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Greater India's magnificent heritage

Rajeev Srinivasan on India's cultural empire

Harking back to a time when Greater India -- including most of Southeast Asia -- was under the strong and direct influence of Indic ideas, Borobudur and Prambanan represent some of the finest flowering of Indian art and architecture anywhere, including in India.

Together with the absolutely stunning temple complex at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, they show the pinnacle of Indian cultural influence. Angkor Wat, originally a Vishnu temple built at the zenith of Khmer power around 900 years ago, is the largest religious structure in the world: a truly breathtaking monument.

All this is a tribute to India's tremendous 'soft power' -- in Joseph Nye's artful coinage -- the seductive power of Indian ideas, in not only religion and art, but in language, mythology, architecture, the sciences, and so on. Today we are familiar with America's soft power as exemplified by Hollywood and pop music; India's soft power was of the same order of magnitude. Even today, a millennium later, children all the way to Vietnam still learn their alphabets with the familiar "a-aa-e-ee" of Indian scripts, and Thai, Khmer, Javanese, Balinese scripts, all look like Oriya or Telugu.

Image: Angkor Wat's central towers, seen from the causeway, with the Naga balustrade in the foreground

Read Rajiv Srinivasan's columns

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