The Jews of Malabar controlled much of the spice trade to the Middle East before the arrival of Portuguese in the 14th century that led to their downfall. There were close to 500 Jewish families of which only a few remain. Most of them migrate to Israel. The historic Jew Town of Kochi that also has the functional Paradesi Synagogue is a reminder of Kochi’s cosmopolitan fabric. The street leading to the Synagogue is lined with souvenir shops and buildings with the Star of David symbols. Some of the shops owned by Jewish families sell Yehudi handicrafts. Some Jewish homes such as the one owned by the Koder family is now converted into a boutique hotel.
While the Paradesi Synagogue is the most visited and known Synagogue among the tourists, there are other Synagogues in Kerala that also deserve attention. In fact there were about 10 Synagogues that existed in Kochi alone.
The Kadavumbagam Synagogue near Market Road and Broadway road is no more functional but maintained by the owner of Cochin Blossom Fish and Plant store. It is said that the original one was in Kollungadur (Cranganore) but after the persecution at the hands of the Moors the Jews resettled in Kochi and rebuilt the Synagogue at this site.
It is believed that the first Jewish visiotors to Muziris near Kochi were during the era of King Solomon. After the destruction of the first temple in BC 587 , some of them immigrated to Malabar region. The early Jews arrived in Chendamangalam after the destruction of the second temple and the final desolation of Jerusalem in (AD 69) and made it their home. After the Great floods in 1300 they moved to Kochi. The Synagogues at Mala, Chendamangalam, Kochi have a common architectural style- a central bimah made of brass/silver on a stone base, an ark on the western wall, a balcony above the eastern entry to the sanctuary for the reader. There was a balcony for the women. The Synagogues in Kerala could be found in Mala near Kollungadur and the one at Kottayil Kovilakom in Chendamangalam which is about 1 and a half hours drive from Kochi. The hillock of Kottayil Kovilakom is an example of religious harmony as it houses a Hindu Temple, a Church and a Mosque apart from the Synagogue.
The acceptance and support by the local Rajas when they and his people mark a happy chapter in the history of the Jews in India. The privileges granted to the Jews by the Chera King Bhaskara Ravi Varma were engraved on the copper plate. It is a proof of their friendly relations. The Joseph Rabban was accorded the status of a prince and in charge for tax collection for the Anjuvanam principality. Today it is a challenge to retain the Jewish heritage because of their dwindling numbers. However the national and state government is working of preserving the unique past. More awareness and conservation is needed.
Paradesi Synagougue, Jew Town, Kochi
Chendamangalam, Kottayil Kovilakom -1.5 hours from Fort Kochi
Mala Synagougue- 30 Minutes from Kollungadur