History Uncategorized

No. Vasco Da Gama did not land at Kappadu

  • May 25, 2021
  • 5 min read
No. Vasco Da Gama did not land at Kappadu

When you hear the name Kappadu, a beach that lies some 15 km north of Calicut, the first thing you may remember is the name Vasco Da Gama, the Portuguese navigator who was the first European to reach India by sea. Kappadu was where he landed, you would have been taught at schools or read somewhere. 

And if you visit Kappadu, you would even find a spire-like monument– five feet high, one square feet wide on the top and two square feet wide at the bottom erected by the Archeological Survey of India, which says “Vasco-da-Gama landed here, Kappkadavu, in the year 1498.”

But Vaso Da Gama did not land at Kappadu, historical records show. 

So, where did he actually set his foot on Indian soil, marking the beginning of a series of events that changed the course of global history? 

It was at a place 5 km further north of Kappadu, named Panthalayani Kollam.

The story of Gama’s arrival to India

Vasco Da Gama’s journey to India is often glorified as a journey he undertook through unknown waters. But that may not be correct. 

“The first part of Gama’s voyage was made along coasts, most of which had already been explored and mapped in detail at that age,” says a Parthasarathi P.T, a historian in a journal article. And for the second part of his journey he sought help from people in the African coast who knew the route well. 

“Vasco da Gama had a specific task in this voyage, namely to make contact with not a region but a commercial city, that of Kozhikode. So he wanted to find a pilot. Basically, he needed to have the service of someone to advise him of where the fleet lay when landfall was made on the Indian west coast.” he says.

While there is some confusion regarding the name of the pilot who Gama found at Kenyan port Melindi, many think that it was celebrated navigator and theorist of the fifteenth century, Shihab al Din Ahmad Ibn Madjid al Najdi ‐ who was from Oman. 

After 23 days of voyage from Melindi, they saw the Kerala coast on 18th May 1498. The Arab pilot knew how to spot Ezhimala, an isolated cluster of hills located some 38 km north of Kannur town, which can be seen from approximately 35 km out of sea. They sailed south along the coast, slowly and reached near Kappadu — also known as Kappakkadavu — and anchored the ship there on the night of 20th May. 

Seeing the ship, locals of the village visited them on their boats. To find out what exactly is the place, Gama sent one of his crew members with the locals to the shore the next day. It was Joao Nunes a convict‐ exile‐not someone of authority in the fleets’ hierarchy. So, it was Nunes who set his foot on Kappadu, making him also the first European to land on Indian soil after a sea voyage. 

He found out from people that Zamorin, the ruler of Calicut, was in Ponnani, his second headquarters. Gama sent more men to establish contact with the king and his officials and to arrange a meeting. On 25th May, Gama got a message from Calicut which instructed him to take his ships further north to Panthalayani Kollam, a safer place for ships to anchor, and invited him to trade in Calicut.

Here is a description of those incidents from the journal of Vasco Da Gama, believed to have been written on board ship by Álvaro Velho, who accompanied Gama to India: 

“A pilot accompanied our two men, with orders to take us to a place called Pandarani, below the place where we anchored at first… We were told that the anchorage at this place to which we were to go was good, whilst at the place we were then was bad, with a stony bottom, which was quite true; and, moreover, that it was customary for the ships which came to this country to anchor there for the sake of safety. We ourselves did not feel comfortable, and the captain-major had no sooner received this royal message that he ordered the sails to be set, and we departed. We did not, however, anchor as near the shore as the king’s pilot desired. When we were at anchor, a message arrived informing the captain-major that the king was already in the city. At the same time, the king sent a bale [governor], with other men of distinction, to Pandarani, to conduct the captain-major to where the king awaited him. This bale is always attended by two hundred armed men with swords and bucklers.

So, Gama set his foot on Indian soil on 28th May 1498, at Panthalayini Kollam, which is 5 km away from Kappad and not at Kappad. 

The origin of the false story of Gama’s landing at Kappad was an example of poor understanding of British about Portuguese historic records, says historian MGS Narayanan in one of his books. 

“In a way, it also points to North-dominated ASI’s casual approach towards events in South India, especially Kerala, history,” he adds.

Narayanan says it is shameful and ridiculous that we still believe this story.

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