August 2, 2021 7:16:00 pm
Written by Riya Joseph
Nestled on the northern coast of Kerala, encompassed in history and culture stands the state’s only museum dedicated to the uru.
The uru or the dhow is a traditional sailing vessel that traces its origins to India’s maritime trade with Mesopotamia. Carved into the very identity of the coastal city of Kozhikode (then Calicut), the age-old craft now has its own museum privately managed by Haji PI Ahamed Koya, a ship manufacturing company founded in 1885.
“We started this museum for our upcoming generation,” said Hashim PO, a fifth-generation partner-caretaker of the company which has built over 150 vessels to date. “In Kozhikode, the history (of the dhow) dates back 1500 years. We keep different miniature models of dhows – Boombs, sambouks, machchua, these are all Arabic and Persian names along with our old documents in Arabic, Malayalam, as well as equipment connected with dhow. Everything we keep in the museum is to provide information for the coming generations. They should know what we were doing.”
The museum, also a homage to Hashim’s grandfather and founder of the company Kamakantakath Kunhammed Koya Haji, holds sentimental value for the family. Speaking about some of the artefacts displayed in the museum, which dates back to the first generation of his family, Hashim said, “For us, this is important. They have stories connected with our family. My grandfather’s documents and dhows. We’ve got invoices from over 80 years ago and ledgers from our grandfather’s time in 1907.”
The museum, currently accommodated in their office, is due for a facelift. The revamped museum is expected to be modelled after the original Haji PI Ahamed Koya office “Pandikasala” built-in 1885. In addition to sailing vessels, the museum houses various maritime devices and tools from the period including compass, binoculars and other navigational equipment. The museum is maintained and looked after by the company staff.
Holding a treasure trove of information on India’s once-flourishing maritime trade, the museum attracts visitors from far and near. Students and research scholars who come to study and learn about the history of the dhow are recurring visitors at the museum.
Considered one of the biggest handicrafts in the world, the dying uru-making industry is now mostly commissioned by the Qatar royal family for personal use.
(Riya Joseph is an intern with indianexpress.com, based in Thiruvananthapuram)
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