November 24, 2007
Two days before the start of SAP TechEd Bangalore '07 we set out to visit Cochin in Kerla. From my scant knowledge of the history of this coastal town, we would find an amalgam of culture; Cochin having been home during various periods of history to Chinese settlers, the Portuguese, Dutch and English. We went to the bay to see the Chinese fishing nets and fisherman, learned from them of the inability to make a living from this activity beyond being a tourist attraction, visited a spice factory, tried unsuccessfully to book a homestay in the house where Vasco DaGama ended his days and took a cab out to the nearby village of Chendamangalam, which we had heard was home to four major houses of worship and disparate communities living side by side.
"The hillocks at Kottayil Kovilakom are unique as the site of a Hindu temple, a Christian church, a mosque and the remains of a Jewish synagogue, all within 1 km of each other." (Wikipedia)
"A popular account goes that the town of Chennamangalam was planned ... by a liberal and tolerant Maharajah who wished to have four major religious faiths equally represented in town. He designated a site on each of the cardinal points for the construction of a Jewish synagogue, a Christian church, a Hindu temple, and a Muslim mosque. At the crossing of the axis, so the tale continues, was the palace for his minister set on a hill."
Truth or fiction aside, we visited 3 of these sites and were warmly greeted by parishioners in two of the places where we found activity: the mosque and the Hindu temple. The synagogue was recently reconstructed but its worshipers were long departed and unfortunately we did not see the church.
I was particularly uplifted by the fact that these communities had for all intents and purposes, managed to exist side by side despite the religious strife and discord found in many other places in the world at the exact time that these house of worship were erected.
A ray of hope for the possiblity of peaceful co-existence...