The Magen David Synagogue touching the skylines of Kolkata stands at the busy junction of Canning Street and Brabourne Road. You could hardly see the gate of the synagogue as the gate is flanked by shops selling make accessories and junk jewellery. But you will not miss the tall tower of the synagogue which is often mistaken for a church. Welcome to one of Asia’s finest synagogues!
We reached the main gate and called out for the caretaker. The caretaker opened the door and we asked whether we are allowed to visit the synagogue. He was very cooperative and ushered us in. We entered the premises and were in front of the imposing building. The Magen David synagogue or the Shield of David is approached through an arched door containing the hexagonal Star of David and some Hebrew inscriptions.
Agni was given a skull cap as we entered the synagogue as a mark of respect for the Jewish tradition. The interior of the Synagogue is simply astounding. The chequered marble floor has seating adequate arrangements for the people coming for prayer.
The hanging chandeliers give the place a striking look and the coloured glass panes in the window complete the impressive atmosphere.
In the middle of the room there is a raised platform where the Rabbi (the Jewish priest) preaches. The ornate floral pillars enhance the beauty of the place. The synagogue was built in the Italian renaissance style and the architecture had much British influence.
At the far end, there is a raised altar which has a semi circular dome studded with stars. It contains several Jewish inscriptions and iconography. In the centre, there are 2 tablets depicting the “Ten Commandments“.
There are adequate seating arrangements for the congregation. The ground floor were for the men, while the women had pews located at the upper balcony.
Our guide, Mr Rabiul Khan who was also one of the caretakers of the place explained to us patiently about the history of the synagogue. Mr. Khan’s forefathers were also the caretakers of this place. Earlier this was a place for worship of the Jewish community in Kolkata, but now no congregations are held. Regular services had stopped almost 15 years back. For a congregation to take place, at least 10 adult males are required. With their dwindling numbers, this is quite a feat now. From a population of nearly 6000 in the nineteenth century, their number now stands at around 22-23! Also most of them are now aged and cannot come to this place on a regular basis. Currently, Ms. A. Cohen, the general Secretary of the Jewish community affairs in Kolkata visits the synagogues every Friday evening and Saturday to light the holy lamp.
The Magen David Synagogue has been declared a national heritage by the Government of India and is now looked after by the Archeological Survey of India. But it is the caretakers who actually look after the place. Being generation after generations in this place, they stay at the quarters in the synagogue and look after this place. Interestingly, all the caretakers of this place are Muslims. Their inter-state Arab Israeli conflict could not diminish the trust and reverence they have for each other in Kolkata.
Mr. Rabiul Khan also informed us about 2 other synagogues – the Neveh Shalome and Beth-El synagogue in Kolkata. Also, a Jewish cemetery lies at Narkeldanga.
Some Facts about Magen David Synagogue Kolkata:
- The Magen David Synagogue was built in 1884 by Elias David Joseph Ezra in memory of his father David Joseph Ezra. Elias David Joseph Ezra was one of the powerful real estate tycoons of that time. He is associated with some famous buildings like the Ezra Mansion, Chowringee mansion and Esplanade mansion.
- The Ezra Street is named after Elias David Joseph Ezra.
- Earlier, a permission was required to visit the synagogue from Nahoums Confectioneries, New Market. Currently, permission is to taken from Ms. A. Cohen, the general Secretary of the Jewish community affairs in Kolkata.
- The Jewish community had built 5 synagogues out of which only 3 stands today.