Monuments, a picture of neglect

Namitha Venkat, Poornima Vijayakumar and Renu Unni
Jun 02, 2011 at 12:08pm IST

KOCHI: Years into the promise of turning them into heritage monuments, the Kadavumbhagam and Thekkumbhagam synagogues still stand as testimonies of apathy. The Archaeological Department, the State Government and the Kochi Corporation are equally at fault for the pathetic state of the twin synagogues which once stood as the prestigious symbols of the Jewish population in the city.
The structures that were once a proud mark of a great culture are now on the trail of neglect. With the Jewish population fading in numbers, these places of worship have been closed down and are on the verge of ruin.
Wandering around Kochi in search of the ancient Kadavumbagam and Thekkumbagam Synagogues sends one on a wild goose chase. It ends in front of a faded signboard which is a bit confusing; it reads both Cochin Blossoms and Kadavumbagam Synagogue. Standing in the middle of the busy Market Road near Marine Drive in Kochi, one wonders whether it points to an aquarium-cum-flower shop or to one of the oldest Jewish structures in the city. Surprisingly, the answer is both. The narrow, plant-lined path ends in Elias (Babu) Josephai's 'Cochin Blossoms' which stands in the former Yeshiva (Jewish educational institution) of the Kadavumbagam Synagogue. And very few know that something more alluring lies behind the closed door at the back of the shop — the Hall of Prayer stands silently.
The structure which is believed to have been constructed around 1200 AD, was rebuilt in 1700 AD as a replica of the first temple in Jerusalem with its 10 windows symbolising the Ten Commandments.
"We try to keep the Synagogue in proper order using as much funds as our pockets permit since the government does not seem to be interested in protecting this heritage site," says Josephai, one of the last remaining members of the congregation of the Kadavumbagam Synagogue. Though the usage of the holy structure as a shop might sound outrageous to some, it seems to be the only reason that keeps the Synagogue standing.
Right around the corner of Kadavumbagam Synagogue lies the Thekkumbhagam Synagogue, which is inruins owing to disuse and neglect.
The structures, both of which have been identified as heritage buildings by 'The Friends of Kerala Synagogues' in 2009, are yet to receive government aid for maintenance.
Since the Jewish community in Kochi is not strong enough to fight for these grants, even the authorities have an indifferent attitude towards the issue. "There were some attempts to entrust the synagogue to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). But as far as I know, no decision has been taken so far by the ASI," said a top Corporation official. 

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