Spread of Indian Culture Abroad

Sri Lanka

  • King Ashoka made earnest efforts to propagate Buddhism outside India.
  • He sent his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra to Sri Lanka to spread the message of the Buddha.
  • The teachings of the Buddha were transmitted orally by the people who had gone from India.
  • First monasteries built in Sri Lanka are Mahavihar and Abhayagiri.
  • Pali became their literary language.
  • Dipavansa and Mahavamsa are well known Sri Lankan Buddhist sources.
  • With Buddhism, Indian Art forms also reached Sri Lanka, the most renowned paintings of Sri Lanka are found in cave-shelter monasteries at Sigiriya.
  • King Kashyap is believed to have converted it into a fortified place in the fifth century AD.
  • Figures painted in the cave are in the Amaravati style of India.


  • Contact between India and China began around 2nd Century BC.
  • Indian culture first entered in China with two monk scholars—Kashyapa Martanga & Dharmarakshita who went to China in AD 67 on the invitation of Chinese Emperor Ming Ti (Han Dynasty).
  • A scholar named Bodhidharma went to China from Kanchipuram. He went to Nalanda, studied there and left for China. He carried the philosophy of Yoga with him and popularized the practice of ‘dhyana,’ (meditation), which was later known in China as ch’an. Bodhidharma became such an eminent figure that people began to worship him in China and Japan.
  • The Buddhists philosophy appealed to the Chinese intellectuals because they already had a developed philosophical school in Confucianism.

Arab & Turks

  • About the economic aspects of this relationship, we have from about mid-ninth century AD several accounts by Arab and other travelers, such as Sulaiman, the Merchant, Al-Masudi, Ibn Hauqal, Al Idrisi, etc., which attest to a flourishing commercial exchange between these areas.
  • In the field of astronomy, two important works namely the Brahma-sphuta-siddhanta and Khandakhadyaka were brought to Baghdad by embassies from Sindh and translated to Arabic.
  • Aryabhata’s and Varahamihira’ s works on astronomy were also studied and incorporated into the scientific literature of the Arabs.
  • Arabs acknowledged their debt to India by calling mathematics ‘hindisa’ (pertaining to India).
  • Several Indian works on medicine and therapeutics were rendered into Arabic at the behest of the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, the ruler of Baghdad from AD 786 to 809.
  • Sushruta Samhita was translated by an Indian called Mankh in Arabic.

Indo-Roman Trade

  • India had ancient trade ties with Rome. India had always been famous for its spices. This trade happened mostly in South India and is testified both by literary texts and finds of Roman coins specially at Coimbatore and Madurai.
  • Items like pepper, betel, spices, scents and precious stones like beryl, gem, diamond, ruby and amethyst, pearls, ivory, silk and muslins were in great demand.
  • This trade with Rome was bound to bring in gold to India which gave her a favorable position in trade and established a stable gold currency for Kushana empire of those days.
  • Kaveripattinam was an important port for “vendors of fragrant pastes and powders, of flowers and incense. There were also horses brought to the market from distant lands beyond the seas.” Most of these goods were gathered for export.
  • According to Pliny, India’s exports included pepper and ginger which fetched a price that was a hundred times more than their original value.
  • There was also a demand for incenses, spices and aromatics from India. Lavish consumption of these commodities took place in Rome.
  • The volume of trade with Rome was so high that to facilitate its movement, ports like Sopara, and Barygaza (Broach) came to be built in the west coast, while the Coromandel coast in the east continued trade with “Golden Chersonese (Suvarnabhumi) and Golden Chyrse (Suvarnadvipa).”
  • The town of Paithana (Pratishthana-inland port) shipped abroad stones, tagara, cotton, muslin and other textiles.
  • The Andhra king Yajnasri issued a rare type of coin figuring the ship as the symbol of the state’s sea-borne trade.
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