Fort Kochi

To lovers of colonial history Fort Kochi is paradise. The place has come under influence from various European powers in its long history, most notably the Portuguese and the Dutch. However Kochi's true legacy lies in the fact that it takes it name from China. The name Cochin implies "co-chin", meaning "like-China". A living testimony to China's early influence is the Chinese fishing nets, which are the unofficial icons of Kochi.

The region of modern Kochi traded with the Arabs and Chinese traders mainly in spices, especially pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, sandal wood etc. Even today, Kochi is an important centre of spice export. The great Chinese admiral Zheng He under the patronage of the Yuan dynasty visited Cochin no less than 6 times during the great world expeditions that emanated from China between 1405-1433. The wonderful chinese fishing nets are believed to be a legacy of that first contact with China.

Woman sets up an antique shop on Bazaar street in Mattancherry. Mattancherry is the nerve town of old historic Cochin. In old Malayalam it is maadan-cherry, cherry meaning town. Maad or cow was the stamp of Old Royal Fort of Rajah of Cochin.

Kochi was the centre of Indian spice trade for many centuries, and was known to the Yavanas (Greeks and Romans) as well as Jews, Arabs, and Chinese since ancient times. Kochi rose to significance as a trading centre after the port around Kodungallur (Cranganore) was destroyed by massive flooding of Periyar in 1341. The earliest documented references to Kochi occur in books written by Chinese voyager Ma Huan during his visit to Kochi in the 15th century as part of Admiral Zheng He's treasure fleet. There are also references to Kochi in accounts written by Italian traveller Niccolò Da Conti, who visited Kochi in 1440.

Antiques shop in Jew Street displaying a whole Kettuvallam, or snake boat, used during races, Mattancherry

The Malabari Jews (also known as Cochin Jews) formed a prosperous trading community of Kerala, and they controlled a major portion of world wide spice trade. In 1568, the Jews of Kerala constructed the Paradesi Synagogue adjacent to Mattancherry Palace, on land given to them by the Raja of Kochi. The Malabari Jews' first synagogue in Cochin was destroyed in the 16th century by the Portuguese persecution of the Jews. The second, built under the protection of the Raja of Cochin along with Dutch patronage, is the present synagogue, which is still in use for worship in the Jew Town area of Mattancherry.

Boys play Kerala's favorite sport, football, in front of the St. Francis church in Fort Kochi. St. Francis was originally built in 1503, and is considered the oldest European church in India. The Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, died in Kochi in 1524 when he was on his third visit to India. His body was originally buried in this church, but after fourteen years his remains were removed to Lisbon.

Vasco da Gama, who discovered the sea route from Europe to India, landed at Kappad near Kozhikode (Calicut) in 1498. Vasco da Gama was followed by Pedro Álvares Cabral and Afonso de Albuquerque. They built a fort at Kochi with permission from the Raja of Cochin. Within the fort, they built a church with a wooden structure, which later evolved into the present St.Francis church. This is the gravestone inside the church marking the spot where Vasco da Gama was originally buried before his body was taken to Lisbon.

The Mattancherry Palace was built and gifted by the Portuguese as a present to the Raja of Cochin around 1555. The Dutch carried out some extensions and renovations in the palace in 1663, and thereafter it was popularly called Dutch Palace. Today, it is a portrait gallery of the Cochin Rajas and notable for some of the best mythological murals in India, which are in the best traditions of Hindu temple art. One of the best preserved murals depict Vishnu reclined on Ananthanaga, surrounded by various deities from the Hindu pantheon.

A rather Indianised version of Mona lisa on the walls of a house in Fort Kochi.

The Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica at Fort Kochi is one of the eight Basilicas in India. Counted as one of the heritage edifices of Kerala, this church is one of the finest churches in India. The paintings that adorn the ceiling depict scenes from the Stations of the Cross during Christ's crucifixation.

Much of the Dutch presence in Kochi has disappeared over the centuries but a small cemetery still survives in a little corner of Fort Kochi with typical obelisk shaped tombstones. Similar dutch tombs are also found in other places of Dutch presence in India like Surat, Ahmedabad and Pulicat.

The Bishops House in Fort Kochi was once the residence of the Portuguese governors. It now houses an Indo-Portuguese museum, established in a bid to protect and showcase the rich Catholic cultural heritage in these regions. This museum now showcases the Portuguese influence on Fort Kochi and the last remaining vestiges of Fort Immanuel, the original fort built by the Portuguese.

One of the most interesting aspects of Kathakali is its elaborate make-up code. Most often, the make-up can be classified into five basic sets namely Pachcha, Kathi, Kari, Thaadi, and Minukku. The differences between these sets lie in the predominant colours that are applied on the face. Pachcha (meaning green) has green as the dominant colour and is used to portray noble male characters. Excessively evil characters such as demons have a predominantly red make-up and a red beard.

