Museum and art gallery
1 - 2 Hours
The Paradesi Synagogue is the oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations, located in Kochi, Kerala, in South India. Constructed in 1567, it is one of seven synagogues of the Malabar Yehudan or Yehudan Mappila people or Cochin Jewish community in the Kingdom of Cochin. Paradesi is a word used in several Indian languages, and the literal meaning of the term is "foreigners", applied to the synagogue because it was built by Sephardic or Spanish-speaking Jews, some of them from families exiled in Aleppo, Safed and other West Asian localities. It is also referred to as the Cochin Jewish Synagogue or the Mattancherry Synagogue. The world-renowned Paradesi Syngagogue, first built in 1568 and reconstructed in part and enlarged over the years, can be found in the Mattancherry area of Kochi. The road that it was built on came to be known as Jew Street or Synagogue Lane, and the surrounding neighborhood as Jew Town. The Rajah of Cochin generously allotted the community land in Cochin da Cima, or Upper Cochin, next to his own palace (now a city museum) and an adjacent small Hindu temple to service himself and his royal family. The synagogue, today the only functioning one in Kerala, was erected for a congregation whose core had migrated from Cranganore to the north of Kochi where they were then joined by a larger group of relative newcomers from Europe and Western Asia. The diverse influx of Jews to Mattancherry led to its designation as the Paradesi, or Foreigners’ Synagogue.
According to an emissary from Jerusalem who visited the Paradesi Synagogue in 1850, the sanctuary wall engaged with the heckal was made from “a compound of clay…(mixed) with the fat milt of the nuts of the kukus, in other words coconut water instead of plain water, for the cement was mortar, so as to withstand many days and to honor the greatness that was among them.” (Weil: 45). Draped in the front of the heckal is a beautiful parokhet, or curtain. It can be drawn to reveal the carved and painted doors of the heckal. The Torah scrolls kept in the heckal, capped with beautiful crowns, are each housed in a rounded wooden case which is covered with hammered silver. To Jews, the Sefer Torahs are the equal of royalty, and are thus ornamented as such. One of these crowns was presented by the Rajah in 1805. In front of the steps leading up to the heckal is a rug presented to the synagogue by Emperor Haile Sallassie of Ethiopia in 1956.
In the Paradesi Synagogue near the heckal are two special chairs, one for the Prophet Elijah and the other for the brit mila, or circumcision ceremony. Both are made from carved and stained teak with a plush cushion and perhaps a richly colorful fabric draping it entirely. Also hanging inside the sanctuary from the shallow sloped ceiling are, in true Kerala synagogue fashion, many glass lanterns -- clear, cobalt blue, emerald green, ruby red, and other colors. These lanterns, some blown in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands and others locally fabricated, are popular in many secular and religious buildings throughout India. Intended for burning the coconut oil readily available in Kerala, they have never been electrified. Other ceiling-suspended brass, silver, pewter, bronze, or other metal alloy fixtures in the Paradesi Synagogue are also prevalent in Indian synagogues, including the ner tamid, a fixture that stays lit all the time. Ceiling fans, common throughout the country, also hang in the synagogues. No Indian synagogue is air-conditioned, and today the fans, which were installed only in the 1970s, provide the sole source of cooling other than cross-ventilation. The whirling of the ceiling fan blades, both hypnotic and soothing, is a familiar and comforting sound of the Kerala synagogue experience. Before the fans were hung, a non-Jew was employed to pour water over the stone pavers around the perimeter of the synagogue and on the walls themselves to keep the building as cool as possible.
The Kerala Jewish community had the protection and friendship of the Rajah of Cochin, but was still exposed to the enmity of the Portuguese, who had established a trading post in Fort Cochin in the sixteenth century. The Portuguese attacked the Jews again in 1662 since they had sided with the Dutch in a skirmish for control over local territory. This was the result of attempts by the Dutch in 1661-62 to challenge the Portuguese for the European supremacy in South India. In February 1661, the Dutch took the fortress at Palliport near Cranganore, in December they captured Quilon, and a month later Cranganore fell into their hands. They next laid siege to Cochin. The Portuguese, however, defended Fort Cochin to all means, and in March 1662 the Dutch withdrew for Ceylon. With the Dutch defeat, the Portuguese took revenge on the Jews. The Paradesi Synagogue was set on fire and partially destroyed. It is believed that other Kerala (Malabari) synagogues were attacked and damaged by the Portuguese forces as well. The Jews gained security again once the Dutch were finally able to oust the Portuguese in 1665 and take control for the next one hundred and thirty years. The Paradesi Synagogue, which had been in derelict condition during the period of Portuguese hegemony, was then repaired.
The Paradesi Synagogue is a grouping of white washed and painted thick-walled chunam (a polished lime plaster) over laterite (a soft reddish-brown local stone) structures with pitched roofs featuring deep eaves to avoid damage from the annual monsoons, wooden lattice screens and enclosures, pronounced gablets (where hip and gable roofs intersect), exposed rafters, flat wall surfaces, clay tiled roofs, shuttered windows and clerestories, cusped arches at the sanctuary building’s entryway, a decorated tray ceiling within the sanctuary, and understated and limited detail. The synagogue is a tight complex featuring a series of rooms and passages linked or surrounded by outdoor spaces.
|January to December|
|Monday||10:00 AM to 12:00 PM - 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM|
|Tuesday||10:00 AM to 12:00 PM - 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM|
|Wednesday||10:00 AM to 12:00 PM - 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM|
|Thursday||10:00 AM to 12:00 PM - 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM|
|Sunday||10:00 AM to 12:00 PM - 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM|
|Last Admission||Morning 11:50 AM - evening 04:50 PM|
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