Glory is fleeting but obscurity is forever.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, when European powers were trying to establish their trading might over India, the Dutch were drawn to the land rich in pepper and other spices. The Dutch wished to establish a settlement on the coast of Malabar, where they might be territorial sovereigns, as well as traders without being subject to the “rapacious exactions of the Muhammadan [Mughal] government, or the neighbourhood of their successful rivals, the English”. Cochin was a suitable spot. They wrested Cochin from the Portuguese in January 1663. In 1669, Hendrik Adriaan Van Rheede Tot Drakestein was appointed the first independent commander, giving him military and civil administrative rights, in the region. The forts were the centres of administration and trade and, apart from coastal towns, no land was taken possession of. According to historic accounts, Van Rheede was the only Dutchman who had personal and social contacts with the local people, and a thorough knowledge of the land.
He brought together a large collection of plants in the garden of the company, probably laying the seeds for the Hortus Malabaricus, a comprehensive volume on the flora of Kerala, with emphasis on their medical properties. The ethno-medical information presented in Hortus Malabaricus was extracted from palm-leaf manuscripts maintained by Itty Achudan Vaidyan, who was introduced to Henrik van Rheede by Veera Kerala Varma the then ruler of the erstwhile state of Kochi. The book was compiled with the help of a team of nearly a hundred local and foreign residents under the tutelage of Achudan, who thoroughly searched the region for specimens. It was brought to Cochin, where a Carmelite named Mathaeus sketched them. The book brought under its mission physicians, professors of medicine and botany, amateur botanists, illustrators, engravers and clergymen. In fact, in return for the help offered by the latter, Van Rheede gave permission for erecting churches. The Chathiat Mouth Carmel Church was constructed on such an agreement in 1673.
But Dutch traders largely meant business, and they razed Portuguese structures to the ground. Two-thirds of Cochin is believed to have been demolished. The Dutch East India Company is believed to have erected three houses sometime between the late 1670s and 1690s using some of the material from demolished churches, and David Hall is what remains of the three houses. What purpose the structure served is not known today, though historical hearsay suggests it could have been the residence of Van Rheede or a military hospice for Dutch soldiers. The structure was christened David Hall when it was bought by the Jewish Koder family, who lived there.
David Hall is a beautiful old Dutch bungalow that has been restored and has taken on a new life as a cultural centre with a gallery for contemporary art, with a focus on providing a platform for young artists. With its café and space for performing arts, the historic building could be an inspiring, vibrant meeting place for fresh talent and lovers of art.