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Durable Link to this BlogWednesday, August 26, 2009

India in the Eyes of Tom Pires (C1500-1575)

Tom Pires wrote his travelogue (The Suma Oriental) between 1512-1575 CE. He is one of the several foreign visitors who have left an eyewitness account of Vijayanagar of their times.

Tom Pires was a small time medicine merchant who came to India and appears to have stayed in Vijayanagar for ten years. He is known for his factual reporting. His accounts about Vijayanagar Empire are found in two parts. First part "Kanara" which formed present two districts of North and South Kanara. Second part is "Narasingha". When the Portuguese arrived in India, Narasingha ruled Vijayanagar. Hence the Kingdom came to be known as Narasingha. In this part he deals with Krishnadevaraya and his court.

The region of Kanara had Goa & Anjadiv in its north, Malbar in the south and Vijayanagar in the east. Though it is part of Vijayanagar Empire, because of its peculiar geographical position (a little isolated?) the Poetuguese dealt with it separately. The people were good fighters on land and sea alike. There were two royalties and smaller principalities.

The ports on this coast were Mirjan, Honnavar, Bhatkal, Barsur, Barkur, Udupi and Mangalore. Honnavar to Anjadiv belonged to Gersoppa king. Barsur and Bhatkal belonged to some other. Their captains controlled other ports and paid levy to Vijayanagar kings.

King of Gersoppa was an important governor. Fifteen-mile radial region from Sharavati formed his territory. Timmoja lived in a nearby town. He was related to Gersoppa king and earlier lived at Honnavar. Both the shores of river Sharavati were thickly populated. Big ships plied to and fro in this river. Timmoja used naval force to loot other ships on the deep sea.

The king of Bhatkal was a Hindu and more powerful than king of Gersoppa. Bhatkal was not as big as Goa but was a very important trading port of Vijayanagar Empire.It was the biggest international port. Horses used to come here from Arabian countries. Hindu and Muslim traders abided here as also of several foreign countries. One Danashetti (Jetti?) was the administrator of Bhatkal. One Kaisar from Ormuz was the administrator for Muslims. They (Muslims) came to Bhatkal from different countries. Before the occupation of Goa by the Portuguese, Bhatkal was a greater emporium and international port than Goa. Later it was reduced to second place.

War-horses were the main import. While returning, these ships took quality rice. Pires names jiresal rice (as a girl I had seen this rare quality of rice with grains smaller than jira and with pleasant flavour. A very delicate form of present basmati!). Chambasal rice was the next best.Other varities from Goa regions were taken back by these ships. Iron and sugar were also exported. The technique of preserving sugar for a very long time prevailed in Bhatkal. Its port was the biggest asset of Vijaynagar Empire. Barkur, Udupi, Mangalore also traded briskly with Gujrat and East Ormuz. Kanara was very fertile. Betel leaves and areca were grown profusely besides other grains.

Krishnadevaraya belonged to Kanara or Iulunad. His mother tongue was Kannada. In the court he spoke Telugu. Pires is the only Portuguese person who has clearly mentioned that Krishnadevaraya's language was Kannada.

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Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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