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Mains Answer Writing



1. How did the ancient trade routes connecting India to foreign countries contribute to the exchange and dissemination of culture?


  • India has been commercially connected with the rest of the world since the middle of the third millennium BCE. The most remarkable aspect of this contact has been the spread of Indian culture and civilization in various parts of the world through traders, teachers, emissaries, and missionaries that developed along the ancient trade routes.
  • The trade routes that were the centers of the spread of culture were the Silk Route (Central Asia), Suvarnadwipa Path (Cambodia, Java, Malay Islands), and other maritime routes.


  1. Silk Route: The Silk Route connected the Indian subcontinent with the rest of Asia and Europe and played a significant role in cultural exchange. For e.g., Buddhism spread to Central Asia and China through the Silk Route. Ladakh which is at the crossroads of the Silk Route is the centre of Buddhist monasteries and tantric Buddhism.
  2. Traders and Merchants: Traders travelled across these trade routes to countries like Rome, China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Sumatra, and Malay to find new avenues of trade. Wherever they went, they tried to establish cultural links in those places, serving as cultural ambassadors.
  3. Spread of Ideas and Philosophies: The traders, teachers, and students travelled along these trade routes to come to learn about Indian philosophies. For e.g., Huein Tsang’s Si-Yu-Ki discussed Buddhist culture and philosophy. He also travelled across the trade routes to get to India.
  4. Universities: Nalanda, Kashi, Valabhi, Vikramshila, Karle, and Bhaj, all such universities, and centres of learning lie on the Silk Route. These universities played a very important role in the spread of Indian culture across the world. For e.g., two teachers Kashyapa Martanga and Dharmarakshita in 67 AD travelled from Nalanda to China through the Silk Route and translated Sanskrit texts into Chinese. This helped in the spread of Buddhism to China.
  5. Cultural Interaction: The intersection points of trade routes worked as centres of amalgamation of cultures where different cultures influenced each other promoting a mix of cultures. For e.g., trade routes allowed Persian and Arabic traders to travel to India and helped in the growth and development of Urdu (Hindavi+Persian).
  6. Exchange of Art and Architecture: Trade routes allowed foreign art and architecture to influence Indian art and vice versa. For e.g., Gandhara Art developed due to the amalgamation of cultures between Indian art and Hellenistic Art in Greece and Persia.
  7. Korea, China, and Japan: Silk Route to China played an important role in the exchange of ideas, philosophies, and knowledge across Korea, China, and Japan. For e.g.Dhyan Yoga in Korea in the 8th Century AD, and Sanskrit was revered in Japan.
  8. Sri Lanka: Ashoka sent missionaries and ambassadors to Sri Lanka via “Dakshinapatha” which was also a trade route between North and South India. This led to the spread of Buddhism to Sri Lanka, Pali became their literary language, and also the Amaravati style of Art became common.
  9. Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia: These countries were connected to India via oceanic routes like the “Suvarna Path” which allowed the spread of ideas, cultures, traditions, and arts to these places.
  10. Maritime Links to Rome: This trade happened mostly in South India and brought gold to India. This trade also allowed the exchange of Tamil, Malayalam, and Kannada literature to Rome.

The importance of trade routes and maritime routes has always been crucial for the spread of culture and traditions and also to maintain India’s status as a soft power. Realizing the importance of these trade routes, China is now trying to revive these routes through projects like OBOR, and CPEC in order to attain the status of superpower.

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