Tag Archives: Kerala

Discovering Judaism In India – Is That Possible?

By Lakshmi:

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.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/13/dining/a-seder-spiced-with-flavors-from-india.html?_r=0

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.

http://www.cntraveller.in/content/travel-writing-competition-traces-jerusalem

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.

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/synindia.html

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!

http://www.mumbaimagic.com/jewish_heritage.htm

http://www.viator.com/India/Synagogue/d723

Have you visited any synagogues in India or know more about the local Jewish traditions?  We’d love to hear from you.

 

Childhood Summer Vacations – Oft Dreaded as a Child, Much Valued as an Adult

Padmanabha Swamy Temple

By Lakshmi:

I grew up all over India and despite those moves, there was one constant in our lives.  Every summer, we had the exact same routine.  Months before school closings, we would bring home our student “concession” forms, dad would book  the discounted second class train tickets for my mom, brother and me and the three of us would embark on a day to two-day train journey to Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala where both sets of grandparents lived.

In the last decade or so, every travel magazine has featured Kerala as one of the most beautiful destinations on Planet Earth and the state slogan for tourism is “God’s Own Country”.

Well, to put it bluntly, I did not appreciate our vacations and in fact resented them.  All my rich school friends were off to exotic locales like London, Singapore and the US, and when I was asked about my plans for the summer, the answer did not budge.  Yes, I was off to spend two months with my grandparents, there was no TV, we ate our meals with groups of 50 people, went to the temple every day and everyone was in bed by 10 at night.   So much for idyllic childhood summers.

As clichéd as it might sound, I credit so much of my gratitude and strong sense of family to what I learned through those summers.

– Our train journeys took us through some incredibly arid areas and when the train crossed the border into Kerala, the palm tree fringed waterways, the small boats, the traditional homes, the women with their waist length hair, the smell of the moist air all shocked your system’s appreciative senses into full gear.  And to this day, the simple things continue to take my breath away.

– My grandparents had coconut groves,  banana trees and cows at home.  Before the concept of reusability and environmental consciousness were buzz words, every thing was used and re-used to its full potential.

– My grandparents were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination and yet, every member of the immediate and extended family along with anyone they knew was always welcome to partake in a meal

–  Since all the cousins had summer break overlaps, the house was always filled with food….entire branches of bananas and jackfruit, freshly roasted cashews, sweet and savory foods of every kind in abundance and non-stop eating became our only pseudo occupation over the summer.

– Our cousins, who we spent each of these summers with now live in different cities, but our closeness continues over Skype, Facebook and face to face meetings, a legacy to the strong sense of family left behind by our ancestors.

– At the end of every summer, the entire household would be in a state of frenzy packing a plethora of much beloved food items for each family to take back to Mumbai or Delhi.

Today, I have traveled to places that I never thought possible.  And despite the proliferation of ready-made foods, to me there is nothing more valuable than a family gathering over a home cooked meal.  And of all the gifts I have in life, it is the gift of my family and the love of those still around me that I cherish the most.