Hindoos in Armenia

Written by Dr.Mesrob Jacob Seth

Edited by the webmaster

(Armenians in India, 1982-Published by Armenian Church Committee of Calcutta)


The Unknown Chapter in the History of Ancient India and Armenia


It may be generally known that Armenians whose love of commerce has been proverbial, have, from time immemorial, traded with India, whither they were allured from their distant homes in the snow-clad mountains of Armenia, by the glamour of the lucrative trade in spices, muslins, and precious stones, which they carried on successfully with Europe by the overland route, through Afghanistan, Persia, and Armenia, via Trebizond (W.Armenia,current Turkey),long before the advent of any European traders, adventurest and interlopers into the country. And it may safely mentioned that even before the Mohammedan invasion of India in the 10th century, the Armenians were found at all principal commercial centres and capitals of India engaged in peaceful pursuit of commmerce.

It would be interesting, however, from a historical point of view, to trace in what period of the world's history Armenians first set foot on Indian soil.

We search in vain the faded pages of Sanscrit writers and Mohamedan chroniclers of ancient times for any reference to this enterprising, commercial people in India. They were hardly interested in politics, and rarely took part in intrigues, their field of action lay, rather, in the bazaars, the comercial marts, and the emporiums of India, over which they exercised vast influence, in the absence of any foreign commercial element, and thereby monopolised the greater portion of the export trade, which they carried on for a considerable period.

The writter ventures to assume, after much careful study and antiquarian research, that they were acquainted with India from remote antiquity, perhaps even when Semiramis, the wife of Ninus, and the warlike queen of the once-powerful Assyrian monarchy, reigned supreme in Babylon.

Contemporary as a nation with the Assyrians, it is not improbable that they accompanied Semiramis, as faithful allies, in her invasion of India, which according to the acount given by Ctesias and Siodorus Siculus, was undertaken about the year 2000 B.C., when one Stabrobates (Sthabarpati)held indisputable sway over India of the Vedic times.

Armenians, as allies or otherwise, may have accompanied the Greek invasion of India in 327 B.C., under Alexander the Great; for it is a well-known historical fact that he passed through Armenia, en route for India, via.Persia, where he defeated the famous Darius, the Persian king, who resided at Percepolis, the capital of unparaleled architectual fame at that period.

But it may be asked, what have the Armenian historians to say on the subject. Unfortunately the annals of ancient Armenia which were carefully preserved in the temples of pre-Christian Armenia and which could have thrown light on the subject were destroyed entirely, by St.Gregory, the apostle of Armenia, known as the Illuminator, in the beginning of the 4th Century of the Christian era when by virtue of a royal edict granted to St.Gregory, by that zealous neophyte, King Tiridates, Armenia embraced the Christian faith en masse, and the Armenians thus became the first Christian nation in the world (301 A.D.)

The first authentic record we have of the connection of the Armenians with India is to be found in the work of Zenob, one of the earliest classical writers who flourished in Christian Armenia in the beginning of the 4th century.

Zenob, or Zenobias, who was a Syrian and one of the first disciples of St.Gregory the Illuminator-the Apostle of Armenia-wrote, at the instance of his master, a History of Taron (an important province in W.Armenia, current Turkey) and in that work he refers to the history of a Hindoo colony that had existed in Armenia since the middle of the second century before the commencement of the Christian era and going back to the prior beginning of the Hindoo colony on Armenian soil in the days of remote antiquity.

It appears from Zenob's account that two Hindoo Princes fo far-famed Kanauj,named Gissaneh and Demeter, had conspired against Dinakspall, the King of Kanauj, and on the discovery of the plot, which spelt death for the two princes, they had no alternative but to seek refuge in flight, and to far-off Armenia they fled, and there they not only found an asylum, but were accorded a welcome befitting their princely dignity by their royal patron, King Valarsaces (a brother of Arsaces the Great) and the founder of the Arsacidae dynasty which ruled in Armenia from 149 B.C. to 428.A.D.

