While Dilip was busy running some last-minute errands before we departed for our Lakshadweep trip, I picked up his Enfield and with another friend of mine decided to explore Cochin. People have talked to me at length about the Chinese fishing nets in Cochin but I chose to venture in the direction of Broadway. The old market of the city near Marine Drive was just the place, I felt, to begin the kind of journey the Potliwalas were set to go on. As I parked the bike, I smelled the spices, heard the noises and the busi(y)ness beckoned me.
Walking along the street of the main market the spice shops busy, the garments shop bustling, the shoe sellers calling out, I felt some of the old charm missing. Everything was converted into modern day shops with latest brands and all the latest fashion. Or so it seemed at first glance. As I walked from the main street towards Jew Street on the left side I noticed a very old looking building being led to by a narrow pathway. The board outside this shop announced “Cochin Blossoms”. The shop sold plants, birds, fish, seeds and all related items. But the peculiarity of the hidden building in the background held my attention.
Just then my friend pointed towards the words at the bottom of the board. “Kadavambagum Synagogue” punctuated by the symbols of Judaism on either side drew me in. We walked away from the noisy street and a sense of tranquility accentuated by the chirping of the birds pulled me closer. The board at the main entrance confirmed the history of the building. It was a heritage building today, an established synagogue indeed, and a former Jewish school for the community of the faith settled here in the olden days. Now defunct from all religious activities, the synagogue has a very interesting history.
As we stepped into the building the owner Mr Elias Josephai looked at us curiously and somehow recognized within us a love for history. Instinctively, he introduced himself and after exchanging pleasantries began to show us around. He recounted how as a child he used to visit the synagogue with his father and for various reasons, primarily the thinning of the Jewish community, the synagogue was abandoned and all the scriptures were sent to Israel. Mr Josephai’s daughter also had left the country in pursuit of higher education in Israel. The business that he runs occasionally pours money into the restoration work which is an ongoing process. He showed us how as a child he had looked up at the ceiling of the synagogue and found it too plain and as his latest effort he had painted the lotus carvings on walls and ceiling with gold, green and red colours to infuse life into his dream.
The artifacts in the synagogue are at least 300 years old — he said that is as fast in history anyone has placed it so far — may be much older. The history of the building itself is placed as far back as the 13th century. Mr Josephai did not just come across as a sentimental gentleman with a penchant for his history but also a well-read yet fairly simple personality. He believed in the common elements of Hinduism and Judaism and propagated the view that Hinduism is the mother of all religions. As he relayed his understanding, I could feel a seething desire to unite all the estranged bed fellows of various religiosity with an understanding that God is one.
Upon being asked why the synagogue does not restart the services, his eyes welled up. He mentioned summarily that the religion requires at least 10 Jews to reinstall or initiate services in a synagogue. His lament was that the Friends of Kerala community only has 9 members. He left us alone to explore the building, making me wonder how fitting it is that the house of God today perpetuates life through the fish, plants and birds, the early forms of life in the history of evolution on earth. “Cochin Blossoms” truly as god and history bless it in the busy corner of Broadway.