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The Iconic ‘Blue’ Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue!

The mid-19th-century cultural monument that’s reopened to the public after a year of restoration - Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue! It is the oldest Sephardic Synagogue in Mumbai, constructed in 1884. The synagogue was designed by Bombay architects Gosling and Morris and was paid for by the Sassoon family, who were prominent philanthropists in Bombay. The synagogue’s decorative interiors featured Victorian stained-glass windows and rich Burmese teakwood furnishings and staircase. In 2010 the WMF funded the re-creation of the architectural structure of the Synagogue and the restoration was completed in January 2019.

The Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue – also commonly known as Kala Ghoda’s Blue Synagogue – received a new lease of life after 20 months of restoration. 

Abha Narain Lambah, the architect for the restoration project said, “The Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue was an extremely challenging and fulfilling restoration project. The entire structure, right from the external architecture to the detailing of the religious symbols used in the interiors is enchanting and tells a story of the years gone by.”

The stained glass and the original Minton floor tiles were restored, the interiors were given a fresh new look in a greenish shade with a tinge of gold, chairs, chandeliers and other artefacts were recreated just they were in the past and the colour of the façade was re-painted.

The Minton tiles laid at the synagogue today were replicated for the very first time by Bharat Floorings and Tiles with the assistance of Abha Narain Lambah.

Minton tiles are essentially clay, they are glazed on top of the clay mixture itself, then the colours are put into it and mixed. You have the clay mix in which a yellow pigment or yellow organic pigment is added which colours the clay body itself. So, when you fire the clay and bring it up to a temperature where it solidifies, you’ll get that same colour again. That is how the Minton’s at the Synagogue were laid, they are all individual pieces, but they were clay.

“One wouldn’t realise the amount of time and hard work that has gone into restoring the tiles because the outcome is flawless,” says our designer Ashwin Mallya.

Below we interview our designer Ashwin Mallya who gives an insight on one of our most interesting restoration projects - Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue!

What was the process of tile restoration?

The process of the tile restoration went about like this:

On day one, we documented the entire space and asked the restorers to remove and give us one patch of the floor for colour matching. The entire patch went straight to the factory. Simultaneously, we went to, measure the tiles individually. Post that, the drawings were made. Once completed, the drawings were converted into 3D drawings which were then sent to the dye maker who makes dyes. Once the dyes were done, we got moulds. After receiving the moulds, we started colour matching. This was the most tedious procedure as when colours mixed with water tends to be darker or lighter and we were shown specifically what shade was wanted expected from the original Minton tiles. They didn’t want it to look like an odd part of the same floor, it should be in harmony with the rest of the floor.

The challenging part of the project –

The client gives us the area in sq. ft (for example 200-300 sq. ft) That sq. ft is converted into numbers. For one sq. ft or a little more than that, you have around 13 components that go in all different colours. Initially we started off with this in the main Prayer Hall which was around 150 sq. ft. It was the most challenging part of the floor because we had to continue tiling the parts that were broken off as well as the entire border and corner area and the pattern. Getting the tiles manufactured right was not a problem but getting them to fit it right, so that it looks like one uniform floor was a challenging part while restoring the tiles for the Synagogue.

A lot of time went into developing the corner! The entire space has this one corner tile. The entire area is just one corner tile at one point. This is a metal piece that is milled out and then you have a mould which becomes in a mode. The Minton tiles take around five days to make; they are expensive because of the variety of colours used in them. If I make a hundred or two hundred of these tiles, the cost breaks down and evens out somewhere. But, when I’m making one, it’s expensive – one tile costs around 25,000 to 30,000 rupees.

What’s unique about Bharat Tiles?

We make acoustic tiles! Our regular tiles are about 17-18 mm of coloured cement topping material and 10-12 mm plain grey cement backing if you keep polishing you will find the same pattern repeatedly. Unlike a ceramic tile, it does not show the base if broken. The beauty of this is that you get a look and feel that the other tile cannot replicate at all.

What makes the Synagogue a unique project for Bharat?

The project requirements and the brief were to replicate the exact same Minton tiles. So, the work became kind of a reverse engineering wherein we had to get the actual sample and keep going back and forth to figure out how to produce it. This principle applied to all the stages involved in the manufacturing process, right from the drawing, making the dyes, moulds, colours etc. The factory was involved more in figuring out what type of mix would work best for a flooring. For example, dark colours such as dark blue or dark green, do not really work well in light because the dye in these colours tends to be weaker. That’s why Bharat does not recommend on using white and black colour pigments as the white will be a very strong colour as well as a dye and hold into the cement, whereas the black tends to weaken the cement and will be wash out into the white when polished. For this reason, we do not offer black and white combination.

As the tiles were quite small, we knew that there are no chances of them breaking. Not all these tiles can sit at a 90-degree angle, some of them are aligned. If you notice the Synagogue, the entire floor is aligned at 45-degrees, therefore, the whole pattern is laid at the same angle and not straight. Over the past year, around 7-8 months have gone into developing and figuring out the best we can.

The journey had been challenging but the outcome has been fantastic!

To know more about the synagogue project check out the video -

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