Passover in India is celebrated with Indo-Jewish flavors. Explore the article to know about Indian celebrations and traditions of Pesach.

Passover in India

The holy festival of Passover is celebrated on the 15th day of the first Hebrew month Nisan, of the Jewish calendar. This date usually falls in months of either March or April as per the Gregorian calendar. Passover, or Pesach, commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from the slavery of the Egyptians about 3,000 years ago. Since then, the festival has come to celebrate the freedom and the start of a new life every year. The Indian Jews celebrate the festival following all the conventional rituals and customs. However, there are a few differences in the foods Indian and most European Jews eat at the Seder - the main one being the inclusion of rice at the Indian feast, much like the tradition of Sephardic Jews of Middle Eastern and Spanish descent. Charosis (also called charoset), made with apples, nuts and wine by Jews of Eastern European ancestry, contains raisins, dates and sesame paste in the Indian tradition. One can feel the wonderful amalgamation of Indian and Jewish traditions in Passover celebrations here. Explore the article below to learn more about Indian Pesach celebrations.

Passover Celebrations In India
The Arrival Of The Jews In India
It has been more than 2,000 years since Jews set foot in India. The oldest known Jewish colony in India is Bene Israel located on the Malabar Coast. According to historical accounts, the Jews came to this place somewhere in the 2nd century B.C. However, their ship was destroyed at Konkan on the Malabar Coast. Luckily, some seven men and women survived the destruction and hence, started the establishment of the community in India. Till date, a memorial is known to have been standing in the memory of the people were lost their lives in the sea. The second group of Jews is known as Cochin Jews. They are believed to have landed in India after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Eventually in the later centuries, Iraqi and European Jews came to India. Until recently, the Bene Israel and Cochini Jews were not known to the Western World. It was only when they started making exodus from India to Israel and the United Sates that the world got familiar with them. Today, one can find Indian Jews settled in Los Angeles and New York.

The Celebrations
  • The customs and traditions followed by Indian Jews are similar to Hindus, both temperamentally and linguistically. Even the delicacies prepared are a blend of Indo-Jewish flavors. Unlike the chopped liver, potato pancakes, brisket of beef and matzo ball soup found in a Jewish home, the food is typically different in India. For Passover, the Indian Jews prepare molagachi (mahogany chicken with black pepper), ellegal (spice-rubbed fish in cool herb salsa), masalachi (mutton braised with garlic and coriander) and appam (coconut crepes with date sauce).
  • They strictly follow the Sabbath, its customs and the kashrut (kosher laws). The men put on the mondoo (the Malabari sarong) while the women dress up in flowing silk saris and sparkling jewelry. Soft songs of exodus are hummed to the tunes of Indian melodies while women engross themselves in preparing the Seder platter. Six ritual foods, namely, lamb bone shank ad roasted eggs, romaine lettuce, celery, date jam with walnuts, lime juice, and matzo are neatly arranged on the plate. Since Indian Jews are fond of rice, the innumerable delicacies definitely include rice right from meat pilafs and casseroles to puddings, muffins and cakes.
  • "Pesah work," as it was called in Cochin, begins immediately after Chanukah. Amongst the Cochin community, it is believed that if a Jewish woman made even the slightest mistake in Passover preparation during the 100 days before the actual Seder, then the lives of her husband and her children would be endangered.
  • The pursuit of chametz is a serious business. To ensure purity, the Jews of Cochin keep special rooms in which all Passover utensils, thoroughly scrubbed, are stored. Houses are scraped and repainted immediately after Purim. Wells are drained and scrubbed, lest they be polluted. Each grain of rice — an essential staple even during Passover — is examined to ensure that it is free from cracks into which polluting chametz might find its way.
The way Passover is celebrated in India, one can feel a wonderful amalgamation of Indian and Jewish traditions during the Passover celebrations.