Bhatkal – A Port of Contention

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Past References

Tome Pires (1515, Suma Oriental que trata do Mar Roxo até aos Chins) – Tome Pires was a Portuguese doctor from Lisbon who visited India in 1511 CE. He was attached as an apothecary to Afonso, the prince of Portugal, son of King John II of Portugal. Excerpts from his book are provided below.

“The king of Bhatkal is a Kanarese heathen and a greater king than those of Honawar and Gersoppa. His kingdom extends a long way inland. The port of Bhatkal comes next in importance to Goa and Chaul, and has a great deal of trade. It is the port which serves the kingdom of Narasinga, and through which the horses come. The city has many merchants, both heathens and Moors. It is a great port of call with many merchants and is a large port. The king is always inland. He had many Damj, a Chetti, governor of heathens in his kingdom, as he has the most property and is a great merchant; and the governor of the Moorish people is Caizar, a Moorish eunuch who was a servant of Cojatar, the one of Ormuz. There are Moors of all nations in this city, which used to be very great before the capture of Goa by the Captain General, and which is now already of less importance.”

“Bhatkal used to be the most important of all the ports in the kingdom of Kanara, on account of its many merchants, and many horses from all parts were landed here, and much other merchandise. These horses were bought for the kingdom of Narasinga, and heavy dues were paid on them. The merchants returned from this land of Kanara with quantities of the best rice there is in this part of the world, that is giracal which is the finest and whitest  and most expensive and considered the best; after this comes chambacal and after chambacal comes the pacharil from Goa and the kingdom of Deccan. They also took back iron and a great deal of sugar which there is in this country; and many sugar preserves which are made in Bhatkal; these (were products) of the land. And many of the merchants from Malabar used to go there so that its trade was of great account. This is the most important possession the king of Narasinga has in Kanara.”

Duarte Barbosa (1516, Livro de Duarte Barbosa) – Duarte Barbose was a Portuguese writer. He was posted as a Portuguese official in India between 1500 & 1516. Excerpts from his book are provided below.

“Ten leagues further along this coast (Malabar) to the south is another small river, with a large town called Baticala, of very great trade in merchandise, inhabited by many Moors  and Gentiles, very commercial people. And at this port congregate many ships from Orguz, to load very good white rice, sugar in powder, of which there is much in this country, for they do not know how to make it in loaves; and it is worth at the rate of two hundred and forty maravedis the arroba. They likewise load much iron, and these three kind of goods are what are chiefly shipped at this place; and also some spices and drugs, which the Malabars import. There are many myrobalans of all sorts, and very good preserves are made with them, which the ships of Ormuz, which traffic at this place, export for Arabs and Persians. They used each year to bring to this port many horses and pearls, which were there sold for the whole kingdom of Narasinga, and now they take them all to the city of Goa, on account of the Portuguese. Some ships are also laden at this place for Aden, risking themselves, although it is forbidden them by the Portuguese.”

“Many Malabar ships and sambuks also come to this port to take in rice, sugar, cocoa nut oil, and palm wine, in return for these things, and spices and drugs, concealed from the Portuguese who prohibit them. This town produces much revenue to the king. Its governor is a Gentile, he is named Damaqueti. He is very rich in money and jewels. The king of Narasinga has given this place and others to a nephew of his, who rules and governs them, and lives in great State and calls himself a king, but he is in obedience to the king, his uncle.”

“In this kingdom they make a great practice of dueling, for an account of anything they at once challenge one another, and the king at once grants them a field and arms, and appoints a time for killing each other, and gives them seconds, who back up each his own man. They go to fight one another bare from the waist upwards, and from the waist downwards wrapped in cotton clothes drawn tightly round, and with many folds, and with their arms, which are swords, bucklers and daggers. And the king appoints them of equal length. They enter the lists with great pleasure, first saying their prayers, and in few passes they kill each other in the presence of the king and many people, without anyone speaking excepts the seconds, of whom each encourages his own man.”

“This town of Baticala pays a yearly tribute to the king of Portugal; much copper is also sold in it each year, which is taken into the interior of the country to make money, and cauldrons and other pans which they use. There is also sold there much quicksilver, vermillion, coral, alum and ivory. This town is situated in level country, it is very populous, and not walled; it is surrounded with many gardens, very good estates, and very fresh and abundant water. There is in this place gold coin called Pardan, and it is worth three hundred and twenty maravedis; and there is another silver coin called dama, worth twenty. The weights are called bahars, and each bahar is equal to four quintals of Portugal.”

