Exploring the medieval Indian Ocean

The focal point of this research project is a set of copper plates which are a multi-lingual legal document, inscribed at the port of Kollam in present-day Kerala in 849 CE, during the 4th regnal year of the Cera ruler Sthanu Ravi. In South Asia, even until very recently, legal documents were inscribed onto copper sheets. Known as copper plate grants, these are one of the main sources for early and medieval Indian history. This remarkable set of plates is still in the possession of churches in Kerala.

Although the Kollam plates have been known to European scholars since the early 19th century, they are so complex to read that they had never previously been studied as a single document. This interdisciplinary project undertook the first holistic study of this exceptional source, using it as a starting point for a groundbreaking exploration of the medieval Indian Ocean world.

A first workshop at The British Museum gathered a group of specialists in Tamil and Malayalam language and epigraphy, South Indian medieval history and literature. Together they produced a revised edition and new English translation of the Kollam plates. A second workshop at De Montfort University gathered scholars working on the regions all around the Indian Ocean rim, from East Africa to China, to study the Kollam plates in the wider Indian Ocean world of the 9th century CE.

Most of the Kollam plates are written in Old Malayalam in the Vatteluttu script. The many repairs show how important this document has been to Christians in Kerala.

Most of the Kollam plates are written in Old Malayalam in the Vatteluttu script. The many repairs show how important this document has been to
Christians in Kerala.