Kochi

Down Rosh Hashanahs in Cochin

Very soon, the 400-year-old synagogue at North Paravur in Ernakulam district of Kerala will have a museum showcasing the 2,000-year-old history of the Jewish community that thrived in that part of the country preserving its religious, cultural and ethnic identities.

The State government is trying to get Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to declare open the museum coinciding with the inauguration of the Vallarpadam container terminal.

A restoration work is under way to renovate one of the oldest synagogues in India under the wider Muziris Heritage Project of the State government to derive archaeological evidence to identify the location of the ancient Indo-Roman port of Muziris on the Malabar coast.

V.M. Sunil, special officer for the synagogue project, told The Hindu that the thrust was on conserving the structure. Persecuted in their homeland, Jews fled from time to time seeking safe locations and the first batch is believed to have arrived in Kodungalloor in 72 BC, says Elias Josephai, member of the Jewish community still living in Kochi. North Paravur had a strong Jewish community engaged in trade with Europe. Jewish tradition says the synagogue was built in AD 1165. The Portuguese set it ablaze in the 16th century.

The Jews rebuilt the synagogue in the Jew Town there in 1615 under the supervision of David Castiel, a descendant of Jews expelled from Spain.

Unlike in the synagogues of Europe where the ark is placed on the eastern wall, the synagogues in India have the arks on the western wall to face Jerusalem when praying. The synagogues in Kerala have a typically carved ceiling. Apart from the ornamental ark, the Paravur synagogue has a pulpit and a balcony.

Though, by tradition, women cannot enter a synagogue, there is a gallery for them in the Paravur synagogue, separated from the main structure but connected by a corridor. From the gallery, Jewish women took part in the religious ceremonies.

The structure is built with laterite stone, lime and teakwood. The synagogue was in use till the mid-1990s. Then, it fell into disuse and began to deteriorate. The original silver-finished ark was taken back to Israel. The synagogue was taken over by the Cultural Department following a request from the Kerala Jew Association.

A sum of Rs.1.4 crore has come from the Union and the State governments for the restoration. The woodwork is being maintained and plastering is done only with lime. Mr. Sunil said the museum was being developed by a research committee headed by Scaria Zachariah, retired professor, and assisted by Aju Narayanan, Malayalam Professor of Union Christian College, Aluva.

Dr. Narayanan said various Jewish folk songs depicting the history of the Jewish Diaspora in Kerala were available and one of them was about the destruction of the Parur synagogue by the Portuguese.

Mr. Sunil said the synagogue at nearby Chennamangalam would house a museum to showcase the Jewish lifestyle in Kerala.


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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 9:56:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/Down-Rosh-Hashanahs-in-Cochin/article15992293.ece

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