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Cochin History, India

Cochin, which is officially known as Kochi, has a long and rich history; but there is a lot of confusion about the origin of the name of the city. Historians have presented different theories. Some have said that the name has been derived from the Malayalam word 'Cochazhi' which means ‘small sea’; while others think that the place was named by Chinese traders after their homeland.

The most credible theory, however, seems to be the one that suggests that the name Kochi is an adaptation of the word 'Kaci' denoting ‘harbor’. Following the flooding of the Periyar River in 1340 AD (which totally ravaged the world famous port at Kodugallur (Cranganore)), the natural harbor of Kochi developed into a trading hub (being closest to Cranganore it was the obvious choice).

Cochin became a strong presence in international trade owing to its harbor and soon famous Indian spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, etc. were being traded with Arabian, British, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese traders. Cochin was liked by these visiting traders because the place reminded them of their homeland; the English traders named Kochi ‘Mini England’, the Dutch referred to the harbor-city as ‘Homely Holland’ and the Portuguese dubbed it ‘the little Lisbon’. Kochi became such a prominent presence that renowned scholars and travelers like Fa Hien, Vasco da Gama and others even heaped praises on this busy commercial center.

All this while, Kochi had quite a tranquil ambiance; but this state of peace was not to last for long. In due course, a sort of tussle ensued among the trading communities for control over the region and Kochi became a turbulent political center. The local rulers became mere puppets and were being directed by the outsiders.

Of them, the Portuguese were the first to exercise control over the region. Vasco da Gama, discoverer of the sea route to India, set up a Portuguese factory in 1502 and Fort Emmanuel (locally known as ‘Manuel Kotta’), the great reminder of the Portuguese rule, was built in 1503. Fort Emmanuel was the first European fort built within Indian territory. Their dominance continued for over a century and came to an end in the 1630s when they were ousted by the British. It must be noted that Kochi made immense progress under the Portuguese.

The British were driven away by the Dutch by 1663. Fort Williams was built by the Dutch, under whom Kochi’s significance as a trading center doubled. The Dutch rule came to an end when they were overthrown by the great ruler of Mysore, Hyder Ali. After the death of Hyder Ali, his equally valiant son Tipu Sultan came to power and Kochi continued to be part of his rule until it was captured by the British in 1791.

Under British rule, some harm was done to Kochi side-by-side some good; thus, the British destroyed the Kochi forts but developed the Kochi harbor. They also created the Willingdon Island, which now houses the Cochin Port, the Naval Airport and the HQ of the Southern Naval Command.

In the post-independence era, Kochi has become one of the most important cities of the state of Kerala (which was formed in 1956) due to rapid growth in trade and commercialization

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