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Vaishnavas In Russia

ISKCON Russia Press-center report (2000) from a research expedition to trace the history of Astrakhan (Southern Russia) Vaisnava community XVII-XIX centuries.

"Smaller India" in Russia: a historical review. More than two and a half centuries,from the 16th up till the 19th, there was a permanent settlement of the Indians in Astrakhan. Astrakhan: following the Indian church-in-town footsteps. "What a mixture of clothes and faces, And tribes, and languages, and states!" (A.S. Pushkin) There're piles of books written about Astrakhan, the most exotic southern city of Russia, being simultaneously its sturgeon, caviar, vegetable and fruit capital. They say, every step of its history is open to public. A story is also told about its legendary birth during Silk way's times. That time one of the threads of that way stretched along Volga from south to north, to the very Normans-Varangians, to Scandinavia... Beginning almost from the first millennium goods were delivered here from India and China. Alexander Duma, who once deliberately came to "look at the queen of the rivers named Volga" touched upon the history of the city and afterwards shared his impressions with the readers of his famous book about Russia. Feasts, of which even the fairy-tale teller of "Thousand and one night" never dreamt, were held on the occasion of the French writer's visit. In the 19th c., just after Astrakhan was attached to Russia, the city became Russian "voorpost" at Kaspy. The role of Astrakhan was especially remarkable as far as nature resources of the Volga's delta were concerned, the last few centuries the task was to take out oil and deliver it. It's interesting that no one but businesslike Astrakhan citizens, brothers Artemiev, were the first to begin pouring oil exactly to the hold of a ship instead of barrels. That happened at the end of the 19th c. That made them the creators of very popular nowadays "tankers"... Anyway there is one very important page in the history of Astrakhan, of which only scientists-orientalists are aware. There is neither a book about it, nor any museum exposition, as well as no thesis has been defended. Such a blank, according to A.S. Pushkin's words, probably appears as a result of our being lazy and non-inquisitive, until there appears "an urge". Presently, we especially need friendly support and cooperation from other countries, consequently, it is time we recalled a wonderful example of the past - the Indian church-in-town or "smaller India" in Astrakhan. That was a name of a permanent Indian settlement, that had been there more than two and a half centuries, from the 16th to the 19th. It was a capital of the "eastern Ganza", the later copy of a European one, but comparable with it as far as activity scales and territory were concerned. It was a peculiar trade-industrial corporation of Indian, Armenian, Greek, Persian, Bokharan and Hivan traders, patronized by Russian government. The church-in-town traders acted not only in Russia, but in India, Persia, Hiva, Bokhara. According to modern terminology, dozens of buildings of the permanent settling possessed every necessary infrastructure for trade and also provided comfortable living for the whole colony in accordance with time... The fact that Indian traders, being the best businessmen in Asia, managed to embrace such a trade territory and create a peculiar transport bridge "Southern Asia - West" seems unbelievable now. That way, which was far from being save, goods, meant for German countries, were carried through. That way they were also carried back to the east. A hard caravan trip from Dely towards Astrakhan took more than three months. The way lay across the rough Kaspian sea, where wretched boats were often turned over. That were exactly the Indians, who, being enterprising and experienced, skillfully implied their business and family relations all through the South and Middle Asia and held all Russian-Indian trade under control for centuries. Most of Persian trade along with Middle-Asian and partly Chinese were included here. A trader from Tula, Emelyan Solodovnikov, rather well wrote about the value of the church-in-town deeds in the 16-19th centuries in his review at the end of the 18th century. In that review, made to comply with the request of Russian government, regarding the creation of the similar project of Russian trade company in India he said:" It is impossible to cherish forlorn hope [A.A.1] on Russian traders to undertake something like that at least in half a century. A far away place, unawareness of foreign customs and ways business is done, the need of gross capital, will always hinder the process." And Indians overcame all those obstacles... To be honest, our Russian commercial and market experience was petty not only that time, when we attracted eastern brain to fill in the trade gaps, but even in the present day we cannot do it well, taking into account our resources, supertechnology, etc.


