Tuesday, 28 February 2006

Kerala: Fort Cochin

After Goa we moved on to a different state offering a bit less comfort but a bit more culture and nature: Kerala, forming the south western tip of India. First we went to Fort Cochin, an old port city which has been influenced by several european states (Portugal, Britain, Holland) and many other countries.

The waterfront of Fort Cochin is dominated by these chinese fishing nets. They are lowered down to the water, and then when the fish has swum over them they are raised back up with no possibilities of escape for the fish.

Fort Cochin was an important port in the old times, and it was home to a sizable jewish population, which has existed there for thousands of years. Many jews left for Israel in the late 1940s but a small community still exists - one of very few remaining in India. I went to their 500 year old still functioning Synagogue. There were tons of tourists (many jewish tour groups from abroad) which made it a crowded experience, but I was fascinated by the ceiling decorations shown above.

Kerala is famous for its good seafood. Near the chinese fishing nets, the days catch is displayed. You can buy a fish or shellfish here, and have it instantly grilled at a nearby stall.

To show our ultimate cultural dedication, we went to a dance recital. This form of dance called Khatakali is unique to Kerala and highly ritualized. Normally it is performed in all night sessions out in the villages, but we saw a shortened tourist version. I feel confident that a full effort was made to make it authentic and correct, though. The dancers are accompanied by music and occasional singing but they do not utter words themselves. They are confined to expressing themselves through their movements, facial expressions, sign language and an occasional scream.

The basic storyline is one of a deceitful demon, Nakrathundi, trying to trick the hero, Jayanthan into marrying her. In the above picture she has taken the form of a beautiful human, Lalitha (the yellow faced girl). The hero is very interested in the lovely lady, but gets suspicious when she insists he must marry her without his father's approval. So he rejects her...

...after which, Nakrathundi, takes her demon form and confronts the hero. In the end he manages to cut off her arms, legs and breasts before sending her back to the underworld. Then order is once again restored in the world.

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