KOCHI: Mattanchery has many stories to tell — the spice trade, the Portuguese and Dutch invasion, the colonial architecture and, of course, the Jewish legacy. Likewise, there are many stories about how this densely populated part of Kochi got its name.
One interesting legend is that the name ‘Mattancherry’ came from Arab settlers. It dates back to the grand deluge of the 14th century that gave Ernakulam its port. “With the port formation at Kochi, we started trades with many faraway places,” says P Prakash, a toponymist.
“Ships started coming from Arabia and China. It became a huge market. So, Arabic people started calling it ‘Matajer’, literally means ‘shops’ or a marketplace. Thus, the name Mattanchery was probably derived from the Arabic word ‘matajer’.”
Another probable reason, he adds, might be the proximity to the Vembanad lake. “The dirt from the lake is called ‘mattu’ in Malayalam. So, a ‘cheri’ (ghetto or piece of land) with a lot of mattu became Mattanchery,” says Prakash.
Then there is the tale of Mathan, a trader. “Apparently, he was a rich trader in Kodungallur, a major port of yore. After the great flood, when the port was destroyed, he shifted to Kochi. And his place came to be known as Mathan’s cheri, which later became Mattanchery,” says Prakash, adding that it is just a lore.
Another possibility is the deep-rooted connection of the place with the Jewish community that had settled here. According to a Kerala Tourism official, “The younger son of Joseph Rabban (a famous Jewish merchant), having come to Kochi, pleaded to the king that his people be given a village (or cheri). The king obliged. His gift (mattana in Hebrew) came to be called Mattanchery.”
Former Kochi mayor Sohan K J, who is the state convener of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, says: “One can dig up numerous stories. But, there is no consensus or historical proof on how the place got the name.”