Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
Not so long ago, in 2010, I was in Surat where my ancestors came from. And my uncle, seeing my enthusiasm took me on his Vespa scooter to do some sight seeing. And the most unexpected sight was the Armenian cemetery. In the middle of all things gujarati – there was an unexplained Armenian cemetery. The surprise of finding Armenians in Surat was compounded by the view of the size of the graves. These were not graves – these were monuments or mausoleums! My studio apartment in Mumbai is smaller than the smallest of these structures!!
The uncle did not know the history and neither did the other people around me.
And the mystery remained until I met the Armenian gentleman recently. I was surprised and delighted when I learned that he was from Armenia … did not expect that at all. My excitement at meeting someone from an unexpected geography might be a bit over-the-top ….maybe it is because it leads to a treasure chest of discoveries about a new culture. I remember being just as excited when I met a kid from Surinam (1981) or the first Tibetan through an email introduction (2007).
SO I asked the Armenian gentleman about Surat and the story behind that and he explained. *
He said that Armenians have been in India for centuries. Some came as Alexander’s soldiers, others came as traders and yet others came as diplomats. There are a handful of Armenian churches and colleges strewn all over India.
But a significant number of the ones that came to Gujarat, came as assistants to the wealthy Persians. He said for every wealthy bride that was brought in from Persia, 500 Armenians came to assist her. He said that later on, while the Zorastrians married within their community and retained the genes and memes of their culture, the Armenians mixed and married the locals and got assimilated into the local culture. So today there is no distinct Armenian community in India and only a few hundreds or thousands remain, all fragmented scattered across the vast country.
This story is small – the awe & wonder is not.
[*This is the story that has traveled by word-of-mouth –there is no way to check the facts].