Saturday, 5 April 2014

Jews of Palur

Less than a kilometer away from Chavakad there is an ancient trade town Palur, currently known as Palayoor. Well known for its Christian pilgrimage center, Palayoor St. Thomas church. Renovated Church, Thalikakulam, Boatkulam and newly constructed museum are major attractions. Tradition says St.Thomas the apostle came to Palur, in 52 AD. He constructed a small wooden church. The museum holds a rock foundation stone structure and few more stones which was found near the Thalikakulam, is believed to be the remaining of the church built by the apostle.

Lesser known but truth is that it was once a flourishing town which was one of the ancient Jewish settlements of Malabari Jews. Even though Christian tradition says that Jews were present in Palur during the arrival of St. Thomas, Malabari Jewish tradition say that the settlement was established in 70 AD or even later in 72 AD. Christian sources also refer to an early Jewish presence there and some say the remains of a synagogue and a Brahmin temple can be seen nearby the church.  (Brown, L. W., The Indian Christians of St. Thomas – an Account of the Ancient Syrian Church of Malabar, Cambridge, 1956, p.54, 62-63.)
From Kottakavu the Apostle proceeded to Palayur, one of the strongest Brahmin centers in Kerala. A prosperous Brahmin community was living there from ancient times. The place where the Jewish community had their residence at Palayur is still called Jewish hill.”Quoted from "A History of Christianity in Kerala" by Dr. C.V.Cherian
It is evident from Jewish Malayalam folksongs that this lost Jewish settlement was of some great significance, it is one of the frequent names in the song, which reveals that the first Jews arrived in Palur, and they later fled to Cranganore.

മാള പള്ളിയുടെ പാട്ട്, Song of Mala Synagogue1
കലൂർ അഴിഞ്ഞവർ കൊടുങ്ങല്ലൂർ വന്നതെ
They arrived at Palur and came to kodungalur
Kalur mentioned here is believed to be Palur

പൈങ്കിളിയുടെ പാട്ട് (പച്ചമണിമാടം) 2
പാലൂ കടലാരികെ                   അയ്യയ്യ
പാലുകുറ്റിമരങ്ങൾ കണ്ടെൻ                      അയ്യയ്യ
പാലൂ കടലാരികെ                 അയ്യയ്യ
എറങ്ങികുളിച്ചാൻ കിളി                  അയ്യയ്യ
by the side of Palur sea         aiyaiah
(the bird) saw “palukutti” trees         aiyaiah
 by the side of Palur sea         aiyaiah
went down the bird and bathed         aiyaiah 3

This view is strengthening from another version, i.e. from Ruby Daniel’s translation of the same song in English.
Near the seashore of palur
It saw the tree
Near the sea shore of palur
The bird flew and perched 4
Another version of the same song says

പൈങ്കിളിയുടെ പാട്ട് (Parrot song)5
പാലൂർ കടൽ അറിവെൻ                         അയ്യയ്യ
പനംകുറ്റിമരങ്ങൾ കണ്ടെൻ                        അയ്യയ്യ

(The Bird) figured it is Palur Sea by seeing the palm trees. *
By the Palur Sea (shore)                     aiyaiah
(The bird) saw the palm trees **                aiyaiah

Other song mentioning palur is
എവറായിയുടെ പാട്ട് (song of evarayi)6
കപ്പെൽ പായും വലിച്ചങ്ങു പൊകുമ്പ
മറുതലെ ആയ പൊറൊത്തികാർ കണ്ടുതെ
അവിടന്ന പെടിച്ചു മണ്ടിയവരപ്പ പാലുകടെയിലെ
ചെന്ന അടത്തുതെ
കൊണ്ടുപോയ ചരക്കെല്ലാം വിറ്റുപിരിഞ്ഞുതെ
അവിടന്ന പെടിച്ചു മണ്ടിയവരപ്പ
ശിഭുശ്നാട്ടിച്ചെന്നങ്ങ അടുതത്തെ

The ship withdrawn the sail as it went,
The hostile porothi land*** was sighted
Thence frightened they fled
And reached the paloor bay
Disposed of all the wares brought.
Thence too frightened they fled
And reached the land of shibushu****7

These songs give a hint that this community was never a long standing community and had moved to some other place and took their abode.  Jewish tradition say that chieftain of Palur was not favorably inclined to them because a Jewish girl of bewitching beauty had rejected his amorous advances3.1. So they have moved to Cranganore (as mentioned in Song of Mala synagogue). Still controversy exists, have they moved to Cranganore or Chennamangalam or any other place?
But all of these songs make a point clear that this was one of the ancient and possibly the first place they landed. But it is believed that some of the Palur Jews found peace only when they came to Cochin, where the Rajah befriended and protected them. Perhaps the families from the Palur would be the parental congregation of Kochangadi.  It is even clear that minor Diasporas and Aliyahs from Palur to Cochin, Cochin to Palur and again back from Palur to Cochin. Even though it is unclear how the ancient settlement was disappeared.  Re-establishment of this settlement and the synagogue is attributed to Ezekiel Rahabi8. (Probably Ezekiel Rahabi 1 who settled in Cochin 1646 A.D or his grandson Ezekiel Rahabi 11)  It is even mentioned that “remains of the ancient synagogue are seen near the Syrian Christian church of St. Thomas on the Chowghat – Enammakal road. There are no Jews left now in Palur.The settlement was abandoned decades back. But the local market is still known as “Jootha Bazaar” which means Jewish market in Malayaam”

