Interactions of Peoples and Civilisations


Dr. Ravi P. Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

People have been interacting with each other for thousands of years on this planet. The interactions have resulted in exchange of several aspects of human lives and civilisations. These consist of exchange of religious rituals and religions themselves — Buddhism travelled from India to several eastern countries, Christianity and Islam also spread all over the world. Exchange of cuisines, of agricultural products like potato, tomato, tea, etc. has also taken place over the last several centuries. Potato and tomato were initially grown in South America — Peru and other regions. Spain brought these to Europe and today we find these two products grown all over the world.

A few animals such as elephants and camels, which were found only in some regions, made their presence felt in other regions. Similarly some varieties of sea creatures like whales moved from one sea to another or one ocean to a different one. Even some birds travel from the cold climate of Siberia to warmer parts of India during winters. These birds again return to their homes when the weather becomes warmer— how they do it is a matter of scientific research even now.

Architecture is another aspect of human civilisation that has developed and migrated over many centuries. From brick making to building of huge structures such as forts and places of worship, the effect can be seen even by untrained eyes of people. Roman architecture is visible in distant places from Rome itself.

Another exchange takes place through the medium of language. How Spanish, Portuguese, French, English and others have moved from one continent to another is now well understood in history. Other languages such as Turkish, Arab and Persian have also shown movement although not to the extent of the major languages. But even if entire languages have not made their abode in different countries, hundreds of words have become part of the language of the concerned region.

Greek and Latin words have become intrinsic parts of several European languages. Similarly many words in Sanskrit, which is a classical language of North India, have become part of several other languages such as Tamil, Thai and Cambodian. I am not aware of interactions with Mandarin language of China but one word, cha, has been imbibed in Hindi as chai (tea); chá being also the word for tea in Portuguese.

The French language was spoken in many parts of Europe and of North Africa and as a result hundreds of its words are now part of English language but with different pronunciation. Words such as avenue, restaurant, hotel, hospital, Premier Minister, province, protocol, Parliament and scores of other words and expressions are now part of the English language. The words liberté, égalité, fraternité are all of French origin. Surprisingly, several French words with similar pronunciation such as Department and Merci (thank you) are part of the modern Persian language.

Incidentally there are a large number of Persian words in the Hindi language. This is due to Muslim rulers of India who had made Persian as their official language. Some classical Indian epics were translated from Sanskrit to Persian and then moved to Iran. From the Persian texts these were then translated into Latin, German and French thereby becoming accessible to western scholars like Max Müller and others.

Somehow I became interested in finding out if there are some common words between Portuguese language and Hindi. Portugal had colonised a small part of western coast of India near Bombay–Goa–for a long duration of four hundred years. Even when India became free from the colonial yoke of England in 1947, Portugal refused to leave Goa. Only in December 1961 after several diplomatic efforts failed, that India decided to free Goa by military means. That did the trick — the Portuguese commanders quickly packed their suitcases and sailed for Portugal.

The reason to find out similarities between the Portuguese and Hindi languages was not just linguistic. The Editor of TMSAntonio C S Rosa, is a friend of mine who has visited India twice, and I have also partaken of his hospitality in Porto on one memorable occasion.  He is also a devotee of Lord Krishna and a brahmana due to his association with the ISKCON movement that has its centres in many parts of the world including in Porto.

The few words in Hindi that owe their origin to Portuguese are:

Hindi       Portuguese        English

aya             aia                            maid

almari       armário                 cupboard, shelf

chabi         chave                     key

angrez       inglês                    English

kamra       câmara                  room

sabun       sabão                    soap

tauliya     toalha                   towel

balti          balde                   bucket

Linguistic interactions and additions of many words in other languages continue unabated today. The main lenders of words are the American English and computer software that is adding countless number of new terms. I need not mention them since they are so well known.

Is this linguistic intrusion desirable? People have different views — some people argue that this is a good part of globalisation. It helps people while travelling from one country to another. But a contrary view that has emerged in India and some Asian countries is that the elite of these countries speak English very well and write even novels and poems in English apart from scientific research articles. However, the ordinary poor people are often looked down upon since they are not conversant with this language.

This subject can continue indefinitely. I must put a stop here and hope that this essay is accepted by TMS.

Obrigado, Antonio

By the way, obrigado (thank you) comes from the Latin expression obligare (oblige).


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.



This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 15 Jun 2020.

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