Synagogues of downtown Mumbai

Synagogues of downtown Mumbai

Keneseth Eliyahoo, Shaar Harahamim, Shaare Rason, Megan David, Magen Hassidim and Tiphearth Isreal

The history of the Jews in India dates back to the ancient times. Judaism was the probably the first foreign religion to reach India. Jews always have been a extreme minority and they have lived in peace with the local population for centuries.

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Synagogues of Mumbai. 1st Left: Magen David, 2nd Left: Keneseth Eliyahoo, 3rd Left Top: Tiphearth Israel, 3rd Left Bottom: Magen Hassidim, Right Top: Shaare Rason and Right Bottom: Shaar Harahamim

Mumbai (formerly Bombay) always had the large Jewish population and during the 1940s it reached its peak with a figure of almost 30,000. Today the Mumbai Jews number about 3,500 and the houses a total of 9 synagogues. Out of the nine, six are in the down town Mumbai area while the remaining three are in the outskirts of the city.

The four out of the six synagogues of downtown Mumbai belongs to the Bene Israel community while the remaining two belongs to the Bagdadi Jews. Most the downtown Mumbai Synagogues are basic places of worship and lack the grandeur of Kolkata’s magnificent synagogues of Magen David and Beth El.

Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue

Behind Kala Ghoda statue (google map location)

Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue 1

Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue

Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue (literally meaning Gathering of Elijah) belonging to the Bagdai Jew community of Mumbai. It is an large and imposing synagogue located in the fort area of Mumbai.

The synagogue was built in 1884 by Jacob Elias Sassoon and his brothers in memory of their father Elias David Sassoon, (Elias is same as Eliyahoo) who was the son of David Sassoon.

David Sassoon was a Bagdadi Jew who settled in Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1832 and was a successful businessman and manufacturer.

It was designed by the British architectural firm Gostling & Morris. The exteriors are a combination of blue and white and it is known as Mumbai’s Blue Synagogue. The synagogue is a combination of Neo-Classical and Gothic-Victorian architecture. The exterior faced contains corinthian columns and triangular pediments.

The interiors are laid in neo-gothic style with floral stained glass windows above the arc (heckal). The floor is laid out with decorative tiles. The central wooden platform (bimah) is fitted with brass railings and ornamentation, including brass and glass dome lights projecting from the four corners.

Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue 2

Interiors of Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue

Several brass chandeliers lit up the interiors of the synagogue. The women’s gallery is located upstairs. Ornamental pillars support the women’s gallery, which runs around the three sides of the upper floor.

More on Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue

Shaar Harahamim Synagogue

Masjid Bhandar (google map location)

Shaar Harahamin Synagogue 1

Shaar Harahamim Synagogue

Shaar Harahamim Synagogue (literally meaning Gateway of Mercy) is the oldest synagogue in Mumbai. It dates back to 1796 and belongs to the Bene Israel group.

The synagogue was constructed by the sole efforts of Jewish military officer Samuel Ezekiel Diveker of the Bombay Army. It came to be known as the Samaji Hasiji, or Samuel’s Synagogue.

The present building of the synagogue dates back to 1860. Due to shortage of space the old building had to be replaced with a new bigger building. The synagogue was renamed Shaar Harahanin Synagogue during the centenary celebration in 1896.

The two-storey synagogue is located in a very congested area of south Mumbai and two marble plaques on the walls and a couple of stars of David on the walls and gate are the only signs of a synagogue. The interiors have grey marble floor and large windows. The plans are same as other synagogues with a central pavilion and first floor ladies balcony.

Note: I didn’t visit the interiors of the Shaar Harahamim Synagogue.

Share Rason Synagogue

Israel Mohalla (google map location)

Shaare Rason Synagogue 1

Share Rason Synagogue

Share Rason Synagogue (literally meaning Gateway of Mercy) is constructed in 1843 and is the second oldest synagogue in Mumbai. It belongs to the Bene Israel community.

The synagogue was constructed by a group formerly affiliated with the Shaar Harahanin Synagogue who have become dissatisfied with its management.

With the construction of the Share Rason Synagogue it was called the “New Synagogue” while the Shaar Harahanin Synagogue became the “Old Synagogue.”

The Sharee Rason Synagogue is in a congested area known as the Israel Mohalla. It is surrounded by a high wall with a main gate. The gate is detailed with a pediment with an inscription and a pair of wooden doors opening into the synagogue compound.

Shaare Rason Synagogue 7

Interior of Sharee Rason Synagogue

The synagogue has a single floor and the entrance is through the women’s gallery. The wooden central pavilion is fitted with brass ornamentation. The corners of the pavilion are fitted with miniature menorah. The bright yellow painted walls and the chandelier light creates a golden glow interior.

