Nelcynda is a place in ancient Kerala. It was described in Pliny's classical work The Natural History as well as in Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. It was believed to be the capital of the Ay kingdom. Neendakara in Quilon district (now known as Kollam district) and Niranam in Pathanamthitta district are often identified with Nelcynda.
Nelcynda is mentioned by various authors under varying forms of the name. As has been already stated, it is Melkunda in Ptolemy, who places it in the country of the Ay. In the Peutingerian Table it is Nincylda, and in the Geographer of Eavenna, Nilcinna. Pliny the Elder in his book Naturalis Historia calls the port Neacyndi.
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
According to the Periplus, numerous Greek seamen managed an intense trade with Muziris:
Then come Naura (Kannur) and Tyndis, the first markets of Damirica or Limyrike, and then Muziris and Nelcynda, which are now of leading importance. Tyndis is of the Kingdom of Cerobothra; it is a village in plain sight by the sea. Muziris, of the same kingdom, abounds in ships sent there with cargoes from Arabia, and by the Greeks; it is located on a river (River Periyar), distant from Tyndis by river and sea five hundred stadia, and up the river from the shore twenty stadia. Nelcynda is distant from Muziris by river and sea about five hundred stadia, and is of another Kingdom, the Pandian. This place also is situated on a river, about one hundred and twenty stadia from the sea...."— The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, 53-54
The Natural History
To those who are bound for India, Ocelis (On the Red Sea) is the best place for embarkation. If the wind, called Hippalus (Southwest Monsoon), happens to be blowing it is possible to arrive in forty days at the nearest market in India, "Muziris" by name. This, however, is not a very desirable place for disembarkation, on account of the pirates which frequent its vicinity, where they occupy a place called Nitrias; nor, in fact, is it very rich in articles of merchandise. Besides, the road stead for shipping is a considerable distance from the shore, and the cargoes have to be conveyed in boats, either for loading or discharging. At the moment that I am writing these pages, the name of the king of this place is Caelobothras (Keralaputras). Another port, and a much more convenient one, is that which lies in the territory of the people called Neacyndi, Bacare (Puhar) by name. Here king Pandion (Pandya) used to reign, dwelling at a considerable distance from the market in the interior, at a city known as Modiera (Madurai). The district from which pepper is carried down to Barace in boats hollowed out of a single tree is known as Cottonara (Kuttanadu).
The present location is actually not self-evident. The possibilities are Kollam, Niranam, Kannetri etc. The details like "Nelcynda is distant from Muziris by river and sea about five hundred stadia..." and other evidences of ancient ports are used in arriving at these possibilities. Scholars have tried to identify the port of Nelcynda with Kallada on the Kallada River (Yule 1903), with Nirkunnam on the Meenachil River (Kanakasabhai 1904), with Niganda (which later on came to be known as Niranam) (I C Chacko 1979) and with Kottayam (Sastri 1955, Gurukkal and Whittakker 2001).
Kollam (Nelcynda) shares fame with Kodungallur (Muziris) as an ancient sea port on the Malabar coast of India from early centuries of the Christian era. Kollam had a sustained commercial reputation from the days of the Phoenicians and the Romans. Pliny (23-79 AD) mentions about Greek ships anchored at Musiris and Nelkanda. Musiris is identified with Kodungallur (then ruled by the Chera kingdom) and Nelkanda (Nelcyndis) with Quilon or Kollam (then under the Pandyan rule). The inland sea port(kore-ke-ni) was also called Tyndis. Kollam was the chief port of the Pandyas on the West Coast and was connected with Korkai (Kayal) port on the East Coast and also through land route over the Western Ghats. Spices, pearls, diamonds and silk were exported to Egypt and Rome from these two ports on the South Western coast of India. Pearls and diamonds came from Ceylon and the South eastern coast of India, then known as the Pandyan kingdom. Yule identifies Nelcynda as Kallada. That would also satisfy the mention "This place also is situated on a river, about one hundred and twenty stadia from the sea...." Yule writes
That Nelkynda cannot have been far from this is clear from the vicinity of the Red Hill of the Periplus. There can be little doubt that this is the bar of red laterite which, a short distance south of Quilon, cuts short the backwater navigation, and is thence called the Warkalle Barrier. It forms abrupt cliffs on the sea, without beach, and these cliffs are still known to seamen as the Red Cliffs. This is the only thing like a sea cliff from Mount D'Elv to Cape Comorin""— Notes on the Oldest Records of the Sea-route to China from Western ASia
This assumption is possible from the mention "This place also is situated on a river, about one hundred and twenty stadia from the sea....". But there are no evidences of Niranam being an ancient port. Barace can be identified as Varakkai.
Caldwell is said to have identified it with Kannetri
Musiris has been identified with Muyirikota and Nelkynda with Kannetri. Caldwell's Dravidian Grammar, Introduction, 97— Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency
Nelcynda in Fiction
Writer and Renowned Social Anthropologist Susan Visvanathan wrote a novella based on Nelcynda,called "Nelycinda and Other Stories", Roli Books(2012).
- John Watson McCrindle The commerce and navigation of the Erythraean sea. Thacker, Spink & co., 1879, p. 134.
- Study points to ancient trade connection in Central Travancore
- First English translation by Philemon Holland
- Alex Mathew, Raju S (2006). Inching Towards Nelcynda Rational Discourse, 12(1):5.
- Kollam, Indian Manual
- Kollam, On South India
- R. A. Donkin Beyond price: pearls and pearl-fishing : origins to the Age of Discoveries. American Philosophical Society, 1998, p. 100.
- Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Kola'ba and Janjira. Govt. Central Press, 1883, p. 140.