Kochi on Epiphany

Our three-hour layover at Bangalore airport was quite interesting and educational. When is people watching not just that? By the way, the airport is very modern, architecturally pleasing, and easy to navigate. We started with a breakfast of masala dosa attempting at all times to keep our left hands away from our food!!!

I was fascinated by some small groups of men dressed in black with orange and red bindis on their foreheads, and have since learned that they are pilgrims on their way to Sabrimala pilgrimage Center (Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa). This temple being the most prominent among all Sastha temples in Kerala, is situated on a hilltop in the Western Ghats. It is not open throughout the year, but only open for worship during the days of Mandalapooja, Makaravilakku and Chitra Vishu. It is said that the pilgrims have to follow fasting for 41 days to cleanse their minds before going to Sabarimala, and the journey to the temple is to be taken on foot through difficult paths in the forest. We observed some other pilgrims at a local Hindu restaurant in Kochi.

Fort Kochi is just as I imagined and hoped. Very lush, old but not shabby, walkable; evidence of its history – Portuguese, Dutch, and British – is everywhere. We have not yet explored many of the sights, but we will!

This morning we walked to St. Francis Anglican Church for their 8 a.m. English speaking service. What a lovely experience, made even better by meeting John (Dundu) and Anna (Lilu). John was baptized, confirmed and married in the church. I was asking him about the long fans that run the length of the church. He told me they are called panka and were last in operation at his brother’s wedding 25+ years ago! After the service we were able to chat with some of the parishioners and learn more about the church, including its history.

St Francis Xavier’s Church at Fort Kochi was built in the year 1503, by Portuguese traders. Initially, the church was a simple wooden structure, dedicated to St Bartholomew. In 1506, the Raja of Cochin permitted the Portuguese Viceroy, Dom Francisco Almedia, to reconstruct the structure in stone. The new church was completed in 1516 and was dedicated to St Antony. The ownership of the Church of St Francis Xavier then passed into the hands of the protestant Dutch, who captured Kochi in 1663. They converted it into their government church and it remained in the possession of the Dutch until 1795. Ownership then passed to the British, when they captured Kochi from the Dutch. The church became a protected monument in 1923. In 1947, the congregation joined the Protestant Church of South India (CSI). St Francis Xavier’s Church is also famous because Vasco-da- Gama, the first European to discover a route to India, died here in 1524 on his third visit and was buried in this church. Though his remains were shipped to Lisbon, at the request of his son, 14 years later, the gravestone is still there.

As we were leaving, John asked if we would like to join them for breakfast! They took us on a mini tour of Kochi, pointing out places and streets of interest, and then to amHindu restaurant where we enjoyed idlis, dosa masala, and coffee which is poured from container to container to cool! We stopped at a fruit market and they delivered us back to our apartment. What a lovely morning!

Our apartment

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