The Wonder that was India - A.L. Basham: A complete Study

 About The author of The Wonder that was India:

 A.L. Basham is the author of The Wonder that was India. His full name is Arthur Llewellyn Basham. He is a well known British historian. He showed keen interest in the history of India and wrote many books on it.The Wonder that was India is his most popular work. It was written in 1958. Basham was born in 1914 in Loughton, Essex, England. His father's name was Abraham Arthur Edward Basham and his mother's name was Maria Jane Basham. Both of them were journalists. He served as a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. It is said that he had taught some famous Indian historians. Among them Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma and V.S. Pathak are noted historians. He breathed his last in 1986 in Calcutta, India.

The Wonder that was India (Text)
A.L. Basham

Hindu civilization will, we believe, retain its continuity. The Bhagavad Gita will not cease to inspire men of action, and the Upanishads men of thought. The charm and graciousness of the Indian way of life will continue, however much affected it may be by the labour- saving devices of the West People will still love the tales of the heroes of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and of the loves of Dusyanta and Sakuntala and Pururavas and Urvasi. The quiet and gentle happiness which has at all times pervaded Indian life where oppression, disease and poverty have not overclouded it will surely not vanish before the more hectic ways of the West.

Much that was useless in ancient Indian culture has already perished. The extravagant and barbarous hecatombs of the Vedic age have long since been forgotten, though animal sacrifice continues in some sects. Widows have long ceased to be burnt on their husbands' pyres. Girls may not by law be married in childhood. In buses and trains all over India brahmans rub shoulders with the lower castes without consciousness of grave pollution, and the temples are open to all by law. Caste is vanishing; the process began long ago, but its pace is now so rapid that the more objectionable features of caste may have disappeared within a generation or so. The old family system is adapting itself to present-day conditions. In fact the whole face of India altering, but the cultural tradition continues, and it will never be lost.

The whole of South-East Asia received most of its culture from India. Early in the 5th century B.C. colonists from Western India settled in Ceylon, which was finally converted to Buddhism in the reign of Ashoka. By this time a few Indian merchants had probably found their way to Malaya, Sumatra, and other parts of South-East Asia. Gradually they established permanent settlements, often, no doubt, marrying native women. They were followed by brahmans and Buddhist monks, and Indian influence gradually leavened the indigenous culture, until by the 4th century A.D. Sanskrit was the official language of the region, and there arose great civilizations, capable of organizing large maritime empires, and of building such wonderful memorials as their greatness as the Buddhist stupa of Borobodur in Java, or the Saivite temples of Angkor in Cambodia. Other cultural influences, from China and the Islamic world, were felt in South-East Asia, but the primary impetus to civilization came from India.

Indian historians, proud of their country's past, often refer to this region as "Greater India", and speak of Indian "colonies". In its usual modern sense the term "colony" is hardly accurate, however. Vijaya, the legendary Aryan conqueror of Ceylon, is said to have gained the island by the sword, but beyond this we have no real evidence of any permanent Indian conquest outside the bounds of India. The Indian "colonies" were peaceful ones, and the Indianized kings of the region were indigenous chieftains who had learnt what India had to teach them.

Northwards Indian cultural influence spread through Central Asia to China. Faint and weak contact between China and India was probably made in Mauryan times, if not before, but only when, some 2,000 years ago, the Han Empire began to drive its frontiers towards the Caspian did India and China really meet. Unlike South-East Asia, China did not assimilate Indian ideas in every aspect of her culture, but the whole of the Far East is in India's debt for Buddhism, which helped to mould the distinctive civilizations of China, Korea, Japan and Tibet.

