The Magnetic Pull of Bharat’s Soft Power

The word “soft power” was first coined by Harvard scholar Joseph Nye. He described this term as the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than using coercion which was called as hard power. When used in the context of nation-states, hard power was like using military force or giving money as a means to getting people to accept one’s viewpoint whereas soft power rested on the strength of a country’s culture, political values and foreign policies.

For thousands of years before this term was framed, Bharat’s soft power had always been far-reaching and profound. This can be gauged by the spread of the Ramayana, Buddhism as well as the worship of Hindu and Buddhist deities all over Asia and other parts of the world, so also the influence that Bharatiya martial arts had on other Asian martial arts – Chinese kung fu, Japanese karate and Korean taekwondo. 

Actually, since at least till 2nd century BC, Bharatiya kings, ministers, traders, priests and others spread Bharatiya civilization to South-East Asia and other countries. People in these countries became Hindu or Buddhist, but no force was ever used upon them; rather it was the outcome of the deep impact that Bharatiya culture had on them.  

Ancient Chinese, Greek and Arabs who visited Bharat remarked and even impressed that even though the Bharatiya political system was also a monarchy, yet it was always benevolent. For the kings, the welfare of their subjects was their primary goal. And despite being among the most powerful nations of the ancient world, Bharat never imposed its views on others. Till today, there is a lot of respect and fondness for Bharatiya civilization, especially in S.E. Asia. 

So as measured by Nye’s yardstick of influencing others by one’s culture, political values and foreign policies, ancient Bharat was definitely numero uno. But the long foreign rule which lasted over 1,000 years broke Bharat’s engagement with the world at large. Post-independence in 1947, the governments were mired in their own socialist and secularist framework which didn’t seek any inspiration from Bharat’s history or sources, but instead chose to project upon Bharat, a Western model in all fields.

Thus Yoga, which has probably become Bharat’s no.1 brand name, and many other core Bharatiya values grew without any government support.

But recently, and especially with the ascendancy of Shri Narendra Modi as Prime Minister in 2014, things have started to gradually change. Today, Bharat doesn’t seem to be shy in attempting to re-claim its precious heritage, and to take a decisive and leadership role in spreading it to the global world.

However, it is not enough. A lot more has to be done. Bharat can learn from the example of China, which has set up nearly 500 Confucius Institutes all over the world to teach about Chinese language and culture, and these have been immensely successful. Millions of people have learnt Mandarin in such institutes. Similar are the instances of other countries, such as Portugal’s Instituto Camões, Britain’s British Council, France’s Alliance Française, Italy’s Società Dante Alighieri, Spain’s Instituto Cervantes and Germany’s Goethe-Instit, which promote their languages and values.

It is imperative that the Bharatiya Government looks into setting up something similar. Unlike most countries which are just identified by 1 or 2 “brands” which they then promote aggressively, in the case of Bharat, there are plenty of “products”. And soft power can be a very powerful tool for Bharat to influence world opinion in her favor.

Yoga

“Many countries which do not know our language, tradition or culture, are now connecting to Bharat through Yoga. The practice, which connects body, mind and soul has played a big role in binding the world too” – Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of Bharat at the 3rd International Day of Yoga, 2017 held in Lucknow.

Yoga Day

Among the first thing that springs to many foreigners minds when asked about what came from Bharat, Yoga would probably make it to the very top. Not surprisingly, considering that as of 2016, up to 36 million Americans (more than 11% of the country’s population), 3 million Germans (4% of the population) and 2 million Australians (more than 8% of the population) were doing yoga . And while statistics were not available for many countries, there are no doubts about yoga’s growing popularity across the globe, including Egypt, Iran, China and Latin America. Currently, yoga is also taught to children in many schools in the US, Europe, South East Asia and of course Bharat.

At the 69th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations on 27th September, 2014, Bharat’s Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi proposed that a “International Day of Yoga” be fixed by the UN, and this resolution was endorsed by a record 175 member states, including the Arab states. The UN then declared 21st June as the “International Day of Yoga” and the very first such day on 21st June, 2015, was  celebrated all over the world with great gusto.

