Sunday, 25 February 2018


An obscure pond known by the name ‘Joothakulam’ survives as the sole relic from an ancient Jewish colony in Kerala. Shingly, as Jews called their beloved colony was their most glorious settlement in Kerala. It was fondly remembered and cherished by the Jewish community and so sacred to them that they considered it as the “Jerusalem of the East”. Unfortunately, Shingly exists no more, it was burnt and destroyed almost five centuries ago and has never been revived. Memory of the pond also has faded significantly and very few remember its existence today. Locating the ‘Joothakulam’ of Shingly was equally exciting and challenging. 

According to Jewish traditions, mostly Paradesi versions, Shingly was also one of their earliest settlements in the shores of Malabar. Often claimed to be established after the destruction of Second Jerusalem Temple (68-70 A. D.), Shingly was the epicentre of Kerala’s Jews, from where they later migrated to Cochin and other parts of Kerala. It is said that at its height of glory Shingly and its neighbourhoods possessed 18 synagogues and prayer houses (Segal, 1993). For Jews, Shingly was their own kingdom with Jewish rulers who reigned over a thousand years! Eminent Jewish Biblical scholars and poets like Abraham ibn ‘Ezra, Samuel HaLevi and Yehuda HaLevi are believed to have visited this city. The synagogue of Shingly boasted of possessing two precious original silver trumpets used in the Second Jerusalem Temple. The first Jewish ruler of Shingly, Joseph Rabban obtained 72 privileges from the Hindu King for generations to come. All their glory and fame declined after a 14th century natural disaster in the form of a massive flood silted up their port city and turned the site unsuitable for commerce. Later, internal dissensions, external invasions and lack of trade sealed their fate. Shingly was eventually destroyed and lost for ever, and by 1565 there was not a single Jew left.

Generally, it is agreed that Shingly is a suburb of Cranganore (modern Kodungallur in Thrissur District of Kerala)-the ancient port city of Muziris. Two other areas in the region also claim Jewish heritage, a very old Jewish settlement by the name Cherigandaram, and Anjuvannam the land donated by the Hindu King for Joseph Rabban and his descendants. Based on Jewish traditions and general scholar views, it is not unreasonable to assume that Shingly was in Cranganore and the region was also known as Cherigandaram or Anjuvannam. At least it is well evident that in Middle Ages both Cranganore and Shingly had a large Jewish community, and Shingly was exclusively inhabited by Jews.

We know from Jewish traditions that after Shingly was destroyed only a pond and a hill, known as the ‘Joothakulam’ (ജൂതകുളം, ‘Jew Pond’ or ‘Jew Tank’ or ‘Jew’s Pit’) and the ‘Joothakunnu’ (ജൂതകുന്ന്, ‘Jew Hill’), respectively were left behind. ‘Joothakunnu’ was considered once the capital of the Jewish Kingdom in Kodungallur, but unfortunately it has not survived. Joothakulam on the other hand has prevailed all these years and exists somewhere hidden in Kodungallur with a different name. It is widely assumed that ‘Joothakulam’ was formed gradually when Jews used to take a handful of earth from the place of their ancient  settlement as a token of remembrance and to put into the graves of their deceased. The only other ‘Jewish Pond’ that has survived from a Jewish settlement in Kerala is at Madayipara north of Kannur (look for future blog uploads). The local population is equally clueless of a Jewish Pond in Kodungallur, many suggested me to look in Mala or Parur instead. Before discussing how and where to trace the site, I believe it would be informative to add a little more about the early Jewish settlement of Shingly- its origin, Jewish life in the city, its synagogues; how the city was destroyed, and legends associated with the ‘Joothakulam’.

Earliest Settlements of Jews in Kerala
Most Scholars agree that the earliest Jewish settlements in Kerala were in port cities like Kozhikode (Calicut), Kodungallur (Crangannore) and Kollam (Quilon). Jews of Kerala have slightly different views, the Malabari Jews place their earliest settlements at Palur, Pulloot, Madai and Maliankara (Cranganore), whereas the Paradesi Jews assign Madai, Cherigandaram and Periyapattanam as their first colonies. Except Cherigandaram and Periyapattanam, all the other places survive in modern Kerala, however there is nothing Jewish to be seen (Jussay, 2005). 

Cherigandaram and Shingly
Amongst the earliest colonies of Jewish Kerala, Cherigandhram has a unique place. Sidney Mendelssohn (1920) in ‘The Jews of Asia’ (p. 115) gives the name Cherigindaram. It seems the word does not appear in Malayalam documents but only in English records. P. M. Jussay, a well-respected scholar in the subject, provides many valuable insights, his small book entitled, “The Jews of Kerala” (2005)-it is undoubtedly a mine of information for anyone interested in understanding the Jewish heritage of Kerala, and personally, it had been of much help in this endeavour. Jussay addresses a Jewish Malayalam folksong about a place called Chirikantanagar and quotes: “Like a diamond mounted on a golden diadem studded with sparkling pearls and gems. Right in the heart of the city towered aloft the magnificent Synagogue of the Jews”- identifies it with Cherigandaram of Jewish traditions where the power and glory of the community was exhibited most (Jussay, 1990). He establishes Cherigandaram with Shingly and later modern Methala near the harbour mouth at Crangannore. The etymology of Cherigandaram is not possible to determine, one speculation is that it is related to the place of Joseph Rabban who was also referred to as Chirianandan. Jussay relates Chiriananden to ‘Syria Ananden’, the probable Malayalam equivalent for ‘Joy of Syria’ or ‘Son of Syria’ or ‘Man of Syria’ (Syria=Syriyanadu).  The city of Chirianandan (Chirikantanagar) therefore could be known in various forms of names such as Chirianandapuram, Chirianandapuri, Chirikandapuram, Chirikandaram, Chirigandaram and Cherigandaram. Another assumption however is that Cherigandaram may be linked to the city of the legendary King, ‘Cheraman Perumal’. 

Moses De Paiva, a Dutch Jew who visited Cochin in 1686 observes the tomb of Rabbi Samuel HaLevi, a Jewish scholar from Jerusalem, in Cherigandaram, an indication that the city existed at least until late 17th century. S. S. Koder, a prominent leader of Cochin Jews also speculates Cherigandaram as a region in Kodungallur with an old (extinct) Jewish cemetery, which he thinks as the burial place of Joseph Rabban, the first Jewish ruler of Shingly (Koder, 1986). The tombstone of Sarah Bat Israel, the oldest Jewish grave monument of India (dated 1269 A. D), is also thought to be relocated to Chendamangalam from Shingly (Katz, 2000), probably from the Cherigandaram cemetery. (Note: The tombstone’s origin from the Kottappuram or Kothaparambu regions of Kodungallur are also suggested). George Woodcock (1967) while describing the destruction of Cranganore in his book, “Kerala: A Portrait of the Malabar Coast”, p. 127, mentions that: “The devastation was so complete that, apart from a few tombstones, the only known relics of Anjuvannam are place names-the Hill of the Jews and the Jews’ Tank”. Where are the tombstones of Anjuvannam now; did the graves really exist at the time Woodcock was writing; and if so do they belong to the cemetery of Cherigandaram-a few queries pop out of curiosity.

Periyapattanam and Shingly
Periyapattanam on the other hand is identified with Mahodarpattanam or Mah(k)odayapattanam (Kodungallur), a large area that extended from Maliankara to Palur. As per oral traditions of St Thomas Christians, it was in Maliankara (Malankara) that the Apostle landed in 52 A.D. and there was a large Jewish community. Not far from Maliyankara is Pattanam the site of Muziris archaeological excavations. Jussay believes Pattanam as a corrupted form of Pashanam and its original name might have been Periyapattanam (Jussay, 2005). There is a legend that at this time, Jews were widely spread in a 50 km stretch from Palayur to Poyya near Kodungallur. Such dense were the Jewish residences in the area that a local phrase goes: ‘A cock that climbs the rooftops of Pullut could reach Palayur without touching the ground’ (Adarsh, 2013).

