The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xvi.

Concerning the Great Province of Maabar, which is Called India the Greater, and is on the Mainland.

When you leave the Island of Seilan and sail westward about 60 miles, you come to the great province of MAABAR which is styled INDIA THE GREATER; it is best of all the Indies and is on the mainland.

You must know that in this province there are five kings, who are own brothers. I will tell you about each in turn. The Province is the finest and noblest in the world.

At this end of the Province reigns one of those five Royal Brothers, who is a crowned King, and his name is SONDER BANDI DAVAR. In his kingdom they find very fine and great pearls; and I will tell you how they are got.1

You must know that the sea here forms a gulf between the Island of Seilan and the mainland. And all round this gulf the water has a depth of no more than 10 or 12 fathoms, and in some places no more than two fathoms. The pearl-fishers take their vessels, great and small, and proceed into this gulf, where they stop from the beginning of April till the middle of May. They go first to a place called BETTELAR, and (then) go 60 miles into the gulf. Here they cast anchor and shift from their large vessels into small boats. You must know that the many merchants who go divide into various companies, and each of these must engage a number of men on wages, hiring them for April and half of May. Of all the produce they have first to pay the King, as his royalty, the tenth part. And they must also pay those men who charm the great fishes, to prevent them from injuring the divers whilst engaged in seeking pearls under water, one twentieth part of all that they take. These fish-charmers are termed Abraiaman; and their charm holds good for that day only, for at night they dissolve the charm so that the fishes can work mischief at their will. These Abraiaman know also how to charm beasts and birds and every living thing. When the men have got into the small boats they jump into the water and dive to the bottom, which may be at a depth of from 4 to 12 fathoms, and there they remain as long as they are able. And there they find the shells that contain the pearls [and these they put into a net bag tied round the waist, and mount up to the surface with them, and then dive anew. When they can’t hold their breath any longer they come up again, and after a little down they go once more, and so they go on all day].2 The shells are in fashion like oysters or sea-hoods. And in these shells are found pearls, great and small, of every kind, sticking in the flesh of the shell-fish.

In this manner pearls are fished in great quantities, for thence in fact come the pearls which are spread all over the world. And I can tell you the King of that State hath a very great receipt and treasure from his dues upon those pearls.

As soon as the middle of May is past, no more of those pearl-shells are found there. It is true, however, that a long way from that spot, some 300 miles distant, they are also found; but that is in September and the first half of October.

NOTE 1. — MAABAR (Ma’bar) was the name given by the Mahomedans at this time (13th and 14th centuries) to a tract corresponding in a general way to what we call the Coromandel Coast. The word in Arabic signifies the Passage or Ferry, and may have referred either to the communication with Ceylon, or, as is more probable, to its being in that age the coast most frequented by travellers from Arabia and the Gulf.1 The name does not appear in Edrisi, nor, I believe, in any of the older geographers, and the earliest use of it that I am aware of is in Abdallatif’s account of Egypt, a work written about 1203–1204. (De Sacy, Rel. de l’Egypte, p. 31.) Abulfeda distinctly names Cape Comorin as the point where Malabar ended and Ma’bar began, and other authority to be quoted presently informs us that it extended to Niláwar, i.e. Nellore.

There are difficulties as to the particular locality of the port or city which Polo visited in the territory of the Prince whom he calls Sondar Bandi Davar; and there are like doubts as to the identification, from the dark and scanty Tamul records, of the Prince himself, and the family to which he belonged; though he is mentioned by more than one foreign writer besides Polo.

Thus Wassáf: “Ma’bar extends in length from Kaulam to Niláwar, nearly 300 parasangs along the sea-coast; and in the language of that country the king is called Devar, which signifies, ‘the Lord of Empire.’ The curiosities of Chín and Máchín, and the beautiful products of Hind and Sind, laden on large ships which they call Junks, sailing like mountains with the wings of the wind on the surface of the water, are always arriving there. The wealth of the Isles of the Persian Gulf in particular, and in part the beauty and adornment of other countries, from ‘Irak and Khurásán as far as Rúm and Europe, are derived from Ma’bar, which is so situated as to be the key of Hind.

