Part 1 - Muziris History and Paravur Synagogue

It was in the beginning of the year 2014, that I stumbled upon the word "Muziris". One of my friends had started a home stay in the name of "Muziris Harbor View". From then, I kept hearing the word Muziris from every nook and corner of the travelling community. The word was quite intriguing and mesmerizing for a history buff like me. Thousands of year's worth world history is buried under the region  once known as Muziris. This region is identified as Kodungallur in present day Kerala.

It was only in late 2015, precisely in December 2015 that I  visited the "Muziris". It was a golden opportunity as I was getting a chance to literally  'float over' the Muziris region for a day. It was through Kerala Tourism Department's Hop On Hop Off  water circuit tour. It was a full day tour which coasted us 550 rupees per ticket, which includes free entry to all the Muziris museums.

So,  What is Muziris?

I have never learned much history in school, but it turned out in my later years that I really enjoy learning history of the places that I travel to. In short, Muziris was an ancient Sea port in the western coastal area of Kerala. It was an active part of a trade route starting from the 600 BC. Sounds boring? Let me try if I can spice things up...

The story starts more than 2000 years ago. It was ages before the modern European invasion of India. Ships laden with gold, precious stones, wine, copper, brass and frankincense anchored at an ancient sea port at the western coast of Kerala - "The Muchiri" or "Muziris" - as the ancient sailors addressed it - was an important port on the ancient spice route. This route extended from the Mediterranean Sea on the West to the Eastern frontiers of Indonesia.

An ancient map showing the Muziris area
Photo credit: via Wikimedia Commons

In no time, I fell in love with the astonishing history of Muziris. I was partly ashamed and sad that I knew very little about the history of my very own land - Kerala. As I learned more, it was like opening a treasure chest and picking out precious stones and wondering "Oh, wow, I haven't seen it!"

The history of "Muziris" is as ancient as the history of Kerala. This busy and prosperous Sea port was praised in the ancient Tamil poems as "The greatest of all sea ports". It is also mentioned in the account of Greek sailors. Historical and archaeological evidences show that the spice trade started as early as 600BC. The Phoenicians were the first to establish the trade. Later it was monopolized by the Arab. The Romans obtained the spices from the Arab traders. Arabs sold it to them at very high price, which prompted the Romans to find a direct route to that unknown heaven which produced the spices. Spices were an inevitable part of Roman life. They were successful in their quest and established the trade connection with Muziris. Along with the trade came all kinds of people from around the world, they camped near the port and some of them stayed here permanently. One such community is that of the Jewish trades, whose ancient synagogues still stand erect in the Muziris areas.

Now, fast forward to 2000 years. "Pattanam" is a small hamlet in Kodungalloor, located in the Ernakulum district of Kerala. It resides on the banks of the River Periyar. During the monsoon season, when a layer of earth is washed away in the rains, the residents of Pattanam noticed  rather curious artifacts  emerge from the ground. There were colorful small stones, pieces of clay ports and sometimes curious looking coins. Little they knew that they were living right on top of the ancient trade history.

The colourful stones unearthed from Pattanam site. It include the carnelian, beryl stones of Roman times
Photo Courtesy: Kerala Tourism Department 

Roman Amphora(clay pots)  unearthed from Pattanam site.  Photo Courtesy: Kerala Tourism Department 
It evoked the interest of the archaeologists in Kerala. The "Pattanam Excavation Site" was set up. The process of unearthing one of the glorious ports of the ancient world began. Though it is not confirmed that Pattanam is the nucleus of Muziris port, the excavation of the site and study of the surrounding areas has revealed an archaeologically and historically rich belt of riverside locations.

Now, that is the history of 2000 years condensed in about 400 words! Even though there is no clear evidence, it is believed that the glory of the Muziris port fell when a there was a flood that engulfed the entire port town. The Muziris area is now open to public as a part of the Muziris Heritage Tour by the Kerala Tourism Department. Kerala archaeology and tourism department has invested a hug money in the restoration and conservation of this priceless piece of history. Tourism department also conducts the hop on hop off boat service in top class air conditioned boats which takes the following routes.