A glimpse at Indian church-in-town history in Astrakhan is the city's history itself. Even in the 7th century B.C. local Sarmat tribes, which were closely related to the Scythians, practiced goods exchange with their neighbours. The fact is supported by archeological finds at barrows nearby Astrakhan. It turned out that different harness, including horse cloth and Sarmat beauties' gold jewelry - all were made not only by local nomads, but by Greek colonies jewelry makers in Crimea as well, and also by Greek masters. The real trade was actually blooming during the period of the Great Silk Way. That time the first settling appeared, which was afterwards named Astrakhan. Since then the word "astrakhan" as a synonym of astrakhan fur entered major European languages. Astrakhan fur was brought from Hiva and Bokhara, where sheep skin was in a peculiar way processed and then sold as "astrakhan" to English, French, German and Italian traders. Besides, there is an ancient picture of such a caravan "On a way to Astrakhan" remaining: "a pile" of heavy loaded camels goes along the path, probably, carrying the above mentioned astrakhan fur as well as other things... It was so while the caravan ways towards Astrakhan were save. At the turn of the 15th-16th centuries, when the Golden Horde split in several pieces, the leader of one piece, named Astrakhan khanate, began looking for "a kind and strong patron", as soon as major treasury income of the territory existed due to trade. Out of two candidates, namely turkish sultan and russian tzar, he preferred Ivan the Terrible, who actually owned the Volga after conquering Kazan, with the exception of lower reaches... The khan decided to present Ivan the Terrible with Astrakhan, perhaps, being advised by Russian merchants and having got fur souvenirs enough. That happened not for his foreseeing "a great brother" centuries through. Just otherwise the khanate would not survive. Dashing road plunder was a real calamity. That threatened spoiling the large trade cities' reputation and there was a risk for trademen to completely ruin themselves. As we can acknowledge the regrettable case with Afanasy Nikitin in the 16th century. Two of his cargo ships full of rented goods were thoroughly robbed exactly in those parts nearby Astrakhan. A merchant was sure to get into a debt jail in his motherland. Though being courageous, he desperately cried out of grief... He tried to earn money to pay his debt, experiencing "The three sees trip", but as a merchant he never regained previous power. The first thing russian tzar Ivan the Terrible did to withdraw safety of local roads in 1558, after Astrakhan having been attached to Russia, was that he moved the city from the right unprotected shore to the left hand islands and fenced it in brick. It was a sell-timed transformation into an inaccessible fortress. And its role in all-frightening ottoman empire repel acknowledges that. History tells us that by that time the ottoman people managed to destroy the thousands-year old Byzantine empire, conquered the Balkans and even the mouth of the Don in the Azovsky region. The Turkish sultan dreamt of restoration of "chingiz realm" hoping to become its head. There were only former parts of the Golden Horde left to be attached, including the whole Volga basin and certainly Moscow. The infuriated sultan wanted to pick the fortress off and began digging a canal from the Don towards the Volga to sail to the fortress and deliver artillery and arm forces. But the task was too heavy even for hundreds of slaves: winter was coming and the sultan had to besiege the fortress with a sixty thousand army. One night the Turkish and their allies, the Crimeans, let through the moment when Russian boats brought reinforcement to the besieged Astrakhan's army. Having learned of that, sultan's soldiers - yanichars - rebelled as they realized there was no use in "Volga sitting"; meanwhile there appeared white flies in the air; and cold was especially frightening for the yanichars. That's why in a great scare sultan's people ran away from the town. Thus, with no shot made, Astrakhan more likely resembled Stalingrad of the 16th century, standing on the way of a turkish invasion. Certainly, safety was an important factor of Indian settlement appearance in Russia, but not the only one... Besides, there was a suitable historical situation. The Mongol became sudden "co-authors" of the future church-in-town. After conquering India they imposed typical eastern despotism, so that local inhabitants were subject to discrimination and converted into Moslem. All that was followed by disappearance of well-to-do men - merchants and business owners. Russia was exactly the place eagerly ready to accept those refugees. Russian tzars, beginning from Ivan the Terrible, decided to satisfy rich merchants with future perspective. The country needed trade adjustment with eastern countries, especially India. Russia needed much of what was obtainable for its more fortunate in a geographical sense neighbours from "warm lands". But at that time there were mediators, sea monopolists - Portuguese, Dutch, English -, who many times resold necessary for Russia things, getting enormous interests. Meanwhile they bought Russian goods just for nothing and delivered them to that eastern countries, also getting much out of it. The first Russian Indian culture expert, Gerasim Lebedev, gave evidence, concerning that, from Calcutta. Even in the 18th century a substantial part of English commerce contained Russian mast timber trade, as well as fur, honey and many other things. According to government's order Russian envoys were going to Indian and Asian lands in