Society

And the spirits live on…

Footsteps in empty rooms, strange knockings at the door, apparitions, chained skeletons inside walls, lights in unoccupied parts of the building, slamming shutters, locking and unlocking doors, ringing bells, mysterious voices, writing on the walls… It might come as a surprise that spooky tales still survive amidst the hustle and bustle of Kochi.

People still talk animatedly about strange happenings that are beyond logical explanation that cannot be ignored and still give them the goose bumps. These are not real accounts substantiated with evidence. But they have been handed down from generations, while some of them are recent and can make you very uncomfortable.

Glowing spirits

Nicolo Conti, the Italian traveller who visited Cochin in the 15th century, writes about a strange vision. Sailing for some time in a river he saw ‘many fires lighted along the banks and thought that they were fishermen.’ But they seemed to have a human form. They may be called ‘either fishes or monsters, which issuing from the water at night, collect wood and procuring fire by striking one stone against another ignite it and burn it near the water’. He noted that the fishes swam towards these lights in great numbers and then the ‘monsters who hid in the water seized and devoured them’. Conti, who was apparently terrified, later realised that this was an ingenious, native technique of catching fish.

Apparitions

The Portuguese brought slaves from Africa. In 1663, when they were on the verge of surrender those who had treasures made holes in the thick walls of their homes in Fort Cochin, chained slaves in them and plastered the holes with mortar. The Portuguese made the slaves swear that they would guard the riches till their descendants came to claim it. Centuries later when some of these houses in Rose Street and behind the Dutch Cemetery were pulled down for renovation chained skeletons were found. By then these guardians of treasures came to be called Kappiri Muthapans. People would offer food and toddy to the Kappiri hoping that he would leave them a part of the treasure. A shrine dedicated to Kappiri Muthappan stands at Mattancherry.

The ghost of Vaduthala Mathai

This happened long back when people from Edappally and places nearby walked along the rail track to Ernakulam. The Perandoor Canal, the arterial waterway that flowed close by, was not the narrow, slush-filled one that we see today. This place was the haunt of a notorious rowdy, Vaduthala Mathai. “This man once abused a young woman who complained to the Raja of Edappally. The Raja ordered that Mathai be hanged to death. The hanging took place near a culvert across the canal. It is believed that Mathai’s ghost used to frequent this spot. Many feared going there after dark and even walking along the rail track. Poets Edappally Raghavan Pillai and his close friend Changampuzha Krishna Pillai used to spend evenings sitting on this culvert, undisturbed, enjoying the sunset and discussing literature. Local fishermen used to make an offering to the spirit of Mathai before getting down to work. Even today this belief exists in these parts of the city,” says senior journalist Ravi Kuttikad.

Strange voices

Inside the fort area of Tripunithura there once stood a magnificent palace called Devatha Malika. This Dutch building was constructed to please Shaktan Thampuran, the then Maharaja of Cochin. But no one dared to live in it. As the name suggests it was believed to be the abode of celestial spirits. The building stood in a huge compound called Yakshithoppu. K.T. Rama Varma in his work Kairali Vidheyan Rama Varma Appan Thampuran writes, “When the members of the family (Cochin Royal Family) gathered together Devatha Malika used to be the topic of discussion. Even during afternoons people have supposedly heard voices, sounds from inside the building. And at night there was the pervading smell of the palapoovu (flowers of Alstonia Scholaris).” This palace was demolished during the reign of Rama Varma XVI or Chowarayiltheepetta Thampuran (king who died at Chowara).

“The narrow lane from this place to the old, rickety, wooden bridge on the south end of the fort area was lonely and as young children we were scared to walk this stretch at night. There were stories of two ghosts, one of a mahout trampled by an elephant and that of a woman that seemed to have infested this place,” confirms Rameshan Thampuran.

Basheer’s vanishing woman

Noted writer Vaikom Mohammed Basheer stayed in a small room of a rundown building on Cloth Bazaar Road. On one of his regular visits to Fort Cochin, Basheer found himself alone at the end of the beach, bang behind the Dutch Cemetery. “Basheer has written about this experience. It was dusk and Basheer was getting ready to leave when he saw a woman walking out of the water, walk past him and disappear. Basheer was stunned to say the least. This incident inspired him to write his famous story Neela Velicham,” says Ravi Kuttikad. Incidentally, Basheer had named the building where he stayed Bhargavi Nilayam, long before his short story was turned into the film with this title.

Eerie Fridays

The colonial style houses at Willingdon Island, close to the Embarkation Jetty facing the backwaters, are Cochin Port Trust quarters. After sunset this place really makes one feel that something is not normal down here. “I stayed around this place for many years. All these buildings have a lot of wood work, especially the ceilings and staircases. Noises have been reported to have been heard from them but most of them were the creation of nocturnal animals that had found a safe haven inside these huge bungalows. But there was one house where no one preferred to stay and on Fridays people have reported to have heard eerie shrieks from there,” vouches C.S. Kartha, president, Cochin Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who spent his childhood in this vicinity.

Court No.13

In the old building of the Kerala High Court, Court No. 13 is supposed to have very bad vibes. And today this room is Court No. 12 A. And only the other day an auto rickshaw driver told a lady journo of how he was stopped by a young woman in a yellow churidar who wanted to go to the general hospital at Mattancherry. Halfway through, with the autorickshaw speeding on the long, lonely stretch after the Alexander Parambithara Bridge, the driver looked through the rear window to see that the woman had vanished.

Certainly there are things in this world of ours that we don’t understand yet. As William Shakespeare said, “there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. There are things that can’t be explained and this can be frightening. There are people around who firmly believe in these freakish experiences.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 2:35:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/spooky-tales-in-kochi/article7822816.ece

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