According to legends and traditions, Jews made their way to India after the destruction of the First Temple. However, the earliest historical evidence of a Jewish presence are the copper plates discussed in more detail in the Cochin section below. The text of these plates has been dated between 974 and 1020 AD. In addition to Cochin, the major Jewish settlements were as follows:
Portuguese India-- During Vasco da Gama's first expedition to India in September, 1498, a Jew, who was hired by the Muslim ruler of Goa to spy on da Gama, was captured. He told the Portuguese that his family had fled to India from Poland in the latter part of the 15th century. In the early part of the 16th century, a substantial number of Jews and Marranos migrated to Goa, which had become the seat of the Portuguese rulers in India. As a result of the implementation of the Inquisition in Goa, this Jewish settlement dispersed and ultimately vanished.
Mogul India-- During the 16th century, Jews from Persia and Khurasan arrived in northern India. They settled mainly in Old Delhi, Lahore, Kashmir, Agra and Fatehpur.
British India-- In the 16th and 17th centuries, Jews were active wherever the European East India companies established business activities, such as Surat, Madras, Bengal and Bombay. Ultimately, significant Jewish communities developed in Calcutta and Bombay.
The combination of Indian independence and the establishment of the State of Israel prompted a significant emigration of Indian Jews. At its height, the Jewish community numbered over 30,000. By the mid 1990's, this population had dropped to about 6,000, with almost all living in and around Bombay. Most of this emigration was to Israel. In 1970, it was estimated that 23,000 Indian Jews lived in Israel.
Encyclopedia Judaica, CD-Rom Edition, Keter Publishing
Copyright © 1998-99 Edward Victor