[caption id="attachment_2116" align="alignright" width="300"] An Armenian couple who have made Calcutta their home[/caption]
Evidence exists of the presence of an Armenian colony in India which stretches as far back as the first century BC. How did these Armenian-Indian connections become established?
There are several possibilities, Armenians who served under Alexander the Great or Persian rulers went over to India and could have been the source of this connection. Another possibility could be the arrival of Tomas Cana to the South-western coast of India who helped to spread Christianity in the region.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Armenian merchants set out to expand their trade routes reaching India. The number of Armenians living in India has never been that many, but the wealth and existence of that community have reduced considerably, and nevertheless, enriched the Indian culture.
[caption id="attachment_2118" align="alignleft" width="300"] St. Peters, the last remaining Armenian church in Calcutta[/caption]
Interestingly enough, though, the first Armenian journal, Azdarar, was published in Chennai in 1974. Numerous other books covering Armenian society and politics were published there. These publications were inspired by the revolutionary events which took place in the United States and France during that period.
The imperial capital of India during the Mughal Dynasty, Bombay, was once home to Armenians, as were Surat and Agra. Akbar the Great was one of the most celebrated Indian kings who sought several wives for himself, one of whom was an Armenian woman named Mariam. During his reign, the Armenian chapel in Agra was built in 1562 and is the oldest Christian construction.
[caption id="attachment_2114" align="alignright" width="300"] Students of the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy in Calcutta[/caption]
Calcutta was, however, the center of it all when it came to Armenian life in India after that. The city eventually became known as the "British Raj." Although India was at one stage a British colony, Armenians were the first to reach India and arrived as overland merchants to the country and not maritime traders. There is still a considerably small Armenian population residing in Calcutta, which includes Iranian and Armenian students who are studying at the Armenian school or serving in the Armenian Church.
The presence of Armenians and Iranians in a nation such as India may present its fair share of challenges, yet makes for a unique blend of cultures within their community.