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Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, is an importance city in India, and once had an Armenian community. It still has an Armenian church and a few sites named by Armenians.

Mumbai: 223-yr-old church for Armenians has opened doors to Indian Orthodox Church

By Express News Service |Mumbai | Published: May 2, 2019 1:23:55 am

Originally built for the Armenians who arrived in Mumbai over 200 years ago, this one-of-its-kind shrine has opened its doors to the Indian Orthodox Church, also known as Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, to conduct its Sunday service.

A 223-YEAR-OLD Armenian Church, known as the St Peter’s Church, stands amid the busy Kala Ghoda area in South Mumbai. Advertising

Originally built for the Armenians who arrived in Mumbai over 200 years ago, this one-of-its-kind shrine has opened its doors to the Indian Orthodox Church, also known as Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, to conduct its Sunday service.

Armenian cloth traders from Surat and the Malabar, the West Coast of India, formed a colony in the city over 200 years ago. Those who came later were from Julfa, a suburb at Isfahan in Iran, Istanbul and Beirut as they feared persecution in their homeland.

As traders and craftspeople, they were engaged in the business of jewellery, seals and spices, and also diamonds. In 1796, Jacob Peter, a wealthy Armenian merchant and a native of Hamandan in Persia, built this church.

Today, the number of Armenians in Mumbai has diminished to only one woman, 71-year-old Zabel Joshi, who divides her time between Mumbai and Canada, at her elder daughter’s, or Beirut at her sister’s.

Zabel came to Mumbai in 1972 after marrying a Gujarati trader, Kishore Joshi. “The Armenians here blended well with local residents and were happy,” she recalls. When Zabel found out about the church, she too went there. “There were only 15 people. So, we got together and met every Sunday. Now, most people have died and others have migrated abroad,” she says.

Member of the Indian Orthodox Church, Thomas Varughese, has been taking care of the church for the past 10 years. “It gives me immense pleasure as well as pride in looking after the church and I have been doing so voluntarily. Though it doesn’t belong to us, this church inspires me spiritually,” he says. Nearly six years ago, the structure was renovated.

“The Armenian Church and the Indian Orthodox Church are sister churches. We conduct many social activities such as schools for slum children, where we provide free education,” says Father Abraham Joseph. Though it is open only on Sundays, Christians who speak Malayalam gather every Sunday with a lot of enthusiasm to attend mass.


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Three Armenians in a City

THREE ARMENIANS IN A CITY Joanna Lobo, Saturday, December 13, 2008 03:06 IST

They have made Mumbai their home, but these three feisty Armenian women still have a strong connection with their roots.

A Biblical legend goes that Noah's Ark came to rest on the mountains called Ararat. The country Armenia lies in the highlands surrounding these mountains. The origins and the culture of the Armenians suggest a strong link to the Catholic faith.

Armenians started migrating to India not just from the land of their origin but also from the Middle East during the 16th and 17th centuries. Today, most Indian Armenians are settled in Kolkatta. Mumbai is home to a few of them, three to be precise.

One of the older residents in the city is the feisty and quick-witted Fort resident, 93-year-old Rosie Eknayan. India has been her home from the time she was two. Born into a family of five brothers and six sisters, Rosie was married to Artias Eknayan when she was in primary school. "Ours was an arranged marriage but it lasted for 45 years," she says. Today, this mother of two lives alone, with the help of what she calls her 'Rolls Royce': her wheelchair. Another important gadget in her life is her television set that keeps her updated on the latest news around the city and the world.

The Armenians are a generous people, says Eknayan, and they do not hesitate to donate generously for any cause, particularly a religious one. However, religion has no place in her life. "Ever since my son died, I no longer go to church and pray," she says.

Another nonagenarian Armenian resident in the city is Nuvart Mehta.

Originally from Istanbul, she came to Mumbai on work. "I was working at the American Consulate and they transferred me here," she recalls.

"I came here, met a Parsi man, married him and have not looked back since." Her love story is unique. A friend had called her over for drinks. However, being very shy around women, he called another friend for moral support. This was Nari, the man she fell in love with and married.

A resident of Colaba, Mehta lives alone but her goddaughter and neighbour takes care of her. Age does not deter Mehta from enjoying life. She gets her driver to take her around the city every day. She even travels to Armenia and recently went to the US for her godchild's graduation. "I am a member of the Willington Club and go over everyday to read the day's papers." She tells you that the number of Armenians in the city has dwindled because many have migrated to Australia where they have many active churches.

The third Armenian in the city is Ezabella Joshi who lives in Juhu. A resident of Mumbai since 1973, Ezabella came into the city after she married Kishore Joshi. A trustee of the St. Peter's Armenian Church, she regularly travels all over the world. Her daughter, actress Tulip Joshi, has been baptised an Armenian. Says Tulip: "The Archbishop of Australia came down specially to baptise me. It was also the first time I was in news because it was a big event." Tulip has visited Armenia many times and loves it because it is "rugged, full of mountains; a very quiet and a beautiful place." Although baptised, she does not follow any particular religion.

