India-Russia relations are rooted in history, mutual trust and mutually beneficial cooperation. This is a strategic partnership that has withstood the test of time, and which enjoys the support of the people of both countries
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Russian President Vladimir Putin (file photo)
India’s relation with Russia is so special. The areas of collaboration and cooperation range from deep-sea exploration to building knowledge-based economies that are driven by science and technology, innovation, robotics and artificial intelligence, infrastructure development, skill development, agriculture, shipbuilding, railways, aviation and greater connectivity. But the most soothing is the people-to-people contacts and our similar cultural sphere. The popular Indian sense of Russia was visible when Prime Minister Modi remarked during his Brazil visit for BRICS summit, “In India, every schoolchild knows that Russia is our country’s greatest friend and has always stood with us during the toughest moments.”
Such close relations between the two nations are deep-rooted in history, culture, mutual trust and mutually beneficial cooperation. This is a strategic partnership that has withstood the test of time and enjoys the support of people of both countries. India and Russia have strong cultural ties. Gujarati traders settling in Astrakhan and the establishment of the Russian theatre in Kolkata have all brought people of our countries closer.
Historical linkages have contributed even more to create goodwill between the two nations. Russians are quite fond of Indian films. Yoga is getting great fame among Russians, especially in urban areas. Russian Institutions, including leading universities and schools, regularly teach Hindi to Russian students. Apart from Hindi, languages such as Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu, Sanskrit and Pali are taught in Russian Institutions. Indian great epic Mahabharata has been translated into Russian.
The Indian-Russian linkages are much older than the visit of Russian merchant Afanasy Nikitin to India. Afanasy Nikitin revealed India to the West much before Vasco-da-Gama did. Not many people are aware that Russia was known as Rishi Varsha- the ancient land of Rishi. In connection with that, the greatness of rishi tradition in India is no secret. Russia was also famous as Sthree Varsha- a country ruled by women. Similarly, mother India is a land where shlokas like “Yatra Naryastu Pujyante Ramante Tatra Devata, Yatraitaastu Na Pujyante Sarvaastatrafalaah Kriyaah” were written to rever the women. This is a famous shloka from Manusmriti, which means where Women are honoured, divinity blossoms there, and where women are dishonoured, all actions no matter how noble remain unfruitful. In short, Gods live where women are honoured. Thus both India and Russia are bonded by the culture of honouring women.
During the age of Ramayana, Russia was a part of Bharata Varsha and Kaikeyi- Mother of Bharata and stepmother of Lord Rama was born in Russia, present-day Kazakhstan. The traditional beginning of Russian history is 862 AD. The princely state of Kiev, Russia- the first united East Slavic state, was founded in 882 AD. Russia accepted Christianity a thousand years ago.
Historical linkages have contributed even more to create goodwill between the two nations. Russians are quite fond of Indian films. Yoga is getting great fame among Russians, especially in urban areas. Russian Institutions, including leading universities and schools, regularly teach Hindi to Russian students. Apart from Hindi, languages such as Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu, Sanskrit and Pali are taught in Russian Institutions. Indian great epic Mahabharata has been translated into Russian
It is believed that earlier Hinduism was there in unorganised as well as organised Vedic manner. But due to the decline of Vedic religion, arbitrary worship and exploitative priests started dominating. This became the reason for the fall of Hinduism there. So at the end of the 10th century, King Vladimir of the princely state of Kiev, Russia, had to choose one between the two flourishing religions of that time- Christianity and Islam.
In the neighbouring countries of Russia, Islam had already been overtaken by Christianity. King disliked the Islamic restrictions on women freedom, the prohibition of alcohol and things like circumcision.
So the Russian king Vladimir decided that he and the people of his state would adopt Christianity. He began conversing with the Greek Byzantine Church to convert to Christianity. The Byzantine Church differs slightly from Catholic Christianity and is called Native Christianity or Orthodox Christianity. In this way, Christianity started on a large part of Russia.
