Students, young and old, came together to celebrate the rich heritage of Kolkata at the onset of the World Heritage Week. Observed by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization every year from November 19 to 25, the World Heritage Week is a celebration of the rich tangible and intangible heritage of the world.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Kolkata Circle, inaugurated the week at the Maghen David Synagogue with the theme ‘Jewish Heritage in Kolkata’. The photo exhibition ‘Jewish Panorama’, reflecting the life and times of the Jews in the city, was opened for public viewing. A specially curated booklet on Jewish monuments in Kolkata was also launched and distributed among the audience.
The journey began from the Beth El Synagogue on Pollock street where Jael Silliman, board member of Maghen David Synagogue and author, gave a short tour of the monument highlighting the ritual bath space for women, wine-making cellars and bread-making ovens apart from the interiors of the synagogue. A short walk from Beth El Synagogue led the group to Maghen David situated in China Bazaar (Burrabazar) where the programme was held.
“The ASI till date has protected more than 3,000 monuments, of which only two are synagogues, and these are in Kolkata. We are celebrating World Heritage Week at the Maghen David Synagogue as the present board is helpful and eager to organise such activities. The Jewish community has hugely contributed to this city,” said Shubha Majumder, superintendent archaeologist, ASI, Kolkata Chapter.
Rupendra Kumar Chattopadhyay, Vivekananda Chair Professor at Calcutta University and the chief guest of the event, focused on the emergence of heritage studies in educational institutions and how that is the need of the hour. “Today, we are in a position to record both intangible and tangible heritage. Therefore, the World Heritage Week can be explored not only in terms of the remains of what we have but also in our ability to do advanced research. We must be aware of the newly developed heritage studies in different institutes, universities or IITs as they are doing their bit to protect the national and international heritage through new scientific studies,” he said.
Keynote speaker Jael Silliman recollected the grandeur of the synagogues and the Jewish community. “India is the only country in the world, except under the Portuguese, who have never discriminated against the Jewish people. They accepted us as part of the cultural fabric. The booklet distributed today is a testimony of the same,” said Silliman.
The Jewish Panorama, a unique exhibition of photographs, highlights the various facets of the community in Kolkata. It delves into the history of the emigration of Jews to Kolkata and explains how they became an integral part of the city’s culture. Personal photographs donated by community members and archaeological sketches of monument plans showed the chronological transition of the community in the city. The exhibition is available for public viewing till November 25 at Maghen David Synagogue from 10am to 4pm (except Saturdays).
The booklet Jewish Monuments in Kolkata, edited by Shubha Majumder, was launched at the event. It consists of a short history of the Jewish community and goes on to describe the Beth El and Maghen David synagogues in detail.
“Heritage buildings that we see around us narrate a story of the times when they were built. Therefore, they are an asset for us and it becomes our duty to acknowledge them,” said Koyel Banerjee, a first-year MA student of Ancient History and Archaeology at The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.
“World Heritage Week is immensely important for me. But we should remember that our love for heritage shouldn’t be limited to these seven days only. We must keep the efforts on to try and know more about our heritage,” said Anirban Ghosh, a first-year MA student of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology at Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute, Pune, and an intern at ASI Kolkata.