From Armenia To Madras

In the 7th and 8th centuries, groups of merchants from a small land far beyond the Hindu Kush mountains started coming to India to sell silk, muslin, spices, timber and precious stones. Starting with the Malabar coast, over the next many centuries, they formed small settlements in different parts of the country from Kerala to Kolkata, and from Agra to Madras. By the 17th century, there was a sizable population of their people in Madras, and the street where most of them lived, came to be known as the Armenian Street.


These merchants were Armenians. Armenia is an ancient mountainous country in Eurasia, surrounded by Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia. It is said that Noah’s Ark came to rest on the Ararat mountains in Armenia after the flood waters receded. It is one of the oldest Christian civilizations, and in the 4th century AD, it became the first officially Christian state in the world.
Armenian Church, Chennai
The Armenian street is home to the Church of St. Mary, India’s oldest Armenian Church. At this point, I’m beginning to count the number of times I use the word ‘Armenian’ in each sentence! The church was first built in 1712, but after getting destroyed in a French siege in 1772, it was rebuilt in its present location – the grounds of what was an Armenian cemetery.
Armenian Church, Chennai
Armenian Church, Chennai
Armenian Church, Chennai
Armenian Church, Chennai
Armenian Church, Chennai
Armenian Church, ChennaiSince it is built on a cemetery, hundreds of flat graves with inscriptions in the Armenian script are scattered all around the church and in some places it is difficult to move without walking on them. 
Armenian Church, Chennai
Armenian Church, Chennai
While all the other graves are flat and at ground level, a raised one in the garden adjoining the church is clearly special. Buried here is Rev Harutiun Shmavonian, who printed the first Armenian newspaper in the world, sitting in this church! And hence, the open stone book on his grave 🙂
Armenian Church, Chennai
There are no Armenians in Chennai anymore, and the church is maintained by the Armenian Church Committee in Kolkata, which still has a small population of Armenian Christians. Regular service is not held here, but the church is open to visitors from 9 in the morning to 2:30 in the afternoon. Here’s more about the church if you are interested.


After we spent a while at the church, Ashwin’s father took us to a cafe called Hotel Zum Zum (yes, seriously) where he’d hang out sometimes when he was young 🙂
Hotel Zum Zum
For lunch, we went to an old restaurant called Menaka in Hotel Palm Grove. Coincidentally (it wasn’t father’s day or anything 😛my dad regularly ate at this restaurant when he was young (he went to college in Chennai). I had the ‘Madras Meal’, a traditional thaali – simple and very yummy.
Hotel Palm Grove
My birthday was earlier this month, and Ashwin gave me a Fujifilm X-Pro 1. I love the camera so much – it is small and unobtrusive, the colours are gorgeous, the lens (I’m using an 18-55 at the moment) is brilliant and the shutter sounds beeeeautiful ! I used it to shoot the pictures in this post.
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  • Reply Khachatryan August 11, 2016 at 9:09 PM

    Here in Chennai still lives Armenian, sure community is not so big as was in 16-18th centuries but we are still here. Thanks for the nice article.

  • Reply Vicky August 6, 2014 at 4:10 PM

    Amazing shots! And well written post… I stayed in Chennai for a brief period of time and I remember going to this Hotel. I love the city… I used to go to another small restaurant in the city, I cannot seem to remember the name but they served amazing guava juice there and I can never forget the taste of the juice. I tried making the juice but it sadly it doesn’t taste as great. The only juice I feel is close to it is KDD harvest’s guava juice. It reminds me of the city <3 Thanks for sharing this.. feeling nostalgic!

  • Reply Madhu Gopalan July 11, 2014 at 10:13 PM

    Thank you so much Rashmi!

  • Reply Madhu Gopalan July 11, 2014 at 10:13 PM

    Thank you Sindhu!

  • Reply Madhu Gopalan July 11, 2014 at 10:13 PM

    Hahaha 😀 The tilt is definitely my husband's influence – he is the compulsive tilter 🙂 Thank you 🙂

  • Reply Madhu Gopalan July 11, 2014 at 10:12 PM

    Thank you Celine!

  • Reply Madhu Gopalan July 11, 2014 at 10:12 PM

    Thank you!

  • Reply Anonymous July 11, 2014 at 10:11 PM

    Hi Madhu,

    I have been following your blog for a while now and think your pictures are stunning. Your love for India shows through your pictures! Thank you for sharing. Amernians! Who knew!



  • Reply Sindhu June 27, 2014 at 8:06 PM

    Nice post Madhu! I love how you can give your readers a glimpse of the city you live in – its rich history and culture!

  • Reply June 26, 2014 at 3:36 PM

    I was wondering whats different about the pictures — theyre richer? Then I read about the new camera 🙂
    Stunning as usual. That pic of the coffee makes me feel giddy though, like it is going to slip off the screen and spill all over my keyboard hahaha

  • Reply Celine June 26, 2014 at 3:36 PM

    Beautiful pictures! And very interesting story!

  • Reply Javeed Ahmed M June 26, 2014 at 12:33 PM

    Excellent Photo Blog. Congrats on the New cam! Hope to See many More of your Clicks!

  • Leave a Reply to Sindhu Cancel Reply