South Asian Influence on other Cultures

In the lead up to South Asian Heritage Month, the South Asian Society are celebrating and telling their own stories about the history of and diversity of South Asian culture. This week, Lucie Bridgman (Lower Sixth), guest writes on the Headmistress blog about how South Asian culture has had an influential impact on her life. We hope you enjoy reading her blog.

By Lucie Bridgman (Lower Sixth)

As one of the non-South Asian members of the South Asian Society, it is easy to forget how important South Asia is to other cultures. But South Asian culture has had a very big impact on my life, as it has influenced three very different countries that are very important to me.

One of these countries is The Philippines, where many of my close friends are from. The Philippines was under Indian sphere of cultural influence starting around 290 BC until around the 15th century, when Hindu/Buddhist influence was absorbed by local politics. Kingdoms in the Southeast coast of India had established trade, cultural and political relations with Southeast Asian kingdoms including Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Malay Peninsula, Champa, Cambodia and the Philippines. Southern Indian traders, adventurers, teachers and priests continued to be the dominating influence in Southeast Asia until about 1500 CE. While the Philippines has also been influenced by China and their Spanish invaders, the South Asian influence cannot be overlooked.

My family are from Guyana and you wouldn’t think a South American country could be so heavily influenced by South Asia. Indo-Guyanese are the largest ethnic group in Guyana. According to the official census, about 40% of the population in 2012 was from India or of Indian heritage. They are the descendants of indentured laborers and settlers who emigrated beginning in 1838 from India during the time of the British Raj. Most of the Indian settlers who arrived were from North India, specifically regions of the Hindi Belt, however a significant minority came from around Madras in South India. Others arrived as merchants, landowners and farmers pushed out by famine. Guyana celebrates Indian Arrival Day on 5th May with mehndi tattoos to bring us good luck. Hindu festivals are also celebrated as public holidays like Christian festivals.

South Asia has had a great many dietary influences upon Britain. Recipe books dating from the 15th century show that English cookery made extensive use of spices brought back from though trade routes to Asia and the Middle East. These spices and other commodities from the late formed British Empire played an important part in changing the eating habits and culture of wealthy Britons. Nowadays the most favoured takeaway, after Chinese, is Indian takeaway and this fascination with curry led to the creation of the chicken tikka masala by South Asians who had settled in Britain.

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