Rewind to old Kochi
Heritage Day is on April 18. PRATIMA ASHER looks at an old sketch and map of Kochi and goes back to old days, rummaging through rare books. The details therein are indeed charming
Keeping the old as good as old is an art we never learn to master. We tend to pull down all the old and put up the new, after which we realise that old was indeed gold. Our heritage is thus foolishly destroyed. Heritage zones are meant to block this tendency.
What did the old Cochin look like to the Portuguese and the Dutch who came here centuries ago?
An old sketch of Cochin gives some answers. It is a view of the city from the north and the legend at the top states that the drawing has been reproduced from Baldeus. The date is 1672.
There are views of areas jutting out into the sea, enclosed by strong walls and fortifications, with many buildings near the river mouth that include churches and towers. These were the centres of European administration and defence. Outside the fortifications are lands, fields and thick set vegetation. These interiors of Cochin could be accessed through bridges across the ditch which surrounded the walls and which the Dutch took great care to maintain.
Small boats plied along the waterways. The etching shows jetties and people -- local habitants and Europeans, the latter identifiable through their hats and postures. Horses were not aliens to the town as the picture reveals.
An early map dated 1560 shows a well planned out, walled city with building clusters distanced from each other at intervals and several churches identifiable through their crosses.
Again, what seems like a broad bridge across the river takes you to the interiors with buildings on the outside with thatched roofs that contrast immediately with tiled roofs of the houses within the fortress. The houses give way to land thick set with trees.
The fortifications change shape as the city passes from the hands of the Portuguese to the Dutch, and Dutch maps often delineate clearly the various well known bastions in the European part of the city which is included in what is today its heritage zone. Gelderland, Holland, Zeeland and other bastions are clearly visible.
Again, the contrast with the native part of the city is striking particularly in terms of the vegetation.
When the maps and pictures are matched with the details, even if they are only vignettes of life in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which are scattered through the memoirs and travelogues left behind by the numerous visitors to its shores, a fairly accurate account of Cochin's landscape in the past can be arrived at.
`Portuguese Cochin,' according to Baldeus, `occupied a segment being one-third of a circle, of which the central part of the area faced Vypeen'. The Portuguese had a mile and a quarter of land in a direct line. They had cleared all the coconut trees around the outside of the fort walls and dug a ditch there.
Goan supplies came in through the open back-waters and the entrance to these was defended with Portuguese guns. The larger buildings within the fort mostly housed public institutions.
Cochin under the Dutch, ceased to be a colony and was transformed into a `fortified factory'.
Anyone interested in a study of life in Dutch Cochin, would find valuable insights in the Dutch records on Malabar. It was mandatory for each of the Dutch Commanders or Governors to write a detailed memoir of their respective administrations so as to provide background material for their successors.
These chronicle the growth of and the changes wrought in the city over a period of time. Dutch changes in the landscape of the town they governed from, included the destruction of houses and public buildings in the eastern and western extreme ends of the town and some of the walls near Calvetty as well as the building of a larger fort with five bastions.
Here is a sampler of snapshots of some well known places taken from Moen's memoirs. Moen's describes the Canarese bazaar: ''There are little stalls everywhere,'' he remarks, as all retail trade passed through the hands of these people. There is buying, selling, exchanging, lending and borrowing, followed by disputes in plenty. This bazaar was outside the European part of the town presumably.
Mattanchery, `a quarter of an hour's walk away from the town', is described as `that place on the river where there were many warehouses belonging to the native merchants.' Merchants, he says, brought in their goods in little vessels. The Canarin bazaar, the bazaar at Pagodingo and the bazaar at Mattancherry were the places where the people bought their daily necessities.
Of Edapally, Moens remarks that it is a little kingdom two miles long and two miles broad.
This kingdom was divided into three parts and in some areas, pepper was grown. This kingdom was a kind of asylum or free town, for among others, several scoundrels went there to escape prosecution.
Describing Dutch properties, he says that at Venduruthy, they had 4,990 fruit bearing coconut and other trees, 490 paras of cultivated land, and 2,980 salt pans.......In Bolghatty there were 297 coconut and other trees and 562 salt pans......
Similar gems abound in many works.
The picture of old Cochin gets clearer now, doesn't it?
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