Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Kochi. (Cochin)

I saw a lot of advertisements on large billboards inside the airport building. Silk dresses, gold and jewelry and Bollywood ladies all smiled down on us. Kochi is the first airport I know that is entirely driven by solar power. Electricity is inexpensive here. The sun always shines and it is always hot and humid. The region is named the Kerala region, a State of India. It's very tropical.

Kochi is on India's west coast, relatively close to the Horn of Africa and Arabian traders were here ages ago. Sailors from King Solomon’s time had already settled near Kochi. In 587 BC, after the 1st Israeli temple was destroyed, Jews established themselves in India in great numbers. Some
Jewish Area of Kochi

researchers’ claim they had settled as early as 600 BC, and Jewish trading, had been done in Kochi for many years. Already a rather large Jewish village was in Kochi around 52 AD, according to some written records. When Israel was under Roman rule, this enclave was not affected at all. When, in 70 AD the Romans destroyed Israel and put every Jew in exile or slavery, destroyed the 2nd temple, conquered Masada, etc., the Jewish people in India, especially in Kochi were not affected, but some Jews from Israel fled to India after the Roman destruction, joining the Jews who lived there already. The Jews lived their life, had their own systems, beliefs and were free from
Hand Painted Floor Tiles In the Synagogue
suppression. After Jews were expelled from Spain in 1498, many more Sephardic Jews settled in this part of India. Cochin was sometimes called the New Jerusalem. Their trade was in the spice business. This old Jewish section is still around today, albeit very few Jews still live here now. After WW II, many Jews in India resettled in Israel or moved to Australia or other modern places. Their synagogue however, small as it may be, is still around. The present synagogue was built in 1567. There are only 5 members today; the youngest is a 42 year old female who is not married. The Kochi synagogue is the oldest,
Some of the Many Chandeliers In the Synagogue
active synagogue in the British Empire. It is amazing to see such old history in Cochin.

The more commercial part of old Cochin, the basic layout of the old town however, is a mix of Dutch housing, Portuguese housing and has a rural, sometimes British feel. All the streets are tree lined, many parks abound and the feeling is of a rich, wealthy small city.

We visited this “old” section of Kochi which still has special rules, a left over from the colonial days. Not just the last British rules, but treaties signed by the Portuguese and even the Dutch.
Dhobi Washing Clothes
Also Washing Clothes

They Prefer Hand Washing to the Machines

Laundry Drying In the Sun

One such treaty was the area where still today, the laundry people (a former cast known as Dhobi) wash clothes everyday. These low end trade workers had a treaty made with the British that assured them 14 acres of land to do their work. They needed this much acreage because they relied on a small creek to supply them with water and they spread the clothes on the ground to dry. The town of Kochi some years ago made a deal with them, in exchange for 10 acres, the town built them a quite modern facility, washing machines, wells, ironing tables, etc. whatever they needed and wanted. It was a fair exchange, everybody was happy at the end.
Today, like generations before, those people still wash for families and households. While not rich, the Dhobi have a steady job and make a good living in India's economy; US$ equivalent of $ 400.00 per week. Yes they work hard but it's an honorable job and everybody is happy. We saw no one using the washing machines; they prefer the old, tried and true hand washing and natural sun drying methods.
St. Francis' Church

Kerala is the most educated state in India with 100% literacy, but it also has high unemployment. Kerala, the state, is spread over 22 islands with Kochi being the financial center. Tourism is the main industry.

These Paddles Were Moved By Slaves Standing Outside
The Movement Cooled the Congregation
The main tourist attraction would be the old Fort area of Kochi. This section looks a bit like a medieval area of Portugal, or Holland, or a British village. Like always, the center of town is the church, in this case St. Francis’ church. It houses a tomb for Vasco da Gama, who died here. His epitaph in the memory of the folks here is not good. He was a pillager, plunderer
and rapist who died of gonorrhea or syphilis. We also saw the house where da Gama died. His remains were sent back to Portugal many years ago. Reading about him I have to agree, he was not a good man.

The lovely old trees in and around Kochi, large, majestic and healthy looking were planted about 300 years ago by the British. Thank you for that, their shade is wonderful, I am glad you did that, Britain.
Shops Along the Street

 The feel of the old fort section is of a cozy place, today many small shops occupy the old houses and yes it’s a bit touristy.