Shingly in General
Shingly is generally identified with Kodungallur (Cranganore), Anjuvannam, Cherigandaram, Muyirikkotu (Muziris), Mahodayapuram (Makotai), Thiruvanchikulam etc. or as some believe they represent different close quarters within Kodungallur city:  Muziris-the royal (Chera King’s) quarter; Thiruvanchikulam-the Hindu temple quarter; Shingli, Cherigandaram and Anjuvannam-the Jewish quarter. Not all agree the association of Shingly and Anjuvannam with Cranganore. Shingly is sometimes identified with Singulir, a town near Flandarina (Panthalayani Kollam) north of Calicut, and Anjuvannam has been variously proposed as 1) a West Asian Traders’ guild, 2) a body of merchants who traded in five different commodities or 3) a fifth foreign social division outside the four Varnas (Classes) of Hindu caste system.

Etymology of Shingly
Jussay deduces the word Shingly from foreignised version of “Changala Azhi” (ചങ്ങല ആഴി), the original name of the estuary at Kodungallur (Jussay, 2005). Local historian  Valath V. V. K. (1992) cites a 14th century (1352) document, ‘Huzur Grandha Ola’ where Kodungallur Estuary (Azhi) is called ‘Changala Azhi’, and based on that he also believes the origin of the word Shingly has an Indian root. Yule and Burnell (1903) allude differently, they believe Shinkali or Shigala is derived from ‘Tiru-van-jiculam’ (Thiruvanchikulam). European and Arab mediaeval travellers have documented Shingly by various forms of names such as Al Gingaleh, Canglin, Cinghilin, Cinglin, Cyncilim, Cyngalin, Cyngilin, Gingaleh, Gingilin, Jangli, Scigla, Shinkali, Shinkli, Sindschel, Sigli, Singoli, Singuyli, Ziniglin, Zingelyn, Zinglin (Ludwick, 1945).

Origin of Shingly
We don’t know when exactly Jews arrived Kodungallur. Different dates, from the destruction of the First (6th century B. C.) and Second (1st Century A. D.) Jerusalem Temples, Bar Kochba revolt (2nd Century A. D.), Majorca (4th Century A. D.), Persia (5th Century A. D.) etc. have all been suggested. Ancient Syrian Christian traditions trace a Jewish colony in Kodungallur at the time of St Thomas’ arrival in Kerala in the first Century A. D.  St Thomas, thus was welcomed by a Jewish flute girl, stayed in the Jewish quarter of Cranganore and baptized 40 Jews [Acts of Thomas, 3rd Century A. D., see- Schneemelcher, 1992; Ramban Thomas Pattu-16th century (?) Malayalam folksong]. Christian legends date St Thomas’ visit to Kerala in 52 A. D., some 17 years before the more accepted traditional date of Jewish arrival in Kerala, i.e. after the destruction of Second Jerusalem Temple (68-70 A. D.). Were there Jews in Cranganore before first Century A. D.? It appears that older traditions attested by two independent early 16th century sources confirm this speculation. An oral testimony by Hayim Franco in 1503-1504 and a Hebrew letter dated 1503 by ‘Moses, son of Rabbi Abba Mori’, both from Shingly, testify that the Jews came before the destruction of the First Jerusalem Temple (586 B. C.) from the two tribes of the Kingdom of Judea, viz. Judah and Benjamin (Lesley, 2000).

David Shemtob Hallegua, a Jewish leader of Paradesi Synagogue incorporates details regarding the origin of his people in an article entitled ‘the Native Jews of Cochin’ (published in the Jewish Chronicle on March 3, 1865) where he mentions, “In A. M. 3088 (i.e. in the year 672 before the vulgar era) there came about 10,000 Israelites, who had been driven from their country by Sanherib, to India, settling in the four cities Karagnar (Kodungallur), Phallo (Palayoor), Madai, and Palato (Pullut); most of them lived at Karagnar (Cranganore), which is also called Magodra (Mahodara), Petunam (Pattanam), or Sengalla (Shingly)” (It is interesting to note that he uses the term ‘Vulgar Era’ for ‘Christian Era’). 

The generally accepted version of Kerala’s Jewish origin is well documented in an Extract prepared by the Dutch scholar Leopold Immanuel Jacob Van Dort who visited Cochin in 1757. The original Extract of Van Dort was translated into Dutch from an ancient Hebrew Chronicle of Cochin Jews. An English translation of the same appeared in an Anglo-Jewish Periodical named Kol Yakov (‘The Voice of Jacob’, Vol V, No: 136, 28 August 1846) it goes: “After the destruction of the Second Temple, in the 3828th year of the creation, 3168th of the tribulation and 68th of the Christian Era, about 10,000 Jews and Jewesses came to Malabar and settled in Caranganore (Kodungallur), Poloor (Palayoor), Mahdorn (Madai?), and Poollootto (Pullut), and three-fourths of this population remained at Caranganore, then called Mahodacapatna, and subsequently Chingly (Shingly), under the government if Cheremperrummab (Cheramanperummal). In the year 4139th of the Creation, 3479th of the tribulation, and 379th of the Christian Era, Cheremperrummab Eravy Virma, the King, granted to the Jews the honour and privileges they are to exercise, and which were engraved on Copper-plate, called Chempeada, in Malabar, and thereby appointed Joseph Rabban at the head of the Jews, and called him Sriannandan Mappla (Chirianandan).

Development of Shingly
Paradesi scholar, Koder (1986) cites Roman traders visiting the Jewish colony of Cranganore as early as the 2nd Century A. D. In "Notisias dos Judeos de Cochim (1686)", one of the most comprehensive document ever written on Cochin Jews, the Dutch leader Moses De Paiva describes about 70000-80000 Jews migrating to Kerala from Majorca in the year 4130 (370 A. D.) and 15000 members of Royal descent with their King (Joseph Rabban) settling in Cranganore. (Historically, Joseph Rabban arrived Cranganore in early 11th century only, but Cochin Jewish tradition dates the event to late 4th century A. D.). A third wave of migration to Cranganore in late 5th century (499 A. D.) consisting of a large group of Jews from Persia and Babylon (Iran and Iraq) is attested by an independent tradition. From 9th century onwards we have multiple records about Jewish presence in Kodungallur until 16th century. In 1169, Rabbi Benjamin Tudela observes Al-Gingaleh (Shingly) with about one thousand Israelites (see Adler, 1907).

Later documents however find a larger Jewish community in Cranganore. For instance, in a 1496 letter, Rabbi Abraham of Sienna reports “In an Island named Shingly are about 40,000 Jewish householders, great, wealthy men, who know the written and oral Torah and have a Jewish King” (Lesley 2000). English traveller Alexander Hamilton’s account (1744) on Cranganore states: “In times of old it bore the name of a Kingdom, and was a Republic of Jews, who were so numerous, that they could reckon about 80000 families, but, at present, are reduced to 4000”.  It is highly unlikely that Cranganore had such a large Jewish population after 15th century and these numbers are definitely over-exaggerated, but it is safer to assume that, over time Kodungallur became a stronghold for Jews and they had a good monopoly over the pepper trade in Malabar. An interesting 14th century account, ‘The Travels of Sir John Mandeville’ (Edited by A W Pollard, 1900, p.112) mentions about the towns of Fladrine (Panthalayani Kollam) and Zinglantz (Shingly) inside a large pepper-forest and adds “it (pepper) grows nowhere else in all the world, but in that forest, and that endureth well an eighteen journeys in length’ and ‘in every of them dwell Christians and Jews in great plenty’. It is quite certain that Jews of Shingly were excellent traders and powerful warriors, and they virtually controlled pepper trade in Malabar for quite a long period. We know that in later centuries, Jewish soldiers of Cranganore served the local Rajahs and their rights were respected even after Chera Empire came to an end.

