Every day hundreds of tourists flock to visit Paradesi Synagogue, the oldest functional Jewish monument in India. But how many of them realize that not far from this famed monument lies a more ancient synagogue? Perhaps the skeletal remains of this unmarked and ill-maintained structure are so obscure and ordinary looking that many travel books and tourist guides fail to even mention its existence! Known as the Kadavumbagam (Riverside) synagogue of Mattancherry, this Malabari Jewish monument was built before the Paradesi synagogue. At its height of glory the monument was a much larger and grander structure with its fame reaching even outside India. How big was the synagogue? Late Ruby Daniel, a Cochin Jew who lived in Jew Street before migrating to Israel, quotes in her memoir about an old Jewish folk song, where the number of seat holders attending prayers in the Kadavumbagam synagogue was 800!
A few decades before, in front of the synagogue was a landing place (Kadavu in Malalyalam) mainly for fishing boats traveling southwards and the space was kept open between the synagogue and the waters. May be the name ‘Kadavumbagam’ is coined from its association with this landing site. According to Ruby Daniel, whenever the Rajah of Cochin would sail southwards from his palace in north (adjacent to the Paradesi Synagogue), he stands up and prostrates himself towards the synagogue’s sanctuary where the Holy Ark will be opened for his majesty.