The Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue is an Orthodox Jewish synagogue located in Forbes Street (renamed as V.B. Gandhi Marg) behind Kala Ghoda square in Fort, Mumbai. The Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue is the oldest sephardic synagogue in the city (Sephardi or Sephardic are Jewish ethnic group originally from Sepaharad, Spain.)
After the demolition of the Fort walls in the 1860’s, today this area is the heart of Art district of Mumbai. The blue and white building is a grade 2A classical revival structure built in the year 1884 by Jacob Elias Sassoon and Albert Sassoon in memory of their father Eliyahoo David Sassoon. The synagogue was designed by Bombay architects Gostling and Morris, and was paid for by the Sassoon family who were prominent philanthropists in Bombay in the nineteenth century.
David Sassoon (1792-1864) was the treasurer of Baghdad between 1817 -1829. He became the leader of the Jewish community in Bombay (now Mumbai) after Baghdadi Jewish emigrated there. The Sassoon family is credited to build many prominent structures in Bombay namely – David Sassoon Library, The Sassoon Dock, Hospitals, Schools, Orphanages and Charitable Organizations in Mumbai and Pune city. The Sassoon Family were wealthy traders with businesses in India and across other countries. There are two more Synagogues in Mumbai build by the Jewish Family – Magen David Synanoguge and Shaar Harahamim Syangogue.
The Restoration of Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue was fully completed in 2019 and a formal reopening ceremony was held on 6th February.
Synagogues have never conformed to stylistic rules anywhere in the world or as a building type, been resolved in unique or recognizable terms. The buildings in India are no exception. Here they vary considerably in size, extent and design language. In the cities, the larger buildings are of various historic western styles, some nearly pure, the others more eclectic.
In the case of Keneseth Eliyahoo Synangogue, it is built in the classical revival style with decorative Victorian interiors. The structure boasts of a large pediment crowing the west facade over the large semi-circular fenestration housing three unique stained glass panels flanked by pilasters of fluted Corinthian columns. The northern facade is articulated with neoclassical semi circular and segmental fenestrations.
The building has impressive interiors with a double height prayer hall space with an overlooking ladies balcony (The access to balcony was closed during my visit and in anyways, I was told the entry is limited to ladies. The balcony is opened only during prayer meets on Friday’s and Saturday’s). The prayer hall space with its high ceiling contains large windows and with louvered shutters and is arranged along an east to west orientation, with the entry doors placed east orientation and the Bechal or Ark containing the Torah scrolls facing west towards Jerusalem.
The sanctuary features a centralized or free standing podium or Bima, a Sephardic eastern Jewish tradition from where the service is conducted. Surrounding the podium are several wooden benches set on the floor covered with Minton tiles originally imported from Stoke-On-Trent in England.
Several religious symbols have been beautifully incorporated within the fabric of the historic interiors of the Synagogue. These elements are an integrated part of many religious Jewish ceremonies conducted in the building. Elements such as the grape wine are painted on the beams supporting the balcony in the prayer hall. Wine is used as a form of benediction during weddings.
The star of David, which is a universally accepted symbol of Judaism is a geometric pattern within the cast iron brackets supporting the balcony and the feligree of the trusses. Another religious element is in the design of the stained glass where panels are magnificently adorned with citron fruits, pomegranates, pears, rose which are symbols used in Jewish ceremonies.
The Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue continues to be the center of Jewish cultural and religious life in Mumbai and is one of the key attractions for tourist.
Entry is free. A photocopy of identity proof is a must, passport copy in case of foreign nationals. Charges for photography is INR 500 or €6 or $7. Visiting hours are between 11:00 – 17:00 hrs, Sunday to Thursday. On Friday’s and Saturday’s, prayer meetings are held where entry is only for Jewish community.
Location: Google Maps
Few more pictures taken during my visit:
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai