Discover all facets of India`s major port in the Kerala region on our Jewish Cochin Tour! Thanks to its strategic position on India’s south-west coast, Cochin has been a meeting point of western and eastern civilizations since ancient times. Cochin’s Jewish heritage represents a fascinating chapter in the city’s intertwining of cultures and religions.
According to various legends, the first Jews arrived to South India during the time of King Solomon and during the Babylonian exile. However, the first evidence of the existence of a Jewish community in the Kerala region dates from 1000 CE: a royal charter on engraved copper plates listing privileges granted to the Jews was handed to a Jewish leader named Joseph Rabban. Today, Jewish copper plates of Cochin are hosted in the gorgeously ornated 16th century Pardesi synagogue.
Cochin and the Malabar Coast represented a main stop Radanites, Jewish traders who travelled from the Mediterranean Sea to China.
In the early 16th century, the Kerala area was reached by a new wave of Jewish immigration. Expelled from Spain and Portugal, Sephardic Jews sought refuge first in Aleppo, Constantinople, the Land of Israel, and eventually settled down in India. Others reached Malabar through Iraq, Persia, Yemen, and central Europe.
The beautiful Pardesi synagogue, one of the highlights of our Jewish Cochin Tour, was built in 1568 by the newcomers, who soon became known as Paradesis (which means “foreigners” in Malayalam, the local language). Even though they embraced the local language, customs and traditions, they eventually stopped intermarriage with indigenous Jews (the ancient Malabari community) and became an endogamous community.
As seven of the eight synagogues present in the Kerala region in the 18th century were located within the kingdom of Cochin, the term “Cochin Jews” was eventually used to refer to all Kerala Jews. Cochin Jewish communities were unavoidably influenced by Hindu social values, including the caste system. Nevertheless, they formed their own caste-less communities, observing the halakhah (Jewish law) and led by religious leaders (hakhamim or rabbanim).
On our Jewish Cochin Tour, we will explore all the cultures that forged Cochin’s intriguing character. St Francis Church, in the ancient Fort Cochin, is a fascinating symbol of Cochin’s historic layers. Known as the oldest European church on Indian soil, it was built in 1503 by the Portuguese Franciscan friars who accompanied the expedition led by Pedro Alvarez Cabral, and later modified by the Dutch and the British. The church still hosts the tombstone on renowned explorer Vasco de Gama, who died and was buried in Cochin in 1524, even though his remnants were transferred to Portugal a few years later.
A characteristic element of Fort Cochin’s northern-eastern shore, are the emblematic, imposing Chinese fishing nets introduced by merchants from the court of Kublai Khan in the 14th century. A blend of Keralan and European styles, the Mattancherry palace was built by the Portuguese in 1555 and donated to the raja of Cochin as a sign of friendship. It became known as the Dutch palace, since it was largely restored by the Dutch after 1663. It surrounds a courtyard which hosts a Hindu temple.
Explore Cochin, a city where East meets West, in all its colours, cultures and flavours on our Jewish Tour!