Synagogues of Calcutta (Kolkata)
Synagogues of Kolkata (Calcutta)
Magen David Synagogue and Beth El Synagogue
Also See: Kolkata (Calcutta ) Jews
Calcutta (Kolkata) has always been a melting pot of various cultures & religions. Jews were one of the last communities to arrive in Calcutta (Kolkata) but within a short span of time they made their presence felt by controlling a large section of the trade in Calcutta (Kolkata).
As the Jews community in Kolkata (Calcutta) grew in number and power they started building Synagogues. The first Synagogue Neveh Shalome Synagogue came up in 1831 (it was rebuilt in 1910) followed by Beth El Synagogue (1856), Magen David Synagogue (1884), Magen Aboth Synagogue (1897) and Shaare Rasoon Synagogue (1933).
The independence of India in 1947 and the birth of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948 marked the decline of Jewish population in Calcutta (Kolkata). Today the only about 30 Jews are left in the city.
But the two synagogues, Beth El & Magen David, of Calcutta (Kolakta) still stands. Declared as protected monuments they are looked after by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Magen David Synagogue
Built in 1884 the Magen David, or the Shield of David, Synagogue is located at the junction of Brabourne Road and Cannig Street (Biplabi Rashbehari Road). It is located on one of the busiest crossing of Calcutta (Kolkata) and its 140 feet high clock tower still dominates the Calcutta (Kolkata) skyline. Sadly not many Calcuttans are aware of its existence and it is often mistaken as a church.
The Maghen David Synagogue is approached through a arched door, containing the hexagonal “Star of David” and Hebrew inscription. The two side walls contains memorial plaques dedicated to the well known Jews of Calcutta (Kolkata).
Although the services of the Magen David Synagogue have long stopped but the interior are astonishingly well maintained. The chequered marble floor, gleaming chandeliers, stained glass windows create a stunning atmosphere.
The alter of the Magen David Synagogue is crowned with a Apse (Half Dome) studded with stars. It represents the heaven. The large plaque in the middle contain the “Ten Commandments.”
It also contains several other Hebrew inscription along with several other items of Jewish Iconography, including the seven branched lamp stand of Menorah.
Beth El Synagogue
Beth El Synagogue was set up in 1856 and literally means the House of God. It is located stones throw away from the Magen David Synagogue and is located just of the Brabourne Road, on Pollock Street. Surrounded by shops selling electrical goods the Beth El Synagogue is located in one of the busiest localities of Calcutta (Kolkata). Although the words “Beth El Synagogue” are written at the entrance but the thousand of people walking past it everyday is unaware of its exsistence.
The Beth El Synagogue is a approached by a flight of marble stairs toped with an arched stained glass and finally crowned with a clock (not visible in the photo). The pale yellow faced of the Bethel Synagogue is complete with Jewish iconography of the hexagonal “Star of David” and the seven pointed candle stand of “Menorah.”
Although the services of the Beth El Synagogue have long stopped but the interior are astonishingly well maintained. The chequered marble floor, gleaming chandeliers, stained glass windows create a stunning atmosphere.
The hall is surrounded by balconies, reserved for women, on three sides.
At the centre of the hall lies the raised platform, from where the Rabbi (Jewish Prist) carried out his services.
At the end of the hall lies the alter crowned with the Apse (Half Dome).
The apse represents the heaven and is painted with the star studded sky. It also contains Hebrew inscriptions, including the “Ten Commandments.”
The stained glasses are the one of the finest attraction of the Beth El Synagogue. The most attractive of the stained glass lies atop the main arched entrance of the Beth El Synagogue. The beautiful arched shaped stained glass is best viewed from the balcony opposite the alter.
Other Synagogues of Kolkata (Calcutta):
- Recently the Neveh Shalome Synagogue has been restored and open to public.
- Magen Aboth Synagogue, was located in the Tiretta Bazar (Old Chinatown) region. It was demolished and replaced with a box like apartment. A plaque on the entrance of the apartment mentions about the Magen Aboth Synagogue.
- Shaare Rasoon Synagogue was a simple prayer hall located in a house at the crossing of the Sudder Street and Free School Street. The house still exsists but there is no trace of the prayer hall.
- Previously a permission was required from Nahoum Cake Shop at the New Market, to visit the Synagogues.
- Presently permission can be obtained from Ms A M Cohen, General Secretary, Jewish Community Affairs from the Jewish Girls School, Kolkata
- Jewish Jewels by Samhita Chakraborty Lahiri The Telegraph, Kolkata 25 April 2010.
Related links from my website & blog:
- Photos of Synagogues of Calcutta (Kolkata)
- My Synagogue photos published in Jet Wings
- Neveh Shalome Synagogue, Kolkata
List of my Blog entries on Calcutta (Kolkata)