As well as her special gifts to Asia, India has conferred many practical blessings on the world at large; notably rice, cotton, the sugarcane, many spices, the domestic fowl, the game of chess and most important of all, the decimal system of numeral notation, the invention of an unknown Indian mathematician early in the Christian era. The extent of the spiritual influence of India on the ancient West is much disputed. The heterodox Jewish sect of the Essenes, which probably influenced early Christianity, followed monastic practices in some respects similar to those of Buddhism. Parallels may be traced between a few passages in the New Testament and the Pali scriptures. Similarities between the teachings of western philosophers and mystics from Pythagoras to Plotinus and those of the Upanisads have frequently been noticed. None of these similarities, however, is close enough to give certainty, especially as we have no evidence that any classical writer had a deep knowledge of Indian religion. We can only say that there was always some contact between the Hellenic world and India, mediated first by the Achaemenid Empire, then by that of the Seleucids, and finally, under the Romans, by the traders of the Indian ocean. Christianity began to spread at the time when this contact was closest. We know that Indian ascetics occasionally visited the West, and that there was a colony of Indian merchants at Alexandria. The possibility of Indian influence on Neo-platonism and early Christianity cannot be ruled out.

Many authorities may doubt that Indian thought had any effect on that of the ancient West, but there can be no doubt of its direct and indirect influence on the thought of Europe and America in the last century and a half, though this has not received adequate recognition. This influence has not come by way of organized neo-Hindu missions. The last eighty years have seen the foundation of the Theosophical Society, of various Buddhist societies, and of societies in Europe and America looking for inspiration to the saintly 19th-century Bengali mystic, Paramahamsa Ramakrishna, and to his equally saintly disciple, Swami Vivekananda. Lesser organizations and groups have been founded in the West by other Indian mystics and their disciples, some of them noble, earnest and spiritual, others of more dubious character. Here and there Westerners themselves, sometimes armed with a working knowledge of Sanskrit and first-hand Indian experience, have tried to convert the West to a streamlined Yoga or Vedanta. We would in no way disparage these teachers or their followers, many of whom are of great intellectual and spiritual caliber; but whatever we may think of the Western propagators of Indian mysticism, we cannot claim that they have had any great effect on our civilization. More subtle, but more powerful, has been the influence of Mahatma Gandhi, through the many friends of India in the West who were impressed by his burning sincerity and energy, and by the ultimate success of his policy of non-violence in achieving India's independence. Greater than any of these influences, however, has been the influence of ancient Indian religious literature through philosophy.

The pioneers of the Asiatic Society of Bengal quickly gained a small but enthusiastic following in Europe, and Goethe and many other writers of the early 19th century read all they could of ancient Indian literature in translation. We know that Goethe borrowed a device of Indian dramaturgy for the prologue to "Faust" and who can say that the triumphant final chorus of the second part of that work was not in part inspired by the monism of Indian thought as he understood it? From Goethe onwards most of the great German philosophers knew something of Indian philosophy. Schopenhauer, whose influence on literature and psychology has been so considerable, indeed openly admitted his debt, and his outlook was virtually that of Buddhism. The monisms of Fichte and Hegel might never have taken the forms they did if it had not been for Anquetil-Duperron's translation of the Upanisads and the work of other pioneer Indologists. In the English-speaking world the strongest Indian influence was felt in America, where Emerson, Thoreau and other New England writers avidly studied much Indian religious literature in translation, and exerted immense influence on their contemporaries and successors, notably Walt Whitman. Through Carlyle and others the German philosophers in their turn made their mark on England, as did the Americans through many late 19th-century writers such as Richard Jeffries and Edward Carpenter.

Though in the contemporary philosophical schools of Europe and America the monistic and idealist philosophies of the last century carry little weight, their influence has been considerable, and all of them owe something at least to ancient India. The sages who meditated in the jungles of the Ganges Valley six hundred years or more before Christ are still forces in the world.

