Saturday, 3 December 2011

ERNAKULAM or KOCHI or COCHIN

Where is the Paradesi synagogue located? A simple google search will give you at least seven names, Cochin, Kochi, Fort Cochin, Fort Kochi, Mattancherry, Kochangadi (Cochangadi) and Ernakulam! Sometimes, even scholarly articles written on the subject too are not accurate with the location of synagogues in Cochin. Although, these places are interconnected, not all of them are same in the current context. 

First, Kochi and Fort Kochi are the new names for Cochin and Fort Cochin, respectively. The old colonial name of Kochi, ‘Cochin’ is still used in several circles and official records that many especially from outside Kerala get confused. In Kerala, for all practical purposes, Ernakulam and Kochi generally refer to the same place. Thus, if someone is going to Ernakulam, he or she may be referring to Ernakulam district or Ernakulam city. Similarly, traveling to Kochi means one is going to Ernakulam city or the harbour region of the city, mainly Fort Kochi-Mattancherry area. If you want to book a flight ticket you will find Kochi; if it’s a rail ticket you will have to select Ernakulam. If you are taking a flight from the ‘Cochin International Airport’, it is not in Cochin but in Nedumbassery 30 km away. 

Someone mentioning about the medieval ‘Kingdom of Cochin’ or later ‘Princely State of Cochin’, refers to a broad area covering parts of Thrissur (including Kodungallur), Palakkad (Chittoor Taluk) and Ernakulam Districts (including areas of Aluva, Parur and Chendamangalam). There is 'Edakochi’, an old locality in the southern end of Kochi; a ‘Kochi Corporation’ spread over 95 Km2 composed of Ernakulam city and rest of Kochi; a ‘Kochi Metropolitan Area’ or ‘Urban Agglomeration’ (UA) of Kochi’ stretching to 500 km²; and a larger ‘Greater Cochin Area’ consisting of 732 km². The regions under UA and Greater Cochin cover several Panchayats and municipalities including Aluva, Parur, Chennamangalam, Nedumbassery etc.  I know now it’s really confusing!

Is there a difference between Ernakulam and Kochi? Are Ernakulam and Kochi twin cities or synonyms of the same city? There are no strict geographical boundaries set, but the answer mainly depends on the person whom you are asking. To make things simple, Ernakulam is one of the 14 districts of Kerala, whose administrative capital is also Ernakulam. The city Ernakulam is in the mainland and was developed relatively recently as compared to Cochin. Ernakulam city is the business center and headquarter of the Ernakulam District, while Cochin refers to its older suburbs, mainly referring to the port areas of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry from which the city actually evolved.  
  1. Ernakulam is the new city whereas Kochi is the old city.
  2. Ernakulam is in the mainland, but Kochi is an Island and harbor.
  3. Ernakulam is on the east separated from Kochi on the west by backwaters.
When the ‘Municipal Corporation of Cochin’ was formed in 1967, Ernakulam, Mattancherry (including Kochangadi), Fort Kochi, Willingdon Island, four Panchayats (Palluruthy, Vennala, Vyttila and Edappally) and two Islands (Gundu and Ramanthuruthu) were merged. Today, Ernakulam city areas, Fort Kochi (1), Mattancherry (5) and Kochangadi (6) are among the 74 administrative wards of the Kochi Corporation (numbers in the parenthesis refer to the ward number). Edakochi is the 15th and 16th wards of Kochi Corporation.

Coming back to the seven synagogues in Kochi, those at Mattancherry (4), Kochangadi (1) Fort Kochi (1) and Saudi (1), are all conveniently or ignorantly included under the larger region of ‘Cochin’ by many scholars and laymen, past and present. Thus, the exact location of Paradesi synagogue is Mattancherry of ‘Kochi Corporation’, and not Kochangadi or Fort Kochi. Likewise, Paradesi synagogue is in Ernakulam District, but not inside Ernakulam city! 

Courtesy,Google Map.

Mapping the Jewish Monuments of Mattancherry.

Inside the ‘Kochi Corporation’, there are two pairs of synagogues; one pair in Mattancherry (Kadavumbagam and Paradesi) and the other in Ernakulam (Kadavumbagam and Thekkumbagam) city, respectively. If you consider Ernakulam District as a whole, two more synagogues, Parvur (Parur) and Chendamangalam add to the list. In other words, out of the seven surviving synagogues in Kerala, six are in Ernakulam District. The only exception is the synagogue at Mala that comes under Thrissur (Trichur) District. Once there were four more synagogues in Kochi area (Thekkumbagam of Mattancherry, Kochangadi, Saudi and Fort Kochi), but none of them exist now. Had all the synagogues remained intact today, Ernakulam District would have 11 synagogues (including the one at Tir-tur) and Mattancherry  alone would be having four!

So far I have discussed about four synagogues (Kochangadi, Kadavumbagam, Thekkumbagam and Paradesi); two Jewish cemeteries (Paradesi and Malabari); the Tomb of Nehemiah Motta, a 1761 Clock Tower; a Jewish Children’s Playground and a few Jewish residences, in Mattancherry. Here are a few maps that can give you an overall view of these monuments. All the maps are taken and modified from the google map site here.

Jewish Monuments in Mattancherry-Overall view

Paradesi Jewish Monuments in Mattancherry

Malabari Jewish Monuments in Mattancherry

The extinct Jewish Colonies in Fort Kochi and Saudi.


Courtesy, google maps

The Lost Synagogue (1848) and Jewish Cemetery of Fort Kochi.

