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Kerala's Jewish History

There are various theories on Kerala’s relation with the Jews. According to oral tradition Jews established trading contacts with Kerala during the time of Solomon. There are other traditions which claim that Jews came to Kerala during the time of King Nebuchadnezar of Babylon in 500 BC, the time of Buddha. According to Romila Thapar in her book Early India, the Jews came to India in the tenth and eleventh century AD.

The Jews of Cochin say that they came to Cranganore (south-west coast of India) after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. They had, in effect, their own principality for many centuries until a chieftainship dispute broke out between two brothers in the 15th century. The dispute led neighboring princes to dispossess them. In 1524, the Moors, backed by the ruler of Calicut (today called Kozhikode) attacked the Jews of Cranganore on the pretext that they were “tampering” with the pepper trade. Most Jews fled to Cochin and went under the protection of the Hindu Raja there. He granted them a site for their own town that later acquired the name “Jew Town” (by which it is still known).

Unfortunately for the Jews of Cochin, the Portuguese occupied Cochin in this same period and indulged in persecution of the Jews until the Dutch displaced them in 1660. The Dutch Protestants were tolerant and the Jews prospered. In 1795 Cochin passed into the British sphere of influence. In the 19th century, Cochin Jews lived in the towns of Cochin, Ernakulam and Parur. Today most of Cochin’s Jews have emigrated (principally to Israel).[The Virtual Jewish History Tour]

Recently a reunion was held in the town of Chendamangalam by about 100 Jews to bless a synagonue built in 1614.

Among the ancient graves outside the synagogue, stand a tombstone which dates from 1264, making it the oldest Hebrew inscription found in India. The oldest such document is regarding a wedding that took place in the synagogue in 1812. [Kerala showcases its Jewish history, treasures]

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