Kochi, as well as Kerala, has accommodated people from all around the world for centuries. One group was the Kutchi Muslims who settled in Kochi in 1815. They are also popularly known as the Kutchi Memons and came from the Kutch area, which was a princely state, and is now a part of Gujarat.
The Kutchi Memons are basically traders and have had business relations with Kerala for centuries. This bond helped them to migrate to Kerala when they faced a drought due to natural calamities. They also migrated to Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Ooty and Mumbai which has the largest number of Kutchi Memons. Today, most of them are traders. Earlier, they were handling the dry seafood export business, but now they do frozen sea food export. Even though they are traders for generations they had representations in politics too.
Ebrahim Sulaiman Sait was a member of Parliament for 36 years. M J Zakaria Sait represented the Kerala Legislative Assembly thrice from Mattanchery, while Salay Mohammed Sait was a Rajya Sabha member.
In Kerala, there are about 5000 Kutchi Memons. Among them, 3000 are settled in Kochi. About 70 percent of the population lives in Mattanchery, while others live in eastern Kochi. The rest are in Alappuzha, Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam. Even though they can speak Malayalam, they still use the Kutchi language as their mother tongue.
The Kutchi Memons belong to the Hanafi sect and they have religious practices of their own. In 1825 Haji Dosal Khadwani Sait built a Kutchi Hanafi mosque at Bazar road in Mattanchery.
It is now known as the old mosque (Pazhaya Pally). Earlier, they used Urdu for ritual prayers but now the people have shifted to Malayalam. But most of the prayers are recited in Arabic.
The mosques are open for the members of other Muslim communities too. Nowadays, there are a few mosques where ladies are allowed to pray.
To ensure the welfare of Kutchi Memons, an association called the Kutchi Memons Jamath was formed in 1815. “All the males of the community become a member of the Jamath by birth and will get voting power at the age of 18,” said Vice President A S Abdul Latheef Sait. They have several community welfare activities, including helping poor people to build houses, medical services and educational support. At the Shadi Mahal, poor families can conduct marriages at a concession rate. For the welfare of women and youth, there are separate associations called Memon Ladies Association and Kutchi Memon Association respectively.
Although the Kutchi Memons left their home centuries ago, they still follow traditional food habits. For breakfast they have items like malai and semiya. For lunch, it is rice with kebabs, fish and meat, and at night, it is khichadi.
There are different types of sweets like laddu, badam halwa and falooda. Mung ki khichadi, muttiya, and dum biriyani are the other special dishes that garnish the dining tables of the Kutchi Memons during special occasions. As a symbol of friendship and welcome, badam ke sharbat is served to visitors during festival days.