Saturday, 5 September 2015

Forgotten past - Kolkata's Synagogues

Navheh Shalome Synagogue, Kolkata (Calcuttarangandatta.wordpress.com
Magen David Synagogue Kolkatawww.bongblogger.com
 Like Madras (chennai) and Bombay (Mumbai) during the British rule, people of different faiths and cultures moved over to Calcutta (Kolkata), a 
thriving  metropolis and an important commercial center of British India. The Jewish community, in small number,  moved in to explore business
opportunities in Bengal. Most of the new comers, besides Jews  were either with the British government as employees or were traders. As for the Jewish community, over a period of time they grew in stature and gained considerable influence with the rulers. As you may be aware, the Jewish presence in India is not new and this community has been living in India since 50 AD especially on the west coast - Malabar coast of Kerala. The Calcutta Jewish community included mostly Baghdadi Jews. The first recorded Jewish immigrant to Kolkata was one Shalom Aharon Obadiah Cohen, who arrived in Kolkata in 1798. He was born in Aleppo in present day Syria in 1762.He was already a well established trader in Surat (now in Gujarat) before moving over to Calcutta. Though they adopted Jewish-Arabic style of living, succeeding generations used English as the medium of communication and followed European culture and dress style.
Interiors of Beth El Synagogue, Kolkatarangandatta.wordpress.com
Among the five synagogues in Kolcatta , two are in use;  one is demolished. The oldest synagogue in this big city is the  Neveh Shalome Synagogue built in 1831 by Shalome David Cohen; named  it in memory of his father Shalom ha – Cohen. Initially it was simple a prayer hall and suited the small community. As the community grew larger and more people moved in,there arose a necessity to have more spacious synagogue.
Beth El Synagogue, Calcutta (Kolkata) rangandatta.wordpress.com/
Besides the simple prayer hall of Neveh Shalome Synagogue, other places of worship such as the Beth El Synagogue  and Magen David Synagogue came up near the old prayer hall. 

 The Neveh Shalome Synagogue was rebuilt in 1910 (it was demolished in 1884) on the vacant plot in the Magen David Synagogue complex. The above-mentioned  synagogues catered to the needs of the Jewish community in Kolkata. Their business acumen coupled with the ability to assimilate with other cultures saw their upward mobility in India. 

 Beth El Synagogue was built by David Joseph Ezra and Ezekiel Judah 1856. Located on Pollock street, it  can be approached  through a flight of marble steps. It has attractive stained color glass windows, the best one being the arched stained color glass window at the very entrance, shinning chandeliers and beautiful floor. The balconies here, are for the women worshipers. As in many Jewish temples, 'Apse' represents heaven and the raised platform is for the Rabbi (Jewish priest) to preach.

 Magen David Synagogue  was built by Elias David Joseph Ezra in 1884. This complex is located at the cross section of canning street (Rash Behari Ave) and  Brabourne Road. The 140 feet high historical  tower is an important land mark here. An arched door with the ''Star of David” and Hebrew inscriptions  attract your attention at the entrance. This place of worship is not in use, but is well maintained. There are many pieces of Jewish Iconography, the one that may grab your attention is Menorah, the seven branched lamp on a stand.

The other synagogues are Magen Aboth Synagogue,in the Tiretta Bazar (Old Chinatown) and  Shaare Rasoon  Synagogue- the former is demolished and the latter is  simply a prayer hall located at Sudder street and Free school street.

 The  thriving Jewish population had begun to decline after India's independence and the birth of a new separate Jewish nation - Israel. Thousands of Jews from India made Aliyah" (migrated) to Israel.

 In this transitory world, with the passage of time  historical monuments and buildings are slowly disappearing due to our negligence, not  realizing our responsibility to preserve them  for our progeny.  Our historical past is relevant to our present life, so is our life to the future one.

Ref:

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3917-calcutta

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_Kolkata