The Muziris heritage tour Hop On Hop Off route
Photo Courtesy: Kerala Tourism Department 

Our first stop - Paravur Synagogue

It was on a fine December morning that I look the Muziris Heritage Water tour. The water tour takes you through a circuit of Jewish synagogues, the excavation site at Pattanam, ancient European forts and the palaces of the local rulers of the region.

 The first stop in the heritage tour is the “Paravur Synagogue”. The tickets for the Muziris water tour can also be purchased from small office near the “Paravur Synagogue”.

Paravur Synagogue
Entrance to the Paravur Synagogue - with the Hebrew inscription on the wall

The Synagogue looked so serene in the morning sun. There were no other visitors at that early time. It could be easily mistaken for any other old building. But as I stepped inside the humble front gate of the Synagogue, the first thing that welcomed me was this stone plate with strange looking letters.

The guide book about Muziris told me that, there is much more to this plate that meets the eye. It is the very record of the history of this Synagogue. “Paravur Synagogue” or  "Parur Synagogue" believed to be built in 1164 AD, however the Hebrew letters on the above stone plate particularly mentions about a renovation that  under the patronage of David Yakov Castiel, a noble from the Castiel family.

I was so curious to know about the author of that stone tablet and what does its meaning. It is believed to be written by a 17th century Hebrew poet from  Cochin — Eliyah ben Moses Adeni  and it was first interpreted by Jewish traveler Joseph Saphir who visited Kochi in 1860. The English translation goes as follows:(1)

The Hebrew inscription in Paravur synagogue
The Hebrew inscription in Paravur synagogue

He who dwelt in Rock and Bush

May He dwell for His sake in my house

May there be light in it for the House of Jacob

Alas, darkened in my exile

Said David, Jacob's Son

Renowned noble seed of Castile

At the completion of the Holy sanctuary

May it be His will that the Redeemer come.(1)

Through the tall facade, we entered into a pillared corridor which leads to the interior of the Synagogue. As I entered into the synagogue, the first thing I observed was the beautifully carved arch, fixed on to the wall facing the entrance. It is known as the  'Hekal'. According to the Jewish religion, 'Hekal' is the sacred place where the 'Thora' is kept. 'Thora', the sacred text is the center of Jewish belief. Most of the religious ceremonies includes reading of the 'Thora'.

Interior of the Paravur synagogue showing the Hekal and Bimah
Interior of the Paravur synagogue showing the Hekal and Bimah

A close shot of the Hekal of the Paravur synagogue
A close shot of the Hekal of the Paravur synagogue

A special raised platform can be found in the center of the Synagogue. It is known as Bimah or Tevah. It is from this raised platform, the sacred test Thora used to be read. It was such a distinguished position in the Jewish community to stand on Bimah and read the Thora. Our guide told that most parts of original Hekal and Bimah or Paravur syanagogue was taken to Israel when the Jewish community returned. The current one is an exact replica of the original. Undoubtedly it is a very recent creation.

The second Bimah of the Paravur synagogue

I walked around slowly through the interiors of this ancient synagogue. The Kerala Tourism Department has placed many information panels, which explains the Jewish tradition and customs. The visit became more meaningful as I came to know the rich history of this humble looking place. When it comes to historical value, appearances are always deceptive. I couldn't proceed without appreciating the effort of the Kerala state government to renovate and preserve  these monuments with such gentleness. An older picture of the Paravur synagogue would say the same.

The dilapidated state of the Paravur synagogue before restoration
Photo Courtesy: Kerala Tourism Department 
Unlike the synagogues from around the world, the ones in Kerala are customized to incorporate an important aspect of the Kerala community. It is the women participation in the prayers. According to old Jewish customs, the women are not allowed to enter the synagogue. For any public prayer to be in effect, there needs to be a quorum of 10 adult male members present. This quorum is known as the "Minyan". Women did not have any role in it.

However, the Kerala synagogues are tweaked in such a way that, it has a upper floor. There are stairs leading to this floor directly from outside the synagogue. Women used these stairs and needed to stand behind a latticed wooden door known as "Melisha". There is a second Bimah on the first floor, which is used for reading Torah on special occasions. It is also a customization of the Kerala synagogues. I couldn't capture it's photo from Paravur synagogue, hence the one from Chendamangalam synagogue.

