As you may have noticed, the travel bug never leaves me and I use every opportunity to get in a few hours of seeing the local sights, as I did even on a short week end trip to Kochi. I flew to Kochi last Friday evening. Saturday was the Malayalee New Year (first day of Chingam, year 1188) and a visit to the temple in the morning was on the cards. I seldom seek out temples on my tour of the sights, but when in Kerala the nostalgia takes over.
And it was the perfect day for the visit – the floral decorations were beautiful and the locals were dressed in all their finery! I was just in time to join the “prathakshanam’ (clock wise circumabulation) of the deity, and then the line to get in. Everything was spotlessly clean and the people disciplined, with a priest directing the traffic inside to avoid crowding. The men in Kerala temples have to go in bare chested and so it was amusing to see them with one sleeve of their shirts off, and the shirt hanging on one shoulder. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed!! What also struck me was that there was no separate line for men and women.
Towards sunset I joined friends for a short boat ride int he harbor – we were too late to get to the famous Chinese nets, but had a wonderful view of the sunset and of the lighted up skyline of the new Kochi.
On Sunday afternoon I decided to make a brief visit to the famous Pardesi Synagogue at Mattancherry. I did not get to see it on my previous visit to the area, almost 2 decades ago as we landed up on a Friday (pre-internet, ‘Lonely Planet days)!! I found that the streets around the area had got transformed – spruced up, with all the shops re-done, cafes serving coffee and cake – without taking away the overall ambience. The shops had become fairly upmarket, there was even a Ritu Kumar outlet. The synagogue is small with lovely tiled interiors. Once again, no photography is allowed inside. The shrine is a tourist hot spot, and I suppose the few Jews – nine was the last I heard – worship there as well. It was built in 1568 and is the oldest of the 7 synagogues in the area.I remember my father talking of the thriving community that lived here in his young days. These people had lived here for centuries and were Malayalees – I wonder, at the kind of faith that made them uproot themselves and move to then new, struggling state of Israel.
Next to the synagogue lies Mattancherry palace which now houses a museum. This building has been restored and the museum has been tastefully done up. It used to be residence of the local King and the synagogue wwas built on land given by the then Raja – how many are the multi-religious compounds we have around the country. Even as we pursue the narrow separational agenda today……
A trip to Kerala, the land of my birth, is always exciting, however short. And the contrasts from my presence place of residence (NCR) are stark – more disciplined people (driving even if on equally bad roads, and elsewhere) clean streets, absence of obvious in your face poverty (of course it exists in many arlaeas!) etc. There was a hoarding near the airport for for the Malayalam weekly “Mangalam” claiming to be the largest circulation magazine in the country! Of the 5 top daily newspapers for circulation, Malayala Manorama is at 4th with the other 4 being Hindi dailies. That kind of sums up the state – not just literate, but educated and politically savvy and proud of their culture and place in the world.