In 1420, the jews who came from Kodungallur or Palayur to Chennoth (Chendamangalam) built a Synagogue, a place of worship for the Malabari jews.
This synagogue built in the model of Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in a fire, and was rebuilt in 1614, and renovated several times. In the 1960s when the Jews in Kerala returned to Israel the worship here came to a stop. The synagogue is near the Kottayil Kovilakam hill. Kottayil Kovilakam, the headquarters of the Villarvattom Swarupam, was a local fiefdom in Kochi. It was the king of Villarvattom who offered the land to build the synagogue.
The Chendamangalam Synagogue Musuem showcases the lives and rituals of Kerala Jews who were firm believers and lived in close contact with the local society. The synagogue is located inside high walls that surround it. The wall in front is as high as the front elevation. When you cross the front door, it is the Azara, with a vast prayer room behind it. The balcony that projects into the prayer room is the second Bimah (elevated platform for Torah reading). Supporting it are two stone pillars with intricate carvings. The position of the Ark is on the wall across the door, and it is a beautiful piece of art in teak with carved images. On the wooden planks on the roof are carved images of lotus that are painted. On both sides of the Bimah are two rows of bench. There is a spiral staircase to climb up to the second Bimah.
Constructed during the 17th century on the land donated by the Paliam family, the Chendamangalam Synagogue is arguably one of the oldest in Kerala. At the very entrance is the fragment of a tombstone of a woman that died in 1264 AD. Other fragments of tomb engravings have also been found in the cemetery to the east. This synagogue has been renovated and revived to its former glory by the Government of Kerala, and now houses a small museum of early Jewish life in Kerala.
The synagogue stands as testament to India's rich Jewish heritage and atmosphere of tolerance. The entry room within the synagogue is called the 'Azara', leading one to the 'sanctuary'. With at least ten in attendance, Jewish men would assemble to pray here. The Chendamangalam Jewish women gathered to pray in their own section upstairs behind the wooden screen partition. In the centre of the sanctuary, is the raised curved 'Tebah', where the Torah scrolls were unrolled and read. To the far end of the sanctuary is the 'Heichal'. It housed the Torah scrolls, and is the focal feature of the room. A collection of colourful glass and metal lanterns originally hung from the lotus-patterned painted ceiling. A steep stair goes upstairs. There was a larger room here once used as a Jewish school. The stair off this space will lead one to the exit.
This museum showcases Jewish customs in Kerala, the role of women in Jewish community, Jewish songs etc.