Paradesi Synagogue, Cochin

A complex of four buildings and a 45-foot-tall clocktower built in 1568, Paradesi is the oldest and most artistically significant synagogue in India and the sole functioning synagogue of a once-vibrant Jewish community. Although today the Jewish community is very small, they continue to use it for religious services and it has been designated an official historic site. It stands at the end of a narrow street lined with houses and shops near one of the largest harbors of the Malabar Coast. The main sanctuary has a curved brass bimah, an intricately carved teak ark, Belgian crystal chandeliers, silver and gold lanterns, and a floor decorated with 18th-century Canton tiles. The clocktower has three wooden faces with numerals in Roman, Hebrew, and the local Malayalam script. A fourth clock face with Arabic numerals may have also graced the tower. Its original Dutch clock mechanism, which ceased to function in 1936, was removed in 1941.

In 1995, Paradesi Synagogue was identified as one of ten priority projects by WMF’s Jewish Heritage Grant Program. In 2001, following two reconnaissance missions and a conditions report and a preliminary conservation plan, WMF began to document and conserve the clocktower, the most emblematic part of the complex. The wood timbers of the cupola are being restored along with the decorative wooden windows, grilles, and exterior stucco surfaces. Replacement of the missing clockworks and conservation of the three wooden faces began in 2002, thanks to the generosity of Yad Hanadiv Foundation and other donors. A collaborative agreement between WMF and the Delhi-based National Culture Fund is ensuring proper administration of grant funds.