Sunday, 20 November 2011
I) The most popular is about Joseph Azar who fled to Kochangadi after having a quarrel with his brother Aaron Azar, the 72nd and last Jewish leader (Prince or King?) of Cranganore and established the synagogue in 1344. The first Jewish leader of Cranganore was Joseph Rabban, who received the famous copper plates (dated 4th to 10th century AD!). The exact circumstances that lead to Joseph Azar’s flight are not clear as several theories have emerged.
As we know that the three synagogues of Mattancherry (Paradesi, Thekkumbagam and Kadavumbagam) align in a line (see 3, 6 and 11 here, and the Map 1 above) and are near the sea, could the Kochangadi synagogue also be placed as a continuation, and east to the mosque towards the sea? Ruby Daniel mentions in her memoir (p.10) that the synagogue was a few furlongs to the south where Jew Town of Mattancherry ends. There is a high chance that the synagogue and mosque were close to each other. It is said that the Jews of Cochin donated wood for the construction of Chembittapally in Kochangadi! Most probably, the Kochangadi synagogue was located somewhere between the Dar al Salaam Road and Kochangadi Street, which continues from the Jew Street of Mattancherry (yellow dotted circle in map 1).
Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Every day hundreds of tourists flock to visit Paradesi Synagogue, the oldest functional Jewish monument in India. But how many of them realize that not far from this famed monument lies a more ancient synagogue? Perhaps the skeletal remains of this unmarked and ill-maintained structure are so obscure and ordinary looking that many travel books and tourist guides fail to even mention its existence! Known as the Kadavumbagam (Riverside) synagogue of Mattancherry, this Malabari Jewish monument was built before the Paradesi synagogue. At its height of glory the monument was a much larger and grander structure with its fame reaching even outside India. How big was the synagogue? Late Ruby Daniel, a Cochin Jew who lived in Jew Street before migrating to Israel, quotes in her memoir about an old Jewish folk song, where the number of seat holders attending prayers in the Kadavumbagam synagogue was 800!
A few decades before, in front of the synagogue was a landing place (Kadavu in Malalyalam) mainly for fishing boats traveling southwards and the space was kept open between the synagogue and the waters. May be the name ‘Kadavumbagam’ is coined from its association with this landing site. According to Ruby Daniel, whenever the Rajah of Cochin would sail southwards from his palace in north (adjacent to the Paradesi Synagogue), he stands up and prostrates himself towards the synagogue’s sanctuary where the Holy Ark will be opened for his majesty.
However, David G. Mandelbaum (1939) gives us a different picture about the community in early 20th century: “At the lower end is the Riverside (Kadavumbagam) synagogue of the black Jews, named after an earlier structure in Cranganore. The houses of the black Jews (Malabari Jews) extend up the street for perhaps five hundred yards. Most of them have an open veranda in front, in which the head of the family sells his fowls, eggs, and produce. In back of the shop are the living quarters which must be entered through the veranda, for the houses are jammed one against the other. Sandwiched between Jewish homes are houses belonging to Moslem merchants and Hindu artisans, for poverty and the extinction of family lines have necessitated the sale of some Jewish houses to outsiders”.
Rabbi Louis Rabinowitz visited the Kadavumbhagom synagogue in 1952 and has reported seeing a relatively modern tablet with the names of the contributors who rebuilt the synagogue in 1936. 'Among them are the names of Maharajah of Cochin, who donated five candles of teak, the Bishop of Quilon, the Dewan (Prime Minister) of Cochin and S. R. K. Shanmugan Chitty, an example of a remarkable tolerance which deserves, and will have, special mention' (Far East Mission, p.130)
Different dates have been attributed for the construction and restoration of the Kadavumbagam synagogue from 1130, 1150, 1400, 1530, 1539/40, 1544 or 1549. The most acceptable among scholars is 1544. The credit for establishing and restoring the Kadavumbagam synagogue (1539 to 1549) has been given to Paradesi Jewish community leaders (Mudaliyar) from the first Mudaliyar, Baruch Joseph Levi to the fifth, Jacob David Castiel. Note that even the Paradesi community agrees on the existence of a Malabari synagogue in Mattancherry before theirs was constructed in 1568.
