History of Cochin Synagogue
In 1568, the Jews of Kochi constructed the Cochin Synagogue adjacent to Mattancherry Palace, Cochin which is now a part of the Indian city of Ernakulam, on land given to them by the Raja of Kochi. The original synagogue was built in the 4th Century in Kodungallur when the Jews had a commercial role in the South Indian region. The synagogue was destroyed in the Portuguese persecution of the Malabari Jews and Nasrani people of Kerala in the 16th Century. The second synagogue, built under the protection of the Raja of Cochin along with Dutch patronage, is the present synagogue. It is called 'Paradesi Synagogue' because it was built with Dutch patronage at a time when Kochi was under Dutch occupation, thus the name Paradesi Synagogue or "foreign synagogue".
Architecture and Antique Elements of Cochin Synagogue
The main entrance of the synagogue is a large hall which displays a collection of rare antique objects that add to the grandeur of the place. The glass chandeliers dangling from the ceiling belong to the 19th century and were imported from Belgium. The floor of the synagogue itself is a showpiece with the paving of hand-painted blue willow patterned floor tiles. These ceramic tiles were brought from Canton, China in the 18th Century. Each tile is different from one another in its design.
A pulpit with brass rails is built in the center of the room. An exclusive gallery for women with gilt columns, a carved teak ark etc. can be seen in the synagogue. The teak Ark houses 4 scrolls of Torah (the first 5 books of Old Testament) and they are encased in silver and gold. 2 gold crowns presented to the Jewish Community by the Kings of Kochi and Travancore are also kept inside the synagogue. Another valuable possession of the synagogue is the copper plates belonging to the 4th century with inscriptions in Malayalam. The inscriptions describe the privileges granted to the community by the erstwhile Cochin king. An oriental rug gifted to the Jews by the last Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie is also kept in the synagogue.
Visiting Time of Cochin Synagogue
The synagogue is open every day except Fridays, Saturdays and Jewish holidays. Visitors are expected to enter the synagogue barefoot.