Image of India
G. BONGARD-LEVIN & A. VIGASIN, The Image of India, The Study of Ancient Indian Civilization in the USSR, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1984. pp. 270.
As a necessary part of the colonial expansion to the East, the image of India as a land of wisdom, wonders and fabulous wealth, gradually took shape in Western and Eastern Europe, as well as the Middle East. After the 14th century journeys to India played an important role in transforming knowledge about India, on the basis of an acquaintance with the country and its culture. Although the Indian influence initially spread to many countries through Graeco-Roman culture, and was reflected in the written and oral tradition of their people, it was later to be interpreted in the form of symbols that would aid the Biblical cosmogony, which was generally in dispute with the Graeco-Roman theories of the Cosmos. The Christianisation of India was part of theological polemics and the struggle of ideas, so that India emerged in folk-lore as a fabulous land, inhabited by righteous people. In the period of the Crusades, Europe displayed a great interest in the wealth of the East, giving rise to the myth of a great Christian kingdom in the East. In the folk-lore tradition, "rich India" became an integral element in the heroic epic, where historical and geographical reality were eroded and conventionalised because of the didactic purpose.
The view pf India, as a country existing regardless of time, and never changing over a period that covered 2,000 years, was typical of Medieval literature. By the 17th century, the Cosmographia effected departure in the field of Indian studies, since its purpose was neither literary nor didactic, but practical: to aid conquest, diplomacy and to implant the "true faith" and eradicate paganism in the East. Nikitin's journal of his journey to India, however stands apart, as he was a foreigner with modest means, who was obliged to be friendly with the local people, and there is scarcely a word that is arrogant or derogatory in his Voyages. He is also the first to point to the similarities between Indian and Russian Grandees and the plight of the rural poor. From such a beginning, the Russian school of Indology, based on the historic-graphic method, brought to light many insights in the field of Ancient Indian civilisation, as a part of the mainstream of cultural development in the world.