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Synagogues of Kerala

Judaism arrived in Kerala in the 7th century with the arrival of the spice traders from the Middle East. Jews have lived in Kerala for centuries, however with the formation of Israel there was a shift, leaving a handful of them in the state. As a result most of the synagogues were closed and only a few remain open for service. Noteworthy among them is the Jewish Synagogue at Mattancherry.

 

The Jewish Synagogue at Mattancherry is the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations. This synagogue was built in the year 1568 and is also known as the Paradesi synagogue deriving its name from the word ‘Paradesi’ used in Indian languages meaning ‘foreigner’. It is so called as it was rebuilt under the Dutch rule and was used by the Jewish community that migrated from Europe and the Middle East. It is located in the Jew town of Cochin adjacent to the Mattancherry palace temple and shares a common wall with it. It is the only synagogue in the area still open for service. The synagogue was partially destroyed by Portuguese during the war of 1662 A.D. but was later rebuilt by the Dutch under the protection of the King of Cochin. The synagogue houses some rare artifacts such as the scrolls of the original Old Testament, the copper plates which recorded the grants of privilege given to Joseph Rabban, the earliest known Cochin Jew from the 10th century. The commentaries are written in Tamil and have been preserved here for ages. A tablet bearing Hebrew inscriptions is placed on the outer walls of the synagogue. The mesmerizing floor of the synagogue is laced with hand painted blue porcelain Chinese tiles. The uniqueness of these tiles lies in the fact that no two of them are alike. The Synagogue also has an 18th century clock tower that is clearly visible from a distance. Some of the other precious possessions of the synagogue include an oriental rug, Belgium chandeliers and several rare gold and silver coins gifted to the synagogue by the various patrons and rulers of the state.

 

Besides the Mattancherry synagogue, there are several other synagogues of historical significance in Kerala such as the Thekumbagum and the Kadavumbagham Synagogues in Ernakulam. Located on Jew Street, the Thekumbagum synagogue was built in 1580 A.D. and was later renovated in 1939. While the Kadavumbagham synagogue is believed to have been built in 1200 A.D but was closed down in 1972 following the transfer of its Torah scrolls to a different synagogue in Cochin. There are few other synagogues in Kerala situated at Parur, Mala, Cochin and Sendamangalam.

 

The synagogues of Kerala depict a remarkable sense of religious tolerance and bear testimony to the communal harmony and religious vibrancy of the state.

 

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