Mosques of Cochin

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Item Code: NAJ905
Author: Patricia Tusa Fels
Publisher: Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2011
ISBN: 9781890206017
Pages: 80 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.0 inch x 7.5 inch
Weight 300 gm
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Shipped to 153 countries
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Book Description

About the Book


Cochin-a historic port city on the Malabar Coast in Kerala- has for centuries remained a centre of maritime trade along the Indian Ocean. These commercial contacts brought with them the earliest influences of Christianity, Judaism and Islam to India, resulting in a cosmopolitan mosaic of people in the region. Against this backdrop, some of the very first mosques were built in India, located in compounds replete with coconut palms. These tropical mosques reveal a distincting legacy in form, acknowledging and celebrating the place, history, and building techniques of the region.


Mosques of Cochin documents the surviving vernacular mosques, which stand as powerful and visible expressions of Islam’s integration into the culture of Malabar. Many of these fine old mosques have recently been demolished of remodelled, and replaced by uninspiring concrete structures. In highlighting the beauty and historical importance of the mosque architecture of Kerala, the book aims at bringing greater recognition to these remarkable structures.


About the Author


Patricia Tusa Fels is an architect and historic preservationist. She has been involved in conservation projects in the United States, Europe and Asia for thirty years. In addition to a lengthy career in architecture, she has written articles for a wide range of journals and newspapers. Her research on the mosques of Cochin was sponsored by the Ford Foundationa




The first contacts between the new religion of Islam and the people of India occurred peacefully, very early in the history of the faith. By the seventh century, Arab merchants had already been trading with the people of southwestern India for centuries. The exotic spices that grow along the Malabar Coast had long been objects of desire around the globe, especially pepper, the famous 'black gold'. These spices were freely traded with Middle Easterners who then carried them to Europe. Until Vasco da Gama found a sea route from the Mediterranean to India in 1498, the spice trade was dominated by Arabs who shipped spices across the sea to the Arabian peninsula. Cardamom, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and the precious peppercorns were unloaded from ships, transported by camel overland, then sailed across the Mediterranean to Italy, and from there to all of Europe. When Arabian merchants converted to Islam, they began spreading their new faith to Malabar. Learned men arrived in India to establish the faith.


With the spread of Islam came the need for houses of prayer. The mosques of Mala bar are a direct reflection of the place (flat wetlands along a tropical coast with two annual monsoons), the materials (abundant wood and local stone), and the religious custom (need for a large hall for prayer). They stand as powerful and visible expressions of the integration of Islam into the culture of Mala bar.


Unlike the Islamic conquerors of north India, the early Muslim traders made peace with the local leaders. The region escaped most of the invasions that swept through north India. Generations of Middle Eastern traders (Jews, Muslims and Syrian Christians) arrived in Malabar with the wish to maintain the extensive, and longstanding, trading networks. There was no need for conquering warriors. For centuries, the Arabs enjoyed a golden age of Middle Eastern pre-eminence in trade. The native Hindu rulers welcomed all as long as they shared a common interest in cooperation.' This enlightened thinking brought prosperity to all.


It was only with the arrival of Vas co da Gama and the Portuguese attempt to control all overseas commerce that violence entered the trading world of Malabar." From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, change swirled around the people of the coast. The Portuguese were replaced by the Dutch and then the English. The Hindu kings were partially successful in protecting the trade rights of their populace (of many different faiths) during Dutch and Portuguese reigns, but the British East India Company overpowered the longstanding, although now weakened, tradition of collaboration. During British rule, the power of the native merchants declined as the East India Company created their own exclusive trade monopolies. British 'divide and conquer' practices ultimately drove a wedge between the Hindu and Muslim peoples. These tactics were developed for the colonialists' benefit-little thought was given to the repercussions which even today haunt South Asia.


The rajas of Mala bar's princely states made both peace and war with the Europeans; they also fought amongst themselves and against the invasions of inland rulers. With the loss of native people's trade income, a slow eroding of the traditions brought about by centuries of respect and peaceful co-existence began. Eventually Malabar, a series of princely states, was assimilated into the British Empire. As an old Malay proverb warned about the British arrival on Malaysia's shores: "Once the needle is in, the thread is sure to follow: After the formation of an independent India, the new state of Kerala was created in 1956.


