South Asian Religions: Tradition and Today

South Asian Art and Culture
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Babur defeated and killed Ibrahim Lodi in the Battle of Panipat in The modern history period of South Asia, that is 16th-century onwards, witnessed the start of the Central Asian dynasty named the Mughals, with Turkish-Mongol roots and Sunni Islam theology. The Deccan and northeastern region of the South Asia was largely under Hindu kings such as those of Vijayanagara Empire and Ahom kingdom , [] with some regions such as parts of modern Telangana and Andhra Pradesh under local Sultanates such as the Shia Islamic rulers of Golconda Sultanate.

The Mughal Empire continued its wars of expansion after Babur's death.

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With the fall of the Rajput kingdoms and Vijayanagara, its boundaries encompassed almost the entirety of the Indian subcontinent. However, this time also marked an extended period of religious persecution. Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh temples were desecrated.

However, not all Muslim rulers persecuted non-Muslims. Akbar , a Mughal ruler for example, sought religious tolerance and abolished jizya. The economic developments on South Asia waved the period of proto-industrialization. After the death of Aurangzeb and the collapse of the Mughal Empire, which marks the beginning of modern India, in the early 18th century, it provided opportunities for the Marathas , Sikhs , Mysoreans and Nawabs of Bengal to exercise control over large regions of the Indian subcontinent.

British, French, Portuguese colonial interests struck treaties with these rulers, and established their trading ports. In the east, the Bengal region was split into Muslim East Bengal and Hindu West Bengal, by the colonial British empire, in early s, a split that was reversed. East Pakistan became Bangladesh in According to Saul Cohen, early colonial era strategists treated South Asia with East Asia, but in reality the South Asia region excluding Afghanistan is a distinct geopolitical region separated from other nearby geostrategic realms, one that is geographically diverse.

The tip of the Indian Peninsula had the highest quality pearls. The boundaries of South Asia vary based on how the region is defined. South Asia's northern, eastern, and western boundaries vary based on definitions used, while the Indian Ocean is the southern periphery. Most of this region rests on the Indian Plate and is isolated from the rest of Asia by mountain barriers. According to Robert M. The frontier of Greater South Asia, states Cutler, between — has been geopolitically extended to eastern Iran and western Afghanistan in the west, and in the north to northeastern Iran, northern Afghanistan, and southern Uzbekistan.

Most of this region is resting on the Indian Plate , the northerly portion of the Indo-Australian Plate , separated from the rest of the Eurasian Plate. The Indian Plate includes most of South Asia, forming a land mass which extends from the Himalayas into a portion of the basin under the Indian Ocean , including parts of South China and Eastern Indonesia , as well as Kunlun and Karakoram ranges, [] [] and extending up to but not including Ladakh , Kohistan , the Hindu Kush range and Balochistan. It was once a small continent before colliding with the Eurasian Plate about 50—55 million years ago and giving birth to the Himalayan range and the Tibetan plateau.

The Indus Valley and Vedic Culture

It is the peninsular region south of the Himalayas and Kuen Lun mountain ranges and east of the Indus River and the Iranian Plateau , extending southward into the Indian Ocean between the Arabian Sea to the southwest and the Bay of Bengal to the southeast. The climate of this vast region varies considerably from area to area from tropical monsoon in the south to temperate in the north.

The variety is influenced by not only the altitude, but also by factors such as proximity to the sea coast and the seasonal impact of the monsoons. Southern parts are mostly hot in summers and receive rain during monsoon periods. The northern belt of Indo-Gangetic plains also is hot in summer, but cooler in winter. The mountainous north is colder and receives snowfall at higher altitudes of Himalayan ranges.

As the Himalayas block the north-Asian bitter cold winds, the temperatures are considerably moderate in the plains down below. For most part, the climate of the region is called the Monsoon climate, which keeps the region humid during summer and dry during winter, and favours the cultivation of jute , tea , rice , and various vegetables in this region. South Asia is largely divided into four broad climate zones: []. South Asia depends critically on monsoon rainfall. The warmest period of the year precedes the monsoon season March to mid June.