But Palur synagogue is not counted among the list of existing community/synagogue in “Toldot Yehude Kutzin” by Abraham Ben Yahya Saraf Ha Levi dated 1781 AD, or even in Samuel’s Hebrew letter “History of the Jews in land of Malabar”, dated 1790 AD. But Moses Pereyra de Paiva in his “Notisias dos Judeos de Cochim” dated 1685 AD, It is mentioned that Palur has one synagogue and 10 well to do family.

But the strong evidence for the existence of a synagogue in Palur is a torah finial dated 1565 AD, from Palur synagogue is documented by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which was brought to Israel by the Cochin Jewish immigrants. Ruby Daniel says “But there is a rimon (a type of ornament) from Palur used for a Sefer Torah in the Nevatim synagogue in Israel today. This rimon was extricated from Palur synagogue long ago and brought to parur synagogue. Ernakulam synagogue brought it from Parur, and now it came to Israel”

                   These finials (pomegranate shaped ornament) are unique in their shape and are one of the earliest dated finials known until now. The finial has a circumferential dedicatory inscription, which reads:

השכ"ה שנת (ר)פלו הכנסת בית של הרמון זה
"This is the Torah finial (possession) of the synagogue of Palu (Palur), the year 5325 (1565)"
(The name of the synagogue of “Palu” engraved on them, possibly relates to the synagogue of Palur.)
Besides folk stories and oral traditions, this inscription is therefore the only historical evident mentioning the existence of the Jewish community of Palur and its synagogue. Other than “Notisias dos Judeos de Cochim”

Palur /Palayoor today
After a long drive we reached there, from the St. Thomas Church official we came to know about Jose Chittilapalli, a local historian. He gave details about the “St. Thomas Jew hill monument, Palayur” which was built a decade back. Interview with him and few localites had given more valuable points that had helped us to find out more about the Palur synagogue. He had thrown light on the location of the synagogue.

* (The poetic word അറിവെൻ aṟiven, is blindly translated as “figured out”)
** (The word അറിവെൻ aṟiven, is analyzed further.
അറിവ് aivu = knowledge, അരികെ arike = beside. Are two words but sounds similar
The word അരികെ arike would have orally transformed from the root word അരികെ arike  to അരിവെ arive > അരിവെൻ ariven > അറിവെൻ aṟiven. So finally
പാലൂർ കടൽ അരിവെൻ (അരികെ) പനംകുറ്റിമരങ്ങൾ കണ്ടെൻ
 Could make sense than പാലൂർ കടൽ അറിവെൻ പനംകുറ്റിമരങ്ങൾ കണ്ടെൻ.
*** പൊറൊത്തികാർ is translated as Porothi land by Prof. P.M Jussay were he doubts it is Persian. Portuguese in the commentary in Karkuzhali. It could be even simply as പൊറുതികാർ - which could be roughly translated as the “dwellers”.
So the line “The hostile porothi land was sighted” could be translated as “The (hostile) dwellers of the other shore was sighted”

****Land of  Shibushu, a similar usage is seen in “The Book of Buczacz”, by S.Y. Agnon(1887/8-1970) , In which Agnon in his fiction he playfully changed town of Buczacz name to Szybusz, the word  shibush in hebrew (שבוש) meaning “error” or “muddle”), Here in this song ശിഭുശ്നാട് the land of shibushu, the poet is telling  about a unknown or anonymous land,
1.       Karkuzhali, മാള പള്ളിയുടെ പാട്ട് song no: 6, 3rd line
2.       Karkuzhali, പൈങ്കിളിയുടെ പാട്ട് (പച്ചമണിമാടം) song no: 2, 18 to 22nd line)
3.       P.M. Jussay, The Jews of Kerala, The song of bird, page 87
3.1.  P.M. Jussay, The Jews of Kerala, page 109
4.       Ruby of Cochin, page 123, 125
5.      Karkuzhali പൈങ്കിളിയുടെ പാട്ട് song no: 1, 21and 22nd lines
6.      Karkuzhali, എവറായിയുടെ പാട്ട് song no: 3, 17th to 20th line
7.       P.M. Jussay, The Jews of Kerala, The song of Evarayi, page 85
8.       Adv. Prem Doss Yehudi, The shingly Hebrews, Page 104.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Tamil epistles of King Ahasuerus connecting Holi and Purim

Indian streets are ready to be filled with colour and water mixed with joyous festive atmosphere were white costumes are going to be adorned with the colour as depicted in the famous movie “outsourced”, while Jews have started baking “ozneyhaman” , Israeli streets are ready to welcome the Adloyada Holon and more carnivals, private party filled with full of festive mood ….

