Modern India: The Origins of An Asian Democracy

By Judith M. Brown | Go to book overview
Save to active project


The Indian Subcontinent: Land, People, and Power

The Indian subcontinent has long exerted a fascination over people from other lands. Writers in the classical Mediterranean world as early as Horace and Herodotus commented on its supposed wealth and wonders--its gold, precious stones, and ivory, and its allegedly fabulous beasts such as eels 300 feet long, dogs capable of combat with lions, and one-horned horses. But then, as now, what people of different races and cultures knew or thought they knew of each other often took the form of a stereotype: a single image or stylized picture drawn from myth, fancy, and scanty knowledge, rather than true familiarity and accurate observation. This is not surprising, since India is 7,000 miles distant from western Europe and the journey had to be made by land or sea until the coming of commercial air travel in the mid twentieth century. Before steam replaced sail in the last century at sea and substituted railways for horses as the fastest mode of overland travel, visitors to India from Europe could spend at least three months on the way, facing considerable hazards from climate and disease. Moreover, those who made the perilous journey east were not trained observers of society and government; but diplomats, traders, and sailors, interested in profit and survival rather than in accurate reporting of the land and its people.

The image of India in European eyes has changed markedly over the centuries. Whereas it was once seen as a land of marvels, by the nineteenth century European Christians, scandalized by stories of customs such as child marriage and widow-burning, viewed its people as benighted heathen, fit subjects for conversion, good government and reforming education. But as western scholars began to learn Sanskrit, so the wealth of India's religious literature in that sacred language became apparent to them, and gradually India came to be seen not just as a 'white man's burden' but as the source of ancient wisdom and enlightenment on which Europeans and Americans, locked in the profit-making materialism of industrial society, could meditate and from which they could draw fresh inspiration. Later still, in the twentieth century, the image of a 'spiritual India' was reinforced by those westerners who were captivated by the preaching of non-violence by M. K. Gandhi during the nationalist movement; and by those dis


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Modern India: The Origins of An Asian Democracy


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 464

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?