It is today something of an anachronism to speak of Western civilization or Indian civilization. Until very recently cultures were sharply divided, but now, when India is but a thirty hours' journey from London, cultural divisions are beginning to disappear. If a modus vivendi is reached between liberal democracy and communism, and civilization survives, the world of the future will have a single culture with, it is to be hoped, many local differences and variations. India's contribution to the world's cultural stock has already been very large, and it will continue and grow as her prestige and influence increases. For this reason if for no other we must take account of her ancient heritage in its successes and its failures, for it is no longer the heritage of India alone, but of all mankind.
Source: English Language and Indian Culture; Madhya Pradesh Hindi Granth Academy, Bhopal

I. Summary of The Wonder that was India:

The Wonder that was India is a beautiful composition by A. L. Basham. It seems that the author is deeply interested in Indian culture and its traditions and customs. Here the author praises the Hindu civilization, Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads. The author is of the idea that the Hindu culture and civilization will remain in existence forever. This Hindu culture and civilization will never vanish. The teachings of Bhagavad Gita will always encourage the men who believe in action. The Upanishads will always encourage those who are interested in acquiring knowledge. The life of Indian people has a charm and grace. The life of India will never loose it. Despite the Western influence India will retain her unique cultural, philosophical and religious merits forever. The people of India lead a very simple life. The ways of Indian life have not been affected much by the oppression, sickness and poverty. Indian civilization will never perish. It will never be put to an end by the western ways of life. Basham says that the old traditions of India are changing fast. Even then the old culture of India continues through the new changes. In fact India is undergoing a complete change, yet it has not lost its contact with its old culture. That's why its old culture would never die. It is because the new changes are based on the old Indian traditions.

II. Objective Type Questions:

1. The main problems of India are:
a. labour saving devices.
b. action and thought.
c. disease and poverty.
d. hectic ways of the world..
Ans: c. disease and poverty.
2. The old face of India:
a. has already changed fully.
b. is vanishing daily.
c. is changing fast.
d. is not likely to change at all.
Ans: c. is changing fast.
3. The earliest influence of ancient Indian culture on South- East Asia can be traced back to:
a. 4th Century A.D.
b. 5th Century B.C.
c. 1st Century A.D.
d. 9th Century B.C.
Ans: b. 5th Century B.C.
4. Vijaya, who is said to have conquered Ceylon first was:
a. a king from folk tales.
b. a king from fables.
c. a king from epics.
d. a king from real life.
Ans: a. a king from folk tales.
5. In the beginning, cultural relations between China and India were:
a. not strong.
b. mutually all assimilative.
c. pervasive and predominant.
d. pervasive and weakening.
Ans: a. not strong.
6. When was Ceylon finally converted to Buddhism:
a. in the reign of Ashoka
b. in the reign of Harsh
c. in the reign of Chandragupta
d. in the reign of Bhoj
Ans: a. in the reign of Ashoka.
7. Where is Buddhist stupa of Borobodur?
a. in Malaya.
b. in Sumatra.
c. in Ceylon
d. in Java
Ans: d. in Java.
8. Where is the Angkor located?
a. in Malaya.
b. in Sumatra.
c. in Cambodia
d. in Java
Ans: c. in Cambodia.
9. Faust is a play by:
a. Marlowe
b. Goethe
c. Schopenhauer
d. Hegel
Ans: b. Goethe.
10. Goethe, Schopenhauer and Hegel were:
a. American philosophers.
b. French philosophers
c. German philosophers
d. Indian philosophers
Ans: German philosophers.
11. Emerson and Thoreau, Richard Jeffries, Edward Carpenter and Walt Whitman belong to:
a. America
b. Russia
c. France
d. England
Ans: a. America
12. A.L. Basham is an eminent historian of:
a. China
b. England
c. Germany
d. America
Ans: b. England
13. When was A.L. Basham born?
a. in 1911
b. in 1912
c. in 1913
d. in 1914
Ans: d. in 1914.
14. Where was A. L. Basham born:
a.  in Loughton, England
b. in Lahore, Pakistan
c. in Allahabad, India
d. in London, England
Ans: a. in Loughton, England
15. When did Basham die?
a. in 1986
b. in 1987
c. in 1988
d. in 1989
Ans: a. in 1986.
16. Where did Basham die?
a. in London
b. in Calcutta.
c. in Delhi
d. in Madras.
Ans: b. in Calcutta.
17. When was The wonder that was India written?
a. in 1956
b. in 1957
c. in 1958
d. in 1959
Ans: c. in 1958.
18. The Western dissemination of Indian mysticism was:
a. highly influential
b. very demoralising
c. very rejuvenating
d. not very influential
Ans: d. not very influential

