Qiṣṣat Shakarwatī Farmāḍ. Story of the Emperor Perumāḷ (anonymous).

The Qiṣṣa is the longest and most detailed account of the Muslim tellings known so far. Our analysis thus is anchored in the Qiṣṣa. We divided the Qiṣṣa into four thematic sections, which will be analysed in conversation with the six remaining texts: (1) Miracle of the moon splitting, (2) Jews, Christians, and Muslims visit Malabar and the king’s conversion to Islam, (3) Division of the kingdom and travel to Yemen and Hijaz, and 4) Return to Malabar and erection of mosques.The Qiṣṣa has been brought to scholarly attention in a pioneering article by Y. Friedmann (1975) and was time and again used by Indian Ocean historians. However, none has addressed so far the issue of language: the peculiarities of grammar, different language registers, intertextuality, or markers of orality. The Qiṣṣa’s literary and linguistic characteristics suggest that it is not a single-source composition but an orally circulating text that was put down into writing at a later stage. Our aim is to set the Qiṣṣa into a new context by analysing it a) in conversation with the Hindu and Jewish tellings, b) in conversation with other, divergent Muslim tellings, and c) as part of the Arabic literary tradition.

Fī badʾ ẓuhūr al-Islām fī Malībār. On the Origins of Islam in Malabar. By Aḥmad Zaynaddīn al-Maʿbarī al-Malībārī (part of his Tuḥfat al-mujāhidīn. Gift of the Strugglers for Jihad).

Title page of Mawlūd Tājaddīn al-Hindī.
Title page of Mawlūd Tājaddīn al-Hindī. © Endangered Archives Programme (British Library)

A different telling is included in a well-known work written by the Malabar scholar Zaynaddīn II in the sixteenth century: Gift of the Strugglers for Jihad (Tuḥfat al-mujāhidīn). This work, actually, consists of several independent parts, each one in its own style. One part, titled “On the origins of Islam in Malabar”, roughly corresponds to the Qiṣṣa, except for dismissing the section on the moon splitting.

Mawlūd Tājaddīn al-Hindī. The mawlid of Tājaddīn al-Hindī (anonymous).

Mawlūd Tājaddīn al-Hindī belongs to the genre of mawlid texts. Mawlid (literally, “birth”) texts are composed for communal reading in an event to commemorate the birth of the prophet Muḥammad. Such texts emerged from the late twelfth century onwards and combine rhymed prose, prose, and poetry. In contrast to most Arabic mawlid texts from West Asia, Arabic mawlid texts from South India were not only devoted to Muḥammad but addressed other figures who are important to the local history. Hence, Cēramāṉ Perumāḷ, who after his conversion to Islam became Tājaddīn al-Hindī, was furnished with a mawlid text. The text is written in a peculiar Arabic, which is heavily influenced by Malayalam, and, at the same time, strictly subscribes to the genre rules of the Arabic mawlid. Its plot shows more parallels to the Kēraḷōlpatti than to the Qiṣṣa and the version in the Tuḥfa.


Kēraḷōlpatti. Origins of Kerala (multiple authors).

Palm-leaf image of a Kēraḷōlpatti manuscript. Public Domain (Universitätsbibliothek Tübingen)
Palm-leaf image of a Kēraḷōlpatti manuscript. Public Domain (Universitätsbibliothek Tübingen)

The Kēraḷōlpatti is a prose chronicle with multiple tellings transmitted by scribes on palm-leaf manuscripts, many of which must have been commissioned by the royal courts of Kerala between the 1400s and the 1800s. They are generally considered to reflect Brahmin-oriented ethnohistories seeking to legitimise the ruling dynasties of different rulers in different times. The major dynasties appropriating and adapting the story are the Kōlattiri kings ruling over the Kōlattunāṭu kingdom (ca. 1200s1800s) in north Malabar, the Neṭiyirippu dynasty of Kōḻikkōṭu (Calicut) also known as the Samudrirāja (King of the Ocean) or the Zamorins (ca. 1300s1800s), and the Perumpaṭappu dynasty ruling the kingdom of Kochi in central Kerala (ca. 1400s1949). In the 1850s, the German missionary and philologist, Rev. H. Gundert, compiled a rudimentary critical edition that was published in lithograph prints in Thalassery (1843, 1874), reflecting a telling that was probably commissioned by the Zamorin court. Both prints and the palm-leaf manuscripts are available at the University of Tübingen (Gundert-Portal).

Kēraḷanāṭakam. The Kerala Drama (attributed to Eḻuttacchan, as told by Rāmānujan).

The Kēraḷanāṭakam is one other title used in relation to the Kēraḷōlpatti tellings. It is also the title of a text copied by Gundert in his handwriting, which is effectively a draft annotated edition of at least four different manuscripts, possibly incorporating information provided by interlocutors. It was typed and published in print by M. Sreenathan (2016) and commented upon by Kesavan Veluthat (2019). The title, linguistic register, and performative instructions indicate a close affinity to temple performance traditions. Besides Kēraḷanāṭakam, the copy has three more titles indicating separate tellings, Dēvakaḷuṭe Ulbhavam (Origin of Gods), a title stating the date 1597 (kollam eḻunnūṟṟi eḻupatiraṇṭāmatil eḻutiyatu), and Kēraḷa Ulbhavam (Origin of Kerala). Despite repeated occurrences of key episodes and characters, each telling differs from the Kēraḷōlpatti and from each other in several respects. Especially striking are instances where a telling more closely intersects with the Qiṣṣa than other tellings do.


Liqqutim. Notebooks. By Yohanan Alemanno.

A Page from Yohanan Alemanno’s Notebook.
A Page from Yohanan Alemanno’s Notebook. © Bodleian Libraries

The  Liqqutim was compiled in Florence between 1490 and 1504 by the Jewish mystic and Hebrew scholar, Yohanan Alemanno, as a compilationof different mystical, religious, and philosophical writings. The Liqqutim includes the earliest known record of the Cēramāṉ Perumāḷ legend outside Malabar. This Hebrew telling is very brief and framed by a messianic narrative of discovery of long-lost “Biblical” Jews. F.Lelli (2011) situates this telling in the author’s messianic ideology in the age of Portuguese naval expeditions. For our purpose, the significance of this telling is its time and region, demonstrating the wide reach of the Cēramāṉ Perumāḷ legend and what later becomes the origin legend of Jews in Kerala. The brief excerpt leaves out the motif of conversion to Islam, while allocating a place for a Jewish community and ruler in the multi-religious landscape of the Malabar Coast.

Toldot Yehude Kuchin. Chronicles of the Jews of Kochi. Commissioned by David Rahabi.

If the telling in Liqqutim demonstrates the early wide spread of the legend, Toldot Yehude Kuchin demonstrates the wide range of the legend’s circulation across languages nearly three centuries later. This prose chronicle is a unique manuscript transmitted on a parchment scroll and copied by the Iraqi scribe Yiḥya B. Avraham Levi in 1781. However, rather than a chronicle, the text is an encyclopaedia-like compendium of Malabar Jewish origin legends, among them several tellings of the Cēramāṉ Perumāḷ legend.