Hindus in Armenia

Hindoos in Armenia-Part 2

Some of these converted Hindoos adhered tenaciously to the idolatrous practices of their foreafathers, despite the paternal persuasions and the exhortations of St.Gregory. They went even further and taunted the Armenian princes by telling them that if they lived they would retaliate for the harsh treatment they had received at their hands, but if they died, the gods would wreak their vengence on the Armenians on their behalf.

At this the prince of the house of Angegh ordered them to be taken immediately to the city of Phaitakaran where they were incarcerated and their heads shaved as an insult and a sign of degradation. These prisoners numbered four hundred. From the narrative of Zenob, the Syrian, it appears that the Hindoo colony had, since their settlement in Armenia in the year 150 B.C. to the day of the memorable battle in the year 301 A.D. a period of 450 years, multiplied and increased considerably and formed a distinct and an important colony of their own in the fertile province of Taron where in the year 286 A.D. a Chinese colony had also settled under Mamgoon, the founder of the house of Mamikonian which gave a Vardan to Armenia who fought the Sassanians when they wanted to force the religon of Zoroaster on Christian Armenia in the year 451 A.D.

The Hindoos, who up to the advent of Christianity in Armenia had remained a distinct community became gradually merged into the native Christian population, as no reference is made to them by any of the Armenian historians who came after Zenob, who, as has been stated before, flourished in the beginning of the 4th century.

Having given a brief out-line of the history of the Hindoo colony in Armenia, we shall now give some interesting extracts from the narrative of Zenob. It may be mentioned that Zenob who was a Syrian wrote his work originally in Syriac, but it must have been translated by him afterwards into Armenian.

The Armenian text of Zenob's work in classical Armenian from which the following extracts are translated, was printed first at Venice in 1832 by the learned Mekhitharist Fathers, after a very careful collationwith five manuscript copies written at different periods and in different places. The first portion of the narrative gives a description of the Hindoo colony and it is followed by a graphic account of the religious wars that were waged between Hindoos and the early propagators of the Christian faith in idolatrous Armenia in the beginning of the 4th century. And this is how Zenob, the Syrian, describes the Hindoos whom he sees for the first time on his arrival in Armenia, with St.Gregory, the Illuminator, in the year 301 A.D.

"This people has a most extraordinary appearance for they were black, long-haired and unpleasant to the sight, as they were Hindoos by race.

The origin of the idols which were in this place, is this: Demeter and Gisaneh were brothers and they were both Indian princes. They had conspired against Dinaksi, their King, who being appised, sent troops after them either to put them to death or to banish them from the country. Having narrowly escaped, they fled to (Armenian)King Valarsaces who bestowed on them the principality of the distict of Taron where they built a city and called it Veeshap(snake in Armenian).

They afterwards went to the city of Ashtishat and there set up idols in the names of those which they had worshipped in India. After fifteen years the King put both brothers to death, I do not know why, and confered the principality on their three sons, Kuars, Meghtes and Horean. Kuar built the city of Kuars, Meghtes built a village on the plain and called it Meghti, and Horean built a village in the province of Paloonies and called it Horeans.

After some time, Kuar, Meghtes and Horean, resolved to go to the mountain called Kharki, and they found the place to be salubrious and beatiful, for it was cool, and abounded in game, grass and wood. There they raised edifices and set up two idols, one in the name of Gisaneh and the other in the name of Demeter and appointed attendants for them from their own race.

Gisaneh had long flowing hair and for that reason its priest allowed the hair of their head to grow, which the king ordered to be cut. This people were not, however, perfect in their faith after their convesion into the Christian fate and as they could not profess the religion of their pagan ancestors openly, they therefore practiced the deception of allowing their children to grow plait of hair on the cronw of their heads, so they they may, by seeing that, remember their idolatrous abominations."

In the course of their journey through Armenia, Zenob gives the following account of the war that was waged between the Hindoos and the Armenians in the year 301 A.D.

"And having taken our departure from there (Thordan)we intended to proceed to Karin and Harkh, but some of the Armenian princes informed St.Gregory of the existance of two temples in the province of Taron which still offered sacrifices to the devils, whereupon he resolved to demolish them. Having arrived in the country of the Paloonies, in the extensive village, called Gisaneh, near the village town of Kuars, we met there some of the heathen priests.

Having ascertained from the Hindoo prince of Hashtens that the great images of Gisaneh and Demeter were to be levelled to the ground on the following day, they (Hindoos) repaired to the temples in the dead of the night and removed the treasures and filled them into sub-terraneous houses.

They then sent intimationt to the heathen priests at Ashtishat urging them to collect warriors and join them early on the morrow as the great Gisaneh was going to give battle to the apostate princes (Armenians). In like manner they put up the inhanbitants of Kuars to lie in ambush in the hedges of the gardens and some were sent waylay Christians in the forests. The head priest whose name was Artzan (Arjun)and his son Demeter took the command of the troops who were stationed at Kuars, and numbered 400, and having ascended th ehhill that was opposite Kuars, they halted there, awaiting the arrival of reinforcements from other places to their aid.

On the following day, they descended to the skirts of the mountains to indulge in their usual habit of pillage. St. Gregory accompanied by the prince of Artzroonies, the prince of Andzevatzies and the prince of the house of Angegh and with a small number of troops numbering about three hundred, ascended the mountain in the third hour of the day, where Artzan lay in ambush.

They were going carelessly as they never suspected anything and as they approached the acclivity of the mountain, Artzan and Demeter rushed out of their ambuscade when the trumpets of war were sounded and they were attacked most furiously. The princes having heard this, became restless and alarmed, for their horses took fright from the sound of the trumpets and began to neigh and thus excite war, whereupon the prince of the house of Angegh raised his voiced and cried, "Prince of Sunnies, step forward and see perhaps these are the troops of the prince of the north."

He went, but could not ascertain who they were. On his return, the prince of Sunnies said "remove St.Gregory and his companions to a safe place lest they may be captured by the enemy and we will be disgraced before the King." "Send a trustry person," he added, "to recall our troops, for it is going to be a great war and many are the flags which are seen waving."