III. Short Answer Type Questions:

Q1. Who is Basham?
Ans: Basham is an eminent British historian.
Q2. When was Basham born?
Ans: Basham was born in 1914.
Q3. Where was Basham born?
Ans: Basham was born in Loughton, Essex, England.
Q4. When did Basham die?
Ans: Basham died in 1986.
Q5. Where did Basham die?
Ans: Basham died in Calcutta, India.
Q6. When was The Wonder that was India written?
Ans: The Wonder that was India was written in 1958.
Q7. What is the most significant quality of Indian civilization?
Ans: The most significant quality of Indian civilization is that it will remain in existence forever.
Q8. Mention the most important characteristic of the Indian way of life?
Ans: Simplicity is the the most important characteristic of the Indian way of life.
Q9. When did Indian cultural influence begin in Ceylon?
Ans: Early in the 5th century B.C. Indian cultural influence began in Ceylon. 
Q10. Who were the first Indians to go to the South-East Asian Countries?
Ans: Few Indian merchants were the first Indians to go to the South-East Asian Countries.
Q11. What is referred to by Indian historians as 'Greater India'?
Ans: South-East Asia is referred to by Indian historians as 'Greater India'.
Q12. Who is said to have conquered Ceylon first?
Ans: Vijaya, the legendary king, is said to have conquered Ceylon first.
Q13. When did the real contact between India and China begin?
Ans: Some 2000 years ago in the Han Empire the real contact between India and China began.
Q14. What aspect of Indian culture influenced the Far-East most significantly?
Ans: It is Buddhism of Indian culture that influenced the Far-East most significantly.
Q15. Mention some practical blessings conferred on the world by India?
Ans: Some practical blessings conferred on the world by India are rice, cotton, the sugarcane, many spices, the domestic fowl, the game of chess and the decimal system of numeral notation.
Q16. What shows that some Jewish sects were also influenced by India?
Ans: Monastic practice shows that some Jewish sects were also influenced by India.
Q17. Which Indian (s) influenced Europe and America most?
Ans: Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi were the Indians who influenced Europe and America most.
Q18. Which quality of Mahatma Gandhi influenced the West most?
Ans: It was Mahatma Gandhi's non-violence that influenced the West most.
Q19. In what way was Goethe indebted to India?
Ans: Goethe borrowed a device of Indian dramaturgy for the prologue to Faust, a play.
Q20. Which American writers were influenced most by Indian thought?
Ans: American writers like Emerson, Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Richard Jeffries and Edward Carpenter were influenced most by Indian thought.
Q21. What kind of world culture we may expect to emerge in future?
Ans: We may expect that in future a single culture of the whole world with many local differences and variations may emerge.

IV. Vocabulary:

Match the words with their meanings:

1. Hectic -          Leader of a clan or tribe.
2. Hecatomb -   A group of people united by religious beliefs and opinions.
3. Sect -            Native.
4. Leavened -   Connected with the sea or navigation.
5. Indigenous - Without rest.
6. Maritime -    Quality or influence spreading in and changing something.
7. Impetus -     Driving force.
8. Chieftain -  Great public sacrifice.


1. Hectic -           Without rest. 
2. Hecatomb -    Great public sacrifice. 
3. Sect -             A group of people united by religious beliefs and opinions.
4. Leavened -   Quality or influence spreading in and changing something.
5. Indigenous - Native.
6. Maritime -    Connected with the sea or navigation.
7. Impetus -     Driving force.
8. Chieftain -   Leader of a clan or tribe.

V. Antonyms:

1. Poverty - Prosperity, luxury
2. Vanish - Appear
3. Long - Short
4. Rapid - Gradual
6. Assimilate -  Divide, Separate, divorce
7. Dubious - Trustworthy, indubitable
8. Disparage - Admire
9. Insincerity - Sincerity
10. Adequate - Inadequate
Sandal S Anshu, Satna


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