In the summer the low pressures are centered over the Indus-Gangetic Plain and high wind from the Indian Ocean blows towards the center. The monsoons are second coolest season of the year because of high humidity and cloud covering. The change is violent. Moderately vigorous monsoon depressions form in the Bay of Bengal and make landfall from June to September.

Population of South Asian countries in , and , projection from the United Nations.

This list includes dependent territories within their sovereign states including uninhabited territories , but does not include claims on Antarctica. The population of South Asia is about 1. South Asia is home to some of the most populated cities in the world. Dhaka , Delhi , Mumbai and Karachi are four of the world's largest megacities. There are numerous languages in South Asia. The spoken languages of the region are largely based on geography and shared across religious boundaries, but the written script is sharply divided by religious boundaries. Till , Muslim Bangladesh then known as East Pakistan too mandated only the Nastaliq script, but thereafter has adopted regional scripts and particularly Bengali.

Non-Muslims of South Asia, and some Muslims in India, on the other hand use their traditional ancient heritage scripts such as those derived from Brahmi script for Indo-European languages and non-Brahmi scripts for Dravidian languages and others. The Nagari script has been the primus inter pares of the traditional South Asian scripts.

The spoken language is similar, but it is written in three scripts. The Gurmukhi and Nagari scripts are distinct but close in their structure, but the Persian Nastaliq script is very different. English, with British spelling, is commonly used in urban areas and is a major economic lingua franca of South Asia.

In , South Asia had the world's largest population of Hindus , Jains and Sikhs , [9] about million Muslims , [9] as well as over 25 million Buddhists and 35 million Christians. Indian religions are the religions that originated in the India; namely Hinduism , Jainism , Buddhism and Sikhism. Later Sindh , Balochistan , and parts of the Punjab region saw conquest by the Arab caliphates along with an influx of Muslims from Persia and Central Asia, which resulted in spread of both Shia and Sunni Islam in parts of northwestern region of South Asia.

It is the fastest growing major economy in the world and one of the world's fastest registering a growth of 7. It has the fastest GDP growth rate in Asia. It is one of the emerging and growth-leading economies of the world and It is also listed among the Next Eleven countries. It is also one of the fastest growing middle-income countries. Then by Sri Lanka which has the 2nd highest per capita and is the 4th largest economy in the region. According to a World Bank report in , driven by a strong expansion in India, coupled with favorable oil prices, from the last quarter of South Asia become the fastest-growing region in the world [].

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Their attacks on immunization teams have claimed 78 lives since December Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka have the lowest number of people below the poverty line, with 2. India has lifted the most people in the region above the poverty line between and , around million. As of , The World Bank estimates that India is one of the highest ranking countries in the world for the number of children suffering from malnutrition. The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world, and is nearly double that of Sub Saharan Africa with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity and economic growth.

In , approximately million people in the region were malnourished. In India, the malnourished comprise just over 15 percent of the population. While the number of malnourished people in neighborhood has shown a decline over the last 25 years, the number of under-nourished in Pakistan displays an upward trend. There were Approximately The report stated "the low status of women in South Asian countries and their lack of nutritional knowledge are important determinants of high prevalence of underweight children in the region". Corruption and the lack of initiative on the part of the government has been one of the major problems associated with nutrition in India.

Illiteracy in villages has been found to be one of the major issues that need more government attention. The report mentioned that although there has been a reduction in malnutrition due to the Green Revolution in South Asia, there is concern that South Asia has "inadequate feeding and caring practices for young children".

India [] [] [] and Pakistan [] [] are the dominant political powers in the region. India is by far the largest country in the area covering around three-fourths the land area of the South Asian region. Bangladesh is a unitary state and parliamentary democracy. Although Bangladesh's legal code is secular , more citizens are embracing a conservative version of Islam , with some pushing for sharia law , analysts say. Experts say that the rise in conservatism reflects the influence of foreign-financed Islamic charities and the more austere version of Islam brought home by migrant workers in Persian Gulf countries.