the 16th century to know about Indian patterned goods and the best ways to get there and what Indian and russian people are in need of. At the same time south-asian merchants all incognito made a flow towards Astrakhan. Klucharevsky (Astrakhan) annals report: "First newcomers - Armenians, Persians, Indians - arrived through Mozdok and steppes underneath Terek." And further on foreigners, running to Astrakhan, "were honored and cared of: duty they paid was direct, there was no way of injury towards them." Hearing that, twenty five Indians at once entered Astrakhan together with their goods in 1645. Those were rather rich people. They said, they would have spent a hundred thousand rubles, if they had a place and goods to sell. In 1648 tzar Alexey Mihailovich strictly prescribed Astrakhan voevodes "to protect the Indians from any oppression, to deliver them all advantages possible, unlike other asian nations, and ordered to gather them all in a house and declare special royal favour and patronage." That is the way how the church-in-town appeared. First being made of wood, it then was built of brick in order to avoid fire. It consisted of dozens of buildings. Except shops there were store-houses, important buildings for goods to be weighed and different economic and domestic houses: barns, sheds, food stores, pantries, canteens and saunas situated on its territory. There was also an Indian temple, situated in a separate wooden building, surrounded by a garden and flower beds. Engravings by Russian painters(1809), which were discovered in archives, witness it was the first in Russia temple of Vishnu (Krishna). There is a typical Indian ritual of worship called "pudja", which was imprinted there in detail. Pudja was led by a brahmana. There was a scent in one hand, a bell in another. He is assisted by karatal (bronze plates) beat, played by a not at all Indian co-religionist. Men in the street were observing things going with great interest, entrance to worship was open for everyone... As it is seen from the documents, church-in-town buildings were raised by the Indians and at their own expense. No wonder, because Indian colony merchants' turnover was always very considerable. So, the welfare of one merchant Sunanda Dermuliev,the 18th century, was three hundred thousand rubles. His schoolmate Sabra Mogandasov, who accepted Russian citizenship, had a hundred thousand rubles turnover in 1826. In the church-in-town he owed a brick inn with shops, which cost sixty thousand rubles. The merchant possessed ships in Baku, organized trade with eastern countries, had access to the Salyansky waters, to be brief, owed fish business... Alas, after one and a half centuries there is only one building left out of that "Indian town in town", which had by now undergone some modern changes. It resembles a caravan-shed, a typical eastern trade building with thick walls, evidently meant for defense, with windows, resembling gun-slots with remnants of nagged grating. Documents witness here was a so called exhibition of whole-sale trade, stores were situated separately. Stands rested in rooms twenty seven square meters each. In the middle there was an aisle, always crowded by different foreign clients. Now it is turned into a trivial dwelling house, and astrakhan's government is not to blame, anyway they preserved the relic. Besides, its inner space was re-planned in order to save two or three square meters. Lets compare: russian buildings in California have been preserved for several centuries. That flatters our Russian heart. It would be nice to preserve the church-in-town a bit more. Anyway, it is a common cultural memorial of both, India and Russia, reminding of the Indian "Nikitins". "Keep caress and kind greetings..." No wonder, a bloom of the permanent Indian settlement in Astrakhan came during Peter the Great's reign, who was a reformer, a marketer. At that time there increased a flow of migrants-colonists towards not only Astrakhan, but even to Surhans nearby Baku, where something like a church-in-town branch together with a church took place. The fact was that Peter the Great solved an urgent problem of the Indians, who were chased in their motherland, the problem being related to religious freedom. Tzar's orders ensured colonists' individual lives' inviolability, with no exception of other eastern traders. That happened seventy years earlier than a famous amendment number one, banning any religious life regulation by means of law or act, was put in the United States' Constitution... Peter the Great also introduced new advantages for Indian and other eastern traders activities. They were imposed a duty being only 10-13 per cent of the goods cost, whereas a duty was much more considerable and actually had a character of a ban as far as western traders were concerned. The traders were freed from any tax while taxes used to be a real calamity for Russian citizens. Finally, foreign traders favoured the development of Russian export, giving it a middle role in their business, considering that before it was in a role of an unmurmuring importer, imposed to purchase textile, scent, medicine, etc. for a monopolistic price. According to 18th century documents acknowledgements, before the church-in-town existence Russia had to overpay the English Ost-Indian company for goods from India. Ost-Indian company's representatives in Archangelsk were getting a five hundred per cent interest out of that. Though from now and then Russia started getting profit out of a newly created transport corridor, connecting Europe with Asia. Many foreign countries, England being not an exception, delivered western goods on not less than 775 thousand