Our introduction to Fort Kochi and her glorious history began with our visit to the St. FrancisChurch, the oldest European built church in India. Then, the Mattanchery Palace gave us an insight into the lives of the Hindu rulers, who were the original inhabitants of this beautiful town. A few minutes’ walk now brought us to another, and even more fascinating aspect of Fort Kochi – the Jew Town.
|Special Cancellation at the Jew Town Post Office, Mattanchery Jetty|
Jews, it is said, arrived in India during the reign of King Solomon. It is believed that the first Jews were traders from Judea who settled here, and, while following their religion, merged with the locals seamlessly. Their first settlement was at Cranganore, as Kodungallor was then called, near the erstwhile port of Muziris. A massive flood in the Periyar forced the river to change its course, and, along with it, the fortunes of the land. As Muziris was forgotten, Cochin rose in importance, and the Jews, along with many other communities, shifted to Fort Kochi. Here, under the protection of the kings, they built a new synagogue, which was destroyed by the not-so-benevolent Portuguese. Meanwhile, the Sephardic Jews also arrived here, expelled from Spain, their homeland, and rebuilt the Synagogue in 1568, which stands till today, the most ancient among the Jewish places of worship in India.
|Jew Town... a view of the street with the clock tower looming over it|
The Sephardic Jews were called ‘Paradesi Jews’, literally meaning ‘foreigners’, a clear distinction from the Cochin or Malabari Jews who had arrived centuries earlier. The synagogue, therefore, is, even today, called the ‘Paradesi Synagogue’.
|Entry to the Synagogue|
This was one among seven synagogues originally built in Cochin, but is the only one which still survives as a house of prayer. It is now maintained by the World Monuments Fund, in association with the Jewish community of Cochin and the National Culture Fund. Visitors are allowed on payment of a nominal fee, and it was good to see that entry is regulated so that the peace and quiet are maintained.
|Postcard showing the Chinese tiles lining the floor of the Synagogue.. |
a total of 1100 tiles were laid in 1762. And the best thing is, no two are alike!!!!
Inside, it is simple, but remarkably peaceful. We were told that the floor tiles had been brought all the way from China, and on the outer wall, is a plaque brought from the first Synagogue ever to have been built in India, in 1344! That synagogue is no more, but its memory survives, in the form of the original inscription in Hebrew which graced its wall once.
|Clock - still working!|
The clock tower rises over the neighbourhood, still the tallest structure around. This however, is a later structure, added in 1760. It was only when we went back to the Mattanchery palace that we realized that they shared the same compound wall!
|Back View of the Synagogue tower.. from the Mattanchery Palace|
Hindus and Jews, Muslims and Christians, living side by side, in harmony – isn’t that almost Utopian? To think that such an Utopia actually existed right here, makes me wonder, "Where did it go?”
- Part 1: First Impressions
- Part 2: Chinese Fishing Nets
- Part 3: Indo – Portuguese Museum
- Part 4: St. Francis Church
- Part 5: Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica
- Part 6: Mattanchery Palace
- Part 8 : A Boat Ride
- Part 9: 3 Cafés, Three experiences
- Part 10: Maritime Museum