Jewish Life in Shingly
The “famous and glorious” synagogue of Shingly boasted possession of original silver trumpets used in Jerusalem Temple. It is believed to be brought to Shingly after the destruction of Jerusalem Temple (70 A. D.) or through the Jewish immigrants from Majorca (370 A. D.) or during Rabbi Samuel HaLevi’s visit in 12th century A. D.? The precious relic was said to be lost in an internal strife as recorded by Moses De Paiva in his 1686 account, “the Majorcan Jews brought with them two trumpets with the Ineffable Names engraved on them from the Holy Temple. The Levites used to sound the trumpets to announce the approach of the Sabbath (Friday after sunset). On one occasion when the sun was about to set, the Levites had not arrived, the members sounded the trumpets; this enraged the Levites and they broke them into pieces. Thus a celebrated relic of our ancient glory was lost. This happened two hundred years before the loss of Cranganore and was the harbinger of events to follow” (Koder, 1986). If the historicity of this account is somehow validated, one can assume that the trumpets used in Jerusalem Temple was preserved in Cranganore for more than a thousand years!

 A letter written by Moses, son of Rabbi Abba Mori dated 1503, highlights Jews of Shingly living a rich and prosperous life enjoying superior social status and celebrating their festivals and religious ceremonies with all gaiety, pomp and fervour. From the letter we understand that at the beginning of 16th century, Shingly Jews possessed a rich collection of religious texts including the five books of the Torah, eight Prophets, the Writings, Tanhuma, Rashi’s commentaries, Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Midrash etc. The author also carefully adds details of a festival procession in the synagogue of shingly with “eight Torah scrolls in precious coverings and chains…and golden pomegranates being brought out” (Lesley, 2000). Tradition has it that at the time of the destruction of Cranganore, Jews fled their city carrying with them two Torah-scrolls from the synagogue (Avishur et al., 1995). These scrolls might have landed in Parur synagogue as Moses De Paiva (1686) notes that people there had two scrolls brought from Cranganore (Koder, 1986).

For nearly a thousand years from 4th to 14th century A. D., the Jews in Shingly are believed to have an independent principality ruled over by a Jewish prince starting from a wealthy Yemenite merchant leader Joseph Rabban to his 72nd heir, Joseph Azar. “This form of government lasted about 1,000 years. So that everyone lived happily amid his vineyards and fig trees. Seventy-two Kings ruled over the land of Shingli”- writes Gustav Oppert with a Biblical zeal in Jewish Chronicle (November 18, 1898). This Joseph Rabban or Issuppu Irappan or “Chirianandan” as he was fondly addressed by Jews was the recipient of the famous Jewish Copper Plates issued by a Hindu King named ‘Bhaskara Ravi Varma I or III’ of the Chera Empire in Kodungallur during his 36th year of reign. The copper plates are still extant and have been dated from various authors from 4th to 11th Century A. D., the traditional Jewish date being 379 A. D. This Magna Carta of Cochin Jews assigns 72 privileges to the Jewish chief including the right to rule Anjuvannam, perhaps a suburb of Kodungallur. In this deed the principality of Anjuvannam was to survive ‘so long as the world and moon exist! “Anjuvannam was 27 square miles in area and more than 20.000 Jews lived there”, writes Dravidian Judaist Prem Doss Swamy Doss Yehudi (1989). In a Malayalam folksong, we find Joseph Rabban, being provided wood free of cost by the ruler (unnamed) of Cranganore for the building of a synagogue in Mala. “Nomar Shira”, a famous song attributed to the Spanish Hebrew poet and traveller Rabbi Nissim Ezekiel ben Reuben, who is believed to have visited Shingly in the 14th century A. D. has these touching lines:

“I travelled from Spain
I had heard of the city of Shingly
I longed to see a Jewish King
Him I saw with my own eyes”

Medieval records strongly suggest a prosperous Jewish principality in Shingly, but one has to take it with a pinch of salt. For instance, Friar Jordanus (14th century) enumerates the king of Singuyli (Shingly) besides the king of Malabar who reigned the whole west coast of Kerala (Mirabilia Descripta, Translation Colonel Henry Yule, 1863, p.40). Paradesi Jewish scholar, A. I. Simon (1947) is of the opinion that Cochin Jews recited ten songs of Yehudah HaLevi in “Cranganore or Shingly” tunes. One among them “Yashru Behenai” he says is “considered traditionally so important that no Reader is certified as such if he does not know the tune of this song”. Shingly poetry, Shingly melodies, Shingly rites and usage of Shingly in official documents (marriage contracts & letters of manumissions)-all indicate the significance of Kodungallur in the life of Cochin Jews. The fond desire of Kodungallur Jews for their Synagogue is explicitly expressed in a historic Malayalam folksong and it is translated by Prem Doss Swamy Doss Yehudi (1989) as:

“May the celebrated Synagogue last for Centuries
In this country there are Jews who worship at the Synagogue
May it stand for Centuries”

The Synagogues of Shingly
There was a time when Cranganore had no less than 18 synagogues and houses of study (Segal, 1993). It is possible that the first Jewish sanctuary of India was established in Kodungallur. However, we don’t know when this synagogue was built or where precisely it was located or how long it survived, but we do have hints from traditions and a few medieval records that can fill some of the gaps. Most probably the synagogue was established in the first Century A. D. An older Jewish tradition places the synagogue in a place called Cherigandaram, a name unlike other Jewish colonies have not survived. As mentioned earlier, Jussay identifies Cherigandaram with Shingly and then Methala by the name in which it is known today. In certain Jewish folklores, the Synagogue in Kodungallur was called the Synagogue of Kotai or Makotai (Mahodayapuram). There is a tradition that in the 12th century, Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi, one of the greatest Hebrew poets and his father Rabbi Shmuel HaLevi visited Shingly and the later had obtained a land to build a synagogue (Koder, 1986). Moses De Paiva even recalls of seeing the tomb of Rabbi Samuel HaLevi in Cherigandaram in 1686. A confirmation of this tradition is furthermore supplied by a 1503 letter of ‘Moses, son of Rabbi Abba Mori’ from Shingly: “After the destruction of the Second Temple, our revered master and teacher, Samuel Halevi, and Israelites and priests, came to the land of Melibara (Malabar) where is the city in which we live, Shingly...Samuel HaLevi asked the King (Hindu  ruler of Malabar) for a place in which to build a synagogue…And to Rabbi Samuel he gave Shingly…And our lord is Master Joseph Hasar (Joseph Azar?), son of Master Sa’adia Hasar” (Lesley, 2000). A Paradesi Jew, A. I. Simon (1947) attributes a famous Cochin Jewish song (“Yashru Behenai”) to Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi and claims that it was composed in Cranganore!

Ruby Daniel gives another tradition which recounts how “the Cranganore Jews were having a big party to celebrate the building of a new synagogue. As they were celebrating, an old man came—some say he was Eliyahu Hanabi—and he told them, “You will live here only three times thirty years, and after that the synagogue will be destroyed (Daniel and Johnson, 1995). What we can infer from this tradition is that Jews had a smaller synagogue at Cranganore in Middle Ages and when they became prosperous and rich they replaced it with a larger and splendid synagogue.  We are told that the new synagogue stood only for 90 years and if this is the case, the synagogue at Shingly was rebuilt for the last time between 13th and 15th centuries A. D., depending on the date of destruction of Cranganore in 14th (internal dispute and natural disaster) or 16th (Islamic and Portuguese attacks) centuries.

