A Synagogue is a house of prayer that is by the people following
the Jewish faith. The term “synagogue” literally translates to “assembly” thus refers to a place where people can assemble to make their prayers. The Jewish Synagogue in Kochi, Kerala is also known as the “Pardesi Synagogue” as it was used by the Jews, who were European, Middle Eastern and Cragnorian. The term “Pardesi” means foreigner and since the synagogue were used by them the term “Pardesi synagogue” got stuck with it.
Constructed in the year 1567, this particular synagogue is known to be one of the oldest such place of worship in the Commonwealth Nations. This particular synagogue was the second one to be constructed in Cochin.
The first one was destroyed by the Portuguese and therefore the second one was constructed under the protection of the Raja of Cochin. The construction of this monument was done by the Spanish speaking Jews which gave it the term “Pardesi” meaning foreigner.
In the erstwhile days the synagogue is known to have three classes of members who were separated according to their ethnicity. Each group was separated by certain privileges which the other would not be allowed. The three classes were as follows:-
The white Jews- they were mostly foreigners who were the descendents of Sephardim from Holland and Spain.
The black Jews- they were also known as the Malabari Jews and they were the original Jewish settlers of Cochin.
Meshucharim- they were slaves who were brought by the Sephardim to India.
This particular place of worship is located in the area known as Jew town of Old Cochin. The synagogue has been built adjacent to the Mattancherry palace temple and shares a wall with it. Thus this place is also locally known as the Mattancherry synagogue
There are separate seating columns for seating for men and women. One can see influence of Indian culture on the synagogue in many things such as entering barefoot, different coloured clothes for different occasions and festivals etc. One of the peculiar features of this synagogue is that it has no rabbi rather it is presided over by the elders of the Jewish community.
Things of interest
The synagogue is open for visitation as it is a place of historical importance. As this place is an ancient one the antiques one can find here are numerous. The synagogue is best known for items such as the ‘Scrolls of the law’, copper plates of privilege dating to the 10th century which were presented to Joseph Rabban, gold crowns, Belgian chandeliers etc.
There are many gifts such as a hand knotted Oriental rug from Haile Selassie who was the last ruler of Ethiopia. The floor of the synagogue is covered with 18th century, hand painted porcelain tiles. A tablet dating back to 1334 from the synagogue of Kochangadi stating that the structure was built on 5105 along with an inscription has been installed on the outer wall.
How to reach
This particular place is located in the old Jewish town of Cochin which is easily accessible. One can take cab or alight at the Mattancherry boat jetty and make their way to this town with European features. Boat service starts from Subash Park at Ernakulam.
The nearest railhead is located at a distance of 10 kms i.e. Ernakulam, where trains from Northern Cities and Southern parts of India stops. From railway station one can hire take bus or can hire taxi on hire to reach this historical synagogue.