“North East is the living example of our traditional linkages with Southeast Asian region, for example the Ahoms of Assam are believed to be descendants of the Tai of Thailand, Khamtis (of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh) are the descendants of Tai as well, several tribes of Meghalaya trace their ancestry to Thailand. Road and rail connectivity between the two regions could help bring prosperity to the whole region” said Ram Madhav, National General Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party while addressing a seminar on “India & South East Asia : The Cultural Connect” at New Delhi’s Nehru Memorial Museum and Library recently.
Madhav highlighted India’s deep rooted cultural ties with South East Asia “We Indians have forgotten that we had a vast area of influence in the east – Prof Neelkanth Shastri explained that Indian influence reached Mekong Delta way back in the first century of the common era. India and South East Asia both were culturally well developed and the interaction between the two was mutually enriching. There is reference to King Kaudinya who married a local princess there and established a Kingdom. This influence later extended from Mekong Delta to Malay Peninsula what we refer to as the South East Asian region. Even the political system of these regions have Indian influence for example the current Thai King is known as Rama X. Sanskrit had a huge influence over the languages of South East Asia, and the same can be said about the dance and drama of these countries. Ramayan continues to be a very popular story in almost all the countries of the region it is known by different names in different countries and has several regional variations. The major historic linkage between Southeast Asia and India has been trade-India used to call this region Swarnabhoomi- Land of gold, search for gold was what took the traders and sailors there subsequently trade in Spices started and flourished and Spice trade dominated relationship between India and these regions; Guptas in the north and Chola in the south although 3 to 4 centuries apart both had made trade a major activity between the two regions.”
Madhav explained that the culture of South East Asia is a result of synthesis of local, Indian and Chinese elements and unlike the Chinese Indian culture did not spread because of military intervention “European Scholars used various terms such as ‘further India’ and ‘Greater India’ to describe this region, phrases which I don’t agree with because our cultural influence in these areas spread due to our sailors, traders, priests and monks who traveled to these places, as opposed to the Chinese who spread their influence there due to military conquest.”
He declared that the present government has taken a conscious decision that one of the five pillars of diplomacy would be Sanskriti ie: culture and religion so as to utilize the cultural ties with other nations to further diplomatic relations.