The Marakkars[a] are a South Asian Muslim community found in parts of the Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Sri Lanka. The Marakkars speak Malayalam in Kerala and Tamil in Tamil Nadu and both Tamil and Sinhala in Sri Lanka.[3]

The community trace their ancestry to marriages between early Arab Muslim traders of the high seas and indigenous Paravar coastal women[4] on the Gulf of Mannar coast and with Mukkuvar coastal women. Arab traders have also married other South Asian women in India and Sri Lanka, but their descendants are not necessarily members of the Marakkar community.[5][6][2]


The Islamized Arabs who arrived on the Coromandel and Malabar Coast brought Islamic values and customs and inter-married with the indigenous women who followed the local Buddhist, Jain & Hindu customs. Naturally, their children will have embedded Islamic and local values and transmitted them to their descendants. From the outset, the Arabs must, in all probability, have asserted the centrality of Islamic values in their relationship with the local women while making the necessary adjustments to local customs. This is the pattern that has survived to this day.[5]


The Marakkars, the early Muslim inhabitants of Kerala, Coastal Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, are Sunnis of the Shafi‘i school of thought (Madhab).[2][5][6]

Economic Status

Most Marakkars are, in some way or other, connected to foreign trade through which they became more advanced economically and socially than the different Muslim groups in the locality and even many Hindu sub-castes.[5]

The Marakkars were known to be a robust maritime spice trading community in medieval South Asia.[3] They traded in and with locations such as Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia in East Asia and South Asia, Maldives and Sri Lanka.[7] The Marakayars have dominated the educational and economic landscape in Tamil Nadu since the 17th century.[8]


There are two main hypotheses regarding the term "Marrakayar" etymology and its various forms.

The first is from the term 'Marakala+aayar', which may mean those who controlled or owned boats.[5] In Tamil/Malayalam, "marakalam" signifies "wooden boat" and "aayar". That it is the association of these two words that give Marakkayar.[5]

KVK Iyer says in his history of Kerala that Marakkar was a prized title given by the Zamorin of Calicut. Derived from Marakka Rayar, it signifies the captain of a ship Rayar (captain) of Marakkalam (ship).

Role in regional history

According to tradition, the Kunjali Marakkars were maritime merchants of Arab descent who supported the trade in the Indian Ocean and settled in the coastal regions of Kayalpattinam, Kilakarai, Adirampattinam, Thoothukudi, Nagore and Karaikal. But they shifted their trade to Kochi and then migrated to Ponnani in the Zamorin's dominion when the Portuguese fleets came to the Kingdom of Cochin. With the emergence of the Portuguese in India, some Marakkars were forced to take up arms and enlist themselves in the service of the Hindu king (the zamorin) of Calicut. The Marakkar naval chiefs of Calicut were known as Kunjali Marakkars.[7]


The Arabic language brought by the early merchants is no longer spoken, though many Arabic words and phrases are still commonly used. Until recently, the Mappila Muslims employed Arabi Malayalam, and the Tamil Muslims employed Arwi as their native language, though this is also extinct as a spoken language. Today, they use Malayalam and Tamil as their primary language, with influence from Arabic. Many Arabic and Arabized words exist in Malayalam and Tamil, spoken by Marakkars. Among many examples, greetings and blessings are exchanged in Arabic instead of Malayalam/Tamil, such as Assalamu Alaikum instead of Shaanthiyum Samadanavum, Jazakallah instead of Nanni/Nandri and Pinjhan/Finjan/Pinjaanam for Bowl/Cup.

There are also words which are unique to Marakkars and Sri Lankan Moors, such as Laatha for elder-sister, Kaka for elder-brother, Umma for mother and Vappa for father, suggesting a close relationship between Marakkars of India and Marrakkar and Moors of Sri Lanka.[9] The Marakkars of Sri Lanka falls under the 'Sri Lankan Moors group, defined by the Sri Lankan government as a separate ethnic group.[9] There are also words derived from Sinhala, such as Mattapa for the terrace. There are also words from the Purananuru era, such as Aanam for Kulambu and Puliaanam for rasam or soup.