Mumbai holds a very special place in the hearts of all three. "This is a very international city and I love the fact that I have so many friends of so many nationalities," says Mehta. The city has changed a lot over the years, and now suffers a sense of insecurity, she adds. Eknayan recalls the time when one could walk down the streets of Mumbai at any time of the day.

"The city has become so dirty now. Earlier, every morning, the sweepers would come and clean the roads before people began their day."

For Rosie Eknayan, Nuvart Mehta and Ezabella Joshi, Mumbai has always been home. As Rosie puts it: "Yeh Mumbai humari hai".

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The Caravan from Yerevan

Excerpt from:
Khaleej Times, United Arab Emirates
Sept 9 2005


9 September 2005

My first brush with Armenian culture started innocuously enough in downtown Mumbai. Trying to locate a sharebroker firm, I stumbled upon a little gem of a building, nestling in the shadow of the stock exchange tower - the Armenian Church.

There was something heartwarming about how Mumbai's Armenians (a grand total of four, including two octagenarians) had defied logistics and economics to maintain their beautiful church, with its gilded dome, polished hardwood pews and crystal chandeliers. Faith shone bright here, as also some sentimentalism. The adjacent ghastly grey apartment block, also owned by the church, was called Ararat - after the mountain where Noah's ark was believed to have landed. Another sweet touch was the grapevine trailing over the backyard, transplanted from Armenia and struggling to establish its identity in Mumbai's less-than-salubrious Fort precinct.

Thankfully the Armenian community in India has had a happier fate than that vine. They are believed to have landed sometime in the 17th century in the then-capital, Calcutta. Armenian contributions to the city's culture and cuisine include a ferocious rugby team, many fine buildings and the delicious dolma, a dish which Bengalis believe is as much of their soil as rossogolla and Satyajit Ray, little knowing its roots stretch all the way back to the Caucasus mountains.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Armenian Church's dwindling members cause concern
Malankara community steps in to revive Fort's St Peter's Church

Situated in the bylanes of Fort, within a stone's thrown of the Bombay Stock Exchange, stands St Peter's Church, the temple of prayer for the Malankara community. Unfortunately, however, the religious community is threatened by extinction in Mumbai as it's presently left with only three members who use this church. To maintain the divinity, its present members are on the lookout for the right people to undertake the spiritual responsibility to take over as its future torchbearers. Sunny Perirayam, a Malankara orthodox Christian and former president of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) is one of the few who took it upon himself to rejuvenate the Armenian Church.For the uninitiated, the Armenian Church is an independent Christian church, also known as the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church. Its head is the Catholicos who resides at Holy Etchmiadzin, near Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. St. Peter's Armenian Apostolic Church in Fort is the only church of this community in Mumbai. Says Sunny Perirayam, "This church is a very old church built in 1892. The structure was loose and in need of immediate attention. It was Zabel Joshi's daughter, an architect, who renovated the church. It's a small church, but indeed an immaculate one. There are people who believe that this church is leased out to us. Please note that, this church is just given to us to conduct holy services rather let it face extinction. They are Armenian orthodox, while we are the Malankara Orthodox people. So it's by an understanding that we are servicing the church."

Incidentally, relations between India and Armenia date back to over 2,500 years, with evidence of an Indian community in Armenia during the fifth century BC. Armenian theologist Yeghishe (fifth century) refers to the "Hindu language" as musical. Although some experts claim the existence of this community on the Malabar Coast in the seventh century, the first recorded visit is that of Armenian trader Thomas Cana who reached the Malabar Coast in 780 AD. Cut to the present. Nuvart Mehta, one of the three members of this community, attributes the cause of extinction of the community to migration of its young members."When I came here in 1952, we had 30 members. But finally figures started dropping as some young members left for Canada, Australia and the US. Earlier this church was in bad shape and had to be rebuilt. Now this has been properly taken care of by the Malankara Christians. Every Sunday, they have regular services in our church. Now I don't know what will happen to it after us."

T.P. Mathew, a senior member of the Malankara Orthodox Christian community, said, "This church is a very old heritage structure and a very divine place to conduct a mass and attracts people because of its serenity. Surely, the atmosphere of this church will bring the essence of Armenia. It is great work by Sunny and certain people to bring liveliness back into the church. Many churches in Mumbai are facing extinction and someone has to come forward to save such structures of beauty

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A bar named Opium Den

Last updated on: October 17, 2011 12:10 IST

Julia Lovell, author of The Opium War, explains China, past and present, to Vaihayasi P Daniel.

When Dr Julia Lovell, the British historian and author of The Opium War, checked into her hotel in south Mumbai on her first trip to India, she was startled to discover it had a bar named Opium Den.


The Bombay-based David Sassoon family -- after whom is named Mumbai's Sassoon Dock, the David Sassoon Library, all visible from the Trident -- profited richly from the opium trade, as did other Armenian, Parsi and Jewish Indian merchants.