Kerala archive

Kochi(Ernakulam), KeralaJ C Thomas

Kochi, is the financial capital of Kerala situated almost in the middle of the state. The nearest airport is Nedumassery International AirPort (CIAL). Kochi is well connected by rail. The other name of Kochi is Ernakulam. Earlier the railway station Kochi harbour Terminus was popular but its glory vanished with time. Kochi was anglicised to Cochin. Mattancherry is in between Kochi and Alappuzha (Alleppey) , the Venice of east. Kerala is known as ‘ God’s own country’ due to picturesque and serene environment. The Arabian sea and the back waters extents warm welcome.

You can smell the exotic spices which are the reasons that brought in lot of foreigners to Kochi- Dutch, Portuguese, Jews, British and even Chinese.

Jew Town and Synagogue

The bookseller on the bicycle was holding one book in front of the Synagogue of Mattancherry, Fort Kochi. The book was titled ‘Jews Christians in Kerala' by Benhur.

Seeing the new visitors at the entrance speaking Hebrew, suddenly he changed to broken Hebrew ‘this book explains how St.Thomas came to India and converted many Jews to Christianity.''

The 75-year-old visitor from Israel Golda Israel cut him short ‘Mathi' (enough) in Malayalam, the native dialect. Golda was born in Kochi and migrated to Israel, her mother ‘country.'

The credit of Fort Kochi goes to Vasco da Gama, who landed in Kozhikode in 1498. He and his team built a fort at Kochi with permission from the Raja of Cochin. They built a wooden church there, and the neighbourhood is now known as Fort Kochi.

Now part of Kerala Kochi was an independent kingdom. (The present Kerala is merger of three kingdoms- Thiruvithancode, Kochi, and Malabar)

Built in 1567 the Paradesi (Foreign) Synagogue is the oldest active synagogue in Asia is also known as Cochin Jewish Synagogue or the Mattancherry Synagogue. There were three categories of Jews (Yehudan in the local dialect). They are Malabari (black), Paradesi (White), and Sephardim Jews from Spain

Jews town land was gifted by the King Rama Varma. In a land where religious intolerance is at the peak, it is strange to see the Mattancherry temple and the synagogue share a common wall.

The synagogue one of the seven synagogues surviving in this area has four building. Golda Israel was telling the groups ‘Yes, St. Thomas was a Jew too.' Jews were in Kochi for seven centuries now, monopolised the spice trade. The first Synagogue Jews built was in Kodungallur, erstwhile Malabar region.

The Portuguese Ferengi (foreigner was changed to Parangi in Malayalam) attacked Jews and Christians. Golda was telling " where St.Thomas is buried is called Parangi mala –Ferengi Mountain in Madras )" Golda did not know that Madras is now Chennai.

The Malabari Jews' (Yehudan Mappila) first synagogue in Cochin was destroyed. By 1660 the Dutch ruling began, and the nearby Dutch Palace is a place to visit.

Golda was telling the group ‘ when we left Kochi; it was from the Naval Airport in Wellington'. Here is where Indian Navy Ship INS Venduruthi is situated.

The Nedumasserry airport came much later. The first Miss India was a Jew. Pointing to the steps of the synagogue she continued "Meshuchrarim, a group of freed slaves and their descendants brought by the Sephardim to Kochi were not allowed to enter the synagogue but had to sit on these footsteps."

The synagogue is flush with rare antique elements, architecture, and ambiance. The light falling through the large open windows make the sight of chandeliers and glass chandeliers, brought from Belgium and dangling from the ceiling filter the sunlight majestically to the worship are. The blue willow patterned floor tiles, from China, did loot the sheen even after centuries. Being hand painted each tile are distinct from other. The solid pillars and the 18th-century clock tower bring in nostalgia- of spice, backwater, fight, and harmony.

Brass raised pulpit, teak ark, resembling the famous Noah's Ark (which withstood the 40 days phenomenal flood) and two gold crowns gifted by the Kochi kings are exhibited. The teak Ark houses four scrolls of Torah (the first five books of Old Testament and highly revered by Jews), and they are encased in silver and gold.

(The Jews do not believe in Jesus as a God but only as a Messiah (prophet). And hence they do not have New Testaments.)

