India Cultural Contribution To The Outside Wrold

India’s cultural contributions to the outside world: Central Asia, China, Japan, South-East Asia and Sri Lanka

  • India had commercial and cultural relations with her neighbours since an early time.
  • Resulting from this, was on the one hand the introduction of foreign elements into the art and culture of India and on the other the extension of Indian religious ideas and art motifs to foreign countries.
  • India had been in contact with the outside world commercially right from about the middle of the third millennium B.C. Even though India issurrounded by sea on three sides and the Himalayan in the north but that did not stop Indians from interacting with the rest of the world.
  • In fact they travelled far and wide and left their cultural footprints wherever they went. In return they also brought home ideas, impressions, customs and traditions from these distant lands.
  • However, the most remarkable aspect of this contact has been the spread of Indian culture and civilization in various parts of the world, especially Central Asia, South East Asia, China, Japan, Korea etc.
  • In ancient times, traders from India went to distant lands in search of new opportunities in business.
  • They went to Rome in the west and China in the east. As early as the first century BC, they travelled to countries like Indonesia and Cambodia in search of gold.
  • They travelled especially to the islands of Java, Sumatra and Malaya. This is the reason why these countries were called Suvarnadvipa (suvarna means gold and dvipa means island).
  • These traders travelled from many flourishing cities like Kashi, Mathura, Ujjain, Prayag and Pataliputra and from port cities on the east coast like Mamallapuram, Tamralipti, Puri, and Kaveripattanam.
  • The kingdom of Kalinga had trade relations with Sri Lanka during the time of Emperor Ashoka. Wherever the traders went, they established cultural links with those places.
  • In this way, the traders served as cultural ambassadors and established trade relations with the outside world



Indian Culture in China

  • The contact between India and China began around the 2nd Century B.C. Indian culture first entered China with two monk scholars—Kashyapa Martanga and Dharmarakshita who went to China in AD 67 on the invitation of the Chinese Emperor Ming Ti.
  • After Kashyapa Martanga and Dharmarakshita, there was a continuous flow of scholars from India to China and from China to India.
  • The Chinese were a highly cultured people. They listened to the thrilling stories of the Buddha with great attention.
  • The Chinese who came in search of wisdom wrote about India and the Indian culture to such an extent that today they are the most important sources of Indian history.
  • Prominent teachers from the Indian Universities and monasteries became famous in China. For example, a scholar named Bodhidharma went to China from Kanchipuram. He went to Nalanda, studied there and left for China. He carried the philosophy of Yoga with him and popularized the practice of ‘dhyana’, (meditation), which was later known in China as ch’an. Bodhidharma became such an eminent figure that people began to worship him in China and Japan.
  • The Buddhists philosophy appealed to the Chinese intellectuals because they already had a developed philosophical school in Confucianism.
  • In the fourth century AD Wei Dynasty came to power in China. Its first Emperor declared Buddhism as the state religion. This gave an impetus to the spread of Buddhism in China. Thousands of Sanskrit books were translated into Chinese. Braving the hazards of a long and perilous journey they came to visit the land of the Buddha.
  • They stayed in India and collected Buddhist relics and manuscripts related to Buddhism and learnt about it staying at the various educational centres.
  • With the spread of Buddhism, China began to build cave temples and monastic complexes on a large scale. Colossal images were carved on the rocks and caves were beautifully painted from the inside. Dun-huang, Yun-kang and Lung-men are among the most famous cave complexes in the world. Indian influences are quite evident on these complexes.
  • The two way traffic of scholars and monks was responsible for cultural contacts and exchange of ideas.

Indian Culture in Japan

  • The story of Indian culture in Japan is believed to go back to more than fïfteen hundred years.
  • But the earliest historical evidence of Indian culture going to Japan is from AD 552.
  • At that time, the Korean Emperor sent a Buddhist statue, sutras, instruments for worship, artists, sculptors, painters and architects as gifts for the Japanese Emperor.
  • Soon, Buddhism was given the status of State Religion. Thousands of Japanese became monks and nuns. Sanskrit was accepted as the sacred language in Japan. Monks were given special training to write the Sanskrit syllables and mantras.
  • The script in which all these are written is known as ‘Shittan’. Shittan is believed to be Siddham, the script that gives ‘siddhi’ (accomplishment).
  • Even today, there is a keen desire among the Japanese scholars to learn Sanskrit. As the language of Buddhist scriptures, it is a cementing force between India and Japan.
  • Buddhist sutras, translated into Chinese, were brought to Japan during the time of Prince Shotokutaishi in the seventh century, who was highly impressed by their philosophy.


