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Prof. P.V.Ramachandran
Principal, Calicut Medical College



   The history of Kozhikode has two storylines.  One, propagated by those from other lands; deferentially, perhaps even unquestioningly accepted and imbibed by the denizens of the city.  A myth.  And the other? Drawn from the dusty pages of recorded history. 

     The Myth: An ancient age.  A seafaring merchant reaches the coastal sands of Kozhikode.  During an audience with the erstwhile sovereign, the traveller requests that a consignment of jars filled with pickled food be entrusted with the royal house for safekeeping until his return from the next voyage.  The merchant’s son returns the following year to reclaim them from the ruler’s custody.  The king knowing only too well that the jars in fact contained hidden gold, returns the entire consignment untouched.  The young merchant proclaims: “This is the harbour of honesty”. 

    History: The 17th century European voyager Pyrad De Laval (1607) writes:  “Nowhere in India does peace and tranquillity abound as in Kozhikode.  And not least on account of the innate natural beauty and prosperity; those of many religious faiths and independent beliefs coexist here in amity, interacting seamlessly with each other.  The rulers seek not to restrict or govern religious convictions in their land.  It is not uncommon to see those of many faiths living together under a same roof”. 

   The passage of time saw Arabs’ ‘Qualiqut’ make way for the occidental Sahib’s ‘Calicut’.  Many institutions (including the university) continue to bear the latter name with all its colonial connotations.  Nevertheless, it is the name ‘Kozhikode’ that evokes glamour, sanctity and romance; it is this name entwined with history, culture, myth and legend.   

   ‘The land that lies within earshot distance of a rooster’s crow from the Thali temple’ – may be all there is to this city’s name.  Then again, historians may well conclude that it was the region comprising the Koyil grounds (Kovil = palace) between Cannanore road and Oyitty road, stretching all the way from Palayam road to Mananchira, that eventually came to be known as Kozhikode.  Victory in war saw the Samoothiri (Zamorin) take Velapuram fort, convert it into his palace and thus immortalise his connection with the city’s name forever.   

   History nonetheless compels us to delve further into times past.  

    Late 11th century to 12th century AD.  Rama Varma Kulasekharan Cheraman Perumal chooses to convert to Islam and embarks on holy pilgrimage to the Mecca.  Manavikraman and his henchmen from Eranad / Nediyirippu principality (near Kondotty of present day) helps thwart the attack of Krishna Raya’s army.  (Another version of the story has it that the brothers Maanichan and Vikkeeran were the main architects of the victory).  Even as the royal houses of Parappanad, Valluvanad and Vettathunad rapidly achieve commercial prosperity as a result of geographical access to maritime commerce, Nediyiruppu principality literally suffocates from being cut off from the access to the Arabian Sea.   

    As a token of his appreciation, the triumphant Cheraman Perumal bequests Kozhikode and Chullikkad to the Nediyirippu Eradis with his blessings, thus proclaiming: “To die for, to slay for, to conquer: Long may you reign!”   

    It then comes as little surprise that Porlathiri, the ruler of Polanad would view the new developments across the borders of his lay as a threat to his own commercial interests, leading eventually to long years of military conflict.  Victory for the Eradis of Nediyiruppu over the Porlathiri ensued.  From their base at Velapuram fort, the Eradis built the palace, established their royal court and renamed it: Vikramapuram. 

    Revenue records confirm that four separate provinces or amshams were in existence: Kasaba, Nagaram (city), Kariyakkunnu and Kalaththinkunnu.  The land gifted by Cheraman Perumal to the Eradis lay within the Kasaba area.  Kozhikode which skirted the banks of Kallai river bestowed geopolitical and tactical advantage, while Chullikkad which lay north to the present day Puthiyapalam was an established commercial hub.  Salt pans in this region provided the thrust for the main produce, sea salt.  And by 12th century BC, Kozhikode had become the Samoothiri’s seat of power.   

