According to their own traditions, the Bene Israel—an ancient Jewish community living on the western coast of India—are descended either from one of the Ten Lost Tribes exiled in the 8th century BCE, or shipwrecked refugees who fled persecution around the time of Maccabean Revolt. In Maharashtra state, the historic home of the Bene Israel, there is a holy rock they have long venerated along with local Hindus. Sharmila Ganesan Ram writes:
Known locally as “Ghodyacha Tap” and internationally as Prophet Elijah’s Chariot Site, Prophet Elijah’s Rock leaps out amid the synagogues, libraries, cemeteries, and schools that are part of the Jewish Route, a recently inaugurated tourism initiative comprising 26 Jewish heritage structures across the state.
When the Bene Israel, [according to legend], arrived at the Konkan coast 2,000 years ago, the Prophet Elijah is believed to have revived the unconscious members who had washed up on the beach. Shipwrecked at Nagaon, the community sought help from the locals who employed them as oil pressers.
“The Bene Israel legend narrates two occasions when Elijah the Prophet visited India and ascended to heaven. The first account recounts his stop at Talvali,” says [Hebrew University’s] Shaul Sapir. “It is said Prophet Elijah took off from here into the sky on a chariot of fire. The chariots’ wheels and horses’ footprints, visible at this site, are imprinted on a large rock,” he adds.
Bene Israelis come down to [the rock to] perform malida, a thanksgiving ceremony meant to celebrate new babies, anniversaries, or other simchas (happy events) by invoking Prophet Elijah.