The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxi.

Concerning the City of Cail.

Cail is a great and noble city, and belongs to ASHAR, the eldest of the five brother Kings. It is at this city that all the ships touch that come from the west, as from Hormos and from Kis and from Aden, and all Arabia, laden with horses and with other things for sale. And this brings a great concourse of people from the country round about, and so there is great business done in this city of Cail.1

The King possesses vast treasures, and wears upon his person great store of rich jewels. He maintains great state and administers his kingdom with great equity, and extends great favour to merchants and foreigners, so that they are very glad to visit his city.2

This King has some 300 wives; for in those parts the man who has most wives is most thought of.

As I told you before, there are in this great province of Maabar five crowned Kings, who are all own brothers born of one father and of one mother, and this king is one of them. Their mother is still living. And when they disagree and go forth to war against one another, their mother throws herself between them to prevent their fighting. And should they persist in desiring to fight, she will take a knife and threaten that if they will do so she will cut off the paps that suckled them and rip open the womb that bare them, and so perish before their eyes. In this way hath she full many a time brought them to desist. But when she dies it will most assuredly happen that they will fall out and destroy one another.3

[All the people of this city, as well as of the rest of India, have a custom of perpetually keeping in the mouth a certain leaf called Tembul, to gratify a certain habit and desire they have, continually chewing it and spitting out the saliva that it excites. The Lords and gentlefolks and the King have these leaves prepared with camphor and other aromatic spices, and also mixt with quicklime. And this practice was said to be very good for the health.4 If any one desires to offer a gross insult to another, when he meets him he spits this leaf or its juice in his face. The other immediately runs before the King, relates the insult that has been offered him, and demands leave to fight the offender. The King supplies the arms, which are sword and target, and all the people flock to see, and there the two fight till one of them is killed. They must not use the point of the sword, for this the King forbids.]5

NOTE 1. — KAIL, now forgotten, was long a famous port on the coast of what is now the Tinnevelly District of the Madras Presidency. It is mentioned as a port of Ma’bar by our author’s contemporary Rashiduddin, though the name has been perverted by careless transcription into Báwal and Kábal. (See Elliot, I. pp. 69, 72.) It is also mistranscribed as Kábil in Quatremère’s publication of Abdurrazzák, who mentions it as “a place situated opposite the island of Serendib, otherwise called Ceylon,” and as being the extremity of what he was led to regard as Malabar (p. 19). It is mentioned as Cahila, the site of the pearl-fishery, by Nicolo Conti (p. 7). The Roteiro of Vasco da Gama notes it as Caell, a state having a Mussulman King and a Christian (for which read Káfir) people. Here were many pearls. Giovanni d’Empoli notices it (Gael) also for the pearl-fishery, as do Varthema and Barbosa. From the latter we learn that it was still a considerable seaport, having rich Mahomedan merchants, and was visited by many ships from Malabar, Coromandel, and Bengal. In the time of the last writers it belonged to the King of Kaulam, who generally resided at Kail.

The real site of this once celebrated port has, I believe, till now never been identified in any published work. I had supposed the still existing Káyalpattanam to have been in all probability the place, and I am again indebted to the kindness of the Rev. Dr. Caldwell for conclusive and most interesting information on this subject. He writes:

“There are no relics of ancient greatness in Káyalpattanam, and no traditions of foreign trade, and it is admitted by its inhabitants to be a place of recent origin, which came into existence after the abandonment of the true Káyal. They state also that the name of Káyalpattanam has only recently been given to it, as a reminiscence of the older city, and that its original name was Sônagarpattanam.1 There is another small port in the same neighbourhood, a little to the north of Káyalpattanam, called Pinna Cael in the maps, properly Punnei-Káyal, from Punnei, the Indian Laurel; but this is also a place of recent origin, and many of the inhabitants of this place, as of Káyalpattanam, state that their ancestors came originally from Káyal, subsequently to the removal of the Portuguese from that place to Tuticorin.

“The Cail of Marco Polo, commonly called in the neighbourhood Old Káyal, and erroneously named Koil in the Ordnance Map of India, is situated on the Tâmraparnî River, about a mile and a half from its mouth. The Tamil word káyal means ‘a backwater, a lagoon,’ and the map shows the existence of a large number of these káyals or backwaters near the mouth of the river. Many of these kayals have now dried up more or less completely, and in several of them salt-pans have been established. The name of Káyal was naturally given to a town erected on the margin of a káyal; and this circumstance occasioned also the adoption of the name of Punnei Káyal, and served to give currency to the name of Káyalpattanam assumed by Sônagarpattanam, both those places being in the vicinity of kayals.