Around 1844, the Jewish community from the Kadavumbagam (Riverside) synagogue was excluded from fellowship with the other six Malabari communities. The dispute began as the Kadavumbhagom community sought the help of Paradesis to certify one of their own members to become a shohet (ritual slaughterer). Before that, the community was depending a shohet from the adjacent Malabari Thekkumbagam congregation for the purpose. David G. Mandelbaum (1939) expands, 'Since then a man who marries a girl of the Riverside congregation must join that synagogue and is not permitted to worship with his former associates. When the people of one synagogue go to kiss the scrolls of the others on Simhat Torah, the Riverside (Kadavumbagam) group goes to the synagogue of the white Jews (Paradesi Jews)”. It may be one the reasons that encouraged A. de Costa to write about the Kaddavumbagam Jews as the black non-Meyuhassims (descendants of manumitted slaves or converts from the non-Jewish natives) and the remaining Malabari congregations as the privileged Jews or Meyuhassims (Indian Church Quarterly Review, 1893).
Rabinowitz, Louis-Far East Mission, Eagle Press Limited, South Africa, 1952, p. 130.
The interior of the synagogue was unique with its outstandingly carved woodwork done in teak wood. The decorative elements showed the rich influence of Hindu motifs including lotus blossoms, birds, fish, frogs and even cobras! Ruby Daniel mentions about a Paradesi Jewish folksong on the building of Kadavumbagam synagogue. In one stanza, the ceiling of the synagogue is said to be divided by beams into 15 sections with a carved lotus flower in the center of each section. Today, you can appreciate the same ceiling panel restored inside the Israel Museum of Jerusalem!“In its prime, the Kadavumbagam Synagogue was notable for its exterior ornamentation and painted surfaces, specifically at the gabled facade of the sanctuary building. The interior was also unique to other Kerala synagogues for its elaborately carved woodwork. Though the majority of Kerala synagogues featured ceilings and balconies made of wood with detail drawing from the region’s secular and religious building traditions using timber, the ones at Kadavumbagam were the most intricate”-writes Jay Waronker in cochinsyn.com.
There is also an interesting story about the person who purchased the synagogue and converted it into a factory for ropes and mat. It goes like this; being a Hindu he hung the idol of his God over the synagogue door, only to find it lying on the floor in pieces next day morning. He repeats the process and the result was the same each morning. Eventually, his sons began to die and only then he realized that he had to leave the synagogue.
The project took almost five years before the reconstructed synagogue was displayed as a permanent exhibit in Israel museum in 1996. Fred Worms remembers in a Jerusalem Post article (9th May, 2011) here on how he arrived at a decision to bring the Kadavumbagam synagogue to Israel. It was his birthday gift to the legendary Jerusalem Mayor (1965 to 1993), Teddy Kollek. “I asked him what he wanted for his 75th birthday, and he said, ‘I want to pray in a synagogue in Cochin',said Worms. “Teddy, I didn’t know you were religious, but okay, I’ll pay for your first-class fare to Cochin,’ I told him. ‘No, I want the Cochin synagogue to come to Israel,’ Teddy said, so that’s how we ended up bringing the Kadavumbagam synagogue to the Israel Museum.”
Although, the Kadavumbhagom synagogue's interior was brought to Israel in 1991 from Mattancherry, its Torah Ark and Bima could not be included in the Israel museum's collection. The original Kadavumbhagom Ark had been already taken to Israel, to Moshav Nehalim in 1950s. The Nehalim community was reluctant to part with theirs and so the museum had to think of an alternative. Meanwhile, the Parur Synagogue became an option, because the synagogue was closed since 1988 when the last of 'Parur Jews' left for Israel and it's Torah Ark and podium were available. The Israel Museum therefore bought the Torah Ark (1891) and the Bima (podium) of the abandoned Parur synagogue and brought to Jerusalem in 1995. Thus, Israel Museum has a 'Parur Ark' of 1891 and Moshav Nehalim has the original 'Kadavumbagam Ark' from 1940s, although the later is presumably a replica of a more ancient ark! Here is a nice high resolution photograph of the Parur Ark preserved in the Israel museum, fetched from online.
The monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam arrived India much before they reached the West. For instance, it is widely believed that Christianity reached the subcontinent only after the first European colonists; the Portuguese arrived India in the 15th century. However, long before Christianity reached many parts of Europe, it came across to India. According to strong traditions among the ancient Syrian Christians of Kerala, Christianity was introduced to India by St: Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ in 52 AD who later established seven churches across Kerala. Contrary to popular belief, Islam came to India prior to the 11th century Muslim invasions with the Arab merchants who arrived Kerala for trade in the 7th century AD. Similarly, Judaism the oldest continuously practiced monotheistic religion has an Indian presence from very early times. If traditional accounts are to be accepted, India had a Jewish colony from the time of King Solomon (10th century BC)!
