Thursday, 26 February 2015

The sweetness of Southern India circuit (Day 2 - morning cont.) - Old Kochi - Saint Francis de Assis Church; Mattancherry Palace and the Paradesi Synagogue - The 12nd of February 2015


We continued wandering around the inner part of Old Kochi, with its street vendors and old colonial houses having briefly stopped at an old colonial mansion house turned into Hotel, where one could still see fairly interesting portraits from Vasco da Gama and Alvares Cabral on its main entrance walls.



I felt particularly interested in further exploring the history of Kochi as I realised Pedro Álvares Cabral, a Portuguese navigator had founded the first European settlement in India at Kochi in 1500, the fact that Fort Kochi had been ruled by Portugal and that the old city hosted the grave of Vasco da Gama, the first European explorer to set sail to India, (having been burried at Saint Francis de Assis Church, until his remains were returned to Portugal in 1539).
We soon walked into St. Francis de Assis Church, said to have been originally built in 1503 and considered the oldest European Church in India.  When the Dutch captured Kochi in 1663 demolished all the churches but this one. Despite its rather simple looking interior the original grave of Vasco da Gama and a small remembrance monument on the opposite wall were definately the hightlights of the place with quite a few people kneeling down beside them.

From it we walked towards Mattanchery Palace, also known as the Portuguese or Dutch Palace. Built by the Portuguese and later presented to Raja Veera Kerala Varma of Kochi the Palace's structure is said to be typical of the Kerala-style Mansions - the Nalukettu - the home of the aristrocacy, nobility and upper classes, with four separate wings opening out to a central courtyard.


Its outside was in no way too different from other mansion houses we had seen on the way but its interior housed an  amazingly beautiful and exquisite collection of murals collectivelly covering a huge part of the Palace's inner walls, which couldn't unfortunately be photographed ... (which I felt to be a pity). The themes of the mural paintings were based on the great Indian epics - the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha, as well as mythology and legends on Hindu Gods, particularly Guruvayurappan.

Some of the murals depicted scenes from Kumarasambhavam and other works of the great Sanskrit poet Kalidasa. This might not have meant anything to the common reader or visitor but I am sure that anyone coming across these repesentations would not (will not) be indifferent to them, I am sure. I was absolutely mesmerised by the artistry displayed, whose prominent feature was also associated with the colour symbolism - red depicting Royal qualities, black the symbol of evil and green emphazising simplicity. Colours are saidd to have been obtained from fruit amd vegetable extracts, as well as a variety of minerals.

(Photos taken from the net)

Less interesting, though still worth being looked at was the Royal paraphernalia on display in the remaining galleries, which included weapons, swings, furniture and portraits depicting the life style of the Royal family.


Right behind the Palace the Paradesi Synagogue, (which could also not be photographed) and close to it a small temple dedicated to the Deity Palayannur Bhagwati and a complex dedicated to Vishnu and Siva. 


Just before having walked into the Paradesi Synagogue's premises I felt a strong head ache, most probably caused by the damp temperature and had to sit down for a while, both outside and inside the Synagogue, as Sagar provided us with some precious information regarding the Jews and their presence in India. The Malabari Jews are said to have formed a prosperous trading community of Kerala and controlled a major portion of the world spice trade then.

One of the things that caught my attention in the synagogue were the hundreds of Chinese 18th century hand-painted porcelain tiles that covered its entire floor, each of which being unique.

To reach its main entrance we had to walk around numerous side streets pertaining to the ancient Jewish community, which are now lined by shops. Some flamboyant shiny silver paper decorations set the atmosphere and I don't know whether it was because I was feeling sick but everytime those flashed in the sun I felt dizzy and ready to pass out.





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