With a history that is culturally rich and ethnically diverse, Ponnani carves itself a niche in the history of Malabar and the country as a whole. This tiny sea side town was the naval base of Kunjali Marakkar, the army chief of the Samoothiri, whose reign is known as the 'Golden era' of Malabar. According to some historical records, history of Ponnani dates back to 2000 years.

     There are differences of opinion regarding the evolution of the name ‘Ponnani’. Legend has it that the “Ponnana” (meaning a type of elephant in Malayalam) was auctioned in the Brahmin temples here and thus came to be known as Ponnani. Historical records rather point out to another truth. The use of Gold coins ('Ponn - nanayam' in Malayalam) popularly known as “Arabikkasu” was first circulated by the Arab and Persian merchants who conducted trade between India and west before the discovery of sea route to India around the Cape of Good Hope by the Portuguese. This represents the wealth that was brought in by the trade relations with the Arabs and Europeans.

     Ponnani is an ancient sea port, heritage city and a municipality in Malappuram district in the state of Kerala, spread over an area of 9.32 km2. This tiny, picturesque town is bounded by the Arabian Sea on the west and Nila River on the north. It is the only port in Malappuram district and is one of the oldest ones in south India and can be identified with Tyndis in Periplus of the Erythrean Sea. This tidal port-city, mainly used by the fishing industry, is at the mouth of Bharathapuzha (Nila), the second longest river of Kerala.

     Ponnani is a town of masjids (Mosques). Though, in many holly books, described as a place of 23½ masjids, there are nearly 50 masjids. It is also abundant with large number of ancient temples like 1900 year old Trikkavu Sri Durga Bhagavati temple (One among the 108 Durga temples set by Parasurama in Kerala), Kanda Kurumba Kavu temple, Chamravattom etc. Ponnani has a population which is a blend of almost equal percentage of Hindus and Muslims and has set an example for tolerant and peaceful co-existence through centuries.

     Malik Ibnu Dinar, the first Islamic missionary who came to Kerala, was believed to have visited Ponnani. William Logan, the Scottish civil servant and a passionate historian, visited Ponnani in 1887 and recorded in his “Malabar manual” about the Ponnani Juma Masjid which was built by Sheikh Zainuddin Makhdum in AD 1510.

     Ponnani was considered as the second capital of Malabar during the reign of Zamorins (Samoothiri) and was the headquarters of Kunjali Marakkar, the naval chief of Samoothiri. Samoothiri is the royal title used by the Hindu rulers of the medieval feudal kingdom of Calicut on Malabar Coast. The Zamorins ruled for almost six centuries, between 12th and 18th century AD based at the city of Calicut, one of the most important trading ports on the western coast of India. Of all the Hindu rulers of Malabar, the most powerful, and also the friendliest towards the Muslim community, were the Zamorins of Calicut. Trikkavu in Ponnani was the summer capital of Zamorins of Calicut. The war with an alliance of Valluvanad and Cochin is related to the famous Mamankam festivals held on the banks of Nila River, at the northern boundary of Ponnani.

     Hyder Ali of Mysore conquered Malabar in 1766 and established an outpost in Ponnani. During his son Tipu Sultan’s regime Ponnani became an important centre for Islamic studies. Tipu Sultan developed the port at Ponnani for trade and security reasons. Ponnani was the southernmost town of Tipu's regime. The road from Palakkad to Ponnani, Tipu Sultan Road was named after him. After Tipu’s defeat in 1799, the British took the territory of Malabar under their control.

     Ponnani enjoyed a status as an important centre for education in the philosophy of Islam. Ponnani was called the “Mini-Mekkah” in south India, Malaya, Indonesia, Sri Lanka etc. In the early period, Ponnani was considered the Al Azhar University of Kerala, for its great religious schools and teachers. The great religious scholar and teacher Sheikh Zainuddin Makhdum II, was one among them who hailed from the renowned Makhdum family from the town of Ponnani. This family had its roots in Yemen. Sheikh Zainuddin Makhdum II wrote the book titled “Tuhafat Ul Mujahideen”, (The Tribute to the Strugglers) which is the first authentic book on Kerala history. This book enlightened the people of Ponnani against the atrocities of Portuguese invaders who made frequent attack on Ponnani coast during his period. It also constituted as a chronicle of the stiff resistance put up by the people of Malabar against the Portuguese colonialists from 1498, when Vasco Da Gama arrived in Calicut, to 1583, it describes in considerable detail the events, many of which that the author had himself witnessed and lived through.

