The Paradesi Synagogue in Kochi is a symbol of one of the great civilizations of antiquity. By far the oldest synagogue, built in 1568, it stands tall in terms of communal harmony and religious co-existence existing in the region, besides adding a sense of quant charm to one of the important sea ports of Kerala. ‘Paradesi’ literally translates to an outsider or foreigner in several Indian languages including Malayalam and Tamil. This is because many of the original members of the Jewish community have their roots in Kodungalloor, Europe and the Middle East.
A walk through the divine halls leaves anyone spellbound with the rare antiques and artefacts on display. The lamps and chandeliers leave out a sparkle alongside natural sunlight that penetrates through the large glass windows. The Belgium-imported glass chandeliers were first brought here in the 19th century. You will be fascinated by the hand-painted blue willow patterned tiles. The Jewish businessman Ezekiel Rahabi imported them from the city of Canton in China in the 18th century. The striking aspect is that each tile is distinct, and one can almost get carried away by the mystical surroundings and the transcendent beauty of the place.
There is a pulpit having brass rails in the centre of the room. The carve teak ark can leave you completely dazzled. It comprises four scrolls of the Torah (the Old Testament’s first five books) that have silver and gold encasings. Two gold crowns, special gifts from the King of Travancore and Cochin are featured here as well. There is a 4th century old copper plates bestowed as gifts by the King of Cochin. They feature inscriptions in Malayalam that detail out the special privileges granted by the ruler to the Jewish community. Another intriguing artefact is a rare oriental rug bestowed as gift to the community by Haile Selassie, the last ruler of Ethiopia.
Services, as such, are becoming a rarity due to the sharp fall in the community strength in Cochin. They are conducted only when the minimum number of ten members of an assembly is met.