Afanasi Nikitin on Muslim India

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Afanasi Nikitin on Muslim India

[From Anthology of Russian Literature From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Leo Wiener, ed. and Tr. Pt. 1 (New York, 1902), pp. 65-70]

Nikitin set out about 1468 for India, whence he returned in 1474. He wrote out an account of his many adventures, which is interesting for its sober though rather onesided narration. It stands alone in the old Russian literature as the writing of a layman bent on a commercial enterprise. His Travel to India has been translated by Count Wielhorsky for the Hakluyt Society.

I, poor sinner, brought a stallion to the land of India; with God's help I reached Junir all well, but it cost me a hundred roubles.

The winter began from Trinity day, and we wintered at Junir and lived there two months; but day and night for four months there is but rain and dirt. At this time of the year the people till the ground, sow wheat, tuturegan (?), peas, and all sorts of vegetables. Wine is kept in large skins (?) of Indian goats.

Horses are fed on peas; also on kichiris, boiled with sugar and oil; early in the morning they get shishenivo. Horses are not born in that country, but oxen and buffaloes; and these are used for riding, conveying goods, and every other purpose.

Junir stands on a stony island; no human hand built it- God made the town. A narrow road, which it takes a day to ascend, admitting of only one man at a time, leads up a hill to it.

In the winter, the people put on the fata, and wear it around the waist, on the shoulders, and on their head; but the princes and nobles put trowsers on, a shirt and a caftan, wearing a fata on the shoulders, another as a belt round the waist, and a third round their head.

O God, true God, merciful God, gracious God!

At Junir the Khan took away my horse, and having heard that I was no Mahommedan, but a Russian, he said: " I will give thee the horse and a thousand pieces of gold, if thou wilt embrace our faith, the Mahommedan faith; and if thou wilt not embrace our Mahommedan faith, I shall keep the horse and take a thousand pieces of gold upon thy head." He gave me four days to consider, and all this occurred during the fast of the Assumption of our Lady, on the eve of our Saviour's day (18th of August).

And the Lord took pity upon me because of His holy festival, and did not withdraw His mercy from me, His simple servant, and allowed me not to perish at Junir among the infidels. On the eve of our Saviour's day there came a man from Khorassan, Khozaiocha Mahmet, and I implored him to pity me. He repaired to the Khan into the town, and praying him delivered me from being converted, and took from him my horse. Such was the Lord's wonderful mercy on the Saviour's day.

Now, Christian brethren of Russia, whoever of you wishes to go to the Indian country may leave his faith in Russia, confess Mahomet, and then proceed to the land of Hindostan. Those Mussulman dogs have lied to me, saying I should find plenty of our goods; but there is nothing for our country. All goods for the land of Mussulmans, as pepper and colours, and these are cheap.

The rulers and the nobles in the land of India are all Khorassanians. The Hindoos walk all on foot and walk fast. They are all naked and barefooted, and carry a shield in one hand and a sword in the other. Some of the servants are armed with straight bows and arrows.

Elephants are greatly used in battle. The men on foot are sent first, the Khorassanians being mounted in full armour, man as well as horse. Large scythes are attached to the trunks and tusks of the elephants, and the animals are clad in ornamental plates of steel. They carry a citadel, and in the citadel twelve men in armour with guns and arrows.

There is a place Shikhbaludin Peratyr, a bazaar Aladinand, and a fair once a year, where people from all parts of India assemble and trade for ten days. As many as 20,000 horses are brought there for sale from Beder, which is 20 kors distant, and besides every description of goods; and that fair is the best throughout the land of Hindostan. Everything is sold or bought in memory of Shikbaladin, whose fete falls on the Russian festival of the Protection of the Holy Virgin (21st October).

In that Aland (Aladinand ?) there is a bird, gukuk, that flies at night and cries gukuk, and any roof it lights upon, there the man will die; and whoever attempts to kill it will see fire flashing from its beak. Wild cats rove at night and catch fowls; they live in the hills and among stones. As to monkeys, they live in the woods and have their monkey knyaz, who is attended by a host of armed followers. When any of them is caught they complain to their knyaz, and an army is sent after the missing; and when they come to a town they pull down the houses and beat the people; and their armies, it is said, are many. They speak their own tongues and bring forth a great many children; and when a child is unlike its father or its mother, it is thrown out on the highroad. Thus they are often caught by the Hindoos, who teach them every sort of handicraft, or sell them at night, that they might not find their way home, or teach them dancing.

-From India in the Fifteenth Century, in the Hakluyt Society Publications, London, 1857.

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