Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mattancherry Synagogue

The Synagogue in Mattanchery was built by the Yehudan community in 1568 on a piece of land gifted to them by the Raja of Kochi . This is also called as the Pardeshi synagogue( Pardeshi meaning Foreigner) and the only Synagogue still in use. The synagogue from outside is just a simple building with an old clock tower which keeps ticking even now. The bell tower is above this.

This synagogue complex comprises of 4 buildings and there is a deepa sthambha just outside the main place of worship which reflects the adoption of Kerala culture by them. I am unable to bring you the pictures of the interior as the security is tightened, post 26/11 . So those who are desirous to have a look just click the Wikipedia link. to enjoy the beautiful interior, laden with hand painted colorful tiles and ceiling embellished with chandeliers. The religious texts of Jews in Hebrew in a scroll form, the brass pulpit and and crowns made of gold and silver presented by the king are the other interesting relics inside the synagogue. The Synagogue can be visited from Sunday to Thursday as Friday -Saturday are Sabbath days and the Synagogue remains closed . The Jewish community in India has dwindled and many have have left for Israel. At present only 30-40 may be present in Kochi. The Synagogue is situated in a place called Jew town and the streets there are lined up with antique shops which is frequented by foreigners and antique hunters. One can also see the beautiful houses built in European styles.

The synagogue shares a common wall with a temple and adjacent to lies the palace of Raja of Kochi which is referred to as the Dutch Palace . This was first built by the Portuguese and later renovated by the Dutch as a token of their gratitude. This palace at present serves as a museum with beautiful frescoes and antiques belonging to the erstwhile kings .The Palace is constructed in a Kerala- European style and houses a Bhagavathi temple known as Pazhayannur Bhagavathi and there is also a Siva's shrine inside this palace. Krishna's temple is outside this main building and this temple shares a common wall with the Synagogue, which shows the warm nature of Kochi people who welcomed Pardeshis with open arms.

How to reach : Kochi is well connected by air, road and rail. The nearest airport is Nedumbassery which is 50 Kms from Mattancherry. Ernakulam Junction is the nearest railway station which is at a distance of 10 Kms.
Cabs, autos and buses ply to Kochi . One can always board a Mattancherry bus from South bus stop in Ernakulam and get down at the last stop at Mattancherry. Jew town and Synagogue are at walkable distance.
Accommodation- For stay excellent hotels are available in Ernakulam and as well as Kochi

I have included pictures of Synagogue, Dutch palace, Jew town and the temple inside the Palace complex.
Pictures 1-10 is Synagogue,11-19 Palace and temple inside the complex.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Vittobha temple- Mattancherry,Kochi

The Vittobha temple in Mattancherry, Kochi is famous for its unique form of worship offered to the deity in the form of singing Bhajans. I stayed bang opposite to this temple during my early child hood and grew up right under the gaze of Lord Vittobha and the deity here holds a special place in my mind. Vittobha is none other than Krishna, is called thus by the people of Maharashtra as the one who is standing on eet or veet meaning brick. See my earlier post on Lord Vittobha of Pandarpur. The deity in Kochi is similar to the one that is in Pandarpur. Here also he is standing with his hands on his hips as if waiting for his bhakta (devotee). There is no separate shrine for his consort Rukumai as she resides on his chest in the form of a pendant . A recent addition is a small shrine dedicated to Goddess Annapoorna which is behind the Vittobha temple.

When I was a little girl, I have spent most of my time in this temple as the road separating my house and the temple was only about 15 feet wide. It was as if moving from one room to the other. The temple is at present run very well by a young and energetic group who frequent the temple regularly to see the daily upkeep and needs of the temple. The temple was recently renovated and it looks grand with its simplicity intact. The temple becomes a buzz of activity every evening as young and old come together and chant devotional songs called as Abhangs in praise of God. Abhangs are beautiful invocations to the Lord created by the saints like Sant Tukaram, Namdev, Gnandev etc. This bhajans are usually sung in groups and it is nice to watch, listen and sway to the rhythm of the same. This temple provides a platform for any body who desires to worship the God with the bhajans. An excellent example of camaraderie is visible here among the devotees who throng the temple to worship him in the evenings.

The idol here was brought here by the late Sri Ambu Baliga during one of his visits to Pandarpur and he installed it in Kochi. When the temple was opened for all the Hindus which was frequented only by chaste brahmins, it caused resentment and the temple remained neglected for about 7-8 years. After wards again the temple was opened up and worship resumed again, and it has become a huge movement today as this temple attracts thousands of devotees during the Sapthaham festival which takes place during the month of July. Sapthaham festival starts in the month of Aashada on Siddha Panchami day.

