Social Cultural Connect: Religious and Ideological Bonds between India & West Asia

The cultural connection between India and West Asia & North African region point towards some of the stark similarities between them because no other civilisation in the Asian continent have had as long and sustained historical engagement with the West Asia and North African region as that of India and that emphasizes the significance of present-day connection of their mutual relations which make their historic meeting unique and extraordinary. Over the centuries, customs, goods, languages and people have crisscrossed the continent largely as the result of conquest and commerce. They have left an enduring legacy.

India’s multifaceted relations with the region: As relations been India and West Asia spin around different aspects of arts, architecture, cultural, economic, literature, religion, science, trade and technology, etc., their mutual interplay and thematic details will be extremely relevant here to substantiate the discussion that both India and West Asia enjoy the true social and cultural relations for centuries:

 

Socio-economic Relations:

India’s connection with West Asia by land as well as sea routes go back to ancient times. These ties between the two cultural zones consolidated constantly with fast-spreading cultural, economic and social interactions between the two civilisations. Though the idea of the nation-state was not yet developed, then it soon became particularly close with the emergence and spread of Islam and Islamic Civilisation in West Asia. The fruitful cultural criss-cross between India and West Asia is quite manifest in many perspectives that one can see here how the Islamic world has been enriched as a result of these interplays. In fact, the West Asians admired Indian culture and civilisation with a keen interest in different areas. They translated numerous Indian works spread over a diversity of subjects but did not remain convinced with only the translations and went on to work out original creations based on or derived from the treatises they translated. The fields of Indian knowledge they studied included works on books on ethics, logic, politics, snake poison, veterinary art, philosophy and science of war. Undergoing this, their vocabulary was also enriched considerably. For instance, in the sphere of shipping, of which they were celebrated masters, one can quickly identify some Arabic words with Indian origin; HOURTI (a small boat) from hort; banari from baniya or Vanik; donij from dongi, etc. are few of the examples in this respect. The Great Indian Emperor – Chandra Gupta Maurya had been married to Helena the daughter of Seleucus, a native of Syria and was the commander of Alexander the Great.

 

Customs and traditions:

Even the advent of Muslims and Islam into India was through this region which has today evolved as the Hindu-Muslim or Ganga-Jamuni tehzib or a culture of mixed etiquettes and respect paving the way for the emergence of Sufism and other liberal-humanist Muslim sects in India. Besides these, many social rituals of both the civilisations manifest many common features as regards social intercourse like common assembly for considerations on social and political issues, marriage proceedings, usage of household utensils, birth and death ceremonies and rituals towards dead ancestors who exist as noble spirits before their salvation.  Similarly, evil spirits supposed to be existing as violent and ferocious volatile entities like bhoot, churail, preta, pishcha, zinna, etc. and rituals for different postures of Indian Yoga and Muslim method of their religious observance, i.e., “namaz” etc. have many things simmilar between them.

Sufism in India | Image: Hans

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Religion:

Consequently, many religious rituals including religious symbols of both the civilisations do reflect several commonalities between them. The Aryan deity ‘agni’ occupies the second important position among Vedic dev-mandal (a group of gods), and that also figures prominently in Zoroastrianism as revealed in Zend-Avesta. The Boguz qui inscriptions from this region have close similarities with Indian Vedic deities viz. Varuna, Indra, Mitra, and Nasatya. Even the advent of Aryans into India is reckoned to be from the Middle East, according to an extraordinary historian Max Muller and that obviously points towards a fact of the prevailing commercial relations between the two civilisations.

 

Architecture:

One of the most well-known features between the two cultures lies in the common architectural designs of both the civilisations manifested in the making of domes, decorations on house walls, roof arches and doors etc. They manifest themselves still today in different ways as regards similar dress style, architecture and sculptures – particularly elevation of domes, erection of arches, pillars and burial monuments including pyramids etc. – musical rhymes and notes, religious ritual etc.

Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi, India is one of the finest examples of fusion of Arab & Indian architecture | Image: Wikimedia

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Medicines and Science & Technology:

Arab sources dating back to the tenth and thirteenth centuries reveal us about several Indian works on medicines and therapeutics that were transliterated into Arabic at the direction of the Caliph-Harun-al-Rashid, the ruler of Baghdad from AD 286 to AD 809. Indian scholars were also invited in these translation works. For instance, SUSHRUTA SAMHITA was translated into Arabic by an Indian scholar – Mankh. In the realm of Astronomy, two famous works viz. the Brahama-Sphuta-Siddhant known to the Arab world as Sindluin and Khandakhadyak (known as Arkand) were brought to Baghdad from Sindh with the help of Indian Scholars. They were transliterated into Arabic by Alfarari. The Arabs acknowledged their debts to India by calling mathematics ‘HINDISA” (about India), Indian mathematics was, in fact, their favourite discipline of study and discussions; its popularity is magnified by the works of Alkindi among others. They were quick to appreciate the revolutionary aspect of the decimal system with its concept of zero.

Conversely, India imbibed a prominent exchange from the West Asian and North African cultures; and much of it has become an inextricable element of the Indian cultural ethos.

Even today the West Asian region holds a very prominent position in India not only economically and strategically but also culturally as well. Because all the persisting similar features of their mutual relations between India and West Asia provide the rooted foundation today upon which the entire fulcrum of various social, religious, economic and other miscellaneous relations have evolved to flourish. And it is not an insignificant coincidence that the region is home to more than 7 million Indians, who contribute approximately US$ 40 billion in remittances annually.

 

 

*Shailendra Kumar Mishra is an Associate Professor – Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology Deptt., MDPG College, Pratapgarh

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team.

The Kootneeti Team

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