Diplomacy among the countries of South Asia has been mainly driven by populist politics , with the centre-stage taken by India - Pakistan conflict ever since their independence in , and then the creation of Bangladesh under tense circumstances in Pakistan's governance is one of the most conflicted in the region. The military rule and the unstable government in Pakistan has become a concern for the South Asian region. In Nepal , the governance has struggled to come in the side of democracy and it only showed signs in the recent past, basically in the 21st century, to support the democratic system.

The political situation in Sri Lanka has been dominated by an increasingly assertive Sinhalese nationalism, and the emergence of a Tamil separatist movement under LTTE , which was suppressed in May Myanmar 's politics is dominated by a military Junta , which has sidelined the democratic forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Southern region of Asia. Official languages. Ja Basawa. Kannada Malayalam Tamil Telugu. Turkmen Uzbek. Maldives Pakistan.

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India Sri Lanka. Bangladesh Bhutan. Definition by South Asian Studies programs. Main article: Indian subcontinent. Main article: Indian plate. Af Tropical rainforest. Am Tropical monsoon. BWh Hot desert. BWk Cold desert. BSh Hot semi arid. BSk Cold semi arid. Csa Mediterranean , dry, hot summer. Cfa Subtropical , humid. Cwa Subtropical , humid summer, dry winter. Cwb Subtropical highland , dry winter. Dsa Continental , hot summer.

Dsb Continental , warm summer. Dwb Continental , dry winter. Dwc Continental Subarctic , dry winter. See also: List of countries by past and future population. See also: Exclusive economic zone and Indian Ocean. Main article: Languages of South Asia. See also: List of legislatures in South Asia. Asia portal. Remarkable cave paintings have been preserved from Mesolithic sites dating from c. The worship of certain plants and animals as sacred, for instance, could very likely have very great antiquity. The worship of goddesses, too, a part of Hinduism today, may be a feature that originated in the Neolithic.

Retrieved 10 September Regional and Country Profiles South Asia. Institute of Development Studies. Archived from the original on 20 May Retrieved 28 February United Nations Statistics Division. Archived from the original on 17 April Retrieved 31 January Institute of Development Studies Archived from the original on 15 June Archived from the original on 10 November Retrieved 5 November Archived from the original on 1 June Archived from the original on 17 November BBC News.

Archived from the original on 29 July Retrieved 21 July Archived from the original on 5 September The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Archived from the original on 2 April Retrieved 4 March Archived from the original on 16 December Retrieved 17 December South Asian Regional Development Gateway.

Archived from the original on 21 November Cancer control efforts in the Indian subcontinent. Japanese Journal of Clinical Oncology. Encyclopedia of Modern Asia. The total area can be estimated at 4. In , the total population was about 22 percent of the world's population and 34 percent of the population of Asia. Retrieved 7 February Cooperation and Conflict in South Asia. Technical Publications. Kluwer Law International. Anderson; Liam D. Anderson An Atlas of Middle Eastern Affairs. However, Afghanistan, also a Muslim state, is then left in isolation.

It is not accepted as a part of Central Asia and it is clearly not part of the Indian subcontinent". Palgrave Macmillan. Nuclear Nonproliferation. Infobase Publishing. The History of India. Greenwood Publishing Group. Historically forming the whole territory of greater India, the region is now divided between India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Sri Lanka, an island off the southeastern tip of the Indian peninsula, is often considered a part of the subcontinent. Encyclopedia of World Geography Vol.

Marshall Cavendish. Archived from the original on 27 September Retrieved 23 August Baker and Graham P. Current Affairs — Security Watch. Archived from the original on 14 June Retrieved 6 April The Economic Times. Archived from the original on 18 December Retrieved 17 March Retrieved 20 March Archived from the original on 20 December Retrieved 16 December Archived from the original on 1 November Archived from the original on 12 November Archived from the original on 13 November Retrieved 19 August Retrieved 25 August Quote: "The assignment of countries or areas to specific groupings is for statistical convenience and does not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories by the United Nations.

