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Why are Hindus and Muslims in India worshiping dead Jews?

TJI Pick
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Published: 13 January 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Among the tombs venerated by Hindus and Muslims is a Jew-turned-Sufi saint whose severed head recited love poems and a Yemenite Kabbalist with supernatural powers.

In the Kankurgachi neighbourhood of the Indian city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), the Das family worships a large gravestone which sits in the courtyard of their home. In traditional Hindu fashion, they adorn it with marigold flowers and incense sticks. Every Thursday, a special puja worship ritual takes place at the tomb, in which prayers are said and fresh garlands of flower are placed atop it.

But this isn't a Hindu tomb. It is the last remnant of what was Kolkata's "Jews Burying Ground No. 59”. The gravestone and an unnoticeable plaque, now obscured by an electric installation box, are solitary witnesses to its real identity and the city's now-obscured Jewish past.

This tomb is part of a fascinating phenomenon: It is one of three instances of Jewish graves worshipped by non-Jews in India, an intriguing ritual transmutation.

Mrs. Das, one of the grave's guardians, proudly declares that the tomb is their "family deity," who fulfils their wishes and protects them from evil. The Das family believes that the most prominent of the graves belongs to a male, on the basis of a paranormal experience that Mrs. Das' mother-in-law had in the 1960s, when she saw an old Jewish priest ascending from the grave, dressed like a Hindu ascetic.

However, the prominent tomb in the family courtyard actually belongs to a woman called Geula (or Jalla), daughter of Nissim Isaac (Yitzhak) Abraham.

While Hindus worship at Geula's tomb, Muslims worship at the grave of another Jew who lived and died a few centuries before her.

Sarmad Kashani, born to an Armenian Jewish merchant family in 1590, was known for his poetry, eccentric life and syncretic religious beliefs, which led to his execution for heresy.

Why Are Hindus and Muslims in India Worshiping Dead Jews? (Haaretz)

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