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History of Honavar Town

by K. L. Kamat
First Online: May 20, 2000
Last Updated: May 09, 2017

How the name Honavar came out to be

The present town of Honavar first appears to be mentioned under the form 'Naour' by the Greek author Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (A.D.247) who called it the first port of Limurike, the Tamil country. Next, it appears as 'Hanuruha Island', the seat of an independent chief in the ancient Jain Ramayana. The manuscript  was composed in the 10th century in old Kanarase by the poet Pampa (A.D. 902-943). The Arab geographer, Abul Fida (A.D.1273-1331) has mentioned the name of the town. In 1342 the African traveler, Ibn Batuta describes it as the city of Honavar or Hinaur.

According to Ibn Batuta, the people of Honavar were Muslims of the Shafai or Arab sect, peaceful and religious. The men were famous sea-fighters and the women were chaste and beautiful. Most of them knew the Koran by heart. There were twenty-three schools for boys and thirteen for girls. The ruling chief was Jamal-ud-din Muhammad Ibn Hassan. He was subject to an infidel king named Hariab, that is Harihara or Haripappa of Vijayanagar (A.D. 1336-1350).    The princes  had an army of six thousand men. However, the people of Malabar, though a courageous and a war-like race, feared the chief for his bravery at sea and paid him tribute. Ibn Batuta went to Calicut  and then returned to Honavar where he found the chief preparing an expedition against the island of Sindabur or Chitakul (present day Sadashivgad) near Karwar.

© K. L. Kamat
Handmade transportation boats parked at Honavar Harbor
Historically, Honavar was a place of trade and a naval base for several armies

Trade

During the 15th century, Honavar  was a great place of trade and the Persian ambassador Abd-er-Razzak ( A.D. 1444 ) mentioned it as 'Hanur'. According to the Portuguese historian Faria Y. Souza it was the Moors of Honavar who held Goa against the Bahamani general Malik-ul- Tujar. In spite of their victory, the Bahamanis placed such restrictions on the trade of the Vijayanagar part that in 1479 the Moors of Honavar left their homes and settled in Goa.

The Italian traveler Varthema (A.D. 1505) describes the town as 'Onor' being located at a day's travel from Anjidiv and ruled by a pagan prince who was subject to the eighth Vijayanagar king Narsinhga (1487-1508).  "He was a good fellow, and a great friend of the Portuguese. He went around naked except a cloth around his waist. He had eight ships which were always cruising about. The air of the town was perfect and the people long-lived. There were wild hogs, stags, wolves, lions, peacocks, parrots, and numerous strange birds. People ate beef or sheep meat. Red cows and sheep were in abundance. Throughout the year the rice and roses were available in large quantities."

The Portuguese traveler Barbarosa (A.D.1514) called it the good town of 'Honor' locating it  to be on the river beyond Mirjan and near the sea. The Malabaris called it 'Povaran' (that is 'Poavar', as the letters 'H' and 'P' change in accord with the usual old Kanarese rule). Malabaris came to Honavar bringing coconut-oil, palm-molasses, and wine and carried back cheap brown rice. In 1547 the Portuguese had factories at Honavar. In1554 the town is mentioned in the 'Mhit' in the Turkish Seaman's Guide, as a regular place of trade with Aden.

Destruction

In 1568, Don Luiz Athaide, the twelfth Portuguese viceroy, besieged the town and built a fortress on the river. The queen of Honavar, with the help of Adilshah, tried to reconquer it but failed. Don Luiz went with a fleet  to Honavar and destroyed all its warships. After a week of resistance people left from this rich and thickly populated town. The city was then sacked and reduced to ashes.

Later, in1590, De Barres mentions the city of Honavar as the head of the kingdom of Batikala. The Dutch traveler  Jean Hugues de Linscot mentions the existence of a Portuguese fort at Honavar. The famous English sailor, Captain Davis, mentions Honavar as a chief place of trade. The Italian traveler Pietro Della Valla found two churches in the town, one dedicated to St. Katherine and the other to St. Anthony. The ruler of the town was Venkatappa  Naik  and in the treaty made with the Portuguese in 1631, he took off duties on the export of pepper. Within a gunshot of Honavar was a big Hindu city called the Brahman's City.

In 1720 Hamilton noticed 'Onor' as a port with a river able to receive ships of 200 to 300 tons. In 1727 a small English factory, subordinated  to Tellichari was opened at Honavar. In November 1751, under the treaty of Bednur's ( Keladi ) chief, the English were allowed to build a factory on the site of the old factory. The English representative, Stracey, presented himself before Hyder Ali in Bednur and was allowed to continue the trade. The factory procured every year about 210 tons of pepper.