At Fort Kochi, the Meshuchararim Jewish community started praying in a private house in Lily Street by 1848. It was an attempt to start a new congregation in response to the harsh treatment they received from the Paradesis. For Paradesis, Meshucharars were manumitted slaves and did not deserve an independent congregation of their own! The prayer hall didn’t attain the status of a synagogue in the beginning, probably due to the lack of enough worshippers. Ruby Daniel remembers about a second wave of Meshuchararim migration to the British ruled Fort Kochi in early 1860s after the Paradesi and Kadavumbagam Jewish communities targeted their leaders (Ruby of Cochin, p13-18). The Jewish population of Fort Kochi increased and a synagogue was built, probably in the same house by Ava (Abraham), son of the Mudaliar Solomon Hallegua and Hannah (a woman of slave descent according to the Paradesis). Ava was the maternal grandfather of A B Salem.Our family had three shofars from that synagogue’, recalls Ruby Daniel (Rubby of Cochin, p.17). The ‘Synagogue House’ as it was known was abandoned after a fatal cholera attack wiped out 75 of its members. Some of the remaining rebels went to Mumbai and Kolkatta and the rest rejoined the Jew Town of Mattancherry after paying a fine. Ruby Daniel also mentions about a Jewish Cemetery in Fort Kochi near the beach, where many of the prominent leaders of Meshucharars were buried including Ava and his son Itzahak. The cemetery was closed by early 20th century, but was reopened under the influence of A B Salem to bury his cousin Japeth, the grandson of Ava and son of Itzahak (Ruby of Cochin, p.18).

Where exactly did the synagogue and Jewish cemetery of Fort Kochi exist? We know that the synagogue was in the Lily Street and the cemetery most possibly adjacent to it. Today, Lily Street of Fort Kochi is famous for its eating outlets and home stay units, but in earlier times it was a more historic avenue. For the Dutch it was Leliestraat and there were four Dutch households in 1792.  India’s first European Church, the 1503 built ‘St: Francis Church’, is a few feet west to the Lily Street. When Vasco de Gama died in Kochi in 1524, his body was originally buried here before it was taken to Portugal in 1539. Similarly, the 1724 consecrated Dutch Cemetery of Fort Kochi can be seen less than 200 meters from Lily Street and very close to the sea. It is quite logical to assume that the Jewish cemetery of Fort Kochi would have been near another graveyard and in this case the Dutch cemetery. See the map below: The red lines mark the 'Lily Street'.

Courtesy, google maps

The Lost Synagogue of Saude or Saudi (1514-1556).

Saudi synagogue of Cochin (Kochi) was built in 1514. The synagogue functioned for four decades and ceased operational by 1556. Modern Saudi (also called as Saude, Saudhi, Southie or Southee) is in the western shores of Kochi and south of Fort Kochi. It is said that a port existed at Saudi and was used mainly by the Arabs and later by the Portuguese for trade. Some believe that the name Saudi was from this Arab influence on the region. 

 
In the 1723 ‘Letters from Malabar’ (Letter XVIII, p.115), Jacobus Canter Visscher, mentions about the Jews of Saudi; “A party of the white Jews came to a place called by the Portuguese Sinhora Savode, about half a league distant from the town of Cochin, where they maintained themselves for fifty years; but being unable to endure any longer the offensive vicinity of the Moors, and still more of the Christians, who keep unclean animals in their houses, they obtained from the Rajah of Cochin in a piece of ground near his palace, on which to build their houses. Here they have dwelt now for 202 years, but the place being small, their houses are poor and huddled together; they are chiefly built of stone, and covered with tiles”

The Jewish settlement ‘called by the Portuguese Sinhora Savode’ most probably refers to Saudi. Visscher’s letter gives us two important information: 1) The first Jews of Saudi were Paradesis from Cranganore; 2) The Jewish settlement of Sinhora Savode was established by at least 1471 AD. A few queries remain unaddressed if Visscher’s version is accepted. First, why it took more than four decades to build a synagogue at Saudi in 1514, after Jews arrived there in 1471? Secondly, we know that the ‘Saudi Synagogue’ remained intact until 1556, but how did it function for an additional 35 years after the Paradesis left for Mattancherry in 1521? Had there been Malabari Jews too in Saudi?  What we know for sure is that the Saudi synagogue was rarely used for religious ceremonies.

A thumb rule for locating the Jewish monuments in Kerala is to look for Christian or Muslim religious structures from the parallel period. Today, we can find an early 16th century Catholic Church, “Our Lady of Health” and a cemetery in Saudi, Mundamveli. The Church was established in 1501, probably by the Portuguese, and it is presently under the Diocese of Alleppey. It is highly plausible that Saudi got its name from this church, as ‘Our Lady of Health’ in Portuguese is “Nossa Senhore da Saude”. Saudi is then a derivation of the Portuguese word for ‘health’. The Jewish settlement of Senhora Savode was also known as 'Canaan-Nagar' or 'Canaan Town'(Nathan Katz and Ellen S. Goldberg, 'The Last Jews of Cochin', p. 63). Since the religious structures of the three monotheistic faiths are commonly built close to each other in Kerala, I believe ‘Saudi Synagogue’ existed somewhere near this Church in Mundamveli, and adjacent to the sea. See here for a photo of the church.
 Courtesy, google maps.

INTRODUCTION

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.

A. Synagogues

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.

B. Cemeteries

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:

I Synagogues

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)

II Cemeteries

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)