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Indian Jews: The Minority Community retains its unique Religious Identity for 2,000 Years

Indian Jews are the only Jews throughout the world who have never encountered any form of racial discrimination since the 2 millennia.

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Indian Jews in 1905. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
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  • The Indian Jews is an ancient and sparse community and was given the official minority status by the Maharashtra state government on June 21, 2016
  • Out of 4,650 Jews in India, Maharashtra is home to 2466 Jews
  • This community is made up of three traditional communities who settled in the West, South and the East coast of India

The Indian Jews is an ancient and sparse community that was given the official minority status on June 21, 2016, by the Maharashtra state government. Maharashtra is the second state to give this official recognition to Indian Jews after West Bengal, as it was necessary for the very survival this community due to its precarious condition. Out of 4,650 Jews in India, Maharashtra is home to 2466 Jews, mentioned a leading News portal.

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However, in the post-independence era, Jewish population always revolved around 5000 due to the large-scale immigration during the 1950s and 1960s to Israel. Therefore, being recognised as a minority will help Indian Jews to retain their religious and cultural traditions, and their unique heritage on the Indian subcontinent. This present recognition has raised the community’s hopes of being recognised as a minority by the central government.

Indian Jews are the only Jews throughout the world who have never encountered any form of racial discrimination since the two millennia, mentioned firstpost.com. This community is made up of three traditional communities who were settled in the West, South and the East coast of India.

With numerous tale of displacement from their native land, their settlement in India as well as their migration to Israel and the West; there exist several distinct communities of Jews. But all of these communities arrived in Indian Subcontinent by sea or came as maritime traders and in the end settled here.

The Paradesi Jews

India’s Jewish legacy is popular among the world because of foreign Jewish community of Kochi and their attractive 500-year-old synagogue at Mattancherry. Author Salman Rushdie in his novel “The Moor’s last Sigh” extolled the beauty of Synagogue and mentioned that “Legends had begun to stick to them. Some said that if you explored long enough/ You’d find your own story…because pictures on the tiles could change, were changing, /Generation by generation, to tell the story of the Cochin Jews.”

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However, Paradesis are the smallest group in comparison to the Cochini Jews and never exceeded 200 individuals.

The Paradesi Jews came to the Malabar Coast in waves- as traders and some to escape persecution from the Spanish Inquisition in the domain of the rajah of Cochin during the 14th and 15th centuries. This fair skinned and light- eyed community were from Baghdad, Yemen, Kurdistan, Spain, Germany, and Portugal, mostly belonged to the trading families.

A map of India, showing the main areas of Jewish concentration.
A map of India, showing the main areas of Jewish concentration, Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Today, Jew Town is overrun by shops selling tourist- souvenirs, books, and antiques, since the synagogue and the nearby royal temple and the “Dutch” Palace are the main the tourist spots.

The propinquity of these two heritage sites, they share a common compound wall, indicates the respect for the Paradesis in the eyes of Rajahs of Cochin.

The rule of the Dutch East India Company(1663-1773) was the golden era for this community. Especially, when Ezekial Rahabi II (b.1694-d.1771) became the chief merchant of the company whom the Dutch negotiated with the Rajah of Cochin.

Malabari Jews of Kochi are probably the oldest community of Jews in India, and today only 20 individual exist from this community. They came to the Indian subcontinent around 68CE. about the same time that the Bene-Israel Jews of Maharashtra’s Konkan Coast were shipwrecked at Navgaon (south of Mumbai).

The sasnam (grant) inscribed on the Jewish copper plates gives the principality of Anjuvvanam (now Kondungallur), with its 70 villages and its revenue, to Joseph Rabban and his family in perpetuity. There are some evidence that they belong from the Chera period of the 10th century.

It is this principality of Anjuvannam, close to the ancient entrêport of Muziris (where there is an ongoing Archaeological Survey of India excavation), which is the legendary medieval Indian Jewish kingdom of Shingly. This kingdom existed is reiterated by a body of Hebrew songs composed during the period Anjuvannam and after its abandonment, and almost until the 17th century, it was known as the Shingly tunes.