This was really a very big achievement for yoga and of course, for Bharat, considering that there is no such international day dedicated by the UN to gymnastics, karate, football or ballet. The very fact that just yoga enjoys this distinction shows that there is something really special about yoga. This is definitely Bharat’s great victory in “soft power diplomacy”

There is something truly unique about the health benefits of yoga that throughout the world, doctors, psychiatrists, fitness freaks, researchers, specialists, professionals, businessmen strongly encourage it. As PM Modi had stated, “We did not have health insurance in olden times. But, Yoga is a practice which gives health assurance with zero spending.”

However, health benefits apart, yoga remains inseparably connected to spirituality; it cannot be delinked from Hindu Dharma, as the word yoga is found throughout the Hindu scriptures. Even today, many if not most yoga classes throughout the world, freely greet each other by the ‘Om’ chant, use Sanskrit words for all the aasanas, do Surya Namaskar (the invocation to the Sun God) and some even chant Sanskrit shlokas. Indeed, meditation also forms an important part of yoga. Actually, yoga and Dhyana (meditation) are totally interrelated, with many advanced yoga institutes also teaching meditation techniques.

Not all the yoga institutes around the world are owned by Bharatiyas, however teachers from Bharat are always in great demand, as they are definitely the most qualified having trained in Bharat at the feet of great yogic masters. There is no doubt that yoga’s phenomenal popularity is here to stay, if anything it will only continue to grow. Bharat must take its rightful place as the guide and preceptor of yoga in the world.

Ayurveda

Thousands of years before modern medicine provided scientific evidence for the mind-body connection, the sages of Bharat developed Ayurveda, which continues to be one of the world’s most sophisticated mind-body health systems. More than a mere system of treating illness, Ayurveda is a science of life (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge). It offers a body of wisdom designed to help people stay vibrant and healthy while realizing their full human potential. The two main guiding principles of Ayurveda are 1) the mind and the body are inextricably connected, and 2) nothing has more power to heal and transform the body than the mind. – Deepak Chopra, “What is Ayurveda”, published in “The Chopra Center”.

AyurvedaAyurveda is considered as one of the oldest, if not the oldest, medicinal systems in the world. Some of its concepts have being found in the Indus/Sarasvati civilization which date 7,000+ years back. It was originally an oral tradition, taught and passed directly from teacher to apprentice, who would learn and work side by side.

The first recorded form of Ayurveda as a medical text is found in the Atharvaveda, one of the 4 Vedas, where 114 hymns and incantations are described as cures for diseases. However, the fundamental details were laid out in specialized medical treatises such as the Sushruta and Charak Samhita, composed over 2,000 years back being the oldest surviving treatises on Ayurveda (both Sushruta and Charak mention many previous teachers and earlier manuscripts – which have now been lost – from where they gained their knowledge).

Both these and other later treatises explain the various branches of Ayurveda, which include disciplines such as general medicine, pediatrics, surgery, toxicology, fertility, rejuvenation, etc; they have been explained in such a way that they can be applied in any day and age.

Ayurveda has seen a massive revival of popularity in its place of origin, Bharat.  It is estimated that up to 75% of the people are using some form of Ayurveda, and this ratio is similar in Nepal (73%) and quite high in Sri Lanka also (58%). Outside Bharat, Ayurveda has gained a lot of following in the western countries and is taught across many universities and colleges.

The passion for Ayurveda can be judged from just the example of Dr Sergio Lais-Suarez. He first visited Bharat in 1980 to attend a seminar, where the experience totally transformed him. He became fascinated by both the country and her culture, including vegetarianism, yoga, meditation, but what really captivated him was Ayurveda.

At that time, Ayurveda was completely unknown in Latin America and he had to struggle to convince the Argentines, who at that moment of time did not generally have a favorable impression about Bharat or Bharat’s culture. However, it helped that he was a successful oncologist and a surgeon. After 16 years of unrelenting persuasion, he was instrumental in the setting up of a Department of Ayurveda Medicine. With its success, the University of Buenos Aires opened an Ayurvedic course followed by University of Maimonides. In no time, the Catholic University and Cordoba University had followed suit.