The state adopted Christianity from the Byzantine Empire in 988, beginning with the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next millennium. Russian King Vladimir of the Kingdom of Kiev of Russia accepted Orthodox Christianity and asked his people to accept this religion, for many years after that, Russian people kept worshipping their ancient goddesses and deities. Later, due to the continuous and relentless efforts of the Christian priests, Christianity was widely spread in Russia and gradually the ancient religion of Russia, that was strikingly similar to Sanatan Hindu Dharma, was destroyed.
In ancient Russia, people used to perform nature-worshipping. For ancient Russian nature-worshipers, the sun was also God, and the wind was also God, and every change in nature, every force of nature, they considered the movement of God. This is same as we have Vayu Dev, Agni Dev, Surya Dev in Sanatan Dharma. They worshipped fire, sun, mountain, air and sacred trees as Hindus do in India today. However, apart from giving respect to nature, they also believed that there is one God, who is operating the world.
Now coming to the language, it is well known that Aryan’s language has been identified as the precursor to a number of modern European tongues. Many English words such as brother, oxen and guest have all been tracked to the Aryans. Both Sanskrit and Russian belong to the Indo-European family of languages, but Russian is the only European language that shares a strong common grammatical base with Sanskrit. There are striking similarities in both languages. Linguist and author WR Rishi writes in his book ‘India & Russia: Linguistic & Cultural Affinity’ that Russian and Sanskrit share a close affinity. Let us see few examples:
The origin of the Russian word gorod (Old Slavonic grad) meaning ‘city’ can be traced to Sanskrit. In ancient Russia and India, the cities were built to serve as forts for protection and defence against aggression from an enemy. The corresponding word in Hindi is ‘gadh’ which means ‘fort’. In modern Russian, the suffix ‘grad’ and in modern Hindi, the suffix ‘gadh’ are used to form names of cities: such as Leningrad (the city of Lenin), Peterograd (the city of Peter) and Bahadurgarh (the city of the brave), Chandigarh (the city of Chandi Devi- goddess of power).
In ancient Russia, people used to perform nature-worshipping. For ancient Russian nature-worshipers, the sun was also God, and the wind was also God, and every change in nature, every force of nature, they considered the movement of God. This is same as we have Vayu Dev, Agni Dev, Surya Dev in Sanatan Dharma. They worshipped fire, sun, mountain, air and sacred trees as Hindus do in India today
Take another example of Russian River Volga. Its linguistic traces can be found in Sanskrit. The Greek historian Herodotus calls this river by the name of Oaros, which can be best explained with the help of the purely Sanskrit word ‘var’ meaning water.
These things indicate that during some period of history, the speakers of the two languages lived close together. The discovery of Shiva statues in Central Asia and Russia points to the spread of Hindu culture far beyond the Indian heartland. It’s a fact that Hindu Vedic civilisation was spread over a vast area.
According to Bulgarian linguist Vladimir Georgiev, geographical names are the most important source for determining how a group of people acquire their ethnicity.
Mount Narodnaya is the highest peak of the Urals in Russia Vladimir Georgiev illustrates that in 1927 a group of geologists discovered the highest mountain of the Urals. The mountain was called Narada by the local population, and interestingly the ancient Indian epics mention the living place of dev-rishi Narada in the north. Since it was the 10th anniversary of the famous October revolution of Russia, the geologists decided to mark the event and rename the mountain as Narodnaya– or People’s mountain. And that’s what it is now called in all geographic references and on all maps.
This may surprise the readers that there is a Swastika city in Russia. This is the famous Arkaim site- one of the most enigmatic archaeological sites in northern Europe. It is situated on the outskirts of Chelyabinsk Oblast in the Southern Urals. Arkaim is the remnant of an ancient village. A wave of excitement washed through the world of archaeology when a group of Russian archaeologists rediscovered this site. The layout of the dwellings around the central square looks like a Swastik. So it became famous as the Swastika city.
Alternately Arkaim is known as Mandala city. The ground-plan of Arkaim, is related to the Mandala principle, a square inside a circle – one of the basic sacred symbols of Buddhist philosophy. The word Mandala is translated as a circle or disk. In the ancient Rig-Veda writings, where it has been first described, the word has a set of values: a wheel, a ring, the country, space, society or gathering.
