Hari Shenoy’s bungalow, a 140-year-old heritage structure in Mattancherry, will be the first one to be conserved as part of the Museum of Cultural Mosaic project.

Between colonial Fort Kochi and trading post Mattancherry there exists in Cherlai a charming world of old migrant communities. It dates back to times as old as its better-known neighbours, their histories often interlinked but their fates dissimilar. In a new move the tourism department has mooted the idea of conserving the rich cultural and social heritage of Goshreepuram in Cherlai and adjacent areas through a project called Museum of Cultural Mosaic that will conserve the heritage of the several communities that inhabit therein.

Conservation architect N. Ramaswamy who is preparing the project says, “We are planning to conserve a historically significant house, building or structure of each community in its entirety. It will serve as a small museum to showcase the social and cultural tradition of the community, its richness in lifestyle, and its unique cuisine. It will be a participatory project where the community members will present a suitable premise; they will also run the museum. The first in this project is Hari Shenoy’s bungalow near the Cochin TD (Tirumala Devaswom) temple.”

Man of vision

So who then is Hari Shenoy? The question takes one to the doorstep of local historian N. Purushothama Mallaya who had first mooted the idea of conserving the bungalow many decades ago. He is immensely pleased at the recent turn of events and offers a face to the revered character.

Born in 1849 R.S. Hari Shenoy was the adhikari (administrator) of the TD Temple. He founded the TD High School in Mattancherry, the first Anglo-vernacular school in the area. Stories about his foresight and entrepreneurial acumen abound. In 1874 he built his bungalow, near the temple, in a style inspired by western architecture that existed in adjacent Fort Cochin. “He was a man with vision,” says Mallaya listing his many deeds for the betterment of community and the city.

As it stands today, in quiet elegance, the 140-year-old bungalow was built in consultation with European architects known to Hari Shenoy. “It has typical vernacular architecture with some colonial influence seen in the columns, the balustrades and in the windows,” says Ramaswamy. The central room on the first floor, supposedly the master bedroom, has marble flooring made from tiles brought from Italy. Kutchikallu or dark stones brought from Kutch have been used too. Some of the wooden ceilings, carved in traditional style, have the artistic roof painting pachilakootu on them, which are still in good condition. The rear of the house was a pathayapura, a granary, accessible from the canal that served as a waterway. After the death of Hari Shenoy, in 1901, the bungalow was used as a government office for temple use and part of it became the residence of the managers of the temple.

Damodar Prabhu spent a part of his childhood in the house during the 50s, as his father was manager of the temple. “We lived in just four-five rooms of this big house. It is on approximately 30 cents of land,” he says.

A school and a library

In 1958, a teacher’s training school was started by the temple authorities. In 1966, the bungalow housed a library started by Saraswat Youth Association (SYA) and Gowda Saraswat Students Association (GSSO). Before the bungalow was shut for maintenance in 2009 its premises were used by the Saraswathi Primary School.

Baburaj D. Pai one of the 200 members of an interesting group, ‘Fans of Hari Shenoy’, who pitched for this house to be restored says with deference to his ideal. “I began reading about Hari Shenoy 15 years ago when he was mentioned in a Maradhaga Pacha, a book by Krishna Hari Pai on Goshreepureswara. It presents Hari Shenoy as a man with different ideas.” So besotted are his fans about the works and deeds of their community leader that during festivals children dress up as him. “Last year the winner of a fancy dress competition was a child dressed as Hari Shenoy,” says Baburaj with pride.

Not only is Hari Shenoy celebrated in books and through oral tales but also in Konkani songs.

A famous song, sung by his cousin sister Amulaka Shenoy, eulogises the grandeur of his daughter Mini Puthalai’s wedding. It talks about the wedding to be as one of its kind, one that brought the rajas, sahibs and the common man together in one feast.

Today, much excitement hovers around the premises of the bungalow set to see glorious days once again. It will, after conservation, showcase the richness of the Konkani community that came to the shores of Kochi some 400 years ago; it will also immortalise the eminence of Hari Shenoy. Inside, on the blackboard of a closed classroom of the bungalow, the date 3.6.08, “last day of school” written in chalk waits to be erased as new future and fate takeover the bungalow that is representative of a wholesome Konkani culture.