As a little girl growing up in India, we never once questioned the ability of multiple ethnicities to coexist in one land. I went to Catholic schools, my best friend was Muslim and my family doctor was Jewish. While there were plenty of Christians, Hindus and Muslims around, except for my family doctor and her holidays, our exposure to Judaism was minimal. And then there was a discovery. The state where my parents hailed from (Kerala) housed India’s oldest synagogue and one of the oldest known Jewish communities. And slowly the awareness settled in. The first community arrived in India 2,500 years ago. They settled in Cochin in the southern state of Kerala and gradually more settlers arrived spreading their wings to different parts of the country. A few months ago, I was walking around in Pune in western India and noticed a large synagogue. It was old and beautiful and I discovered that it was the largest one in Asia. Suddenly the linkages between Judaism and India were appearing more commonly before my eyes…was it the awareness that I was developing or simply more interest on a rather forgotten community?
This morning, the New York Times carried a lovely piece on Passover in India. It was a lovely read and I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring our readers this little unknown slice of India.
“A Seder Spiced with Indian flavors” is a journey into how tradition and local cuisine have melded to create a one of a kind culture and history.
Conde Nast Traveller’s writing competition last year had a winner reporting on the “Jewish Settlements in India”. This is a lovely journey of visuals and words providing a sometimes sad/other times funny look at this community.
For those curious about how these synagogues might look like a world away, the following link provides beautiful photographs inside and outside some of these major places of worship.
If you happen to be in India and want to get a hands on orientation, here are a couple of tour companies offering specialized day trips. Just reading the summaries gives you a peek into a far away world!
Have you visited any synagogues in India or know more about the local Jewish traditions? We’d love to hear from you.