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600-year-old Kadavumbhagam Synagogue in Kerala to be repaired and restored

The 600-year-old Kadavumbhagam Synagogue at Kochi is being repaired

With rapid urbanisation, several heritage and historical sites in cities and metros are falling by the wayside. Take for instance the case of Kochi, which has several remnants of the past hidden in it, though development and construction work has damaged or buried many of them.

Among the few sites that are still intact is the Kadavumbhagam Synagogue (Malabari Synagogue) at Mattancherry which the department of archaeology is on a mission to preserve.

Built 600 years ago, this structure is now in a ruined state because of its exposure to rain, inclement weather and other adverse conditions.

Talking to the media, Dineshan E, the Director of the Archaeology Department shared the plans to restore the structure. “We are working to build a temporary roofing over the synagogue. We aim to protect the existing structure from rain before moving on to the restoration phase. A portion of the existing synagogue has fallen earlier and we are trying to save the remaining structure from further decay through the ongoing work. The department is hoping to complete the ongoing work within a month.”

Going beyond repair, the department is also thinking about preserving the site. “A proposal for the preservation of the synagogue is under consideration. It requires a series of discussions and we are hoping to get the approval soon,” said the Director.

In the course of the work which commenced last week, the concerned officials and staff discovered two tombstones. These will provide clues and leads about the Jews in Kochi. These tombstones were found when digging was done for putting up pillars for the temporary roof. Now the tombstones have been moved to the Bastion Bungalow in Fort Kochi.

Though the repair of this synagogue had been going on for some time now, it came to a halt in October 2020. This was because of public protest which came into being since the locals and residents of the area feared that with the restoration of the monument, a ban on construction activity around 300 metres of this site may be imposed.

On this issue Dineshan E observed: “We are executing the project with the support of residents and councillors. On top of Covid restrictions, we are facing adverse weather but their immense support is helping us to speed up the works.”

The Kadavumbhagam Synagogue also called Malabari Synagogue boasts of a rich heritage.

In Malayalam kadavu means bank and kadavumbhagam means at the bank of the river.

According to Jewish legend Jews are said to have arrived in Kerala before the time of Christ, during King Soloman’s time. Coming for trade they arrived at the erstwhile port of Muziris which is likely in present day Kodungallur, about 30 kilometres north of Kochi.

Another story states that when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar turned Jews into slaves, a group of them escaped and reached Muziris. As they settled on the river bank, they came to be known as Kadavumbhagam Jews and thus when they built their synagogue, it was named Kadavumbhagam Synagogue.

When the State Israel came into being, the Malabari Jews moved there and eventually Kadavumbhagam Synagogue was abandoned.