The Copper plate depicting the rights of the Jews as granted by the King and an oriental hand knotted rug gifted to the Jews by the last Ethiopian Emperor; Haile Selassie is also kept in the synagogue are other attractions. As there are not enough members (minyan) of 10, there is no service in the synagogue. There are just five Jews now in Kochi.

A tablet mentioning 5105 (in the Hebrew Calendar) as "an abode for the spirit of God' adores the outer wall. No footwear is allowed inside the synagogue, and men and women sat separately for worshipping once. The seamless dress worn by Jews is highly typical. There are pass over replica, showing the biblical travel of Israelites from slavery by Egyptians (Misraim)

The synagogue is open for a fee to visitors as a historic attraction. The ticket-seller, Yaheh Hallegua, is the last female Paradesi Jew of child-bearing age.

Clock Tower

clock tower was constructed in 1760 by a well-known businessman named Ezekiel Rahabi. Till 1930, the clock used to strike every hour to keep time.

The clock tower, about 45 feet long, has four faces with numerals in Latin, Hebrew, and Malayalam. One side is blank. The dial facing the Maharaja's face has Malayalam numerals, the one facing the synagogue, Hebrew and the third one, Roman. Thus it helps the Maharaja, the local people, the Jews and the traders to keep time.

Jew Town / Antique shops

Jew Town is the narrow street between Mattancherry Palace and the Pardesi Synagogue. It is famous for the antique shops all along its sides. The colonial buildings lining the street add to its old-world charm.


The Jews from Kodungallore were given shelter by the King of Kochi, in 1524. He allocated land in Mattancherry, near his palace, to them. This area later became Jew Town. They started spreading to other parts of Thiruvananthapuram, Capital of Thiruvitahncode (present capital of Kerala)

Antique shops in Jews Street

Take a walk along the Jew Town, and you can breathe antiquity. The curio and antique shops along the street are capable of enchanting the visitors with their variety and rarity.

Emergence of antique shops

The 20th century witnessed the large-scale migration of Jews to Israel with the result that many dwellings on Jew Town became unoccupied. Antiques such as carved wooden furniture and vessels, as well as curios from these homes, were collected and kept for sale in the shops in Jew Town. Gradually, the demand for such items increased, especially among tourists. Consequently, there emerged many antique shops selling articles of Indian, European, Chinese and Arab origin. Coupled with this growth was the appearance of many handicraft and garment shops of ethnic products.

Objects of antiquity on display

The antique shops on Jew Town store anything and everything that can be described as antique and that may catch the eye of a tourist. Jewelry, crockery, wooden pillars, curios, wooden and metal figurines, statuettes, carved wooden furniture and handicrafts like wooden elephants, mirrors, wall hangings, paintings - you name it, they have it. There is also lamps, Chinese urns, door frames, vintage photographs, and glass and porcelain ware that were once part of churches or homesteads of noble families.

Apart from these antiques, one can find sculptures, handmade toys, embroidered garments, botanical oils, and chandeliers in many other shops along the street.

A big Vaarpu (bronze vessel with handles on both sides) almost three meters in diameter is one of the major attractions in Jew Town.

Jewish Cemetery

The Jewish Cemetery, with tombstones inscribed in Malayalam and Hebrew, is at one end of Jew Street. There are a couple of other cemeteries in nearby places also, but most of them are on the verge damage and encroachment. The capstone is typical of Jewish tombs.

The Spice Market

Though Jew Town has lost much of its earlier glory, it has retained its status as an important center of the spice trade. The exotic odour of the finest ginger, cloves, cardamom, turmeric and pepper, also known as black gold, emanate from the spice warehouses lining the street and fills it. The bustling trade of spices is evidenced in the trucks going to and away from the warehouses, loads being taken in and out using pushcarts, and the sight of workers drying, sorting and packing spices.

And as in the olden days, both Europeans and Arabs still come to Kochi and leave her shores with precious cargo.

The Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica

The Latin word basilica was originally used to describe an ancient Roman public building where courts were held, as well as serving other official and public functions. To a large extent, these were the town halls of ancient Roman life.

Only important Roman Catholic church that has been given special ceremonial rights by the Pope that includes the Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica at Fort Kochi. Even there are seven other Basilicas in Kerala; this one is one of the finest and most impressive churches in India. This traditional monument sports are architectural and artistic grandeur and colors of the gothic style.

