The sea-side metropolis of Kochi is one of the biggest cities in Kerala, the South Indian state that is known popularly as God’s own country primarily for its lush green landscapes dotted by pristine backwaters and lagoons. Kochi acts as a gateway to many popular tourist destinations in Kerala such as Munnar, Alleppey, Wayanad, Thekkadi etc. However, Kochi is a unique in itself for it is a prime example of peaceful coexistence of major religions.
The followers of the world’s major faiths – Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism and Buddhism – all form a part of the Kochi cityscape. In a country where more than 80% of the people follow Hinduism, Kochi stands as an exception because just one out of every two residents of the city is a Hindu.
The existence of a healthy mixture of religious faiths in this region is due to the fact that it witnessed many waves of migrations during the course of its history. For instance, records establish the creation of settlements by Jews in Kodungallur, a port near Kochi, in the first century AD. It is believed that Saint Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, arrived in Kerala in 52 AD and laid the foundations for the spread of Christianity. Today, the descendants of St.Thomas Christians call themselves Syrian Christians, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. The city’s Islamic history can be traced back to the eighth century. As early as 3rd century B.C, Buddhism finds a mention in Malayali (Malayalam is the language spoken by the locals) literature. There is a significant presence of Jainism and Sikhism as well.
The atmosphere in the city is filled with religious harmony and is evident from the presence of shrines for every major religion. Each individual follows the faith of his choice and at the same time acknowledge the presence of other religious faiths.
Some of the renowned religious abodes in the city are:
Santa Cruz Basilica
With a history spanning more than five hundred years, Santa Cruz Basilica is one of the oldest churches in India. Renowned for its grand décor, the church was constructed in gothic-style architecture. Though it was deemed as a cathedral for most of its timespan, it received the status of a Basilica from Pope John Paul II in the year 1984. Apart from being a centre for religious congregation, the basilica receives tourists all-round the year.
Sree Poornathrayeesa Temple
Located in a suburb called Tripunithura, the Sree Poornathrayeesa temple has an interesting history. It is believed that Lord Vishnu, a member of the holy trinity of Hindu Gods, himself gave his idol to a warrior named Arjuna and he built a temple for the deity. Lord Vishnu is worshipped by the name of Sree Poornathrayeesa in this temple.
An annual festival called Vrishchikoltsawam is conducted every year in the month of Vrischikam (November – December) and it is the biggest temple festival in the city. It is conducted over an eight-day period and draws a huge number of crowds. Traditional art and dance events such as Kathakkali, Ottanthullal, Chenda melam, Thayambaka and Kacheri are a part of the festival.
Located in Jew town, a popular tourist hangout in Old Cochin (Kochi is also known as Cochin), the Jewish synagogue was built by the Cochin Jewish community in the year 1568. Perhaps nothing can exemplify the religious amity of the city more than the synagogue for it is built adjacent to the Mattancherry palace temple where Hindus go to worship. As a matter of fact, the temple and the synagogue share a common wall, a rarity and perhaps even blasphemy in some parts of the world. The synagogue and Jew town is one of the most-visited localities by the tourists.
St Francis Xavier’s Church
Known more for its rich history than for its modest architecture, St Francis church is the oldest European church in India. It was built by Portugese in the year 1503. The body of Vasco da Gama, the legendary Portugese explorer was buried in this church before the remains were moved to Lisbon, Portugal a few years later.
It was the first of the many catholic churches built by the Portugese in this region and it is the only church to have survived the demolishing acts of the Protestant Dutch when they captured the city in the latter half of the seventeenth century. More than a century later, the Dutch lost their territory to the British who decided to declare the church a protected monument.Tags: India, Religion, Hinduism, Temples