Wednesday, August 5, 2009

India: ISJM's Jay Waronker Furthers Kerala Preservation Projects

Top: Tekkumbhagam Synaoggue in Ernakulam (a part of Kochi).
Bottom: Kadavumbhagam Synagogue in Ernakulam
Photos: V. Isaac Sam.

India: ISJM's Jay Waronker Furthers Kerala Preservation Projects
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) International Survey of Jewish Monuments (ISJM) member and architect Jay Waronker has concluded a productive working trip to India sponsored by ISJM with support from the Koret Foundation, during which he continued research on Kerala synagogues, and continued to work on ongoing projects of synagogue protection, preservation and public presentation.

Parur (Kerala), India. Synagogue interior. Photo: Jay Waronker.

During his stay, Waronker also met with officials of the Kerala Department of Tourism to help further plans for the restoration of the Parur synagogue. Work on the project, which includes restoration of the synagogue and an adjacent Jewish house, will begin this fall and be completed by the end of 2010.

According to Waronker, "although each of the seven surviving Cochin synagogues possesses unique qualities, particularly the Paradesi Synagogue since it is the only still functioning and fully intact sanctuary, it is the one at Parur, also called Paravoor, and located to the north of Kochi (Cochin), which is the most architecturally distinctive. While closed for a number of years and in derelict condition, it represents the most complete example of a synagogue incorporating the many influences of building design that shaped Kerala. With its chunam (polished lime) over laterite stone walls featuring restrained detail, wood floor and roof framing exposed at its deep eaves, and clay roof tiles covering its pitched surfaces, the Parur Synagogue is an archetypical example of the local thachusasthra style. As with other Cochin synagogues, it is made up of not one building but a collection of parts forming a distinct compound. Parur is notable for having the greatest number of connected and consecutive pieces which have survived fully intact, albeit rotting and crumbling. Unique to this synagogue is the way its parts are formally arranged and linked in a highly axial and ceremonial fashion."

The Kerala government has also invited waronker and his team to coordinate an exhibtion on the history of the Parur community, which will be housed in the restored synagogue and adjacent Jewish residence.

While in Kerala, helping to facilitate the Parur restoration, Waronker also wrote and supervised the installation of heritage plaques about the history and architecture of the closed Kadavumbhagam and Tekkumbhagam Synagogues in Ernakulam and for the closed Kadavumbhagam Synagogue in Jew Town/Mattancherry. These tri-lingual signs have been posted on the building exteriors for the benefit of visitors.

Installation of heritage plaques at (former) Kadavumbhagam Synagogue in Ernakulam.
Photos: Jay Waronker

He also wrote and had printed an information sheet on the architectural and religious features of the restored Chennamangalam synagogue which will be distributed free of charge to visitors. Kerala Department of Archeology officials report that during high season nearly 200 people a day visit the synagogue/museum. Waronker also updated and printed new copies of a brochure in both English and Malayalam that he first produced in collaboration with Dr. Shalva Weil of the Hebrew University and Marian Sofaer of Palo Alto, CA, on the social and architectural history of the Chennamangalam synagogue.

Waronker had previously helped plan the permanent exhibition in this synagogue, and on this visit he met with the new director of the Kerala Department of Archeology to review tasks that were never completed during the previous restoration phase, including the hanging of traditional lanterns and lights. As a result of these discussions, Waronker will also join a team of Indo-Judaic scholars in planning a permanent exhibition on the history of the Kerala Jews in a still to-be-built museum as a part of the impressive Muziris Heritage Site project.

While in Kerala, Waronker also interviewed various Kerala Jews to learn even more about the history of the synagogues and re-visited all seven of Kerala's synagogues, photographing and noting their current conditions. ISJM - through the work of Jay Waronker and other researchers and preservationists, will continue to be engaged in India.


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Jay said...

Waronker and his colleagues are doing an exceptional job of preserving Kerala's Jewish heritage. It is wonderful that he is offering his expertise but is being respectful of the small remaining local community. I salute him.