But before Argentina, Dr. Sergio was instrumental in promoting Ayurveda in neighboring Brazil. In 1987, he was part of a team selected by the Brazilian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to train 350 Medical Doctors in Ayurvedic Medicine in a public hospital in Goias state. The team included Ayurvedic doctors from Bharat and was coordinated by Vaidya Gopinath Raju. The team also taught “Ayurvedic Medical Meditation and Anti-stress” techniques to the military police in several cities of Brazil, which made Ayurveda extremely popular in Brazil.

Besides that, Dr. Sergio had given numerous lectures in both the continents that make up Latin America, and his series on FOX Latin America TV Channel raised the profile of Ayurveda in the region as a whole. He is also on the lecture circuit in universities and non-governmental organizations in USA and Japan too.

In recognition of his passion for Bharat, Dr Sergio was made the Honorary Consul of Bharat for Cordoba and other interior provinces of Argentina since 2007. He is also often called as the ambassador of Ayurveda in Latin America. However with all his achievements, he is still looking to accomplish more, as his mission is to get Ayurveda accepted officially and legally as an alternative system of medicine throughout Latin America.

But for this to happen, there must be scientific documentation, public promotion activities such as seminars and registration of Ayurvedic medicines with the local regulatory authorities. And Dr. Sergio feels that this can only be made possible with the support of the Bharatiya Government. That’s why just like China has been successful in promoting its Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) across the world, so also Bharat should be proactive in marketing Ayurveda.

Ramayana

So long as mountains and rivers have place on the earth, the story of the Ramayana will be told in the world.”Lord Brahma to Valmiki in the Ramayana.

Rama

The Ramayan has influenced every layer of Bharatiya society, illuminated the lives of hundreds of millions, and imparted important lessons in statecraft, conduct, family and societal values. It has stressed the importance of justice, virtue, love and sacrifice and indicted the evils of greed, lust and covetousness.

The Ramayana is a historical work composed in Sanskrit by the great sage, Valmiki. It contains of 24,000 verses (48,000 lines) narrated in poetic prose. In fact, there are many who consider it as Adikavyam – the first ever poem written in this world. The central character of the Ramayana is Lord Ram, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Even though he is God, he appears as Maryada Purushottam – the ideal human being. He descended in Bharat to uphold Dharma (the eternal law of the cosmos, inherent in the very nature of things / righteousness) – to fight injustice and to associate with devotees.

Three major Hindu festivals, celebrated throughout the country, are closely linked to the Ramayana – Ram Navami, Vijay Dashami (Dusshera) and of course, Diwali/Deepawali.

What is most amazing and incredible, is that the Ramayana is one of those treasures of Bharatiya civilization that has so deeply impacted, not just Bharat, but also other parts of the world, most notably South East Asia, where it is firmly ingrained in the minds of Indonesians, Malaysians, Thais, Cambodians, Laotians, Myanmarese, and others; it is narrated through dance-dramas, music, puppet and shadow theatre.

While some historians like RC Majumdar and George Coedes believe that kings from Bharat ruled over South East Asia, and thus brought Hindu Dharma and Buddhism to these countries, at least from the 1st century onward, others reject this notion. They claim that Bharatiya culture, including the Ramayana and Mahabharat, was spread through the efforts of Bharatiya merchants and traders, priests and teachers, sailors and adventurers.

Whatever may have been the history, there is no doubt that the adoption of Bharat’s culture into the local cultures has been so total that sometimes it can be hard to fathom that something that appears so Thai such as Muay Thai martial arts has been deeply influenced by the Ramayana. Or that the stories used in the Wayang/Wayang kulit shadow puppet shows of even Muslim majority Indonesia/Malaysia are from the Ramayana and Mahabharat.   

In a display of warm and historic ties between Bharat and Philippines on a global platform, the opening ceremony of the ASEAN summit in Manila in November, 2017 witnessed a grand Ramayana ballet in front of the world leaders.

