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INDO-ASIA

 

O.T. FORD

 

Indo-Asia is the cultural sphere of Indian civilization and all those cultures heavily influenced by it. The main creators of this cultural sphere are the Indo-Aryans, a group of Indo-Europeans who entered the Indo-Gangetic Plain approximately four thousand years ago, and came to dominate it. Civilization had already begun in the Indus Valley, probably originated by the Dravidians; but the Indus Valley civilization was already in decline, and the Indo-Aryans displaced or absorbed the aboriginal population.

Aside from the Indo-Aryans themselves, and the Dravidians, Indo-Asia includes the Tibetans and most of the cultures of mainland Southeast Asia — the Burmese and the Mon, the Khmers, and most of the Tai (including the Thai and Lao, and extending up into China). Outside of this Indo-Asia, Indo-Aryan culture has extended in limited ways into insular Southeast Asia and the Chinese sphere as well.

The main elements of this shared Indo-Asian culture are an Indian religion, either Hinduism or Buddhism, inherited or borrowed Indic vocabulary through Sanskrit or Pali, and a script descended from Brahmi.

Hinduism was the original religion of the Indo-Aryans, a pluralist system that admitted many variations. While today Hinduism appears to be a national religion, it was once expansive, reaching as far as the east coast of mainland Southeast Asia, and the island of Bali, and was the immediate pre-Islamic faith of the Malay peoples. Buddhism was clearly a product of a Hindu environment, sharing many features; it was once widespread in India, and while it eventually supplanted Hinduism outside of India, it was itself supplanted by Hinduism within India.

Sanskrit (संस्कृतम् « Săskŗtam ») was the dialect of the Indo-Aryans, though not necessarily in its classical form. It gave rise to all the modern dialects of the Indo-Aryans, which, other than the insular dialects (Sinhalese and Divehi, primarily) form a single dialect continuum:

The Indic or Indo-Aryan dialect continuum (blue) and states controlled by its speakers (red), with other dialects in hatching. Spatial data from SIL/WLMS.

 

Thus, except in their standardized forms, there is no linguistic distinction between Hindi-Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi, Sindhi, and Oriya. Pali (පාළි « Pāli ») is itself an earlier descendant of Sanskrit. The Hindu scriptures were written in Sanskrit. Much of the Buddhist canon was written in Pali. Since they are related, the spread of Sanskritic vocabulary through Hinduism (and its reborrowing into the modern dialects), and the spread of Pali vocabulary through Buddhism, have created a common body of inherited or borrowed Indic vocabulary among the Indo-Asians.

The original Brahmi script was developed for the shared phonological structure of Indic and Dravidian (which contained sound elements original to each family). Descendants of Brahmi are used by all the Indo-Aryans and Dravidians except those (primarily Pakistanis and Indian Muslims) who use the Arabic script, and the Maldivians, who have their own script. There are five different Brahmi scripts among the Indo-Aryans (Devanagari, Bengali, Gurmukhi, Oriya, and Sinhalese), and four among the Dravidians (Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and the distinctive Tamil). Brahmi has also been adapted by Buddhist cultures elsewhere whose phonological structure is nothing like the Indic-Dravidian system; and yet the structure is preserved with different sound values. These scripts include Tibetan, Mon-Burmese, Khmer, Thai, and Lao.

The civilizational spheres were the primary basis for the world regions of higher education. South Asia is entirely an Indo-Asian sphere, and mainland Southeast Asia is one as well, excluding the Sino-Asian Vietnamese.

 

© O.T. FORD