Date:16/03/2010 URL:


Paravur synagogue to be restored

A. Srivathsan

The synagogue was declared a protected monument in 1996, but had been poorly maintained

— Photos: A. Srivathsan and Thulasi Kakkat

PROTECTING HERITAGE: The Chennamangalam synagogue which was the first major site to be renovated in 2005. (Below) The Paravur synagogue which is being restored.

Paravur (Kerala): The dilapidated Jewish Synagogue in North Paravur, Kerala, one of the oldest in India, is set for restoration.

“Work will commence this week and about Rs. 63 lakh will be spent to restore it,” said K.K. Mohanan Pillai, Director, Kerala State Department of Archaeology.

The date of arrival of the Jews in the Malabar Coast has not been precisely established yet. Some accounts date it back to the days of King Solomon, while others place it in the 1st century CE.

North Paravur, a small town about 20 km north of Kochi, was one of the places where the Cochin Jews, as they were collectively known, settled.

The Cochin Jews like the other Jews in India never faced any anti-Semitism and were an integral of part of the multi-cultural milieu. As the 10 {+t} {+h} century copper plates of Bhaskara Ravi Varman indicate, some of them even enjoyed special privileges.

The early synagogues built in Kerala are now lost and only those built after the 16 {+t} {+h} century survive. Studies state that there were eight Jewish communities in Kerala and each had their own synagogues. The extant ones could be found in Kochi, Ernakulum, Mala, North Paravur and Chennamangalam. The Mattancherry synagogue in Kochi is the most well known of them.

The Paravur synagogue located on the Jew Street of the town was built in 1615 CE, but traditional accounts hold that it was built on the ruins of an early synagogue constructed in 1165 CE, making it the earliest. The services in the Paravur synagogue continued till 1988.

The International Survey of Jewish Monuments (ISJM), an independent, non-profit educational organisation, reports that the original bimah (an elevated wooden platform from which the Torah is read) and the ark (a chest or cupboard in the synagogue where the Torah scrolls are kept), were taken from Paravur to Israel in 1995.

Though the Paravur synagogue was declared a protected monument in 1996, the structure was not well maintained. It was only last year that the Department of Archaeology took possession of it, government officials told The Hindu.

The Jews started immigrating to Israel in 1949, after the State of Israel was formed. By 1954, most of them had moved out of Kerala severely affecting the upkeep of the Jewish heritage structures.

The idea to conserve Jewish heritage sites in Kerala was mooted in the 1990s and the Chennamangalam synagogue was the first major site to be renovated by the Department of Archaeology in 2005.

“The restoration of Paravur synagogue which is expected to be completed in September is part of the Muziris Heritage Project,” says S. Hemachandran, Superintending Archaeologist and Special Officer, Muziris Project.

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