In this article we will discuss about the expansion of Indian culture to various countries in ancient times. The various countries are: Ceylon, Afghanistan and Central Asia, Nepal, Tibet, China, Korea and Japan.
According to the Indian traditions Rama was the first to carry the message of Indian culture to Ceylon. But the historical evidences indicate that India first came into contact with Ceylon in the sixth century B.C. According to the Ceylonese chronicles king Vijay of Bengal conquered and colonised Ceylon about 500 years before the birth of Christ.
He married a local princess and named the island as Simhala. However, this view is not acceptable to other historians. They say that in the second century B. C. Asoka sent his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra to Ceylon as Buddhist missionaries.
They successfully converted the ruler of Ceylon (Devanampriya Tissa) to Buddhism and for a long time thereafter the people of Ceylon remained under the cultural influence of India. Subsequently, the Hindu culture and traditions also found their way into Ceylon and exercised deep influence on the religion, literature, philosophy and fine arts of Ceylon.
Afghanistan and Central Asia:
Afghanistan and Central Asia were brought into intimate contact with India during the time of the Mauryan emperor Chandragupta, whose empire extended beyond the Hindukush. During the reign of his famous grandson Ashoka, the Buddhist missionaries were sent in large number and spread the gospel of Buddha as well as the salient features of the Indian civilisation in this region.
During the time of the Indo-Bactrian, Sakas, Parthian and Kushan rulers the Indian contact with Central Asia became more intimate and the torch of the Indian culture reached as far as the Turkish and Mongolian regions between the shores of the Caspian Sea and the wall of China.
In the third century A. D. Bactria was regarded as a great centre of Indian civilisation and the river Oxus was spoken of as a river of the Buddhists and Brahmans because thousands of Brahmans and Buddhist monks had settled in those regions.
The other important centres of Buddhist, learning in this region were Khotan, Yarkand, Kuchi etc. Hiuen Tsang, the famous Chinese traveller, while passing through Central Asia in the seventh century A. D. on his way back from India, also noted that the Indian civilisation and Buddhism were still popular in this region.
As regards Afghanistan, it was part of India in early times. Both the Mauryan and Kushan Empires included Afghanistan in their territory. Even before it became a part of the Indian empire, Afghanistan was under deep influence of the Indian culture.
We find large number of Buddhist monasteries in Afghanistan which were the centres of Indian learning and culture and exercised tremendous influence on the people of the region.
The famous Graeco-Buddhist or Gandhara art was developed in this region and most of the stupas, sculptures, statues, paintings, coins and literary works of this period show deep Indian influence. Though initially Buddhism was more popular in Afghanistan but subsequently Hinduism became predominant, particularly in the Kabul valley.
Nepal came under the influence of Buddhism during the times of Ashoka. It is said that Ashoka not only exercised suzerainty over Nepal but also paid a personal visit to this kingdom along with his daughter Charumati and son-in-law Devapal Khattiya.
During his visit he constructed a number of stupas and viharas. Samudragupta also received regular tribute from Nepal. But it was following the invasions by the Muslims that a large number of Brahmans and Rajputs fled to Nepal and sought shelter there.
They carried along with them the Indian philosophy, religion, literature and art. Hinduism became the prevailing religion in this kingdom and a large number of temples were constructed which bear close resemblance with those of India.
The Hindu caste system also exercised influence on the social structure of Nepal. No doubt, the influence of Indian culture is immense, but the impact of the Chinese and Tibetan cultures is also present on the life of the people of Nepal.
India was the first to bring civilization to Tibet. Till the 7th century A-D. Tibet had not seen the ray of civilization. Throughout the Pala period Tibet was in close touch with India, particularly with the Universities of Nalanda and Vikramshila.
As a result of this contact the Tibetans adopted not only the Indian religion but also many traits of her culture. A number of Buddhist monks visited Tibet and preached the principles of Buddhism there. Strong-tstan Gampu, the ruler of Tibet also came under the influence of Buddhism and introduced the new faith in his kingdom.
Strong- tstan Gampu also adopted Indian alphabets and formed the Tibetan grammar. There is a positive testimony to the intimate connection between the two countries and the profound influence exercised by India upon the development of religion, thought and literature and other aspects of culture in Tibet.
Tibet also adopted a script which was based on the contemporary Indian script. A number of Indian religious and secular works were translated into Tibetan language. These works are preserved in two collections entitled Tanjur and Kanjur.
These works are of immense value because they have made available to us certain Buddhist records and writings which were lost in India after the destruction of Nalanda and Vikramshila and other Buddhist universities. They also throw a flood of light on the evolution of Buddhist religion, philosophy and traditions.
China, Korea and Japan:
The Indian culture spread to China, Korea and Japan through Central Asia. Though India and China had commercial contact with each other long before the beginning of the Christian era they did not lead to any cultural impact of any significance.
This followed in the wake of the adoption of Buddhism in the first century A.D. Buddhism was introduced in China by the two great Buddhist scholars Kasyapa Matanga and Dharmaraksha, who went to China at the invitation of Emperor Ming-Ti of the Han dynasty, along with a number of texts.
The Emperor constructed the famous ‘White Horse’, a monastery for the residence of these two missionaries. The new religion soon became every popular and a large number of Buddhist pilgrims visited India for the study of the Buddhist scriptures and practices, as well as for the collection of Buddhist scriptures.
The two best known Chinese pilgrims who paid visits to India were Fa-hien and Hiuen-Tsang. They visited India in the beginning of the fifth century and second quarter of the seventh century respectively and have left very valuable accounts about the conditions prevailing in India, at that time.
The Chinese carried along not only hundreds of Buddhist scripts but also learnt Sanskrit and Pali languages so that they could understand these texts.
A large number of Indian scholars and monks also visited China and devoted themselves to the cause of Buddhism. Some of the notable Indian scholars who went to China were Kumarjiva, Gunavarman, Bodhi Dharma, Parmartha, Jingupta etc. These scholars soon became an important factor in the intellectual and cultural life of China.
According to Dr. B.G. Gokhale. Buddhism not only built up the philosophical and metaphysical framework of the Chinese thought but was also responsible for the development of qualities like spirituality, tenderness, compassion, philosophical serenity, delicacy of feeling etc.
Buddhism spread to Korea and Japan in the sixth century from China. Along with the spread of Buddhism to these countries the Indian culture also found its way in these lands. In subsequent centuries Buddhism also spread to Mongolia.