Timothy and Gyan P. Oxford English Dictionary 3rd ed. Oxford University Press. September Subscription or UK public library membership required. Applications of Palaeontology: Techniques and Case Studies.

Robert L. Winzeler

The religious landscape of South Asia is complex and fascinating. While existing literature tends to focus on the majority religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. The religious landscape of South Asia is complex and fascinating. Start reading South Asian Religions: Tradition and Today on your Kindle in under a minute.

Cambridge University Press. Cooper Genomics and Health in the Developing World. University of Toronto Press. Inden, Imagining India , page 51, C. World Religions in America: An Introduction. Westminster John Knox Press. Metropolitan Museum of Art. History of Civilizations of Central Asia. Yale University Press. Handbook of Oriental Studies. Houghton Mifflin.

Spink Not only is the Ellora complex a unique artistic creation and a technological exploit but, with its sanctuaries devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, it illustrates the spirit of tolerance that was characteristic of ancient India. In Southeast Asia, the oscillation between the rainy rice- growing season and the dry fallow season found expression in such religious imagery. The dry season finds expression in images of male creator gods associated with the sun. To this day, many peoples who have long been Buddhists still engage in rites that entail a dualistic conception of the cosmos.

The Lao perform a rite toward the end of the dry season , heavy with sexual symbolism, at which they set off rockets to inform the gods that it is time to send the rains. At the end of the rainy season, when the rivers have flooded, another ceremony is held at which men compete in boat races. The concern with the power of the earth continues after the harvest when attention is turned to the Rice Mother, who is propitiated at the same time that the vital spirit of the rice is called.

The world in which protohistoric peoples lived was marked by uncertainty: Crops might fail as a consequence of late rains or devastating floods; women might be barren, die in childbirth, or lose child after child; and both men and women might die young. Hence, people wished to influence the spirits and cosmic forces that controlled fertility and life.

The fundamental method of gaining the favor of spiritual powers was through sacrifices. Human sacrifice was rare in mainland Southeast Asia, although the Wa of northern Burma and southern China even in recent times took heads to offer at New Year rites. Most peoples sacrificed domestic animals, with lesser rites requiring a chicken and more important rites, a pig or even a carabao.

In tribal groups such as those in Burma and northeastern India, those men who organized large-scale sacrifices and the so-called feasts of merit associated with them acquired not only the esteem of their fellows but also a spiritual quality that was believed to persist even after their death. Such tribal chiefs are assumed to be similar to what O. Wolters calls "men of prowess," who were the heads of protohistoric chiefdoms.

What is noteworthy about the tribal chiefs, and presumably about the earlier men of the same type, is that because of the vagaries of life, their potency could never be firmly established. Attempts were made to fix this potency by making the remains of men of prowess objects of cultic attention, especially by those who succeeded them. Rough stone monuments associated with early Cham culture in southern Vietnam and upright stones found together with the prehistoric stone jars in Laos have been interpreted, by analogy with the practice by such modern tribal peoples as Chin of Burma and related groups in northeastern India, as monuments that perpetuated and localized the potency of men who had succeeded during their lifetimes in effecting a relationship between the society and the cosmos.

Such monuments were to lend themselves to reinterpretation in Hindu-Buddhist terms when Indian influences began to appear in Southeast Asia. Prior to the adoption of Indian or Chinese models, there appears to have been no priesthood in any Southeast Asian society capable of enforcing an orthopraxy among peoples living over a wide area. As the ritual effectiveness of men of prowess waxed and waned, so did the relative power of the polities they headed, thus giving rise to a classic pattern of oscillation between "democratic" and "autocratic" communities found among tribal peoples such as the Kachin of Burma even in recent years.

What made it possible for Southeast Asians to imagine themselves as parts of communities whose members, both living and dead, were not all known personally was the introduction of religious conceptions fixed in written texts. Some evidence, especially from among tribal peoples in what is today southern China, suggests that writing was invented independently by Southeast Asian peoples. However, the historical fact is that the earliest written records are either in some form of Indian script or in Chinese logographs.