 Women used to stand behind this wooden lattice called Melisha - from chendamangalam synagogue
As I climbed through the interior stairs of the synagogue to the first floor, I wondered how time changes everything. I am climbing through the very steps which was once forbidden for the women. The Paravur synagogue ceased to be operational a long time ago, however I silently prayed as I felt that the God would not have left to Israel.

As I pass through the Melisha - the latticed wooden door of the first floor, I entered into a wooden corridor that leads to a small room. This room is known as 'Rabbanim', the place used for teaching the scriptures. The Jewish rituals and architecture is heavily influenced by the Kerala tradition.

The entrance to the Rabbanim, on the first floor of the Paravur synagogue
We watched a short video on the first floor. It is the reading of the ancient "Jewish copper plate" or "Cheppedu". It contains an edict issued by Kulasekhara Bhaskaravarma who ruled the Muziris region during 1000CE. It issues special privileges to Joseph Rabban and his community. It is written in ancient Kerala script known as "Vattezhuth".A replica of the "Jewish copper plate"  is displayed in the Paravur synagogue.

Replica of the Jewish copper plate - "Cheppedu"
 It was such a great experience listening to the ancient form of Malayalam.  Being a Keralalite and a linguaphile, I could make out a few words. There are only very few in Kerala who knows to read Vattezhuth. I wished I could learn that!

It was time for us to bid farewell to the Paravur Synagogue. I got a precious set of books from the small tourism office in the synagogue. We got tickets for the Hop-on Hop-off boat trip. It coasted RS 550 each. As we walked towards the Paravur boat jetty, a handsome boat was waiting to carry us over the historic waters of Muziris (To Be continued...)

 Part 2 - Pallippuram Fort and Manjumatha church

After visiting the Paravur synagogue, I started walking back to the boat Jetty, which is hardly 300 meters from the synagogue. The tickets for the Hop-on Hop-off boat service has to be obtained from the tourism office in the Paravur synagogue premises. As I walked through the narrow bylines of North Paravur, I couldn't help but wonder the enormous historical events took place at this sleepy island villages.

While walking towards the Jetty one thing strikes instantly - the street is spotlessly clean. Unfortunately in India, it is a rare sight. The crew of the Muziris heritage tour was waiting for us and soon the boat started sailing gently over the small canals flowing towards the Periyar river. The boat driver was a jovial fellow. He steered the boat and engaged us in conversations - the tidbits that only a local knows.

As we proceeded towards the next destination - The Pallippuram fort- our friendly driver showed us the special enclosures where the prawns are cultivated, the iconic "cheena valas"- a specific type of fishing nets  and the boats under construction.

 Cheenavala(Meaning the Chinese net)  Muziris Herigate Tour Kerala
Cheenavala(Meaning the Chinese net)  - The traditional fishing nets in Kerala
We were striking quite a conversation about the region and in no time the boat was near the Manjumatha church jetty. A walk of half kilometer from Manjumatha church  would lead us to the first ever European monument in India - The Pallippuram Fort.

As I stood before the information board at the Pallippuram Fort, I was wondering how many travelers would appreciate it's immense historical value. The fort looks quite simple and dilapidated. It has nothing to boast about visually. However once you learn about the dramatic incidents took place here during the European invasion of India, it is hard to ignore this humble fort.

Muziris Herigate Tour Kerala - Pick, Pack, Go Pallippuram fort - The oldest surviving European monument in India Muziris Herigate Tour Kerala - Pick, Pack, Go
Pallippuram fort - The oldest surviving European monument in India

It is the oldest surviving European construction in India. Portuguese, soon after landing in Kerala on 1498, received the permission to build an outpost at the Northern extreme of Vypeen Island- a place named Pallipuram. This hexagonal shaped out post was built so that the entrance to the back waters from the North can be controlled. This military post is also referred to as a "fort" in the official records.  The Pallippuram Fort was constructed in 1503 ( and some sources say 1507) . It was a major watch tower and was garrisoned by 20 armed men. Each of the facet of the Pallipuram fort was pierced to hold a cannon.

