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Kochi (Malayalam; formerly known as Cochin) is a city in the Indian state of Kerala, and one of the principal seaports of the country. Kochi is located in the district of Ernakulam, about 220 km north of the state capital Thiruvananthapuram. The city has an estimated population of 650,000, with an extended metropolitan population of over 1.6 million, making it the largest urban agglomeration and the second largest city in Kerala.
Since 1102, the city of Kochi was the seat of an eponymous princely state which traces its lineages to the Kulasekhara empire. Heralded as the Queen of the Arabian Sea, Kochi was an important spice trading centre on the Arabian Sea coast since the 14th century. Ancient travellers and tradesmen made references to Kochi through their writings, variously alluding to it as Cocym, Cochym, Cochin, and Cochi. Occupied by the Portuguese since 1503, Kochi was the site of the first European colonial settlement in India. It remained the capital of Portuguese India till 1530, before Goa became the capital. The city was later occupied by the Dutch, Mysore and the British. Kochi was the first princely state to join the Indian Union willingly, when India gained independence in 1947.
Kochi witnessed economic stagnation in the years following India's independence. Since 2003 however, an economic rejuvenation has arrested the morbid decline, leading to a spurt in the city's growth. A growing centre of information technology, tourism and international trade, Kochi is the commercial hub of Kerala, and one of the fastest growing second-tier metros in India. Like other large cities in the developing world, Kochi continues to struggle with urbanisation problems like poor sanitation and traffic congestion.
Successive waves of migration over the course of several millennia has made Kochi a melting pot of different cultures. The city, despite being quickly revamped by modernisation, maintains a distinct signature of its colonial heritage, thus marking a blend of tradition and modernity.
Kochi is the only place outside of China where these fishing structures are used. Theories regarding the etymology of the name "Kochi" are disputed. One of the theories suggests that the modern name of the city is derived from the Malayalam word koch azhi, meaning 'small lagoon'. Another version mentions that the city derives its name from the Sanskrit word Go shree which means 'prosperous with cows'. Certain ancient texts refer to the city as Balapuri (Sanskrit for 'small town'), which became Cochin in course of time.
According to some accounts, traders from the court of the Chinese ruler Khubilai Khan gave Cochin the name of their homeland. Yet another theory is that Kochi is derived from the word Kaci meaning 'harbour'. Certain scholars claim that Cochin is derived from the term Cocha, which is a transfiguration of the Biblical term Cohen. Accounts by Italian explorers Nicolo Conti (15th century), and Fra Paoline in the 17th century say that it was called Kochchi, named after the river connecting the backwaters to the sea.
After the arrival of the Portuguese, and later the British, the name Cochin stuck as the official appellation. The city reverted to a closer Anglicisation of its original Malayalam name, Kochi, in 1996. However, it is still widely referred to as Cochin.
Kochi was the centre of Indian spice trade for many centuries, and was known to the Yavanas (Greeks) as well as Romans, Jews, Arabs and Chinese since ancient times. Kochi rose to significance as a trading center after the port at Kodungallur (Cranganore) was destroyed by massive flooding of the river Periyar in 1341. The earliest documented references to Kochi occur in books written by Chinese voyager Ma Huan during his visit to Kochi in the 15th century as part of Admiral Zheng He's treasure fleet.
The Kingdom of Kochi came into existence in 1102, after the fall of the Kulasekhara empire. The King of Kochi had authority over the region encompassing the present city of Kochi and adjoining areas. The reign was hereditary, and the family that ruled over Kochi was known as the Cochin Royal Family (Perumpadappu Swaroopam in the local vernacular). The mainland Kochi remained the capital of the princely state since the 18th century. However, during much of this time, the kingdom was under foreign rule, and the King often only had titular privilege.
Kochi was also the scene of the first European colonial settlement in India. From 1503 to 1663, Kochi was ruled by Portugal. This Portuguese period was difficult for the Jews installed in the region, since Inquisition was active in Portuguese India. Kochi hosted the grave of Vasco da Gama, the first European explorer to set sail for India, who was buried at St. Francis Church until his remains were returned to Portugal in 1539. The Portuguese rule was followed by that of the Dutch, who had allied with the Zamorins in order to conquer Kochi. By 1773, the Mysore King Hyder Ali extended his conquest in the Malabar region to Kochi forcing it to become a tributary of Mysore. The hereditary Prime Ministership of Kochi held by the Paliath Achans came to an end during this period.
Meanwhile, the Dutch, fearing an outbreak of war on the United Provinces signed a treaty with the United Kingdom, under which Kochi was ceded to the United Kingdom in exchange for the island of Bangka. However, there are evidences of English habitation in the region even prior to the signing of the treaty.
