Ancient India and the Western world

750 AD to 1000 AD India & Middle East

 5. Krishna worship and Rathayatra Festival in Ancient Egypt

Alberuni’s India refers to a close contact between India and the Muslim world. Baghdad was at that time the centre of the Muslim world and Indian culture reached Baghdad either directly or via Iran. Indian literature was first translated into Persian and then into Arabic. The best e.g. of this are the fables of Kalila and Dimna that were based on Panchatantra and probably the most famous treatise, Charaka-samhita was first known to the Muslim court in this way.

The intercourse is noticeable during the reign of Al-Mansur and Harun-Al-Rashid. Since Sindh was under the control of Al-Mansur, several Indian embassies came to his court. These embassies were accompanied by Indian scholars who taught the Arabs math's and astronomy amongst other subjects. Al-Biruni tells us that the ‘star-cycles as known in the canon of Alfazari and Yakub Ibn Tarik were derived from an Indian who had come to Bagdad.

The scholars who came with these embassies brought several works on mathematics including the Brahma-sphuta-siddhanta and the Khandakhadyaka of Brahmagupta. With their help these works were translated into Arabic by Arab scholars and it was thus that the Arabs first became acquainted with the scientific system of astronomy. It was probably through these scholars that Indian numerals were first definitely introduced to the Arabs. It is well known how this system, known as the decimal notation based on the place value of the first nine numbers and the use of zero simplified and revolutionized the Science of Mathematics all over the world. Whether Europe derived this knowledge from the Arabs or from India, is a disputed question.

A Syrian scholar who lived in a convent on the Euphrates about the middle of the 7th century A.D. paid the Indians a tribute ‘subtle discoveries in the science of astronomy, discoveries that are more indigenous than those of the Greeks and Babylonians’.  

A European scholar said, ‘In Science too, the debt of Europe to India has been considerable. There is, in the first place, the great fact that the Indians invented the numerical figures all over the world. The influence which the decimal system had not only on mathematics but on the progress of civilization, can hardly been over-estimated. During the 8th and 9th centuries, the Indians became teachers in arithmetic and algebra to the Arabs and through them to the nations of the West’.  

During the caliphate of Harun Al-Rashid contact was promoted by the efforts of the ministers of the Barak family. The founder of this family was a Buddhist high priest who had converted to Islam yet retained leanings of his old culture. They encouraged Indian scholars to visit Baghdad and engaged them to translate Sanskrit books on medicine, pharmacology, toxicology, philosophy etc into Arabic. Arab scholars were sent to India to learn the knowledge first hand.

We learn, from Arab works written between the 10th and 13th century A.D., that several Indian works on medicine, therapeutics were translated into Arabic during 786 to 809 A.D. These include Charka, Susruta, Nidana, and Ashtanga of Vagbhatta.

Influence of Indian Religious Ideas on Islam

Such influence has been traced notably in the growth and development of Islamic mysticism or Sufism. As Titus pointed out, ‘ here the contribution seems to be made in thought, religious imagery of expression and pious practices which came from Vedantic and Buddhist sources’. According to ‘Vorlesungen iber den Islam’ by Seelye, ‘The Afghani has preserved for us atleast one portrayal of an unmistakable Buddhist way of Life and the Zindiq monks described by Al-Jahiz (9th cen A.D.) were either Indian Sadhus, Buddhist monks or their imitators’. They were responsible for preaching Indian ideas to the Arab scholars.

One such scholar Abu-al-Ala-al-maarri (973 to 1057 A.D.) who is described as the ‘philosopher of poets and poet of philosophers’ was so much inoculated by Indian ideas that he adopted a vegetarian diet and a life of seclusion. (Hitti). Even in building mosques they were indebted to India for its craftsmen and ideas. (History of the Philosophy of Islam by T J De Boer).  

Early Arab geographers derived from India the notion of world-center, which they called Arin, a corrupt form of Ujjayini, which was famous for its astronomical observatory.

A few thoughts on the similarities between Sufism and Vedanta. Recently, a famous Sufi mystic from Sindh, Pakistan visited Mumbai to meet his followers, one of whom was a Hindu Sindhi friend. Amongst others, he had done a Ph.D in Vedanta. Why on earth would he study Vedanta? In Islam there is only the Prophet, there is no concept of having a Guru or Pir, then how do we have Sufi Pirs. Music is not part of Islam but is an important of Sufi culture, remember Nusreh Fateh Ali Khan. Other similarities are physical exercises like restraining of breadth, recitation of sacred words, tolerance of other religions and belied in union with the Supreme Being through love and Shakti.

The end of this period coincided with the invasion of India by Mahmud of Ghazni.

Also read
1. The cousin cultures of India & Iran 
2. Pics of Northern Frontiers of Buddhism 
3. Pics of Cultural documentation of Central Asia 
4. India and Mongolia - a shared heritage 
5. Krishna worship and Rathayatra Festival in Ancient Egypt 

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