Tuesday, December 6, 2011

348 # Visit the paradeshi synagogue @ Mattancherry

I took the 1.40p.m boat to Mattancherry from the Ernakulam boat jetty (near the Subhash park, not the jetty near the high court). The ticket costs only Rs.4.5. The journey to the Mattancherry boat jetty took about 45 minutes. The Synagogue is about five minutes walk from the boat jetty, through the jews street, which is filled with handicrafts, antique and spices shops on both sides. The aroma of the spices is quite enjoyable throughout the Jew town. The Synagogue is at the far end of a narrow street. Ancient Jewish houses decorates both sides of the road leading to the Synagogue.

Since the synagogue is a highly protected zone, photography is strictly prohibited. I had to surrender my camera to the caretaker before entering the synagogue. That was a slight disappointment. I sat quiet inside the synagogue, immersing myself in the rich heritage of the place, diving back to four centuries. 

About the Paradeshi (foreigner) Synagogue 

The Paradesi Synagogue is the oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations, located in Kochi, Kerala, in South India. It was built in 1568 by the Malabar Yehudan 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 historically used by "White Jews", a mixture of Jews from Cranganore, the Middle East, and European exiles. It is also referred to as the Cochin Jewish Synagogue or the Mattancherry Synagogue. The synagogue is located in the quarter of Old Cochin known as Jew Town, and is the only one of the seven synagogues in the area still in use. The complex has four buildings. It was built adjacent to the Mattancherry Palace temple on the land gifted to the Malabari Yehuden community by the Raja of Kochi, Rama Varma. The Mattancherry Palace temple and the Mattancherry synagogue share a common wall.

The Malabari Jews formed a prosperous trading community of Kerala, and they controlled a major portion of world wide spice trade. In 1568, the Jews of Kerala constructed the Paradesi Synagogue adjacent to Mattancherry Palace, Cochin, now part of the Indian city of Ernakulam, on land given to them by Paraja, the Raja of Kochi. The original synagogue was built in the 4th century in Kodungallur (Cranganore) when the Jews had a mercantile role in the South Indian region along the Malabar coast now called Kerala. It was later moved to Kochi from Kodungallur.

The first synagogue of the Malabari Jews in Cochin was destroyed in the Portuguese persecution of the Malabari Jews and Nasrani people of Kerala in the 16th century. The second synagogue, built under the protection of the Raja of Cochin along with Dutch patronage, is the present synagogue. It is called Paradesi synagogue because it was built with Dutch patronage at a time when Kochi was under Dutch occupation, thus the name paradesi synagogue or "foreign synagogue".In 1968, the synagogue celebrated its 400th anniversary in a ceremony attended by Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister.

How to reach there 

Take the boat to Mattancherry from Ernakulam boat jetty, near Subhash park (Not the one near the high court). Get down at Mattancherry, and go to the Jew town, which is stone's throw away from the Mattancherry boat jetty.

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