Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A Hindu Colony in Armenia

The Asiatic Journal and monthly register for British India, China and Australasia in its edition of 1837 ( page 181-185) , has this interesting story on a Hindu colony in Armenia, consisting of migrants from India, around the 1st century BC.

A singular account of a certain colony of Hindus, that emigrated from India into Armenia, is recorded in the historical work of Zenobius, a Syrian bishop and primate of the convent called Innaknian, who flourished in Armenia in the beginning of the third century. The narrative was evidently written in Syriac, and intended for the Syrian nation, though the writer seems to have subsequently re-written the same in the Armenian language, but with Syrian characters; the letters of our alphabet having been invented a century posterior to that period. By a very long residence in Armenia, Zenobius was successfully enabled to acquire a perfect knowledge of the Armenian language, in which his history has been handed down to us. This interesting work was published in Venice, in the year 1832, being carefully collated with five manuscript copies, written in different periods.

I shall, in the present memoir, first give a description of this Hindu colony, the narrative of Zenobius, and then an account of the religious wars waged between them and the first propagators of Christianity in Armenia.
"This people had a most extraordinary appearance. They were black, longhaired, ugly and unpleasant to the sight. They claimed their origin from the Hindus. The story of the idols, worshipped by them in this place, is simply this: Demetrf and Keisaney were brothers, and both Indian princes. They were found guilty of a plot formed against their king, Dinaskey who sent troops after them, with instructions either to put them to death or to banish them from the country. 

The felons, having narrowly escaped the pursuit, took a shelter in the dominions of the king Valarsaces, who bestowed on them the principality of the country of Taron. Here a city was founded by the emigrants, who called it Vishap or Dragon. Having come to Ashtishat,they raised idols there in the name of those they worshipped in India. Fifteen years after their settlement in the country, both of the brothers were put to death by the king, for what fault I do not know. He conferred the principality on their three sons, named Kuar, Meghti, and Horain. The first built a village, and called it after his own name Kuan. The second founded a village on the plain, and called it after his own name Meghti. The third also built a village in the province of Palunies, and gave it the appellation of Horains. 

After a certain space of time, Kuar, Meghti, and Horain, of one accord, resolved on changing their abode. They sojourned on the mountain called Earki, which to a delightful temperature added a fine and picturesque appearance. It abounded in game, herbs, wood, and all that is adapted for the comfort and convenience of man. Here they raised edifices, where they set up two idols, respectively dedicated to Keisaney and Demetr, in honour of whom attendants were appointed out of their own race. Keisaney had long flowing hairs, in imitation of which his priests allowed the hairs of their heads to grow, which custom was afterwards prohibited by authority. This class of people,  on being converted to Christianity, were not deeply rooted in their faith. They durst not, however, openly profess the religion of their pagan ancestors. They continued, therefore, dissemblingly to allow their children to wear plaited hairs on the crown of their heads, in remembrance of their idolatrous abominations."

The description of this idolatrous colony is entirely accordant with the colour, appearance, manners and religion of the present Hindus. The cause of their emigration from India is distinctly stated by Zenobius, but through what route or in what period they found their way into Armenia, it is very difficult to determine. It is, however, clearly evident that they had formed a permanent settlement in our country prior to the commencement of the Christian era. Valarsaces, under whose government they found protection, was grandson of Arsaces, the Parthian, and brother of Arsaces the Great, by whom he was appointed king over Armenia, Anno Mundi 3852, or a century and a-half before Christ. 

The story concludes thus:

It is impossible to know what was the number of this Hindu colony at the time of their emigration from India into Armenia. We are, however, certain, that from the date of their first settlement in the Armenian province of Taron to the day of the memorable battle, a period of about 450 years, they must have considerably increased and multiplied, and thus formed a part of the population of the country. No vestiges of this Hindu race can, at present, be traced in Armenia, save the record of their exploits, handed down to us in the narrative of Zenobius.

(Read the full story here)


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