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India, Azerbaijan rediscover ancient bonds

Atul Aneja

Agreement on forming Joint Commission to be signed


  • Temple of Ateshgah reminder of close people-to-people ties
  • It has several inscriptions in Sanskrit, Hindi, Gurmukhi

    BAKU (AZERBAIJAN): India and Azerbaijan are brainstorming ways to rediscover their centuries-old commercial and cultural bonds.

    "For several reasons, we, in India, have not been conscious enough about our geography. The Silk Route linked us to the people in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea. We need to know that in order to build our future," Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh said here.

    Mr. Ramesh is in Baku to sign an agreement on forming an India-Azerbaijan Joint Commission.

    The temple of Ateshgah, 15 km from the Azeri capital, is among the several reminders of India's close ties with the region straddling the Caspian Sea. An inscription in Sanskrit above the narrow arched entrance to this monument is the first striking assertion of Azerbaijan's historical ties with India.

    Inside, a cubical brick structure meets the eye. It is built around a fire, which, at first, was fuelled by natural gas seeping out of the ground. Flames can be seen leaping out of the four chimneys raised on top of this structure. By twilight, these fires cast a deep orange glow over the enclosure.

    Fire temple

    The Ateshgah monument, also called the fire worshippers' temple, traces its origins to Zoroastrianism, which took root in ancient Azerbaijan. "It is Azerbaijan which is the mother of Zoroastrianism. This was the base from where this religion spread overseas," an Azeri diplomat said.

    The temple complex has evolved over several centuries. Its outer rectangular parameters house a row of rooms, added in several phases. Between the late 17th and mid-19th century, Indian traders funded the establishment of a guest room, stables and prayer rooms.

    Apart from Sanskrit, inscriptions in Hindi and Gurmukhi can also be found along the monument's outer periphery. One of them refers to the site as Sri Jwalaji (temple of fire). Another seeks divine blessings from Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith.

    In the past, the Silk Road sustained India's relations with the region. Starting from China and linking India on the way, the road passed through the Caspian zone, before winding westward towards the Mediterranean coastline.

    Focal point

    Azerbaijan has been one of the focal points of the Silk Road since the first-second centuries B.C. After passing through China, India and Central Asia, the route approached the eastern Caspian Sea after straddling Uzboy river, now part of Turkmenistan.

    From the territory of Azerbaijan on the western side of the Caspian, two branches of the road emerged. One of them headed west along Kur river till it reached the Georgian Black Sea coast. Another led north along the western Caspian coastline, and entered Caucasia through the gates of Derbent. It terminated at the Greek city colonies around the Black Sea.

    Because of their importance as a transit hub, Azerbaijani cities became terminals for storing goods from Asia and Europe before they were transported to their final destinations. Consequently the city of Barda, the capital of Azerbaijan after the fifth century, emerged as the largest trade centre on one of the branches of the Silk Route.

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