Less than a kilometer away from Chavakad there is an ancient trade town Palur, currently known as Palayoor. Well known for its Christian pilgrimage center, Palayoor St. Thomas church. Renovated Church, Thalikakulam, Boatkulam and newly constructed museum are major attractions. Tradition says St.Thomas the apostle came to Palur, in 52 AD. He constructed a small wooden church. The museum holds a rock foundation stone structure and few more stones which was found near the Thalikakulam, is believed to be the remaining of the church built by the apostle.
Lesser known but truth is that it was once a flourishing town which was one of the ancient Jewish settlements of Malabari Jews. Even though Christian tradition says that Jews were present in Palur during the arrival of St. Thomas, Malabari Jewish tradition say that the settlement was established in 70 AD or even later in 72 AD. Christian sources also refer to an early Jewish presence there and some say the remains of a synagogue and a Brahmin temple can be seen nearby the church. (Brown, L. W., The Indian Christians of St. Thomas – an Account of the Ancient Syrian Church of Malabar, Cambridge, 1956, p.54, 62-63.)
“From Kottakavu the Apostle proceeded to Palayur, one of the strongest Brahmin centers in Kerala. A prosperous Brahmin community was living there from ancient times. The place where the Jewish community had their residence at Palayur is still called Jewish hill.”Quoted from "A History of Christianity in Kerala" by Dr. C.V.Cherian
It is evident from Jewish Malayalam folksongs that this lost Jewish settlement was of some great significance, it is one of the frequent names in the song, which reveals that the first Jews arrived in Palur, and they later fled to Cranganore.
മാള പള്ളിയുടെ പാട്ട്, Song of Mala Synagogue1
“കലൂർ അഴിഞ്ഞവർ കൊടുങ്ങല്ലൂർ വന്നതെ”
They arrived at Palur and came to kodungalur
Kalur mentioned here is believed to be Palur
പൈങ്കിളിയുടെ പാട്ട് (പച്ചമണിമാടം) 2
പാലൂ കടലാരികെ അയ്യയ്യ
പാലുകുറ്റിമരങ്ങൾ കണ്ടെൻ അയ്യയ്യ
പാലൂ കടലാരികെ അയ്യയ്യ
എറങ്ങികുളിച്ചാൻ കിളി അയ്യയ്യ
by the side of Palur sea aiyaiah
(the bird) saw “palukutti” trees aiyaiah
by the side of Palur sea aiyaiah
went down the bird and bathed aiyaiah 3
This view is strengthening from another version, i.e. from Ruby Daniel’s translation of the same song in English.
Near the seashore of palur
It saw the tree
Near the sea shore of palur
The bird flew and perched 4
Another version of the same song says
പൈങ്കിളിയുടെ പാട്ട് (Parrot song)5
പാലൂർ കടൽ അറിവെൻ അയ്യയ്യ
പനംകുറ്റിമരങ്ങൾ കണ്ടെൻ അയ്യയ്യ
(The Bird) figured it is Palur Sea by seeing the palm trees. *
By the Palur Sea (shore) aiyaiah
(The bird) saw the palm trees ** aiyaiah
Other song mentioning palur is
എവറായിയുടെ പാട്ട് (song of evarayi)6
കപ്പെൽ പായും വലിച്ചങ്ങു പൊകുമ്പ
മറുതലെ ആയ പൊറൊത്തികാർ കണ്ടുതെ
അവിടന്ന പെടിച്ചു മണ്ടിയവരപ്പ പാലുകടെയിലെ
കൊണ്ടുപോയ ചരക്കെല്ലാം വിറ്റുപിരിഞ്ഞുതെ
അവിടന്ന പെടിച്ചു മണ്ടിയവരപ്പ
The ship withdrawn the sail as it went,
The hostile porothi land*** was sighted
Thence frightened they fled
And reached the paloor bay
Disposed of all the wares brought.
Thence too frightened they fled
And reached the land of shibushu****7
These songs give a hint that this community was never a long standing community and had moved to some other place and took their abode. Jewish tradition say that chieftain of Palur was not favorably inclined to them because a Jewish girl of bewitching beauty had rejected his amorous advances3.1. So they have moved to Cranganore (as mentioned in Song of Mala synagogue). Still controversy exists, have they moved to Cranganore or Chennamangalam or any other place?
