CHURCHES & SYNAGOGUES OF COLONIAL - Magen David Synagogue
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CHURCHES & SYNAGOGUES OF COLONIAL – Magen David Synagogue

Calcutta was the main commercial hub of India during the British rule and naturally it attracted many trading communities, including the Jews. The history of the Jews in Calcutta dates back to the eighteenth century, most of whom were Bagdadi Jews. Today, they are a disappearing lot. Once, during the heyday of the Jewish settlement in Kolkata, the community was 6,000 strong. But their number declined drastically after the formation of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948.

There was a day when the Jewish community had five independent synagogues in Kolkata, out of which today only two are declared as protected monuments and they are looked after by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

Magen David Synagogue Clock Tower
Magen David Synagogue Clock Tower

The Shield of David Synagogue, popularly known in the community as Magen David, is located on Synagogue Street, at the crossing of Brabourne Road and Canning Street (BRBRoad). Its 140 feet high clock tower still dominates the Calcutta skyline. But sadly enough, not many Calcuttans are aware of its existence and it is often mistaken as a church. It was built in 1884 by Elias David Joseph Ezra, in memory of his father, David Joseph Ezra.

David Joseph Ezra memorial tablet Magen David Synagogue
David Joseph Ezra memorial tablet Magen David Synagogue

Elias David Joseph Ezra was one of the eminent and powerful real estate tycoons of that time. He is associated with some of the famous buildings of Calcutta like the Ezra Mansion, Chowringee mansion and Esplanade mansion. Many of us are not aware of the fact that, Ezra Street is actually named after him.

The decorated field in the arch above the main entrance door to the Magen David Synagogue
The decorated field in the arch above the main entrance door to the Magen David Synagogue (Pic by Anna Borsey)

Constructed in the Italian Renaissance style with strong British Influence, Megan David Synagogue has a brick red finish. Its entrance is through an arched door, containing the hexagonal Star of David at the top with some Hebrew inscriptions. The two side walls contain many plaques dedicated to the memory of the well known Jews of Calcutta. Though the services of the Synagogue have stopped long ago, the interior is well maintained.

Magen David memorial plaque
Magen David memorial plaque
Interiors of Magen David Synagogue
Interiors of Magen David Synagogue
Magen David Synagogue Alter from top
Magen David Synagogue Alter from top

The checkered marble floor with adequate seating arrangements, hanging bright graceful chandeliers, stained glass windows and the ornate floral pillars added an impressive look to its dignified regal beauty. The altar of the Megen David Synagogue is crowned with a semi circular dome, known as the Apse, which is studded with stars and known to represent the heaven. The Ten Commandments is inscribed on a large plaque in the middle. Apart from several other Hebrew inscriptions and other items of Jewish Iconography, it also contains the seven branched lamp stand of the Menorah.

Magen David Synagogue Apse
Magen David Synagogue Apse

Interestingly, all the caretakers of this place are Muslims. The International Arab Israeli conflicting relationship could not diminish the trust and reverence they have for each other in Kolkata.

Location of Magen David Synagogue

location map of Magen Davis Synagogue

Dibyendu Banerjee
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.

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