In 1866, Fort Kochi was made a municipality, and its fist Municipal Council election was conducted in 1883. The Maharaja of Cochin, who ruled under the British, in 1896 initiated local administration by forming town councils in Mattancherry and Ernakulam.
In 1925, Kochi legislative assembly was constituted due to public pressure on the state.
Towards the early 20th century, trade at the port had increased substantially, and the need to develop the port was greatly felt. Harbour engineer Robert Bristow was brought to Kochi in 1920 under the direction of Lord Willingdon, then the Governor of Madras. In a span of 21 years, he transformed Kochi as one of the safest harbours in the peninsula, where ships berthed alongside the newly reclaimed inner harbour equipped with a long array of steam cranes.
In 1947, India gained independence from the British colonial rule. Cochin was the first princely state to join the Indian Union willingly.
In 1949, Travancore-Cochin state came into being with the merger of Cochin and Travancore. The King of Travancore was the Rajpramukh of the Travancore-Cochin Union from 1949 to 1956. Travancore-Cochin, was in turn merged with the Malabar district of the Madras State. Finally, the Government of India's States Reorganisation Act (1956) inaugurated a new state —Kerala— incorporating Travancore-Cochin (excluding the four southern Taluks which were merged with Tamil Nadu), Malabar District, and the taluk of Kasargod, South Kanara. On 9 July 1960, the Mattancherry council passed a resolution—which was forwarded to the government—requesting the formation of a municipal corporation by combining the existing municipalities of Fort Kochi, Mattancherry, and Ernakulam. The government appointed a commission to study the feasibility of the suggested merger. Based on its report, the Kerala Legislative Assembly approved the corporation's formation. On 1 November 1967, exactly eleven years since the establishment of the state of Kerala, the corporation of Cochin came into existence. The merger leading to the establishment of the corporation, was between the municipalities of Ernakulam, Mattancherry and Fort Kochi, along with that of the Willingdon Island, four panchayats (Palluruthy, Vennala, Vyttila and Edappally), and the small islands of Gundu and Ramanthuruth.
Kochi witnessed economic stagnation in the years following India's independence. The city's economic recovery gathered momentum after economic reforms in India introduced by the central government in the mid-1990s. Since 2000, the service sector has revitalised the city’s stagnant economy. Over the years, the city has witnessed rapid commercialisation, and has today grown into the commercial capital of Kerala.
Geography and climate
Kochi is located on the southwest coast of India, spanning an area of 94.88 km² (36.63 mile²). The city is situated at the northern end of a peninsula, about 19 km long and less than 1.6 km wide. To the west lies the Arabian Sea, and to the east are estuaries drained by perennial rivers originating in the Western Ghats. Much of Kochi lies at sea level, with a coastline of 48 km.
The current metropolitan limits of Kochi include the mainland Ernakulam, old Kochi, the suburbs of Edapally, Kalamassery and Kakkanad to the northeast; Tripunithura to the south east; and a group of islands closely scattered in the Vembanad Lake. Most of these islands are very small, varying in extent from six square kilometre to less than a square kilometre.
Soil consists of sediments such as Alluvium, Teri’s, Brown sands etc. Hydromorphic saline soils are also found in the areas surrounding the backwaters. Predominant rock types found here are Archaean-basic dykes, Charnockites and Gneisses. An ecologically sensitive area, the Mangalavanam Bird Sanctuary is located in the central part of the city. It has a wide range of mangrove species and is nesting ground for a vast variety of migratory birds. Certain species of dolphins are also present in the backwaters.
Kochi's proximity to the equator along with its coastal location results in little seasonal temperature variation, with moderate to high levels of humidity. Annnual temperatures range between 20 to 35 °C (68–95 °F) with the record high being 38 °C (100.4°F), and record low 17 °C (62.6°F).
From June through September, the south-west monsoon brings in heavy rains as Kochi lies on the windward side of the Western Ghats. From October to December, Kochi receives light rain from the north-West monsoon, as it lies on the leeward side. Average annual rainfall is 350 cm, with an annual average of 132 rainy days.
The city is administered by the Cochin Corporation, headed by a mayor. For administrative purposes, the city is divided into 70 wards, from which the members of the corporation council are elected for a period of five years. The Corporation has its headquarters in Ernakulam, and zonal offices at Fort Kochi, Mattancherry, Palluruthy, Edappally, Vaduthala and Vyttila. The general administration of the city is handled by the Personnel Department and the Council Section. Other departments include that of town planning, health, engineering, revenue and accounts. The corporation is also responsible for waste disposal, sewage management and the supply of potable water, sourced from the Periyar River. Electricity is provided by the Kerala State Electricity Board.
The Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA) is the government agency overseeing the development of Kochi. The Kochi City Police is headed by a Police Commissioner, an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer. It comprises of the traffic police, Narcotics Cell, Armed Reserve Camps, District Crime Records Bureau, Senior citizen's Cell, and a Women's Cell. It operates 19 police stations functioning under the Home Ministry of State Government. An anti-corruption branch of the Central Bureau of Investigation also operates out of the city. Kochi is the seat of the High Court of Kerala, the highest judicial body in the state. The High Court also has jurisdicition over the Union Territory of Lakshadweep.
Kochi contributes five seats to the State Assembly, and a seat to the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of the Indian Parliament.
Kochi is the economic capital of Kerala by volume of trade; though, unlike other South Indian cities, Kochi has been slow to industrialise. In recent years the city has rejuvenated from its economic stagnation and has witnessed heavy investment, thus making it one of the fastest-growing second-tier metro cities in India.
The economy of the city can be classified as a business economy with emphasis on the service sector. Major business sectors include gold and textile retailing, seafood and spices exports, information technology (IT), tourism, health services, banking, shipbuilding, and the fishing industry. The economy is mostly dependent on trade and retail activities.
As in most of Kerala, remittances from non-resident Indians (NRI)s is a major source of income.
The city also houses Kerala's only bourse—the Cochin Stock Exchange.
Kochi is a major destination for ITES companies, ranked by NASSCOM as the second-most attractive city in India for IT-based services. Availability of cheap bandwidth through undersea cables and lower operational costs compared to other major cities in India, has been to its advantage. Various technology and industrial campuses including the government promoted InfoPark, Cochin Special Economic Zone and KINFRA Export Promotion Industrial Park operate in the outskirts of the city. The establishment of a larger hi-tech business campus, the Smart City which encompasses the present InfoPark, is in final stages of discussion.
Eloor, situated 17 km north of the city, is the largest industrial belt in Kerala, with more than 250 industries manufacturing a range of products including chemical and petrochemical products, pesticides, rare earth elements, rubber processing chemicals, fertilisers, zinc and chrome compounds, and leather products. A biotechnology campus is also under construction at Kalamassery.
The Cochin Shipyard in Kochi is the largest shipbuilding facility in India. The Cochin fishing harbour, located at Thoppumpady is a major fishing port in the state and supplies fish to local and export markets. To further tap the potential of the all-season deep-water harbour at Kochi, a marina and an International container transshipment terminal are being constructed.
Exports and allied activities are also important contributors to the city's economy. Kochi's historical reliance on trade continues into modern times, as the city is a major exporter of spices and is home to the International Pepper Exchange, where black pepper is globally traded. The Spices Board of India is also headquartered in Kochi.
Kochi also has an oil refinery—the Kochi Refineries Limited (KRL) at Ambalamugal. Central Government establishments like the Coconut Development Board, the Coir Board and the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) have head offices located in the city.
Public transport in the city is largely dependent on private buses. Taxis and autorickshaws (called autos) are available for hire throughout the day. Narrow roads and the mix of vastly differing types of vehicles have made traffic congestion a major problem in the city. A metro service, intended to considerably ease congestion, is planned for the city.
Being one of the safest harbours in the Indian Ocean, Kochi ranks among India's major seaports. The port, administered by a statutory autonomous body known as the Cochin Port Trust, offers facilities for bunkering, handling cargo and passenger ships and storage accommodation. It also operates passenger ships to Colombo and Lakshadweep. Boat services operated by Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation, the State Water Transport Department, and of private ownership are available from various boat jetties in the city. The junkar ferry for the transshipment of vehicles and passengers between the islands are operated between Ernakulam and Vypin, and between Vypin and Fort Kochi. However, with the construction of the Goshree bridges (which links Kochi's islands), ferry transport has become less essential.
The Cochin International Airport, which is about 25 km north of the city, handles both domestic and international flights. It is the largest airport of Kerala, and one of the busiest in India. It is the first international airport in India to be built without Central Government funds. A second airport run by the Navy also operates in the city.
There is no intra-city rail transport system in Kochi. The inter-city rail transport system in the city is administered by the Southern Railway division of the Indian Railways. There are two main railway stations—the Ernakulam Junction and the Ernakulam Town (locally known as the 'South' and 'North' railway stations respectively). The railway line connecting these two stations cuts the city longitudinally in two, with two narrow bridges connecting the two halves.
As of 2001, Kochi had a population of 650,000, with a density of 6850.7 persons per square kilometre. Scheduled castes and tribes comprise 14.3% of the city's population. The female-to-male ratio is 1,024:1,000, significantly higher than the all-India average of 933:1,000. Kochi's literacy rate is 94.3%. The female literacy rate lags that of males by 1.1%, amongst the lowest such gaps in India.
Kochi's major religions are Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam; Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, and Buddhism have smaller followings. Though 47% practise Hinduism, Christianity's large following (35%) makes Kochi a city with one of the largest Christian populations in India.