Pallippuram Fort , Muziris Herigate Tour Kerala - Pick, Pack, Go
The information plate itself is so ancient -  Made in 1909!

However the Portuguese couldn't retain the Pallippuram for long. The Dutch under the governor Van Der Meyden conquered it with the help of Zamorins of Calicut. It was in 1661. Even though it looks like the battle between two foreign forces to establish control, in fact the bitter rivalry between the Calicut and Cochin rulers caused the seize of Pallipuram fort. Zamorins of Calicut supported the Dutch while the Cochin rulers backed Portuguese.(1)

The story of the Pallipuram fort doesn't end there. Almost more than a century later in 1789,  Tippu Sultan from Mysore started a military campaign to Kerala. His aim was to conquer the Kodungallur and Pallippuram forts. The King of Travencore Wanji Bala Marthanda Rama Varma was alarmed. He
sent his first minister Kesava Pillai to strike a deal with the Dutch to purchase the Pallippuram Fort. In a transaction amounted 300,000 Surat Rupees, Dutch sold the Pallippuram and Kodungallur forts to Tranvencore(3). Tipu did attack the Pallipuram fort but was defeated and was almost killed. Hence from there on, the Pallippuram Fort remained with the rulers of Travencore, who  renovated and conserved it as a historic relic in 1909.

As I stood inside that deserted fort, which was once engaged by armed men and war. I was wondering how many soldiers would fell at the same place that I stand now. How many would have died and how many would have lost their dearest dreams fighting as just pawns for the political and trade agenda of their leaders.

Pallippuram Fort, Muziris Herigate Tour Kerala - Pick, Pack, Go
The Hexagonal interior of the ancient Pallippuram Fort

We walked our way back to the Manjumatha(Our Lady of Snow) boat Jetty.  We had a quick stop at the Manjumatha church compound. It was built by the Portuguese around the same time as they built the Pallippuram fort. The Portuguese dedicated this church to Our Lady. The legend says that during the invasion of Tippu Sultan in 1789, the church premises was covered in snow and Tippu couldn't proceed with his assault. After this the church was renamed to Basilica of Our Lady of Snow. In 2007, Manjumatha church celebrated it's 500th birthday. The old church has a Dutch cemetery attached to it. The ancient church is not used for adoration, it is under the archaeology department now.

Manjumatha Church, Muziris Herigate Tour Kerala - Pick, Pack, Go
The ancient church of our Lady - Pallippuram ( Manju matha church)

It was around noon and was getting hotter. I felt very comfortable going back into the air conditioned boat. As the Muziris tour is in its beginning days, there is not much of a crowd in the boat. We started our journey towards the Kottappuram fort. As the boat gently moved over the waters of the Periyar river's tributaries, we got a glimpse of the ancient "Kanyan Thomman" church which is believed to be one of the seven(and half) churches that was founded by St. Thomas, the disciple of Jesus who arrived in India in AD 52.

Kanyan Thomman Church, Muziris Herigate Tour Kerala - Pick, Pack, Go
Kanyan Thomman Church - one of the first churches that St.Thomas founded

Our driver showed some queer scenes from the banks of the river, like the below boat, which had been toppled down while it was being chased by coastal police. According to our driver, that boat was trying to smuggle silver!

Muziris Herigate Tour Kerala - Pick, Pack, Go
The Silver thief!!

As we move through the river, we can see the workshops for boats and even big ships. After completing the construction, they would directly be pushed into the river for a test drive. However, I think the below boat was not so fortunate to touch water in it's first attempt, as it toppled down while being pushed in to the water. Poor guy!

Muziris Herigate Tour Kerala - Pick, Pack, Go
The unfortunate first run!

One of the amazing attractions of the Muziris Heritage tour is that, we get to see the glimpses of the daily life on river. There is no traffic jam, no honking queue of vehicles. It is just you and the boat, gently floating over the calming waters of the Periyar, owed and amused by the beauty and serenity of it's banks. The bonus is, you get to see some of the most interesting historical locations those were once part of Muziris. It is a dream come true for a lover of history and nature. (to be continued...)