Kerala, the land of lush vegetation, extensive backwaters, ubiquitous coconut trees and universal literacy, stretches along the Malabar Coast. Isolated from the rest of India for millennia by the dense forests and mountains of the Western Ghats, the people along the coastline, a thin sliver of land between mountains and sea, interacted easily with traders from all around the Indian Ocean. The sea at Kerala's doorstep brought wealth, new religions, new ideas, traders and settlers.


Midway up the coast, Cochin [now Kochi] is a jewel of the trading culture. Cochin gained ascendancy after the great flood of 1341 silted up the historic port of nearby Cranganore [now Kodungalloor]. Cochin is sited on a peninsula, with the Arabian Sea to the west, a sheltered waterway and port to the east, and the river channel's opening to the sea at the north. The natural harbour connected inland backwaters and global sea-lanes, offering a protected landing for generations of overseas traders and local merchants. After Vasco da Gama was thrown out of the northern Kerala port of Calicut [now Kozhikode] by the powerful raja, or Zamorin, the Portuguese looked to Cochin. Thus began four hundred and fifty years of European interference and eventual domination. Fort Cochin, at the northern tip of the peninsula, became the first European settlement in India, and one of the few with a history of Portuguese, Dutch and English presence. The adjacent, older settlement of Cochin (also called Mattancherry) remained the home of the ruling maharaja and site of the port. Here the storage, shipping, and trading of goods took place. As in other colonial port gateways, a multi-ethnic population learned to live and work together.


In the watery paradise of Kerala, a vast network of lakes, rivers and canals function as navigable waterways that connect the countryside to the city. Until recently, all the products of the region-spices, wood produce, rice, bamboo-arrived by thoni (country boats) at the portside 'godowns; or warehouses. Foreign goods arrived from China, Southeast Asia and Arabia. The Malabar coast served as an entrep6t for the Middle East and Southeast Asia, a hinge between the western and eastern ends of the Indian Ocean.


The activities of the city's older trading days have continued into the present, but in changed locales and with different rhythms. As peninsular Cochin slipped into a daydream, the mainland area of Emakulam and the new port of Willing don Islands became the centres of modern industry. Shipping containers are outlined against the huge cranes of Willing don Island and hi-tech jobs entice the young to Emakulam. In Cochin, the ancient commodities of rices and spices move to a different pace, at reduced volume, in and out of decaying godowns on the heads of porters. The newest 'goods' are tourists, arriving by cruise ship, airplane, train and backwater boat.


It is to Mattancherry, home to the local people, that we now turn. Here, amongst the godowns and shop houses, the Muslim community built mosques, schools, and homes. The two neighbourhoods of Matt an cherry to be examined in this book, Bazar Road and Kochangadi, grew in response to the port and its commerce. These districts comprise some of the highest population densities in the present city of Kochi, and also the largest concentration of mosques. Both were trade dependent settlements, one predominantly Muslim, one a mix of many ethnic and religious groups. In both communities the patterns of town life remain intact. With the rapid changes urban India is undergoing, these neighbourhoods are among the few that maintain physical evidence of the historic townscape. This book documents not only the mosques, but also the vibrant communities that support them.


Sited in compounds replete with coconut palms, the mosques offer an oasis of tranquillity in the densely populated neighbourhoods. Large wood-framed pyramidal roofs, deep overhangs, and fine wooden craftsmanship distinguish a Kerala vernacular that reflects the climate, the culture and the materials of the place. The adoption and adaptation of the local vernacular by the Muslim congregations for their mosques is an undocumented and unappreciated phenomenon. Rarely mentioned in architectural histories or heritage surveys, the mosques' lack of recognition exposes a persistent prejudice against the humble vernacular. Recently, many of these fine old buildings have been demolished or remodelled: replaced by generic concrete structures that mirror nothing of the local history. Each of the mosque communities stewards a beloved house of worship with countless years of useful service ahead. Leaders should be encouraged in their role as custodians of an irreplaceable architectural heritage, proof of centuries of peaceful existence.






Traders! Spices and Mosques


The Mosques and their Stories




Chembitta Palli


Mammu Surka


Dargah of Shaikh Zainudheen Makhdoom


Thakyavu Palli




Bazar Road


Cutchi Hanafi Mosque


Calvathy Mosque


Chakarayidukku Juma Masjid


Conservation as a Part of the 21st -century City







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