Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Mattancherry - Place Review

Mattancherry - about 2 Kms from Fort Kochi in Ernakulam district of Kerala is a whole new world, infact it is a whole ‘old’ world. There is an old world charm about the place as most of the places you visit here are uncorrupted from the modernizations of our developed times.

Inside the synagogue
The first place you want to visit in Mattancherry is the Paradesi Synagogue or as it is locally known the Cochin Jewish Synagogue. It is a small, uncomplicated place at a corner of the Jew Street. It is one of the oldest active Jew Synagogues in the area and located in a silent corner it gives you a very pious and traditional feel as soon as you step in. Photography is strictly prohibited here and you have to submit all your belongings, except your wallet may be because you are charged INR 5/- to go in and visit the synagogue. As soon as you enter, towards the right you have a room with crude floors that display on the walls paintings that showcase the events that led to the building of the synagogue in the 15th Century. The paintings are in chronological order and tell you the story right from the advent of Jews in India to the building of the synagogue. The paintings tell you that the synagogue was built under the protection of the then King of Kochi on the land gifted by the King himself under the patronage of the Dutch and that is why the synagogue shares a wall with the Mattancherry palace temple. (And I think this once again shows the religious tolerance of the country from times immemorial.) 

Once you exit the paintings room, you enter the synagogue itself on the opposite side. At the entrance is a stone tablet installed into the wall – the tablet is in Hebrew and the inscription on it says that the tablet belonged to the first Jew synagogue in India at Kochangadi (in Kochi), which was built in the 13th Century.  The things that catch your attention as you enter the synagogue are the – ceiling and the flooring - many huge glass challendiers hang from the ceiling and hand painted porcelain blue and white tiles form the flooring. Apart from these distinctions the synagogue has very simple interiors and that ofcourse is the old world charm.

One of the shops in Jew Street
As you exit the synagogue building and walk towards the Mattancherry Dutch Palace you pass through streets that house the most exotic artefacts and spices in the area – The Jew Street in Jew Town. Both the sides of the streets are lined with shops in buildings that were once homes to the Jews in Kochi. Back in history the area was known as Jew Town as all its occupants were Jews who had settled here. Today baring a few, most of the ancient Jew families are no more here but the buildings are not much renovated and they scream out stories of the days that have gone by. If you have the patience, you will find all kinds of artefacts in the shops here in all shapes and sizes. Though commercialisation has hit the place due to the continuous inflow of foreigners to these streets but still this is the best place in the area to find a piece of history. A history enthusiast can spend days in these streets exploring history and the journey though times of these artefacts. 

The end of Jew Street takes you the entrance of another chapter in history – The Mattancherry Dutch Palace, which now is a museum and a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India. Huge stone steps take you to the counter. After INR 5/- and a notification that photography not allowed you enter a whole different world. I had visited museums in North of India and I was definitely not prepared for this one.  Enchanted is an understatement. The palace as a museum basically houses the items used by the Royal family of Kochi – palquinns, clothes, headgears, utensils, lamps weapons etc. and the chronology of the rule of the royals in Kochi along with their full sized portraits in all royal gallantry but the beauty of the place lies more in its identity as a palace than a museum. The real beauty is its architecture and interiors. 

The history detailing at the palace museum tells us that the palace was built by the Portuguese in the 15th century and gifted to the king of Kochi as a way of atonement for destroying a temple under the King’s rule. The Portuguese built the palace in typical Travancore styled architecture Naluketta style (i.e. a squared structured with a courtyard in the centre.) But in this palace they did something special - they put a temple, of the deity of the royal family, in the courtyard. The palace mesmerises you in many ways. A mesmerizing thing I found was a pond to the southwest of the palace over looking the King’s Bed Chamber. A huge green water body – very enigmatic yet mesmerising. Siesta would have been heavenly in that chamber. The window overlooking the pond just holds you rooted there staring at the waters, but the most enchanting thing in the palace is – the Mural paintings.
Mural Painting

The palace walls are covered with Mural paintings with a religious theme. As you walk through the palace, most of the walls was covered in mural paintings, some unfinished but aesthetic all the same. The most mesmerising mural I found in the palace was in Gallery 1. – Lord Vishnu’s Mural. The colours are still after centuries un-impacted and just enchanting. The lower chamber of the palace, which housed the Queen’s chambers, contains a lot of unfinished murals but the detailing even in the blue prints is just very commendable. Again art enthusiasts can spend days just going through the detailing in the murals as well the architecture. Though built in Kerala architectural style you can find some European influences especially the door arches. But I did wonder why is it called the Dutch palace, if the Portuguese built it? I was told that the Dutch when they took over Mattancherry later on did some renovations to the palace – Hence the Portuguese built Travancore styled palace is called Dutch Palace. Seriously, Incredible India!            

As you leave all the history in the place behind there is Mattancherry Boat Jetty that can take you to Fort Kochi or Vypin Island or Bogatty Island on another adventure. I decide may be some other time. I had a very ‘historical’ time in Mattancherry. Would love to visit the palace sometime again and just keep staring at the Murals…..    

p.s. the mural painting and the synagogue picture are courtesy google images.      

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