rubles from Archangelsk to Persia, using that way along the Caspian sea and the Volga in the first part of the eighteenth century. They paid almost sixty thousand rubles duty to Russian government. Thus began the Russian transport service export, called transit, which was afterwards successfully implied in trade with China. Foreign merchants were not for nothing invited to participate in Archangelsk-China, Archangelsk-Moscow caravans. Even Daniel Defoe, an English writer, the first to write a biography of Peter the Great, and who devoted a considerable part of his second book about Robinson Crusoe "Further adventure of Robinson Crusoe" to one of such Russian caravans, noticed that. According to Daniel Defoe, his character managed to travel from Peking to Archangelsk, following exactly an Astrakhan's trader's advice. The fact was that his trader was Armenian, whereas it is seen from Robinson Crusoe's prototype Lorenz Lange's notes that a trader was a true-to-life Indian. The best evidence of Peter's transit effectiveness has been being in a fact that this idea and experience exist and are of a use up till now. A transport corridor "North-South" project began to be realized in the year 2000. This project is an exact copy of the 18th century route. The initiators actually are just the same as then - Russia, India and Iran. Not long before our arrival to Astrakhan, the place was visited by a present Indian ambassador to Russia, Mr. Lamba, accompanied by a large group of businessmen from his country. Captiously, they observed the new international port at the Caspian sea and its capacities for regular scheduled voyages and for the project to be developed. It began with a container-carrier going along the Caspian sea together with two baker's dozens on a board, namely S.T.13-13. Surely, transit return is conducted on a new transport basis. Today, this project is supported not only by sea and river transport, but railway, auto and avia transport and television communications as well, instead of ancient times sailors, camel and horse caravans. This way, especially if compared with a traditional sea route across the Suez Channel and the Baltic, twice reduces the time goods go from India to Scandinavia and, consequently, reduces their price. Today this line of container carriers Mumbai (Bombay) - Astrakhan is already registered in international transport organizations as an official one, and the corridor itself is of an interest not only to Caspian, but also to other countries. In the Russian Transport Ministry this project is called one of the most preferable. Reconstruction of only one port Ole, situated nearby Astrakhan, requires four hundred million dollars. "The project has got a great future,- said a governor's administration official, an economist Vadim Sisov,- "for instance, there are countries, as, for example, the Netherlands, getting nearly forty per cent of all currency out of transit, getting a possibility to pay state's inner needs..."


The church-in-town search allowed us to find out one more valuable experience of the past, which can be as well used nowadays. Indians and other eastern merchants, who followed their example, invested the capital, brought from their motherlands and earned in Russia, not only in trade development, but in manufacture. They considered it be more profitable to produce many things, especially cloth, right on the spot, in Astrakhan, instead of carrying them through such a distance. For that many skillful men from India and other eastern countries were invited for manufacture organization. They taught local people how to cultivate cotton and plant mulberry trees, using them in a production of silk worm cocoons to get threads and then yarn. All in all, as stated in one informational source, there were more than 175 manufactures created at that time in Astrakhan; separate workshops, having several machine-tools, also real silk plants with hundreds of lathes. They were soon experiencing the lack of yarn, so that they brought it from Persia, Hiva and Bokhara. Thereby raw material together with its "guides" streamed to Moscow. Soon afterwards local cloth got more success in competition with imported eastern one. Local cloth was taken even to its "motherland"... Manufacture gave Astrakhan people jobs, allowing new occupations assimilation. Besides, one of the exhibits of the Ulyanov family museum in Astrakhan, that is a banner with a tailor's table and a cask with paint being depicted, and with the following inscription "Tailor and dyer department office", give evidence of that. In the beginning of the 19th century Lenin's grandfather, Nikolay Vasilyevich Ulyanov, worked as a tailor and dyer there, at that office. In 1871 he came there from the Andrusovo village, where he was a serf under cornet Michail Brehov's authority. Gossip of grand facilities in getting occupation, earning money and becoming a petty bourgeois attracted Nikolay Ulyanov. Eventually all that came true, and money he was getting was rather essential. That allowed him not only to support a family, but also to educate his son Ilya in local gymnasia, and send him then to the Kazan University. And the last fact mentioned was possible due to the help of his brother, a salt supervisor. Thus, the church-in-town can be related to a number of Astrakhan people, including ancestors of a future "world labor chief"... Additionally, ambassadors were often given the task to bring seeds and grape vine from India to Russia. And in Peter's times Indians taught the Astrakhans to cultivate fruit gardens, fruit delivered to the tzar's court being fresh, despite a month's way along the Volga; fruit were folded up in cotton...