Indian Culture in Sri Lanka

  • The great epic called Ramayana in which Lord Rama, King of Ayodhya goes to Sri Lanka to bring back Sita. It is possible that the Lanka of that time and Sri Lanka might be different places.
  • King Ashoka made great efforts to propagate Buddhism outside India. He sent his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra to Sri Lanka to spread the message of the Buddha. A number of other scholars also joined them. It is said that they carried a cutting of the Bodhi tree from Bodhgaya which was planted there. At that time Devanampiya Tissa was the king of Sri Lanka.
  • The teachings of the Buddha were transmitted orally by the people who had gone from India. For around two hundred years, the people of Sri Lanka preserved the recitation of Buddhist scriptures as transmitted by Mahendra.
  • The first monasteries built there are Mahavihar and Abhayagiri.
  • Sri Lanka became a stronghold of Buddhism and continues to be so even today. Pali became their literary language. Buddhism played an important role in shaping Sri Lankan culture.
  • The Dipavansa and Mahavamsa are well known Sri Lankan Buddhist sources. With Buddhism, Indian Art forms also reached Sri Lanka, where the themes, styles and techniques of paintings, dance, folklores and art and architecture were taken from India.
  • The most renowned paintings of Sri Lanka are found in the cave-shelter monasteries at Sigiriya. King Kashyap is believed to have converted it into a fortified place in the fifth century AD. Figures painted in the cave are in the Amaravati style of India.

Indian Culture in Indonesia

  • In the field of religious architecture, the largest Shiva temple in Indonesia is situated in the island of Java. It is called Prambanan. It was built in the ninth century.
  • It has a Shiva temple flanked by Vishnu and Brahma temples. Opposite these three temples are temples constructed for their vahanas.
  • They are Nandi (Bull) for Shiva, Garuda for Vishnu and Goose for Brahma. In between the two rows are the temples dedicated to Durga and Ganesh, numbering eight in all, surrounded by 240 small temples.
  • It is an example of wonderful architecture. The stories of Ramayana and Krishna, carved on the walls of the temple, are the oldest representations in the world. Sanskrit hymns are recited at the time of puja.
  • Over five hundred hymns, stotras dedicated to Shiva, Brahma, Durga, Ganesha, Buddha, and many other deities have been discovered from Bali. In fact Bali is the only country where Hindu culture flourished and survived. Today, while the entire Archipelago has accepted Islam, Bali still follows Hindu culture and religion.
  • A large number of scriptural works have been found from Java. They are mostly written on palm leaves in their ancient script called Kawi. Kawi script was devised on the basis of Brahmi. Some of them contain Sanskrit verses (shlokas) followed by commentary in Kawi language.
  • Among the texts on Shaiva religion and philosophy, Bhuvanakosha is the earliest and the longest text. This has five hundred and twenty five shlokas in Sanskrit. A commentary is written to explain the meaning.

Indian Culture in Vietnam (Champa)

  • Indian culture was carried to the distant land of Vietnam by a number of enterprising traders and princes who migrated and established themselves as pioneers in the field of politics and economics.
  • They named the cities there as Indrapura, Amaravati, Vijaya, Kauthara and Panduranga. The people of Champa are called Cham. They built a large number of Hindu and Buddhist temples.
  • The Cham people worshipped Shiva, Ganesha, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Parvati, Buddha and Lokeswara.
  • Images of these deities and Shivalingas were housed in the temples. Most of the temples are in ruin now.

Indian Culture in Myanmar

  • People and culture of India began to reach Myanmar in the beginning of the Christian era. Myanmar is situated on the route to China.
  • People coming from the port towns of Amaravati and Tamralipti often settled down in Myanmar after the second century AD.
  • The people who had migrated included traders, brahmins, artists, craftsmen and others.