With these borrowed writing systems came Indian and Chinese texts, rites rooted in the texts, and institutions to perform the rites and perpetuate the textual traditions. Chinese influences appear first in conjunction with the Han conquest of what is now northern Vietnam.

Between the first Han movement into the area, in bce, and 43 ce, when the Chinese suppressed a rebellion led by the legendary Trung sisters, Chinese influence appears to have lain rather lightly on the Vietnamese. From the first century ce, however, the Vietnamese came increasingly to see themselves as part of a Sinitic world, which they knew through the same texts as were used in China proper.

South Asian Religions

This sense of belonging to a Chinese world remained even after the Vietnamese gained independence from China in the eleventh century. As none of these literati ever attained the role of a dominant priesthood in the villages, pre-Sinitic traditions, centered on a multitude of local spirits and deities, continued to be perpetuated by spirit mediums, soothsayers, and sorcerers thay.

Those Vietnamese who moved out of the Red River delta in the "push to the south" that began in the thirteenth century and continued into recent times came into contact with other traditions — those of the hinduized Cham and Khmer, the Buddhist Khmer, and local tribal peoples.

In part because of significant non-Sinitic influences in southern Vietnam, the impress of Chinese culture was somewhat less evident in the popular culture of that region than in that of northern Vietnam. Many of the religiously inspired peasant rebellions originating in southern Vietnam as well as some modern syncretic popular religons have drawn inspiration from non-Chinese sources.

This said, Vietnamese religion in all parts of the country has assumed a distinctly Sinitic cast, being organized primarily around ancestor worship in the Chinese mode. Elsewhere in mainland Southeast Asia, only migrant Chinese and those tribal peoples such as the Hmong and Mien who have lived long in Chinese-dominated areas show similar concern with ancestor worship.

In those areas of mainland Southeast Asia where Indian influences first appeared in the early centuries of the common era, individuals were rarely apotheosized for being apical ancestors in a line of descent. If, however, a man but rarely a woman succeeded in his lifetime in demonstrating through effective action in ritual and in warfare that he possessed some charismatic quality, this quality could continue to be influential after the individual's death by giving him a cosmic body to replace his worldly one.

The earliest monuments of indianized civilization in Southeast Asia appeared in significant numbers between the fourth and eighth century ce. These monuments can best be interpreted as having been put up to elevate a man of prowess to a divine form. Whereas an older generation of historians often associated early historical sites in mainland Southeast Asia with large kingdoms, most historians now accept that there were many petty kingdoms in the area whose power waxed and waned much as did that of the chiefdoms that preceded them. The proliferation of monuments, a pattern that climaxes in the classical civilizations of Angkor in Cambodia and Pagan in Burma, most likely represents a continuing effort by new kings, their families, and their rivals to establish their own claims to be identified with divine and cosmic power.

Influential mainland Southeast Asians who worked with Indian texts made minimal use of the Indian idea that one's place within the world was fixed at birth by some cosmic plan. The process of indianization in Southeast Asia included identifying a power believed to be embodied in a local shrine with divine or cosmic powers known in Indian texts.

Retrospective and Prospective: South Asian Religions

This made possible the creation of larger polities, since peoples in very different parts of a realm saw themselves as part of the same cosmos and worshiped the same gods, often gods who were also equated with the rulers. In both Pagan and Angkor, Meru, the sacred mountain that lies at the center of the universe and is also an axis mundi , was represented in the temple or stupa erected by a king. In nearly every village in Buddhist Southeast Asia, a stupa has been erected.

Those who contribute to its construction believe they gain merit that will ensure a better rebirth and perhaps even rebirth at the time of the next Buddha, Metteyya Skt. The localized cults of the relics of the Buddha link Southeast Asians not only with early Indian Buddhism but also with the cosmographic practices of the rulers of the classical indianized states and beyond that with the cadastral cults of pre-indianized Southeast Asia.

