Globalisation before Globalisation


Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

We live in a globalised world today. The term Globalisation was coined by the American economist Theodore Levitt in 1983 to refer to the interconnection of markets. Today it represents the interdependence of different countries not only economically but also militarily, culturally, linguistically, educationally, digitally. One does not have to look too deep to see the validity of this term and how it is shaping different parts of the world into a common format.

Some people may not like this format but there is no denying that we are being molded in what may be loosely termed as a common container. In the sphere of economy and trade; we have a few world organisations — IMF, World Bank, WTO that dictate a common trade and economic paradigm on most countries. Militarily there are a few countries — USA, Russia, France and even a small country like Israel that produce different types of weapons, submarines, fighter planes etc and sell them to everyone that have the money.

USA is the cultural, linguistic and digital hegemon of the world that few people could disagree with. English became a world language after WWII when USA became the only superpower. In the field of internet and instant communications, there is hardly any challenge to USA’s pre-eminence and domination — be it computers, PCs, smartphones, Google, FB or Twitter, online or offline exchanges. One can similarly see the preeminence of America in education with some top notch universities and research institutions located in the country although similar institutions have been around in England, France, Germany, Russia and Japan. India had two outstanding institutions Taxila and Nalanda that were destroyed, but efforts are being made to make Nalanda an academically sound institution again.

What do I mean by globalisation before the present globalisation of the world? Probably the term globalisation in earlier periods of history is incorrect and misleading. We should perhaps have a term such as interconnectedness, or intercultural or religious movements to describe the exchange of ideologies, religious, cultural or linguistic in earlier times. It was through this interchange that Buddhism spread from India to many eastern parts of the world, for example.

Mathematics, Sanskrit and grammar travelled from the fertile minds of several people in India to western countries. The medium of transmission of several outstanding Indian philosophical texts such as Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagwad Gita, etc. was surprisingly the Persian language, which became an official language of several Mogul dynasties of India. Several Muslim scholars like Aurangzeb’s elder brother Dara Shikoh (executed in 1657) was a Sanskrit and Persian scholar and he translated several of the Indian Sanskrit epics into Persian language which then travelled to Persia (Iran). From the Persian translations these texts were further translated into German, Latin and French languages. Max Mueller (1823-1900) was a well known German scholar, philosopher and philologist who worked on these texts and has brought out his commentaries on these epics.

Incidentally, my father left me a book of lectures delivered by Max Mueller in Cambridge University entitled INDIA—What It Can Teach Us published exactly a century ago in 1919.

Apart from these academic or religious exchanges, many small scale exchanges that did not call for ideological or research orientations, also took place over our past. Trade in food items, fruits and agricultural products, exchange in music and culture and cuisine were quite common. For instance dry fruits such as walnuts and almonds from Afghanistan used to come to India frequently and clothes and rice etc were sent to that country by small traders. There is a very sensitive play called Kabuliwala (man from Kabul) that was subsequently made into a popular Hindi film by the same name. The film is about a man who trades in these items and travels from Kabul to Lahore and Delhi in India.

Fruits such as tarbooz and kharbooz found in Turkey and Iran were also found in India with the same names.

Similarly, tea seems to have come to India from some eastern parts of India—Darjeeling–and parts of China; from here it travelled to many parts of the world. The Hindi name of this drink is chai — from the Chinese name chaChá in Portuguese.

In cultural terms the famous Hindu temple Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia spread over about 200 acres of land, was built by Indian  architects and masons and anyone who now visits it is struck by the beautiful figurines and statues that depict its Hindu architecture, although it now became a Buddhist temple. The word Cambodia itself is derived from the Hindu word Kamboj.

A few years back I travelled to Thailand to participate in a Conference. On the cultural side, they had a dance number with about a dozen dancers dancing to a number called Mayur Dance. It was a local adaptation of a similar dance in India. The word Mayur means a peacock in Thai and Indian languages. Incidentally, the monarch in Thailand attends to the throne by a procedure called Abhishek meaning anointment or purification—a Sanskrit word.

One can add to cultural, religious, trade relations between several countries and regions. The old Silk Route between China and many parts of Asia and India was not only a route of exchange of trade items but also a means of spread of Buddhism through China Japan, Burma, Thailand and many other regions. Many old Buddhist manuscripts have been discovered along this route.

Europe, Africa and Americas both North and South have had many significant exchanges in diverse fields that have been documented by several scholars. This was before the term globalization was coined and became popular.

I will end this short essay by recalling my visit to Tehran, Iran about 45 years back. While walking along the main tourist sites, I branched off to smaller streets and was amazed to see a bakery shop that was exactly similar to what we had in Delhi at that time. Similarly, there were some roadside toy sellers selling aluminum toys that looked exact replicas of a village toy seller in India.

This depicted and even now does the close relations that existed between different countries and regions in cultural, economic, linguistic, religious terms. Was that globalisation? Not in its modern connotation. But it vividly shows how cultures, cuisines, religious rituals traveled from one part to another by land, seas and over mountains and propagated peace and harmony between peoples.


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 Jun 2019.

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