It seems two additional Jewish sanctuaries existed in Kodungallur from early times, viz. the Kadavumbhagom (River Side) and Thekkumbhagom (South Side) synagogues. They were supposedly located north and south to the Hindu King’s palace in Kodungallur (Cheraman Parambu) and believed to be active until 16th century A. D. Jussay (2005) locates Kadavaumbhagom in Pullut and Thekkumbhagom at Maliankara both neighbourhoods of Kodungallur on the northern and southern sides of the river Periyar, respectively. After the destruction of Kodungallur, Jews migrated to other parts of Kerala. The newly built synagogues in Ernakulam and Cochin were named probably in memory of Kadavumbagom and Thekkumbagom synagogues of Kodungallur. Based on a Jewish Malayalam Folk song, Jussay (1990) interprets the existence of two economically divergent Jewish communities in Cranganore, a rich market sector and a poor harbour sector (Kadavumbhagom) fractions who often had disputes over the tax collected for the maintenance of the synagogue in Chirikantanagar (Cherigandharam).

The Formation of ‘Joothakulam’ or ‘Jewish Pond’ of Kodungallur
A Malayalam folksong quoted by Peethambaran, P. K. (2014) goes:

യുദരുടെ പിതൃക്കൾ
തോമയ്ക്കു മുൻപേ എത്തിയവർ
രാജാവിൻറെ ചടങ്ങുകൾക്കായി
ജൂതകുളമിത് പണിതല്ലോ

Which can be roughly translated: “Ancestors of Jews; Who arrived before Thomma (St. Thomas); For the King’s ceremonies; Built this Jewish Pond”. The song thus suggests a Jewish Pond’s existence at Shingly from the first Century A. D.  There is also a proposition that the word Joothakulam is actually derived from Joothakkalam (ജൂതക്കളം) which means “Jewish Settlement’, and in this case the settlement of Shingly (Cranganore). However, it is generally accepted that Joothakulam was formed when Jews dispersed after the destruction of Cranganore took a handful of earth with them from the site of their beloved city. It is interesting to note that Moses De Paiva fails to record in 1686 about Joothakulam although he discusses the fall of Cranganore in detail. Malabari Jews have a different tradition about the destruction of Shingly and the consequential formation of ‘Joothakulam’. In fact, two slightly different versions are known, addressed by Ruby Daniel and P M Jussay. The story revolves around a well-respected Jewish widow, her beautiful daughter and the local Hindu ruler of Cranganore. The King asks for the daughter, she refuses, as a consequence Jews get expelled from the city and their synagogue completely burnt and destroyed.

In Ruby’s version, the widow known as ‘Kadambath Achi’, her daughter and 800 people settle in Cranganore from Palestine, the local ruler’s son falls in love with daughter, his request for marrying her is rejected, the furious King destroys their city and finally the mother and daughter commit suicide by swallowing their precious stones. Jussay’s account gives the widow’s name ‘Kadavath Achi’ (the Lady of the Riverside) who lived by the side of Paloor Bay (Paloor Kadalarikil). In his narration, the local king falls in love with the daughter, his request to include her in his harem is declined and he burns their city in retaliation, the mother daughter duo along with their people flee from Cranganore to escape its total destruction. In both versions, the king gives a 48 hour ultimatum, his order is being rebuffed, the city is burnt and a Jewish Pond or Joothakkulam is generated on the site of its destruction. The destruction of Shingly and the subsequent origin of ‘Joothakulam’ (‘Jewish Pond’) are described in both versions as follow:

Ruby Daniel’s account:
“So the raja got angry and ordered the Jews out of his country overnight, under pain of death. So all the people ran away. This lady and her daughter ground all their jewellery and precious stones into powder and threw it into a pool. They themselves swallowed diamonds and died. The name of that pool is still called the Jewish Pool (Jutha Kulam) and the hill nearby is called the Jewish Hill (Jutha Kunna). No Jews remain there, only the names of these places. People living there still say they sometimes find tiny pieces of gold in the sand of that pool”- (Daniel and Johnson, 1995)

P M Jussay’s account:
“So they fled carrying with them what they could, including the two Tora-scrolls from the synagogue. As they fled, each of them carried a handful of earth from the place of their ancient settlement. It is said that what is known in Cranganore as Joothakkulam (the Jews’ pit) was formed in this manner. The Jews crossed a small river to the east of Cranganore and reached Thuruthipuram and hid themselves among the reeds. From there they could see their synagogue go up in flames. From their hiding place they dispersed in small groups to Chendamangalam, Parur, Cochin, Muttam, Ernakulam etc., where they lived in comparative obscurity, avoiding Cranganore. Even if they had to go to Cranganore on business, they would stay there overnight but would hasten way before nightfall”-(Avishur et al., 1995).

Fall of Shingly or Cranganore
Decline of Kodungallur began with a heavy silting up of its spacious port in 1341. Internal dissensions within the royal family of Kodungallur’s Jewish community culminating with the murder of Aaron Azar by his younger sibling Joseph Azar- the last Jewish ruler, followed by their migration to Cochin marked the final days of Shingly. However, the exact cause (family, political, religious, caste etc.,) and time (1341 or 1471 or 1565) of this conflict is debatable and multiple versions have been put forward by various traditions. For example, in one tradition Joseph Azar, the last Jewish ruler fled Cranganore in 1344 with a few faithful followers to Cochin and established a new congregation and a synagogue in Kochangadi; whereas in a different legend the same event happened in 1565 only. In 1496, almost 150 years after Jews settled in Cochin, Rabbi Abraham of Sienna sees a ruler by the name of Rabbi (Master) Joshua residing in Shingly, and Hayyim Franco and Moses b. Rabbi Abba Mori attest Joseph Azar reigning Cranganore in 1503 (Lesley, 2000).

What happened to the Royal family of Joseph Rabban after Cranganore’s destruction? Moses De Paiva in his famous 17th century report on Cochin Jews describes that the Cranganore Jews primarily settled in Cochin and the remaining in Palur and Parur, he even recorded of seeing the Tomb of Joseph Azar, the last Jewish ruler of Shingly in Cochin in 1686. He further lists five heads from three of Cranganore’s First and  Royal  families, and three women of Royal descent among the members of Paradesi Synagogue in 1686 (Koder, 1986). In a footnote for Moses De Paiva’s report, Koder adds that the Zackay family of Cranganore became extinct in Cochin and many of its members were buried in old White Jewish cemeteries of Cochin (Mattancherry), but survives through a branch that settled outside Kerala (Koder, 1986). An extract prepared from a Hebrew Chronicle by Leopold Immanuel Jacob Van Dort (1757) provides a valuable information about the last of Joseph Rabban’s lineage, he quotes: “in the year 1650, the last of the family of Rabban (Joseph Rabban) died. His name was Joskiah (Josiah?), and he was prince over the Jews at Malabar, who reside at Calicot (Calicut or Kozhikode).”

The presence of Jews in Shingly was finally put to a historic end by the heavy damage inflicted upon them by the Islamic (1524) and Portuguese (1503 & 1565-66) conquests in the name of trade and religion. In one of the earliest detailed account of Cochin Jews, Moses De Paiva (1686) writes, “The Zamorin (Samoothiri of Calicut) attacked the town on a Sabbath midnight when the innocent people (Jews of Cranganore) were all asleep. The Zamorin sacked the town and caused great destruction” (Koder, 1986). The quarrel with Muslims is attributed to Arab merchants who claimed that Jews spread rumours about them adulterating pepper. The dispute resulted in the death of a Muslim and in retaliation his companions called on Arabs in Malabar region and together with Zamorin of Calicut’s help they plundered Jewish Cranganore. The 16th century Arabic history, Tuhfatul Mujahideen by Sheikh Zainuddin al-Ma’bari describes the destruction of Shingly (Translation by S. Muhammad Hussain Nainar, 1942-p. 65): “This happened in 931 A.H, (1524 A. D.). The inhabitants of the towns mentioned above (Kalikut, Fandarina, Kabkat, Tirkud, Shaliyat, Barburankad, Tiruwarankad, Tanur, Barwanur, Fannan and Balinkut) embarked in a fleet about one hundred small corvettes and sailed to Kodungallur where they killed many Jews. Those who escaped, ran away to a village near Kodungallur that lay to eastward of it. The Muslims burnt their houses and synagogues.” They set fire to the houses and the churches of the Christians”. The Portuguese established their presence in Kodungallur by building two forts in the region; in 1503 a fort in Pallippuram (Aiyakotta or Alikotta) and another in Kottapuram (Cranganore or Kodungallur Fort) in 1523.Their animosity towards Jews is primarily anti-Semitic and partly due to their desire to control the pepper trade. After 1566 there is no evidence of a Jewish presence in Kodungallur.

