Temple and Church in Kerala

The little village of Thattekad had a small church on the road close to the beginning of the Salim Ali trail. I’d seen churches like these elsewhere in Kerala. The architectural grammar is close to that of a temple. The ground plan is not a cross like the churches of Europe. Rather, there is a little tower directly over the chapel. There are sloping roofs to direct rain away from the building. Most such churches have a steep cap of a roof standing atop the tower. The flat terrace of this one was a little unusual to my eye. Maybe I’ll see more such if I travel again in Kerala. It looked like an inviting place where a worshipper could duck in, say a quick prayer, and be on her way in a short while.

The Siva temple down the road, next to the Periyar river was a much more grand affair. The tall flag pole (called dwajastambam) stands above all other structures. In large roofed open structure in front of it is the mukha mandapam where, I imagine, devotees will sit during a festival. The main temple, namaskara mandapam, can be seen beyond it. The pyramidal roof of the namaskara mandapam looks like the temple interior is pretty large. The rest of the structure looks a little sketchy. The mukha mandapam is like an open shed, and the elaborate gopuram of most temples is replaced by a simple cast iron gate. Perhaps this is still work in progress.

St. George in Kerala

Statue of St. George killing the dragon in Muthuvaankudi in Idukki district of KeralaAs we drove from Kochi to Munnar we passed many churches. About a fifth of Kerala’s population is Christian. Several had a niche with a little statue of St. George killing the dragon. When I paused to look carefully, I realized that you could take this horse and the rider in shiny armour out of these niches, and substitute them into any Indian story without changing the details even a little bit. This particular dragon has a short neck, and looks like a winged crocodile, so it too could be put into any Indian collection of beasts. This particular example comes from the church in Muthuvaankudi in Idukki district.

St. George is believed to have been a historical figure in Lebanon. His arrival to India probably is contemporary to his arrival in Europe. A statue of his in Kochi was recorded more than 1400 years ago. The evolution of the iconography of St. George in India probably had no direct influence from Europe until the 17th century.

One knows that trade brought coffee and religion to Kerala. Curious stories from the incredible history of the spice coast continue to emerge, and leave you hoping for more.