Hinduism in Azerbaijan has been tied to cultural diffusion on the Silk Road. One of the remnants of once-dominant Hindu and Buddhist culture in the Caucasus is Surakhani, the site of the Ateshgah of Baku.
Ashoka, also known as Ashoka the Great, was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from ca. 269 BC to 232 BC. He converted to Buddhism from Hinduism after witnessing the mass deaths of the Kalinga War, which he himself had waged out of a desire for conquest. He was later dedicated to the propagation of Buddhism across Asia, North Africa and Mediterranean Europe. He also supported other Indian religions. He established monuments marking several significant sites in the life of Gautama Buddha. Ashoka was a devotee of ahimsa (nonviolence), love, truth, tolerance and vegetarianism. Ashoka is remembered in history as a philanthropic administrator. Ashoka played a critical role in helping make Buddhism a world religion.
In the Middle Ages, Hindu traders visited present-day Azerbaijan for Silk Road trade. The area was traversed by Hindu traders coming mostly from Multan and Sindh (in present-day Pakistan). The Atasghah in Surakhani was used by those traders to worship while in the area. Most of the traders left around the advent of the British Raj. The ceremonies were officiated by a Punjabi pandit. Historical sources indicate that locals worshipped at Surakhani even before the construction of the Atashgah, drawn by the “seven holes with burning flame” from which Surakhani takes its name.
In the 1880s, the Czar Alexander III of Russia went to Azerbaijan to witness one of the last Hindu ceremonies performed there. After the 1890s, nearly all of the original Hindu merchants in Azerbaijan had died or left for South Asia.
ISKCON in Azerbaijan
Members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as the Hare Krishnas, are registered in Baku. Members of the Hare Krishna community have a registered a private room for a temple in Baku but nowhere else in Azerbaijan.
In October 2002, authorities returned 20,000 of the 35,000 books seized in 1996 from the Baku Society of Krishna Consciousness