Many Bharatiyas were pleasantly surprised to learn that the Ramayana had a deep rooted connection with the Philippines. Turns out that Hindu influences and folklore arrived in the Philippines between the 9th-10th century AD, according to Indologists, Juan R. Francisco and Josephine Acosta Pasricha. The Philippines’ famous dance “Singkil”, a folk dance of the Maranao people of south Philippines who are predominantly Muslim, is based on the Ramayana. The Ramayana in the Philippines is called ‘Maharadia Lawana’ and the Ramayana ballet that was performed in front of the world leaders, is called as “Rama Hari”

Shri Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson of Ministry of External affairs, spoke with pride on the Ramayana inspired ballet dance, and also reminded that this was  the second time that the Ramayana had been showcased at an ASEAN summit, having being performed in Laos in 2016

In this context, Valmiki writes that peace, prosperity and tranquility reigned when Lord Ram ruled over Ayodhya. His “Ram Rajya” was the ideal state; there was no crime, people didn’t even bother to lock their doors. No less a person than Mahatma Gandhi remarked that he sought the establishment of “Ram Rajya” as it was the time when the values of justice, equality, idealism, renunciation and sacrifice were practiced. No wonder that the great sage, Narada considered Ram as the perfect man, possessing all the sixteen qualities of the ideal man.

The message of the Ramayana, among the greatest soft powers of Bharat, is for eternity.

Bhagwad Geeta

“For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.

One has to learn tolerance in the face of dualities such as happiness and distress, or cold and warmth, by tolerating such dualities become free from anxieties regarding gain and loss.

hindu communityThese above quotes, spoken by Shri Krishna to Arjuna, are from the Srimad Bhagwad Geeta, considered as among the holiest of the books of Hindus, which has also had a profound impact on the lives of millions of people outside Bharat. Noted intellectuals and philosophers from Thoreau, Emerson, Oppenheimer, TS Eliot right up to Philip Glass, Alfred Ford, Arianna Huffington, Philip Goldberg, David Frawley in the present times.

Interestingly, even people who are not inclined to spirituality and study of metaphysics, have also been influenced by teachings of Bhagwad Geeta, including businessmen and professionals. For, as M.P. Bhattathiri in his detailed article, “Business Management and The Bhagavad Gita” says, Sri Krishna gave not only spiritual enlightenment but also the art of self-management, conflict management, stress, anger management, transformational leadership, motivation, goal setting and many others aspects of management which can be used as a guide to increase HRM (Human Resource Management)  effectiveness… Gita teaches honesty, sincerity, Truthfulness etc. so that one gets peace of mind to face all situation.

Even though narrated by Shri Krishna 5000 years back, its message is not time-bound, and is most relevant to our contemporary times as well. Even though considered by many as Bharat’s national book, its lessons are for the entire humanity.

In fact, the Bhagwad Geeta has been translated into more than 80 languages of the world. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) has done a yeoman service in preaching the teachings of Lord Krishna and the Bhagwad Geeta throughout the world. Copies of the Bhagwad Geeta can be found in hotels and motels in many parts of the world, especially in the US. It can also be found across universities and bookshop across the world, with more and more people familiar with this

When Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi visited Japan in early September, 2014, and was granted an audience with Emperor Akhito at the Imperial Palace, he gifted a copy of the Bhagwad Geeta to the Emperor, and later commented there was nothing more valuable to be offered from Bharat than this sacred book.

Tulsi Gabbard became the first Congresswoman to take her ceremonial oath in Congress on the Bhagwad Geeta. Proud of her Hindu religion, Gabbard is not of Bharatiya descent, but was born in American Samoa to a Catholic father. She commented, “I chose to take the oath of office with my personal copy of the Bhagavad-Gita because its teachings have inspired me to strive to be a servant-leader, dedicating my life in the service of others and to my country.

