Religion – the single most vital assemblage of cultural beliefs, worldly views and a system of living that unite a group of people to a particular order of existence. There are more than 4000 different religions in the world as per some rough estimations. Among these, Judaism has over 12 million followers and ranks among the top ten most practised cults across the globe. Among the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism is the original, the other two being Islam and Christianity. According to many sources, this is the oldest and first of the three main monotheistic customs. Monotheism is related to the belief that there exists only one God, who is eternal and all-existent. All people who have taken birth are created with this ideology that they will do what is merciful and just, thus being treated with honor and dignity.
It is believed that this faith had been established more than 3500 years ago in the Middle East. Though, it was founded by Moses, most of the Jews give the credits of giving birth to this religion to Abraham. Most of the followers of Judaism believe that they have a covenant with the supreme God. The vital motive of all Jews is to abide by the laws of God and instil holiness into daily lives in return for the good that God has done for the Jews. Torah is the most important religious text for followers of this cult and the laws of this document are known as halakhah. Synagogues are the places of worship for the followers of this religion. Most of these are located in Israel, United States of America and a number of other nations. In India, there are over 30 synagogues, which are the most visited places for followers of this religion in the country.
Paradesi Synagogue, Kochi
Paradesi Synagogue, located in the city of Mattancherry in the western part of Kochi is, perhaps, the oldest place of worship for Jews in India. It is located at one quaint corner of Jew Town and has attracted visitors for over a hundred years. This was initially constructed in the 1560s due to intense Jewish connection with Kerala.
The piece of land was situated adjacent to the historic Mattancherry Palace and was given to the community of the Jews by the ruler of Cochin. It was destroyed in the 1660s by the Portuguese invaders and later reconstructed by the Dutch.
Ohel David Synagogue, Pune
One of the most pious places for Jews in the country is the Ohel David Synagogue located in the city of Pune in Maharashtra. This shrine was established by Late David Sassoon in the 1860s, who was also famous for his social services and other philanthropic constructions. Sometimes it is also known as Lal Davel or the Red Synagogue as its entire construction is done with red bricks.
It receives a large influx of devotees and worshippers from the nearby locations as well as from the entire country. Every Saturday, prayers are organised at this temple and a Hazzan (Jewish overseer) from Mumbai pays a visit to conduct the proceedings.
Gate of Mercy, Mumbai
This Synagogue located in Mumbai, that is sometimes referred as the Juni Masjid or Shaar Harahamim, is one of the oldest in the state of Maharashtra. Built in the year 1796 by Samaji Hasaji Divekar, who was a Bene Israeli, this shrine was initially located in the southern part of the metropolitan. It was later constructed at a new location near Mandvi. A good population of the Jewish community developed and thrived around this synagogue. Apart from being the site of Jewish worship, it is also visited by those people who are eager to visit historic places of worship.
Magen David Synagogue, Kolkata
Established in the 1880s, Magen David Synagogue, which is also known as the Shield of David, is situated at the juncture of the Canning Street and Brabourne Road in Kolkata. Its location is at one of the busiest points of the capital city of West Bengal. Having a clock tower, which rises to over 130-feet, this place is one of the most visited by Jews in the city. Inscriptions in Hebrew and hexagonal Star of David can be witnessed as people approaches through the arched entrance. The two opposite walls are decorated with plaques and other memoirs of notable Jews who lived in Kolkata. Interiors of this shrine are extremely well-kept and the glistening chandeliers, glass windows and chequered marble flooring create an excellent ambience.
Beth El Synagogue, Kolkata
Beth El Synagogue is located on the Pollock Street and is a short distance away from the other prominent synagogue in Kolkata (Magen David Synagogue). A flight of stairs constructed from marble leads to the interiors of the shrine. The seven pointed candle stand of Menorah and the hexagonal star of David shows the intense influence of Judaism in its construction. The centre of the shrine is surrounded by three balconies and the central portion is elevated. It is from here that the priest delivers religious services. This, along with the other synagogue, is the centres of Jewish pilgrimage spots in Kolkata.
Magen David Synagogue, Mumbai
This shrine, bearing the name like its counterpart in Kolkata, is located in Byculla near the capital city of Mumbai in Maharashtra. It was established by David Sassoon according to the erstwhile Victorian style of construction in 1860s. This synagogue was primarily established in this zone for the growing concentration of the Baghdad Jews here. They were fleeing from their native land to evade the merciless execution by Daud Pasha. By the early 1900s, the population had increased remarkably, following which, the shrine had to be extended. Currently, it is one of the most popular synagogues in this part of the world and thousands of worshippers come to this place.
Mattancherry Synagogue, Kochi
Fort Kochi in Kerala houses one of the most important shrines for Jews in India, the Mattancherry Synagogue. It was established in the late 1560s and one of the oldest in the country. This shrine was destroyed in a shelling by the Portuguese, but later re-established by the Dutch. Some of the most prominent attractions here are Chinese willow-patterned floor tiles, a clock tower, scrolls from the Old Testament, Hebrew inscriptions on slabs of stone and ancient scriptures on plates of copper. Erstwhile Cochin emperors and rulers had granted several special privileges for the establishing of this shrine.
Keneseth Eliyahoo, Mumbai
Keneseth Eliyahoo was constructed by Jacob Elias Sassoon to commemorate his father, Eliyahoo Sassoon. At Colaba in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, it was erected in the 1880s and is in proximity to a number of famous accommodation facilities in the metropolis. This shrine was primarily established for the large population of Baghdadi Jewish community that started living at this region. Currently, this pious place now receives visitors from around the world. Regular prayer services are arranged at this synagogue, which are attended by the local Jewish people. Its favourable location has added to its popularity for followers of this faith.
Succath Shelomo, Pune
This place of worship for the Jews is located in the cantonment area of the city of Pune in Maharashtra. The foundation stone of this synagogue was laid in the late 1910s. Its construction was completed within a mere span of two years and has catered to the Jewish community till then. One of the more recent shrines for the Jews in Maharashtra, it is often visited by worshippers of this cult in the region. Since its construction, a good population of followers of this faith have carved a niche here. The interiors of this synagogue is well-maintained till date and is a visual treat for visitors.
Situated at Pen, which is a small town in the district of Raigad in Maharashtra, Beth-Ha-Elohim is a famous synagogue for followers of this custom in India. This small town in the suburbs has a significant community of followers of Judaism, especially from the community of Bene Israel. Most of the population has thrived around this shrine, where they offer their prayer services. It is one of the lesser known synagogues in India, as a result, visited only by regional population. However, the architecture and construction work reflects the dexterity and stark resemblances to its other popular counterparts in the state.
India might be one of the lesser known patrons of the Jewish cult and tribe, where the population of followers of Judaism is a minority. However, that does has not prevented from people who are followers of this custom to practise their religion here. The beautiful shrines have been examples of the preaching and practising of Judaism and the Jewish culture from centuries. Most of the famous synagogues are present in Kochi in the state of Kerala, Mumbai and Pune in the state of Maharashtra and Kolkata in West Bengal. People who want to visit these shrines can tour the country. Ample modes of transport are offered for travelers and the accommodation facilities cater to lodging. India lives up to the term ‘secular’ and lets followers of Judaism practice and follow their religion at ease.