Lithuanians in India

Wall art in New Delhi

Since the restoration of independence, Lithuanians have been able to travel to every corner of the world. India is one of the less likely countries they havevisited or settled. This month, the World Lithuanian Community (PLB) online magazine is featuring an article by Aurelija Baniulaitienė, in which she speaks of the vast differences separating our cultures and the interesting bond between our languages.

Since the 1800’s linguists have researched and established that Sanskrit and Lithuanian have many phonetic and grammatical similarities. Some of us may have heard of Antanas Poška, a researcher of Vedic culture, who went to India in 1931 to study the commonalities of Hindi and Lithuanian culture. There have been many more since then.

At this time there are only about 50 Lithuanians known to be living in India, in various areas. They are mostly those who married Indian citizens, are employees of international companies, or artists. About 20 Lithuanians live in India, according to the Lithuanian Embassy in Delhi. The Lithuanian Community in India is one of the newest being established in the diaspora, and it is difficult to know how many members there are, says Community president Justas Grigaliūnas, because many are not registered with the embassy or do not live there permanently. Grigaliūnas is ready to welcome Lithuanians into the community even if their stay is short-term. Many of them are not even aware that the World Lithuanian Community in the diaspora exists. He came to India for the first time in 2016, to learn to be an Isha yoga teacher, stayed on as a volunteer and finally settled in Palampur, in India’s north. He is determined to bring together Lithuanians in India, at least virtually, and also to promote Lithuanian tourism in India. He welcomes emails at [email protected]

Justas Grigaliūnas

Diplomatic relations between India and Lithuania were established in 1992. Currently the ambassador is Diana Mickevičienė, who previously studied there and worked at the embassy. She notes that it is a country of great contrasts, yet family and spiritual practice provide a commonality. Economically, India is now one of the fastest-growing countries in the world.

The relationship between Sanskrit and Lithuania has been known for a long time. A few years ago the embassy initiated a comparative Sanskrit-Lithuanian dictionary, published by the Lithuanian Language Insitute, and written by Vytis Vidūnas, Oriental Studies professor at Vilnius University, who received an award for his research earlier this year. In it are 108 terms with common roots, easily understood by today’s Lithuanian or Hindi speakers.

The German, Canadian and several other embassies have joined a street art movement in New Delhi, one part of which materialized in the hands of Lithuanian artist Linas Kaziulionis. A formerly unattractive school wall was painted with windows featuring Lithuanian and Sanskrit root terms.  

In 2021 artists Miglė Anušauskaitė published an English and Lithuanian comic book which described the lives of six of the first Lithuanian travellers to India. In addition to A. Poška were Andrius Rudamina, Šlomita Flaum, Mikalojus Šostakas, Hermann Kallenbach and Luba Derczanska-Hamied.  Many more Lithuanians have bridged the huge distance between Lithuania and India, one of them – Donatas Slapšys, a Jesuit missionary worked in the Indian province of Pune for 60 years.