“A few years since the DEVAR was SUNDAR PANDI, who had three brothers, each of whom established himself in independence in some different country. The eminent prince, the Margrave (Marzbán) of Hind, Taki-uddin Abdu-r Rahmán, a son of Muhammad-ut-Tíbí, whose virtues and accomplishments have for a long time been the theme of praise and admiration among the chief inhabitants of that beautiful country, was the Devar’s deputy, minister, and adviser, and was a man of sound judgment. Fattan, Malifattan, and Káil2 were made over to his possession. . . . In the months of the year 692 H. (A.D. 1293) the above-mentioned Devar, the ruler of Ma’bar, died and left behind him much wealth and treasure. It is related by Malik-ul-Islám Jamáluddín, that out of that treasure 7000 oxen laden with precious stones and pure gold and silver fell to the share of the brother who succeeded him. Malik-i ‘Azam Taki-uddin continued prime minister as before, and in fact ruler of that kingdom, and his glory and magnificence were raised a thousand times higher.”3

Seventeen years later (1310) Wassáf introduces another king of Ma’bar called Kalesa Devar, who had ruled for forty years in prosperity, and had accumulated in the treasury of Shahr–Mandi (i.e., as Dr. Caldwell informs me MADURA, entitled by the Mahomedan invaders Shahr–Pandi, and still occasionally mispronounced Shahr–Mandi) 1200 crores (!) in gold. He had two sons, SUNDAR BANDI by a lawful wife, and Pirabandi (Vira Pandi?) illegitimate. He designated the latter as his successor. Sundar Bandi, enraged at this, slew his father and took forcible possession of Shahr–Mandi and its treasures. Pirabandi succeeded in driving him out; Sundar Bandi went to Aláuddin, Sultan of Delhi, and sought help. The Sultan eventually sent his general Hazárdinári (alias Malik Káfúr) to conquer Ma’bar.

In the third volume of Elliot we find some of the same main facts, with some differences and greater detail, as recounted by Amír Khusru. Bir Pandiya and Sundara Pandiya are the Rais of Ma’bar, and are at war with one another, when the army of Alaúddin, after reducing Bilál Deo of Dwára Samudra, descends upon Ma’bar in the beginning of 1311 (p. 87 seqq.).

We see here two rulers in Ma’bar, within less than twenty years, bearing the name of Sundara Pandi. And, strange to say, more than a century before, during the continental wars of Parákráma Bahu I., the most martial of Singhalese kings (A.D. 1153–1186), we find another Kulasaikera (= Kalesa of Wassáf), King of Madura, with another Vira Pándi for son, and another Sundara Pandi Rája, figuring in the history of the Pandionis Regio. But let no one rashly imagine that there is a confusion in the chronology here. The Hindu Chronology of the continental states is dark and confused enough, but not that of Ceylon, which in this, as in sundry other respects, comes under Indo–Chinese rather than Indian analogies. (See Turnour’s Ceylonese Epitome, pp. 41–43; and J.A.S.B. XLI. Pt. I. p. 197 seqq.)

In a note with which Dr. Caldwell favoured me some time before the first publication of this work, he considers that the Sundar Bandi of Polo and the Persian Historians is undoubtedly to be identified with that Sundara Pandi Devar, who is in the Tamul Catalogues the last king of the ancient Pandya line, and who was (says Dr. Caldwell,) “succeeded by Mahomedans, by a new line of Pandyas, by the Náyak Kings, by the Nabobs of Arcot, and finally by the English. He became for a time a Jaina, but was reconverted to the worship of Siva, when his name was changed from Kun or Kubja, ‘Crook-backed,’ to Sundara, ‘Beautiful,’ in accordance with a change which then took place, the Saivas say, in his personal appearance. Probably his name, from the beginning, was Sundara. . . . In the inscriptions belonging to the period of his reign he is invariably represented, not as a joint king or viceroy, but as an absolute monarch ruling over an extensive tract of country, including the Chola country or Tanjore, and Conjeveram, and as the only possessor for the time being of the title Pandi Devar. It is clear from the agreement of Rashiduddin with Marco Polo that Sundara Pandi’s power was shared in some way with his brothers, but it seems certain also from the inscription that there was a sense in which he alone was king.”

I do not give the whole of Dr. Caldwell’s remarks on this subject, because, the 3rd volume of Elliot not being then published, he had not before him the whole of the information from the Mussulman historians, which shows so clearly that two princes bearing the name of Sundara Pandi are mentioned by them, and because I cannot see my way to adopt his view, great as is the weight due to his opinion on any such question.