“KAYAL stood originally on or near the sea-beach, but it is now about a mile and a half inland, the sand carried down by the river having silted up the ancient harbour, and formed a waste sandy tract between the sea and the town. It has now shrunk into a petty village, inhabited partly by Mahommedans and partly by Roman Catholic fishermen of the Parava caste, with a still smaller hamlet adjoining inhabited by Brahmans and Vellalars; but unlikely as the place may now seem to have been identical with ‘the great and noble city’ described by Marco Polo, its identity is established by the relics of its ancient greatness which it still retains. Ruins of old fortifications, temples, storehouses, wells and tanks, are found everywhere along the coast for two or three miles north of the village of Kayal, and a mile and a half inland; the whole plain is covered with broken tiles and remnants of pottery, chiefly of China manufacture, and several mounds are apparent, in which, besides the shells of the pearl-oyster and broken pottery, mineral drugs (cinnabar, brimstone, etc.), such as are sold in the bazaars of sea-port towns, and a few ancient coins have been found. I send you herewith an interesting coin discovered in one of those mounds by Mr. R. Puckle, collector of Tinnevelly.2

“The people of the place have forgotten the existence of any trade between Kayal and China, though the China pottery that lies all about testifies to its existence at some former period; but they retain a distinct tradition of its trade with the Arabian and Persian coasts, as vouched for by Marco Polo, that trade having in some degree survived to comparatively recent times. . . . Captain Phipps, the Master Attendant at Tuticorin, says: ‘The roadstead of Old Cael (Káyal) is still used by native craft when upon the coast and meeting with south winds, from which it is sheltered. The depth of water is 16 to 14 feet; I fancy years ago it was deeper. . . . There is a surf on the bar at the entrance (of the river), but boats go through it at all times.’

* * * * *

“I am tempted to carry this long account of Kayal a little further, so as to bring to light the Kolkhoi [[Greek: kólchoi empórion]] of the Greek merchants, the situation of the older city being nearly identical with that of the more modern one. Kolkhoi, described by Ptolemy and the author of the Periplus as an emporium of the pearl-trade, as situated on the sea-coast to the east of Cape Comorin, and as giving its name to the Kolkhic Gulf or Gulf of Manaar, has been identified by Lassen with Keelkarei; but this identification is merely conjectural, founded on nothing better than a slight apparent resemblance in the names. Lassen could not have failed to identify Kolkhoi with KORKAI, the mother-city of Kayal, if he had been acquainted with its existence and claims. Korkai, properly KOLKAI (the l being changed into r by a modern refinement — it is still called Kolka in Malayalam), holds an important place in Tamil traditions, being regarded as the birthplace of the Pandyan Dynasty, the place where the princes of that race ruled previously to their removal to Madura. One of the titles of the Pandyan Kings is ‘Ruler of Korkai.’ Korkai is situated two or three miles inland from Kayal, higher up the river. It is not marked in the Ordnance Map of India, but a village in the immediate neighbourhood of it, called Mâramangalam, ‘the Good-fortune of the Pandyas,’ will be found in the map. This place, together with several others in the neighbourhood, on both sides of the river, is proved by inscriptions and relics to have been formerly included in Korkai, and the whole intervening space between Korkai and Kayal exhibits traces of ancient dwellings. The people of Kayal maintain that their city was originally so large as to include Korkai, but there is much more probability in the tradition of the people of Korkai, which is to the effect that Korkai itself was originally a sea-port; that as the sea retired it became less and less suitable for trade, that Kayal rose as Korkai fell, and that at length, as the sea continued to retire, Kayal also was abandoned. They add that the trade for which the place was famous in ancient times was the trade in pearls.” In an article in the Madras Journal (VII. 379) it is stated that at the great Siva Pagoda at Tinnevelly the earth used ceremonially at the annual festival is brought from Korkai, but no position is indicated.

NOTE 2. — Dr. Caldwell again brings his invaluable aid:—

“Marco Polo represents Kayal as being governed by a king whom he calls Asciar (a name which you suppose to be intended to be pronounced Ashar), and says that this king of Kayal was the elder brother of Sonderbandi, the king of that part of the district of Maabar where he landed. There is a distinct tradition, not only amongst the people now inhabiting Kayal, but in the district of Tinnevelly generally, that Kayal, during the period of its greatness, was ruled by a king. This king is sometimes spoken of as one of ‘the Five Kings’ who reigned in various parts of Tinnevelly, but whether he was independent of the King of Madura, or only a viceroy, the people cannot now say. . . . The tradition of the people of Kayal is that . . . Sûr-Raja was the name of the last king of the place. They state that this last king was a Mahommedan, . . . but though Sûr-Raja does not sound like the name of a Mahommedan prince, they all agree in asserting that this was his name. . . . Can this Sûr be the person whom Marco calls Asciar? Probably not, as Asciar seems to have been a Hindu by religion. I have discovered what appears to be a more probable identification in the name of a prince mentioned in an inscription on the walls of a temple at Sri–Vaikuntham, a town on the Tamraparni R., about 20 miles from Kayal. In the inscription in question a donation to the temple is recorded as having been given in the time of ‘Asadia-deva called also Surya-deva’ This name ‘Asadia’ is neither Sanskrit nor Tamil; and as the hard d is often changed into r, Marco’s Ashar may have been an attempt to render this Asad. If this Asadia or Surya-deva were really Sundara-pandi-deva’s brother, he must have ruled over a narrow range of country, probably over Kayal alone, whilst his more eminent brother was alive; for there is an inscription on the walls of a temple at Sindamangalam, a place only a few miles from Kayal, which records a donation made to the place ‘in the reign of Sundara-pandi-deva.’"3