    Wherein then did the term Saamoothiri originate?  Arabian merchants called Eradis by the name Saamiri.  Swami Thirumulpad may have evolved into Saamoothirippad and eventually into Saamoothiri.  Alternately, Saamudri or ‘Lord of the seas’ (Samudram = ocean) may have evolved with the passage of time to Samoothiri

     12th and 13th centuries: Arabian trade links flourished and influenced all walks of contemporary life.  The Vattezhuthu scripts that survive to this day on the walls of Muchunthi Palli (Palli = mosque) is a tribute to the harmonious relationship that existed between the Zamorins of Kozhikode and the intrepid Arab traders.  These 13th century edicts from an age otherwise represented by few surviving stone inscriptions bear the royal proclamation of “a daily allowance of one naazhi of rice and decreed land in Kunnamangalam area towards the upkeep of the mosque”; and exist as indelible historical testaments to the religious concord that existed therein.  There is ample evidence that Chinese traders frequented Kozhikode during the course of their voyages in the 13th and 14th centuries. 

    Ma Huan from Chengho’s chinese trading fleet braved the seas seven times to reach Kozhikode and provides us with excellent descriptions of the city.  The China street near Tagore Centenary Hall and Silk Street in Valiangadi bear testimony to the Chinese connections of yore. 

    Vasco Da Gama’s historical landing on the bright sands of Kozhikode in 1498 illuminated the twilight of 15th century.  History pauses, bookmarks and redefines itself from this point in time.   

    (The articles by Dr MR Raghava Warrier, Dr MGS Narayan and Dr NM Namboothiri in the souvenir which commemorated the Malabar Mahotsav of 1993 are hereby gratefully acknowledged.)  


    What then does history record of the medical profession and its traditions in this hallowed city? 

    Perhaps that the Physician who traditionally tends to ignore the march of social history predictably yet again failed to record the age and times of his own profession.  And scanty records remain thereof.  Yet again, we must attempt to piece together the scattered jigsaw pieces, of words that linger as memories… the written, the spoken, the recalled and the recanted. 

    From newsletters, souvenirs, articles… penned by the likes of Dr CK Ramachandran, Dr AJ Herman, the late Dr MG Sahadevan; Dr A Ramanathan, Dr CK Jayaram Panicker and Dr K Madahavan Kutty, who have spent long years of their lives in this city: from these shall we attempt to compile our memoirs.   

     It may be claimed that modern medicine reached the shores of India when Albequerque landed in Goa in 1510, twelve years after Vasco Da Gama’s arrival.  However, the first hospital opened its gates in Goa in the year 1591.  Another century passed before the first Medical school was established (1703).  The Dutch, the French and the English contributed to the spread of modern medicine in subsequent decades.  When Calcutta Medical College opened in 1835, it was the first of its kind in India and indeed the whole of Asia.  Soon after medical schools were set up in Madras (1835), Bombay (1845) and Amritsar (1860).  Many more years were to pass before Malabar had its first medical school. 

    Meanwhile, in 1882, a major boating accident on the Koduvally River at Nettur near Tellicherry resulted in the tragic loss of many lives.  Liben Der Fur, a Basel missionary who lived nearby saved many survivors by administering First Aid as well as he could.  This episode proved to be a turning point in his life: Liben Der Fur set off to London, qualified in Medicine and returned to Kozhikode in 1886 to set up practice in the city.  By 1892, he had established the Mission Hospital which was the first of its kind in the region.  He also took the lead in setting up the first Leprosy Hospital in Chevayoor in 1901 on four acres of donated land.  By then, a Government Headquarters Hospital had also come into being at the site of the present day Education Offices east of Mananchira. 

    Plans were laid to start a medical school in Malabar under the auspices of Madras Presidency well before the outbreak of World War I.  The Rev. Dr Robert Herman (The illustrious father of Dr MJ Hermen, who rose to become a doyen of medical profession in Kozhikode) came to the Mission Hospital after qualifying from Miraj Medical school established by Basel Mission in Maharashtra state.  The animosity generated in the wake of the First World War against Germans caused brief interruption to the operation of Mission Hospital during this period. 

     In the 1920s, the British Government started a Medical school near Mananchira.  The Headquarters building mentioned above housed the hospital section and the Training College of present day became the seat of the medical school.  The late Prof. MG Sahadevan who was well versed with the history of this institution would bristle with righteous indignation whenever a claim was voiced that medical education in Kerala had its historical origins in Trivandrum.   

