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The Unknown Synagogues of Kochi

Entrance to Paradesi Synagogue, Kochi, Kerala (Photo by author)

When tourist brochures in Kerala mention the Jewish synagogue, they all refer to the one in Jew Town, Kochi. It turns out that there are other synagogues — the Kadavumbhagam and Thekkumbhagam — which are older and perfectly neglected. (H/T Yashwant)

The structure which is believed to have been constructed around 1200 AD, was rebuilt in 1700 AD as a replica of the first temple in Jerusalem with its 10 windows symbolising the Ten Commandments.

“We try to keep the Synagogue in proper order using as much funds as our pockets permit since the government does not seem to be interested in protecting this heritage site,” says Josephai, one of the last remaining members of the congregation of the Kadavumbagam Synagogue. Though the usage of the holy structure as a shop might sound outrageous to some, it seems to be the only reason that keeps the Synagogue standing.

Right around the corner of Kadavumbagam Synagogue lies the Thekkumbhagam Synagogue, which is inruins owing to disuse and neglect.[Monuments, a picture of neglect]

Jay A. Waronker has a brief history of the Lost Synagogues

The first synagogue built in the Cochin region predated the resettlement of the Kerala Jews en bloc in the sixteenth century as a result of Portuguese aggression. Dating from 1344 and attributed to Joseph Azar, it was located in a village called Kochangadi (near Mattancherry), now a part of the city of Kochi. It was most likely built when the Jews abandoned an area in or around Cranganore after the Perriyar River flooded. This synagogue in Kochangadi was apparently razed by the army of Tipu Sultan during the Second Anglo-Mysore War in the 1780s. The building was never rebuilt, and the Jewish community is thought to have moved to nearby Kochi no later than 1795. They carried with them the inscription stone verifying the fourteenth century date of construction and placed it in the Kadavumbagam Synagogue in Mattancherry. Today it can be found inset in the east wall of the courtyard of the Paradesi Synagogue in Mattancherry.[Lost Kerala Synagogues]

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