The myth of Cheraman Perumal's conversion

Recently, The President of India, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam visited the Cheraman Juma Musjid in Kodungallur (ancient Muziris) in Kerala. This mosque, believed to have been built by Malik bin Dinar in 629 AD, is considered to be the oldest mosque in India. If this date is accurate, then this mosque was established much before the time of Adi Shankara (if we go by the dates ascribed by the Sringeri Peetam) and around the same time Huen Tsang was in India. This mosque has quite a history

As the tradition goes, a Chera king, Cheramanperumal of Kodungallure, left for Makkah, embraced Islam, and accepted the name Thajudeen. He married the sister of then King of Jeddah. On his return trip, accompanied by many Islamic religious leaders, led by Malik-ibn-Dinar (RA), he fell sick and passed away. But he had given introductory letters for the team to proceed to ‘Musiris’ (Kodungallur, the Chera capital. The visitors came to Musiris and handed over the latter to the reigning king, who treated the guests with all respect and extended facilities to establish their faith in the land. The king also organised help for the artisans to build the first Mosque at Kodungallur, by converting Arathali temple into a Juma-Masjid. It was build in 629 A.C., and the area around it had been ear-marked for the team’s settlement.[Cheraman Juma Masjid A Secular Heritage]

This story seems to be a myth propagated in the book Keralolpathi (The origin of Kerala) and repeated many times over. None of the reputed history books[1] mention this story, even the ones by eminent historians[3]. According to Sreedhara Menon[9]

The Cheraman legend is not corroborated by any contemporary record or evidence. None of the early or medieval travelers who visited Kerala has referred to it in their records. Thus Sulaiman, Al Biruni, Benjamin of Tuleda, Al Kazwini, Marco Polo, Friar Odoric, Friar Jordanus, Ibn Babuta, Abdur Razzak, Nicolo-Conti – none of these travelers speaks of the story of the Cheraman’s alleged conversion to Islam.

A mention of the Cheraman Perumal legend appeared in the 16th century book Tuhafat-ul Mujahidin by Shaik Zainuddin, but he too did not believe in its historical authenticity. But later cut and paste historians seem to have forgot to add his disclaimer.

Sreedhara Menon also authoritatively states that Kerala never had a king called Cheraman Perumal and quotes Dr. Herman Gundert, the German who composed the first Malayalam-English dictionary and the grandfather of Herman Hesse for this. But there seems to have been a Cheraman Perumal, whose history is overlaid by legend. According to Saiva tradition, he had an association with a Sundaramurti, the last of the three hymnists of Devaram. This Cheraman Perumal vanished in 825 A.D, about 200 years after Muhammed thus confirming that all that Mecca trip was a fanciful legend.[10]

Update (Jan 1, 2009): Maddy has detailed post about this episode

Footnotes:


[1] Picture of the old mosque and the renovated one
[2] India Archaeology Messages 2112, 2123

21 Comments

  1. The ‘renovated’ mosque is just ugly. At least the old one looked like a nice tharavad. Hope these guys don’t go around renovating other buildings.

  2. 1. Given the dates that Wikipedia article on Prophet Mohammed has given ( that Prophet Mohammed gets access to Mecca in only 628 AD and that the first hajj pilgrimage was supposed to be on 629 AD ) doesn’t it seem unbelievable that Cheraman goes to Mecca and returns during or before 629 AD when the mosque was supposed to have been built?

    2. How does the nAyanAr tradition’s version of Cheraman Perumal vanishing about 200 years after Mohammed contradict the other tradition ( atleast the part that he did actually convert and go to Meccah? ) – I am puzzled by your use of the word “thus” after “about two hundred years after Muhammed” there.

  3. froginthewell, Sreedhara Menon writes that legend 1 never happened. He says that there was no Cheraman Perumal at all in Kerala and let’s believe various historians and say legend (1) never happened.

    Now Nilakanta Sashtri says that there was a Cheraman Perumal, but he lived about 150 odd years after Muhammed. So if you put both these together, all that Mecca trip can be believed to be a made up story (atleast with the information we have now)

  4. The arguments seem to be good. But you seem to missing one crucial point.

    Prophet Muhammed had performed a miracle by the leave of Almighty during his lifetime… Namely the splitting of the moon…. Yes, that is right the moon was split into two pieces…

    It is said that even people in Kerala saw it, and the kings and nobles who could afford the journey set out to Mecca, to meet the prophet…

    Chakravarti Farmas was one of them. The old manuscript in the ‘India Office Library’ contains several other details about King Chakrawati Farmas and his travel.