To keep this joyous legacy alive, both Cochini Jews and Malabar Jews sing Shingly tunes on several religious occasions.
During festivals like Simchat Torah, the theme of royalty is played by Cochin Jews and Torah scrolls are carried in seven circuits within the Synagogue, according to the tradition. A royal procession is also held in the compound of the synagogue.

This is also a day of mourning for Jews all over the world, as on this very day it is believed that the First and the Second Jewish temple in Jerusalem were destroyed.

The Jews of Cochin

The fusion of the distinct histories of the Malabar Jews and Paradesi Jews is exemplified in the Paradesi (Mattancherry) Synagogue, where the foundation stone of the first Synagogue in cochin was built by the Malabar Jews in the year 1344.

Migrations from the Malabar Jewish Community to Cochin is believed to have started in 1341, and integrated with the constant decline of Anjuvannam (Shingly), and got settled in the vicinity of Cochin at Ernakulam, Parur, Mala, Chendamangalam, and Mattancherry. The last named though associated with the Paradesis was originally founded by settlers from Anjuvannam — Samuel Castiel, Joseph Levi, David Belila, and Ephraim Sala.

Just like the Paradesis, the Malabar Jews too were faithful to the Perumal royal family of Cochin because of their religious tolerance and protection of Jews. This community consists of small traders, oil pressers and stevedores, suppliers of foodstuffs to ships that anchored off Cochin.

During the formation of the State of Israel in 1948, a strong Zionist vehemence to return to the native land grasped the minds of this community. The entire community, like the Jews of Malabar, started migrating to Israel and decided to settle in agricultural settlements. The Paradesi Jews also immigrated themselves to Israel, settling in the cities of Tel, Aviv and Haifa. Now, this Jew community consists of a large number of professionals, like doctors and engineers.

To protect and preserve the unique culture and heritage of Indian Jews community, Kerela state government has also given them the status of the minority as this community has retained their unique religious identity in India for 2,000 years.

– prepared by Akansha Sharma of NewsGram. Twitter: Akansha4117

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  • Siva

    Shalom,These are the real Jews of India.

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10 Indian Sites That Got UNESCO World Heritage Tag

Maharashtra now has a total of five sites – more than any other state in India

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10 Indian sites that got UNESCO World Heritage tag
10 Indian sites that got UNESCO World Heritage tag. IANS

— By Sonali Pimputkar 

Mumbai’s rich bunch of Victorian and Art Deco buildings in the Fort and Marine Drive precinct on Saturday, June 30, got the UNESCO World Heritage tag, giving India its 37th site. The precinct was added to the global list at the 42nd session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Manama, Bahrain. It covers an area of 66 hectares with Oval Maidan at the centre and includes a row of 19th-century Victorian buildings on one side while the 20th-century art deco structures on the other. There has been a universal praise for the team who represented Mumbai’s case to UNESCO. With this Mumbai gets its third UNESCO heritage tag – joining the Elephanta Caves and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (headquarters of the Central Railway). Maharashtra now has a total of five sites – more than any other state in India – including the Ajanta and Ellora caves in Aurangabad. India is home to 37 World Heritage Sites approved by UNESCO which brings cultural and natural glory to the country. Here’s a look at 10 heritage sites of India that got the UNESCO world heritage tag before the Mumbai Art Deco buildings.

  • Capitol Complex of buildings, ChandigarhChandigarh Capital Complex is a government compound designed by the architect Le Corbusier and is spread over an area of around 100 acres. It comprises of three buildings, three monuments and a lake, including the Palace of Assembly, Secretariat, the signature Open Hand Monument, Geometric Hill, Tower of Shadows and Punjab and Haryana High Court building. The site got the UNESCO World Heritage tag in 2016.
  • Rock Shelters at Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh

    Located 45 km South of Bhopal at the Southern edge of the Vindhya hills, the area is covered with thick vegetation, natural shelters and rich flora and fauna. The shelters were discovered in 1957 and were added to heritage list in 2003. The name ‘Bhimbetka’ has been associated with ‘Bhima’, the hero-diety of Mahabharata and the name literally means ‘sitting place of Bhima’. The place is a magnificent repository of rock paintings within natural rock shelters. These paintings depict man’s experimentation with creativity and belong to different prehistoric periods, including Late Paleolithic Period i.e. Old Stone Age that consists of large representations of rhinoceroses and bears. Paintings from Mesolithic i.e. Middle Stone Age consists of animals and human activities, Chalcolithic i.e. early Bronze Age consists of agriculture, early historic and medieval consists of religious motifs and tree gods.

