Of Forts and Ghosts at Cranganore (Kodungalloor)

A mud road veers to the right of the main highway at Kodungulloor, Kerala. Under the bridge hanging a hard right, the little mud road keeps to the edge of the promontory, approaching an expansive view of the magisterial Periyar river framed by palm trees receeding into the horizon. The remnants of a large, multileveled fort rises out of the archaeological site of Muziris, at modern Kodungulloor, ancient Cranganore. It is the outer walls of the Castillo Fortalleza da Sao Tome (A.D. 1523) built by the Portuguese in Cranganore. Known as the Cranganore Fort, it was usurped by the Dutch in 1661, and later, came under the control of Tipu Sultan.

Standing at the tip of the water bound fort, one is reminded of the Tagus River flowing regally by the ancient city of Lisbon’s Castillo. The resemblance of the site to Lisbon’s Castillo is deliberate. The Portuguese colonial encampments reproduce the spatial imaginary of Lisbon along the Malabar coast. At Kannur (Cannanore), Kodungulloor (Cranganore), Fort Cochin, and Tangassery in ancient Quilon, this visual repetition is most striking. One can trace the nostalgia for Lisbon along the Malabar Coast. Across the waters, at Mombasa, a similar vista of fort rising at the tip of a promonitory at Fort Jesus echoes Fort Aguada at the head of the Mandovi River at Candolim, Goa, at once mournful and fearsome. The linking stories between these sites are many and elusive.

 

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