City Monument – Paradesi Synagogue, Jew Town, Cochin
India’s oldest surviving Jewish temple.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Its name literally means ‘foreigner’ in Hindi.
The Delhi Walla is in Paradesi Synagogue in Jew Town, Cochin. India’s oldest surviving Jewish temple, it is a dream world of chandeliers. The stately Venetian and Belgian glass artworks hang down in great dignity from the wooden-beamed ceiling—some of the chandeliers lurk right over the bimah, the Torah podium. The floor is paved with 18th century tiles from China, hand-painted in different designs. Apparently no two tiles are similar (see photo 9 below). The tiles were intended for the Hindu temple of the Maharajah of Cochin but he rejected them following a rumor about the tiles being contaminated with cow blood.
The synagogue’s ‘Hail Selassie Carpet’, a hand-woven rug, was gifted by the Emperor of Ethiopia who used to call himself the Lion of Judah.
The women worshippers’ gallery upstairs is barred to visitors, though the latticework scene can be seen from below.
These days the synagogue is reduced to a tourist curiosity. Only five Jews are left in Jew Town. This is because the Jewry of Cochin is lost to Israel. A couple of Jews, however, live in nearby Ernakulam—the more bustling side of Cochin. Those Malabari Jews of Ernakulam are also known as the ‘Black Jews’ because of their darker skin color acquired over centuries of integration with the Malayalis in the region. The ‘White Jews’ of Jew Town traditionally claimed themselves to be purer than the Malabari Jews. It is said that the Black Jews were not welcomed in Paradesi synagogue. They were left to their own synagogues in Ernakulam.
The most moving element of Paradesi Synagogue is the inscription on its bell tower: Our Days Are Like Passing Shadows
Considering that Jew Town is now no more than a ghost town, the inscription has acquired poignancy.
All about yesterday