Saturday, April 29, 2006

Indians.... world beaters?

Finishing off on "Guns, Germs, and Steel", I began wondering: why is it that Europeans and not Indians became world conquerors? Why did the Europeans sail their big ships and come to India and not vice versa. Why weren't Indians the one's to colonize the Indonesian islands or Australia the way Europeans colonized the Americas?

Come to think of it, 2000 years ago, India (and by India, I mean the Indian sub-continent) and Europe were very similar to each other. They were (are) roughly the same size. They had similar political structure (warring states), which should theoretically encourage similar patterns of innovation by competition.

So what went wrong?

Was it the rigid, socially ingrained caste system, which essentially isolated chunks of people into predefined roles which they could not break apart from? The Europeans came to adopt a single religion, Indians essentially had 4 (castes). Was it the agricultural self-sufficience, which meant that Indians essentially never had to look for greener pastures? Did the sedentary life leave Indians under-prepared when the Mughal conquerors and eventually the Europeans came? Most probably the answer lies in a combination of this and a number of other social/political/environmental factors.

I guess Indians had made their peace with the world, way before the world had even heard the term.


Nandan said...

Apart from the reasons that you have mentioned, one more reason according to me is that Indian philosophy has been too much occupied with the matter concerning life after death and life in next birth-cycle (paar-laukik); to the extent that it is almost denounced to think about present and improve the way you live (aihik). The dominating thought through all this seems to stress the fact that the things that you see around is Maaya (illusion) and the real world lies beyond your realms of understanding; and to attain which you must be free of mundane matters of this world.

Nikhil said...

But do you think people really concerned themselves with this? Maybe the "scholarly" few, but what about most of the population?

But you raise a good point. Religious thinking was possibly too rigid. Europeans also didn't break through technologically until the dominating religion (Christanity) began to loosen its stranglehold.

Tushar said...

I feel the reason can also be that Indian subcontinent(i.e. from present day Myanmar to Afghanistan and boundries of Iran) was a very selfcontained society.Trade with Persia or the far east was limited to exotic items of luxuary like Art.

Also the subcontinent was composed of small kingdoms with relatively similiar technology and power.Unlike Europe saw the rise and fall of Greeks, Romans.

The greater expansion of the European Powers came up only at the turn of the 17th Century. Da Gama and Columbus were sent out simply as explorers coz there was a need to find new places to trade.
The Spanish, french,British and Dutch empires started expansion with their merchant ships as traders to start with.
The conquering only came as they manupulated local powers and acquired land.

Nikhil said...

Hmm, I guess one other factor is the length of the coastline which is much longer for Europe. Unlike India, most European kingdoms had a coastline which meant more incentive to develop seafaring vessels and more chance of contact with diverse people and their technology. Its evolution on a larger scale. Survival of the people who can adopt the fastest.

Anonymous said...

hello mr. nikhil,
wherever you are.
that is a deeply engaging question you have posed.
seriously, i'm not sure how i ran across your blog, but in doing so, i affirmed my own belief in the statement made by Mr. Shashi Tharoor, UN undersec. general of communications,
in the Great Indian Novel (loose pol. history based on Mahabharata).

In the intro/prologue, when i first picked up the book around two years ago his feeling that India was a highly developed civilization in an advanced stage of decay stood out as true.

as an indian myself, i
also credit this passive/accepting phenomena to a deep piety instilled, by part, with the help of geography and location.
After all, if the vedas did exist once, and Mohenjo Darro and Harappa
did so as well,by no far stretch of the imagination, a modern Indian may
recognize relative isolation and peaceful coexistence as two central tenets that were central to the ancient religions that sprung from the subcontinent.

keep thinking this way.
also, please support ancient Indian arts.
if not, who knows which day,
which year,
upon which hour,
the Indian Heritage will have been
completely hijacked by a Western media influence.
As a member of a highly classical music enchanted and practicing family, I felt it to be my duty to spread this message. thank you.

for your thoughts, deeds, and willingness to ponder beyond the present and future.

by the way, i'm much younger than yourself, and am at the pt. of deciding where to go to college for undergrad.

why or why not would you reccomend Rutgers for an Arts major?


Anonymous said...

how do you reconcile your native heritage with your most familiar background?

if you have family in India, do you feel the tug of distance?

the authoritativeness that can only be associated with a relative's zeal
to see the world he/she grew up in change, step by step, not all at once,
lest someone else, someone not up to par, lose out on its glory and downfall?

such are the questions in my head at this moment. if you wish you may devote separate entries. then, a broader conversation can start.
thank you.

Nikhil said...

Hey Mr Anonymous,
Thanks for the feedback. It would have been great if you could have left a contact info.

bugs - the nomadic bunny said...

nice post!
i feel tht religion was and is a major part of our lives. tht kept us from searching outside, we were always taught to look inside etc.
sad to say, even today communalism is rampant and we r less tolerant than we were in earlier centuries...