English Malayalam/Tamil Marakkar Malayalam/Tamil
Father Appan/Appa Uppa/Vaapa
Mother Amma Umma
Brother Chetan/Annan Kaaka/Naana
Sister Chechi/Akka Thaatha/Laatha
Son makan mon/mavan
Daughter makal mol/maval

Marakkars and Marakkayars

Susan Bayly states in her book Saints Goddesses and Kings[10] that Tamil Marakkayars have always looked down upon converted Muslims and had a higher social standing directly linked to Arabs. She states the Sunni Shafi Madhab connection to Arabia as proof of their identity. They (marakkars) strictly maintained the sect by intermarriage between the Marakkayars of Malabar and Tamil Nadu. She states that the Labbais sect follows the rules, like marrying the father's sister's daughter (Murapennu - a famous South Indian "Kalyana murai"). Nagore, Kulasekarapattinam, Kayalpattanam, Kilakkarai, and Adiramapattanam are the main centres with old mosques and remains of ancient Sahabi saints.

Bayly mentions Patattu marakkayar signifies a title or Pattam having been granted to one of these families. Could that be the Pattu Marakkar that we know from Cochin? The Kayal Patanam Quadiri Sufis had connections with the Calicut Sufi families. This confirms the relationship between the Calicut, Cochin and Kayal Marakkayar families and the Arabic links. The Marakkayar port of Porto Novo (Mahmud Bandar) was popular and busy in the later years. In Ramnad, however, the Marikkars mainly handled trade for the Setupati royal family.

Marakkars of Kottakal (Kerala)

In Kerala, Marakkar, known as Marikkars, are primarily concentrated in and around Malabar. They were traditionally boatmen.[11]

According to tradition, Marakkars were originally marine merchants of Kochi who left for Ponnani in the Samoothiri Raja's dominion when the Portuguese came to Kochi. They offered their men, ships and wealth in defence of their motherland to the Samoothiri of Kozhikode-The Raja, who took them into his service and eventually became the Admirals of his fleet. They served as the naval chiefs in the Zamorin's army. Kunjali Marakkar, one of the first Keralites to rebel against the Portuguese, hailed from the Marikkar community.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Marakkar is the Malayalam spelling. Other spellings include Maricar, Marecar, Marikkar, Markiyar, Marican, Marecan, Tamil Marrakayar and Sinhalese Marakkala.[1][2]


  2. ^ a b c Hoogervorst, Tom G. (2015). "Tracing the linguistic crossroads between Malay and Tamil". Wacana. 16 (2): 249–283. doi:10.17510/wacana.v16i2.378 – via Brill.com05/28/2020 DOI: 10.17510/wjhi.v16i2.378.
  3. ^ a b Kunhali, V. "Muslim Communities in Kerala to 1798" PhD Dissertation Aligarh Muslim University (1986) [1]
  4. ^ The History of the Pearl Fishery of the Tamil coast by S. Arunachalam (1952), Page 89
  5. ^ a b c d e f Prashant More, Jean-Baptiste (1991). "The Marakkayar Muslims of Karikal, South India". Journal of Islamic Studies. 2: 25–44. doi:10.1093/jis/2.1.25. PMC 355923. PMID 15455059 – via JSTOR/ Oxford Academic Journals.
  6. ^ a b Cf. Bayly 1989: 73-103; Bjerrum 1920: 172-3; Fanselow 1989: 274-81; Kamāl 1990: 37-55; More 2004: 3-27
  7. ^ a b Kunhali, V. "Muslim Communities in Kerala to 1798" Ph.D. Dissertation Aligarh Muslim University (1986) [2]
  8. ^ Arunachalam, S. (1952). The History of Pearl Fishery of Tamil Coast, Annamalai Nagar. Tamil Nadu, India: Ananamalai University. p. 11.
  9. ^ a b MAHROOF, M. M. M. (1995). "Spoken Tamil Dialects of the Muslims of Sri Lanka: Language as Identity-Classifier". Islamic Studies. 34 (4): 407–426. ISSN 0578-8072. JSTOR 20836916.
  10. ^ page 80
  11. ^ Ray, Niharranjan; Chattopadhyaya, Brajadulal (2000). A Sourcebook of Indian Civilization. ISBN 9788125018711.
  12. ^ The Hindu. "The Hindu".

Further reading