Welcome to the Cochin Jewish Synagogue, a place steeped in history and culture. Also known as Paradesi Synagogue or Mattancherry Synagogue, this is the oldest active synagogue in Kochi, and not just that, but in the entire Commonwealth of Nations. Talk about being the crème de la crème of synagogues!
Located in the Jew Town area of Kochi, the synagogue was constructed in 1567 by Spanish-speaking Jews. Hence, it’s also known as the ‘Paradesi’ synagogue, meaning ‘foreigners.’ Hey, it’s not every day you get to see a synagogue built by Spanish-speaking Jews in India!
The Cochin Jewish Synagogue shares its walls with the Mattancherry Palace and boasts of rare antiques, beautiful chandeliers, a clock tower, brass-railed pulpit, Chinese hand-painted tiles, and striking architecture. It’s like a museum, but with more soul and history. The synagogue has four buildings of its own, and trust us, it’s a sight to cheer.
But wait, there’s more! In 1662, the synagogue was ruined by the Portuguese but was later renovated by the Dutch after two years. Talk about being a survivor! The synagogue has seen a lot of history, and it’s all etched in the walls and the artifacts.
Originally, the Yehudan Mappila or the Malabari Jews ran a flourishing spice trade in Kerala. The first synagogue was built in Kodungallur (Cranganore) in the 4th century. But when the Paradesi Jews moved to Kochi in the 14th century, a new synagogue was built here. The first synagogue was destroyed in the 16th century during the Portuguese persecution of Jews. The current one is the second synagogue built adjacent to the Mattancherry Palace on the land granted to the Jews by the Raja of Cochin.
Jewish Synagogue had three classes of members: the White Jews or the Paradesi Jews, who were descendants of Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands; the Black Jews or the Malabari Jews, who were the original Jewish settlers of Kochi but weren’t allowed full membership; and the Meshuchrarim, a group of freed slaves who were only allowed to sit on the floor inside the synagogue or on the stairs outside. Talk about a hierarchy!
Today, the synagogue allows all devotees and worshippers but has separate sections for men and women.
Jewish Synagogue boasts striking architecture. The central hall is decked in beautiful chandeliers and adorned with gorgeous lamps. But the floor steals the show, as it’s done in bright blue hand-painted tiles belonging to the 18th century Chinese. A lot of tourists visit every day to admire the enchanting floor. Who knew a floor could be so mesmerizing?
With beautiful pillars holding up the starry roof, there is also a pulpit at the centre with brass nails. A separate porch has been built for women with gorgeous protruding golden columns and a teak arc. At the front, there are four scrolls of the Torah encased in silver and gold. Other attractions include 4th-century copper plates with inscriptions and two gold crowns of olden day kings.
In conclusion, the Cochin Jewish Synagogue is a must-visit for anyone interested in history, culture, or just beautiful architecture. With its fascinating past and awe-inspiring present, it’s a place that will leave you spellbound.