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Synagogues in India – A quick guide to the Paradesi Synagogue

Paradesi Synagogue
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India is the land where all major religions co-exist and thrive. Since time immemorial, the people of India have helped grow and strengthen myriad different religions and faiths, thus helping create innumerable cultural identities that have made the country as diverse as it is today. Some of the world’s major religions have taken strong roots in India, becoming one with India’s traditions. One such religion is Judaism, which embodies the culture, religion and way of life of the Jews. The history of Judaism in India is rich and flourishing. There are several Synagogues, or shuls (pronounced shool), scattered all over the country where Indian Jews go to pray and study. Out of the many beautiful and opulent synagogues in India, the Paradesi Synagogue is the oldest active synagogue located in Cochin, Kerala. Let’s take a quick look at the charming Paradesi Synagogue…

History of the Paradesi Synagogue

The Jews of Kerala built the Paradesi Synagogue in 1568 next to Mattancherry Palace on land given them by the King of Cochin. It is called the Paradesi Synagogue because it was built by Spanish-speaking Jews and the synagogue is still used for worship and study. The Paradesi Synagogue had three classes of Jews:

  • White Jews, or Paradesi Jews, were full members
  • Black Jews, or Malabari Jews, were permitted to worship but were not given full membership
  • Meshuchrarim, a group of freed slaves and their descendants had no communal rights or synagogue of their own. They sat on the floor or on the steps outside

In 1968, the synagogue celebrated its 400th anniversary to which the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was a guest.

Objects that make the synagogue fascinating

The Paradesi Synagogue is set apart from other synagogues in India by the presence of the Scrolls of the Law, gold crowns received as gifts, Belgian glass chandeliers and a brass-railed pulpit. The synagogue is also home to the 10th century copper plates given to Joseph Rabban, the earliest known Cochin Jew. Other interesting objects of antiquity include an oriental rug, an 18th century clock tower and hundreds of 18th century Chinese hand-painted porcelain tiles that make the floor of the synagogue.

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Lovely and charming as it is, the Paradesi Synagogue has a long-standing history attached to it too. Have you visited any synagogues in India? How was the experience?

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Nikita is a total and complete bookworm. She’s also a writer and a dreamer who dreams of travelling far and wide. Her other very important dream is to one day, very soon, write books for children.

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