According to the Book of Esther, Haman the minister to King Ahasuerus planned to kill all the Jews in the empire, but his plans were foiled by Mordecai and his adopted daughter Esther who had risen to become Queen of Persia. The day of deliverance became a day of feasting and rejoicing. This day of rejoicing or the victory of good over evil is celebrated annually as Purim on 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar. Similarly in India Holi is celebrated at the approach of vernal equinox, on the phalguna purnima (Full Moon). The festival date varies every year, per the Hindu calendar, and typically comes in March, sometimes February in the Gregorian calendar. The festival signifies the victory of good over evil. It is a coincidence that these two festivals fall on the same day or almost near.

Does this coincidence have something to do with Jews of India???

Yes it does..

In Dutch abstract of The Chronicles of Jews of Cochin, Leopold Jacob van Dort writes
“In charge of the above mentioned Joseph Halogua, are preserved two epistles, which King Ahasuerus (as it is found in the Book of Esther) sent respecting the affair of Haman and Mordecai, and they are written in the Tamuly language.
“The descendants of the aborigines of Malabar, who go by the name of caieryns or Cannaryns, have still, in their pagodas, or their temples, copies of those letters , and celebrate, on the same day with the Jews, the feast of Purim, and say that day is to be a festive day to them, as an everlasting statue. For they were commanded by their then prince, viz., the King of Puna and Cannara, who held the kingdom under the dominance of Ahasuerus…

Reading his account we get a small clue of an Indian festival celebrated on the same day with the Jews, the feast of Purim. Considering that day is to be a festive day of everlasting statue. The festival falling on the same day is none other Holi. But for me something which really strikes is the Tamil epistles send to Indian by a Persian king.
Interestingly Richard Treloar’s article presented to the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar held at Monash University on August 24, 2000. Under the title: "Rein scribing difference: translating the Scroll of Ahasuerus" , says “The manuscript was found, along with a canonical Esther Scroll מגילת אסתר (Megillat Esther) in one of the synagogues of the so-called 'black Jews' at Cochin on the Malabar coast of India, in the early nineteenth century. Believed to be about 150 years old at the time of discovery, it was copied (so it is asserted by the aforementioned editor) "from an ancient Roll bearing the same title", itself transcribed from "brazen tablets preserved at Goa".

One more thing is clear that the copy in possession with Joseph hallegua was a translated / transcribed version of it. Probably the same Scroll of Ahasuerus מגילת אחשורוש which was found in the synagogue of Malabari Jews as mentioned above.

 The conclusion is made with the strong evidence ie the scroll found was having a preface of unknown scribe. Translated by Thomas Yeates
“The Letter of King Ahasuerus, which Impious Haman sent into all the provinces of India and Ethiopia, in the name of the King. Translated from the Biblia, written in the Greek Tongue by the Seventy Elders in the days of King Ptolemy. And these Chapters are contained among the Books called Apocrypha, or hidden books, and which are not reckoned in the Sacred Canon, whereof there is an evidence in the Talmud, that the wise Men of Israel hid up many Books for some reason, even as is found in the Talmud, Sabbath, Chapter, Col kithbe, that they sought to conceal and lay aside even the Book of Coheleth (Ecclesiastes) itself”

Finally when we read everything together we need to search for the epistle of King Ahasuerus inscribed in a Brass/ copper plate in a temple of Goa; the temple which celebrates festival on the same day of Purim. That’s on a phalguna purnima (full moon) from an Indian perspective.

Discovery of this brass/copper plate will be another greatest achievement. Unless it is found we may have to consider it as a mystery in History.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Cochin Jewish wedding in 1966, by Dr. Rahamim Melamed Cohen.

One day from the ten days long Wedding function of Juliet Hallegua and Late Mr. Joseph (Johnny) Hallegua, was recorded by Dr. Rahamim Melamed Cohen which was edited with background music of Hindi songs. see it here

 Johnny and Juliet Hallegua
                                                              Photo courtesy: Juliet Hallegua             

 In 2011 i showed this video to Johnny uncle and Juliet auntie they were so happy to see their own wedding video after years.

After 48 years with Dr. Rahamim's permission video was edited with help of my friends Sarath Kottikal and Lemons Churchill. Original Cochin Jewish wedding songs and traditional Kerala instrumental music were used to give life back to this video.

When the edited video was screened as a part of myexhibition elders from the community started singing the songs along with video, the person who operated the video paused the video en route, Sarah Cohen and others continued singing the song. The scene went so emotional for them... and it was really emotional...

Special thanks to Gad Hakimi and Thaha Ibrahim for your support