Chendamangalam (alternatively spelled Chennamangalam) is a picturesque village located in the North Paravur taluk of Ernakulam district in Kerala. It was once home to a vibrant Jewish community. During the Portuguese and Dutch eras, the village was referred to as Vaipicota and Chenotta respectively, and it has since become a popular tourist destination due to its rich history and culture.
Kodungallur is believed to be the first Jewish settlement in Kerala, also known as Cranganore and Shingly. Unfortunately, the Jews had to evacuate Kodungallur when the Portuguese occupied the town, and subsequently they settled mainly in Mattancherry, Chendamangalam, Paravur and Mala.
P. Anujan Achan notes that a great feud occurred between the reigning Jewish leader and his brother, with the White Jews siding with the former and the Black Jews with the latter. Ultimately, the elder brother, aided by the local Raja, was able to expel the younger brother and his companions, the Black Jews, from Kodungallur. These Jews then fled to places such as Chendamangalam, Paravur and other neighbouring areas, settling down under the patronage of their respective local rulers.
Nathan Katz's work 'Who Are the Jews of India?' outlines the events between 1341 and 1505 that led to the destruction of the Jewish community at Kodungallur. A great flood in 1341 silted up the natural harbor of Kodungallur, resulting in Kodungallur's decline as a major port. Additionally, internal fighting, including a quarrel over the succession from Joseph Rabban (leader of the Jews of Kodungallur), further decimated the community. Furthermore, the Jews and their patron, the Raja of Cochin, suffered significant military losses to Muslim forces allied with the Raja's rival, the Samoothiri (Zamorin) of Calicut. Finally, the Portuguese's seizure of Kodungallur in 1505, marked the end of the Jewish community in the area.
Chendamangalam was the home of the Paliath Achans, the hereditary prime ministers of Kochi.
The Chendamangalam Synagogue is located in the area known as Kottayil Kovilakam, which was once the capital of Villarvattam chiefs.
The Paliam family or, according to some records, the Villarvattath chief, generously donated the land on which the Synagogue was constructed.
Notably, within a few hundred meters of the Synagogue, one can find a temple, a church, and a mosque, making it rare to hear the shofar of the synagogue, the peal of the church bell, the trumpet of the Hindu conch shell, and the cry of the muezzin, all in perfect harmony.
This worship center belonged to the Black Jews (Malabari Jews), believed to be descendants of those who intermarried with local women. Meanwhile, the white Jews are thought to be the descendants of the original Jews who were forced to flee their homeland due to persecution and sought refuge in India.
The Synagogue of Chendamangalam is believed to have been constructed in 1420. According to muzirisheritage.org, this synagogue, designed to emulate the Jerusalem temple, was unfortunately destroyed by a fire and was subsequently reconstructed in 1614. Over the years, subsequent renovations have taken place to keep the Synagogue in its current state.
The synagogue is a two-story building, with an entry room known as the Azara. Here, at least ten Jewish men would gather to pray in the sanctuary. Upstairs, the Jewish women would congregate behind a wooden screen partition to offer their own prayers. In the centre of the sanctuary stands the raised, curved 'Tebah', where the Torah scrolls were ceremoniously unrolled and read.
The ceiling of the roof is adorned with a vibrant checkered pattern. Originally, a collection of colourful glass and metal lanterns hung from the lotus-patterned painted ceiling, creating a dazzling display of light and color.
One can observe ancient gravestones stacked in the corner of the synagogue courtyard.
The Jews who settled in Chendamangalam were engaged in both trade and agriculture, until the 1960s when they returned to Israel and the Synagogue ceased to be used for worship.