Mumbai’s 135-yr-old ‘Blue Synagogue’ gets Rs 5-crore facelift
The synagogue was built in 1884 and was a place of worship for the Baghdadi Jewish community.
After two years of restoration, the 135-year-old Keneseth Eliyahoo synagogue at Kala Ghoda will be open to worshippers from Thursday. The monument, which is popularly known as the blue synagogue because of its sky blue exterior, has now been repainted white and indigo.
When asked whether repainting the structure a different colour would make it lose its identity, Solomon Sopher, chairman and managing trustee of Sir Jacob Sassoon and Allied Trust, which manages the shrine, laughed, “It will now be called a white synagogue.”
Sopher, however, expressed concerns over the maintenance of the synagogue as only around 4,000 members of the Jewish community reside in the country.
The synagogue was built in 1884 and was a place of worship for the Baghdadi Jewish community, who used to reside in areas around Kala Ghoda and Colaba. The population of the community, which included the philanthropic Sassoon family, has dwindled to a handful.
Speaking about the change in colour, conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah said that as part of the restoration project, the aim of the team was to retain the original colours of the synagogue.
“When we scrapped off the colours of the façade, we realised that the actual colour of the synagogue was not blue. The exterior is made of Porbandar stone and because we wanted to retain the 19th-century Victorian-era palette, we chose indigo shades,” said Lambah.
Lambah added that when they were working on the interiors, the workers scrapped off seven layers of colour before they found that the actual colour of the synagogue was a Victorian-style deep green.
“It took us 10 years to find someone to fund the project. However, on an architectural note, fixing the roof was the toughest because it was leaking and we could see trees entering the synagogue,” said Lambah.
During the restoration, which costed around Rs 5 crore, the stained glass was restored, original floor tiles were cleaned and interiors were given a fresh look in a greenish shade with a tinge of gold, and a separate seating was made for women. Chairs, chandeliers and other artefacts were retained just as they were in the past. The synagogue has also got air-conditioning.
“This synagogue has been a significant part of Mumbai’s heritage and culture. It is not about politics or religion; this is about saving our heritage. With that in mind, we decided that we would take up the project, despite people asking me whether I was a Jew to have shown a personal interest in this,” said Sangita Jindal, chairperson, JSW Foundation which funded most of the project.
The synagogue was built by Jacob Sassoon, the grandson of David Sassoon — a Baghdadi Jew businessman whose family built other key institutions as well — in the memory of his father Elias. The name of the synagogue name thus translates to ‘The Assembly of Elias’.