The discovery of an ancient Hebrew tombstone in southern India dating back to the 13th century could potentially unveil a forgotten Jewish community within the region.
The tombstone was discovered on a coconut farm in the city of Ramanathapuram in the state of Tamil Nadu. The inscription, a puzzle from the past, was deciphered by Thoufeek Zakriya, a Dubai-based history researcher and Hebrew calligrapher. His expertise led him to believe that the inscription dates back to the years 1224 or 1225 C.E.
Zakriya told the Indian news magazine The Week that the tombstone is older than the Sarah Bat Israel Tombstone in Kerala’s Chennamangalam Synagogue, which he noted is “considered the oldest Hebrew tombstone ever identified in India.”
According to World Jewish Travel, the Chendamangalam Synagogue is one of the oldest ever built by the Malabar Jews in Kerala. The structure dates back to 1420 A.D or 1614 A.D. In front of the building is a tombstone with the inscription of Sarah Bat Israel, dating back to 1270 A.D., making it one of the oldest Jewish relics in India.
Regarding the tombstone in Tamil Nadu, a 32-year-old chemical engineer named Hathim Ali from Ramanathapuram was the first to bring the tombstone to the public’s attention. Ali heard of the discovery on a coconut farm from a friend. The farm owner, a man referred to as “Mr. Balu,” found the tombstone in an old and unused well on his property.
“When I went to inspect it, I understood that it was neither Tamil nor Arabic. Later, I thought maybe it could be Hebrew
,” Ali told The Week, saying that he informed government authorities about the tombstone, but no one came to inspect it.

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