The sixth century Diaspora witnessed the Jews moving out to take refuge in different parts of the world. They settled down at places, where they felt secure for leading a normal life and to practice their cultural and religious beliefs. In this pursuit, they made their presence felt in Kerala too. The then rulers, especially the regional powers in the present day district of Ernakulam granted them asylum and they started living the way they did back in their homeland. The earlier Jewish community in Kerala had strong presence in the region formerly known as Muziris or the present day regions of Kodungallur, its adjoining places and also Kochi. Nowadays, Kerala has very little presence of this community, since most of the families have left for Israel during the past three decades or so.
And as the Jews settled down in Kerala, their marks of religious expressions also became part of the socio-cultural milieu of the land. These days, the synagogues of Jews in Kerala are perhaps the last of the remaining prominent symbols of this community in Kerala. Found mostly in different parts of Ernakulam District, the famous among them is the one at Mattancherry, which has been retained almost entirely in its original glory. But there are also others, of which, we would like to introduce you to the one at Chennamangalam in North Paravur region of Ernakulam.
The synagogue in the village of Chennamangalam in North Paravur is one of the biggest, which was built some 175 years ago. The Jewish Synagogue at Chennamangalam, built in the 17th century exudes a traditional style. The land required for building the synagogue was provided by the family of Paliam, the ministers to the ruler of Kochi at that time, who owned the village of Chennamangalam.
The synagogue was in a dilapidated state some years ago. It was restored to its original glory thanks to the timely efforts of Kerala Tourism and the Kerala State Archaeology Department. Traditional materials were used for the renovation. It is now a protected monument under the State Archaeology Department.
Here, in the premises of the Chennamangalam synagogue, one would come across tomb inscriptions, believed to be that of early members of this synagogue. Other tomb inscriptions were also found in the premises by archaeologists. There is also a cemetery, about 400 m long, located on the eastern side of the synagogue. The State Archaeology Department in association with Jews community has set up a display on 'The Jewish Synagogues in Kerala' inside the synagogue.
The synagogue at Chennamangalam reflects traditional Kerala architecture and has utilized western construction technology. Of course, the magnificent altar in all its ornate glory catches the attention of one and all. This synagogue has a very high roof, the ceiling of which displays brightly coloured designs on wood, which at first sight would give the impression of a rolled out Persian carpet.
The wooden balcony inside the synagogue with beautifully carved balusters and railings is another attraction of this synagogue. There is also another balcony, meant exclusively for women. A spiral wooden staircase marvelously crafted in wood leads to this balcony.
Visitors to the synagogue at Chennamangalam can also drop in at the nearby Paliam Palace, which was once the abode of the Paliath Achans, who were the ministers of the erstwhile rulers of Kochi. This palace is noted for its marvel in traditional architecture. Yet another nearby place of interest for visitors is the Vypeenkotta Seminary built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Only the remains of the seminary are now visible.
Nearest railway station: Aluwa, about 26 km away.
Nearest airport: Cochin International Airport, about 23 km from Ernakulam.