Karma and Reincarnation

The Sanskrit word Karma has become a household word in the West, and is commonly used in the English language, though it is often misinterpreted to mean fate, which it definitely isn’t. Karma actually means “to act”, “action”, “deed”; Karma means the result of ones’s own actions. If one does good, good results will follow, and if bad actions were performed, then one would encounter bad results.

Fate means that everything is predetermined. On the contrary, karma means that there are choices in life. One has the right to choose whether to do good or bad. Thus, while karma is related to one’s actions, fate is related to God’s will. In Karma, it is the human beings who are responsible for their own actions, whereas in fate; it is just the will of God.

As Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev says, “Karma means, till now whatever you did, the residual impact of that is definitely there upon your life. But this moment’s karma is in your hands. Yesterday’s karma, you cannot change, but this moment’s karma is in your hands.… could be a karma of freedom or of bondage.

In other words, if we have created—through our own thoughts and actions—the life that we are leading today, we also have the power to create the life that we will live tomorrow. Whether we like it or not or take responsibility or not, that’s what we are doing at every step of the way.

Thus, Hindu Dharma places great stress on the importance of the individual to perform good deeds, rather than just relying on a guaranteed place in heaven or hell based on which religion one belongs to. The onus is on us to be good and noble.

Karma is closely connected with re-incarnation. The Bhagwad Geeta declares,

“As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death.” (Bg 2.13)

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Bg 2.22)

While karma and re-incarnation is accepted by Hindu Dharma and the faiths that grew up in Bharat, through the influence of Buddhism it is also accepted in other Asian faiths – including Taoism, Shintoism, Tibetan Bon, etc. Even though the majority of people in the US are Christian, yet nearly 25% of the people believe in it, and it is also believed by many other persons in the West. These Hindu beliefs have also had a direct or subtle influence on Western society, new age movement, avant-garde, the fine arts, and even Hollywood, though most of them do not acknowledge or give credit to Bharat or Hindu Dharma.

Sanskrit

One of Bharat’s greatest gifts to the world has been the Sanskrit language, which is renowned as the most perfect, most ancient and most beautiful language in the world. It is also considered by many to be the “mother of all languages.”

Sanskrit is the cultural language of the Hindus. Almost all our ancient scriptures – the Vedas, Upanishads, the Smritis etc., were written in Sanskrit. Besides that, great poets like Kalidas, Bhavbhuti, Banbhatta, among others, also wrote their classics in this language. So, it is a language venerated by all Hindus as being their sacred most language.

Besides Bharat and South Asia, ancient Sanskrit inscriptions are also found in temples and monuments around the world, especially in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, China, Russia, Indonesia and Malaysia. The inscriptions are in different scripts. The inscriptions are not only in big cities but also in tropical forests of Borneo and a Christian church in Malaysia.  

While Hindus are familiar with the language when they chant shlokas or perform pujas, great efforts have been made recently to once again make it a widely-spoken language. Among the organizations that have played a stellar role in popularizing spoken Sanskrit is “Samskrit Bharati.” Through their efforts, over 10 million people have been trained to speak in Sanskrit. The organization’s work is spread out through 4,500 centers across 19 countries worldwide.

Today, Sanskrit has captured the imagination of even those who are not Hindus or Bharatiyas. It has become extremely popular in Germany for example, where 14 of the top universities teach the language. Also, a summer school held in August draws such a good response that many students have to be sent away for lack of space. Besides Germany, the students are also drawn from USA, Italy, UK and the rest of Europe.

Another unlikely place is at St. James School in UK where Sanskrit is taught as a compulsory subject for the junior division. Dr. Warwick Jessup, Sanskrit teacher at the school, when interviewed by Hindustan Times on 10/2/08 showed his passion for Sanskrit saying that it was the one language that contained heights of civilization and philosophical profundity. Further, “It is the pinnacle of achievement of people of enormous intellect.” He added that so perfect was the language that “even students with learning disabilities get a lot out of learning Sanskrit”   

This was borne out by the testimony of the students who loved learning the language which according to them also helped them in their study of other languages and mathematics. The parent of one kid interviewed said that teaching Sanskrit had instilled ethos and principle in her child’s life, who had also learnt to become calm and thoughtful to others.  The school has inspired not only two schools in London but sister schools in other parts of the world: Dublin, New York, Trinidad, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.