Documents name lots of names of Indian "nikitins", who interacted with Russian administration and even with Peter the Great. Despite difficulties, connected with deciphering of surnames, which were distorted by Russian stenographers, today we can name some of them. This is a merchants' colony elder and a head of the Indian company in Russia in the beginning of the 18th century Ambu Rama (in other scripts written as Ambarama) and his companions - Nat (Nath) and Suhand (Sukhanand). The document tells: "Not only language, but Russian writing are they aware of." They were the members of an Indian deputation to the tzar Peter, when he visited Astrakhan in July, 1722. They talked and the tzar gave the Astrakhan governor a strict order: "To keep caress and warm greeting... and take care of them so, that they had injury from nowhere." This was redubbed by an instruction of the Senate and rather soon those words were stated by a retail ban rejection for Indians and other eastern traders in Astrakhan. In October, 1722 Ambu-Rama got a personal decree from Peter the Great, giving the Indian company rights to solve property and heritage problems in Astrakhan. That decree became legislatively common, when property arguments were arising. It was also implied all along the following Indian trade company history and was included in "The code of laws of Russian empire". Indian colonists, as well as other representatives of eastern business groups in Astrakhan, had their own representatives in the town council and in the customs. Debatable problems were solved in Russian higher establishments. For example, one script tells of a conflict between a ship-owner, merchant Amardasov (Sanskrit meaning is "servant of the immortal") and an all-powered Astrakhan governor. The merchant probably complained to the governmental Senate directly. There they, having examined all things, ended up the conflict in favor of an Indian. A peculiar document, an Amardasov's hundred rubles' settlement meant for an orphans' house in Moscow, tells an interesting story. Long before the trial in the Senate this pious merchant promised to make a donation for innocent orphans, in case his business was a success. And he pronounced those words not in vain... The head of the Indian company Ambu-Rama addressed the tzar with a petition, after speaking ti him in 1723. In the petition he asked the permission for Indians to carry goods to German lands and China. Perhaps, this lay down the beginning of the transport bridge "Asia-Europe".


This question was as well discussed by Peter and the Indians, whom he asked an advice from, concerning the exploration of the ways to India and methods of doing this. The first idea was to approach an Indian border line with the help of power, as it was common at that cruel age. Namely Astrakhan was being prepared as a starting point for Persian campaign, a six thousand expedition, under the leadership of Alexander Bekovich-Cherkassky, which had to approach India, conquering gold placer lands nearby Amudarya on their way. Peter the Great was then mistakenly considering that Amudarya flows into the Caspian sea. Nevertheless the campaign failed, they lost three thousand people at Hiva, the majority of Russian soldiers and officers were taken prisoners and sold as serfs or slaves at eastern markets... Probably Peter the Great made some conclusion out of that failure, like after the Baltic Narva defeat... Anyway, when a Dutch with an Indian trade organization project insisted on seeing Peter the Great with an idea of some "military deeds", the tzar, who saw Ambu-Rama just before that, refused to speak to him, exactly for the military item of his suggestions, considering it improper. Imposing force on China also seemed improper to him. There are letters of Lorenz Lange to Peter found in annals, in which he induced the tzar not to get involved into armed conflicts with Chinese empire, otherwise the last "will pose two hundred thousand soldiers at once, then some more, and then more". Instead he suggested the loving ways of problems solutions, "otherwise no way out was to be found". Seemingly, Peter the Great agreed to Lange, as he ordered to send a few vehicles full of presents to the Chinese emperor. Those flexibility and peacefulmindedness were pointed by Friedrich Engels in his articles after the defeat of Russia in the crimean war in 1853-56. From Engels's point of view, peaceful penetration to China was a compensation of Russian failures under Sevastopol... I wish that lesson influenced Russian leaders, who got mixed up in Afghanistan affairs in 1970-80... Anyway, Peter's successors have always kept to his way as far as outer politics was concerned. Ekaterine the Second declared herself a gradual follower of Peter the Great's business. She desired seeing Russia a mediator in Indian and Chinese trade with european countries. "To put a trade way from China and Ost-India through Turkestan would mean to elevate the empire, its power becoming greater than that of asian and european ones", told she in her notes.