    By the way if you find the miracle of splitting of moon too hard to digest, the NASA scientists have recently published the result of a painstaking study of moon, which says that there is a belt of extending into the interior of lunar structure, which can only be possible if the moon had been previously split and joined together again… A British became Muslim after this report caught his eye…

    Anyways this only goes to say that, there were other kings in Kerala who set out journey to Mecca, so I don’t find Cheruman Perumal’s incident so strange…

  5. I am from Malaysia. I am very aware of the legend of The Last Emperor of Perumal Family of Cheras Dynasty. Emperor Cheraman Bhaskara Ravi Perumal who converted to Islam by recited a Syahadah before the Holy Prophet SAW himself. The Emperor changed his name to Thajudeen. He was also became one of Holy Prophet SAW companions. According to Islamic tradition, those who dwell with the Holy Prophet SAW during his life, they were The Companions. Thajudeen had a sister – Seri Devi, According to Malay History, his nephew (Seri Devi’s Son) converted to Islam named Muhammad Ali was the one who responsibled sent Islamic Mubalighs to South East Asia Malay Archipelago and converted Kingdom of Perulak and Kindom of Pasai – Northern Sumatera to Islam. Muhammad Ali was the first King of Arrakal Muslim Dynasty in Malabar.

  6. Tuhafat-ul Mujahidin by Shaik Zainuddin is the first authentic history literature available in those time. . Cheraman Perumal’s ( Tajuddin) body was laid in Salah of Oman.(try to speicfy all these living fact please, dont confuse the readers, dont try to conseal the fact)

  7. Recently a manuscipt was found in the mosque whch is written by habib bin dinar, please read the english translation you will be very surprise, that will prove cherman perimal went to mecca and died on his was back and burried in salalah omen were you will still find his grave. what you have written proves that you are a good for nothing fool who is trying to prove yourself as scholar.

  8. Tuhfatul mujahidhin is not as much a historical work. it contains a lot of historical data.so it is very important for understanding keral history.
    it is basically a propagandist one and carries alot of provocative statements

  9. Tuhfatal Mujahidin cannot be considered ‘authentic history writing’. But sometimes we have to rely on available informations and use our on logic. Infact in that book itslef the author is not sure about Cheraman story. None of the author I have read about confirms this legend. They all take this legend as a possibility. That doesn’t mean that it is merely a fabricated story nor a absolute truth. Let us try to find out the truth instead of arguing for the sake of argument. I would like to know where the English Transilation mentioned by ‘rsibgat’ is available.
    What is so bad if the entire story is a fabricated one. And what is so great if the entire story is just truth. I wonder why there should fore and againist arguments.

  10. You quote there was never a kind named Cheraman perumal.
    Yes this was not the name of King but Title of the king.
    Its same as saying there is no Leader in India named “President”.

    Thus, proven it is an intellectually crippled article.

  11. Sir,
    Regarding your comment on august 17th, 2005, if Sreedhara Menon could be mistaken in one instance, then Nilkanth Shastri could also be mistaken in another instance. If there is lack of substantive information to prove the legend of Cheraman Perumal, then let it be noted that there is lack of information to prove anything to the contrary as well. That’s the fallacy of history. It has to be accepted on blind faith. Napolean is believed to have said, “What is history but a fable agreed upon?”. My point being, if we are not so quick to take the Cheraman Perumal legend on faith, let us not be so quick to accept other ‘historic’ opinions and discard the rest. I beg your pardon for being a little (10 years) late in bringing up this issue. But what is a decade in the history of the world? Seems like yesterday.
    Regards

    Disclaimer- I can’t be certain if Napolean actually said that. After all, what is history but a fable agreed upon? Food for thought. Bon appetit.

  12. Ultimately the Cheraman caste in the Kerala was the Royal family. There are many evidence we can see the Cheraman Perumal, who was the Cheraman. But in the caste tree where is the real position of these communities. The History is still there, but some one intentionally hiding the facts. The facts should be include the study material for our next generation. Ajith Pathanamthitta.

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