Magen David Synagogue

Byculla (google map location)

Magen David Synagogue 1

Magen David Synagogue

Magen David Synagogue (literally meaning the Shield of David) is the first Bagdadi Jew Synagogue in Mumbai. The Bagdadi Jews first arrived in Mumbai during the start of the 19th century. They were welcomed by their Bene Israel counterpart and they started using the Bene Israel Synagogue for their prayers and religious ceremonies.

As the community grew they wanted their own synagogue and in 1861 Magen David the first Bagdadi Jew Synagogue came up in Mumbai (then Bombay). It was funded by David Sassoon, a Bagdadi Jew who settled in Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1832.

Unlike the three previous Bene Israel Synagogues of Mumbai, which were built in middle eastern style along with local elements, Magen David was built in European style. Magen David had a steeple housing a clock, something unusual for a synagogue.

The synagogue was built in neo-classical style with freely conceived local elements. Four slender columns support the flat-roofed porch. The porch contains the ten commandments written in Hebrew and the Magen David Synagogue written in English is flanked on either side by two stars of David. The synagogue was extended in 1910 with the addition of matching side bays on both sides.

Magen David Synagogue 3

Interiors of Magen David Synagogue

The interior of the synagogue is a double-height sanctuary with women’s gallery wrapping around three sides of the upper floor. The central pavilion is fitted with decorative brass railing. The four corners of the central platform is fitted with brass light stands, each containing 4 lights. In the 2010s the exterior and interior of the Magen David Synagogue have been painted blue and white. The interior are fitted with white florescent white light and  creates a feast for the eyes with the blue – white backdrop.

More on Magen David Synagogue, Byculla

Magen Hassidim Synagogue

Byculla (google map location)

Magen Hassidim Synagogue 1

Magen Hassidim Synagogue

Magen Hassidim Synagogue (literally meaning Shield of the Pious) is the largest Bene Israel Synagogue in Mumbai. It is also the newest of all the six synagogues of downtown Mumbai.

The Bene Israel congregation of Mumbai (then Bombay) started in 1904. They started operating from private and rented places for their prayers and religious service.

Later Benjamin Samson Dandoolkar, one of the community members established a prayer hall which came to be known as Dandoolkar’s Prayer Hall. But soon it was short of place and in 1934 the community came up with the present prayer hall and named it Magen Hasidim Synagogue.

Magen Hassidim Synagogue 4

Interior of Magen Hasidim Synagogue.

The two story structure has a vaulted ceiling, a recessed entry porch with a low set of steps. The centre has a Hebrew inscription of the ten commandments.The interiors are more lively with a decorative wooden central platform. The women’s gallery is on the first floor balcony. Decorative chandeliers lit up the interior with the large windows allowing the natural light to filter in.

Tiphearth Israel Synagogue

Jacob Circle (google map location)

Tiphearth Isreal Synagogue 1

Tephereth Israel Synagogue

Tephereth Israel Synagogue or Tifereth Israel Synagogue (literally meaning the Glory of Israel) located near the Jacob Circle is the third Bene Israel Synagogue in Mumbai.

It started in 1886 as the Jacob Circle Prayer Hall and in 1896 it was renamed as Tephereth Israel Synagogue.

In 1924 the community moved to a larger space due to the efforts of community member Aaron Benjamin Kandlekar. In Kandlekar’s honor for his generosity, the synagogue also became known as Kandlekaranchi Masjid or Kandlekar’s Synagogue. Today the Kandlekar family takes an active part in the running of the synagogue.

Tiphearth Isreal Synagogue 4

Interior of Tephereth Israel Synagogue

Over the years the synagogue has undergone several renovation with the last major one coming as late as 2000. The synagogue is located on the ground floor with the ladies gallery on the northern side. Hanging brass and glass lanterns, ceiling fans, decorative metal window grilles and wall scones are part of the grand interior. The central pavilion is surrounded by wood and brass balustrade, with brass lamp shades on four corners.

Other Synagogues of Mumbai:

  1. Shaar Hashamaim Synagogue (Gateay of Heaven), Thane
  2. Beth El Synagogue (House of God), Panvel
  3. Magen Aboth Synagogue (Defender of Brothers), Alibug

Synagogue entry requiremnet:

  1. Entry inside the subject to permission. Each synagogues has their own board so separate permission are required.
  2. Still photography is allowed for a fee of ₹ 500

Special Thanks:

  1. A big thank you to Ralphy Jhirad, a Mumbai Jew, who took me round the city visiting the synagogues. He arranged for all the necessary permission
  2. A special thanks to my Kolkata Jew’s friends Jeal Siliman and Jo Cohen for providing valuable contacts in Mumbai
  1. Dr Irene Judah
    April 14, 2020 at 5:09 PM

    Thanks. I could view the synagogues clearly. Good job.

  2. April 16, 2020 at 9:28 PM

    Nice place for tour.

  3. April 30, 2020 at 8:39 PM

    Great article. Always wondered how many there were in Mumbai. Out of this list I’m aware of only 2, waiting to go see others from outside.

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