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Curry Mandalam – Coromandel Coast (Curry Zone)

Curry, as we know now is a Tamil word and the Tamil word, Mandalam refers to an area, district, or zone.

The Mandalam is an ancient word like that of Curry. During the reign of the great Tamil Chola dynasty emperor RasaRasan (King of the Kings) of the 11th century, his territory was known as ‘Chola Mandalam’ and he used to name the overseas areas he conquered with a similar name too.

‘Jaganatha Mandalam’, ‘Sathirvethi Mandalam’ to name a few. Likewise, Curry Mandalam or Curry Zone was a coastal area where foreigners were having trading posts and involved in import and export activities of spices and cotton. Curry was referring to spices in ancient times.

The Curry Mandalam (Coromandel Coast) is the southeastern coast region of the Tamil area within the Indian subcontinent, bounded by the Utkal Plains to the north, the Bay of Bengal to the east, the Kaveri delta to the south, and the Eastern Ghats to the west, extending over an area of about 22,800 square kilometers.

Its definition can also include the northwestern coast of the island of Ceylon. (one of the two Tamil habitats of the former Jaffna Tamil Kingdom)The coast has an average elevation of 80 meters and is backed by the Eastern Ghats, a chain of low, flat-topped hills. 

In historical Muslim sources from the 12th century onward, the Curry Mandalam (Coromandel Coast) has included the southwestern coast called Malabar which was the land of Cheras or present-day Kerala.

An Italian explorer, Ludovico di Varthema, perhaps first gave the name Curry Mandalam (Coromandel) in 1510, which was then used on maps by the Portuguese, but it was the Dutch who took up serious trading there. Pazhavercadu (Pulicat) was an early Dutch settlement along with Masoolipatnam in present-day Andhra Pradesh.

There is a Dutch fort and a cemetery belonging to the 17th century that is still at Pulicat. It is said that, like so many other examples, the Dutch found it difficult to pronounce the word ‘Curry Mandalam’ hence the one word ‘Coromandel’ came to be used. Remember the word ‘Muligatawny’ which is still being referred by the Europeans instead of two words, ‘Milakku Thanee(r)’.

By late 1530 the Coromandel Coast was home to three Portuguese settlements at Nagapattinam, São Tomé de Meliapore, and Pulicat. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Coromandel Coast was the scene of rivalries among European powers for control of the spice and cotton trade.

The British established themselves at Fort St George (Madras) and Masulipatnam, the Dutch at Pulicat, Sadras and Covelong, the French at Pondicherry, Karaikal, and Nizampatnam, the Danish in Dansborg at Tharangambadi.

The Coromandel Coast supplied to Thailand, China, Japan, the far east, and Europe.

  • Sarasa chintz from the Coromandel Coast, 17th or 18th century, made for the Japanese market.

The Shanghai Shankai Museum reported that 600 ancient Chinese pottery pieces have been discovered in the archaeological excavations carried out by Chinese excavators in Allaipiddy, a coastal village in the Tamil area of northern Sri Lanka where the Chinese say, they had a trading post and trading activities.(See the Images.

Chinese lacquer goods, including boxes, screens, and chests, became known as “Coromandel” goods in the 18th century, because many Chinese exports were consolidated at the Coromandel ports.

Eventually, the British won out, although France retained the tiny enclaves of Pondichéry and Karaikal until 1954. Four ships of the Royal Navy have borne the name HMS Coromandel after the Indian coast. (Coromandel became part of British India). The Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand was named after one of these ships, and the town of Coromandel, New Zealand was named after the peninsula.

Coromandel Valley, South Australia, and its neighboring suburb, Coromandel East, gain their name from the ship Coromandel, which arrived in Holdfast Bay from London in 1837 with 156 English settlers. After the ship reached the shore, some of its sailors deserted, intending to remain behind in South Australia, and took refuge in the hills in the Coromandel Valley region.

In Slovenia, there is a place called Indija Koromandija (India Coromandel) means a land of plenty, a promised land, a utopia where “Houses are bleached with cheese and covered with cake”.

Thus the Curry of the Tamils was known to the world for a long time. In the next post, we will discuss the ‘Vikings in Curry Mandalam (Coronomadel)’.