Extraordinary darkness hangs over the chronology of the South Indian kingdoms, as we may judge from the fact that Dr. Caldwell would have thus placed at the end of the 13th century, on the evidence of Polo and Rashiduddin, the reign of the last of the genuine Pandya kings, whom other calculations place earlier even by centuries. Thus, to omit views more extravagant, Mr. Nelson, the learned official historian of Madura, supposes it on the whole most probable that Kun Pandya alias Sundara, reigned in the latter half of the 11th century. “The Sri Tala Book, which appears to have been written about 60 years ago, and was probably compiled from brief Tamil chronicles then in existence, states that the Pandya race became extinct upon the death of Kún Pandya; and the children of concubines and of younger brothers who (had) lived in former ages, fought against one another, split up the country into factions, and got themselves crowned, and ruled one in one place, another in another. But none of these families succeeded in getting possession of Madura, the capital, which consequently fell into decay. And further on it tells us, rather inconsistently, that up to A.D. 1324 the kings ‘who ruled the Madura country, were part of the time Pandyas, at other times foreigners.’” And a variety of traditions referred to by Mr. Nelson appears to interpose such a period of unsettlement and shifting and divided sovereignty, extending over a considerable time, between the end of the genuine Pandya Dynasty and the Mahomedan invasion; whilst lists of numerous princes who reigned in this period have been handed down. Now we have just seen that the Mahomedan invasion took place in 1311, and we must throw aside the traditions and the lists altogether if we suppose that the Sundara Pandi of 1292 was the last prince of the Old Line. Indeed, though the indication is faint, the manner in which Wassáf speaks of Polo’s Sundara and his brothers as having established themselves in different territories, and as in constant war with each other, is suggestive of the state of unsettlement which the Sri Tala and the traditions describe.

There is a difficulty in co-ordinating these four or five brothers at constant war, whom Polo found in possession of different provinces of Ma’bar about 1290, with the Devar Kalesa, of whom Wassáf speaks as slain in 1310 after a prosperous reign of forty years. Possibly the brothers were adventurers who had divided the coast districts, whilst Kalesa still reigned with a more legitimate claim at Shahr–Mandi or Madura. And it is worthy of notice that the Ceylon Annals call the Pandi king whose army carried off the sacred tooth in 1303 Kulasaikera, a name which we may easily believe to represent Wassáf’s Kalesa. (Nelson’s Madura, 55, 67, 71–74; Turnour’s Epitome, p. 47.)

As regards the position of the port of Ma’bar visited, but not named, by Marco Polo, and at or near which his Sundara Pandi seems to have resided, I am inclined to look for it rather in Tanjore than on the Gulf of Manar, south of the Rameshwaram shallows. The difficulties in this view are the indication of its being “60 miles west of Ceylon,” and the special mention of the Pearl Fishery in connection with it. We cannot, however, lay much stress upon Polo’s orientation. When his general direction is from east to west, every new place reached is for him west of that last visited; whilst the Kaveri Delta is as near the north point of Ceylon as Ramnad is to Aripo. The pearl difficulty may be solved by the probability that the dominion of Sonder Bandi extended to the coast of the Gulf of Manar.

On the other hand Polo, below (ch. xx.), calls the province of Sundara Pandi Soli, which we can scarcely doubt to be Chola or Soladesam, i.e. Tanjore. He calls it also “the best and noblest Province of India,” a description which even with his limited knowledge of India he would scarcely apply to the coast of Ramnad, but which might be justifiably applied to the well-watered plains of Tanjore, even when as yet Arthur Cotton was not. Let it be noticed too that Polo in speaking (ch. xix.) of Mutfili (or Telingana) specifies its distance from Ma’bar as if he had made the run by sea from one to the other; but afterwards when he proceeds to speak of Cail, which stands on the Gulf of Manar, he does not specify its position or distance in regard to Sundara Pandi’s territory; an omission which he would not have been likely to make had both lain on the Gulf of Manar.

