explanation for the alternative blank periods and the productive period of one corresponding with a blank period on the other side
The periodic but unpredictable change in direction and effect of the undercurrents, might provide an explanation for the alternative blank periods on both sides of the Gulf, and the productive period of one side corresponding with a blank period on the other side. The productive period on one side corresponding with relatively calm seas with minimum undercurrents, and the blank period on the other side caused by the disruptive effect of strong undercurrents. The productive periods on the Sri Lankan side were much longer than the Indian side (see No.8 above), indicating that the currents had a greater bearing on the Indian side than the Sri Lankan side.
The periodic change in the direction and effect of undercurrents explains Hornell’s belief that beds on the opposite sides of the Gulf confer reciprocal benefits upon one another
If the above explanation is accepted it means that blank periods on any side is characterized by the absence of any form of oysters including spats as they are washed away by strong currents, which necessarily means that for regenerating the pearl banks spats from the productive banks on the opposite side of the Gulf should reach the barren pearl banks. Hence James Hornell’s belief that the beds on the opposite sides of the Gulf confer reciprocal benefits upon one another.
Pearl fisheries both on the Indian and Sri Lankan sides were financed and sustained by Indian capital and labor
Thus, compared to the Sri Lankan pearl fisheries, the Indian pearl fisheries in the Gulf of Mannar were limited in extent and productivity. However, it was mainly Indian capital and labor that sustained the pearl fishery on the Sri Lankan side too. Indian capital not only financed the Sri Lankan pearl fishery, but also the pearl fishery in the distant Persian Gulf. Similarly most of the boat, divers and assistants employed in the Sri Lankan pearl fishery, came from southern India, such as the Christian Paravas, and the Indian Moors from Kayalpattanam and Keelakarai. Finally, the pearl harvests from the Sri Lankan fisheries were purchased by Indian merchants, originating from Bombay, Madras, Madurai, Trichinopoli and other cities of India. Thus, according to George Frederick Kunz, from an economical and industrial point of view, the pearl fisheries of Ceylon, and to a lesser extent those of the Persian Gulf, contributed to the fame and wealth of the kingdoms of India and later the British Raj.
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5) The Ceylon Pearl Necklace
1) The Pearl Fisheries of India – The Pearl Fisheries of the Persian Gulf, Chapter 6. The Book of the Pearl – Kunz & Stevenson
2) The Jaffna Kingdom – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
3) A Historical Survey of the Pearl Fishery Coast – Sippikulam.blogspot.com
4) Conclusion of the Doctoral research article on the maritime history of the Fishery Coast – www.thamizhagam.net
5) Paravar – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
6) The Diocese of Tuticorin – Website of the Diocese of Tuticorin
7) The Indian Pearl Fisheries of the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay – by James Hornell, Director of Fisheries Madras – Full Text of Madras Fisheries Bulletin, Vol. XVI
8) Duarte Barbosa – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
9) Francis Xavier Biography – www.biographybase.com
10) History of South India – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
11) The Diocese of Tuticorin – www.dosmaria.com
12) The Muslims of Sri Lanka, a brief history – www.islamawareness.net
13) Pandyan Dynasty – From Wikipedia. the free encyclopedia