In China, Peking University trains students in Sanskrit, with the aim of creating a team of researchers to help translate thousands of manuscripts containing scriptures that were found in Tibet and other centers of Buddhism. Duan Qing, a professor in Sanskrit and Pali, saidSanskrit research is being viewed with importance now… I don’t think there’s another country in the world where so many Sanskrit works were translated into another language, and this has been going on for more than 1,000 years.” 

One of the most astonishing things, which computer scientists have verified, is that Sanskrit is the most computer friendly language. A NASA scientist, Rick Briggs has said that after he discovered Sanskrit, he was able to get hold of the link between artificial intelligence and the 4000 rules of Panini’s (the leading grammarian of Sanskrit more than 2,500 years ago) Sanskrit grammar that were so scientific and logical as to closely resemble structures used by computer scientists. Panini made Sanskrit precise, concise and complete, so much to the extent that it blends excellently with computers and scientists have acknowledged that Sanskrit is the best language compatible to computer programming.

Recently, Sanskrit has been gaining more acceptability and respect in the international community. In 2011, the World Sanskrit Book Fair held in Bangalore saw an attendance of more than 100,000 people.

The five day World Sanskrit Conference held in 2015 in Bangkok saw Sanskrit scholars from 60 countries. The inaugural speech was entirely given by the External Affairs Minister, Mrs Sushma Swaraj in Sanskrit. It was the first time that a union minister of her seniority had attended such a conference. Later, the Government of Bharat also conferred on Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the first “World Sanskrit Award”. Princess Sirindhorn, a scholar of Sanskrit was also the Royal Patron of the World Sanskrit Conference, Bangkok 2015.

With Sanskrit being such an important vehicle of Bharat’s soft power, a lot more must be done by the authorities to promote and propagate the language. The world is waiting for Bharat to take a lead.

Buddhism

Bharat has inherited the Buddha’s wisdom and that Buddhism had helped to cement long-standing ties between Bharat and many other Asian countries, including Cambodia, China, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, and Thailand, where the Buddha’s teachings are still flourishing today.” – Prime Minister Modi, Mann ki baat 29/4/18

Around 400 million people in the world are Buddhist. Gautam Buddha was born in the Bharatiya kingdom of Kapilavastu, in the city of Lumbini (Nepal). Buddhism spread to countries in the East and the West from the reign of Emperor Ashok (3rd century BC). Today, Buddhists form the majority of the population in Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Japan and Mongolia.

For the devout Buddhists in all these countries, there is a natural affection and respect for Bharat, because of the eight most important places connected with Lord Buddha, which pilgrims visit, only one Lumbini is in Nepal, the other seven: Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, Kushinagar, Sravasti, Kushinagar, Rajgir, Sankassa and Vaishali are all in Bharat.

Historically, Hindu Dharma, Buddhism and the faiths that originated in the country have enjoyed a very amiable relationship. Both Hindu Dharma and Buddhism believe in reincarnation, karma, vegetarianism, yoga, nonviolence, tolerance and respect for all religious traditions. Both believe in the sanctity of the sacred mantra “Aum”.

Actually, Buddhist statues in Hindu temples and Hindu statues in Buddhist temples are extremely common throughout the region. While Hindus praying to Buddha is very common, in South East Asia’s Buddhist countries, especially Thailand, Ganesha, Shiva, Brahma, Parvati are also worshipped along with Gautam Buddha.

It is important that Hindu and Buddhist countries work together to find a common platform where issues of mutual interest concerning them can be raised. The present government is doing a good job in taking a leadership role in forging unity with the Buddhist countries

Vegetarianism

A growing number of people all over the world are becoming vegetarian. Bharat has by far the world’s largest vegetarian population, ranging anywhere between 27% – 40%, which even if the most conservative statistic was taken into account, would mean that upwards of 300 million people in Bharat are vegetarian.

