The conservation of the Paravur Jewish synagogue as part of the Muziris Heritage Project brings back the scattered souls of Jews into a tomb of time, which narrates the lives of Jews to visitors. The synagogue can be accessed from the Paravur-Kodungallur Road. Their stories can be seen stamped in the architecture of Paravur as one walks through the paths that were once used by them.
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The Importance of the Paravur Synagogue
Among Kerala's seven remaining synagogues, the Paravur Synagogue is the largest and most distinctively designed, despite the fact that each is unique in its design and serves as the religious and communal centre for various congregations.
Story Behind The Synagogue
Muziris was an ancient Malabar Coast seaport. It used to be a stop along the Spice Route to India. People of various cultures and races, including Buddhists, Arabs, Chinese, Romans, Portuguese, Dutch, British, and Jews, used it as an open gateway to India.
The Paravur Synagogue in Kodungallur is the only one of its kind and holds the souls of thousands of Jewish people. The Jewish story in Kerala began when King Bhaskara Ravivarman (962–1019) granted Jews special rights and privileges to build synagogues. The current synagogue was built as a part of that in 1615, but according to tradition, it was built over an old synagogue. After getting their rights and privileges, they started living a polished life. Such a life was cut too short after the arrival of the Portuguese. They bombarded the synagogue in Paravur, and Jews were attacked; then their shrines were demolished.
The synagogue was rebuilt on Jewish-blooded land under the leadership of David Yacov Castiel, the mudaliar of Kerala Jews; thus, their lives resumed as before.
Architecture that never froze to death: Authenticity and influence
When it was turned over to conservation, it was at its worst. The main vision of the project was to protect the 500-year-old beauty. By looking at the axially planned heritage synagogue, it's evident that the synagogue is an amalgamation of both Jewish heritage and vernacular building techniques. The placement of the well in the northeast corner is clear evidence of the elements of Vastu Shastra. The harmony in the way the different components are arranged is thought to be a sign of the influence of Kerala vernacular buildings.
A double-story padippura that is visible from the street draws their focus away from the rest of the structure. The Padipura serves two functions: it welcomes visitors and directs them to the prayer hall through the mysterious small wooden arch door. The beautifully decorated ark has been renewed. The Ark is a beautiful cabinet that houses the Torah scroll. It is installed on the sanctuary's west wall, facing Jerusalem. The upper floor of the Padipura was used for Torah study, while the lower floor was used to greet and direct visitors. History has it that they took the ancient ark back to Israel. The prayer hall is illuminated by decorative lamps on the traditional timber ceiling.
Climbing up the staircase attached at the corner to the arch entry door area, we can sense a confluence of cultures. The traditional Kerala windows and timber roof brackets, for example, are all evidence of the Jews' influence on their adopted land. It served as a transition room where discussions were held, in addition to housing the stairs up to the women's seated area.
Despite any memory of seventeenth-century Portuguese aggression against the Kerala Jewish community, the synagogue at Paravur incorporated Portuguese-colonial detail, such as the fan-like decoration, swirling rope patterns, decorated circular attic vents, or heavily revealed bands of trim on its wall surfaces.
Some of these features were a direct result of the local climate and the accessibility of building materials. In light of this, the concern is to preserve vernacular character as such through the use of indigenous techniques, which are becoming increasingly rare. By recreating the old one with the same authenticity, this condensation helps give new life to the Ark and bimah in the prayer. The preservation of authenticity is also a conservation success for our firm. Now the second bimah or tebah (podium) in the gallery has developed into a characteristic specific to the Paravur synagogues.
Before Conservation of Paravur Synagogue
The synagogue structure has undergone several stages of element addition and subtraction. Although the Paravur Synagogue is no longer a place of worship, it is well-maintained and has regained its authenticity by getting rid of unnecessary additions like a ramp and other fixtures. The preservation of timber elements are an inevitable aspect of this conservation.
During the site visit to Paravur synagogue, bathroom tiles were laid in place of the ark. The research that led to the original ark is now housed in the Jerusalem Museum; when the investigation became more in-depth, the drawing they made was also found. One of the main objectives was to restore the ark in all its beauty. The first step was to redraw the design, and the ark was reborn with the assistance of skilled wooden carpenters.
Before conservation, the synagogue padippura, where they used to teach Hebrew, was converted into a residence with a kitchen and toilets; everything was added, and there was also a ramp to take the scooter inside the building; that is something that has been conserved and brought back to its former glory. It was at its most dilapidated stage. The historical reports also helped to determine the ages of the elements.
After Conservation of Synagogue
It has now become the tomb of time. The Jewish Synagogue has been changed to the "Kerala Jewish History Museum," where the stories sleep. In 1990, the synagogues' original Bimah—a raised platform or podium used for Torah reading—and the Holy Ark were disassembled and transported to Israel. Now the Paravur Synagogue is known as the "Kerala Jewish History Museum." From 2010 to 2013, the building received extensive renovations as part of the Muziris Heritage Project, jointly run and developed by the tourism and archaeology departments of the state.
The primary goal of the Muziris Heritage Project is to preserve the heritage, thus providing a sense of identity and continuity in a fast-changing world. The successful preservation of the synagogue restored its history. Changing the appearance of the walls and exposing the fundamental texture of stone and wood renewed the structure's authenticity.
The synagogue is now dedicated to Kerala Jew History, which tells the story of Jews throughout history and their relationship with the Kerala community.
Conservation is an emotion toward the roots, not a word. The Paravur Synagogue is an architectural landmark that demonstrates various stylistic combinations. It narrates the survival of architecture in the face of attacks by the Portuguese, Tipu Sultan, and others. Thus, it must be preserved for the future, as it is part of our identity and what sets us apart from others. We build the future by looking back to the past. The public will be made aware of history through this museum, which displays objects collected from the synagogue site itself. The Muziris Heritage Project contributes to increasing public awareness of heritage and cultural value. Visitors to the Kerala Jewish Museum should learn about Jewish life in Kerala and recognise the richness of our heritage.
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