Hinduism: Cultural Impact | 18



India’s contribution to religion, culture, art, and science has been tremendous:

Many of these fields have been framed in religious discourses; thus, healing, astronomy, and architecture are all presented as part of religion.

Many of these concepts and practices, however, have spread to other cultures without the religious framework and have been adapted for local consumption.

Hindu philosophies had a major impact in many parts of the world from about the 3rd century B.C.E.

Many philosophies and practices travelled to East and Southeast Asia with Buddhism; others were spread to the western hemisphere by trade routes and through traffic with West Asia and Greece.

Beginning in the 18th century, through colonial scholarship, many of the important Sanskrit texts were transmitted through translation to Europe and then to the United States:

Thus, in the 19th century American Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau selectively took what they considered to be the best offerings of India and integrated texts such as the Bhāgavad Gītā and the Vishnu Purāṇa into their writings:

Entire passages from these texts, for instance, can be seen in Emerson’s poems “Brahma” and “Hematreya.”

With the arrival of Vivekananda (1863–1902) and other teachers in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, yoga and some Hindu forms of meditation became well known in the West. These were presented without connection to Indian cultures and were initially adapted as spiritual exercises.

With the spread of counterculture movements in the 1960s, yoga became popular as a physical exercise, and today it is taught in practically every gym and physical education class in the United States and Canada. Its popularity is so overwhelming that most practitioners do not perceive it as being connected with Hindu culture.

Perhaps the greatest impact within India itself has come from the cumulative dance traditions; dance itself has been considered to be sacred:

Although there are parts of dance traditions that have been continuous for several centuries, many of the formal classical dances that had fallen out of practice were reconstituted in the 20th century by studying sculptures in temples.

The revival of musical and dance forms along with the religious culture in which they are embedded has been a significant development in the late 20th century.

The performing arts, especially music and dance, have thrived in the diaspora, and they help transmit the stories of the epics, the Purāṇas, and the Itihāsa (the stories of “thus it has been”) to a new generation of Hindus.

Much of the cultural impact in the 20th and 21st centuries has occurred through learning from oral traditions and through selecting and adapting traditional thought and practices rather than from textual materials. In this regard Hinduism in the 21st century has been congruent with the traditions of two millennia ago.

In Java and Bali the many inscriptions in Hindu temples are evidence of the popularity of the epics, the Purāṇas, and the books on dharma. Parallels can be seen in origin stories, art, and architecture from particular parts of India (such as Kānchīpuram and Kalinga) and Cambodia.

While one can certainly speak of the “Indianization” of Southeast Asia, it is important to realize that stories and practices significant in India were not all transferred in the same hierarchical order to other places. For example, stories relatively minor in the Hindu tradition in India became extremely significant in Cambodia.