The Chendamangalam Synagogue is one of the oldest known synagogues built by the Malabar Jews, in Chendamangalam, a village in the Ernakulam district of the coastal state of Kerala. It is dated to 1100 A.D, though the synagogue structure itself dates to 1420 A.D or 1614 A.D., making it the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations. A tombstone recovered from Shingly was stored in this synagogue and is presently on display in the courtyard in front. This tombstone with the inscription of Sarah bat Israel is the oldest Jewish relic found in India, dating to 1270 A.D. After the entire congregation made aliyah to Israel in 1950s, the synagogue was defunct for decades. Today it serves as a Kerala Jews Lifestyle Museum for the Muziris Project, a conservation project by the Government of Kerala. The synagogue has been restored and has an exhibit open to visitors from 9:30 to 5:00 during the week. A tombstone recovered from Shingly was stored in this synagogue and is presently on display in the courtyard in front. This tombstone with the inscription of Sarah bat Israel is the oldest Jewish relic found in India, dating to 1270 A.D. The Chendamangalam Synagogue Musuem showcases the lives and rituals of Kerala Jews who were firm believers and lived in close contact with the local society. The synagogue is located inside high walls that surround it. The wall in front is as high as the front elevation. When you cross the front door, it is the Azara, with a vast prayer room behind it. The balcony that projects into the prayer room is the second Bimah (elevated platform for Torah reading). Supporting it are two stone pillars with intricate carvings. The position of the Ark is on the wall across the door, and it is a beautiful piece of art in teak with carved images. On the wooden planks on the roof are carved images of lotus that are painted. On both sides of the Bimah are two rows of bench. There is a spiral staircase to climb up to the second Bimah.
Historic Jew Town, the heart of the once-thriving Cochin Jewish community, is known for its old-world charm and 16th-century Paradesi Synagogue. Quaint shops around Synagogue Lane and Jew Town Road sell antiques, carvings, and vintage collectibles, along with Keralan crafts and aromatic spices. Laid-back outdoor cafes and artsy eateries, some in heritage buildings, serve local specialties and Western fare. The neighborhood was once lined with Jewish homes and shops that are now mostly owned by Muslims. Some of the wrought-iron windows and outer walls retain their Star of David decorations, some side by side with swastikas, the Indian good-luck symbol that the Nazis co-opted. Souvenir and antique shops beckon with names like Café Jew Town and Shalom. A.B. Salem Street, which leads to the cemetery, is padlocked behind a gate. The street is named for a community leader, lawyer, teacher and follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Images Credit: Chendamangalam Synagogue, Paradesi Synagogue and Kadavumbagam synagogue (Ernakulam) to the Ministry of Tourism Kerala.
In a most unlikely setting, the Kadavambagam synagogue in Ernakulam (a 45-minute drive away from Jew Town) sits in the midst of a crowded market, hidden behind a plant and aquarium shop called Cochin Blossoms that incorporates hamsas on its sign. The current synagogue is the restored oldest synagogue of the Malabar Jews, with a Sefer Torah scroll and offering occasional services. It was established in 1200 CE and restored several times through the centuries on the same site. It is modeled on the earliest synagogue of the Malabar Jews at Muziris from the ancient times of Mediterranean sea trade with Kerala. The earliest synagogue of the ancient Malabar Jews is today submerged in the sea following the gradual rise of sea level over several millennia. Although the Chendamangalam Synagogue is the oldest surviving synagogue structure in Kerala and Indian subcontinent (established in 1166 CE), its Torah scrolls were taken to Israel by it congregation in 1952. This makes the Kadavumbhagham Ernakulam synagogue the oldest Malabar Jewish synagogue today (since its restoration in 2018) with a Torah scroll that is occasionally used for services. The Paradesi Sephardic synagogue at Mattancherry also has Torah scrolls but it was established much later in 1568. The Sabbath services at the Kadavumbhagam Ernakulam synagogue continued till 1972 when a large portion of the community immigrated to Israel by 1972 along with the Torah scrolls. For decades, the Kadavumbhagham Synagogue at Ernakulam remained without any Sabbath services and without a Sefer Torah. Today the synagogue is nested within the bustling market at Ernakulam with a thriving aquarium in the front area near the synagogue operating since 1985. After much effort, the Kadavumbhagham Ernakulam synagogue was restored and the Sefer Torah brought back to the synagogue in 2018 after 46 years. Today there are only two synagogues in Kochi that have Torah scrolls: the Paradesi synagogue of the Sephardic Jews in Mattancherry and the Kadavumbhagham Ernakulam synagogue of the ancient Malabar Jews.
The Paradesi Synagogue aka Mattancherry Synagogue is a synagogue located in Mattancherry Jew Town, a suburb of the city of Kochi, Kerala, in India. It was built in 1568 A.D. by Samuel Castiel, David Belila, and Joseph Levi for the flourishing Paradesi Jewish community in Kochi. The Malabari Jews or Yehudan Mappila (also known as Cochin Jews) formed a prosperous trading community of Kerala, and they controlled a major portion of worldwide spice trade. In 1568, Paradesi Jews constructed the Paradesi Synagogue adjacent to Mattancherry Palace, Cochin, now part of the Indian city of Ernakulam, on land given to them by the Raja of Kochi. The first synagogue in India was built in the 4th century in Kodungallur (Cranganore) when the Jews had a merchantile role in the South Indian region (now called Kerala) along the Malabar coast. When the community moved to Kochi in the 14th century, it built a new synagogue there. Today the Paradesi Synagogue is the only functioning synagogue in Kochi with a minyan (though this minyan must be formed with Jews from outside Kochi, as the number who still reside there is not sufficient). In conformity with the Hindu, St Thomas Christian or Syrian Mappila and Muslim Mappila traditions of Kerala, the worshippers are required to enter the Paradesi Synagogue barefoot. Other facets which are unique to the Cochin Jewish community, and which are results of Hindu influence, include special colours of clothing for each festival, circumcision ceremonies performed at public worship, and distribution of grape-soaked myrtle leaves on certain festivals. The Paradesi Synagogue has the Scrolls of the Law, several gold crowns received as gifts, many Belgian glass chandeliers, and a brass-railed pulpit. It houses the 10th-century copper plates of privileges given to Joseph Rabban, the earliest known Cochin Jew. These two plates were inscribed in Old Malayalam by the ruler of the Malabar Coast. The floor of the synagogue is composed of hundreds of Chinese, 18th-century, hand-painted porcelain tiles, each of which is unique.
The A.B Salem House is newly transformed, 350-year-old Heritage Guest House with four bedrooms in the historic Jew Street.
The Kashi Hallegua House is a historic Jewish synagogue in Kochi, India, built in 1568 by the Paradesi Jews. It was used for religious and cultural activities such as the Sukkah and Simah Torah festivals and for the bridegroom to dress for weddings. Today, it is an important cultural landmark showcasing the Jewish community's rich heritage in Kochi.