Thursday, 26 May 2016

Historical Thekkumbhagam Synagogue, Kochi, Kerala

 The Thekkumbhagam Synagogue (Built in 1200 AD), Kochi, Kerala. spiritofkerala.com
Jews are known to have lived in Kerala centuries ago when spice trade was in full swing. The early Jewish settlers were mostly sailors during the time of king Salomon. After the siege of Jerusalem and destruction of  ancient temple in BC 587, there  was an influx of Jews landed on the coast of Malabar for safety and peaceful life, and, as usual, the native Indians  welcomed them with open hands.  Later more Jews moved over to India after the demolition of the second temple in BC 70. When Apostle Thomas came to Kerala in 52 AD he converted some of the rich Jewish traders to Christianity. Hence there are many Jewish Synagogues in and around Kochi  and almost all of them  are not functional because of Jewish emigration to Israel. Presently there are synagogues at Paravur, Mala, Chendamangalam  and Mattanchery, in addition to the two in Ernakulam. During the Portuguese rule in the17th century and later during  the  invasion of Tipu Sultan of Mysore in the 18th century, many synagogues in Kerala, along with places of worship belonging to other faiths, were damaged.
 The Thekkumbhagam Synagogue (Built in 1200 AD), Kochi, Kerala. www.spiritofkerala.com
The Thekkumbhagam Synagogue (Built in 1200 AD), located near  Jews Street in Ernakulam, is one of the oldest one and is not operational  now and there are no services. It used to serve the traders and petty business people living in this area in those days. The Government of Kerala has plans to take over the control to avoid further depredation of this historical site. The ASI, the Central  Government organization, is yet to come up with a decision to take control and preserve this  site that has heritage value. The only functional synagogue in this area is the Kadavumbhagam Synagogue, mainly selling  aquaria, fish and flowers by a local Jewish trader. 

Since the members of Jewish community living in this area in 1950s and 1960s  moved over to the new nation Israel when it was founded in late 1940s, the number of service in the synagogues also came down.  The total number of Jews now living in this area is less than 50 and they live in scattered areas. The population used to be more than  2500 in the early 1940s. Mostly they were traders. At the Kadavumbhagam Synagogue, there has been no services since 1972.

Unfortunately today it stands locked and unused because of lack of patrons. According to the Kerala government  (department of culture): “The synagogue is of historical importance ....  as per the Kerala Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1968, they decided to declare it a heritage monument.’’.

Recently the government has made a decision to renovate the place of worship and restore the abandoned Jewish cemetery located near Jew Street and Broadway. Once it becomes a 'national monument', services will not be conducted because of dwindling Jewish population.

Ref:
 http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/kochi/article259225.ece?service=print