Jewish Heritage Report
Vol. II, Nos. 1-2 / Spring-Summer 1998

Repairs and Planning Begin for Paradesi Synagogue in Cochin, India

The Paradesi Synagogue in Cochin (India), built in 1568 by descendants of European Jews, is still in use.  The interior white walls contrast with a rich array of Belgian crystal chandeliers and lanterns, an intricately carved wooden ark, a curved brass central bimah, wood benches, and hundreds of blue-and-white willow-patterned Chinese floor tiles, which date from the 18th century, when the prominent clock tower which proceeds the synagogue, was also added.  The synagogue complex, however, which consists of over a dozen distinct buildings and open spaces, requires many repairs.  These buildings and the open spaces between them are owned by the Jewish Community, but many have lost their original function and historic relationship to the synagogue.  Most remain unknown and unseen by the thousands of predominantly non-Jewish visitors who regularly line up to visit.

In 1996, the World Monuments Funds (WMF) Jewish Heritage Program Consultant Samuel Gruber included the Paradesi Synagogue in a list of Preservation Priorities adopted by the Jewish Heritage Program (see JHR Vol. I:1).  In January, 1997, Yad Hanadiv provided funds for John Stubbs, WMFs Vice President for Programs, to visit Cochin and to prepare a preliminary report on the site.  This was followed by a second WMF mission in January, 1998, on which Stubbs and preservation planner Sylvia Gottwald-Thapar were joined on site by Indian architects Jacob Cherian and K.M. Sreekumar.  Architects Cherian and Sreekumar prepared measured drawings of the entire complex and compiled detailed descriptions of the sites architecture, construction, materials and conservation needs.  With this information, detailed preservation plans and budgets were prepared for all design and implementation aspects of the work.

WMFs concerns are for the integrity of the buildings, but also for the need to better accommodate the growing numbers of tourists attracted to the Paradesi, and to include relevant historical and cultural programming to make visits more meaningful.  In this, WMF has received the full support and cooperation from the Jewish Community in Cochin.

It is important that much of this work be carried out before neglect leads to serious damage.  In addition, long-term administrative and financial arrangements for the building must be implemented to ensure future access and maintenance.

Stubbs and Gottwald-Thapar prepared a complementary report, "Revitalization of Jew Town, Cochin, India," which lays out the need, rationale and means for the integration of the synagogue preservation program into a larger scheme for revitalization of the historic town of Cochin.  Based on these studies, WMF has now initiated conservation work on the synagogue clock tower a central element in the complex, and a pivotal building in the identity of Jew Town.  Further elements of the plan (which still remain unfunded) include a variety of small repairs, material replacements and alterations to existing buildings (often removing recent unattractive and destructive accretions).  The plan also calls for refurbishment of the synagogue courtyard to create a memorial court; adaptation of the synagogue entrance building to better accommodate crowds; creation and/or rearrangement of the custodians building (currently not used) to serve as a gallery and exhibition space; the creation of a large landscaped garden in place of an large empty lot; the creation of a Cochin Jewish Heritage Center on the edge of the garden in a community owned building now used as a residence; the creation of a restaurant at the edge of the garden in a building that the Jewish Community now leases to a down-scale restaurant; and other improvements and changes.

Work on the tower will take place in the winter of 1998-99.  WMF and its partners in Cochin are currently searching for a clock mechanism similar to that removed from the tower in 1941.SG

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Updated: 1-7-99