The followers of Islam in northern Malabar refer to Ponnani, a small beach town situated in the Malappuram district, as the Mecca of Malabar. The town has a large number mosques, some of them are more than five centuries old. Ponnani was the venue for a notable assembly of professionals and well-learned people from the fields of art and religion alike. The town was also the second most important centre during the rule of the Zamorins of Calicut.
Ponnani is the place where Bharathappuzha, the second longest river in Kerala flows down to merge itself with the Arabian Sea after its long journey through the Malabar region of the state. Thus, the place is bordered by the river on the northern side, backwaters in the south and the Arabian Sea on the west, making it a prominent coastal town since its inception.
There are many narratives as to how the place got its name, the most popular amongst theme is that the name was given by Arab traders who exchanged gold coins for the goods they procured from the port here. In Malayalam, gold coins are known as pon nanayam; hence, the place was named Ponnani. Another narrative says that the Bharathapuzha was known as Pon Vahini which in translation means the carrier of gold; Pon Vahini, with the passage of time, became Ponnani.
The Islamic Influence
The influence of Islam began from a long time ago, when the Arabs began to come here. Malik Ibn Dinar, who was the first Islamic missionary to Kerala, is believed to have visited Ponnani. The Ponnani Juma Masjid here is said to have been built in the 15th century by Zainuddin Makhdum, who was a descendant of an Arab theologian.
William Logan, who was the collector of Malabar in the year 1887, writes about the mosque in his book Malabar Manual being a learning centre of Islam with at least 400 odd students. The influence of Islam and the Arabs made way for a new form of Arabic language which came to be known as the Ponnani script, this script is also known as Arabi Malayalam which still is practised in some of the families here.
Places To Visit
1. Ponnani Juma Masjid
Established by Zainuddin Makhdum, a Muslim spiritual leader in the year 1510, the Ponnani Juma Masjid is considered as the Mecca of Muslims in Kerala. The mosque is said to have been built by a Hindu artisan, in the traditional temple architectural style of Kerala.
An outstanding feature of the Juma Masjid, apart from being built by a Hindu, is the lamp installed here which is nearly 500 odd years old. The mosque was once an important centre of Islamic philosophy and students from across the globe would sit under this oil lamp which is still kept burning to acquire knowledge. The mosque is also known as Valiya Juma Masjid.
2. Padinharekara Beach
Located at the end of the Tipu Sultan road, the Padinharekara beach is also known as the Padinjarekara Beach, which exhibits a very unique charm with its never white sands and sun-kissed palm trees. The beach offers a breathtaking view of the confluence of the majestic Bharathapuzha and the Tirur Puzha into the Arabian Sea. The beach is relatively untouched and one of the finest examples of the most attractive beaches in Kerala.
3. Thrikkavu Temple
The ancient temple dedicated Durga is considered as one of the 108 Durga temples consecrated by Parasurama in Kerala. The exact date as to when this temple was built is not available. The temple was attacked by Tipu Sultan, who converted the shrine as his ammunition depot after dismantling the idol from its position.
However, the temple was renovated by the Zamorin on a later date. The goddess here is worshipped as Saraswathi and Durga, who is believed to grant all the wishes of her devotees; hence, she is called Sarvabheeshta Pradhayini.