Friday, May 1, 2015

Indian Influence in Afro-Eurasia

William Dalrymple, the Indian historian and travel writer, wrote a fascinating review of two new books about exhibitions of Buddhist art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2013 and 2014.

Dalrymple argues that between 400 and 1200 Indian culture and technology spread through Afro-Eurasia much the way Greece influenced Aegean Turkey and Rome.

For example, he notes: 

But for at least seven hundred years before then, from about 400 AD to 1200 AD, India was a large-scale and confident exporter of its own diverse civilization in all its forms, and the rest of Asia was the willing and eager recipient of a startlingly comprehensive mass transfer of Indian culture, religion, art, music, technology, astronomy, mythology, language, and literature. Out of India came not just artists, sculptors, traders, scientists, astronomers, and the occasional fleets of warships, but also missionaries of three Indic forms of religion: Buddhism and two rival branches of Hinduism: Shaivism, in which Lord Shiva is revered as the Supreme Being; and Vaishnavism, which venerates Lord Vishnu.

Dalrymple suggests that "the scale and breadth of this extraordinary cultural diffusion is not as well known as it should be" and notes that the influence of India was especially "striking" in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

He points to Angkor Wat as the "most spectacular" example of this influence.

This is a fascinating story written by one of the best historians of India and he writes with a style that is colorful and readable.

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