A Jewish Malayalam folk song beautifully summarizes the legacy of Shingly-arrival of Jews from Jerusalem (first Century A. D.) and their
exile to Cochin in the following stanzas (Avishur et al., 1995):

‘The Lord had compassion on them
A few he saved
And they all assembled and decided
“To a land safe and secure we should go”
And to the lovely Land of Cranganore did they come’.

‘The lovely Land of Cranganore was ruined
Then all assembled and decided
“To a land safe and secure we should go”
The lovely spot indeed is Cochin harbour’

1-Adarsh, C. (2013)-Vibhavanakal Vinimayangal-Kodungalloorinte Vyavaharika Bhoomisastram (Malayalam)

2-Adler, Marcus Nathan (1907)-The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela-Critical Text, Translation and Commentary"

3-Avishur, Y., Jason, H. and Jussay, P. M. (1995)-The Jewish beauty and the King, Estudos de Literatura Oral

4-Daniel, Ruby and Johnson, Barbara C. (1995)- Ruby of Cochin: An Indian Jewish Woman Remembers

5-Hamilton, Alexander (1744)-A New Account of the East Indies

6-Jordanus, Catalani-Mirabilia Descripta : the wonders of the East (English Translation by Yule, Henry, 1863)

7-Jussay, P. M. (1986)-The Songs of Evarayi, in Thomas A. Timberg (ed.), Jews in India

8-Jussay, P. M. (1990)-The Origins of Kerala Jews-an evaluation of their traditional sources

9-Jussay, P. M. (2005)-The Jews of Kerala

10-Katz, Nathan and Goldberg, Ellen (1993)-The Last Jews of Cochin

11-Katz, Nathan (2000)-Who Are the Jews of India?

12-Koder, S. S. (1986)-Saga of the Jews of Cochin, in Thomas A. Timberg (ed.), Jews in India

13-Lesley, Arthur M. (2000)-'Shingly in Cochin Jewish memory and in eyewitness accounts', Journal of Indo-Judaic Studies, Vol. 3, pp. 7–21

14-Ludwick, Sternbach (1945)- Jews in Mediaeval India as Mentioned by Western Travellers, The Proceedings of Indian History Congress of 1945

15-Mendelssohn, Sidney (1920)-The Jews of Asia

16-Peethambaran, P. K. (2014)-Keralayahudarude Samskarikacharithram (Malayalam)

17-Pollard A. W. (Edn., 1900)-The travels of Sir John Mandeville

18-Prem Doss Swami Doss Yehudi (2000)- The Shingly Hebrews

19-Schneemelcher, Wilhelm (1992)-New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 2

20-Segal, J. B. (1993)-A History of the Jews of Cochin

21-Sheikh Zainuddin Al-Ma'bari-Tuhfatul Mujahideen(English Translation by S. Muhammad Husayn Nainar, 1942)

22-Simon A. I. (1947). The Songs of the Jews of Cochin and their Historical Significance

23-Valath, V. V. K. (1992)-Keralathile Sthalacharithrangal: Thrissur Jilla (Malayalam)

24-Woodcock, George (1967)-Kerala : A Portrait of the Malabar Coast

25-Yule, H., and Burnell, A. C. (1903)- Hobson Jobson


Most documents that I have analysed for the fall of Shingly discuss about a ‘Joothakulam’, but fails to mention its precise location. Before starting the quest for ‘Joothakulam’, the only helpful information I had was:  1) a black and white photograph of ‘Joothakulam’ published by J B Segal (1993) in his book ‘A History of the Jews of Cochin’, Figure 3). He finds the pool “a favourite rendezvous for the local children after the rains” (p. 20); and 2) a crucial pointer from P M Jussay that the pond is located in the Methala region of Kodungallur. I understand Johanna Spector’s documentary "About the Jews of India: Cochin" (1976) too has a clipping of the ‘Jew Pond’ and the ‘Jew Hill’ of Kodungallur, but unfortunately I couldn’t access the video. Katz and Goldberg (1993) writes that With some detective work, one can still locate Joodhakulam, or “Jews Pond,” today utterly undescript, but fails to add any more details about the location of the pond

The Jew Pond of Kodungallur- A Photo published by J B Segal in ‘A History of the Jews of Cochin’ (1993)

The key here is to look in Methala, a suburb of Kodungallur. Modern Kodungallur is a Municipality in Thrissur District, 40.62 km2 in area with 44 electoral wards and Methala occupies roughly 12 km2. Since one of the most important attractions in Methala is the famous Cheraman Juma Masjid, often considered the first mosque in India, I decided to look for the ponds near the mosque and proceed until Kottappuram region-also an archaeologically important area. After screening this part of Kodungallur and its neighbourhoods for around a dozen of ponds (see Photos in blog), I soon realized that my efforts were all in vain, but on a positive note a few of them turned out historically important and worth paying a visit. Luckily, the vital hint was provided from Kottappuram by a 96 year old grandmother called 'Old Kappiar's (Sexton) Wife' and her middle-aged son, who had a glimpse into Segal’s photograph, and commented that the unique elongated rectangular shape of the pond bordered by Pantanus plants (‘Kaitha’ in Malayalam) reminded the pond ‘Kunnamkulam’ (‘Hill Pond’) in Kodungallur.

Kunnamkulam Pond, Kunnamkulam Village and Kunnamkulam Municipality
For the first time I realized that there is both a place and a pond called ‘Kunnamkulam’ in Kodungallur. It is different from the more familiar Kunnamkulam Municipal Town-a prominent Syrian Christian centre located about 60 km north of Kodungallur and nearer to Palayur. Apparently, Kunnamkulam of the north had a synagogue once, reports Jussay (1986) based on information collected from an ex-Malabari Jew living in Jerusalem, but we are talking about an entirely different region here. I was wrongly searching for Joothakulam in east Methala area closer to Kottapuram and Cheraman Masjid, instead, I should have been looking in the west Methala region near Azhikode where the Mouth of Periyar River is located. In short, ‘Joothakulam’ is the modern pond of 'Kunnamkulam' in Kodungallur. It is located in a calm and sleepy village also known by the name 'Kunnamkulam' in the west Methala region of Kodungallur Municipality. Kunnamkulam Muncipality however is an urban area north to Kodungallur. Kunnamkulam Village and Kunnamkulam Municipality are distinct regions but they come within the Thrissur District of Kerala.

