The Armenian Connection: A History of Trade and Culture in India

The history of India is rich and diverse, and one of the lesser-known aspects of it is the Armenian connection. Armenians are an ancient people who originated from the Armenian Highland, and have a long tradition of trade and commerce. They have also contributed to the cultural and religious diversity of India, especially during the Mughal era.

According to “The Daily Star” (Sept. 4, 2006) of Dhaka, Bangladesh, traders from Armenia frequented the Indian subcontinent as early as 2000 BC. They followed the Silk route through Iran and Afghanistan, and traded in spices, muslin, and precious stones. They also established contacts with local rulers and communities, and became known for their honesty and integrity.

The Armenian presence in India became more prominent during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar, who ruled from 1556 to 1605. Akbar was a tolerant and enlightened ruler, who welcomed people of different faiths and backgrounds to his court. He offered the Armenians freedom of trade, religion, and exemption from taxation. He also allowed them to enter areas where foreigners were banned, such as Kashmir and Bengal.

One of Akbar’s wives, Mariam Zamani, was of Armenian origin. She was the mother of his son and successor, Jahangir. She was also a patron of arts and culture, and built several monuments and mosques in Agra and Lahore. Akbar’s adopted son, Mirza Zulqarnain, was also Armenian. He was a governor, poet, and singer, who composed songs in Persian and Hindi. He was also a friend of the famous poet and musician, Tansen.

Other notable Armenians who served in Akbar’s court were Abdul Hai, the chief justice, and Domingo Peres, the emperor’s interpreter. They played important roles in the administration and diplomacy of the empire. They also helped to spread the Armenian culture and language in India.

The Armenians continued to flourish in India under the later Mughal emperors, and also under the British rule. They built churches, schools, and hospitals, and engaged in various businesses and professions. They also participated in the social and political movements of India, such as the freedom struggle and the Bengal Renaissance.

Today, the Armenian community in India is small but vibrant. They have preserved their identity and heritage, and have also integrated with the Indian society. They celebrate their festivals and traditions, and maintain their ties with their homeland. They are a living testimony of the long and fruitful relationship between Armenia and India, which spans over four millennia.


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