Muziris Herigate Tour Kerala - Pick, Pack, Go
A regular day at the Periyar river.

 Part 3 - Kodungallur Fort and Chendamangalam Synagogue

We continued our journey through the Muziris Heritage sites. We have already covered the Paravur Synagogue and Pallippuram fort. It was close to noon and was getting hotter each minute. It was a relief to get back to the air conditioned boat and travel over the calming waters of River Periyar. Our next destination is the Kodungallur Fort which is also known as the Kottappuram Fort.

It is an important stop in the Muziris Heritage tour. As we approached the Kottappuram Jetty, we saw the famous Kottappuram Market on the left side. It is an ancient market place which came into existence during the Perumal reign of Kerala. Kottappuram market played a crucial role during the active times of the Muziris port and also hosted the Portuguese and Dutch traders during the 15th and 16th century. This market is aptly included in the Muziris Heritage Project. It is no less than a monument in itself. As we approached the “Kottappuram Jetty”, I could see the ruined wall of Kodungallur Fort.
Muziris Water Tour - Kodungallur Fort - Pick, Pack, Go
Kodungallur Fort - A view from the River

There was a large crowd hanging around the fort. It was quite queer that such a large number of people came to visit such a subtle monument. I was kind of happy to see them, feeling proud that even the local folk started admiring the historical value of the Muziris Heritage sites. However my joy was short-lived as I realized that all those people came for a marriage at a nearby house. Due to space constraints, they were just hanging around the fort! So we were left with no company and walked towards the deserted fort.  

Ruins of the Kodungallur Fort - Archaeological excavation site
Ruins of the Kodungallur Fort - Archaeological excavation site
It would take a while before the guide arrives, so we walked around the ruins of the Kodungallur fort. Even though it is called a Fort, there is not much left of it. There is only a part of a bastion that is still standing; reminding the glory of this majestic fort. In midst of the rubble and ruins, it is quite difficult to make any sense of the original structure of the fort. I decided that it is better to wait for the guide and meanwhile I started reading a very interesting book by M R Raghava Warrier. It is about the history of Kodungallur and Muziris. There is a detailed description about Kodungallur fort in the book.

It is only after 30 years building the Pallippuram fort that the Portuguese procured the permission to build the Kodungallur(Kottappuram) fort. Their wait was not in vain as the location of the fort was in such a key position in the River side. Portuguese built the Kodungallur fort in such a way that most of its bastions protrude towards the water. It enabled them to closely watch all the boats that pass from the interior villages towards the sea. It was impossible for any movements in the water without being noticed by the patrol.

Muziris water tour - The last standing bastion of the Kodungallur Fort
The last standing bastion of the Kodungallur Fort - Photo: Kerala Tourism Department
The Kodungallur Fort was  huge and strong which was built using stone and mud. It was protected by seven bastions, tall perimeter walls and a huge trench. However, the Portuguese couldn’t own the Kodungallur Fort for long time. In 1660, the Dutch general Ryklof van Goens tried to capture the Pallippuram Fort and Kodungallur Fort. The Dutch could capture the Pallippuram fort, however they faced severe counter attack by Portuguese at the Kodungallur Fort. However, after 2 years General  van Goens again attacked the Kodungallur fort. This time he had the Zamorin of Calicut and King of Cranganore as Dutch ally. However the King of Cochin supported the Portuguese and send his nephew Godavarma and 400 Nair soldier for the assistance of Portuguese troops. The war between the Dutch and Portuguse ensued. There was a lot of bloodshed. A detailed description of this war is given by a dutch captain named Nieuhoff. According to him the war scene was so horrific - the dead bodies of the Nair soldiers floated all over the river and the entire river turned blood red.
The old information panel at Kodungallur Fort
It was an extremely lucky day for us. Mithun – an archaeology expert who is a part of the Muziris excavation at Kottappuram was the guide we were waiting for. As he started explaining the history of Muziris and the Kottappuram Fort, our exhaustion was alleviated. We soon started exploring the fort with  new found enthusiasm and meaning. After the war in 1662 Dutch conquered the Kottappuram fort. The first thing they did was to destroy the Portuguese fort to the last stone. The Dutch soon started building a greater fort on top of the ruins of the old Portuguese fort. So the remnants of the Fort that we see today at Kottappuram are actually that of the Dutch fort, not the Portuguese one. It was news for me. I was kind of proud that I had done my homework before coming to this fort, however I was humbled by the amount of history that was being unveiled .