Before the church-in-town existence an image of Indians was somewhat shadowy, legend-like; they were known as some "rahmans", kind and bright, but no exactly earthly. Mostly people judged by the only translated worldly novel "Alexandria", written long before the Mongol invasion about the Alexander Makedonsky campaign towards India. Being that worldly, it appeared to be a source of fragmental plots, engraved on churches' walls. There are such pictures in one astrakhan cathedral of the 18th century. Actual presence of Indians in Russia disappointed neither the Astrakhans, nor any northern travellers, most of them coming from abroad. They studied lives of Indians not only in India itself, where they were taken for spies, but in Astrakhan, where no one interfered in the process. Visitors created an attractive collective portrait of Indian colonists in Russia as friendly, very hardworking, enterprising, modest and human people. An Englishman John Bell in 1715 wrote: "they are rather generous, simple and philanthropic and eat almost only fruit." Polish historian Jan Potozky, who served in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs during Alexander the First reign, who was also in Astrakhan in 1797, reported: "They have repentant brahmins, Ganges water - in other words, everything belonging to their religion. I saw them praying for Vishnu in the evening. Their celestial service is supplied by outer magnificence, as much as place and circumstance allow that... They often buy birds and let them free, feed dogs running in the streets, and generally express great affection towards animals..." An academician Pallas adds in his articles: "They dressed in silk, linen, wool cloth, preferably dark-green or dark-red colors... sleeves of their clothes reached calves, streaming freely along the figure and being fastened on the breast with a buckle... The above cloth was colored, eight feet long and four feet wide... It was a kind of a non-sleeve coat, which an Indian wrapped in, and a head was tired with a colored scarf, so that its upper part was open. Some of them, mostly for celebrations, made a doubled bright-yellow stripe on a forehead, near a nose bridge... Sometimes this stripe was covered with golden leaf: others had three colored stripes - white, yellow and red". Speaking of food, they were "pure vegetarians", they preferred "flour dishes: cookies made of flour, sour bread, rice, cereals, vegetables, roots, butter, milk and spices. They especially liked cardamom, sweets, which were in honey... They daily ate pilaff, that is hard boiled rice, spiced with caraway grass and saffron roots and with another plant's leaves. All alcohol beverages were carefully avoided." During numerous holidays the Indians arranged feasts in their temple, preparing various eastern cuisines and lots of fruit. Those feasts could be visited by everyone, being treated as a dear guest. A Russian scientist I.G. Georgy (1777) once mentioned business qualities of the Indians in his book: "They possess all qualities of good usurers, considerable savings, they are cautious, not talkative, they take interest just as much as it is stated by law, though beforehand, they do not chase those who owe them and complain only when there is a necessity to. They are not at all scornful towards misfortuned, but often rather helpful. They help without speaking it out, because they believe that good would have more value if not spoken out." Immigrants' children and grandchildren, born from Tatar and Nogai women, followed their footsteps. In Russian documents they were called "Indian race" - "agrizhans" (which in Turkish supposingly means "a child"). That were already generations of local astrakhan Indians. One of the researchers stated they were "not other than those who had come there, only skin being a bit lighter". According to documents, the agrizhans' status in Astrakhan was as high as the Indians'. They partly lived in the church-in-town, but with the time going there appeared an agrizhans' settlement, a district of a town, the inhabitants of which had the same rights as the Indians. Many of them were also traders or salesmen hired by the Indians to work in their shops. Partly, out of their free will they took out Russian citizenship. Now documents are being studied and Indian descendants will probably be found by their surnames). After the Indians had left to their motherland, the agrizhans merged into the mass of Astrakhan's population. However, local women with a bit dark complexion are famous for their beauty, refinement, gracefulness and a special ability to live happily in a family. Even now they are sometimes called "the agrizhans". Evidently they mean those drops of Indian blood, being present in beautiful Astrakhan women. The Indians highly valued their rights' respect and security providence in Russia in comparison with India itself. They considered Russia their second motherland. They also took country's troubles close to heart. Thus, during the war (1812) against Napoleon the community donated thirty thousand, as it is said in a document, "for arms and army".