Joao de Barros (1552, Decadas da Asia) –  Barros is known as the first great Portuguese historian. He is most famous for his Decadas da Asia. His Decades contain the early history of the Portuguese in India and Asia and reveal careful study of Eastern historians and geographers, as well as of the records of his own country. They are distinguished by clearness of exposition and orderly arrangement. Excerpts from his work are provided below.

“This port (of Honavar) and that of Bhatkal, which is seven leagues ahead, with others of this coast, belonged to the king of Vijayanagara, and the king of Honavar (was) his vassal. These ports were for a little less than 40 years, the most celebrated along the whole coast, not only because the land was fertile by itself and abundant in provisions, where there was a great shipment to all places, but also (because) it was the entrance and exit of all merchandise for the kingdom of Vijayanagara, from which the king had great revenue, mainly from horses of Arabia and Persia, which came here as the ports of the greatest profit, on account of the great value they had in Vijayanagara, as these horses were the principal force with which he defended himself against the Muslims of the kingdom of Deccan with whom he was at war continually, and who had encircled him on the northern side and had taken many of his territories.”

“And owing to this fertility of land and the trade of these ports, there was a great number of native Muslims there, whom they naiteas (Navayats), who used to purchase the horses and sell them to the Deccan Muslims, on account of which the king of Vijayanagara received great damage, as they waged war against him with the horses and more (damage) at the hands of the purchasers of the horses which he needed on account of the doubled price.”

“Finally, as a people harmful to his state, he ordered the king of Honavar, his vassal, that he should kill as many of these Muslims as he could, so that the others would flee from his land out of fear. And in the Muslim year of 917, which is the year 1479 in the era of Christ our Redeemer, there was a slaughter of these Muslims in all the territories of Honavar and Bhatkal, in the manner of a conspiracy, in which more than 10000 dies; and the others who were formed into a group, the people of the land giving them an occasion for their exit, went to live in the island of Tissuari, wherein the city of Goa is founded….”

Peter Mundy (1636, The Travels of Peter Mundy in Europe and Asia) – Peter Mundy was travelling in a shipping vessel from Goa to Mangalore, and enroute he anchored at Bhatkal which he referred as Battacala. He traded lead in exchange of pepper at Battacala. The king, Vira Bhadra Nayak, the king of Malnad, was ruling from Ikkeri and he allowed Mundy to do trade at Bhatkal. He notices pepper gardens and explained the way of cultivation and maintenance of such gardens. Peter Mundy with few other British people, went to meet the king at Ikkeri. The king granted him permission to build a house and trade in his country. Excerpts from his travelogue are provided below:

“Battacala had a very narrow shallow inlet that run up about 1.5 mile to the town, not capable of any vessel of any burden. In former time it seems this town had been a more flourishing place, as appears by the multitude of ruined walls of hewn squared stone, dried wells, that many Dewraes or Pagodas, the latter yet remaining entire, wherein are stones of 6 or 7 yards long and 5 broad, all articulately hewn. The foundation, pavement, walls, covering or roof all of the same stone, although not all so big, but generally very large buildings of incredible continuance, the stone being very solid, off a bluish color, whereof some we saw at Goa. The other ruins and buildings are of ordinary sort they use at Goa, being softer and off a reddish color (laterite). “

“In the most and secret rooms of these Pagodas are certain images with lights before them, into which they hardly suffer strangers to enter, although I saw one forsaken and neglected, the rest questionless no otherwise. The principal image and in the chiefest place is the image of a woman cut out in stone, sitting cross legged, this being naked, but doubtless the others are clothed. Such commonly also are these in India as far as I could see, and neither here nor in India was there one figure in 10000 that was made with a beard.”

“Each of these Pagodas have before their entrance a very high, fair pillar of the said blue stone. The pillar only may contain 8 or 9 yards in length, besides the pedestal and addition on top, where is a little artificial arched place, and in it some image placed. Among the rest of the their Pagodas there is one of extraordinary workmanship, carved in stone above and beneath, roundabout, both within and without, being sundry stones, many whereof are such as Arrentines postures are reported to be.”

“The town may be some 2 miles in compass, scattering, straggling, so intermingled with high trees that overtop their low houses that when one is a little without it he shall see nothing at all of it and without those trees there would be bad living for heat. There is only one good house, built for the king somewhat after the Gujarat manner. The rest little row thatched houses, the eaves within a yard or 4 foot of ground, their floors all bedaubed with a mixture of cowdung which smelled not ill.”

“They are generally here Jentues or Hindooes of sundry sects. Here are also many Moors or Mahometanes who have small mosque in the town.”

Francis Buchanan (1807, A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar) – Dr. Francis Buchanan, later known as Francis Hamilton but often referred to as Francis Buchanan-Hamilton (15 February 1762 – 15 June 1829) was a Scottish physician who made significant contributions as a geographer, zoologist, and botanist while living in India. From 1803 to 1804 he was surgeon to the Governor General of India Lord Wellesley in Calcutta, where he also organized a zoo that was to become the Calcutta Alipore Zoo. In 1799, after the defeat of Tippu Sultan and the fall of Mysore, he was asked to survey South India resulting in “A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar”. He also wrote “An Account of the Kingdom of Nepal”.

“I went four cosses to Batuculla, which means the round town. A very steep barren ridge separates Beiduru from a fine level, which is watered by the Combara, a small slow running stream, that in several places is dammed up for irrigation of the fields. Here was formerly a market (Basar) named Hosso-petta, which general Mathews destroyed. After passing this level, I came to a very barren country, but not remarkably hilly. It is covered with stunted trees, and intersected by a small rapid stream, the Sancada-gonda, and farther on by a narrow cultivated valley. Batuculla stands on the north bank of a small river, the Sancada-holay, which waters a very beautiful valley surrounded on every side by hills, and in an excellent state of cultivation.”

“At the public expense eight dams are yearly made in order to water the rice grounds. They are constructed of earth, and are only intended to collect stream in the dry season. In the rains they would be of no use, and the violence of the stream would then sweep away the strongest works. The dams are repaired between the 17th of November and the 16th of December, and are carried away in the two months which precede the summer solstice. There are here many coconut gardens, and these in the best condition of any that I have seen in Canara. They are well inclosed with stone walls, their produce is partly shipped for Mangalore, or Raja-pura, and partly sent to the country above the Ghats.”

“Batuculla is a large open town containing 500 houses. It has two mosques, one of which receives from the company an allowance of  100 Pagodas, and the other half as much. These places of worship are situated in a quarter of the town inhabited by Mussulmans alone. Many of these are wealthy, and go on commercial speculations to different parts of the coast; but this is their home, and here they leave their families. In this part of the country there are no Buntar, not does the language of Tuluva extend so far to the north. In fact, Batuculla is properly in a country called Haiga; and the most common farmers are a kind of Brahmans, named Haiga after the country, and a low caste of Hindus called Halepecas.”

“There are here 76 Gudies, or temples belonging to the followers of Vyasa. Last year the officers of revenue, being all Brahmans, began by their own authority to levy money, under pretense of applying it to the support of these places of worship; but some of them having been flogged, and dismissed from the service, a stop was put to this dangerous practice, and the priests (Pujaris) must content themselves with voluntary contributions. Major Monro does not seem to have thought it necessary to be so liberal to the temples, and Major Macleod and Mr Hurdis have been. I do not perceive that his economy has been attended with any bad effect; and his conduct, on the whole, seems to have gained the good opinion of every honest industrious man that lived under his authority.”

“Thinking to obtain some information from the Brahmans in a place where they were so numerous, I sent for some of them. They denied having ever been subject to the Jain, and said, that this and four other districts were each governed by an independent officer, send immediately from Nagara, meaning the capital above the Ghats; for the present Nagara is a name of very recent origin. There four territories were Shiraly, Chindawera, Garsopa and Mirzee, and each occupied the whole country from the sea to the Ghats. They afterwards confessed, however, that this was only during the government of Sivabhactars, and that Batuculla formerly belonged to Byra Devi, a Jain princess, whose dominions extended almost to Barcuru, which belonged to a Jain Raja of the name of Budarsu.”

“These Brahmans having told me that at all their temples I should find inscriptions, I set out in search of them, and was a good deal disappointment to find none at the two chief Gudies; and I inquired at several others, but was informed that they had no such thing. In the course of my walk I met with two Jain temples of the kind called Busties, the only remains of sixty-eight that were formerly in the place. The one had an inscription dated in the year Sal. 1468, A.D. 1545-46 in the reign of Runga-raya. He is not mentioned in the Raya Paditi, but in the inscription is said to have been brother’s son of Krishna Raya, by whom he was probably employed as a deputy. The date is toward the end of the time assigned by Ramuppa for the reign of Krishna Raya. At the other Busty is an inscription dated Sal. 1479, A.D. 1556-57, in the reign of Sri Vira Sadasiva Raya. A copy of this has been delivered to the Bengal government.”