Muziris water tour - Interior of the Kodungallur Fort
Interior of the Kodungallur Fort - Photo: Kerala Tourism Department

Mithun started explaining about the archaeological excavations at the Kodungallur fort. Before they started the excavations, this area looked like a hill. The Fort was completely  buried under the sediments worth many centuries. It was even difficult to imagine such a fort existed at this place. The excavation team had to remove a huge amount of earth before they could uncover the fort. It was quite a challenging task, as one need to be extremely careful while digging lest they might damage some priceless historic artifacts. As they started the excavation, the walls of the Dutch fort started emerging.

The research team found many Dutch artifacts including the wine pitchers as they started digging deep. When they went further down, they found the foundations of the older Portuguese fort. Mithun told us that the Dutch used some parts of the Portuguese foundation for their new fort. There is also a queer artifact on display at the Kottappuram Fort. It is the skeleton of a Portuguese man who was buried inside the fort.  Detailed studies have revealed the burial would have happened sometime in the fourteenth century.

Muziris water tour - Interior of the Kodungallur Fort
 Interior of the Kodungallur Fort  

It was with great enthusiasm that Mithun explained us about the excavations as  part of the Muziris Heritage Project. However he did not fail to ensure that we were not getting bored as he kept on explaining about the smallest details of the fort. We assured him that this was the best ever history lecture we heard in our lives. Even though I have learned history in my school days, I have to admit that I used to doze off in the class. It is quite a different feeling, learning history as you see, touch and feel it. As we were about to leave the fort , Mithun mentioned about something that would evoke our interest. He told us about a piece of ancient porcelain vessel that he spotted in the fort a few days back. He asked if we are interested in seeing it. I jumped in at this great opportunity.

The first excavation effort!

 After searching for 5 minutes we found a small piece of this vessel protruding out of the earth near a fort wall. We started carefully remove the earth and the ancient artifact started revealing itself in all its  glory. It was my first ever archaeological excavation and I would never forget those precious moments of my life!

The Dutch porcelain excavated !

We knew we cannot thank Mithun enough for his guidance which made our Muziris trip worthwhile. As we started our journey towards the next destination – The Kottayil Kovilakam, I had a last glance at the Kottappuram fort, which stands holding the memories of over 500 years. I wish more people start appreciating its historical value once the Muziris Heritage project gains popularity.
Muziris water tour - Chendamangalam Synagogue
Chendamangalam Synagogue

We had a lovely lunch and a short rest at the restaurant near the Kottayil Kovilakam jetty. Kottayil Kovilakam was the headquarters of the “Villarvattom Swaroopam” – a local ruling family of the region. “Kovilakam” in Malayalam indicate a traditional ancestral house which usually has multiple stories and numerous rooms housing a huge joint family. Kottayil kovilakam region is the epitome of religious harmony as an ancient Krishna temple; a synagogue, a Christian church and a mosque co-exist within the radius of 1km.  It  was not a coincidence that various religious groups found a place in here. It was the wish of a broad minded ruler of “Villarvattom Swaroopam”. His Highness wanted all kinds of people from all religions should co-exist harmoniously in his land.

 I thought I would get to see a huge ancestral house at Kottayil Kovilakam, as  name of this place  suggests. However there is no “Kovilakam” to see here. The main attraction of the Kottayil Kovilakam is the Chendamangalam synagogue. This synagogue is located at a short distance from the boat jetty. Chendamangalam synagogue was founded in 1420 and later renovated in the 15th century. It is located at the farthest end of a small street which was known as the “Jewish street” in olden days. We walked quickly towards the Synagogue so as to escape from the blazing sun.

