Ancient Synagogue in Kochi ruined by relentless rains in Kerala

Broken Kadavumbhagam synagogue at Mattancherry in Kochi. Photo: Twitter

A prominent victim to the devastating rains in Kerala, which killed more than 100 people besides rendering two lakh people homeless, is a 600-year-old Synagogue that got reduced to a rubble.

Following heavy rains, a portion of Kadavumbhagam synagogue at Mattancherry in Kochi- a remnant of Jewish history- collapsed on Tuesday (September 10) morning. The ancient structure, which was in possession of a private individual was used a storage space for several years.

The non-operational synagogue remained dilapidated since the 1990s after the carved wooden interiors and beams were moved to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem where they were restored and displayed, sources said. Since then the building got consistently weakened on account of which rainwater seeped through its walls and roof.

According to the records of IS Hallegua, a Jew from Fort Kochi, who traced the Jews history in Ernakulam, the synagogue was built partially in 1400 AD.

It was a temple for the Black Jew community, also known as the Malabar Jews, who are believed to be descendants of those Jews who migrated from the North and came to Kerala. They were also known to resemble the locals.

Reports also suggest that Jews of Kochi comprise the Black Jews, the White Jews (also known as Paradesi Jews) and the Meshuhrarim Jews.

600-year-old Synagogue that got reduced to a rubble. Photo: Twitter

According to a report in The Indian Express, the synagogue is believed to have been built by the younger son of Joseph Rabban, a prominent Jewish aristocrat in Kerala.

The synagogue was built after the Cochin King gave Rabban’s younger son a portion of the land in Ernakulam as a gift.

The black and the white Jews had separate synagogues and festivities on special occasions.

The term ‘Mattancherry’ is derived from ‘Mattana’ (a gift in Hebrew) and ‘Cheri’ (settlement in Malayalam).

The historical monument was declared a protected category of the Kerala State Archaeology Department along with 195 others.

“Though it was declared a protected monument by the Kerala State Archaeology Department around three years ago, the department has not taken it over yet. The tiles on the roof have been falling apart for a few years now and water has been seeping in. Restoration work can begin only after it is taken over by the department,” said K.J. Sohan, convener of the Kerala chapter of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) reported The Hindu.

“The Archaeology Department was prepared to take possession of it. But a bank claimed the property had been mortgaged and payment was due to the bank. We do not even know if the owners are still around. The matter will be resolved once payment is made to the bank,” said MLA KJ Maxi.

Another synagogue, also named as the Kadavumbhagom synagogue, was built by Rabban’s elder son in the middle of Ernakulam. In recent years, the Ernakulam synagogue was restored to its full glory by Elias Josephai, one of the last surviving Malabar Jews in Kochi.

Josephai in an interview to The Indian Express said if the Kadavumbhagom synagogue in Kochi had been given due attention by the state government’s archaeological division, it would have stood as a proud marker of the city’s cultural melting-pot. It stood ignored and derelict even as the 1568-built Paradesi synagogue, a few doors down in Mattancherry, attracted tourists.

Whatever be the reason-ASI’s apathy or mismanagement of those living in its environs, a historical monument has been lost once and for all.