With the collapse of 600-year old Kadavumbhagam synagogue in Mattancherry in Kochi, Kerala has lost perhaps the oldest monument of Jews in the state. On Tuesday, the front portion of the synagogue collapsed in the heavy rains.
Built on the rivers of Kochi lake, and hence named Kadavumbhagam (Kadav is Malayalam for lake or riverside), the synagogue belonged to Malabari Jews, also called Black Jews. The synagogue of the white Jews is located 500 meters away and was built 450 years ago.
The northern part of Kerala is referred to as the Malabar region. The Black Jew community, according to reports, migrated from northern regions following the war between Chola Raja and the Cranganore Maharaja. The Jews who came from the Arabian continent are called Malabari Jews while those who came from Europe are called white Jews.
“Muziris was the largest port of the Kerala shore at the time. The king of Cochin, unlike his counterparts in Calicut and Travancore, had been tolerant to foreigners who landed in Kochi and had allowed them to settle down in Cochin. He had allowed them to build their places of worship as well,” KJ Sohan, the former mayor of Kochi, told TNM.
The Kadavumbhagam synagogue is believed to have been built in 1550 AD. Jews in Kochi mostly settled down in Mattancherry. Several Jews went to Israel in the 60s and worship at the synagogue almost stopped. The synagogue has been in a dilapidated condition since the 1990s.
“In 1991, the Torah and items of worship, the carved wooden interiors and beams were moved to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem with the support of Jerusalem authorities. Now, nothing remains inside the worship centre apart from a Hebrew inscription on a wall. Later, the ownership of the synagogue was handed over to two people within the Jewish community in Mumbai. In 2014, the Kerala government decided to conserve the synagogue as a protected monument,” Sohan said.