Kochi

Kochi, the city where history lies scattered, unpreserved

An athani kallu near the Hill Palace, Thripunithura.

An athani kallu near the Hill Palace, Thripunithura.   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Many relics of the past strewn across the city and the surrounding suburbs could be lost to time in the absence of proper measures to protect and document them

The athani kallu, a resting point for those bearing headloads, tells the story of trade and exchange in the not-so-faraway past. Thripunithura in the district is strewn with athani kallu, reflecting a vibrant trading history. There are many such structures found near major towns that bear the names of people, probably the names of those who donated them. How Athani, a place near Angamaly, came to be called by the name, is also an interesting aspect.

Even as Kochi’s profile and landscape have changed dramatically over the last 10 years, there are some parts of old Kochi that continue to crop up in the midst of the city’s race towards development. The many relics strewn across the city and the surrounding suburbs contain aspects of history which are slowing getting dismembered.

While there is a lethargic attitude in preserving some of the official history, the social history gets totally lost in the mileu. The problem with social history is that it is forgotten within two generations.

Local histories can be charted to look into the socio-economic history of the place too.

There were stones erected along the borders of the former states of Kochi and Thiruvithankoor, on which were inscribed the letters ‘ko’ and ‘thi’, said E. Dinesan, Registrar, Centre for Heritage Studies, Thripunithura. One such ‘ko-thi’ kallu is located at Poothota, a border area during the erstwhile period. A chowkha, a tax office of the Thiruvithankoor state, now occupied by the Excise Department, is located in Mamala.

For the layman, history is usually to be found in old monuments. But not for Jenee Peter, an archaeologist, who finds history passing by, without people even acknowledging it. “This is because we have not been taught to look at our own history. We keep studying in detail how people in far-off places lived in a different era and so on. But there is little interest to know our own immediate history,” said Ms. Peter, assistant professor, U.C. College, Aluva.

Thripunithura, the erstwhile kingdom of the Cochin royal family, is a place where a lot of historians and archaeologists have documented structures and lifestyles, but there are still many old structures in the public domain that are in a dilapidated state. It was difficult to hold on to archaic structures when the property was in private hands, but an attempt should be made by the government to facilitate “adaptive re-use” of domestic buildings, said Ms. Peter.

The documented history of the Kochi region could perhaps be found in bits and pieces. There had been efforts towards preserving some bits of history, but as most of the monuments or houses were private property, it was up to the local self-governments to be involved in protecting the art and heritage of the locality, said Mr. Dinesan.

A view of the Thripunithura iron bridge.

A view of the Thripunithura iron bridge.   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Role of local bodies

Government interventions were limited to protecting monuments and conserving old temples, churches or mosques of eminence that could tell stories of several hundred years, said Mr. Dinesan. But the social history of the times gone by could be collected only through relics found in the community. The relevance of local bodies comes forth in this context. But unfortunately, the local bodies dedicate no time or have little idea about how to go about these aspects.

It was found that a particular type of roof tile was used in the elephant shelter at Sree Poornathrayeesa Temple, a building opposite the Palace Girls High School and a building at Chakkamkulangara, at present an office of the CPI in Thripunithura, said Ms. Peter. While the tiles could be dated furthest back to 1865, only a further probe would reveal how the tiles were brought in and laid in those buildings.

Glorious past, uncertain future: (Clockwise from above) Basel Mission tiles on the roof of a building adjacent to the Sree Poornathrayeesa Temple; the iron bridge at Thripunithura; and an athani kallu near the Hill Palace, Thripunithura.

Glorious past, uncertain future: (Clockwise from above) Basel Mission tiles on the roof of a building adjacent to the Sree Poornathrayeesa Temple; the iron bridge at Thripunithura; and an athani kallu near the Hill Palace, Thripunithura.   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

The iron bridge that connects Thripunithura to nearby Maradu and Petta unfolds several layers of history — the engineering skill of the time, the colonial drive for modernisation and the social impact of the bridge at a time when temple entry for all was unheard of.

People are often not able to relate to artefacts kept in museums, which do not concern their everyday lives. But, if they are aware of local history, they will be able to connect with it better. A comprehensive survey is required to study cultural and social history. It would be helpful for future generations only if it got documented, said Mr. Dinesan.

Local bodies could come forward to preserve local histories, he said. There were other government departments that could play a positive role, such as the Devaswom Board or the Tourism Department, which could protect lesser known temples or monuments or even private buildings with historical importance in the locality that were up for sale, said Mr. Dinesan. Such a movement at the local-level could help bring about awareness of history and bring down the neglect of various structures that were important but dilapidated, he added.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 5:13:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/where-history-lies-scattered-unpreserved/article30010781.ece

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