     In 1956 November 1 Kerala state was formed and in 1957 January Malabar Province was divided in to several districts. Malappuram District was formed on 1969 June 10 and thereafter Ponnani came under Malappuram District.


     Ponnani has also contributed immensely to the cultural and literary heritage of Kerala.

     Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan,(16th century) who is considered as the Father of the Modern Malayalam language was a native of Tirur, near Ponnani. He endeavoured to enhance the literary level of the common man of medieval Kerala. Ezhuthachan taught his pupils to respect and worship the Malayalam language He refined the Malayalam language style and wrote his works for ordinary people, incorporating whatever is good with a strong sense of righteousness and worship. His contribution to the Malayalam language through the Adhyatmaramayanam (a translation of the Ramayana) and Srimahabharatam is unparalleled, and his contribution in the cultural level is immense.

     Vallathol Narayana Menon (1878–1958), popularly known as Mahakavi, was one of the celebrity poets in Malayalam language. Vallathol was born in Chenara, near Ponnani. Up to his 27 years he lived in Chennara and wrote so many poems after that he moved to Cheruthuruthi He played a prominent role in setting up the Kerala Kalamandalam at Cheruthuruthy, near the banks of Bharathapuzha River. Vallathol actively participated in the Nationalist movement. He attended the all India Conferences of the Indian National Congress in 1922 and 1927 and rejected the Royal Honour bestowed upon him by Prince of Wales during his India visit (1922). Vallathol remained a great admirer of Mahathma Gandhi and wrote the famous poem "Ente Gurunathan" (My Great Teacher) in his praise. He wrote several patriotic poems hailing India's nationalist movement.

     Uroob (pen name of P. C. Kuttikrishnan) (1915 – 1979) was a prominent member of the literary circle that had formed in the 1930s in Ponnani. Others in the group are the eminent critic Kuttikrishna Marar, young poets Edasseri Govindan Nair, Akkitham, Kadavanad Kuttikrishnan, etc.

     M. T. Vasudevan Nair one of the most prolific and versatile writers in modern Malayalam literature was born in 1933 at Kudallur. He spent his early days in Punnayurkulam near Ponnani. In 2005, India's third highest civilian honour Padma Bhushan was awarded to him. He was awarded the highest literary award “Jnanpith” for his work Randamoozham.

     Madhavikkutty( Kamala Surayya) (1934 – 2009) a major Indian English poet and iconoclast popular in Kerala chiefly for her short stories and autobiography and leading Malayalam writer was also a native of Punnayurkulam near Ponnani.

     C. Radhakrishnan a renowned writer and film director in Malayalam and winner of National Sahitya Academy and Kerala Sahithya Academy awards is also the native of Chamravattom near Ponnani.

     Alankode Leela Krishnan is another luminary who has left over his own unique imprints in the history of Ponnani through his poems, stories and movies. One of his outstanding works on the cultural history of Nila River - Nilayude theerangaliloode gives us glimpses of the bygone era of Ponnani and its outskirts.

     Edasseri Govindan Nair ( 1906 – 1974) Born in a village, Kuttippuram, near Ponnani, was an important member of the Ponnani kalari to which several malayalam literary figures belong. An area of his home town Ponnani has been named Edasseri Nagar in his memory. He was a document writer by profession. His poetry deals with the harsh realities of life. A memorial has been erected in his name - Edasseri Smaraka Samithi. A literary prize bearing his name is awarded annually to the best Malayalam book of the year. His works include 19 books and over 300 poems in 10 anthologies, 6 books of plays and a collection of essays.
     K.C.S. Panikker (1911–1977), World famous painter by profession, though born in Coimbatore, Panikker received his education in Ponnani. As a virtual child prodigy, Panicker began painting landscapes when he was only 12. By the age of 17, he started exhibiting his works at the Madras Fine Arts Society's annual shows. He got the first international exposure when he held exhibitions at London and Paris. The lush green village in which Panicker lived influenced his aesthetic sense. He got moved by the colourful landscapes, Canals, coconut groves and paddy fields of Ponnani. The bright colours stayed in his paintings, though later moved away from landscapes onto other subject matters. In 1976, he was awarded the highest award of the Lalit Kala Akademi, India's National Academy of Art, the Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi for his lifetime contribution.

