KOCHI: It’s a race against the clock. The who’s who of Kochi’s socio-cultural scene have joined hands to get the city its due: a Unesco heritage tag, which they believe is imperative to stem the unceasing march of time that threatens to rob it of its historical importance.
“In the journey of mankind, Kochi bears one footprint. After all, it was from here – through the alleyways of Mattancherry and Fort Kochi – that spices flowed to the rest of the world,” This legacy must be conserved,” said Dr B Venugopal, the former director of the Indian Muse0um in Kolkata and the force behind the new initiative.
The move assumes added significance given that it has been 25 years since Kerala’s first attempt to obtain a heritage label. It was in 1998 that the state government attempted to get Mattancherry Palace a Unesco heritage status. “We know that Mattancherry and Fort Kochi are on Unesco’s tentative list, but there has not been enough noise or follow-up from our end. Part of it is due to a lack of awareness,” Venugopal added.
Bane of heritage
This lack of awareness is behind the reckless tearing down of heritage structures. According to C K Balagopal, a scion of the Cochin royal family, the number of heritage buildings in Tripunithura’s core complex has dwindled from 50 in 2014 to less than 15.
“Heritage is still viewed through the lens of tourism. This is why our focus has been towards conserving Mattancherry and Fort Kochi and not beyond. Tripunithura is most vulnerable to heritage loss,” added Balagopal. Recent initiatives, including heritage walks, have been instrumental in getting stories of Kochi to more people.
However, without rigorous research and ample documentation, a Unesco tag would remain elusive, say observers. “Deficiency of information likely derailed Kerala’s 2014 attempt to obtain a heritage tag for Thiruvananthapuram’s Padmanabhapuram Palace, the largest wooden palace in Asia. We cannot work in silos,” stresses Venugopal, explaining the need for a larger collective approach.
On Saturday, a rare meeting held in Ernakulam decided to pool efforts to safeguard Kochi’s heritage. “It was the first such initiative of its kind,” said Ramachandran P, secretary of the Ernakulam Karayogam Heritage Committee (EKHC).
Former Kochi mayor K J Sohan; Yohann Kuruvilla, founder of the Kochi Heritage Project; Reju George, who runs the Facebook page Bygone Cochin Days; Ajitkumar P C of UC College alumni association; author Mansoor Naina; and, Pallikonam Rajeev of Kerala Pradeshika Charithra Padana Samiti were among the attendees.