The majority of residents are Malayalis; however, there are significant ethnic minority communities including Tamils, Gujaratis, Jews, Sikkimese, Anglo-Indians, Konkanis, and Tulus. Malayalam is the main language of communication and medium of instruction, although English is more commonly used in business circles. Hindi and Tamil are widely understood—albeit rarely spoken.
Like other fast-growing cities in the developing world, Kochi suffers from major urbanisation problems, poor sanitation, and unemployment. The city registered an increase of 9.7% in its unemployment rate from 14.8% in 1998 to 24.5% in 2003. Shortage of potable water is a major concern in the city. The situation is aggravated by the threat posed by pollution in industrial areas. The city also has a growing slum-dwelling population.
Kochi has a high suicide rate with 32 suicides per lakh, which is three times higher than the national average of 11.2 per lakh.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, Kochi has one of highest rates of crime in India—498.6, against the national average of 287.3. However, a survey conducted by The Week, found Kochi to be the safest city in India for women.
As a result of successive waves of migration over the course of several millennia, the population of the city is a mix of people from all parts of Kerala and most of India. The pan-Indian nature is highlighted by the substantial presence of various ethnic communities from different parts of the country.
Kochi has a diverse, multicultural, and secular community consisting of Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists among other denominations, all living in peaceful co-existence. The city once had a large Jewish community, known as the Malabar Yehuden—and now increasingly as Cochin Jews—that figured prominently in Kochi's business and economic strata.
Appropriate to its multi-ethnic composition, Kochi celebrates traditional Kerala festivals like Onam and Vishu along with North Indian Hindu festivals like Holi and Diwali with great fervour. Christian and Islamic festivals like Christmas, Easter, Eid ul-Fitr and Milad-e-sherif are also celebrated. A merry making fest called the Cochin Carnival is celebrated at Fort Kochi during the last ten days of December.
Residents of Kochi are known as Kochiites; they are an important part of the South Indian weltanschauung. However, the city's culture is rapidly evolving, with Kochiites generally becoming more cosmopolitan in their outlook. The people are also increasingly fashion-conscious, often deviating from the traditional Kerala wear to western clothing.
Kochiites generally partake of Keralite cuisine, which is generally characterised by an abundance of coconut and spices. Other South Indian cuisines, as well as Chinese and North Indian cuisines are popular. Fast food culture is also very prominent.
Kochi was home to some of the most influential figures in Malayalam literature, including Changampuzha Krishna Pillai, Kesari Balakrishna Pillai, G. Sankara Kurup, and Vyloppilli Sreedhara Menon. Prominent social reformers such as Sahodaran Ayyappan and Pandit Karuppan also are from Kochi.
The Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium in Kochi is one of the largest multi-use stadiums in India. The Regional Sports Centre is an important centre of sporting activity in the city.
Schools and colleges in the city are either run by the government or by private trusts and individuals. The schools are each affiliated with either the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE), or the Kerala State Education Board. English is the medium of instruction in most private schools; though government run schools offer both English and Malayalam. After completing their secondary education, which involves ten years of schooling, students typically enroll at Higher Secondary School in one of the three streams—Arts, Commerce or Science. Upon completing the required coursework, the student can enroll in general or professional degree programmes.
The Cochin University is situated in the city. Most of the colleges offering tertiary education are affiliated either with the Mahatma Gandhi University or the Cochin University. Other national educational institutes include the Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training, the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, the National Institute of Oceanography and the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute.
The Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre houses the healthcare campus of the Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham.
Major Malayalam newspapers published in Kochi include Malayala Manorama, Mathrubhumi, Deshabhimani and Deepika. Popular English newspapers include The Hindu, The New Indian Express, Times of India and The Pioneer. A number of evening papers are also published from the city. Newspapers in other regional languages like Hindi, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu are also sold in large numbers.
Being the seat of the Cochin Stock Exchange, a number of financial publications are also published in the city. These include The Economic Times, The Business Standard, and The Financial Times. Prominent magazines and religious publications like the Satya Deepam, The Week and Vanitha are also published from the city.
Television stations in Kochi include Asianet Cable Vision, India Vision, Kairali TV, Jeevan TV, Amrita TV and Manorama News. Satellite television services are available through Doordarshan Direct Plus, Dish TV and Tata Sky. All India Radio has two FM stations in the city, operating at 102.3 MHz and 107.5 MHz. Private satellite radios such as WorldSpace, are also available. There are over twenty cinema halls that screen movies in Malayalam, Tamil, English and Hindi. A film festival, known as the Cochin International Film Festival (CIFF), is held in the city every year.
Kochi has the highest density of telephones in India. Telephony services are provided by various players like Airtel, Idea cellular, Hutch, Reliance Infocomm, Tata Indicom and the state owned BSNL.