Besides Bharat, it is estimated that up to 13% of the people in Taiwan do not consume meat (the 2nd highest in the world). Even in Scandinavia, where the traditional food has been seafood or meatballs, 2% in Norway, 4% in Denmark and a whopping 10% in Sweden are vegetarian. There are also large number of vegetarians and vegans in UK, the US and Australia.

Today vegetarian restaurants can be found all over the world, with even people who otherwise may consume meat frequenting them. Gone are the days when vegetarians had to struggle to find a decent vegetarian meal. But still there is no doubt that, if at all, there is any cuisine that is most closely identified with vegetarianism, then it is has to be Bharatiya food. Even those Bharatiya restaurants that serve meat, will always have innumerable choices for vegetarians, making them really vegetarian-friendly and the easiest choice for vegetarians.

Long before vegetarianism got seriously followed elsewhere, Hindu Dharma, and its sister faiths – Buddhism and Jainism -had always laid great emphasis on the importance of human beings adopting a vegetarian diet.

Buddhism spread from Bharat to China, and then from there to Japan and Korea. With that, even vegetarianism took firm root. Monks, nuns and serious students of Buddhism would refrain from consuming any kind of meat. Today, most of the people in these countries are not vegetarian, yet within the Buddhist temples no meat or seafood is served or allowed to be brought inside the premises.

In Europe, the Greek Pythagoras viewed a vegetarian diet as a key factor in peaceful human coexistence, and even preached that slaughtering animals brutalized the human soul. Actually, Pythagoras was deeply influenced by Bharatiya philosophy, as many of his beliefs were not akin to mainstream Greek thought.

Even during the medieval times, there were a few people in Europe who were vegetarian, but in general vegetarianism was neither common nor favorably viewed. On the contrary, in many of the Abrahamic religions, it is believed that animals were created by God for human consumption.

However, when the British ruled over Bharat from the 18th century onwards, intellectuals in the western world became acquainted and deeply influenced by Hindu philosophy and knowledge. Some of them like Henry David Thoreau even adopted many Hindu practices and customs and he even considered himself as a Yogi. Many of them became vegetarian, and in turn, made a deep impact on the nascent vegetarian movement of Europe in the 18th/19th centuries.

In “The Bloodless Revolution, Radical Vegetarians and the Discovery of India”, Tristram Stuart brilliantly details how European travelers to Bharat in the 16th century encountered vegetarianism and brought the concept back with them to Europe. In fact, he details accounts of Thomas Tyron’s Hindu vegetarian society in 17th century London, which might have been the oldest such society in Europe. Of course, it became more popular from the 18th century onwards.

As his book’s name implies, he credits Bharat as being the inspiration for the various vegetarian movements that sprung up in Europe. This book also has an interesting chapter on the writings of John Zephaniah Holwell (1711-1798), the ex-governor of Calcutta, who became a scholar of the religion of the Hindus and conceived his own syncretic inspired faith which also included vegetarianism.

Thus, we have established in brief how vegetarianism was born in Bharat, which was the spiritual and philosophical center of the ancient world. Today, people are turning vegetarian not just because of religious, but also health, moral and ecological reasons. And with more than 80% or more of the world’s vegetarians being Bharatiyas, Bharat will continue to be the magnet and guide for vegetarianism in the world.

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These are some of the soft power “inventions” from Bharat. Of course, there are many more, including music, dance, drama, fashion, sculpture, etc.

And yet despite all that, the world has not bothered to give any credit to Bharat, and as noted intellectual Rajiv Malhotra has detailed, they have even attempted to appropriate and digest parts and bits of our inventions, claiming it as theirs.

The problem had been compounded with previous governments not interested in promoting our culture. Therefore, it is vitally important that Bharat and Hindus need to be assertive in reclaiming our heritage, and must promulgate and promote Bharat’s soft power diplomacy. The world is looking to us to give direction.


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About the Author

Nirmal Laungani
NIRMAL LAUNGANI is a Hong Kong businessman, vice president of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, Hong Kong, and chief editor of Sandesh Bharati. Email: [email protected]