Kottayam city is the district headquarters and an urban center. However, by no means, can it be termed ‘cosmopolitan’, nor does it possess the bustle of a large city. As a local put it, ‘the world seems to have bypassed Kottayam’. Chiefly known for its lakes, letters and latex, an undoubtedly unusual combination, Kottayam, in fact, is a land of many accomplishments.
Ever since Benjamin Bailey set up Kerala’s first printing press in Kottayam, the district has been at the forefront of the publishing industry. Today, 80 per cent of the books published in the State come from here. Kottayam is also the nerve center of the newspaper industry – five major dailies are published from here. Today, however, Kottayam is better known for the nearby attractions of the Vembanad Lake and the backwaters of Kumarakom. The economic strength of the large Christian community, most of them owners of sprawling plantations, makes Kottayam the most prosperous town in Kerala. This is barely visible on the surface, though, as the town shuns pretensions and zealously clings to its age-old laidback ways.
‘Valiyapalli’ or ‘big church’ was built in 1550 by the descendants of the 72 families whose forefathers were the seven clans who migrated to India in 345 AD from Jerusalem. Built entirely of wood, the church was demolished in 1577, and a new one built of stone. It is famous for its interesting woodcarvings, ancient Persian crosses, mural paintings and Syrian inscriptions. In 1579, a breakaway group set up another church, which came to be called ‘Cheriyapall’ or ‘small church’.
This is one of the few old churches that still exist in an almost original state. Built in 1579, extensive restoration work was carried out and completed in 1993, but without changing architectural details. The facade is European, whereas the granite pillars lining the porch, added later, resemble those found in temples. The baptismal font inside, carved out of a single granite stone, is said to be as old as the church itself. The sanctum sanctorum, called the madbaha, has a barrel vault built of carved and painted laterite stones.
Good Shepherd Church:
Constructed in 1882 and renovated in 1964, this is the first church of the Diocese of Vijayapuram and was built in the Italian style. The annual feast of the church, located behind the civil station, is held every April.
The highlight of the shrine, built by a Thekkumkoor king, is the low-roofed stage or koothambalam, one of the finest in the whole State. The carved wooden windows encircling the stage facilitate viewing of performances. Three festivals are celebrated here in October-November, June-July and March-April, of which the last is the most important. For the grand finale of Araatu, nine caparisoned elephants take part in a procession. Folk arts such as mayilattam (peacock dance) and velakali follow. A major attraction is the all-night Kathakali performance. A Hindu convention and an art festival also take place.
A global pilgrim destination after its daughter St Alphonsa became a saint in 2008, the first ever Indian woman to be canonized by Vatican. The saint’s tomb at the 1000-year old Forane church attracts huge number of devotees.
Must Do: Visit the Fransiscan Clarist convent where the saint had lived and died and which houses the Alphonsa Museum that displays many of the nun’s personal memorabilia.
Thazhathangady Juma Masjid
Thazhathangady Juma Masjid is a mosque situated in Thazhathangady, one of the Heritage Zones of Kerala. It is one of the oldest mosques in India and is more than 1000 years old. It is famous for its richness of architecture, wood carvings and the beauty. This mosque is situated on the banks of the Meenachil river. Thazhathangady Juma Masjid is also called as the “Taj Juma Masjid”. The ancestors of this Masjid came and settled in Kottayam, from different parts of Kerala. The Muslims who lived here played an active role in Freedom Struggle and other National Movements. This mosque is known for its intricate. wooden carvings and architecture.
The CSI Cathedral Church in Chalukunnu a monument from the British Era, was built about 175 years ago. It is about 500 m off the Kottayam Town. And C.M.S Press, the first printing press in Kerala was established in 1821 by Rev. Benjamin Baily, a British missionary and Njana Nikshepam (in Malayalam), the first printed News paper published in Kerala, has been printed and published from 1848 from this press. Also the Old Seminary also called Orthodox Theological Seminary Kottayam, instituted in 1815 by Syrian Orthodox Church, was the first Orthodox Christian school of theology in Asia is in Chalukunnu.
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