Tumulus History of Honavar

Hyder Ali , in 1763, made up his mind to make Bednur his head-quarter and prepared dockyards and naval arsenals at Honavar and Mangalore. In the year 1769 the English sent a squadron of ships with 400 Europeans and a large body of Sepoys to attack Hyder's sea-ports. At Honavar Hyder's naval captains were so displeased because they had given the command to a cavalry officer that joined the English army. In May of the same year Hyder's troops appeared and took over Honavar's fort and Basavarajdurga. This island is located a little to the South of Mirzunand, is round and about a mile in diameter, rocky, barren and so strong as deemed to be impregnable.

© K. L. Kamat
The Ruins of BasavarajaDurga Near Honavar Port
The ruins of  fort of Basavarajadurga

Tippu Sultan demolished the town in1784 though under Hyder Ali it was a place of great commerce with a naval dockyard. After Tippu Sultan's death, in1799, only five shops were open. In 1800 Munro found not a house at Honavar though it was once the second place of trade in the province of Kanara. In 1801 Buchanan notes that a few people had made offers to rebuild the city if the Government would help. Merchants started to appear from their hiding places and to return from the countries where they had fled.

The pirate crafts of the Malbar coast were a great hindrance to trade. They roved around Pigeon Island, about twenty-five miles South-West of Honavar and had even the impertinence  to enter the river and inlets. Eight days before Buchanan came into town the pirates carried off two boats from Honavar creek. He found the wrecks of some of Tipu's ships which were sunk in1783 after the fort was taken by assault.

In 1855, before North Kanara was transferred to the Bombay presidency, Honavar was a zillah (country) station, the head-quarters of a sub-collector, a civil and a session judge. It had a population of 11,968.

Honavar is ideally located to become a river-sea resort. The city is divided into two parts. The smaller one occupies the narrow hill along the South base of a spur, with the houses standing in enclosures shaded by coconut, jack, mango, and other trees. The larger part of the town lies on the North side of the spur. It consists of two long, narrow streets that cross at a right angle, one facing north and south and the other east and west. The houses are raised on a high basement and some have an upper floor. They are generally of stone, most of them built with mud and thatched, and a few with mortar in the walls and with tiled roofs. A Portuguese warehouse was located to the south-east of the port and is known as 'Faringi Bhat' or 'Karkhana'. Traces of the foundations of the old fort still appear on the west side of the spur. The fort had a wall, a moat and is said to have been armed with guns. Its water supply was from a tank to the north-west of the fort which is still called 'Kotekere'.

A perennial cistern is located on the northern side of the town and is known as 'Ramateertha'. In 1623, the Italian traveler, Della Valle visited the spring and described it it as a stream of warm water falling into a beautiful stone cistern. In 1720 Hamilton calls it the Pagoda or temple of  Ramteertha which was visited yearly by large numbers of pilgrims. Close by the temple was an oblong cistern fed with water from the face of a rock as large as a man's thigh. About fifty rock-cut steps led to the cistern. At the foot of the steps was a small summer house.

The cistern was about three fathoms deep in the middle and was populated with numerous brown fish that had a white stroke from head to tail on either side of the backbone. When any musical instrument was played, the fish came up in such numbers towards the music that they could be taken in baskets. However they were regarded as holy and no one was allowed to meddle with them.

Sometimes the image of the God was carried in procession. The God appeared  to be more like a monkey than a man. They put him in a coach in the form of a tower with a pyramidal top about fifteen feet high and eight to ten priests were sat to bear the image company and to sing his praises. The coach had four wheels and was fastened by a thick rope. It was drawn through the streets by a great mob. It may be recalled that even today (Year 2000), a car festival is held in Honavar on the birthday of Lord Ramachandra.

© K. L. Kamat
The Temple Chariot at Honavar
"..they put God in a coach and sang his praises"
- Italian Traveler Della Valle, 1623
See Also: Car festivals of India

On the opposite hillock from the Ramateertha,  the British have erected a thirty-six feet colossal column in the memory of Colonel Hill. He was an infantry commandant and fought against the Mysore army. He was killed in action ( 01/20/1854 ) at Gerusoppa, just eighteen miles from Honavar. His body is buried at Honavar where his memorial was  built in 1854.   

See Also:

References:

  • Kamat K. L., The Timeless Theater CD-ROM

  • Travels of Ibn Batuta

  • The Kanara State Gazetteer

  • Kamat Krishnanand, "Neevariyada Karnataka" (in Kannada), Nootana Magazine

Town of Honavar
Kamats' Home Town

  Honavar

Pictures
Sailing in SharavatiThe Ruins of BasavarajaDurga Near Honavar PortThe island of Mavinkurve as seen from Honavar beachOn the Colonel Hill
View of the Kasarkod Tile FactoryView of old Honavar Bundar (port)A Merchant Ship (machwa) from old HonavarHandmade transportation boats parked at Honavar Harbor
A Column for a ColonelCoir Products being transported in a boatSt. Thomas Highschool Campus, Honavar

 

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