A day after celebrating his 65 birthday in Kumarakom near here, Prince Charles accompanied by his wife Camilla, on Thursday visited the Jewish synagogue in Mattancherry – the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth. In 1997, Queen Elizabeth II had visited the place of worship.
The Prince and the Duchess were received by Queenie Hallegua, its warden and one among the seven Jews who still live in Jew Street that leads to the synagogue. Referring to copper plates of yore, she told them about how over 1,000 years ago, the then King of Kodungallur Bhaskara Ravi Varman bestowed a few privileges and titles on Joseph Raban, the Jewish leader. They also glanced through a Jewish holy book.
Prince Charles sought to know more about the synagogue’s beautifully designed floor tiles. Ms Hallegua described to the couple details of 560 hand-painted tiles, each with a different design. Though the synagogue dates back to 1568 A.D., the tiles were brought here from China’s Canton province in 1762. The Prince and Duchess also took keen interest in the ancient clock tower that overlooks Jew Street. They walked through the street up to the synagogue, while people, including foreign travellers, thronged the side to get a glimpse of the high-profile guests.
The couple also met members of India’s Jewish community, including 91-year-old Sarah Cohen – the oldest Jew in Kochi and 42-year-old Yayel – the youngest.
Later, they visited an antique shop in Jew Street and checked out artefacts and vessels that date back to around 300 years. They stopped to admire an elephant carved out of a huge wooden log. Next, they visited a shop that sold European embroidery. The shop owner presented them handkerchiefs bearing the couple’s name. A few children presented gifts to them and the couple exchanged pleasantries with them.
The visiting dignitaries admired a 65-lantern decoration in an antique shop set up in connection with the Prince’s birthday. They also looked in awe at a temple chariot brought here from Villupuram in Tamil Nadu.
Spice Market, a women’s initiative, welcomed the Prince with a ‘kasavu mundu’ and the Duchess with a beaded chain.
They were also taken through a traditional handloom-making demonstration. The couple sought details about Chendamangalam handlooms and traditional perfumes. They sat atop sacks full of spices and posed for photos.
They spent over 90 minutes in the core heritage region of Mattancherry town that was replete with flower garlands and welcome banners. Birthday songs provided the right backdrop for the royal visit.
At the adjacent Dutch Palace that dates back over 450 years, they were attracted by murals painted using natural materials that depict historic tales. They were also taken on a tour of garments, palanquins, coins and stamps used by Kochi’s erstwhile royalty. They spent about 30 minutes in the palace.
The South zone regional director of ASI, G.S. Narasimham presented them with a painting of Ananthasayanam. The couple were escorted by among others Public Administration Secretary K.R. Jyotilal.
By late afternoon, they flew to Colombo from the Kochi international airport to attend the meeting of Commonwealth heads of government.