     Artist Namboothiri (K. M. Vasudevan Namboothiri) well known painter and sculptor was born at Karuvattu Mana of Ponnani. During his childhood, he was influenced by the sculptures at the Shukapuram temple near his house. Later, he became a disciple of renowned artist K. C. S. Paniker. He also drew inspiration from renowned painters like Debi Prasad Roy Chowdhury and S. Dhanapal. He studied painting in the Madras School of Fine Arts. He is the winner of the Raja Ravi Varma Award for the year 2003. He is famous for his own style of line sketches.

     T K Padmini(1940-1969) born at Kadancheri, a small village near Ponnani, who made an identity of her own in painting. Sadly, the girl from Ponnani had only a short life of 29 years to put on canvas some of her remarkable artistic creations. She was an artist who maintained a depth in the subjects of her works that too at a time when the field of fine arts in Kerala did not have a strong participation of women. She has won several awards of eminence and many of her paintings are at display in National Gallery of Modern Art, Madras and Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad etc.


     Umar Khazi, the visionary poet and a just ruler born in 1765 AD in a very righteous family in Veliancode near Ponnani. Umar Qazi was to become the pride of Kerala. At the age of 11, he joined the Madrasa at Tanoor. At 13, he joined Ponnani Madrasa for higher studies. After completing his studies in Ponnani Madrasa, he was made the Qazi (judge) of Veliyankode. Umar Qazi introduced the Anti-Taxation Movement decades before Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. In 1805, Umar publicly announced his rebelliousness to the British taxation system.

     Smt.A.V. Kuttimalu Amma was a top ranking Congress leader of Kerala and a fearless freedom fighter. Born in Anakkara Vadakkath family of Ponnani taluk, in 1905. Amma was drawn into the freedom movement in her youth. She and her husband K. Madhava Menon (former KPCC President and Minister in Madras State) actively participated in all movements of the Congress. Kuttimalu Amma began her public life as an active Khadi and Swadeshi worker in 1930. She led batches of women volunteers and successfully conducted picketing of foreign cloth-shops in Calicut in 1931. During the Civil Disobedience Movement, holding her two month old baby in her arms, she led a procession of women, breaking the ban order in Calicut and was arrested and convicted for two years imprisonment.
     Shri. KV Raman Menon (1900–1974), known as Ponnani Gandhi, was a great Congress leader of the time who had actively participated in the freedom movement of Malabar. He was a social reformer and was a leading lawyer of the Court of Ponnani.

     E. Moidu Moulavi (1890–1995), the great freedom fighter of Malabar. Born at Maranchery in Ponnani. After the Arabic college studies he joined the National Movement from 1919 onwards. He was arrested and underwent rigorous imprisonment in the Khilafat Movement of 1921.He had to undergo Imprisonment for another 9 months in 1930 for his participation in the Payyannur Salt Sathyagraha struggle. Yet again he was given jail terms for a period of 3 years for taking part in the Quit India Movement. Moidu Moulavi served as K.P.C.C working Committee Member , AICC member etc. He also worked in the ‘AL-AMEEN’ National Newspaper edited and published by Mohammed Abdul Rahman. He was specially honoured in the Indian Freedom Fighters’ conference organised in 1985 January in Allahabad and he was the man who hoisted the flag in the opening ceremony. He was a highly knowledgeable person and he had deep knowledge in six languages. He was also the author of several books including an Autobiography.

     The great Communist Leader and former Member of Indian Parliament and Member of Kerala Legislative Assembly Shri.E.K Imbichibava (1917–1995) have also played a crucial role in the making of modern Ponnani. He was born in 1917 at Ezhukudickal in Ponnani. He was also instrumental in the establishment of MES College in Ponnani.