Mapping Fort Kochi through its people, heritage, culture, food

Sahapedia, Kochi Muziris Biennale tie-up for ‘culture map’ detailing over 150 locales


Kochi, Dec 11:  The historic port town of Fort Kochi being a magnet for tourists and now home to India’s only art biennale, it is not unusual to sight visitors poring over handheld maps to get around; but now they have a smarter and more informative alternative.

An interactive map crafted by Sahapedia, a unique online portal documenting India’s cultural heritage, gives visitors an intimate experience of the town’s famed connections to the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British, the Chinese, the Arabs and others though the memories and perspectives of people who have lived here.

Sahapedia has collaborated with the Kochi-Muziris Biennale to put together the map with details of over 150 sites and practices - cultural centres, heritage sites, lifestyles, places of worship, public spaces and public institutions - in Fort Kochi and nearby Mattancherry.

The project  www.culturalmapping.in/fortkochi,  is scheduled to go live on December 13 at the Biennale and can be accessed on phone, tablet or computer for discerning visitors who are keen to discover the rich cultural landscape of this historic trade town.

“Kochi is a place with great creativity, great history, great art and heritage. Fort Kochi was the gateway to India from people around the world who visited, did trade and some of them even settled down here and got married and became a part of the place. It became an ideal place for us to start this fascinating project of cultural mapping,” says Dr Sudha Gopalakrishnan, Executive Director, Sahapedia.

Neha Paliwal, Director, Projects, Sahapedia, says the map is not just intended for visitors from outside but also for locals who may want to record their experiences and perspectives of their hometown online for future generations.

“People don't realise the wondrous diversity of communities in the small area of Mattancherry and Fort Kochi. There are more than 30 communities living here, speaking a variety of languages and following different customs and religions. The idea for the map is to get the locals to articulate their sense of their community and offer a space as well for visitors to go beyond touristy places and perhaps provoke them into exploring some of these places,” she says.

Conceived last summer, the one-of-a-kind’ project got off the ground three months ago. Equipped with an in-house mobile app, a three-member team from Sahapedia spread out over Fort Kochi and its neighbouring areas, recording information about the basic structures, public institutions, places of worship and tourist locations, among others.

The database includes quick facts about various places, basic amenities, how to get there, etc while detailed descriptions include historical references and anecdotes.

The culture map adds a more intimate dimension to the travel experience by adding resources such as bite-sized videos recording memories and perspectives of well-known personalities like cartoonist E P Unny, who has penned a book on Fort Kochi, and author N S Madhavan, whose novel (Lanthan Batheriyile Luthiniyakal), set in this area, was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize.

Photographs, including from the biennale exhaustive collection, are also included in the map; as are vintage illustrated maps from the Dutch and the British period and clippings of newspaper articles associated with the two places.

“This project is like a kick-off point for us. We would definitely want it to go beyond and start a dialogue and create a heritage record,” says Paliwal.

The ‘evergreen project’ according to Dr Gopalakrishan is a “work in progress”, and also one that she hopes to extend to other historical cities across the country.

The cultural map is a logical extension for Sahapedia (http://www.sahapedia.org/), which was launched in April this year as an ever-growing open online resource on the arts, cultures and heritage of India.  

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