Pattalam Junction & the Portuguese batalhão link

Valiyakath Hamza Saleem, a 60-year-old resident of Pattalam, also believes that the place got its name from British military camps of yore.
A view from the Pattalam Junction
A view from the Pattalam JunctionPhoto | Express

KOCHI: Pattalam Junction in Fort Kochi is a quaint locality, with several layers of lore. The Malayalam word ‘pattalam’ translates to army in English, and that got us wondering how this place got such a unique name.

Ram Das, a shopkeeper in the area, says it is generally believed that a nearby ground was the site of a military camp during the colonial era. “The Indian Navy’s gunnery school, INS Dronacharya, is also located close by,” he adds.

Valiyakath Hamza Saleem, a 60-year-old resident of Pattalam, also believes that the place got the name from British military camps of yore.

Former Kochi mayor K J Sohan offers a different perspective. “The place got its name from the Pathan community (known as Pattaanis in Malayalam) that settled here. They were Dakhni (aka Deccani) Muslims, who trace their ancestry to Afghanistan,” he says.

“Pathans are among the 15 ethnic settlements in Fort Kochi. They are believed to have come to Pattalam as horsemen under European rule. They were among those the Europeans trusted.”

Incidentally, there is another version that the erstwhile Cochin had a cavalry unit consisting of Dakhni Mulsims.

T U Shaik Ismail, a mahal member of Pattalam Hanafi Juma Masjid, also notes the area’s Pathani link. “This mosque traces its history to a prayer tent set up for the Pathans in the British army,” he says.

Veteran journalist and writer Jamal Kochangadi also highlights that Pattalam was once home to a British military barrack.

“The Dakhnis, however, are believed to have initially come from southern Karnataka as part of Tipu Sultan’s cavalry,” he says.

“Legendary singer Mehboob hailed from a Dakhni Muslim family. He used to regale British soldiers camping in Pattalam during his young days, and that played a significant role in the formation of ‘Mehboob bhai’.”

Local historian Robert Stephen, however, believes the place got its name from the military barracks set up way back, under Portuguese rule.

“The areas now under the Indian Navy were all once under the colonial forces. The Dakhni Muslims are believed to have come from the Deccan region, mostly as horsemen,” he adds.

Rev Pius Melekkandathil, professor at JNU’s Centre for Historical Studies, also hints at a Portuguese link. “Etymologically speaking, the word ‘battalion’ is a derivative of Portuguese ‘batalhão’. Roots of the word ‘pattalam’, too, can be traced to ‘batalhão’. The area must have been earmarked for Portuguese soldiers in the 16th and 17th centuries. That could be the logic behind the place being named after batalhão, which eventually became Pattalam," he says.

What’s in a name

Weekly column on the history of place names. Got any suggestions? Write to xpresskochi@gmail.com

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