Originally built by the Portuguese is now the Cathedral Church (where the Arch Bishop stays) of Kochi diocese. The Dutch spared this church in their demolishing spree. The Portuguese earned the right to build a fort here from the King Unni Goda Varma Tirumulpadu for defeating his enemies. Also, they got permission to build a church using stones and mortar. In fact, stones and mortar construction were reserved only for temples and palaces.

The foundation stone of the Santa Cruz church was laid on 3 May 1505, the feast day of the Invention of the Holy Cross. Hence the magnificent edifice when completed was named Santa Cruz.

This church was the ammunition store of Dutch. Then the cathedral fell into hands the British who demolished it in 1795. On the corner of the Cathedral, one of the decorative granite pillars of the destroyed Cathedral is still kept as a monument. Rebuilt in 1905 was raised as a Basilica on 23 August 1984 by the pope.

The church has two lofty spires and a remarkably bright, white-washed exterior and a pastel-coloured interior. The interiors of the church are mostly Gothic, with the main altar decorated by the famous Italian painter Fra Antonio Moscheni, S.J.,

Unfortunately, Fra Antonio Moscheni died here on 15 November 1905, four days before the newly built Church was consecrated. The columns decorated with frescoes and murals, the seven large canvas paintings on the passion and death on the Cross, especially the painting of the Last Supper, modeled on the famous painting of Leonardo da Vinci. The beautiful stained glass windows add to the artistic grandeur of the place. The paintings that adorn the ceiling depict scenes from the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

St. Francis CSI Church,Fort Kochi

St. Francis CSI Church in Fort Kochi was originally built in 1503, is the oldest European church in India. Here is where the body of Vasco da Gama was buried initially. He died in Kochi in 1524 on his third voyage to India.His remains were removed to Lisbon after fourteen years.

Franciscan friars (priests) built the church with bricks and mortar, and a tiled roof was erected. In 1516, the new church was completed, and it was dedicated to St. Anthony. The conflict between Protestants and Roman Catholics respectively controlled by Dutch and Portuguese saw the vast demolition of churches. Dutch maintained it as a Government church.

In 1795, the British captured Kochi from the Dutch but they allowed the latter to retain the church. In 1804, the Dutch voluntarily handed over the church to the Anglican Communion. It was placed under the Ecclesiastical Department of the Government of India. It is believed that the Anglicans changed the name of the patron saint to St. Francis or it can be so since it was built by Franciscan friars.

Now this is under the control of Church of South India (CSI). In the cemetery, the original gravestone of Vasco da Gama can be seen.

In 1968, the 400th anniversary of the synagogue was celebrated in a ceremony attended by Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister.

Golda, Israel was telling her grandson David ‘now you have seen where your Grandma lived, here is where Portuguese, Dutch, Kings, Jews and British put their footprints'. David is holding the Star of David (David was the famous king of the Old Testament) just smiled.

Indo-Portuguese Museum, Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi can boast of many museums, one of them is Indo-Portuguese Museum covering the productive association of this region had with the Portuguese. Along with Vasco d Gama, a lot of cultural and linguistic influx happened here. For example, the word Chavi( key) is Portuguese.

A more compelling aspect is religion and the Indo-Portuguese Christian Art heritage, which is still surviving. The museum is the outcome of the untiring efforts Bishop of Kochi who was determined to protect the rich heritage of his Diocese.

Some of the exhibits are invaluable regarding artistic and architectural style. The museum is divided into five main sections, - Altar, Treasure, Procession, Civil Life and Cathedral. The Portuguese influence on all these will take the visitor to a few centuries back.

The Teak Wood Altar is uniquely carved is at least five centuries old which was brought in from the nearby Vypeen Church. A 19th-century chasuble (an outer dress worn by the priest during Holy Communion)), a Processional cross made out of silver and wood (17th century) from Santa Cruz Cathedral, Fort Kochi, are unique collections here.

Indo-Portuguese Monstrance (18-19th century) is a unique vessel used by Churches especially during Holy Communion, and the Coat of Arms of the Franciscans missionaries are rare exhibits here.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the holding foundation of the Museum in Lisbon, Portugal has also contributed sculptures, precious metal objects, and vestments to Indo –Portuguese museum. Few items from the Cathedral of Santa Cruz and other churches of the Kochi diocese are also exhibited here.