The analyses of the materials about the church-in-town, that real "smaller India", which was a part of "Big India", along with materials about the Silk Way, makes us conclude that a famous R. Kipling's "formula": "those two (East and West) will never become friends", is but a publicist metaphor, uncomprehended by a reader. Every time there appears true respect in relations between East and West, this ephemeral gap in interrelations disappears. This is visually evidenced by Astrakhan being famed for the atmosphere, which unites different races, of which its population consists of. The history of the town has never known any national or interconfessional conflict, except Stepan Rasin's plunders, having happened in the seventeen's century. The man robbed everyone, disregards of a nation, and the Indians were not an exception. However, as far they were loved and respected in the town, the Tatars hid them in their settling. By the way, there is an astrakhan's version of the events in a folklore song, which tells a story of a Persian woman "having been thrown into a flowing wave". That was a daughter of a merchant from the persian settling... Glories of an unusual friendly union of representatives of various nations in the Russian town spread throughout the world. On a border of 18-19th centuries the main curator of scripts in the National Library in Paris L.Langa wrote about Astrakhan in his notes to his translation of "Trips from Bengal to Petersburg", written by John Forster: "What an example for inhabitants of our beautiful cities of Europe, what an example for legislators, meaning that peaceful union of the most prominent sects in Astrakhan." Present Astrakhan continues its international tradition in everything. For example, despite being closely positioned to the Northern Caucasus, it was not touched by local national conflicts... from times immemorial here coexist Orthodox churches, the Catholic Cathedral, a Mosque and a Chapel to pray for Krishna (a so-called Nama-Hatta). Believers communicate with each other, visit each other's temples. Today one can as well meet those who come from southern Asia. But they are, of course, newly comers of the Soviet times. There are thirty five of them, residing there permanently, once having come there to get educated in local higher educational establishments and then stayed there. Generally they graduated from the Technical University and the Medical Institute. A number of them started business in Astrakhan and is highly respected in the town. The most well-known of them is a graduate of the Technical University, who ended up with the post-graduate course in Oil Academy in Moscow. He is Indian and his name is Malik Tushar Kanti. He began selling electronics and gave the name of his Russian wife Katrin to his shop. He says: "Probably, together with those, who were members of the Indian trade colony in Peter the Great's times, I truly felt what Russian cordiality is, which has been here since the church-in-town existence; I felt unique benevolence of the Astrakhans towards the Indians, heir appreciation of everything Indian - music, songs, movies. For instance, on a solemn opening day of my shop of electronic technique a mayor of the town was present himself. In spite of present crisis times in Russia, we, the representatives of Southern Asia, can easily cope here with all difficulties, connected with business, and not only with it... Besides, people usually forget mentioning one thing that has evidently been meaningful since the church-in-town times. It is nature, climate, scenery, which resemble India. Here we feel completely at home."