This event occured in 149 B.C. The Armenian King, who was evidently pleased with the Hindoo refugees, allotted them the province of Taron where they built themselves a nice city which they called Veeshap, which in Armenian means a Dragon, since they were of the Takshak House, which, as every student of Hindoo Mythology knows, signifies the Dragon. They then went to the Armenian city of Ashtishat, famous for its temples of the national gods and goddesses of heathen Armenia and there they set up the gods which they had worshipped in India.

They were not however destined to enjoy a long period of undisturbed peace and freedom in the land of their adoption, for they were, 15 years after their arrival in Armenia, put to death by the king for which no reasons or motives are assigned by the native historian, perhaps they had, as in India, hatched a conspiracy against their royal patron or abused his hospitality, hence the condign punishment meted out them by the Armenian king.

After their death, these two Hindoo princes, were deified by their descendants, for they must have gone to Armenia with their families and a large retinue, as future events will prove. According to the Armenian historian, these two princes left three sons whose names were Kuars, Meghtes and Horean, and the Armenian king, bestowed on them the government of the colony and the principality of the province of Taron.

Kuars built a small city and called it Kuar after his own name. Meghtes similarly built his city and named it Meghti after himself, whilst Horean built his city in the province of Poloonean and called it Horeans.

Being new to the country, they were evidently not satisfied with the first selection of sites their habitations, so after some time they resolved amongst themselves to find fresh fields and pastures anew, so they went to the mountain called Kharkh and finding it an ideal place by reason of its beautiful and favourable situation, they built themselves untill 4th century, A.D. or a period of 450 years. And this is where they built their city and put up two gods named as Gisaneh and Demeter, after their murdered fathers whom they had deified.

These gods were made entirely of brass, the former, according to Zenob, was twelve cubits high, and the latter fifteen cubits and the priests that were appointed for the service of these gods were all Hindoos. Under the auspices of a heathen government, in whose eyes they had evidently found great favour, the Hindoo colony flourished for a considerable time in Armenia, but with the dawn of Christianity in idolatrous Armenia in the year of 301 A.D. the tide of royal kindness began to ebb and ebb very swiftly, for the Indian gods shared the fate of the national gods and goddesses, which were destroyed by that relentless iconoclast, St.Gregory the Illuminator, who had the famous temples of Gisaneh and Demeter razed to the ground, the images broken to pieces whilst the Hindoo priests who offered resistance were murdered on the spot, as faithfully chronicled by Zenob who was an eye-witness of the destruction of the Hindoo temples and the gods.

On the site of these two temples, St.Gregory had a monastery erected where he deposited the relics of St.Jhon the Baptist and Athanagineh the martyr which he had brought with him from Ceaseria, and that sacred edifice, which was erected in the year 301 A.D., exists to this day and is known as St.Carapet of Moosh and has always been a great place of pilgrimage for Armenians from all parts of the world.

The Hindoo priests attached to the temples of Gisaneh and Demeter, seeing the destruction of their national gods and their temples, with tears in their eyes entreated the victorious Armenians, their erstwhile brother idolators, to put them to death rather than destroy their mighty god Gisaneh, and for the resistance that they offered to the victors, six of the Hindoo priests were killed on the spot.

On the restoration of peace between the Armenians and the Hindoos, the Armenian prince of the house of Siunies proceeded to the Hindoo village of Kuars and succeeded in persuading the inhabitants of that place to renounce idolatry and embrace the Christian faith which had now became the State religion. His efforts were crowned with success and they were dully prepared for baptism, and being conducted to the valley of Ayzasan they were baptised there by St. Gregory.

According to Zenob, who as i have said was a disciple of Apostle of Armenia, and an eye-witness of the events he narrates, the Hindoos that were baptised on the first day of Navasard, (the ancient Armenian New Year day)numbered 5,050 and these were composed of men and children only, as the females were, it appears excluded from that number and baptised on another day specially appointed for the occasion.


Part-2