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PUNJABI COLONY IN ASTRAKHAN (RUSSIA)

PUNJABI COLONY IN ASTRAKHAN (RUSSIA)

by Dr. W.R.Rishi


At the beginning of the nineteenth century there existed an Indian colony in the Astrakhan region inhabited by traders and merchants from India, particularly from the Punjab. This is borne out by more than 600 manuscripts in about thirty languages of India and South Asia, now the] precious possessions of the Asian  Museum at Tashkent, Uzbekistan.





 Majority of them are manuscripts of Sanskrit and Pali  literature. This collection includes manuscripts of books dealing with varied subjects - there are hand written copies of books on Hindi and Punjabi poetry, copies of Bhagwat Gita and Shri Guru Granth Sahib and copies of books in Hindi and Punjabi languages by Indian authors on Cosmography, Astronomy, Astrology and even on sex. There are copies of Bhagwat Gita and Gita Mahatmya which belonged to a Brahman from Lahore who died in Petersburg.
That is addition to their occupation as traders and merchants, the Punjabis also indulged in money lending business in Astrakhan and Bukhara regions during those times is clear from 14 account books (Bahi-khata) including two empty ones in Landa language (the shorthand language used by the munims (accounts clerks) of the Punjabi businessmen even now. Unfortunately, the Soviet scholars have found it difficult to decipher the contents of these account books. lt has however been found that these accounts books and other papers were a part of the property of an Indian trader who died in Central Asia. These were sent to the Asian Museum for custody fixed
for claiming back the property by his successors, these became the property of the Asian Museum. Some other documents belonged to one Kirpal Dass living somewhere in Central Asia in the late seventies and eighties of the nineteenth century. These contain a list of his debtors in the Russian language. There is yet another note in the Punjabi language in Gurmukhi script made in pencil on inside page of the front cover of a copy of Shri Guru Granth Sahib as under:

“byaj samet liti rubli” (received Roubles with interest)
This shows that the person doing money-lending business was a trader from the Punjab. Besides, there are some documents written in the Gurmukhi script Arabic (in Persian and uzbek scripts and in Hebrew (in Tajik script) There are also a number of note books, envelopes with addresses written in Russian script addressed to persons in Samarkand in Central Asia and Shikarpur in the present Pakistan. Majority of the manuscripts belong to the second half of the XIX century and were copied at places somewhere in Central Asia. ln some of the manuscripts the name of the place where they were copied has been as Astrakhan, Bukhara and Tashkent. Most of the manuscripts have been copied on Russian paper, a further proof of the existence of an Indian colony in, the Astrakhan and Bukhara regions. lt will be interesting to study these manuscripts in detail and this will certainly reveal connections existing , between the peoples of India and Russia in olden times. Some of the important manuscripts found are as follows:

I. POETRY (a) Punjabi (Gurumukhi script)
1) Puran Bhagat. Author Kadir Yar. Copied at Bhukhara.
2) Kissa Kamroop Kamlita. Author Ahmad Yar.
3) Heer Ranjha
4) Gopichand – fragments
5) Shri Nasketu Ki Katha
6) Gita Sar
7) Adbhut Granth
8) Saruktavali All copied in Central Asia in the second half of XIX century.
9) Katha Mahabharat ki. Copied at Tashkent.
10) Asvamedh. Copied in CentralAsia.
11) Hanuman Natek. Copied at Bukhara.
12) Vichar Mala. Author Ananth Puri also known as Ananth Das. Copied in Central Asia in the second half of XIX century A.D.
13) Singh Gau Katha. Author Devi Das. Copied at Bukhara in 1871 .
(b) Hindi (devnagri)
1) Rukmani Mangal - a lyrical poem in Braj Bhasha Author Vishnu Dass, who lived in Gwalior in the 15th century A.D.
2) Madhumalti - a lyrical Braj Bhasha describing the love of Malti, daughter of King Chandrasain and Madhu (Manohar), son of his minister, Author Chaturbhuj Dass. Copied in the middle - XVlll century by one Parmanand, a Kashmiri Bhatt.
 3) Dhyan Manjri - poem in Braj Bhasha wrltten in praise of God Rama by Agra Das, a pupil of Krishna Dass Parahri belonging to Ramanand sect. Copied at Astrakhan

II. RELIGIOUS BOOKS OF SIKHS
1) Shri Guru Granth Sahib. One complete copy and a few other copies containing excerpts. One copied Bukhara and another in Central Asia in the half of XIX century A.D.
2) Japuji Sahib. Copied at Samarkand and yet another copy made in Central Asia.
3) Sukhmani,
3a) Anand.
4) Ratanmala. Copied in Central Asia in the second half of XIX century A.D.
 5) Janam sakhi Bebe Nanakji ki.
6) Gurbilas. Contains a painting  of Guru Gobind Singh prepares for the hunt".
MISCELLANEOUS
1)      Chanakya Sastra. Copied in Central Asia in the second half of XIX century.
2) Kokshastar Copied in Central Asia in the second half of XIX century A.D. in
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