Figure 1-Location of Joothakulam (Jew Ponds) in Kunnamkulam, Methala, Kodungallur

Though small in area, at the centre of the village (‘Kunnamkulam Junction’) there is a mosque (Tah’li Musbian Masjid/Madrassa), two Hindu Temples (Pulickel Sree Chakreshwari Temple and Nelliparambath Temple), a school (Methala Government Upper and Lower Primary School), a Primary Health Dispensary, a Public Ration Shop, a  Bank and a Post Office.  At first glance, there is a high chance that you will not find any trace of a pond in the site. The Joothakulam is perfectly concealed by a stretch of shops and old buildings. The key landmark is a 2-storey building, the ground floor of which is a carpentry shop named ‘Timber Line’, and the upper floor is aptly designated “Soviet Centre”-the branch committee office of the local Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which is painted in red colour and adored with party symbols and a portrait of Latin American revolutionary leader Che Guevara. A narrow passage besides this building will lead you to the southern entrance (SE of Figure 1) of the ‘Joothakulam’ of Kodungallur. The pond has a retaining granite wall on the northern boundary, main entrance is marked by steps leading into it from the western border (WE of Figure 1), with a little adventure you can get down into the pond from the eastern side as well.  The main western entrance is accessed from a private property. The rectangular shape of the pond remains intact and a few Pantanus plants still survive in the northern and southern boundaries. There is sufficient water inside the pond but littered with plastic waste and garbage tied into polythene carry bags. The pond was used by the public until recently for bathing purposes, but not anymore laments the local community.

Tracing the ‘Joothakulam’ of Kodungallur in February, 2017 was a proud moment, but a second visit to Kunnamkulam almost a year later surprised me with another candidate claiming Jewish connection, obscurely located besides the backyard of a private property yet very close to the large Kunnamkulam. The second pond is smaller in size and square-shaped than the large rectangular Kunnamkulam (see Figure 1). We don’t know if there were two Joothakulams in Kodungallur. May be they existed at different points of time or functioned differently, one as a tebila for ritual purification and the other formed as a Joothakulam on the site after the destruction Cranganore.


Figure 2-Joothakulam (Kunnamkulam) and its vicinities

As you can see from Figure 2, that the Joothakulam of Kodungallur is located near the mouth of Periyar River and closer to some of the earliest Christian, Hindu and Muslim centres, and archaeologically significant sites in Pallipuram, Cheramanparambu, Kottappuram etc. Mar Thoma Pontifical shrine that marks the landing spot of St. Thomas’ visit to Kerala is only 2.5 km south-west to Kunnamkulam whereas Cheraman Juma Masjid is 3 km north-east . It is also interesting to observe that within 10 km radius from Joothakulam lie 1) Pullut, one of the earliest Jewish settlement in Kerala; 2) Pattanam, the speculated site of Muziris; and 3) Mala, North Paravur and Chennamangalam, colonies that supposedly emerged from Kodungallur.

In order to reach our destination, we need to visit west Methala region, approximately 4 km south-west to the Kodungallur town. The area in Methala where Joothakulam is located is a village called Kunnamkulam, the 28th electoral ward of Kodungallur Municipality. Kunnamkulam is under the postal region (P. O.) of Kandamkulam. You would be seeing all four names Kunnamkulam, Kandamkulam, Methala and Kodungallur used interchangeably in the name boards and shops of the village. For instance the address given in the mosque is Kunnamkulam, P.O. Kanadamkulam, Kodungallur; the nearby CPI (M) branch office has the address Kunnamkulam-Methala; and the adjacent school is known as Methala U. P. School. The precise location is therefore Kunnamkulam centre (also 'Kunnamkulam Junction'), and 'Joothakulam' (also ‘Kunnamkulam’ or ‘Hill Pond’), roughly stretches between the Mosque, Tah’li Musbian Masjid/Madrassa and Methala Government Upper and Lower Primary School.

If you are visiting Joothakulam by a private vehicle, the best way is to use Google Map’s service, just type the key words, ‘Kunnamkulam Mosque’ or ‘Kandamkulam Post Office’ and follow the map. Public transport is also feasible, but would require a little more effort to access the site. Kodungallur town is easily accessible by public transport from anywhere in Kerala. Once you get down at the Private Bus stand, look for buses going to Azhikode. If you are using the Kerala State Transportation (KSRTC), you can get down at the KSRTC-bus stand and catch the Azhikode bus from the nearby bus stop as well. You need to disembark at the Sree Narayana Samajam Hall Bus stop in Methala, a 10 min drive from Kodungallur town. Kunnamkulam is further 10 minute brisk walk (850 m) from the bus stop, while walking don’t miss Kaathukulam, a large pond on the way. There is also direct transportation to Kunnamkulam (Bus Stop: Kunnamkulam Junction or Methala UP School), and the bus runs to a place called Padanna. I was told that a single bus operates to and fro services in the region (Kodungallur-Padanna), and it is notoriously infrequent.

The larger Joothakulam (Kunnamkulam or Hill-Pond) is besides the western border of the Methala School, whereas the smaller Joothakulam is in front of the northern boundary of the school. However to reach the smaller Joothakulam, we need to take the lane named ‘K. C. Memorial Road’ (see Figure 1), a tar road which starts a few metres after the Mosque. Walking past a few feet through the road you should reach a junction, take left and immediately turn right to a very narrow mud path which will guide you to the house of Mr. Sebastian, who owns the land where the small Joothakulam is today. The pond is positioned south to this house, and has limited amount water inside but it occupies an area almost half of the land.


Although most of the residents were amused to hear a Jewish connection to their small village, I was lucky to find a few senior (aged 70 plus) members who added interesting information about ‘Joothakulam’. What I have learnt from them were:

1) There were two hills in the region, the Cheriyakunnu (Small Hill) and Valiyakunnu (Large Hill), the area between them were owned completely by Jews. The Valiyakunnu was flattened out and has lost all its hilly nature now. The Cheriyakunnu is still visible as an elevated ridge, presently the Kunnamkulam village centre where ‘Joothakulam’ exists by the name Kunnamkulam (Hill-Pond). There was also a large pond in the Valiyakunnu area, but it does not survive now. Valiyakunnu was in the beginning of the road that runs south from the Kunnamkulam centre to Edamukku.

2) Long time ago there were two Jewish brothers who owned most of the land in the region. Their large mansions were located near Methala Upper Primary School, but all of its traces are gone. One brother owned the large pond area and the other's share was the smaller pond, both used by their respective family members. Names of the brothers are vaguely remembered by a local and he spelled their names Cheriyakarnan and Valiyakarnan. Isn’t it fanciful to relate Cheriyakarnan with Chirianandan.

3) Kunnamkulam and Cheriya Kunnamkulam were hills owned by Jewish brothers. After the destruction of Cranganore both were destroyed and turned into ponds and hence the name Kunnamkulam (Hill and Pond) struck for the place. Joothakunnu (Jew Hill) was the capital of Jews in Kodungallur.

4) There used to be a large canal in the region connected to the Periyar River and was used to bring food and other necessary commodities to the village. Decades ago it was used to bring sack loads of rice to the public ration shop in the city centre. The remains of the canal still exist as a narrow drainage channel today.

5) Residents living adjacent to the ponds remember that both the ‘Joothakulam’s were photographed by foreigners some few decades before. In the case of the smaller ‘Joothakulam’, the current owner vividly recollects how it was photographed using a tripod by a foreigner. Whether both or only one of the ponds functioned as a ‘Joothakulam’ is not clear. Traditions about Jews collecting soil from the site of the larger ‘Joothakulam’ for funeral purposes are also remembered.

6) The larger ‘Joothakulam’ is currently known as Kunnamkulam (Hill-Pond), it belongs to the Village (Panchayath) and remains as a Public Pond. The smaller pond is in a private land and known as ‘Joothakulam’ or Moolakulam (Base Pond). After Jews left Cranganore, the land including the smaller pond was owned by a wealthy Hindu family who escaped Tipu Sultan's invasion (late 18th century), settled in the region and built a large house nearby. The current owner of small ‘Joothakulam’ is a Christian and has plans to renovate the pond for fish cultivation provided his financial status permits.

