Sunday, 22 November 2009

Paradesi Synagogue

One of the nice things about Kerala is its long history of religious harmony. Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Jews, as well as people of other faiths have lived together, and continue to do so, as very friendly neighbours.

The earliest synagogue built in Kochi was destroyed around 1500, not by the locals, but by the Portuguese. Subsequently in 1568 under the protection of the Hindu king Raja Ravi Varma, and the Dutch, a new synagogue was built on land gifted to the jewish community by him. This piece of land was right next to the king's Mattanchery Palace. In fact, the synagogue and the Hindu temple attached to the palace share a compound wall.

This synagoue is known by several names. It is called the Paradesi Synagogue, the Cochin Jewish Synagogue, and also as the Mattanchery Synagogue (Mattanchery being the name of a part of Kochi (or Cochin as it was called during the colonial rule of India).

The word "Paradesi" means foreigner in several Indian languages. It was therefore used in the early days to describe this particular synagogue because it was originally used only by the "white" jews. The synagogue is still in use and is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Jewish holidays.

The synagogue complex consists of 4 structures. My sketch shows the clock tower, which was built in 1760. The synagogue proper is a structure to the left and is barely seen in my sketch. In any case, I have found that most people visualise the clock tower when they try to recall the synagogue.