The Synagogues Of Kerala, India: Their Architecture, History, Context, And Meaning

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This thesis sets out to record for the first time the architectural history of the functioning, decomissioned but still standing, and lost synagogues in the southernmost Indian State of Kerala on the Malabar Coast. Throughout India, there are today thirtyfive existing or former Jewish houses of prayer, built by distinct communities of Jews, dating from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, and the oldest ones are in Kerala. Early Kerala synagogues, realized during the eleventh through the mid-sixteenth century, no longer exist. The Kerala Jewish community, who are believed to have first settled in and around the ancient port town of Cranganore near the Arabian Sea, suffered rounds of persecution during the medieval and early modern periods. In the process, the Jews had to abandon previously built synagogues. Shifting to various places just outside of Cranganore, the Kerala Jews built new synagogues. While some of these houses of prayer likewise do not survive since the Jews remained in locations temporarily or this newer round of synagogues were also attacked and destroyed by hostile human or natural forces, fortunately synagogue construction from the mid-sixteenth century onwards still stands - albeit often in altered states. Until the mid-twentieth century, Kerala had eight Jewish communities each having its own synagogue. Collectively known as the Cochin, or the more inclusive label of Kerala Jews, they were made up of two informally defined subgroups who built houses of prayer. The Malabar Jews, who had lived in Kerala far longer than their Paradesi coreligionists, had seven synagogues. The Paradesi Jews had just one building, of the same name, which was originally built in 1568.
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