On the first day of the Saptham a huge lamp is lit in front of the deity and it glows for about 7 days and the temple remains open round the clock. Devotees keep singing the Bhajans with accompaniment of cymbals, harmonium and Tabla, with out stopping the cymbals even for a second. The devotees while singing do get totally absorbed in it that they sing and dance around the lamp. The devotees take turn and see that the sapthaham is conducted smoothly. On the seventh day a procession (shoba yatra) of devotees singing bhajans, carrying fruits and flowers march up to the Venkatachalapathy temple near by and returns to the Vittobha temple. I remember there used to be a devotee who used to do sayana pradikshinam (prostrating and rolling continuously on the ground) all the way to the other temple.

A temporary mandap is raised in front of the temple during the sapthaham and food is provided to all the devotees on the day saptham ends. Many stalwarts from the Hindustani music and Bhajan singers from different parts of India offer their worship here during the saptham season. They enthrall the devotees with their singing and this small temple gets thronged for the same. This Bhakti cult i.e singing and worshipping God has become a large crowd puller now. The temple is built in a simple style with attention being given to accommodate as many devotees as possible inside.

This temple has completed 100 years (1909) and a sahashra kalasha abhishekam was conducted as part of the centenary celebrations.

How to reach
The nearest railway station is Ernakulam south Junction which is 10 Kms from Mattancherry.
Nearest airport is Nedumbassery.
Private buses ply from Ernakulam to Mattancherry
Budget and luxury hotels are available in Ernakulam town itself

For a treat of Abhang listen to this Lata Mangeshkar's Melodious invocation

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

St. Francis Church , Fort kochi

Before I started writing on Kerala experiences, I wanted to introduce Kochi to all my dear friends which groomed me in my younger days since birth. But as I was under heavy urge to publish my post before it was too long, I postponed it .This place is full of history and has a rich cultural heritage Now I feel is the right time and here it goes...

Welcome to Kochi.
Kochi, is an old town, I mean the old Cochin comprising of Mattancherry and Fort Kochi. This place has retained its magical charm with out changing its landscape by modern constructions. The town is beautiful with its palatial houses built by Europeans, very old churches, Palace of Kochi Raja, also known as Dutch Palace, Jew town, the first Synagogue in India , temples and the Cochin harbour a natural port. This was once a bustling commercial centre for spices and traders from various countries visited this place. Portugese, Dutch and English established their colonies here and left an indelible mark in the history of this place. The beautiful beaches and lagoons with the famous Chinese nets definitely adds a unique charm to the place I belong to. Finally I want to add a special mention about the hospitality of Malayalis who welcomed people from various cultures including Gujarathis, Goans(Gowda Saraswaths Brahmins) Jews, and Anglo-Indians. I feel proud to be known as a Kochiite.

This time you are going to visit the famous St. Francis church in Fort Kochi. This is the first European church in India.This was built first by the Portuguese in 1498, when they landed in Kochi via Calicut. The Kochi King allowed them to construct a small shrine.When the Dutch arrived they destroyed all the places of worship except this church. Later when British captured Kochi they allowed the Dutch to retain the church but later they handed it over to Anglican Communion. This church is under the Archaelogical Survey of India and under the category of protected monument.

Vasco da Gama the Portugese explorer, died in Kochi and he was entombed here but his remains were later shifted to Portugal. We can still find the place inside the church where he was laid to rest. Religious services are still conducted in this church. There is a plaque outside the church which mentions it was renovated in 1779. There is monument in front of the church , in memory of the Kochi residents who fell during the Great war of 1914-1918 and with in a Kilometer from this church is the old Dutch cemetery.

1.St.Francis church, 2.&3 War memorial, 4. History of Church, 5&6 Inside the church, 7.&8 Beautiful chandelier, 9 Vasco da Gama, 10. Slab from his grave, 11, Another slab mounted on the wall. 12. The first resting place of Vasco da Gama

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Santa Cruz Basilica , Fort Kochi

Santa Cruz is a heritage monument and is pride of Kochi.

Santa Cruz is one of the oldest churches and one among the 8 Basilicas in India.This Basilica is about 500years (1505) old. This was first built by the Portuguese,when the Dutch arrived they destroyed all the Catholic establishments but this church along with St.Francis church ( post soon to follow) was spared by them. They used Santa Cruz church as a store house for arms and ammunition. When the British arrived this was also razed to the ground .

This was rebuilt in 1904 and was elevated to the status of a Basilica in 1984.The architechture is Indo European- Gothic style. There are three Altars here. The pulpit and the wooden panelling along with beautiful paintings of Last Supper and Jesus on the Cross are stunning. This Basilica attracts tourist from all over the world. A must see I would say to those who are visiting Kochi/India.

How to reach: Kochi is well connected by air ,rail and road.
The airport is Nedumbassery , The railway station is Ernakulam Junction
Lot of buses ply to Fort kochi from Ernakulam town, The distance from Nedumbassery would be 50 Kms. and from Ernakulam is 10 Kms.