The Mattancherry Palace: Built by Portugal in 1555, this small Palace was a gift to the ruling Maharaja, to appease him for the terrible destruction and raids of former Portuguese, especially Vasco da Gama and ilk. In 1663, when the Dutch took over from the Portuguese they updated and enlarged and improved upon this Palace. It was thereafter always known as the Dutch Palace. The place is known in India for the exquisite murals painted on many walls. Hindu religious scenes, some even from the Portuguese time decorate the place. The ceilings, the wood work, the tiles, all have an artistic touch. Brass studded ceilings, along with many delicately
The Inside Of the Mattancherry Palace Was More Impressive
painted depictions of Vishnu, Krishna, Shiva and others in the bedroom of the Maharaja give this Palace a feel of Europe and India mixed. Treasures of the Maharaja are on display, 300 kg golden elephant seats, opulent furniture, gold and jewels. No photos allowed.
This building, as it is, while under the protection of historical places in India, is not up to international preservation standards. Work is in progress to do so, however.
Our 89 Year Old Hostess and Her

 Lunch time:  an unusual experience. We had lunch in a private home. Lunch as served by an 89 year old woman and her 3 daughters and/or daughters in law. The older lady was very spry, spoke English well, and had owned this house since 1971. The house, built years ago and then left in 1947 by the British is today in absolutely marvelous condition. The 4 ladies keep it spotless and in perfect repair, down to the lawn and garden. The furnishings were airy, simple yet classy. The meal we were served was delicious. A cooking class was given by one of ladies to show us how to make Fish Soup. Those women found a good way to supplement their income and also meet many nice foreigners. Good for them.
An Incredibly Good Fish Soup

The Family

Not Much Left After This Great Meal

The afternoon was hot, we took a little break.
Some mix-up occurred at dinner when I ordered the wrong food. My hearing is not getting any better. Carol got stuck with oily humus, with pomegranate seeds and black olives. Sounds OK to you?  Carol does not like black olives, oops. She also does not appreciate oily food, oops again. Poor Carol!
Our Two Kathakali Actors Before Make-Up

Starting to Apply Face-Paint

Late afternoon we went to an unusual performance, a Kathakali. I have to reach back into deep history to make this performance a bit understandable. Millennia back. But let it just be said that It is a performance, a dance, a story-telling accompanied by music, based most times on religious beliefs or old classical folk tales or stories of India; Mostly from southern India. All dancers are male, even the females in the story are danced by males. Dance is not the right word.
Starting to Apply Face-Paint
Demonstrating Some of the Hand and Eye Movements

There are 22 prescribed hand movements, hand movements are given to supplement the spoken story. A separate speaker does the speaking, or singing, the “dancer” only dances. There are ritualized steps (based on ancient martial arts) and many facial features, especially eye movements, which show the emotional state of the story being told.

In Full Costume

To top it all off the make up, the masks, the costumes, the colors are all over the top. Each color used in the garish makeup has a special meaning, defining the character being acted out. There are many art forms combined in any performance. It takes several hours to just apply the facial make up. While we were there our 2 actors gave an insight into the difficulty of applying make-up. They sat on stage and let us witness the procedure of applying their make-up mask for over an hour before they went behind the stage to finish their faces.

The Story Ends With the Murder of the "Woman"
To coordinate their steps with the music, let 
their eyes tell the emotional state of the story, their hand movements show the progression of the tale told, keep their appearance “lady-like” or act the demon, or King, or God, etc. all at the same time, seems impossible, but those actors do it. It takes years of practice, it is a refined art. The stage is empty, hardly any props. Connoisseurs see a lot more than we see, but it was an amazing display of India. It was a unique experience. Amazing India!

The history of Kathakali, if you are interested, can be read on the internet. It portrays life as wonderful. To know more about it is a good way to expand one’s horizon.

Gold Head Adornment for the Elephants
On the way back from the performance we saw some commotion on the side of the road. Fiona had the bus stopped and we all got off.  The local guide helped us get to the display close up, right in the middle of it, in fact.
There were 3 huge elephants, decked out in royal garb, in glistening, golden splendor, standing in the road and young men in traditional leg-dressings were blowing trumpets, horns, and loud brass instruments and banging drums in front of them. They were standing, not marching. Burning torches were lit and swayed in front of the animals, which just stood there, taking it all in, munching on sugarcane. The ‘music’ (racket) was tremendous. Supposedly it was a festive celebration of a religious kind, honoring Shiva. I never found out for sure, but it sure was loud and seemed ancient and historic.

Drummers Getting Frenzied

We were told the elephants were rented for the night. The rent per elephant was 100,000 rupees (US$ 1540.00) for the night and you had to feed the elephant with special foods, like sugarcane, etc.  So, let's say those elephants were $5000, not a cheap affair, add to that the young men's salaries, it was a very expensive display. But for what reason were they hired? I never found out!  You just have to experience India in her many forms, simply stunning.

The Three Elephants Facing the Drummers

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