The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxiii.

Of the Country Called Comari

Comari is a country belonging to India, and there you can see something of the North Star, which we had not been able to see from the Lesser Java thus far. In order to see it you must go some 30 miles out to sea, and then you see it about a cubit above the water.1

This is a very wild country, and there are beasts of all kinds there, especially monkeys of such peculiar fashion that you would take them for men! There are also gatpauls2 in wonderful diversity, with bears, lions, and leopards, in abundance.

NOTE 1. — Kumári is in some versions of the Hindu cosmography the most southerly of the nine divisions of Jambodvipa, the Indian world. Polo’s Comari can only be the country about Cape COMORIN, the [Greek: komária ákron] of Ptolemy, a name derived from the Sanskrit Kumári, “a Virgin,” an appellation of the goddess Durgá. The monthly bathing in her honour, spoken of by the author of the Periplus, is still continued, though now the pilgrims are few. Abulfeda speaks of Rás Kumhari as the limit between Malabar and Ma’bar. Kumari is the Tamul pronunciation of the Sanskrit word and probably Comari was Polo’s pronunciation.

At the beginning of the Portuguese era in India we hear of a small Kingdom of COMORI, the prince of which had succeeded to the kingdom of Kaulam. And this, as Dr. Caldwell points out, must have been the state which is now called Travancore. Kumari has been confounded by some of the Arabian Geographers, or their modern commentators, with Kumár, one of the regions supplying aloes-wood, and which was apparently Khmer or Kamboja. (Caldwell’s Drav. Grammar, p. 67; Gildem. 185; Ram. I. 333.)

The cut that we give is, as far as I know, the first genuine view of Cape Comorin ever published.

[Mr. Talboys Wheeler, in his History of India, vol. iii. (p. 386), says of this tract:

“The region derives its name from a temple which was erected there in honour of Kumárí, ‘the Virgin’; the infant babe who had been exchanged for Krishna, and ascended to heaven at the approach of Kansa.” And in a note:

“Colonel Yule identifies Kumárí with Durgá. This is an error. The temple of Kumárí was erected by Krishna Raja of Narsinga, a zealous patron of the Vaishnavas.”

Mr. Wheeler quotes Faria y Souza, who refers the object of worship to what is meant for this story (II. 394), but I presume from Mr. Wheeler’s mention of the builder of the temple, which does not occur in the Portuguese history, that he has other information. The application of the Virgin title connected with the name of the place, may probably have varied with the ages, and, as there is no time to obtain other evidence, I have removed the words which identified the existing temple with that of Durgá. But my authority for identifying the object of worship, in whose honour the pilgrims bathe monthly at Cape Comorin, with Durgá, is the excellent one of Dr. Caldwell. (See his Dravidian Grammar as quoted in the passage above.) Krishna Raja of whom Mr. Wheeler speaks, reigned after the Portuguese were established in India, but it is not probable that the Krishna stories of that class were even known in the Peninsula (or perhaps anywhere else) in the time of the author of the Periplus, 1450 years before; and ’tis as little likely that the locality owed its name to Yasoda’s Infant, as that it owed it to the Madonna in St. Francis Xavier’s Church that overlooks the Cape.

Fra Paolino, in his unsatisfactory way (Viaggio, p. 68), speaks of Cape Comorin, “which the Indians call Canyamuri, Virginis Promontorium, or simply Comarí or Cumarí ‘a Virgin,’ because they pretend that anciently the goddess Comari ‘the Damsel,’ who is the Indian Diana or Hecate, used to bathe” etc. However, we can discover from his book elsewhere (see pp. 79, 285) that by the Indian Diana he means Párvatí, i.e. Durgá.

Lassen at first1 identified the Kumárí of the Cape with Párvatí; but afterwards connected the name with a story in the Mahábhárata about certain Apsarases changed into Crocodiles.2 On the whole there does not seem sufficient ground to deny that Párvatí was the original object of worship at Kumárí, though the name may have lent itself to various legends.]

Illustration: Cape Comorin (From a sketch by Mr. Foote, of the Geological Survey of India)

NOTE 2. — I have not been able to ascertain with any precision what animal is meant by Gat-paul. The term occurs again, coupled with monkeys as here, at p. 240 of the Geog. Text, where, speaking of Abyssinia, it is said: “Il ont gat paulz et autre gat-maimon si divisez,” etc. Gatto maimone, for an ape of some kind, is common in old Italian, the latter part of the term, from the Pers. Maimún, being possibly connected with our Baboon. And that the Gat-paul was also some kind of ape is confirmed by the Spanish Dictionaries. Cobarrubias gives: “Gato–Paus, a kind of tailed monkey. Gato-paus, Gato pablo; perhaps as they call a monkey ‘Martha,’ they may have called this particular monkey ‘Paul,’” etc. (f. 431 v.). So also the Diccion. de la Lengua Castellana comp. por la Real Academia (1783) gives: “Gato Paul, a kind of monkey of a grey colour, black muzzle and very broad tail.” In fact, the word is used by Columbus, who, in his own account of his third voyage, describes a hill on the coast of Paria as covered with a species of Gatos Paulos. (See Navarrete, Fr. ed. III. 21, also 147–148.) It also occurs in Marmol, Desc. General de Affrica, who says that one kind of monkeys has a black face; “y estas comunemente se llaman en España Gatos Paules, las quales se crian en la tierra de los Negros” (I. f. 27). It is worth noting that the revisers of the text adopted by Pauthier have not understood the word. For they substitute for the “Il hi a gat paul si divisez qe ce estoit mervoille” of the Geog. Text, “et si a moult de granz paluz et moult grans pantains à merveilles”— wonderful swamps and marshes! The Pipino Latin has adhered to the correct reading —“Ibi sunt cati qui dicuntur pauli, valde diversi ab aliis.”

1 Ind. Alt. 1st ed. I. 158.

2 Id. 564; and 2nd ed. I. 103.

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