Kāyamkulam Kāshu

Therattil Jee Francis Therattil

Coins having conch on one side and leaves like motif on the other side and the size comparable with that of one Kāshu of Travancore are quite often met with by numismatists in the southern districts of Kerala [Alappuzha, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram] and in Kanyakumari. On closer observation, one can see that there is a line inside the leaf like thing and it is definitely not a straight one so as to impart an appearance of a vein on it, but circular. I am very much inclined to identify it as representing the ‘eye’ in the peacock feather and the arrangement of the three peacock feathers as the classical representation of pēlithirumudi – the peacock feather crown associated with Lord Krishna. The next thing to bother is whether this one is just one among many varieties of Kāshu reported from the region, most of which are generally found classified1 under thirākāshu of Venad and Travancore or bear a separate identity. For this, we have to closely observe the characteristics of the coins under discussion and compare them with properly identified coins from the region.

Coin # 1 Diameter: 9mm. max. Weight: 700mg.

Conch is a very common motif found on Venad as well as Travancore coins. But here, the depiction of ornamentation of conch is strikingly of a different style from that seen in Venad and Travancore coins. Moreover, this Kāshu is not made up of thirāvam [bronze2], the alloy of copper with tin, imparting them the name thirākāshu, but of unalloyed copper, because of which it can be classified only under chembukāshu. The overall style of depiction also lacks the Venad or Travancore ‘touch’ in it.

But the most peculiar difference lies in the arrangement of linear and dotted circles. The coins under study exhibit dotted circle inside the linear one, whereas not even a single variety of Venad or Travancore Kāshu has been reported other than with dotted circle outside the linear one. This is a clear instance on the purposeful specificity to differentiate this issue by deviating from a standard graphic design pattern adopted by others like Venad or Travancore. Who shall be the issuer of this who advertises a separate style to establish an identity of its own? Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma [1729 – 1758 AD] succeeded in annexing neighboring principalities to Travancore [then a small principality with a ‘narrow strip of about 30 miles of coast’ to the south of Kollam] and emerged as the numero uno in the region. The only other kingdom left in the region was Kochi, to which the coin is a misfit. So we have to search for the issuer among the principalities existed prior to this annexation. The pointer is now towards Kāyamkulam3 [Kayamkulam], the principal thāvazhi [matrilineal branch] of Ōdanādu4 [Odanad] which once was one of the Chirava Swarōpams [feudatory] of Venad.5 Lord Sree Krishna [in the Temple at Aeruva6] is the tutelary deity of the rulers of Kayamkulam. Unfortunately, we could not succeed, till now, in identifying something which can be confirmed with certainty as royal insignia of Kayamkulam.

Coin # 2 Diameter: 9mm. max. Weight: 700mg.

Coin # 3 Diameter: 9mm. max. Weight: 630mg.

The graphics in the later issues [represented by coin # 3] show some sort of deviation in depicting the basic concept and attained a shape which appears to have been influenced by European concepts. The striking similarity exhibited by this insignia with fleur–de-dies depicted in Cache, ½ Doudou and Doudou coins7 minted at Puthucherry [Pondichery] during the very beginning of the 18th century is worth observing. The reduction [of 10%] in the weight [from 700mg to 630mg] of the coin also may be intentional. In September 1716, William Bakker Jacobsz [the Dutch ‘Councillor Extraordinary’] addresses in his letter8 as ‘The Raja of Calicoilan’ [Kayamkulam] which provides us the status of the ruler of Kayamkulam on those days while at the same time we can meet with at the addressing ‘The Raja of Trevancore’ [Travancore]. Right from 1647, Dutch had a permanent settlement at Kayamkulam [for the first time in Malabar Coast] under Mathew van der Broeck9. Even before this, the Dutch was awarded a promise from Kayamkulam ruler that he will not send any more pepper to the Portuguese ports of Kochi [Cochin] and Kollam [Quilon] [then under ‘The Raja of Signatty’ – Deashinganādu - Desinganad] and will not sell to any other European nations if the Dutch buys his pepper every year. This shows that the ruler was independent and powerful enough to endeavor in such strategic decisions. From the above observations, we can safely attribute the coinage to have started by the second half of the 17th century [represented by coin # 1 & 2] and continued during the first half of the 18th century [represented by coin # 3] when Kayamkulam enjoyed a good level of independence and economic thrust until Marthanda Varma started attack over Kayamkulam in 1734. On 10th June 1734, Kayamkulam king fell in the battle field10 and eventually it got annexed with Travancore in 1746.

References and Notes:
01. Anantasayanam and Thirai Cash of Venad and Travancore – A study by Barbara Mears, 2000. 02. Page 67, Coins of the Venad Cheras – Beena Sarasan, Poorna Publications, Calicut, 2000. 03. Er. K. Sivasankaran Nair believes that the original word must have been Kāyalkulam [kāyal is ‘lake’ and kulam means ‘pond’]. Dr. M. G. Sasibhooshan is of the opinion that Kayamkulam got its name from kayam meaning ‘abyss’. I feel that kāyam [meaning ‘black’ from asafoetida] will be a word worth considering behind Kāyamkulam, the lake with black mud deposit. Kayamkulam Lake is to the east of present Kayamkulam town. 04. Er. K. Sivasankaran Nair and Dr. M. G. Sasibhooshan are of the opinion that the nādu [region] must have got its name from Audal, a climber [Sarcostigma Kleinii - Page 222, Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, New Delhi, 1956]. I strongly feel that the word denotes ‘region of boats’ from the word audam representing a type of small boat [as in palliaudam and audivallam]. 05. Page 250, Pracheena Keralam – K. Sivasankaran Nair, India Books, Trivandrum, 2006. 06. North-East of present Kayamkulam town. 07. Page 247, The Standard Guide to South Asian Coins and Paper Money Since 1556 AD, First Edition [ISBN 0-87341-069-6], Krause Publications, Iola, Wisconsin 54990. 08. Page 13, Dutch Hegemony in Malabar and its Collapse – Dr. T. I. Poonen, University of Kerala, Trivandrum, 1978. 09. Page 19 & 20, ibid. 10. Page 94, ibid.

Dr. N. Sreedhar, Thiruvananthapuram, for crisp high resolution digital image capturing of the coins.

This paper interprets the characteristics of a previously unidentified coin and its attribution to the Kāyamkulam rulers of whom no coinage is known before. The paper got unanimously accepted [on 20th January 2008 at the annual conference of the South Indian Numismatic Society] and the same is included in the volume - X1X [2009] of their journal.

Jee Francis Therattil, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India. E-mail: jeefrancis@gmail.com