Maritime Museum, Kochi

Pathemari, a sort of country made boats made out of wood and tied together with glue and coir (without any metallic nails) were made in Kerala and were is demand in the Middle East till recently. India can boast of rich heritage in maritime trade and naval architecture. As of now India is reckoned as one of the top ten naval powers in the world. The indo-Arab trade has a bearing on these formidable naval [power India had.

The Maritime Museum, located at INS Dronacharya in Kochi throws light on the genesis, history, evolution and landmarks of the Indian Navy. (Dronacharya was one of the warfare gurus of the epic period). Right from the Indus Valley civilizations, India can claim maritime supremacy.

Kunjali Maraikkar was the famous Naval Admirals of Kerala.hero. The influence of India's maritime power in South East Asia did put a brake to the colonization of Indian sub-continent by European powers to a very great extent.

The official record right from 1612, that the Indian Marine was established in Surat. The naval architecture and shipbuilding capability of India were well acclaimed. It unravels India's prowess in shipbuilding, which took its culture to the shores of Java, Sumatra, and Bali between 3rd century BC and 12th century AD.

The exhibit also includes Indian Navy's share of glory, when it took on its aggressors and eventually emerged victorious in the end. These include details of Junaghad operation, the Goa liberation, Indo-Pak conflicts of 1965 and 1971, Operation Cactus, Operation Pawan and the strategic maneuvers during Kargil.

India has an armada deemed as one of the top marine squads in the world. This depends upon the physical and technical prowess of our navy men. The Maritime Museum shows the chronology of Indian Navy.

The ship building activities sections of this museum bring forward some interesting facets of shipbuilding in India. Exotic vessels and boats are put on display in this part of the museum. Here, a 300-year old boat of the King of Ambalapuzha is also put on display. The boat is carved out of a single tree, which exemplifies the shipbuilding style of the medieval period. The boat is an exquisite example of the mastery of Indians in shipbuilding, which helped in spreading Indian culture to the islands of Java, Sumatra, and Bali. These examples date to the 3rd century BC and the 12th century AD.

The section devoted to the legendary Kunjali Maraikkar fighting the foreigners with the latest weaponry is worth noting. Maraikakr is the typical fishermen community of north Kerala.

Heritage : Dutch Palace

Originally built by the Portuguese, the palace was presented to the King of Kochi in 1555. The Dutch carried out modifications and extensions in 1663nand hence this castle is known as Dutch Palace. Subsequently, there were changes made by the Kings according to Vaasthu Shastra ( Indian building principle). The foreigners looted the nearby temple. So to pacify the King this palace was built. The palace showed the supremacy of Indian architectural wonders and murals.

Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer who landed at Kappad in 1498, was welcomed by the Kochi rulers. They were given exclusive right to construct factories. In return, they fought for the king to defeat the Zamorians of the North Malabar. Kochi was taken over by the Dutch from the Portuguese. Subsequently, Hyder Ali and later British East India Company took control of Kochi.

Typical Kerala style of architecture -four quadrangles or Naalu Kettu - is the essential form of this palace. The important part is the courtyard at the center. There is a small temple inside the palace dedicated to 'Pazhayannur Bhagavati,' the protective goddess of the Kochi royal family. There are two more temples on either side of the Palace, one dedicated to Lord Krishna and the other to Lord Siva.

Some buildings nearby are Ettu Kettu ( Eight Quadrangle ) configuration.

Naturally the Gothic and European style of architecture is also seen in some part of this palace. The Dining Hall has carved ornate wooden ceiling decorated with a series of brass cups. The palace also contains rare examples of traditional Kerala flooring, which looks like polished black marble but is a mixture of burned coconut shells, charcoal, lime, plant juices and egg whites.

The glory of the palace rests on the large number of murals, executed in the best traditions of Hindu temple art, which are religious, decorative and stylised. The walls have been painted in vibrant, warm colors in tempera technique.

The king's bedchamber or Palliyara, to the left of the entrance and occupying the southwest corner of the Palace, is noteworthy with its small wooden ceiling and 300 sq ft (28 m2) of wall surface covered with about 48 paintings.

