Calcutta, now Kolkata: Job Charnock, chief of East India Company's factory at Hooghly, established a factory in Kalikata on 24 August 1690. This date is widely accepted as the foundation day of Calcutta.
Calcutta today is the largest and most populous city in India. She was the doyenne of British India. The headquarters of many large British companies and the most prestigious social clubs complimented the charm and grandeur of this majestic city. Visiting her, you will see Victoria memorial, the Mother Theresa's convent, Hoogley Bridge, a great old Victorian bridge over the mighty Hoogley and many building of immense architectural beauty.
Allegedly, Kolkata received its name when Sati killed herself by self-immolation after her father insulted her husband, Lord Shiva. But Lord Shiva arrived too late, after his wifeís body was already burning. He took the body from the fire and started his dance of cosmic destruction. Other gods wanted to stop his dance and they requested Lord Vishnu to convince him so. Lord Vishnu cut Sati into 51 pieces and made Shiva stop the dance. It is said that Satiís toe fell at Kali Ghat in the south part of Kolkata. Therefore, the city was called Kalikata and later Kolkata. Kalighat Temple is built on this site, located on the banks of the river Hooghly (Bhagirathi), dedicated to Kaali, regarded as one of the principal deities of Bengal. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (Autobiography of a Yogi), the guru of Swami Vivekananda, was the second priest in-charge of this temple.
Today, the citys 12 million population boasts 54 individuals of the Jewish faith, dwindled from a peak of more than 20,000 about fifty years ago. Most of the population left India when the British receded in 1947, giving India her independence, and when Israel was born in 1948.
The founder of Calcutta Jews community was Shalom Aharon Ovadiah Ha Cohen, born in Aleppo in 1762 and left in 1789. He arrived in Surat in 1792 and established himself there, trading as far as Zanzibar. In 1798 he moved to Calcutta, and in 1805 he was joined by his nephew, Moses Simon Duek HaCohen, who married his eldest daughter Lunah. Soon the community was swelled by other traders and Baghdadis outnumbered those from Aleppo.
The first generations of Calcutta Jews spoke Judeo-Arabic at home, but by the 1890s English was the language of choice.
Of the five synagogues, only two remain open for this meager population: Neveh Shalome Synagogue established in 1825, the first Synagogue in Calcutta and rebuilt in 1911 and the Magen David Synagogue, built by Mr. Elias David Joseph Esra to perpetuate the memory of his father, Mr. David Joseph Ezra who died in 1882. This is the largest Synagogue in the East and is magnificent in architecture and design. More information about the Jews in Kolkata.
The keeper of both these synagogues, the individual who is also the keeper of the sanctum sanctorum, where the Torahs are kept, is a Muslim. Only in India will you witnesses such a level of spiritual neighborliness between two religions which seem to optimize violence to those living in the West. And it could only be in India where Muslim children go to Jewish schools!