 In front of the Chendamangalam synagogue there is a stone tablet with Hebrew words on it. As we saw in the Paravur synagogue, It is not a historical description. It is the tombstone of “Sara Beth Israel” – a Jewish lady who said to be cremated in 1269.  As the Jewish community migrated to Kerala, they brought this tomb stone along with them and installed in front of the Chendamangalam synagogue. She might be a very important person!
Muziris Water Tour - The memorial stone of Sara Beth Israel
The memorial stone of Sara Beth Israel

We entered into the Synagogue. Unlike the Parvur synagogue, the Hekkal of Chendamangalam Synagogue is much colourful and ancient. The lower parts of the Hekkal is original from the days when the synagogue was built. However the top portions have undergone slight renovations. There are also huge chandeliers hanging from the roof of the synagogue. Most of them have become dull due to centuries of dust and usage.

Muziris Water Tour - Colourful Hekkal of CHendamangalam Synagogue
Colorful Hekkal of CHendamangalam Synagogue

There was another group of foreign tourists inside the synagogue, among them only one knew English. Their guide is explaining about the synagogue to that lady who knew English and she was then translating to the entire group. It was such a lovely sight that people take so much interest and effort to understand the monuments in my country!

Muziris Water Tour - The colorful ceiling of the Chendamangalam Synagogue
The colorful ceiling of the Chendamangalam Synagogue
Like the Paravur synagogue, the Chendamangalam synagogue also has two Bimahs. One is on the ground floor and other is on the first floor. The one on the first floor is supported by beautifully carved wooden pillars. This synagogue was built by wealthy Jewish business community and they said to have made it in resemblance of the temple of Solomon in mount Zion in Israel.

Muziris Water Tour - Two Bimahs of the Chendamangalam Synagogue
Two Bimahs of the Chendamangalam Synagogue

We climbed onto the first floor of the synagogue. We could see the Melisha and Rabbanim in the first floor. In the first part of the Muziris heritage tour – I have described in detail about these parts of a traditional synagogue. Please read it here.

Muziris Water Tour -  View of the Hekkal through Melisha
View of the Hekkal through Melisha

As a part of the Muziris Heritage Project, this synagogue is set as a Jewish life style museum. The information panels inside the synagogue museum provide adequate information about Jewish lifestyle like food, language, ensembles, cultural and religious rituals. As you walk around the synagogue reading these information panels, you get a sense that you spend a day with a Jewish family.

We exited the synagogue through the staircase on the first floor. Traditionally these stairs were used by women to enter directly into the first floor through the back side of the synagogue. In my account of the Muziris water tour to Paravur synagogue, I have mentioned about it.
Muziris Water Tour - The staircase used by women to enter synagogue
 The staircase used by women to enter synagogue

The street in front of the Synagogue is called the Jewish street. There are a few traditional Jewish houses on this street. However they look very similar to Kerala houses, except for the stone lamp in front of the house as well as the special slanting construction on the sides of the steps leading into the house.

The Jews in Kerala had blended very well with the culture and lifestyle in Kerala. Even though they lived in constant hope of returning to Israel, they did not contempt the land which gave them refuge and shelter. Instead they lived to the fullest on this foreign land, enriching it’s culture. Most of the Jews have returned to Israel. However many of their descendants still visit these places to pay homage to their ancestors who lived and died on this land. I remember a guide telling me this – Many of them find it emotionally overwhelming to visit the Kerala synagogues as they remind them about their great grandparents.

We walked our way uphill towards the Krishna temple which is located around 400 meters from the synagogue. Unfortunately the temple was closed as it was afternoon time. We had a distant view of this ancient temple and it was time for us to head towards the next destination. The next destination is Paliyam Kovilakam and Nalukettu. We walked briskly towards the Kottayil Kovilakam boat jetty.

Muziris Water Tour - Entrance of the Srikrishna Swamy temple
 Entrance of the Srikrishna Swamy temple

(1) From the book "The Cochin Jewish Community, Impressions from a Mission to India" (1966) by Aaron Grenbaum  Book here

1 Kodungallur Charithra Kazhchakal M R Raghava Warrier
2 The Dutch Power in Kerala, 1729-1758 By M O Koshy

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