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10 Synagogues in Calcutta

The Neveh Shalome: History; contributor: Rangan Datta

Neveh Shalome Synagogue, Kolkata (Calcutta): Rebirth of Calcutta’s Oldest Synagogue

Rangan Datta

“In 1806 Calcutta was at the height of its golden age. Known as the City of Palaces or the St. Petersburg of the East, the British bridgehead in Bengal was unquestionably the richest, largest and most elegant colonial city in India.”

White Mughals, William Dalrymple

It was during these golden days of Calcutta (Kolkata) that the first Jewish settlers arrived in the city. The first recorded Jewish immigrant to Kolkata was Shalon Cohen in 1798 from Aleppo (in present day Syria). Soon other Jews followed from Baghdad, Iraq and Isfahan, Iran; and by mid 1830's Calcutta had a thriving Jewish population. Although Jews were one of the last communities to arrive in Calcutta, within a short span of time they made their presence felt by controlling a large section of the trade in Calcutta.

With the rapidly increasing numbers, the Jews of Calcutta needed a place of worship.

Neveh Shalome Synagogue (also Called Neveh Shalom Synagogue), the first Calcutta Synagogue was built in 1831 by Shalom Obadiah ha – Kohen and was named in memory of his father Shalom ha – Cohen. Neveh Shalome Synagogue was just a simple prayer hall at the intersection of Brabourne Road and Canning Street, the very place where the magnificent Maghen David Synagogue now stands. As the Calcutta Jewish community grew in numbers and power they were no longer satisfied with the simple prayer hall. It was soon replaced by magnificent synagogues like the Beth El Synagogue and Maghen David Synagogue. Beth El came up in nearby Pollock Street in 1856 followed by the Maghen David in 1884.

The old Neveh Shalome Synagogue was demolished in 1884 to give way to the magnificent Maghen David Synagogue, but in 1910 the Jews of Calcutta decided to rebuilt the Neveh Shalome Synagogue in the vacant plot in the Maghen David Synagogue complex. Keeping in the lines of the old prayer hall the new Neveh Shalome Synagogue was kept simple, but soon service started and attracted the thriving Jewish population of the city.

But the good old days of the Jews in the city were short-lived, with the independence of India in 1947 and the birth of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948 marking the decline of the Jewish population in Calcutta. With the declining population, the service in the Synagogues soon stopped and the magnificent structures were left in utter neglect. But in early 2000 the Magen David and the Beth El Synagogues were restored to their former glory by the Archaeological survey of India (ASI).

Sadly the Neveh Shalome did not come under the heritage tag of ASI and remained neglected. It was only in 2014 that the Jewish community decided to restore the Synagogue.

Today the Neveh Shalome Synagogue is restored to its past glory, with its simple and elegant interiors. The central podium, the passage leading to the altar with the apse (half dome), sadly the apse lacks the stained glass windows with the 10 commandments or the star studded sky.

Although the interiors are simple but the furnitures and the chandeliers and along with the DC fans creates an elegant ambiance and reminds one of the glorious days of the Jewish Community in Calcutta.

To visit Neveh Shalome Synagogue a permission is required from Ms A M Cohen, General Secretary, Jewish Community Affairs from the Jewish Girls School, Kolkata

Special Thanks:

  • Ms A. M. Cohen, General Community Affairs, Jewish Community Affairs for providing valuable  information on the Jewish Community of Kolkata (Calcutta).
  • Deepanjan Ghosh, fellow blogger and Kolkata (Calcutta) enthusiast, who not only accompanied me during the visit to the Naveh Shalome Synagogue, but provided valuable information of the Synagogues of Kolkata (Calcutta). Do visit Deepanjan’s Blog.