Jewish settlements were in Cranganore (kodungallur) during the early periods of the port town – Muziris that had very strong trade relations with the Romans, Greeks and Arabs. The community had a rich and prosperous time during the Muzirs era and had Synagogues in all prime centers. With the arrival of Portuguese, there were frequent attacks on the community and they were forced to move south of Kodungallur. That was when Synagogues came into existence towards south of Kodungallur and the Chendamangalam Synagogue is one of that kind. There was a very active community of Jews in Chendamangalam.
A liberal and tolerant leader of Chendamangalam – Palliyath Achan.
Palliyath Achan was the prime minister of the Kochi Raja who ruled over Chendamangalam. His palace still exists at Chendamangalam in a well restored condition where people could visit. Palliyath Achan had a desire to have the main four religions of his time to be represented with their place of worship in his town. He granted a site on each of the cardinal points to build a Hindu temple, a mosque, a Church and a Synagogue. And at the crossing of the axis is his palace supposed to be set on a hill. The land designated for the Synagogue was on the banks of the river Periyar.
Heritage of over centuries
The Synagogue was likely to be built in the early 17th century way back in 1614 and was rebuilt three times. The first synagogue had a traditional keralan architecture built with bamboo frames and thatched roofs that were not durable to last long. By 16th century with the arrival of the colonial powers, the constructions technique was upgraded to laterite stones with ceilings of wooden frame and terracotta tiles laid over it. The synagogue was destroyed by fire and was rebuilt to the structure that we see today.
The decline of the Jewish community in Chendamangalam
By early 1950s after the formation of Israel, most Jews of Chendamangalam have migrated to Israel and by early 1980 the Jewish communities were declining. After a while the synagogue became unattended and started deteriorating. It was in 2004, the archeological department – Government of Kerala took over and restored the synagogue to good shape with the help of skilled restoration specialists and local craftsmen. The altar, the carvings, the ceiling color are all restored to its original shape. The Torah which belonged to the synagogue is preserved at the Hill palace museum in Thripunithara, Ernakulam.
Visiting the synagogue was like peeping into history. There are old photographs, and detailed history of the synagogue displayed inside the synagogue.
Written by Benjamin John