A PhD thesis in Malayalam entitled ‘Kodungalloorinte Samskarikathanimayum Keraleeyavabodhavum’ ('Cultural identity of Kodungallur and Kerala consciousness') by Adarsh C (2010) which I came across recently has some interesting information about Kodungallur’s ancient history and heritage. The thesis has also been published as a book in 2013 (Vibhavanakal Vinimayangal-Kodungalloorinte Vyavaharika Bhoomisastram), but in Malayalam. It is the first published report I could find that specifically identifies the Joothakulam of Kodungallur with Kunnamkulam. I hope there might be additional references probably older ones in Malayalam that can shed more light into this topic.

One wonders what lies beneath these sites if the historicity of Shingly and its association with ‘Joothakulam’ of Kodungallur is validated. Who knows someday archaeological excavations can yield, perhaps the remains of a Synagogue or a tombstone or at least a Hebrew inscription that can corroborate with the rich Jewish traditions associated with this region.

Large Joothakulam

Small Joothakulam


The two-storey building adjacent to the southern entrance to the Joothakulam (Kunnamkulam)

SE-Southern Entrance & WE-Western Entrance to the large Joothakulam of Kunnamkulam 

Entrance to Methala Lower Primary & Upper Primary School, Kunnamkulam

Tah’li Musbian Masjid/Madrassa or Kunnamkulam Mosque

Western wall of the Methala Lower Primary & Upper Primary School, Kunnamkulam

The slope to Kunnamkulam Centre from Edamukku

A signboard near Kunnamkulam centre


The monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam arrived India much before they reached the West. For instance, it is widely believed that Christianity reached the subcontinent only after the first European colonists; the Portuguese arrived India in the 15th century. However, long before Christianity reached many parts of Europe, it came across to India. According to strong traditions among the ancient Syrian Christians of Kerala, Christianity was introduced to India by St: Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ in 52 AD who later established seven churches across Kerala. Contrary to popular belief, Islam came to India prior to the 11th century Muslim invasions with the Arab merchants who arrived Kerala for trade in the 7th century AD. Similarly, Judaism the oldest continuously practiced monotheistic religion has an Indian presence from very early times. If traditional accounts are to be accepted, India had a Jewish colony from the time of King Solomon (10th century BC)!

Most importantly, all the three religions trace their arrival in India to the Malabar region of Southern India which is currently the modern State of Kerala. Since ancient times Kerala has been the center of the Indian spice trade where Greeks, Romans, Jews, Arabs and Chinese came for grabbing their part of share. To be precise, the first Jewish, Christian and Islamic settlements of India were established in a place called Cranganore (modern Kodungallur) in Kerala. The oldest church in India is found in Palayur not far from Kodungallur purportedly constructed in 52 AD by St. Thomas. The oldest mosque in India and the second oldest mosque in the world to offer Jumu'ah prayers is the Cheraman Juma Masjid of Kodungallur and is constructed during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad in 629 AD! Traditionally, Kodungallur had a Jewish synagogue even before St: Thomas arrived in 52 AD and it will then be the oldest synagogue in India.

Much has been written on Indian Jews, their unique culture and traditions. Among the three major Jewish communities in India, the “Kerala Jews” popularly known as “Cochin Jews” are the most ancient (2500 years ago) followed by the “Bene Israel” (2100 years ago) and the “Baghdadi Jews” (250 years ago). Recently two more communities have claimed Jewish ancestry viz. “Bene Menasheh” (1970s) from North East India and “Bene Ephraim or Telugu Jews” (1980s) from Andhra Pradesh. A small population of Jews had migrated to India during the Mughal, Portuguese, Dutch, French and British rule as well. Perhaps the Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Anti-Semitic Europe were the last Jews to arrive India. In other words, Jews weren’t a single emigration to India. At different times they arrived and settled peacefully in India where they never experienced any anti-Semitism from the native Indian community. In fact, it is said that out of the 148 nations where Jews have lived in, India is the only country where they were never persecuted by the natives.

Although Jews reached Kerala as early as 1st century AD, there were many different waves of emigrations later as well. Gradually, Jews of Kerala became organized into three distinct groups, but the different communities interacted very less among themselves. 1) ‘Meyuhassim’ (privileged) or Malabari Jews: the largest (85%) and most ancient group considered to have arrived in India as merchants during the period of King Solomon. 2). ‘Pardesi’ (foreigner) Jews: the second largest (14%) and recent group (from 16th century onwards) who migrated mainly from Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Spain and Germany. 3). ‘Meshuhararim’ (released): the smallest group (<1%) believed to be the slaves held by both Malabari and Pardesi communities who were converted to Judaism and later on released from their status as slaves. Based on skin colour, the Meyuhassim are called the ‘Black Jews’, the Meshuhararim-the ‘Brown Jews’ and the ‘Pardesi’-the ‘White Jews’. The arguments on who came first and who are more pure were often fought vehemently and each sect defended their claims. The Jewish population of Kerala numbered 2,400 at the height of their “mass” emigration to Israel in 1954. Today (2011), less than 40 Jews remain in Kerala-9 Pardesi Jews comprising of 6 women and 3 men; and less than 30 Malabari Jews.

In a strong caste-based Indian society, fair skinned Pardesi Jews managed to win a privileged position although they were a minority and newly arrived. Their European background, influence and wealth managed to push the majority of relatively poor Malabar Jews into an inferior position in colonial India. Unfortunately, even today for many in the west and to a great extent in India too, the existence of Kerala’s ancient Malabari Jewish community and their heritage is far unknown. The famous Pardesi Synagogue in Cochin is perhaps the only monument that comes into the mind of many as far as Judaism in Kerala is concerned. Acclaimed to be the oldest (built 1568) synagogue in British Commonwealth, the Pardesi Synagogue is the only functional one in Kerala today. Did the Jewish community of Kerala leave anything more than this famed synagogue? The answer is a big yes. Judaism in Kerala is not only about the Pardesi Jews of Cochin and their synagogue in Mattanchery. In fact, there are seven synagogues, seven Jewish cemeteries; six Jew Streets, a ‘Jewish Children’s Play ground’, at least two monuments and a few artifacts linked with extinct Jewish colonies in Kerala! This does not include the few existing Jewish homes and the many earlier Jewish residences converted into non-Jewish owned business buildings and private villas.

This blog will be an attempt to help people both inside and outside India to locate and learn about the known Jewish monuments of Kerala, that include synagogues, cemeteries and former Jewish residences. It will be equally pictorial and textual in format. One of the objectives of this blog is to help people in identifying all known Jewish monuments of Kerala through maps and photographs. Their left out synagogues and cemeteries are the physical landmarks that still stand in testimony to the vibrant and glorious heritage of Jews who claim at least 2000 years of strong and continuous bond with India. The big question is about the accessibility and identification of these monuments. Some of the cemeteries for example are so overgrown with weeds and turned into garbage dumping yards that even the locals have no clue about their existence. Most of the sites have no sign boards or maps available to pin point their exact location. The information from internet and other sources are also limited or at times misinformed when locating the monuments are concerned. I will try to get as many photographs as needed to help people understand these monuments and the blog will not be confined to the heritage of Pardesi Jews alone. For those synagogues that are disputed properties or lie in ruined state and are not accessible for the public I will only add photographs of the exterior. Some of the original Jewish artifacts from Kerala are preserved in Israel and what left here are the duplicates. In such cases, I will trace and append online links having the original photographs. All the trips I made to these heritage sites are through public transport systems and hence the directions provided will be for those who travel the hard way. Regarding the dates associated with the history of ‘Kerala Jews’, I have tried to incorporate the most popular views and need not always be the scholarly accepted ones. I shall be much glad if any one can contribute or provide details of additional monuments, sites or artifacts you think can be classified as part of Jewish heritage of Kerala.

