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The history-rich Parade Ground

A curious feeling, something that can be best described as being heavy with history, takes hold of anyone who stands under one of those many giant rain trees that dot Parade Ground, Fort Kochi. Of course, the town is strewn with historic landmarks, but the Parade Ground, also called Parade Maidan, occupies the heart of the town.

Charles Allen Lawson in his British And Native Cochin (1861) describes Fort Cochin from the vantage point of the ground that lies contiguous with the famous St. Francis Church. He writes that the Hospital, Guard House and Magazine were situated on one side under the shade of large tulip and bread-fruit trees; and around, beyond the road, stood commodious houses among which, on the right hand corner were the Post and Telegraph offices.

“For the Portuguese this ground was the Barraca Ground or the barracks ground. Their army centre was located here. The Guard House and Magazine stood on the North Eastern corner, inside the ground, where now the huge rain tree stands. The Post and Telegraph offices and houses stood beyond the ground and the road. The Dutch and the British used the ground for their parades. It was the British who called it the Parade Ground. Even today the people around refer to it as the Barraca Maidan,” informs K.J. Sohan, former Mayor of Cochin.

The buildings around the ground, including some of the houses, are of historical importance. K.L. Bernard in his History of Fort Cochin refers to the residence of the Portuguese governors, the one in which Vasco da Gama lived in 1524. The bungalows on the west of the ground were the site of the Portuguese hospital and to the west of it stood the residences of the civil surgeons and the Bruntons.

On the east of the ground stands a house with the Dutch emblem VOC 1740 at the gate, VOC shortened for Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (United East India Company). In the 17th and 18th centuries the VOC was the largest commercial enterprise in the world, with a fleet of more than a hundred ships, thousands of employees, dozens of offices in Asia, and six establishments in the Netherlands.

The house was occupied by the Dutch East India Company for 133 years, writes Bernard. During the British period it was occupied by Rev. Samuel Ridsdale. Down the years the house has had numerous owners and today it is a landmark of great historical importance.

Charles Allen Lawson writes about the excellent view one got of this very important building from the platform on top of the Flagstaff Tower. The old Dutch houses, their quaint gables, barn-like roofs, heavy walls and buttresses, of the narrow, regular streets, of the venerable church, of the parade ground beyond it. “The Parade Ground and the area around was a heavily protected place. Successive powers have used this strategic location as the centre to store arms and ammunition, conduct training for their soldiers and the buildings around served as their defence establishments. Their national flags used to fly on top of the buildings. This continued till India gained Independence. On August 14, 1947, the Union Jack was lowered here and the tricolour unfurled the next morning by the Municipal Chairman at the Parade Ground. The Portuguese, Dutch and British ruled over Cochin for nearly 447 years, the longest period of foreign rule in the country. So, in a way it was a very symbolic event, perhaps more significant than the unfurling of the tricolour from the ramparts of the Red Fort,” says Sohan.

Walking around the Parade Ground one will not miss the ancient rain trees. They stand witness to the history of the place. The huge one on the north east corner of the ground invokes awe. It stands as a symbol of infinity. Today, it is the pride of Fort Kochi. Tales abound about its age and the people who planted it.

This tree and the ones that dot the ground used to serve as a pavilion when cricket, hockey and football matches were held here.

For long the ground was maintained by the Cochin Club. The Parade Ground then was a sight to behold. The green, billiards top outfield and the ambience around made it into the wish list of every player. Before cricket, hockey and football made its appearance the ground hosted badminton events. The Lord Hardinge Memorial Badminton Tournament (fives) was conducted here in memory of the visit of Viceroy Lord Hardinge to Fort Cochin. The Excelsior Badminton Tournament, writes Bernard, was held here in great pomp till 1925.

The regular cricket tournaments hosted by the Cochin Club with majority of members being Europeans, the All-India Lakshmanan Memorial Tournament, organised by Mattancherry Youngsters Cricket Association, a couple of Ranji Trophy games, watched by a sporting crowd from beneath the rain trees, were like straight out of an English county scene. The Parade Ground added charm to these games.

It was also the venue for numerous football tournaments and coaching camps. The ground produced some illustrious footballers who went on to don India colours. The Anglo-Indians excelled in hockey. It became the training ground for some of the players who stayed around the ground. Hockey tournaments and district league matches were all held here.

The ground is no longer lovely and green, nor is it the ideal playground it once used to be.

As part of the beautification plan the Parade Maidan has been walled in by a low wall from the rest of the existing landscape.

“It was at this ground that the Indian tricolour was hoisted. Hence the ground is historic. It can be propositioned to be labelled as a Unesco heritage site. Why can’t the ground be used for Independence Day celebrations from where the national flag can be hoisted? Why can’t the authorities concerned use the sanctioned funds for its maintenance?,” opines Sohan.


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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 12:49:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/The-history-rich-Parade-Ground/article13975184.ece

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