Since the dawn of time, man has been driven by his ambition to set foot on unconquered lands. This took him to unchartered territories, nooks and corners and to the poles and back. But what might have started out as purely exploratory, over time became a matter of prestige. Kings and queens wanted to rule lands that were in their vision, and as their ambitions grew, their armies grew too. Battles were fought, leading to bloodshed and invasion.
Call it exploration, invasion or colonisation, many countries have been breached and ruled by outsiders. And even though the breach might have been destructive, what was left behind once the dust settled might have helped these countries grow.
Of all countries, India–the largest democracy in the world–is not new to wars and invasions. Over the years, the subcontinent has been ruled and colonised by rulers from the far eastern hemisphere to the extreme northern hemisphere. While some came and disappeared without leaving a trace, others left a legacy behind.
The Indian subcontinent began attracting attention following Alexander the Great’s visit in 326 BC. According to some theories, Alexander’s streak was halted in the Indian state of Punjab. Soon after this, the subcontinent was subject to foreign influxes one after the other. Some came in and left the nation battered, some made it their home for a while, and some stayed back becoming a vital part of the diversity. In little ways or large, everyone contributed something, becoming an inseparable part of India’s diverse culture and identity.
Soulveda tried to explore some of those iconic cultural phenomenon that were actually foreign to the old India, and were fascinated by what we found.
The Greek-Macedonian influx
Alexander the Great came knocking with his army in 326 BC but couldn’t spread his empire across most of the subcontinent. Later, in 180 BC, the Hellenistic kingdom also known as the Indo-Greeks, invaded parts of north-western and northern India. This period saw a blend of ancient Greek, Hindu and Buddhist practices.
The foreigners brought the Pillars of Ashoka to the country. Structured like Greek pillars, their design and markings were not native to India of that time. Today, the same design can be seen in various buildings and gated communities.
A fashion connoisseur’s wardrobe is incomplete without the regal Anarkali suit which was not a part of the Indian attire before the Mughal rule.
The Turko-Afghan influx, including the Mughals
The Turko-Afghan rule that came to be known as the Delhi Sultanate, began around 1210 AD and went on to merge with the glorious Mughal era. One of the most prominent things the influx brought–something that prayers are incomplete without–is incense sticks. A fashion connoisseur’s wardrobe is incomplete without the regal Anarkali suit which was not a part of the Indian attire before the Mughal rule. Another gorgeous contribution was the intricate Chikankari embroidery. Legend has it that the artisans came down from Persia and found a supporter in Noor Jahan, the wife of emperor Jehangir, who helped in spreading the art across the kingdom.
Domes, arches and marble screens of the magnificent Islamic architecture have consistently been used across India. Window panes adorned with Islamic design, quite a common sight now, also belong to that era.
Also, when it comes to food, a true-blue foodie swears by the dum biryani. Some historians attribute this trademark dish to the Turkish. It was brought into India by the Mughals who were known to have derived its name from the Persian language.
European influence–the French, the Portuguese and the British
French: The first French expedition to India is believed to have taken place in the first half of the 17th century. The expedition resulted in the French staying back in some parts of the country. French windows and street cafes are two delightful inheritances the French left us. Also, the word ‘lodges’ was used for trading stations under the French. Today, the word is used for resting locations throughout the country.
Portuguese: Portuguese India was created in 1505 and they ruled till the 1960s. As a result, the culture of Goa is heavily influenced by the Portuguese, which has added to its uniqueness. A lesser known fact about the Portugese is that they introduced over 300 crops to India, including potato, tomato, carrot, custard apple, guava, peanuts and papaya. So the next time you relish a guava in India, you know whom to thank.
British: From the 17th century onwards, the East India Company began to tighten its grip over the entire nation. The culture and practices of the British spread across the country. One of their greatest contributions is the language you are reading right now–English. It is one of the two official languages of the Union Government of India. Perhaps inadvertently, but the British did bring about an educational awakening in the then Indian middle class. They changed the education system, and made it into something that we nearly follow to this day.
The fact of the matter is that even though India has withstood many intrusions, it has left us a shade richer. A breath of fresh air can come in from anywhere including one shrouded in the torrential force of a tempest. Over time, the soil of the Indian subcontinent has soaked in drops from every downpour and has bloomed into the rich, vibrant and unique culture that fascinates us.