Although Kerala Muslims claim emergence of Islam in this area through early missionaries from Arabia, their culture exhibits similarities with Persian culture in some basic areas. For instance, the word used for ‘call for five time prayer’ – baank – has Persian origin. Another word which is used for stone on the grave is ‘nishan kallu’ also has Persian origin. Nishan in Persian means ‘sign’. nishan kallu is compound of persian word nishan meaning ‘sign’ and Malayalam word ‘kallu’ meaning ‘stone’. It jointly means ‘sign stone’. common use of these Persian words signifies early cultural interactions with Muslim traders from Persia.
It is obvious that Persians had been more dominating in maritime trade with Malabar and China in early medieval period. Many of the Arabs got engaged in maritime trade after Persians following the Arab conquest of Persia in seventh century. Arabs have been using Persian words for many things which are related to the maritime trade. For instance the word used for harbour in Arabic is ‘Bandar’ and the word used for captain is ‘Nakhuda’. It shows that the Persians were dominating the maritime trade in the early centuries of Islam. Many Persian traders who converted to Islam had been interacting with Malabar and they transmitted this new culture of Persianized Islam to the local population of Kerala.
Another word which has been used commonly in Kerala is ‘Mullah’. The word ‘Mullah’ or ‘Mollaka’ signifies the religious official in the Masjid who calls for prayer and teaches the students in primary classes of religious seminary. ‘Mullah’ is Persian word used for teacher.
There are a good number of Persian words which are transmitted into Malayalam language. But some words are used only in some regions of Kerala. An exploration into such words will help us to understand large scale interaction between Persian traders and people of such regions.
For instance word 'Kanoth' is used to denote the function of tying wedding knot (Nikah) at Nadapuram area which is situated north of Calicut in the banks of Mazzayi river. The word 'Kanoth is formed by joining two words - Persian word 'kan' meaning 'ear' and Malayalam 'oothu' meaning dictation. During the 'Nikah' ceremony, the religious jurist of the locality of the bride or bridegroom dictates special words marking the marriage bond between two in the ear of bride groom and the guardian of bride. Therefore this ceremony is known as 'kanoth'. Some other cultural practices of this area confirms our notion of Persian interaction. People in this area start serving food on marriage feast with serving of 'Hareesa' - sweet made up of wheat, sugar cubes and ghee etc. This food item has been a Persian dessert served in the moments of merry and joy. This system transmitted to the people of this region through their continuous interactions with Persian traders in the early phases of Muslim community development.
It is an interesting topic to discuss cultural transmission from Persian culture to the culture of Muslims in Kerala.
Comments and additions in this regard are most appreciated and welcomed.