The venerable city of KOCHI (long known as Cochin) is Kerala’s prime tourist destination, spreading across islands and promontories between the Arabian Sea and the backwaters. Its main sections – modern Ernakulam and the old peninsular districts of Mattancherry and Fort Cochin to the west – are linked by bridges and a complex system of ferries. Although some visitors opt to stay in the more convenient Ernakulam, the overwhelming majority base themselves in Fort Cochin, where the city’s complex history is reflected in an assortment of architectural styles. Spice markets, Chinese fishing nets, a synagogue, a Portuguese palace, India’s first European church and seventeenth-century Dutch homes can all be found within an easy walk. Kochi is also one of the few places in the state where you are guaranteed kathakali performances, both in authentic and abridged tourist versions.
Kochi sprang into being in 1341, when a flood created a safe natural port that swiftly replaced Muziris (now Kodungallur, 50km north) as the chief harbour on the Malabar Coast. The royal family moved here from Muziris in 1405, after which the city grew rapidly, attracting Christian, Arab and Jewish settlers from the Middle East. The history of European involvement from the early 1500s onwards is dominated by the aggression of the Portuguese, Dutch and British, who successively competed to control the port and its lucrative spice trade. From 1812 until Independence in 1947 it was administered by a succession of diwans, or finance ministers. In the 1920s, the British expanded the port to accommodate modern ocean-going ships, and Willingdon Island, between Ernakulam and Fort Cochin, was created by extensive dredging.Read More
Kathakali in Kochi
Kathakali in Kochi
Kochi is the only city in Kerala where you are guaranteed the chance to see live kathakali, the state’s unique form of ritualized theatre. Whether in its authentic setting, in temple festivals held in winter, or at the shorter tourist-oriented shows that take place year-round, these mesmerizing dance dramas – depicting the struggles of gods and demons – are an unmissable feature of Kochi’s cultural life.
Five venues in the city currently hold daily shows, each preceded by an introductory talk at around 6.30pm. You can watch the dancers being made up if you arrive an hour or so beforehand; keen photographers should turn up well before the start to ensure a front-row seat. Tickets (usually Rs100–150) can be bought at the door. Most visitors only attend one performance, but you’ll gain a much better sense of what kathakali is all about if you take in at least a couple. The next step is an all-night recital at a temple festival, or one of the performances given by the top-notch Ernakulam Kathakali Club, which stages night-long plays by Kerala’s leading actors once a month, either at the TDM Hall in Ernakulam or at the Ernakulathappan Hall in the city’s main Shiva temple. For details phone t0484/236 9357, or drop in at the Tourist Desk at the Main Boat Jetty, Ernakulam.
Dr Devan’s Kathakali
See India Foundation, Kalathiparambil Cross Rd, near Ernakulam Junction railway station t0484/236 6471. The oldest tourist show in the city, introduced by the inimitable Dr Devan, who starts the show with a lengthy discourse on Indian philosophy and mythology. 6.45–8pm (make-up 6pm).
Bypass Rd, southeastern edge of Ernakulam. The most atmospheric venue – an a/c theatre decorated with wonderful Keralan murals and traditional wooden architecture – though it’s quite pricey (Rs350), and a long trek across town if you’re staying in Fort Cochin. Try to combine a performance with a tour of the museum downstairs , and maybe a meal at nearby Sarovaram . Taxis charge Rs75–100 from central Ernakulam.
River Rd, opposite Brunton Boatyard Hotel, Fort Cochin. The smallest and most intimate venue, in an old-fashioned hessian-roofed structure. Show daily 6–7.30pm (make-up 5pm); Carnatic music from 9pm.
Kerala Kathakali Centre
Bernard Master Lane, near Santa Cruz Basilica, just off KB Jacob Rd, Fort Cochin t0484/221 7552. Popular performances in a dedicated a/c theatre by a company of graduates of the renowned Kalamandalam academy. You usually get to see three characters, and the music is live. Shows 6–7.30pm (make-up 5pm), plus kalarippayat (4–5pm), and live Carnatic music (8.30pm).
Rhythms Theatre (Greenix)
Opposite Fort House, Fort Cochin. Costing Rs450, this is the priciest show, but combines excerpts from kathakali plays with displays of mohiniyattam dance, kalarippayat martial art and, on Sundays, theyyem, set against a combination of live and pre-recorded music. Performances aren’t of the highest standard, but the evening is more likely to appeal to kids, as costumes and acts change in quick succession.