- Features: India’s oldest active synagogue
- Opening Times: 10am to 1pm & 3pm to 5pm (Sun-Thu)
- Best Time to Visit: Late October to early March
- Duration: 30 mins to 1 hr
- Travelled By: Auto rickshaw
- Cost: Rs 10
- Address: Jew Town, Kochi, Kerala, India
- Type: Synagogue
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Located in the heart of Jew Town in Kochi, Paradesi Synagogue is India’s oldest active synagogue. The interiors of the synagogue are worth a visit simply for its beautiful hanging oil lamps, crystal chandeliers and blue willow-pattern tiled floor.
Paradesi Synagogue Kochi
Nestling in a cul-de-sac at the heart of Jew Town in Kochi, is Paradesi Synagogue, India’s oldest active synagogue. Constructed in 1567 (and rebuilt in 1662), it is one of seven synagogues of the Cochin Jewish Community. “Paradesi” which means foreigners was applied to the synagogue because it was historically used by the typical Jews, a mixture from the Cranganore, the Middle East, and European exiles.
The first Jewish settlers are said to have reached Kodungallur in the 1st century AD. Their settlement, then known as Shingly, prospered over the centuries. However, persecution by the Portuguese in the early 16th century forced them to migrate to Cochin (now Kochi), where they settled on land given by the raja, and built a synagogue in 1567.
The Paradesi Synagogue complex has four buildings. The present synagogue, with its tiled roof and clock tower, was rebuilt in 1664 with Dutch help, after the Portuguese destroyed it in 1662. The synagogue’s treasures include beautiful silver and gold Torah scrolls, a multitude of hanging oil lamps and crystal chandeliers, and a superbly crafted brass pulpit. The floor is covered with exquisite hand-painted blue willow-pattern tiles, which were brought from Canton in the mid-18th century by a powerful merchant, Ezekiel Rahabi.
As is customary for Orthodox Jewish synagogues, the Paradesi Synagogue has separate seating sections for men and women. The worshippers are required to enter the Paradesi Synagogue barefoot. Other facets which are unique to the Cochin Jewish community include special colours of clothing for each festival, circumcision ceremonies performed at public worship, and distribution of grape-soaked myrtle leaves on certain festivals. In addition, the Cochin Jews have no rabbis, and the community is led by elders.
The synagogue is open for a fee to visitors as a historic attraction. The ticket-seller, Yaheh Hallegua, is the last female Paradesi Jew of child-bearing age.
Getting to & from Paradesi Synagogue
Nearby is a private bus depot with buses to Fort Kochi and Ernakulum. Nearby, there is also a boat jetty with ferries to Ernakulum, Fort Kochi and Willington Island. Alternatively, you can take a leisurely walk to or from Fort Kochi located about two kilometres west.
Is this a replica synagogue? Looks like a strange place to find in India.
It is a real synagogue that has been going for years. The local Jewish community here has mostly moved elsewhere but it is still a great place to visit.