Indian Culture in Cambodia

  • The famous kingdoms of Champa (Annam) and Kamhuja (Cambodia) were ruled by the kings of Indian origins.
  • The history of deep-rooted cultural relationship between India and Cambodia goes back to the first and second centuries AD. In Kambuja, Kaundinya dynasty of Indian origin ruled from the first century A.D.
  • We can reconstruct their history from numerous Sanskrit inscriptions and from literary works. We can also see their splendour from the magnificent temples.
  • Cambodians constructed huge monuments and embellished them with sculptural representations of Shiva, Vishnu. Buddha and other divinities from Indian Epics and the Puranas.
  • The episodes from these texts were chosen by the kings to symbolise great historical events. Sanskrit remained their language for administration till the fourteenth century.
  • Their kings bore Sanskrit names. Brahmins assumed the highest position. The government was run according to the Hindu polity and Brahminical jurisprudence. Ashrams were maintained in temple vicinities as seats of learning.
  • A large number of localities were given Indian names like Tamrapura, Dhruvapura and Vikramapura.
  • The names of months in their language are known as chet, bisak, jes, asadh and so on. In fact, thousands of such words are still in use with a slight variation in pronunciation. Angkor Vat is supposed to be the abode of Vishnu, that is, Vaikunthadhama. Its five towers are said to be the five peaks of the Sumeru mountain.
  • The king Suryavarman is portrayed there as an incarnation of Vishnu who had attained a place in heaven because of his meritorious deeds.
  • The temple represents a square mile of construction with a broad moat running around adding to its spectacular charm. Scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata are engraved on the walls of this temple.
  • The largest among all of them is the scène of Samudra manthan that is churning of the ocean. Another grand temple constructed at Yashodharapura in the eleventh century, known as Baphuon, is embellished by scenes from the epics such as the battle between Rama and Ravana, Shiva on mount Kailasha with Parvati and the destruction of Kamadeva.

Indian Culture in Thailand

  • Till the year 1939, Thailand was called Siam, its original name. Indian cultural influences began to reach there in the first century AD.
  • It was first carried by Indian traders, followed by teachers and missionaries.
  • The Thai kingdoms were given Sanskrit names such as Dwaravati, Shrivijay, Sukhodaya and Ayutthiya.
  • The names of their cities also indicate a strong cultural interflow. For example, Kanchanaburi is from Kanchanapuri, Rajburi is from Rajpuri, Lobpuri is Lavapuri, and names of the cities like Prachinaburi, Singhaburi are all derived from Sanskrit.
  • Even the names of the streets like Rajaram, Rajajrani, Mahajaya and Cakravamsha remind us of the popularity of the Ramayana. Brahminical images and Buddhist temples began to be constructed in third and fourth century AD.
  • The earliest images found from Thailand are those of Lord Vishnu. At different points of time, the Thai kingdom was shifted from one place to another. At every place a number of temples were built.
  • Ayutthiya (Ayodhya) is one such place where large number of temples still stand though today most of the temples there are in ruins. There are four hundred temples in Bangkok, the present capital of Thailand.


  • From the 2nd century B.C. onwards India maintained commercial contact with China, Central Asia, West Asia and the Roman Empire.
  • Central Asia is a landmass bound by China, Russia, Tibet, India and Afghanistan. Traders to and from China regularly crossed the region despite hardships.
  • The route, that was opened by them, later became famous as the Silk Route. The route was so named because silk was one of the chief mercantile commodities of China.
  • In later times, the same route was used by scholars monks and missionaries. The route served as a great channel for the transmission of cultures of the then known world. The impact of Indian culture was felt strongly in Central Asia.
  • Among the kingdoms of Central Asia, Kuchi was a very important and flourishing centre of the Indian culture.
  • It was the kingdom where the Silk Route bifurcates and meets at the Dun-huang caves in China again. Thus, there is the Northern and the Southern Silk Route.
  • The Northern route goes via Samarkand, Kashgarh, Tumshuk, Aksu, Karashahr, Turfan and Hami and the Southern route via Yarkand, Khotan, Keriya, Cherchen and Miran. Many Chinese and Indian scholars travelled through these routes in search of wisdom and to propagate the philosophy of Buddhism.
  • Cultural exchanges that took place between India and the countries of Central Asia are visible from the discoveries of ancient stupas, temples, monasteries, images and paintings found in all these countries.
  •  Along the route there were resting places for Monks and Missionaries, for pilgrims and merchants and later these became famous centres of Buddhist learning. Silk and jade, horses and valuables changed hands, but the most lasting treasure that travelled along the route was Buddhism.
  • Thus, the trade route transmitted religion and philosophy, ideas and beliefs, languages and literature, and art and culture. Khotan was one of the most important outposts. It was on the Southern Silk Route.
  • The history of cultural relationship between India and the kingdom goes back to over two millennia. Khotan was famous for its silk industry, dance, music, literary pursuits, and commercial activities and for gold and jade exports.
  • The history of the Indo-Khotanese relationship is witnessed by a continuous flow of teachers and monks from India to Khotan. Coins found from the first century AD bear engravings in Chinese on the obverse and Prakrit in Kharosthi script on the reverse providing evidence of a composite culture in Khotan.
  • A large number of Sanskrit manuscripts, translations and transcriptions of Buddhist texts in Sanskrit were discovered from the monasteries buried in sand.

error: Content is protected !!