“From the Pujari of the Busty, one of the few Jain now remaining in the place, I obtained the following account. All the country between Carcul and Cumty belonged to a family of Jain Rajas, called by the common name of Byrasu Wodears; but each had a particular name, several of which the Pujari mentioned. The founder of this family, as we have already seen, was Jenaditta, a fugitive prince from the north of India. The last of these Wodears having no son, the greater parts of his dominions was divided among his seven daughters, all of whom were called Byra Devi; and it is concerning them, that Ferishta has related an absurd fable. From these ladies Barcuru was taken by a Jain prince, whom the Brahmans called Budarsu. The Byra Devi of this place built a fort, the ruins of which may still be traced. In her time the town was very large.”

“During the war conducted by Lord Cornwallis it suffered much from plundering band of Marattahs, but is again recovering fast. The Pujari showed me the ruins of a Busty built by one of the Wodears. The workmanship of the pillars and carving  is superior to anything that I have seen in India, probably owing to the nature of the stone, which cuts better than the granite in common use, and preserves its angles better than the common potstone, of which many temples are constructed. The quarry is four cosses to the eastward. The stone is what Mr. Kirwan called Sienite in a slaty form, and consists of hornblende slate, with layers of white quartz, and a little feldspar interposed. In some pieces there are occasionally wanting, and the places of hornblende are connected only by fibers of the same nature crossing the interstices between plate and plate. In some places again, the plates are waved, somewhat of quartz and feldspar generally exceeds that of the hornblende.”

“As the Brahmans err in denying their former dependence on the Jain, an endeavor as much as possible to conceal the former existence of such odious infidels; on the other side the Jain go into the contrary extreme, and deny altogether the dependence of their Rajas on the kings of Vijayanagara, which from many inscriptions and other circumstances, is quite indubitable. The Bellala family, who, till the time of Vishnu Verdana Raya’s conversion, were undoubtedly Jain, probably governed their dominions, like other Hindu princes, by chiefs paying tribute, and holding their lands by military tenure. We have seen that, when their sovereign changed his religion, these chiefs threw off their allegiance, and continued in an independent anarchy, till subjected by Buta Panda, and soon after the Harihara.”

“The princes of the throne of Vijayanagara, although favorers of the Brahmans who follow Vyasa, did not venture to dispossess the Jain Rajas, but employed them as their vassals, both in the civil and military government of the country. When the government at Vijayanagara became weak under Sadasiva, and fell into utter contempt by the death of Rama Raya, the Jain rajas again asserted their independence; and in the inscription here, dated in the year 1556-57, the Byra Devi no longer acknowledges any superior. It was at this time that Sadasiva Nayaka of Killidi obtained a grant of Tulua from the king; and, taking advantage of the weakness of a female reign, he attacked the Jain without mercy.”

“It must be observed, that the Jain are extremely obnoxious to Sivabhactars, as they altogether deny the divinity of Iswara; but the Brahmans who serve as priests (Pujaris) in his temple are favorites, although among the Sivabhactars they are not the order dedicated to the care of the religion. In this part of the country the princes if Ikeri seem to have almost extirpated the Jain, and made no considerable conquests there, until the government of Sivappa, who reigned from 1642 till 1670, and had the management of public affairs from about the year 1625. Even he was obliged to permit the Jain rajas of the south to retain their authority as his vassals, and until the more vigorous government of Hyder they continued in power.”

Jas. Burgess (1885, Lists of Antiquarian Remains in Bombay Presidency) – Burgess was the first one to give attention to the monuments at Bhatkal. He described thirteen temples at the place. He enumerated twenty four inscriptions with their dates and locations.

Henry Cousens (1926, The Chalukyan Architecture of the Kanarese District) – Henry Cousens described few temples at the site in details. Excerpts from his work are provided below.

“The town of Bhatkal, situated at the extreme southern end of the Bombay Presidency, upon the coast, is snugly ensconced in a thick grove of palm trees and is surrounded by rice fields, the rich vivid green of whose young crops fill the terraced valleys among the hills, which here run down from the ghats in broken spurs to the seashore. The town is about two miles up a tidal creek from the sea. The streets are narrow and crooked and the houses are quaint, those in the town being of a more substantial sort with tiled roofs, while those on the outskirts are generally of mud and thatch.”

“The most notable features of these temples are their plan sloping roofs and the peculiar arrangement of stone screens which close in sides. With the excessive rainfall in Kanara it was, no doubt, found that temples with the type of roof as used above the ghats was far from being waterproof – in fact, they would be veritable sieves – and so it was necessary to devise a more suitable arrangement. The depth to which the eaves project over the sides, and the screens support this assumption. The monsoon rains, along the coast, beat in with such force that it was necessary to protect the interiors from driving rain, and at the same time allow plenty of fresh air which was so necessary to counteract the hot steamy atmosphere of closed interiors.”

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