Thursday, 2 June 2016

Mala and Paradesi Synagogues - lost Jewish prayer houses, Kochi

Mala Synagogue,Mattencherry, Kerala. jobmathew.wordpress.com
Mala Synagogue
Mala Synagogue,mattencherry, Kerala. piritofkerala.com.jobmathew.wordpress.com

Above image: Since 1955, no Jews have lived in the town of Mala and that is when then Synagogue closed. . ...........................

Natural disasters, coupled with persecution  by the Moors in the 12th century and  later by the Portuguese colonists in the 16th century made the Jewish community  move over to the neighborhood of Koch from Kadungallor, Palur and other places. Hence,  Kochi and surrounding areas  are dotted with many Jewish prayer houses. Unfortunately they have lost their utility, sheen and elegance because  Jews living in these early settlements have made Aliyah and have become permanent residents in Israel. Some local folk singers  sing Jewish folk songs in Malayalam, though the community is almost lost for ever.

Mala Synagogue:

Built in 1000 AD, Mala Synagogue is about  51 kilometers from Mattancherry, Kerala Sate and it is difficult to  locate the old structure, though it was renovated in 1909. As other synagogues of this  place, this one is also nonfunctional.  The Torah, it is believed, was taken to Israel. However, the  synagogue' s Tebah, Heckal and many furnishings were either damaged or removed.  In 1954 the trustees of Mala Synagogue made a formal agreement with the local Panchayat regarding control of this historical place on condition  that it should not be used as a slaughter house, etc. Under the care of the local government the  synagogue was  used for conducting  cultural, educational and communal functions. Now plans are afoot to improve the facade and other parts of the building.

Since 1955, no Jews have lived in the town of Mala and that is when the Synagogue closed the services for good. In the same year 300 Jews left for Israel to settle down there. A Jewish prayer house is operational only when there are 10 plus more members are enrolled with it.

Paradesi Synagogue, Mattancherry:


Mattancherry Synagogue
Paradesi Synagogue, Mattencherry, India.cochinsyn.co

Considered as the oldest synagogue in the British Commonwealth, it was built by Samuel Castiel, David Belila, and Joseph Levi in 1568, but in 1662 it was destroyed by the Portuguese and later re-built by the DutchThe Belgian glass chandeliers and hand painted ceramic tiles from Canton and the colonial structure enhance the beauty of this place located in a legendary area - once known for spice trades.

In the 15th century  when the  Jews moved over to this place from  Kadunkallor, It is believed,  many Jewish people also arrived from Portugal and Spain during this time  owing to religious persecution there. 

Paradesi Synagogue, Mattencherry, India. 
asianjewishlife.org

This structure was rebuilt in 1930 and thousands of people from India and world over  used to visit this one steeped in  Jewish history and  culture of the local community. An interesting feature about this prayer house is the famous cloak tower that has three  existing  dials with Malayalam, Roman and Hebrew  numbers, each facing different direction.  Dial with Malayalam characters facing the local Maharajah's palace and the Hebrew dial facing the Jewish settlement, the dial with Roman character is facing west.The fourth dial with numbers (facing the water front) is missing.


Paradesi Synagogue, Jewish Quarter, Mattancherry,  Kerala.www.alamy.com
The unique feature about the Jewish settlers here is they followed the Indian tradition of removing their  foot wear before entering the prayer house, a custom never followed in any Jewish prayer houses world over. Yet another  note-worthy feature is second  Tebah (The Hebrew name Tebah comes from the verb tabah,  meaning  slaughter, butcher, slay, kill). World over synagogues have just single  Tebah.

Paradesi Synagogue, Mattencherry, near Kochi.jewsofcochin.blogspot.com

The synagogue  is not fully functional  and  served as a gathering hall for community events. Visitors have to contact one Elias “Babu” Josephai, the caretaker of the near-by Kadavumbagam Synagogue to visit this synagogue. The government also has  a plan to  renovate and restore the abandoned Jewish cemetery.