Traditionally, a Kathakali performance is usually conducted at night and performed in front of the huge Kalivilakku (kali meaning dance; vilakku meaning lamp) with its thick wick sunk till the neck in coconut oil. Traditionally, this lamp used to provide sole light when the plays used to be performed inside temples, palaces or abodes houses of nobles and aristocrats. Enactment of a play by actors takes place to the accompaniment of music (geetha) and instruments (vadya). The percussion instruments used are chenda, maddalam and, at times, edakka. In addition, the singers (the lead singer is called “ponnani” and his follower is called “singidi”) use chengila (gong made of bell metal, which can be struck with a wooden stick) and ilathalam (a pair of cymbals).

A Kathakali actor uses immense concentration, skill and physical stamina, gained from regimented training based on Kalaripayattu, the ancient martial art of Kerala, to prepare for his demanding role. The training can often last for 8–10 years, and is intensive. In Kathakali, the story is enacted purely by the movements of the hands (called mudras or hand gestures) and by facial expressions (rasas) and bodily movements. There are 24 basic mudras - the permutation and combination of which would add up a chunk of the hand gestures in vogue today. Dancers also undergo special practice sessions to learn control of their eye movements.

Ubiquitous throughout Kerala are lottery ticket sellers. It is extremely popular in Kerala and Kerala State Lotteries was established in 1967, under the lottery department by the Government of Kerala and it was the first of its kind in India. Its now a huge revenue earner for the state. During the period 2012-13, the total revenue of the department stood at Rs. 2778.80 crores making a profit of Rs. 681.76 crores, an all time record.

One of the newer additions to the Fort Kochi neighborhood is the Kochi International Container Transhipment Terminal (ICTT), locally known as the Vallarpadam Terminal. It is a container trans-shipment facility which is part of the Kochi Port. Vallarpadam island is separated from Fort Kochi by the Vembanad Lake.

Two eras of technology. A huge tanker sails past the medieval Chinese Fishing nets in Fort Kochi.

Fort Kochi has a evolving art scene on its architecture in the form of street graffiti. This house in the Bazaar Street area, has bold colorful graffiti on its exterior walls and doors.

A window display of vintage perfume bottles in Bazaar Street of Fort Kochi. Many of the perfumes are made using a wide range of aromatic herbs and spices grown in the Malabar and Western Ghats.

Kalaripayattu or "Payattu" is an ancient Indian originating in ancient Kerala. One of the oldest fighting systems in existence, it is now a thriving sport throughout Kerala practiced by boys and girls of all ages as a form of physical training, self-defense and disciplined lifestyle. The art was disseminated through schools known as kalari, which served as centres of learning before the modern educational system was introduced. Still in existence, kalaris served as meeting places for the acquisition of knowledge on various subjects and various theatrical arts.

Kalaripayattu underwent a period of decline when the Nair warriors lost to the British after the introduction of firearms and especially after the full establishment of British colonial rule in the 19th century. The British eventually banned kalaripayattu and the Nair custom of holding swords so as to prevent rebellion and anti-colonial sentiments. During this time, many Indian martial arts had to be practiced in secret and were often confined to rural areas. The resurgence of public interest in kalaripayattu began in the 1920's in Tellicherry as part of a wave of rediscovery of the traditional arts throughout south India and continued through the 1970's surge of general worldwide interest in martial arts, thanks to Bruce Lee.

One of the most fantastic addition to Kochi's attractions is the Kerala Folklore Museum in Ernakulam town. Opened in the year 2009 as a non-profit organization, the museum is truly a treasure trove that showcases the diverse heritage that Kerala exudes through its numerous art and dance forms. Artifacts that bear the scent of bygone era like masks, sculptures, in wood, stone and bronze, costumes of traditional and ritual art forms, musical instruments, traditional jewelry, manuscripts of rare medicinal and astrological secrets, and Stone-Age utensils are all displayed in this fascinating museum with utmost care.

Display of different type of jewelry worn by a Mohiniattam dancer at the Kerala Folklore Museum, Ernakulam.


The Kingdom of Cochin was a late-medieval Hindu kingdom on the Malabar Coast of Kerala. Heralded as the Queen of the Arabian Sea, Cochin was an important spice trading centre on the Arabian Sea coast from the 14th century. Occupied by the Portuguese Empire in 1503, Kochi was the first of the European colonies in colonial India. It remained the main seat of Portuguese India until 1530, when Goa was chosen instead. The city was later occupied by the Dutch and the British, with the Kingdom of Cochin becoming a princely state. In 1949, Travancore-Cochin state came into being with the merger of Cochin and Travancore. Finally, the Government of India’s States Reorganisation Act (1956) inaugurated a new state — Kerala — incorporating Travancore-Cochin , Malabar District, and the taluk of Kasargod of Southern Carnatic.