Being also a photoblog, I will be concentrating more on the photographs taken from various Jewish monuments in Kerala. Not many sites are available online that go deep into the structural and historic details of these heritage units with photographs. However, we are lucky to have a few very enlightening resources. The “Friends of Kerala Synagogues 2011” (Prof. Jay A. Waronker, USA; Prof. Shalva Weil, Israel; Marian Scheuer Sofaer, USA; Isaac Sam, India and Tirza Muttath Lavi, Israel) maintain an excellent site on the synagogues of Kerala. I strongly recommend anyone interested in ‘Jewish synagogues of Kerala’ to go through their highly informative links. Whenever, I refer to their site, it will be acknowledged as ‘’. The other very important site I recommend is the beautiful photo collection by Jono David in his Ha Chayim Ha Yehudim Jewish Photo Library’. He has photographs from many Jewish monuments of India. Although he has got wrong one of the synagogues (Mattancherry Kadavumbagam Synagogue) the site has largely helped me to identify the Jewish cemeteries in Kerala. Thoufeek Zakriya who introduces himself as a young Indian Muslim, hospitality management student and a calligraphy artist maintains a well informed and interesting blog discussing the History of Jews of Kerala. His ‘Jews of Malabar’ is rich with unique information and rare photographs. A site maintained by Isaac Solomon has a very good collection of photographs on 53 Jewish cemeteries of the Bene Israeli community in India . However, he has not included cemeteries of the Jews of Kerala. Other way round, the Bene Israeli community has a site on the 49 synagogues they had established in Israel. Another interesting link has 360 degree view on the interiors of 10 Indian Synagoues including four from Kerala. General and popular articles on the subject are freely available on internet. You can also read some very informative classic books and scholarly written articles about the Jews of Kerala. Unfortunately, most of them are expensive to purchase and some are out of print or stock.


The most important Jewish heritage structures in Kerala are the synagogues (Juda Palli in Malayalam), cemeteries and residences.

A. Synagogues

Today, there are 35 synagogues in India and 7 of them are in Kerala. The architectural style of Kerala synagogues differs from those in the west. These synagogues are strongly influenced from earlier Hindu religious buildings on its design and construction. They are characterized by high slope roofs, thick laterite-stoned walls, large windows and doors, balcony and wood-carved ceilings. A Kerala synagogue consists of a ‘Gate House’ at the entrance that leads through a Breezeway to the Synagogue Complex. The synagogue complex is made of a fully enclosed Azara or Anteroom and a double-storeyed sanctuary-the main prayer hall. Inside a typical double-storeyed sanctuary of a ‘Kerala Synagogue’ are:

1) A Tebah/Bimah: Located at the center of the sanctuary, Tebah is usually an elevated wooden platform or pulpit from which Torah, the holy book of Jews is read. 2) A Heichal (Ark): Represents the altar. It is a chest or cupboard in the synagogue where the Torah scrolls are kept. It is usually carved intricately and painted/gilded with teak wood. Unlike in the European Synagogues, where the ark is placed on the eastern wall, the synagogues in Kerala have the arks on the western wall facing Jerusalem. 3) A Balcony/Second Tebah: It is unique to the synagogues of Kerala. The balcony has two portions one for men and the other for ladies. Women’s seating area is placed directly above the azara. 4) A Staircase: Leads to the balcony and is generally spiral in shape and made of wood. At times there are two staircases, one for men from the main hall inside the synagogue and the other for the ladies from a staircase room outside the synagogue; 5) A Jewish School: Is actually a classroom for Jewish children usually located behind the women’s section on the first floor.

B. Cemeteries

Resting place of ancestors means a lot to the Jewish community. Sometimes they even carried tombstones from their old settlements while migrating to a newer place. The oldest Jewish tomb in India (dated 1269 AD) preserved in front of Chendamangalam synagogue is one such transferred from Kodungallur. Unlike Christian tombs in Kerala with Malayalam and English engravings, the Jewish graves have mostly Hebrew inscriptions. The Jewish year can be converted into modern Gregorian date if one can read the Hebrew letters. ‘Reading Hebrew Tombstones’ is an interesting site to read the Jewish tombs.

C. Jewish Residences

Today, most of the early Jewish homes sold to non-Jews are substantially modified or refurbished. However, there are a few features that still make them identifiable. Sometimes you can trace Jewish symbols like Menorah (candlestick) and Magen David (Star of David) on the walls, windows and roof tops. For example, a few residences in Mattancherry still maintain the Star of David (Magen David) despite being converted into shops or warehouses. The best way to locate the home of a residing Jew is to look for the Mezuzah on the door post. Nailed to the doorpost of a Jewish home, Mezuzah is a small container made of wood, plastic or metal having a piece of parchment with the most important words from the Jewish Holy Book, Torah. It is customary among religious Jews to touch the mezuzah on entering or leaving the home. A few homes in the Synagogue Lane of Mattancherry with mezuzah are the residences of the remaining 9 Paradesi Jews.

The Jewish monuments and artifacts I will be discussing in this blog are:

I Synagogues

1. Pardesi Synagogue, Mattancherry (1568)

2. Kadavumbagam Synagogue, Mattancherry (1130 or 1539)

3. Thekkumbagam Synagogue, Mattancherry (1647, only the building site known)

4. Kadavumbagam Synagogue, Ernakulam (1200)

5. Thekkumbagam Synagogue, Ernakulam (1200 or 1580))

6. Paravur Synagogue (750 or 1164 or 1616)

7. Mala Synagogue (1400 or 1597)

8. Chendamangalam Synagogue (1420 or 1614)

(The various speculated dates of establishment in parenthesis are taken from, coutesy Prof. Jay A. Waronker)

II Cemeteries

1. Pardesi Jewish Cemetery, Mattancherry

2. Malabari Jewish Cemetery, Mattancherry

3. Old Jewish Cemetery, Ernakulam

4. New Jewish Cemetery, Ernakulam

5. Paravur Jewish Cemetery

6. Mala Jewish Cemetery

7. Chendamangalam Jewish Cemetery

III Jew Streets

1. Jew Street Mattancherry (Jewish residences with Mezuzah and Magen David)

2. Jew Steet, Ernakulam (today all shops in non-Jewish hands)

3. Jew Street, Paravur (Twin Pillars)

4. Jew Street, Mala (Gate House and Breezeway of synagogue turned into shops)

5. Jew Street, Chendamangalam (used to be a Jewish Market or Judakambolam)

6. Jew Street, Calicut (identified in July 2011 as Jootha (Jew) Bazar)

IV Other Monuments & Artifacts

1. Tomb of Sarah (1269 AD), Chendamangalam

2. Kochangadi Synagogue Corner-stone, Mattancherry

3. Jewish Children’s Play Ground, Mattancherry

4. Clock-Tower, Mattancherry

5. Sarah Cohen’s Embroidery Shop, Mattancherry

6. Jew Hill/Judakunnu/Jewish Bazar, Palayur

7. Jew Tank/Judakkulam, Madayi

8. Koder House, Fort Kochi

9. Grand Residencia, Fort Kochi

10. Jewish Summer Resorts, Aluva

11. Jewish Copper Plates, Mattancherry

12. Syrian Copper Plates, Kollam

13. Torah Finial, Palayur

V Lost Jewish Colonies

1. Kodungallur (Thrissur)

2. Palayur (Thrissur)

3. Pullut (Thrissur)

4. Kunnamkulam (Thrissur)

5. Saudhi (Ernakulam)

6. Tir-tur (Ernakulam)

7. Fort Kochi (Ernakulam)

8. Chaliyam (Kozhikode)

5. Pantalayani Kollam (Kozhikode)

9. Thekkepuram (Kozhikkode)

10. Muttam (Alappuzha)

11. Kayamkulam (Alappuzha)

12. Dharmadom (Kannur)

13. Madayi (Kannur)

14. Quilon (Kollam)

15. Pathirikunnu, Krishnagiri (Waynad)

16. Anchuthengu (Thiruvananthapuram)