The first migration of Jews to Kerala is thought to have taken place in the 6th century BC, followed by a much larger wave in the 1st century AD, when Jews fleeing Roman persecution in Jerusalem settled at Cranganore (on the coast about 26 km [16 miles] north of Kochi). In the 4th century, the local king promised the Jews perpetual protection, and the colony flourished, serving as a haven for Jews from the Middle East and, in later centuries, Europe. When the Portuguese leader Afonso de Albuquerque discovered the Jews near Cochin in the 16th century, however, he destroyed their community, having received permission from his king to "exterminate them one by one." Muslim anti-Semitism flared up as well. The Jews rebuilt in Mattancherry but were able to live without fear only after the less-belligerent Dutch took control in 1663.
The rather small synagogue, built in 1568, houses four scrolls of the Torah kept in cases of silver and gold and is topped by an attractive clock tower that
was added in 1760. Admire the collection of antique colonial Indian lights hanging from the center and the blue-and-white Chinese tiles on the floor (a gift from a Jewish businessman in the 18th century); no two tiles are alike. Also on view are the 4th-century copper plates that detail, in Malayalam, the king's decree that allowed the Jewish community to live in his kingdom. Before you enter the main synagogue there is a collection of paintings on the left highlighting the Jewish story in India. Photography and videography are not allowed in the synagogue.