    Bhimbetka
    Bhimbetka. IANS
  • Rani ki Vav, Gujarat

    Located on the banks of Saraswati river, Rani ki Vav (Queen’s step well) was built in 11th century AD in memory of King Bhimdev I. Stepwells are a distinctive form of water storage systems that have been in existence since the 3rd millennium BC. Rani ki Vav is designed into seven levels of stairs with more than 500 principle sculptures and over thousand mythological and religious works. The site has also been felicitated with the ‘Cleanest Iconic Place’ title by the Indian Sanitation Conference (INDOSAN) in October 2016.

  • Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, Gujarat

    Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park is located around the Pavagadh hill and is known for its archaeological, historic and living cultural heritage properties. The history of this site dates back from the 8th to 14th centuries. The park is studded with eleven different types of buildings including temples, mosques, tombs, wells, walls and more.

     

  • Group of Monuments at Pattadakal, Karnataka

    The heritage site is named as ‘Group of Monuments at Pattadakal’ by UNESCO as it houses nine Hindu temples and a Jain sanctuary that portrays an amalgamation of architectural features of Northern (Nagara) and Southern (Dravida) India. Eight among the nine temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva and the ninth is Papanatha Temple, a Shaivite sanctuary. Apart from the major temples, several small Shiva shrines are seen here.

    Group of Monuments at Pattadakal, Karnataka
    Group of Monuments at Pattadakal, Karnataka. IANS
  • Khajuraho Group of Monuments, Madhya PradeshKhajuraho Group of Monuments are popular for its artistic magnificence rather than religious aspects. The site comprises of 22 temples. It is said that initially there were about 82 temples built. The temples belong to the Hindu and Jain community and have an amazing fusion of sculpture and architecture. Every evening the Khajuraho temple complex organises a light and sound show in the open lawns in English and Hindi. Besides, The Khajuraho Dance Festival is held every year in February that features classical Indian dances.
  • Khangchendzonga National Park, SikkimKhangchendzonga National Park (former Kanchenjunga National Park) also known as Kanchenjunga Biosphere Reserve is the first ‘Mixed Heritage’ site of India. Located in the Himalayan range, the park is home to plains, glaciers, lakes, and valleys. Animals like snow leopard, red panda, and musk deer are spotted here regularly. Besides, the park is home to several rare and threatened plants and animals.
  • Archaeological Site of Nalanda Mahavihara, BiharThe ancient Nalanda University or a large Buddhist monastery located in the Southeast of Patna was a centre for learning in the seventh century. The site comprises of stupas, shrines, viharas and several artworks in metal and stone. The site stands out as the most ancient university in the Indian subcontinent. It is also said that the site was an organised mediation of knowledge for over 800 years. The historical development of the site proves the development of Buddhism into a religion and its educational traditions.
  • Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks, Uttarakhand

    Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks, Uttarakhand
    Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks, Uttarakhand. IANS
  • The heritage sites comprise of two core areas -Nanda Devi National Park and the Valley of Flowers National Park -about 20 km apart. The Valley of Flowers is popular for its natural beauty and endemic alpine flowers. While the Nanda Devi National Park is known for its wilderness and spectacular topographical features including glaciers and moraines. Both the parks are blessed with a high diversity of flora and fauna, with a notable number of globally threatened species including Himalayan musk deer and various plant species.

    Also read: Indian Railways Will Promote Heritage Tourism By Preserving Its Metre-Gauge Tracks

 

  • Jantar Mantar, Rajasthan
  • Built by Maharaja Jai Singh II between 1727 and 1734, Jantar Mantar got the World Heritage tag in 2010. The cultural property has been inscribed as ‘an expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of the court of a scholarly prince at the end of the Mughal period.’ Jai Singh II had constructed five Jantar Mantars at different locations – New Delhi, Jaipur, Mathura, Varanasi, and Ujjain.