Title: India’s Jewish Heritage
Author: T. V Parasuram
Published: 1982
Country Published: USA
Publisher: Sagar Publications
ASIN: B0000EE44S

The history of the three Jewish groups in India-the Cochin Jews in Kerala, the Bene Israel of Bombay or Maharashtra and the Baghdadi Jews in Calcutta-is one of the most fascinating in the saga of the Diaspora. It is also part of the history of India and the Indian people. Therefore, it should be of interest not only to Jews but to all Indians and, indeed, the students and scholars of all countries who have a keen interest in India and Indian civilization.

It has been said that although Indians have excelled in all fields of human endeavour, ranging from religion and philosophy to science and sex, history has been one of their weak points. All too frequently history is mingled with mythology. However, lately more and more scholars have been applying the methodology of careful sifting of facts and objective assessment, and the time is ripe for a renewed search for our “roots” in the new context. It is in this spirit that I have attempted to write the story of the Jewish Kingdom of Anjuvannam on the West Coast of India, the Jewish diplomats and merchant princes of Cochin, Jewish soldiers who served in the armies of scores of Indian kingdoms and principalities, the almost “forgotten” Bene Israel and the Baghdadi Jews of Calcutta, their triumphs and failures, their victories and vicissitudes and the glory and gore associated with the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires. From the time Jews first arrived in India with King Solomon’s fleet to the present day, India’s smallest community has played a role far out of proportion to its numbers-as, indeed, Jews have done in other lands.

In deference to Indian practice, I have used the expressions “B.C.” instead of “B.C.E.” and “A.D.” instead of “C.E.” My Jewish friends will forgive this weakness in a Hindu, whose ancestors, like theirs, came to Kerala as refugees. Their ancestors came as refugees after the destruction of the Second Temple. Mine fled to Kerala before the advancing armies of a local potentate.

This book has been growing on me. During my childhood in an evergreen valley in the interior of Cochin State (now part of Kerala), I used to hear vaguely from visitors to our capital, Ernakulam, about Jew Town. In our own village we have several temples, a mosque and a church but no synagogue. Each of us would go to our temple, church or mosque according to our religious beliefs, rarely visiting each other and not knowing much about each other’s religious beliefs. We did not learn much about our religious, cultural, or historical heritage at school. In the rat race for jobs, we were more interested during the Colonial era in British history than in Indian history. The textbooks on Indian history said little about our small corner of the world in Kerala. Little did we know then that one of the most advanced civilizations in the world flourished there. Our books concentrated on the Moghul and British periods, and earlier periods in our part of the world in the Deep South were dismissed in one paragraph. Matters have not improved much since. Thanks to the invaluable help given by the leader of the Cochin Jewish community, Mr. S.S. Koder, and the Cohen brothers, I was able to obtain much source material on the Cochin Jews. A search in half a dozen bookshops in the big city of Bombay produced one book on the Bene Israel, written by a foreigner. The history of the Calcutta Jews has been told at great length thanks to an American scholar. As far as I am aware, this is the first attempt to treat the subject in a larger context, though I recognize my limitations.

Writing this has been an exciting adventure for me and I hope I have been able to convey some of that excitement to the reader. In trying to learn about Jews in India, I understood more about my own State and about India and the world. This was natural, for the history of India’s Jews is part of the heritage of India and the world.

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