Indian church-in-town experience as a fact of Russian-Indian cooperation teaches even by its decline. It is considered that it was a consequence of world tendencies: one was that "caravan" transport retreated after having faced more perfect facilities, the other was English invasion of India. Newly come hosts were suspicious regards the Indians having trade affairs with Russia, as far as the Indians had become British citizens. First, the sale of special, strategic, so to speak, goods vs forbidden, and then other obstacles were being created. A church-in-town expert, an Astrakhan researcher Natalya Shevchenko, assures that was really so. Though there existed other reasons to be considered: administrative westernization of Russia, complete reorientation of consumption priorities in Russian society, made by Peter the Great's successors. Thereby it was fully neglected that a Russian is not only western, but eastern as well, that convenient Indian clothes and also food are close to Russian heart. According to the enforced etiquette of the nobility, people were obliged to wear peignoirs, jack-boots, suits of English cloth not only at royal court, but at high official's court as well. In the army it was mostly a German uniform. There was a considerable decline in demand for everything "Eastern", and rise as far as "Western" was concerned. What an analogy with the to-day consumers cataclysms in an American way! Further on, things developed according to the following scheme. Indian merchants and artisans, getting no interest but losses, started closing their shops and enterprises and leaving our country. There was no Indian left in the church-in-town to the middle of the 19th century. The buildings found no host and were considered owner-less and escheated. Nevertheless, the church-in-town left a considerable mark, especially, in Russian economy. Russian merchants learned much from the Indians, took up their connections and in many things continued their business. In the 19th century many people tried to forward a church-in-town's success through a number of new projects, discussed in Russian government, but none of them was put into existence. For example, it was supposed to construct a Volga-Indian railway along the familiar route, but considering the instability of the region, which was under British power, Russian government did not dare realizing the project. It is still not quiet in Southern Asia, though we hope in the 21st century a dream about a railway express "Delhi-Moscow" will one day come true.


The very fact of Indian settlement's existence in Russia and issues about it awoke deep interest to oriental philosophy, beliefs, to sanskrit and hindi. Colonists, together with Russian scientists, were pioneers of Russian oriental studies. In the early years of the 18th century an academician Danyil Gottlieb Messerschmidt, after having got acquainted with Deli's merchants in Siberia, whose activity spread all over the country from Lower Novgorod to Irkutsk, wrote a guide for hindi and sanskrit. In cooperation with them in Siberia he made a sanskrit dictionary in Latin, which was included in his ten-volume work, and which is unfortunately still not published. At that times Indian philosophers would come to preach in Russia. One of them, Nam Joga Alan resided in St.Petersburg from 1816 till 1818 and rendered great help to the director of the State Public library and the Academy of arts, Olenin, I his oriental research. Nam Joga Alan presented Olenin with a unique handwriting of "Bhagavad Gita". Today other Indian scripts are found. Those are the scripts, written by austere monks, who went on with the traditions of national Indian literature in their second motherland. On a same wave, in 1817, N. Karamsin found "The Three Seas Trip" by Afanasy Nikitin in annals. And that caused great public interest. Even at the reign of Ekaterina the second the translation of "Bhagavad Gita" (a song of God), made by A.A. Petrov in 1885, was published by a Russian entrepreneur N.I. Novikov. It was under the following name: "Baguat-Geta or talks of Krishna with Arjun". As a "chain reaction" oriental departments in Universities started appearing. That happened not only in St. Petersburg, Moscow or Charkov, but in Kazan as well, where L.N.Tolstoy approached knowledge about India. Presently, a Ph.D, a historian, Natalya Guseva, studying Russian writer's P.I. Melnikov-Pechersky's works, in which "hlisti"- representatives of a sect of Christ, situated on the Volga, are described, so she discovered that a part of their songs was somewhat Indian. And that they glorify God Vishnu... In a previous century materials about the church-in-town were carefully stocked by the Petrovsky society, created at that time in Russia. The tradition goes on today as well. The Indians themselves participate in it. A famous Indian writer, interpreter and businessman Anil Janvijai, who graduated from the Literary Institute in Moscow, together with us, visited Astrakhan. He brought gifts to a local museum in forms of copper images of Ganesha and Lakshmi, Indian deities, bestowing flourishing, wealth and luck. Some time ago they were worshiped by Astrakhan merchants-colonists as well, who made a considerable contribution to relations of Russia and India. A complete history of the church-in-town recreation is rather meaningful nowadays, when mutual Indian-Russian relations acquired a character of a strategic partnership, after India having been visited by V.V. Putin, as it is stated in verified documents. Church-in-town materials are rather an evidence of really limitless facilities for our nations' cooperation, regardless of time. Jan Kazer Appendix: There is a photo piece of reporting of up-to-day Astrakhan. Texts, accompanying pictures, profoundly add to the material (there are approximately 20 pictures, including historical ones).

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