Abulfeda tells us that the capital of the Prince of Ma’bar, who was the great horse-importer, was called Bíyardáwal,4 a name which now appears in the extracts from Amír Khusru (Elliot, III. 90–91) as Birdhúl, the capital of Bir Pandi mentioned above, whilst Madura was the residence of his brother, the later Sundara Pandi. And from the indications in those extracts it can be gathered, I think, that Birdhúl was not far from the Kaveri (called Kánobari), not far from the sea, and five or six days’ march from Madura. These indications point to Tanjore, Kombakonam, or some other city in or near the Kaveri Delta.5 I should suppose that this Birdhúl was the capital of Polo’s Sundara Pandi, and that the port visited was Kaveripattanam. This was a great sea-port at one of the mouths of the Kaveri, which is said to have been destroyed by an inundation about the year 1300. According to Mr. Burnell it was the “Pattanam ‘par excellence’ of the Coromandel Coast, and the great port of the Chola kingdom.”6

Illustration: Chinese Pagoda (so called) at Negapatam. (From a sketch taken in 1846 by Sir Walter Elliot.)

Some corroboration of the supposition that the Tanjore ports were those frequented by Chinese trade may be found in the fact that a remarkable Pagoda of uncemented brickwork, about a mile to the north-west of Negapatam, popularly bears (or bore) the name of the Chinese Pagoda. I do not mean to imply that the building was Chinese, but that the application of that name to a ruin of strange character pointed to some tradition of Chinese visitors.7 Sir Walter Elliot, to whom I am indebted for the sketch of it given here, states that this building differed essentially from any type of Hindu architecture with which he was acquainted, but being without inscription or sculpture it was impossible to assign to it any authentic origin. Negapatam was, however, celebrated as a seat of Buddhist worship, and this may have been a remnant of their work. In 1846 it consisted of three stories divided by cornices of stepped brickwork. The interior was open to the top, and showed the marks of a floor about 20 feet from the ground. Its general appearance is shown by the cut. This interesting building was reported in 1859 to be in too dilapidated a state for repair, and now exists no longer. Sir W. Elliot also tells me that collectors employed by him picked up in the sand, at several stations on this coast, numerous Byzantine and Chinese as well as Hindu coins.8 The brickwork of the pagoda, as described by him, very fine and closely fitted but without cement, corresponds to that of the Burmese and Ceylonese mediaeval Buddhist buildings. The architecture has a slight resemblance to that of Pollanarua in Ceylon (see Fergusson, II. p. 512). (Abulf. in Gildemeister, p. 185; Nelson, Pt. II. p. 27 seqq.; Taylor’s Catalogue Raisonné, III. 386–389.)

Ma’bar is mentioned (Mà-pa-‘rh) in the Chinese Annals as one of the foreign kingdoms which sent tribute to Kúblái in 1286 (supra, p. 296); and Pauthier has given some very curious and novel extracts from Chinese sources regarding the diplomatic intercourse with Ma’bar in 1280 and the following years. Among other points these mention the “five brothers who were Sultans” (Suantan), an envoy Chamalating (Jumaluddín) who had been sent from Ma’bar to the Mongol Court, etc. (See pp. 603 seqq.)

NOTE 2. — Marco’s account of the pearl-fishery is still substantially correct. Bettelar, the rendezvous of the fishery, was, I imagine, PATLAM on the coast of Ceylon, called by Ibn Batuta Batthála. Though the centre of the pearl-fishery is now at Aripo and Kondachi further north, its site has varied sometimes as low as Chilaw, the name of which is a corruption of that given by the Tamuls, Salábham, which means “the Diving,” i.e. the Pearl-fishery. Tennent gives the meaning erroneously as “the Sea of Gain.” I owe the correction to Dr. Caldwell. (Ceylon, I. 440; Pridham, 409; Ibn Bat. IV. 166; Ribeyro, ed. Columbo, 1847, App. p. 196.)

[Ma Huan (J. North China B.R.A.S. XX. p. 213) says that “the King (of Ceylon) has had an [artificial] pearl pond dug, into which every two or three years he orders pearl oysters to be thrown, and he appoints men to keep watch over it. Those who fish for these oysters, and take them to the authorities for the King’s use, sometimes steal and fraudulently sell them.”— H.C.]

The shark-charmers do not now seem to have any claim to be called Abraiaman or Brahmans, but they may have been so in former days. At the diamond mines of the northern Circars Brahmans are employed in the analogous office of propitiating the tutelary genii. The shark-charmers are called in Tamul Kadal–Katti, “Sea-binders,” and in Hindustani Hai-banda or “Shark-binders.” At Aripo they belong to one family, supposed to have the monopoly of the charm. The chief operator is (or was, not many years ago) paid by Government, and he also received ten oysters from each boat daily during the fishery. Tennent, on his visit, found the incumbent of the office to be a Roman Catholic Christian, but that did not seem to affect the exercise or the validity of his functions. It is remarkable that when Tennent wrote, not more than one authenticated accident from sharks had taken place, during the whole period of the British occupation.