    We know of at least one graduate of the Mananchira Medical School who made his mark as a family physician in Kozhikode, Dr A Balakrishnan Nair.  In the 1930s, the Rajaji ministry abolished the MLP course and all medical schools (barring Royapuram Medical School which was later to become Stanley Medical College) ceased to function.  This marked the end for  Mananchira medical school.  L Vaidyanathan, Mangesh Rao and Narasimha Aiyer were amongst the eminent teachers who had taught here along with the British District Medical Officers. 

    The1930s and 1940s saw the heydays of Family Practice in Kozhikode.  In1930, Dr VA Raman established Ashoka Hospital - perhaps the first private hospital in the region.  Meanwhile, Dr A Balakrishnan Nair in the north of the city, Dr A Narayana Sami in the central town area and Dr CK Menon to the south had laid equal and honourable claims to the patient clientele of Kozhikode, despite the lack of facilities for  inpatient hospital care: recalls Dr Ramanathan and Dr Madhavan Kutty.   

    It was only later that Karunakara Pharmacy established by Dr A Balakrishnan Nair, an alumnus of Calicut Medical College, started offering inpatient care.  Dr Balaram who ran a clinic in SM Street had meanwhile opened Rajendra Nursing home.  Passing decades saw the emergence of new medical institutions within the city area by Dr Muhammed Koya (Calicut Nursing home), Dr Appu Nair (Haridas clinic), Dr MK Koya (Koyas Hospital) and Dr Subrahmaniam (Manohar Hospital).  Dr PB Menon, (father of Dr KB Venugopal) lays claim to being the first specialist physician in Kozhikode; and as an ophthalmologist conducted the first corneal transplant in Malabar.  The trend towards specialist medical care continued with the arrival of the TB specialist, Dr PC Nedungadi.  The incredible progress made in the private hospital sector in the 1960s and 70s is well known.  However, the government hospitals continued as the three beacons of hope, providing care to citizens of all social strata: the Beach Hospital overlooking the majestic Arabian Sea, Calicut Medical College Hospital and the Kottaparamba Hospital which overlies the site of the original Koyil Kotta

    Dr Jayarama Panicker recalls Dr AB Das in animated conversation about a hospital which existed in Chalappuram in the 1930s.  People’s Hospital, which has found scant mention in spite of its historical origins, was modelled after the famed Motilal House at Allahabad.  Freedom fighters who bore the brunt of police brutality were denied medical treatment.  Even those in the medical profession who tried to offer them care were subjected to harassment.  Prominent citizens of the day like Manjunatha Rao took the lead in setting up People’s Hospital in the face of such antipathy and discrimination from the officialdom. 

    Starting his clinical practice in 1953, Dr Ramanathan became the most senior of general practitioners in Kozhikode. He started a nursing home in 1973, unable to cope with the barrage of requests for home visits: he celebrated the golden jubilee of his illustrious medical career in 2003.  The fascinating fabric of  medical history is further interwoven into by the lives of  many others: Dr Mriga Seth, Dr CV Narayan Aiyer, Dr Aiyyathan Gopalan (the superintendent of the Mental Hospital, a literary connoisseur and father of late Dr AV Subbarao), Major Dr Achuthan, Dr UG Menon, Dr T Balakrishnan and Dr AB Das, to name a few. 

    One cannot end this story without recalling the name of Dr AR Menon who made his mark on the history of Malabar by becoming instrumental in the establishment of Calicut Medical College.  Although he was never to practice in Calicut, he became the Health Minister in EMS Namboodiripad’s cabinet in 1957 that brought the second medical college of the state to Calicut.    

     Fifty years on, Calicut Medical College which lays proud claim to having moulded thousands of medical graduates dispersed all over the globe and became the adopted home of many a teacher of medical science, commemorates the Golden Jubilee of its establishment.  We rest assured that future generations will cherish the memories, celebrate the traditions and carry on the successful journey forward. 

Translated from original article

Arun Dev Vellore

MBBS (Calicut) MRCP

Birmingham, United Kingdom