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Communication in Asia and its Influence

Language Issues, English And Sanskrit, Trade And The Exchange Of Ideas, Conquest, Invasion, And Emigration

Asia comprises a vast amount of land divided into numerous countries, many of which have civilizations dating back thousands of years. Due to the huge scope of this topic, this entry will focus on India as an important hub for the transmission of ideas throughout Asia and how other Asian countries influenced the development of Indian civilization.

When India became independent in 1947, the new government faced the daunting task of convincing a large and highly disparate population that the various peoples of India constituted one nation. The populace was divided among a variety of religious groups, the majority of whom were Hindus (more than 80 percent). Hindus are divided into more than two thousand endogamous castes (jati), each of which considers itself to be different from all the others. In the early twenty-first century there are over 800 million Hindus, 81 million Muslims, 20 million Christians, 14 million Sikhs, 6 million Buddhists, 3 million Jains, and about 600,000 Zoroastrians in India. In addition, there is enormous linguistic diversity: the 1971 census (the most recent containing a survey of languages) listed thirty-three languages with more than one million speakers, and there are numerous smaller languages and dialects, many of which are mutually incomprehensible. Since independence, the government has made great strides in promoting education, but more than half of the population remains illiterate.

In this situation, oral and visual texts play a central role in communicating ideas among India's population, which currently numbers over one billion. The ideals of nationhood and government initiatives are often disseminated orally or symbolically, and this is also true of religious ideas. Public performances of religious tales are widely popular all over India, and the annual Ramlila ("Sport of Rama") plays generally draw huge crowds. These are based on Tulsidas's (1543?–1623) version of the Hindu epic Ramayana, which tells the story of the mythical king Rama, an incarnation of the god Vishnu. When the Ramayana was serialized on television in the 1980s, it became a major national event, and the country came to a standstill every week when it was showing. This was followed by serialization of the Mahabharata, the other major religious epic of India, which was equally well received. Due to the continuing popularity of public performances and mass media presentations of religious themes, religious narratives and the ideas they convey are widely diffused in India. The spread of Internet access and growing expertise in software development in India have increased this process, at least among those who are able to use computers. It is now possible to make virtual pilgrimages to Hindu holy sites and to perform virtual puja (offerings and prayers) at several popular Hindu cultural Internet sites. These generally use English, the language of elite communication in India, and they appeal particularly to Indians living overseas.

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