Most importantly, all the three religions trace their arrival in India to the Malabar region of Southern India which is currently the modern State of Kerala. Since ancient times Kerala has been the center of the Indian spice trade where Greeks, Romans, Jews, Arabs and Chinese came for grabbing their part of share. To be precise, the first Jewish, Christian and Islamic settlements of India were established in a place called Cranganore (modern Kodungallur) in Kerala. The oldest church in India is found in Palayur not far from Kodungallur purportedly constructed in 52 AD by St. Thomas. The oldest mosque in India and the second oldest mosque in the world to offer Jumu'ah prayers is the Cheraman Juma Masjid of Kodungallur and is constructed during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad in 629 AD! Traditionally, Kodungallur had a Jewish synagogue even before St: Thomas arrived in 52 AD and it will then be the oldest synagogue in India.
Much has been written on Indian Jews, their unique culture and traditions. Among the three major Jewish communities in India, the “Kerala Jews” popularly known as “Cochin Jews” are the most ancient (2500 years ago) followed by the “Bene Israel” (2100 years ago) and the “Baghdadi Jews” (250 years ago). Recently two more communities have claimed Jewish ancestry viz. “Bene Menasheh” (1970s) from North East India and “Bene Ephraim or Telugu Jews” (1980s) from Andhra Pradesh. A small population of Jews had migrated to India during the Mughal, Portuguese, Dutch, French and British rule as well. Perhaps the Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Anti-Semitic Europe were the last Jews to arrive India. In other words, Jews weren’t a single emigration to India. At different times they arrived and settled peacefully in India where they never experienced any anti-Semitism from the native Indian community. In fact, it is said that out of the 148 nations where Jews have lived in, India is the only country where they were never persecuted by the natives.
Although Jews reached Kerala as early as 1st century AD, there were many different waves of emigrations later as well. Gradually, Jews of Kerala became organized into three distinct groups, but the different communities interacted very less among themselves. 1) ‘Meyuhassim’ (privileged) or Malabari Jews: the largest (85%) and most ancient group considered to have arrived in India as merchants during the period of King Solomon. 2). ‘Pardesi’ (foreigner) Jews: the second largest (14%) and recent group (from 16th century onwards) who migrated mainly from Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Spain and Germany. 3). ‘Meshuhararim’ (released): the smallest group (<1%) believed to be the slaves held by both Malabari and Pardesi communities who were converted to Judaism and later on released from their status as slaves. Based on skin colour, the Meyuhassim are called the ‘Black Jews’, the Meshuhararim-the ‘Brown Jews’ and the ‘Pardesi’-the ‘White Jews’. The arguments on who came first and who are more pure were often fought vehemently and each sect defended their claims. The Jewish population of Kerala numbered 2,400 at the height of their “mass” emigration to Israel in 1954. Today (2011), less than 40 Jews remain in Kerala-9 Pardesi Jews comprising of 6 women and 3 men; and less than 30 Malabari Jews.
In a strong caste-based Indian society, fair skinned Pardesi Jews managed to win a privileged position although they were a minority and newly arrived. Their European background, influence and wealth managed to push the majority of relatively poor Malabar Jews into an inferior position in colonial India. Unfortunately, even today for many in the west and to a great extent in India too, the existence of Kerala’s ancient Malabari Jewish community and their heritage is far unknown. The famous Pardesi Synagogue in Cochin is perhaps the only monument that comes into the mind of many as far as Judaism in Kerala is concerned. Acclaimed to be the oldest (built 1568) synagogue in British Commonwealth, the Pardesi Synagogue is the only functional one in Kerala today. Did the Jewish community of Kerala leave anything more than this famed synagogue? The answer is a big yes. Judaism in Kerala is not only about the Pardesi Jews of Cochin and their synagogue in Mattanchery. In fact, there are seven synagogues, seven Jewish cemeteries; six Jew Streets, a ‘Jewish Children’s Play ground’, at least two monuments and a few artifacts linked with extinct Jewish colonies in Kerala! This does not include the few existing Jewish homes and the many earlier Jewish residences converted into non-Jewish owned business buildings and private villas.