The symbolic meaning of a Mandala is perceived all over the world as a model of the Universe, even of the entire cosmos, where the two most important principles present in our Universe are represented in the form of a circle and a square. Arkaim, with its dwellings, having adjoining rooms, might possibly represent the “wheel of time”, where every aspect is defined by the previous one and in turn, defines the next one.
Not many know that Amrvathi, the capital of Indra-Dev, the chief of Devas, was situated in Russia. Sage Yagnavalkya lived in Russia. Lord Krishna’s son, Pradhyumna founded the Russian city of Port Baijin. The Vedas were called Santi Veda, River Moksha is found in Russia.
The uncanny similarities between Sanskrit and Russian clearly indicate a close kinship between the two nations in the distant past. Both Sanskrit and Russian belong to the Indo-European family of languages, but Russian is the only European language that shares a strong common grammatical base with Sanskrit. There are striking similarities in both languages. Linguist and author WR Rishi writes in his book ‘India & Russia: Linguistic & Cultural Affinity’ that Russian and Sanskrit share a close affinity
In 2007, an ancient Vishnu idol was found during an excavation in an old village in Russia’s Volga province. The idol found in Staraya Maina village dates back to 7-10 century AD. This village used to be an ancient and huge city 1700 years ago. Staraya Mayana means mother of villages. At that time, the population of this village was ten times more than its present-day population. It is believed that before the arrival of Slavic people in Russia, there might have been Indians there or they might have ruled them. This village was found to be much older than Kiev- present-day capital of Ukraine, which is believed to be the mother of all Russian cities.
Russian archaeologists have unearthed some ancient and virtually unknown settlements, which they believe were built by the original Aryan race about 4,000 years ago around 30 years ago when Soviet officials relaxed the laws banning non-military aerial photography.
There’s more to read about historical linkages. Lahore was the kingdom of Lav, son of Ram and Peshawar was the kingdom of Pushkalavathy ruled by Pushkala, son of Bharath. These two cities were established during the reign of Ram, the son of Dasarath. These cities are in the route to Kekaya, today’s Kazakhstan which was the maternal land of Kaikeyi, mother of Bharath. One has to cross the river Chakshus to reach Kekaya. This river is now known as Oxus.
In the Mahabharata, there is mention of Arjun going up to North-Kuru. Some of the people of the Kuru dynasty lived in a region of the North Pole. They are called Uttar Kuru because they lived in the north of the Himalayas. The mention of the geographical location of North-Kuru in the Mahabharata is similar to that of Russia and the North Pole. After Arjun, there is mention of Emperor Lalitaditya Muktapid and his grandson Jaideep winning the North Kuru. This statue of Vishnu is probably the same statue that Lalitaditya had constructed in Stree-Varsha Russia.
Even today, archaeologists in Russia sometimes find wood or stone statues of ancient Russian deities during excavations. Some idols have many heads and many hands appearing like Hindu goddess Durga. There is a lot of similarity between the ancient gods of Russia and the Hindu deities. Russian scholars often write about this and point out that the old Russian religion and Hindu religion are almost the same. Though there is no written proof of Indian immigration, there are clearly visible links that exist between these places.
India-Russia relationship is based on trust and confidence and is the guiding spirit of our strategic partnership. Both nations have built newer relations with yet more countries. But India-Russia relations are unique in terms of an ancient cultural civilisation. We are strengthening our roots and at the same time developing new branches. The evergreen nature of India-Russia relations is there for all to see and both the nations cherish it to the fullest.
Recently in March, Delhi hosted a mega India-Russia Friendship fest to mark 20 years of strategic partnership and to celebrate the historical, cultural, spiritual bond with great zeal. Heartfelt felicitations to India’s most reliable friend Russia for winning the global vaccine race for COVID-19. We hope that the vaccine proves to be of great help to humankind in fighting the Corona pandemic.
May India-Russia relations remain undaunted and strongest as ever in the changing world order.
(The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer)