The synagogues of Kolkata are truly a culture lovers' paradise. Well, not just culture aficionados but people in general who wish to see an undiscovered sight, an unknown experience albeit exciting and needless to say, some amazing photographs which can draw an appreciative look from almost everyone. Kolkata has a very small but extremely tight knit jewish community that numbers presently to about 18 families, although the figure might not be accurate(random figure collected from the caretakers). The jews of Kolkata trace their roots to Baghdad and Alleppo in Syria. I was surprised to learn that they ran a booming business during the time of British rule in India. Post independence, they migrated en masse to Israel. Only a handful remain. One thing, I did learn is, that the information present on the internet might always not be true as because, I was informed that I would need a permit and getting it would be a hassle as the process is log drawn thanks to bureaucracy. To my surprise, no permits are needed. Only a valid government ID would do. The visiting hours are liberally long drawn and people can enjoy it at their leisure. Photography is however permitted only for 10-15 minutes. But more than that, despite they being located in the central business district of Kolkata, the interiors are surprisingly quiet and very peaceful. I had half a mind to start thinking about a complex mathematical simulation that was bothering me for the better part of 2 weeks. Better sense though prevailed.
The Magen David synagogue(literally meaning the shield of David)was closed in 2015 because it needed urgent structural repairs. The ASI stepped into the picture and the restoration work was carried out for 2 years before it was opened again in 2017 to members of the public. The architecture is a motley mix of Tudor arches, Victorian columns. You can see Etruscan and Baroque influences in the art work that adorns the walls. It is a visual symphony.
One of the most interesting features are the muslim guards of the synagogue. They are third generation muslim guards whose grandfathers started as being the guards and caretakers of the establishment. It was heartwarming to see that. Reminded me that there is truly an incredible side to incredible India. All that we see and read about the religious tension between them is simply not a factor here. Shiraz bhai and Anwar bhai are truly the salt of the earth people, who indulged with a genuine smile on their face, especially when my steady stream of questions turned into a torrential downpour thanks to curiosity.
Come experience the splendour of the two synagogues of Kolkata.