This blog will be an attempt to help people both inside and outside India to locate and learn about the known Jewish monuments of Kerala, that include synagogues, cemeteries and former Jewish residences. It will be equally pictorial and textual in format. One of the objectives of this blog is to help people in identifying all known Jewish monuments of Kerala through maps and photographs. Their left out synagogues and cemeteries are the physical landmarks that still stand in testimony to the vibrant and glorious heritage of Jews who claim at least 2000 years of strong and continuous bond with India. The big question is about the accessibility and identification of these monuments. Some of the cemeteries for example are so overgrown with weeds and turned into garbage dumping yards that even the locals have no clue about their existence. Most of the sites have no sign boards or maps available to pin point their exact location. The information from internet and other sources are also limited or at times misinformed when locating the monuments are concerned. I will try to get as many photographs as needed to help people understand these monuments and the blog will not be confined to the heritage of Pardesi Jews alone. For those synagogues that are disputed properties or lie in ruined state and are not accessible for the public I will only add photographs of the exterior. Some of the original Jewish artifacts from Kerala are preserved in Israel and what left here are the duplicates. In such cases, I will trace and append online links having the original photographs. All the trips I made to these heritage sites are through public transport systems and hence the directions provided will be for those who travel the hard way. Regarding the dates associated with the history of ‘Kerala Jews’, I have tried to incorporate the most popular views and need not always be the scholarly accepted ones. I shall be much glad if any one can contribute or provide details of additional monuments, sites or artifacts you think can be classified as part of Jewish heritage of Kerala.
Being also a photoblog, I will be concentrating more on the photographs taken from various Jewish monuments in Kerala. Not many sites are available online that go deep into the structural and historic details of these heritage units with photographs. However, we are lucky to have a few very enlightening resources. The “Friends of Kerala Synagogues 2011” (Prof. Jay A. Waronker, USA; Prof. Shalva Weil, Israel; Marian Scheuer Sofaer, USA; Isaac Sam, India and Tirza Muttath Lavi, Israel) maintain an excellent site on the synagogues of Kerala. I strongly recommend anyone interested in ‘Jewish synagogues of Kerala’ to go through their highly informative links. Whenever, I refer to their site, it will be acknowledged as ‘www.cochinsyn.com’. The other very important site I recommend is the beautiful photo collection by Jono David in his ‘Ha Chayim Ha Yehudim Jewish Photo Library’. He has photographs from many Jewish monuments of India. Although he has got wrong one of the synagogues (Mattancherry Kadavumbagam Synagogue) the site has largely helped me to identify the Jewish cemeteries in Kerala. Thoufeek Zakriya who introduces himself as a young Indian Muslim, hospitality management student and a calligraphy artist maintains a well informed and interesting blog discussing the History of Jews of Kerala. His ‘Jews of Malabar’ is rich with unique information and rare photographs. A site maintained by Isaac Solomon has a very good collection of photographs on 53 Jewish cemeteries of the Bene Israeli community in India . However, he has not included cemeteries of the Jews of Kerala. Other way round, the Bene Israeli community has a site on the 49 synagogues they had established in Israel. Another interesting link has 360 degree view on the interiors of 10 Indian Synagoues including four from Kerala. General and popular articles on the subject are freely available on internet. You can also read some very informative classic books and scholarly written articles about the Jews of Kerala. Unfortunately, most of them are expensive to purchase and some are out of print or stock.
JEWISH MONUMENTS & ARTIFACTS OF KERALA
The most important Jewish heritage structures in Kerala are the synagogues (Juda Palli in Malayalam), cemeteries and residences.
Today, there are 35 synagogues in India and 7 of them are in Kerala. The architectural style of Kerala synagogues differs from those in the west. These synagogues are strongly influenced from earlier Hindu religious buildings on its design and construction. They are characterized by high slope roofs, thick laterite-stoned walls, large windows and doors, balcony and wood-carved ceilings. A Kerala synagogue consists of a ‘Gate House’ at the entrance that leads through a Breezeway to the Synagogue Complex. The synagogue complex is made of a fully enclosed Azara or Anteroom and a double-storeyed sanctuary-the main prayer hall. Inside a typical double-storeyed sanctuary of a ‘Kerala Synagogue’ are:
1) A Tebah/Bimah: Located at the center of the sanctuary, Tebah is usually an elevated wooden platform or pulpit from which Torah, the holy book of Jews is read. 2) A Heichal (Ark): Represents the altar. It is a chest or cupboard in the synagogue where the Torah scrolls are kept. It is usually carved intricately and painted/gilded with teak wood. Unlike in the European Synagogues, where the ark is placed on the eastern wall, the synagogues in Kerala have the arks on the western wall facing Jerusalem. 3) A Balcony/Second Tebah: It is unique to the synagogues of Kerala. The balcony has two portions one for men and the other for ladies. Women’s seating area is placed directly above the azara. 4) A Staircase: Leads to the balcony and is generally spiral in shape and made of wood. At times there are two staircases, one for men from the main hall inside the synagogue and the other for the ladies from a staircase room outside the synagogue; 5) A Jewish School: Is actually a classroom for Jewish children usually located behind the women’s section on the first floor.