NOTE 3. —[“O aljofar, e perolas, que me manda que lha enuic, nom as posso auer, que as ha em Ceylão e Caille, que são as fontes dellas: compralashia do meu sangue, a do meu dinheiro, que o tenho porque vós me daes.” (Letter of the Viceroy Dom Francisco to the King, Anno de 1508). (G. Correa, Lendas da India, I. pp. 908–909.)— Note by Yule.]

NOTE 4. — Tembúl is the Persian name for the betel-leaf or pán, from the Sanskrit Támbúla. The latter is also used in Tamul, though Vettilei is the proper Tamul word, whence Betel (Dr. Caldwell). Marsden supposes the mention of camphor among the ingredients with which the pán is prepared to be a mistake, and suggests as a possible origin of the error that kápúr in the Malay language means not only camphor but quicklime. This is curious, but in addition to the fact that the lime is mentioned in the text, there seems ample evidence that his doubt about camphor is unfounded.

Garcia de Orta says distinctly: “In chewing betre . . . they mix areca with it and a little lime. . . . Some add Licio (i.e. catechu), but the rich and grandees add some Borneo camphor, and some also lign-aloes, musk, and ambergris” (31 v. and 32). Abdurrazzák also says: “The manner of eating it is as follows: They bruise a portion of faufel (areca), otherwise called sipari, and put it in the mouth. Moistening a leaf of the betel, together with a grain of lime, they rub the one upon the other, roll them together, and then place them in the mouth. They thus take as many as four leaves of betel at a time and chew them. Sometimes they add camphor to it” (p. 32). And Abúl Fazl: “They also put some betel-nut and kath (catechu) on one leaf, and some lime-paste on another, and roll them up; this is called a berah. Some put camphor and musk into it, and tie both leaves with a silk thread,” etc. (See Blochmann’s Transl. p. 73.) Finally one of the Chinese notices of Kamboja, translated by Abel Rémusat, says: “When a guest comes it is usual to present him with areca, camphor, and other aromatics.” (Nouv. Mél. I. 84.)

Illustration: Map showing the position of the Kingdom of ELY in MALABAR

Illustration: Sketch showing the position of KÁYAL in TINNEVELLY

NOTE 5. — This is the only passage of Ramusio’s version, so far as I know, that suggests interpolation from a recent author, as distinguished from mere editorial modification. There is in Barbosa a description of the duello as practised in Canara, which is rather too like this one.

1 “Sônagar or Jônagar is a Tamil corruption of Yavanar, the Yavanas, the name by which the Arabs were known, and is the name most commonly used in the Tamil country to designate the mixed race descended from Arab colonists, who are called Mâpillas on the Malabar coast, and Lubbies in the neighbourhood of Madras.” (Dr. C.‘s note)

2 I am sorry to say that the coin never reached its destination. In the latter part of 1872 a quantity of treasure was found near Káyal by the labourers on irrigation works. Much of it was dispersed without coming under intelligent eyes, and most of the coins recovered were Arabic. One, however, is stated to have been a coin of “Joanna of Castille, A.D. 1236.” (Allen’s India Mail, 5th January, 1874.) There is no such queen. Qu. Joanna I. of Navarre (1274–1276)? or Joanna II. of Navarre (1328–1336)?

3 See above, p. 334, as to Dr. Caldwell’s view of Polo’s Sonderbandi. May not Ashar very well represent Áshádha, “invincible,” among the applications of which Williams gives “N. of a prince”. I observe also that Áschar (Sansk. Áschariya “marvellous”) is the name of one of the objects of worship in the dark Sakti system, once apparently potent in S. India. (See Taylor’s Catalogue Raisonné, II. 414, 423, 426, 443, and remark p. xlix.)

[“Ils disent donc que Dieu qu’ils appellent Achar, c’est-à-dire, immobile ou immuable.” (F. Bernier, Voy., ed. 1699, II. p. 134.)— MS. Note. — H.Y.]

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24