The cult of the relics of the Buddha does not constitute the whole of Buddhism as practiced in Southeast Asia. In a sense, orthodox Buddhism made sense to Southeast Asians because of the pre-Buddhist idea that religious virtue is not a product solely of descent from particular ancestors but also a consequence of one's own religiously effective actions. In Buddhist terms, this idea was formulated so that people understood that although they were born with a certain karmic legacy of both merit and demerit they also continually acquire new merit and demerit from morally significant acts.

These beliefs were given new significance in the context of a Buddhist worldview. Some of the supernatural beings were universalized and identified with Hindu deities also known to Buddhism. More significantly, spirits and deities were accorded a subordinate place within the Buddhist cosmic hierarchy generated by the law of karman. Despite the political fragmentation of premodern Buddhist societies, all could conceive of being part of a common Buddhist world. Such a conception was expressed, for example, in the recognition of important pilgrimage shrines — ones containing relics of the Buddha — that lay in other domains.

Not only were the Vietnamese becoming increasingly sinicized, but the Cham, who had once had an important indianized culture in southern Vietnam, turned from this tradition and embraced Islam, a religion that was becoming established among other Austronesian-speaking peoples in major societies of the Indonesian archipelago and on the Malay Peninsula. Tribal peoples in Southeast Asia, mainly located in highland areas where they practiced swidden cultivation, did not remain totally isolated from the changes occurring in the lowlands.

A myth among many tribal peoples in the northern part of the region tells of a "lost book" or "lost writing. Ninggawn wa Magam, the deity from whom humans acquired culture, called all the different tribes of humans together. To each tribe he gave a book to help them in their lives. Shans and Burmans received books written on palm leaves; Chinese and foreigners i. The Kachin, not truly understanding the significance of the book, ate it and have been without writing ever since.

The myth reveals a sense on the part of tribal peoples of being culturally deprived relative to those who have writing. When tribal peoples have turned to expand their horizons, they have tended to do so through acquiring access to the literature of their lowland neighbors. The Lawa, an Austroasiatic tribal people in Thailand, see themselves as Buddhists, like their Northern Thai neighbors, but unable to practice the religion in the hills where they have no monks to instruct them.

When they move down from the hills, however, they quickly transform themselves into Northern Thai. Mien, who are found more in southern China than in Southeast Asia, long ago developed a tradition of craft literacy, with ritual specialists being able to read Daoist texts in Chinese. An interesting variant on the myth is found among some Karen in Burma, who were converted in significant numbers to Christianity beginning early in the nineteenth century.

Their myth tells how the book will be returned to them by foreign brothers who are identified with the Western missionaries. Even among Karen, however, more have become Buddhist than have become Christian. Missionization — not only by Christians but in recent years by Buddhists — and the spread of modern systems of compulsory education have rendered tribal religions increasingly peripheral. So, too, have improved health care and secular education undermined beliefs in spirits that were previously elements of the religions of Southeast Asian Buddhists and Vietnamese.

Moreover, as agriculture has been transformed by large-scale irrigation works and the introduction of new technology and new high-yield varieties of rice, peoples in the region have become less inclined to credit supernatural powers with the control over fertility. They may continue to perform traditional rites, but these are becoming more secular celebrations than sources of religious meaning. Nonetheless, even as the worlds of Southeast Asians are radically transformed by political-economic forces and cultural changes that have occurred over the past century and a half, there still remains among many the ancient idea of cultivating virtue through morally effective action.

Robert Heine-Geldern interprets archaeological and ethnographic evidence with reference to a diffusionist thesis that posited the source of a prehistoric "megalithic complex" in Europe. Paris, — Also see in this connection P. Smith and William Watson Oxford, , contains information on prehistoric and protohistoric religion; the work also has a good bibliography.

Quaritch Wales's Prehistory and Religion in Southeast Asia London, , although dated and relying too heavily on diffusionist theory, still remains the only work to attempt a synthesis of prehistoric evidence. Mabbett and edited by I.