These paintings illustrate Ramayana, from the beginning of the sacrifice of Dasaratha to Sita's return from captivity in Lanka. The paintings in this section are the earliest in the palace, dating back to the 16th century. The last five scenes are from the 'Krishna Lila' wherein a cheerful God Krishna using his six hands and two feet to engage in foreplay with eight merry milkmaids. The paintings are attributed to the artistic bent of mind of Veera Kerala Verma.

The bed is made of different herbal trees and is supposed to heal the occupant cure from all diseases

The upper rooms are the coronation room. Notably, that of the coronation hall that was extended under Dutch patronage contain some murals. The important compositions in this section are - Lakshmi seated on the lotus, sleeping Vishnu, Shiva and Parvati seated with Ardhanariswara (half man and half woman)and other goddesses, the coronation of Rama, and Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana. The staircase is of spiral design with wooden carvings.

Shiva, Vishnu, and Devi, and Kumarasambhava and other works of the great Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa are also shown. Some of the paintings are European style. A lot of wood carvings adorn the ceilings. The ceilings are quite high allowing to fight the harsh summer.

Portraits of the Rajas of Cochin, from 1864 onwards, are displayed in what was once the Coronation Hall. These were painted by local artists in western style. The ceiling of the hall is decorated with floral designs in woodcraft.

The Ivory palanquin, a howdah, royal umbrellas, formal dress used by the royalty, coins, stamps and drawings are other major exhibits.

The palace built by the Portuguese and cosmetically modified by Dutch is an architectural masterpiece showcasing the blend between colonial and Kerala architecture. But neither the Portuguese nor the Dutch ever occupied this marvelous palace. But this two storied structure has witnessed many coronations of Kochi Rajas. A separate interior complex for the ladies- Anthapuram- is also built by the Portuguese.

The unique flooring, done with a mixture of burnt coconut shells, lime, plant juices and egg whites is fascinating. It could easily be mistaken for a piece of black marble. The weaponry room and furniture are unique.

The Dutch maps of old Kochi, silver sequined gowns, royal umbrellas make of silk and brass, the ceremonial royal sword and other royal paraphernalia on display in different rooms of the palace. The weapons shown include sheathed swords, daggers, and spears and so on. Double sided sword is another attraction.

The Chinese fishing nets of Fort Cochin

Another beautiful place to visit is the Cheena Vala (Chinese fishing net), they are fishing nets that are fixed land installations for fishing.

This shore operated lift nets are massive mechanical framework hold out horizontal nets of 20 m or more across. Each structure is at least 10 m high and comprises a cantilever with an outstretched net suspended over the sea and large stones suspended from ropes as counterweights at the other end. Each installation is operated by a team of up to six fishermen. While such nets are used throughout coastal southern China and Indochina, in India they are mostly found in the Indian cities of Kochi and Kollam, where they have become a tourist attraction. The Indian common name arises because they are unusual in India and different from usual fishing nets in India.

Rocks, each 30 cm or so in diameter are suspended from ropes of different lengths. As the net is raised, some of the rocks one-by-one come to rest on a platform thereby keeping everything in balance.

Each installation has a limited operating depth. Consequently, an individual net cannot be continually operated in tidal waters. Different facilities will be performed depending on the state of the tide.

It was earlier thought that the Nets might have been introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He. Recent research shows that these were introduced by Portuguese Casado settlers from Macau, China. Zheng He, the Chinese admiral, was instrumental in spreading Buddhism in southeast Asia. But the influx of Buddhism in Kerala was minimal.

The Chinese fishing nets have become a very popular tourist attraction, their size, and elegant construction is photogenic, and the slow rhythm of their operation is quite hypnotic. Also, catches can be purchased individually and need be taken only a short distance to a street entrepreneur who will cook it. Tolerance and intercultural amity that existed during the time of the Kingdom of Cochin.

Golda Israel was telling her grandson David ‘there is a saying in Malayalam, the native tongue ‘Kochi Kandavanu Achi Venda'. Then she translated that saying ‘ those who has seen Kochi does not need a wife.' David, a bachelor, just blushed.

What Golda forgot to tell her grandson the language, accent, and linguistics what the people of Kochi are using is a mixture of Hebrew, Portuguese, Dutch, English and of course Malayalam.