But all of these songs make a point clear that this was one of the ancient and possibly the first place they landed. But it is believed that some of the Palur Jews found peace only when they came to Cochin, where the Rajah befriended and protected them. Perhaps the families from the Palur would be the parental congregation of Kochangadi. It is even clear that minor Diasporas and Aliyahs from Palur to Cochin, Cochin to Palur and again back from Palur to Cochin. Even though it is unclear how the ancient settlement was disappeared. Re-establishment of this settlement and the synagogue is attributed to Ezekiel Rahabi8. (Probably Ezekiel Rahabi 1 who settled in Cochin 1646 A.D or his grandson Ezekiel Rahabi 11) It is even mentioned that “remains of the ancient synagogue are seen near the Syrian Christian church of St. Thomas on the Chowghat – Enammakal road. There are no Jews left now in Palur.The settlement was abandoned decades back. But the local market is still known as “Jootha Bazaar” which means Jewish market in Malayaam”
But Palur synagogue is not counted among the list of existing community/synagogue in “Toldot Yehude Kutzin” by Abraham Ben Yahya Saraf Ha Levi dated 1781 AD, or even in Samuel’s Hebrew letter “History of the Jews in land of Malabar”, dated 1790 AD. But Moses Pereyra de Paiva in his “Notisias dos Judeos de Cochim” dated 1685 AD, It is mentioned that Palur has one synagogue and 10 well to do family.
But the strong evidence for the existence of a synagogue in Palur is a torah finial dated 1565 AD, from Palur synagogue is documented by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which was brought to Israel by the Cochin Jewish immigrants. Ruby Daniel says “But there is a rimon (a type of ornament) from Palur used for a Sefer Torah in the Nevatim synagogue in Israel today. This rimon was extricated from Palur synagogue long ago and brought to parur synagogue. Ernakulam synagogue brought it from Parur, and now it came to Israel”
These finials (pomegranate shaped ornament) are unique in their shape and are one of the earliest dated finials known until now. The finial has a circumferential dedicatory inscription, which reads:
השכ"ה שנת (ר)פלו הכנסת בית של הרמון זה
"This is the Torah finial (possession) of the synagogue of Palu (Palur), the year 5325 (1565)"
(The name of the synagogue of “Palu” engraved on them, possibly relates to the synagogue of Palur.)
Besides folk stories and oral traditions, this inscription is therefore the only historical evident mentioning the existence of the Jewish community of Palur and its synagogue. Other than “Notisias dos Judeos de Cochim”
Palur /Palayoor today
After a long drive we reached there, from the St. Thomas Church official we came to know about Jose Chittilapalli, a local historian. He gave details about the “St. Thomas Jew hill monument, Palayur” which was built a decade back. Interview with him and few localites had given more valuable points that had helped us to find out more about the Palur synagogue. He had thrown light on the location of the synagogue.
* (The poetic word അറിവെൻ aṟiven, is blindly translated as “figured out”)
** (The word അറിവെൻ aṟiven, is analyzed further.
അറിവ് aṟivu = knowledge, അരികെ arike = beside. Are two words but sounds similar
The word അരികെ arike would have orally transformed from the root word അരികെ arike to അരിവെ arive > അരിവെൻ ariven > അറിവെൻ aṟiven. So finally
പാലൂർ കടൽ അരിവെൻ (അരികെ) പനംകുറ്റിമരങ്ങൾ കണ്ടെൻ
Could make sense than പാലൂർ കടൽ അറിവെൻ പനംകുറ്റിമരങ്ങൾ കണ്ടെൻ.
*** പൊറൊത്തികാർ is translated as Porothi land by Prof. P.M Jussay were he doubts it is Persian. Portuguese in the commentary in Karkuzhali. It could be even simply as പൊറുതികാർ - which could be roughly translated as the “dwellers”.
So the line “The hostile porothi land was sighted” could be translated as “The (hostile) dwellers of the other shore was sighted”
****Land of Shibushu, a similar usage is seen in “The Book of Buczacz”, by S.Y. Agnon(1887/8-1970) , In which Agnon in his fiction he playfully changed town of Buczacz name to Szybusz, the word shibush in hebrew (שבוש) meaning “error” or “muddle”), Here in this song ശിഭുശ്നാട് the land of shibushu, the poet is telling about a unknown or anonymous land,
1. Karkuzhali, മാള പള്ളിയുടെ പാട്ട് song no: 6, 3rd line
2. Karkuzhali, പൈങ്കിളിയുടെ പാട്ട് (പച്ചമണിമാടം) song no: 2, 18 to 22nd line)
3. P.M. Jussay, The Jews of Kerala, The song of bird, page 87
3.1. P.M. Jussay, The Jews of Kerala, page 109
4. Ruby of Cochin, page 123, 125
5. Karkuzhali പൈങ്കിളിയുടെ പാട്ട് song no: 1, 21and 22nd lines
6. Karkuzhali, എവറായിയുടെ പാട്ട് song no: 3, 17th to 20th line
7. P.M. Jussay, The Jews of Kerala, The song of Evarayi, page 85
8. Adv. Prem Doss Yehudi, The shingly Hebrews, Page 104.