A Synagogue is a sanctified space used by the Jewish community for prayer and worship. According to Jewish customs, any Jew or a group of Jews can start a synagogue in any region following specific provisions. After the arrival of Jews in India during the first and second millennium, they broke up into groups. Afterwards, they established houses of worship in prominent cities (mainly Cochin, Bombay, and Kolkata). However, after India attained independence, the Jewish community began to revert to their motherland, and their community gradually declined.
In the current day, most of the synagogues in India are in ruins. The surviving worship places are looked after by the Jewish community present here or by the respective state’s government. Nevertheless, each of these synagogues’ architectural value and historical significance is breathtaking, and each one has a different story to tell.
Here are 10 beautiful synagogues in India you must visit:
1. Ohel David Synagogue
Profoundly known as ‘Lal Deval’ (Marathi for Red Temple), this house of worship has served the Baghdadi Jewish community in Pune for more than 150 years and is the largest synagogue in India. The interior space is designed beautifully according to the Orthodox Jewish traditions, and the exterior is carved with magnificent arches, taking inspiration from the English Gothic style.
Built using red brick stones and encased within high brick walls, the synagogue site offers a peaceful environment from the busy city. Its 90-foot tall obelisk with a clock is one of its kind and not found among any other synagogues. The mausoleum of David Sassoon, the founder of the Ohel David Synagogue, is also located within the compound.
2. Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue
Located between the mid-rise residential and commercial structures of the VBG street in Mumbai, this synagogue constitutes a unique blend of Jewish traditions mixed with Indian heritage and fragments of English Victorian architecture. Built in the classical revival style under the initiative of the Sassoon family in 1884, the Keneseth Eliyahoo synagogue underwent a radical restoration phase in 2017 and took two years to complete.
This place of worship continued to be the centre of Jewish cultural and liturgical life in Mumbai and received an award for its cultural heritage conservation from UNESCO.
3. Magen David Synagogue, Mumbai
Under the leadership of David Sassoon, the Magen David Synagogue came into life for the Baghdadi Jews in Byculla of Mumbai in 1864. Designed in the Victorian style, the place of worship stands out with its blue facade, enormous slender columns, and its lofty clock tower. The four slender columns support the flat-roofed porch.
A double-height sanctuary and a women’s gallery on three sides of the upper floor make up the synagogue’s interior. The white fluorescent light, along with the blue-white backdrop, creates a visual treat for us.
4. Magen Hassidim Synagogue, Mumbai
Established in 1904 for providing temporary facilities of prayer services and communal activities, the Magen Hassidim Synagogue grew into a permanent place of worship by 1930. The synagogue is traditionally designed and incorporates Neo-classical and Art Deco elements into it. The symmetrical facade of the building is two stories and is composed of a vaulted ceiling and a stone base. An open frame ceiling over a double-height space and rhythmically turned wooden balustrades wrapping the women’s gallery make up the interior.
This synagogue is the most significant Bene Israel building in Mumbai and continues to offer prayer services.
5. Neveh Shalom Synagogue
Originally built as a prayer hall in 1831, Neveh Shalom is the first Jewish place of worship to be established in Kolkata. After its reconstruction to a larger synagogue in 1910, this holy place was termed one of the three prominent religious places of worship for the Jews in Kolkata. The facade contains a blend of wide pilasters, rounded-arched windows with green shutters, and a central mass that serves as an entrance with a wide archway.
The interiors are finished with a light yellow-green backdrop that contrasts with the chequered floor and wooden benches. The synagogue’s historical value and architectural significance elevate its grandeur among the Jewish community.
6. Beth El Synagogue
Completed in 1856, under the supervision of David Joseph and Ezekiel Judah, the Beth El synagogue came into existence for the Baghdadi Jews who immigrated into the Kolkata city during the mid-nineteenth century. The design of the light yellow-coloured holy place was inspired by a combination of western influences, starting from the rounded arched openings to the pronounced curvilinear ceilings.
The colonnaded interior, pointed-arched stained glass window, and chequered floor make the interior more fascinating to see. One of the most interesting facts about this synagogue is that the Muslims have been the caretakers of this house of worship for generations.
7. Magen David Synagogue, Kolkata
Hiding amongst the busy and shop central paths of Brabourne streets of Kolkata is the beautiful, red-brick finished Magen David Synagogue. Built by Elias David in remembrance of his father, David Joseph, this synagogue serves as one of the houses of worship for the Baghdadi Jews in Kolkata. Incorporating the Italian Renaissance style into its architecture, the gleaming chandelier, chequered marble floor, ornate floral pillar, and stained glass window enhances its look. As in the Beth El Synagogue, the Muslims have been looking after the house of worship for generations.
8. Paradesi Synagogue
Built in 1568 for the flourishment of the Jewish community in Kochi, in its present-day, it’s the only functioning synagogue found in Kerala. The road that leads to this historic place came to be known as the Jew Street or Synagogue lane, and the surrounding neighbourhood as Jew Town. The rare antique objects, along with the chandeliers and lamps, make the interiors more delightful.
The synagogue floor uses 18th-century Chinese handmade porcelain tile, each one of them being unique. A particular trait found among Kerala Jews is that they leave their footwear outside the house of worship before entering, a marker that’s absent among other Jewish communities.
9. Chendamangalam Synagogue
Constructed during the 1600s, the Chendamangalam Synagogue reflects the Kerala architectural style of sloped tile roofs and clean aesthetic lines. The synagogue was set up for the Paradesi Jews who migrated to Kerala during the second millennium. The building also features intricately hand-carved and colorful interior ornaments that are beautifully accented against the plain surfaces.
A unique trait found in the site’s area is the religious harmony between Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and Jews, whose places of worship are very close to each other. Currently, the synagogue is a protected monument under the Muziris heritage project of the Kerala government.
10. Paravur Synagogue
The Paravur Synagogue came into existence during the late 19th century. It was erected for the Malabari Jews to meet the spiritual needs of their growing community. Its amalgamation of both the Kerala and Jewish architectural styles is evident from using an arched gateway that leads to the main complex. Courtyards and walkways separate the gateway from the inner complex.
The main internal parts of the prayer hall are carved out from wood, and its ceiling is entirely covered with teak wood finishing. The synagogue was restored under the Muziris heritage project by the Kerala government and is currently only used for tourism purposes.
Image 33_Padipura or Arched Gateway of Paravur Synagogue_Department of Archaeology, Kerala
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