The time of the fishery is a little earlier than Marco mentions, viz. in March and April, just between the cessation of the north-east and commencement of the south-west monsoon. His statement of the depth is quite correct; the diving is carried on in water of 4 to 10 fathoms deep, and never in a greater depth than 13.

I do not know the site of the other fishery to which he alludes as practised in September and October; but the time implies shelter from the south-west Monsoon, and it was probably on the east side of the island, where in 1750 there was a fishery, at Trincomalee. (Stewart in Trans. R.A.S. III. 456 seqq.; Pridham., u.s.; Tennent, II. 564–565; Ribeyro, as above, App. p. 196.)

1 So the Barbary coast from Tunis westward was called by the Arabs Bár-ul-‘Adwah, “Terra Transitûs,” because thence they used to pass into Spain. (J. As. for Jan. 1846, p. 228.)

2 Wassáf has Fitan, Mali Fitan, Kábil and meant the names so, as he shows by silly puns. For my justification in presuming to correct the names, I must refer to an article, in the J. R. As. Soc., N.S. IV. p. 347, on Rashiduddin’s Geography.

3 The same information is given in almost the same terms by Rashiduddin. (See Elliot, I. 69.) But he (at least in Elliot’s translation) makes Shaikh Jumaluddin the successor of the Devar, instead of merely the narrator of the circumstances. This is evidently a mistake, probably of transcription, and Wassaf gives us the true version.

The members of the Arab family bearing the surname of At–Thaibí (or Thíbí) appear to have been powerful on the coasts of the Indian Sea at this time, (1) The Malik-ul-Islám Jamáluddin Ibrahim At Thaibi was Farmer–General of Fars, besides being quasi-independent Prince of Kais and other Islands in the Persian Gulf, and at the time of his death (1306) governor of Shiraz. He had the horse trade with India greatly in his hands, as is mentioned in a note (7) on next chapter. (2) The son of Jamáluddin, Fakhruddin Ahmed, goes ambassador to the Great Kaan in 1297, and dies near the coast of Ma’bar on his way back in 1305. A Fakhruddin Ahmed Ben Ibrahim at-Thaibi also appears in Hammer’s extracts as ruler of Hormuz about the time of Polo’s return. (See ante, vol. i. p. 121); and though he is there represented as opposed by Shaikh Jumáluddin (perhaps through one of Hammer’s too frequent confusions), one should suppose that he must be the son just mentioned. (3) Takiuddin Abdurrahmán, the Wazír and Marzbàn in Ma’bar; followed successively in that position by his son Surajuddín, and his grandson Nizamuddín. (Ilchan. II. 49–50, 197–198, 205–206; Elliot, III. 32, 34–35, 45–47.)

4 [Arabic]

5 My learned friend Mr. A. Burnell suggests that Birdhúl must have been Vriddachalam, Virdachellam of the maps, which is in South Arcot, about 50 miles north of Tanjore. There are old and well-known temples there, and relics of fortifications. It is a rather famous place of pilgrimage.

6 It was also perhaps the Fattan of the Mahomedan writers; but in that case its destruction must have been after Ibn Batuta’s time (say middle of 14th century).

7 I leave this passage as it stood in the first edition. It is a mistake, but this mistake led to the engraving of Sir W. Elliot’s sketch (perhaps unique) of a very interesting building which has disappeared. Dr. Caldwell writes: “The native name was ‘the Jaina Tower,’ turned by the English into China and Chinese. This I was told in Negapatam 30 years ago, but to make sure of the matter I have now written to Negapatam, and obtained from the Munsiff of the place confirmation of what I had heard long ago. It bore also the name of the Tower of the Malla.’ The Chalukya Malla kings were at one time Jainas. The ‘Seven Pagodas’ near Madras bear their name, Ma-Mallei pûram, and their power may at one time have extended as far south as Negapatam.” I have no doubt Dr. Caldwell is right in substance, but the name China Pagoda at Negapatam is at least as old as Baldaeus (1672, p. 149), and the ascription to the Chinese is in Valentyn (1726, tom. v. p. 6). It is, I find, in the Atlas of India, “Jayne Pagoda.”

8 Colonel Mackenzie also mentions Chinese coins as found on this coast. (J.R.A.S. I. 352–353.)

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