Resting place of ancestors means a lot to the Jewish community. Sometimes they even carried tombstones from their old settlements while migrating to a newer place. The oldest Jewish tomb in India (dated 1269 AD) preserved in front of Chendamangalam synagogue is one such transferred from Kodungallur. Unlike Christian tombs in Kerala with Malayalam and English engravings, the Jewish graves have mostly Hebrew inscriptions. The Jewish year can be converted into modern Gregorian date if one can read the Hebrew letters. ‘Reading Hebrew Tombstones’ is an interesting site to read the Jewish tombs.
C. Jewish Residences
Today, most of the early Jewish homes sold to non-Jews are substantially modified or refurbished. However, there are a few features that still make them identifiable. Sometimes you can trace Jewish symbols like Menorah (candlestick) and Magen David (Star of David) on the walls, windows and roof tops. For example, a few residences in Mattancherry still maintain the Star of David (Magen David) despite being converted into shops or warehouses. The best way to locate the home of a residing Jew is to look for the Mezuzah on the door post. Nailed to the doorpost of a Jewish home, Mezuzah is a small container made of wood, plastic or metal having a piece of parchment with the most important words from the Jewish Holy Book, Torah. It is customary among religious Jews to touch the mezuzah on entering or leaving the home. A few homes in the Synagogue Lane of Mattancherry with mezuzah are the residences of the remaining 9 Paradesi Jews.
The Jewish monuments and artifacts I will be discussing in this blog are:
1. Pardesi Synagogue, Mattancherry (1568)
2. Kadavumbagam Synagogue, Mattancherry (1130 or 1539)
3. Thekkumbagam Synagogue, Mattancherry (1647, only the building site known)
4. Kadavumbagam Synagogue, Ernakulam (1200)
5. Thekkumbagam Synagogue, Ernakulam (1200 or 1580))
6. Paravur Synagogue (750 or 1164 or 1616)
7. Mala Synagogue (1400 or 1597)
8. Chendamangalam Synagogue (1420 or 1614)
(The various speculated dates of establishment in parenthesis are taken from www.cochinsyn.com, coutesy Prof. Jay A. Waronker)
1. Pardesi Jewish Cemetery, Mattancherry
2. Malabari Jewish Cemetery, Mattancherry
3. Old Jewish Cemetery, Ernakulam
4. New Jewish Cemetery, Ernakulam
5. Paravur Jewish Cemetery
6. Mala Jewish Cemetery
7. Chendamangalam Jewish Cemetery
III Jew Streets
1. Jew Street Mattancherry (Jewish residences with Mezuzah and Magen David)
2. Jew Steet, Ernakulam (today all shops in non-Jewish hands)
3. Jew Street, Paravur (Twin Pillars)
4. Jew Street, Mala (Gate House and Breezeway of synagogue turned into shops)
5. Jew Street, Chendamangalam (used to be a Jewish Market or Judakambolam)
6. Jew Street, Calicut (identified in July 2011 as Jootha (Jew) Bazar)
IV Other Monuments & Artifacts
1. Tomb of Sarah (1269 AD), Chendamangalam
2. Kochangadi Synagogue Corner-stone, Mattancherry
3. Jewish Children’s Play Ground, Mattancherry
4. Clock-Tower, Mattancherry
5. Sarah Cohen’s Embroidery Shop, Mattancherry
6. Jew Hill/Judakunnu/Jewish Bazar, Palayur
7. Jew Tank/Judakkulam, Madayi
8. Koder House, Fort Kochi
9. Grand Residencia, Fort Kochi
10. Jewish Summer Resorts, Aluva
11. Jewish Copper Plates, Mattancherry
12. Syrian Copper Plates, Kollam
13. Torah Finial, Palayur
V Lost Jewish Colonies
1. Kodungallur (Thrissur)
2. Palayur (Thrissur)
3. Pullut (Thrissur)
4. Kunnamkulam (Thrissur)
5. Saudhi (Ernakulam)
6. Tir-tur (Ernakulam)
7. Fort Kochi (Ernakulam)
8. Chaliyam (Kozhikode)
5. Pantalayani Kollam (Kozhikode)
9. Thekkepuram (Kozhikkode)
10. Muttam (Alappuzha)
11. Kayamkulam (Alappuzha)
12. Dharmadom (Kannur)
13. Madayi (Kannur)
14. Quilon (Kollam)
15. Pathirikunnu, Krishnagiri (Waynad)
16. Anchuthengu (Thiruvananthapuram)