Jewish Synagogue in Mattancherry, Kochi is the oldest existing active synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations. Jewish synagogue Kochi was constructed in 1568 and it happens to be one of the seven synagogues of the Malabar Yehuda people. It has a striking architecture which is a blend of local and Jewish architectural elements. The Jewish Synagogue in Kochi is also known as Paradesi Synagogue. In many Indian languages, Paradesi means foreigner and as this synagogue belongs to foreigners it came to be known as Paradesi Synagogue. The original members of the Jewish community in Kochi hailed from the Middle East, Europe and Kodungallur. They came to Kochi in the 14th century and built a synagogue on the land granted to the Jews by the Maharaja of Cochin. The Portuguese destroyed it in 1662 but it was renovated by Dutch after two years.
The Jews had a flourishing spice trade in Kerala and experienced a golden age, from 1663 to 1795, during the Dutch rule of Malabar. Jewish synagogue Cochin India had three classes of members, white Jews, black Jews, and Mesuchrarim. The white Jews were from Holland and Spain and they enjoyed the status of full members. The second type of members were the black Jews who did not have full membership but they were allowed to worship. Mesuchrarim was the third group, who were believed to be former slaves brought to India by the white Jews. They were given a subordinate position and made to sit only in the back area of the synagogue. Yemenite and Middle Eastern Jews, who came from the Arabian continent are the black Jews known as Malabar Jews who are believed to be the earliest Jewish settlers. The white Jews who came from Europe arrived much later and they were a small group compared to Malabar Jews.
This Jewish church in Kochi has a central hall with beautiful glass chandeliers imported from Belgium and pretty lamps. The chandeliers and lamps sparkle in the sunlight that seeps in through the large windows. The center of the room has a beautiful pulpit with brass rails. The synagogue has beautiful pillars, a curved teak ark and a porch for women with golden columns and a clock tower. The teak ark has four scrolls of Torah encased in silver and gold. The ark is placed in such a way that the worshippers face the direction of Jerusalem. The floor of the synagogue is amazing, with unique hand-painted bright blue willow patterned tiles from China. Each tile is different and unique in its design. The synagogue also houses 4th-century copper plates with Malayalam inscriptions and two gold crowns of olden day kings. Another artifact found here is a special oriental rug that was gifted to the Jewish community by the last king of Ethiopia. Most of the material used in decorating the interior of the synagogue is extinct today.
Jewish synagogue Cochin is still run by the Jews living in Mattancherry. It is required that the worshippers enter the synagogue barefoot. There is no entry fee but additional charges are made for taking photographs inside the synagogue. Plan a trip to Kochi with Indian Visit to discover more about the culture and history of the Jews living in Kochi.
Jewish Synagogue Timings: It is open to the public from 10.00 A.M. to 12.00 Noon and 3.00 P.M. to 5.00 P.M. on all days of the week except Saturday and Jewish holidays.