When Natalie Di Luccio- an Italian-Canadian classical-crossover singer from Toronto sings Bollywood hit songs- ‘Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’ and ‘Pehla Nasha’, Luo Ping- a Chinese TV reality show Super Idol 13’s contestant sings ‘Tujh mein rab dikhta hai’ from a Shah Rukh Khan movie, when a US school chorus decides to sing a superhit Tamil song ‘Balleilakka Balleilakka’ from the hit movie ‘Sivaji’ at a yearly event, when Ary- a Canadian girl sings ‘Kolaveri’ originally sung by Tamil superstar Dhanush, and a Turkish boy sings the famous ‘Awara Hoon’ song from Raj Kapoor’s movie in a reality show, and then Dubai appoints Shahrukh Khan as its ambassador — they are not just aberrations or eccentricities. Rather, they adequately exemplify how India’s ever rising soft power, amply bolstered by rich and age old moral, spiritual and cultural value systems and traditions, is being whole-heartedly embraced all across the globe, thanks to the consistent and tireless efforts being made by the government.
Millions of people across the globe including from dozens of Muslim countries, practice Yoga, different kinds of meditation and chanting of ‘OM’ with unflinching aims of transformational reforms of the soul and self. Widely accepted internationally and acknowledged by the UN that Yoga brings about harmony between the body and the mind, besides giving us physical power, mental balance and emotional stability to meet modern life challenges successfully. If Acharya Sthaneshwar Timalsina- a spiritual Guru and a Professor at San Diego University, USA and an expert of Shaivism and tenets of Hindu philosophy and ways of life, is to be believed, who this reporter talked to, more than 20 million people in the USA practice Yoga and meditation to realise a dream of leading a holistic life.
This wave of fascination among millions of people globally, to Indian philosophy isn’t new. Earlier, even Indian serials like ‘Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi’, ‘Kumkum’, ‘Intezar’, ‘Kasauti Zindagi ki’, and others were a craze for the people of a country like Afghanistan, until they were banned there. When ‘Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi’ happened, the roads in Afghan cities wore a deserted look like the ones we witnessed during ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ happening in India some three decades ago.
Indian popular films may not be amply rewarded at the Academy Awards or at Cannes, but have massive fan followings in many countries, especially in China, Central Asia, Middle East and African countries. Former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh once said that while in power, wherever he went from Africa to the Middle-East, he heard praising words for Indian songs, music, film and other soft sides of our culture.
Only last year in the month February (2022), Argentina federal police decided to effectively use the techniques of Yoga for stress management of its personnel. Yoga is truly considered to be India’s greatest modern gift to the world. Though it has been in practice in several parts of the globe for the last several decades, but, in recent years, yoga and awareness of Indian culture have increased rapidly across the world.
The Ministry of Ayush has also been striding forth to establish yoga’s curative and calming impacts and trying to integrate it with diverse disciplines in order to promote psycho-physiological well-being of the people across the globe. Observance of International Day of Yoga is the latest feather in India’s hat, thanks to the persistent efforts of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. This celebration has not only boosted Yoga’s popularity in the last few years, but also expanded its geographical presence by inspiring its adoption across the length and breadth of the globe.
You can discover a ‘Mini India’ as termed by ‘The India Council of Cultural Relations’, in Kazakhstan with a group of over 300 people there in its capital humming, dancing and practicing Indian classical and Bollywood songs. They are being trained in various forms of yoga including complex Asanas.
Meditational practices under Indian spiritual Gurus are a rage in a number of countries including USA, Russia, European countries. Guru Saumya Acharya, who spends around three to six months in a year in Russia teaching Yoga and meditation to scores of Russians, told this correspondent that his Russian disciples often engage in spiritual discourse delineating different facets of Yoga, meditation, traditional Indian spiritual paths, exuding great regard for Indian spirituality.
Much before Yoga, Ayurveda, Bollywood and others became a craze outside India, Indian spirituality had reached several countries. Buddhism spread in various countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, China, Japan, Thailand, Mongolia and other Southeast Asian and Central Asian countries more than two thousand years earlier. It is said that when Alexander, also known as Sikandar, came to India around 326 BC, he looked for an Indian saint and wished to take a wise saint with him from here. Finally, he zeroed in on a Naga monk but faced repeated refusal even after offering him everything that he could wish for. At last, Sikandar is said to have bowed his head in front of the saint with immense faith.
Hundreds of years earlier, when traders from Europe and other parts of the world moved around the globe in search of expanding their businesses and reaping commercial dividends, Indians marched on a soul searching journey spreading life philosophy, ideas and ideals across the globe or wherever it was possible to reach. This is the reason why Buddhism still has millions of adherents around the world.
India had world famous universities hundreds of years earlier like- Takshila, Nalanda and Vikramshila. They attracted hundreds of students from several countries including China. Chinese traveler to India- Hiuen Tsang was also a Buddhist Monk who came to India in the 7th century (arguably between 629–645). Similarly, another Chinese traveler Fa-Hien was also a Buddhist monk and translator, who traveled on foot from China to India to acquire Buddhist texts arguably between 399 and 412 and spent 10 long years in India studying Buddhist philosophy. Such has been the fascination for Indian spiritual and religious scriptures and contexts.
India’s universities continue to attract even today a large number of students from especially developing countries. Indian food is also equally popular around the world. India has an excellent track record of leveraging its culture, spiritual, educational, political values and distinct foreign policy for national objectives.
India’s tangible culture nurtured over the years, has also captivated the world like anything. Indian Institutes of Technology, which have been championing India’s software sector right from the 1990s and the Green Revolution in the 1960s that helped the country being agriculturally self-sufficient, have also significantly helped the country acquire greater space on the world horizon and being widely recognized as a rising superpower.
India has also risen as an economic power in recent years owing to consistent efforts of the Narendra Modi government in recent years, marching from 10th largest economy to now the 5th largest global economy. Now, Indian companies are acquiring multiple global companies. The acquisition of Jaguar Land Rover businesses from Ford Motor Company by Indian company Tata, has only added to this rising economic power of the country.
Similarly, the establishment of luxury Taj Hotel properties in Boston, San Francisco and London further adds to this side of the country. Monuments like Taj Mahal and others attract people from all over the world. India has more UNESCO World Heritage sites than the majority of the countries.
Presently, several Indian-origin CEOs are leading some of the world’s biggest companies, for example- Sundar Pichai- Alphabet, Satya Nadella- Microsoft, Parag Agrawal earlier headed Twitter, Leena Nair- Chanel, Shantanu Narayen- Adobe Inc, Arvind Krishna- IBM, Sanjay Mehrotra- Micron Technology, Nikesh Arora- Palo Alto Networks. Earlier, Indian origin personalities like Indira Noooyi consistently ruled the roost in the global corporate space. While being PepsiCo’s CEO, Nooyi ranked among the world’s 100 most powerful women.
India is fast racing for the third ranked economy by nominal GDP globally. The reformist measures being adopted by the Modi government are sure to transform the Indian economy further in the years to come. Moreover, with its fastest growing GDP among larger economies, around 40 crore middle class and around 140 crore population, India in any case has become a darling for the global investors with top economic powers wanting to expand and fortify economic ties, which further strengthen India’s economic and soft power.
Mahatma Gandhi has also been one of the biggest torch bearers of India’s soft power, having influenced the world like no one else. Whenever there is a discourse over peaceful political and social means and ways, Gandhi’s name springs in the mind of even top global leaders and they take inspiration from Gandhi’s ideologies. In February 1958, when Ho Chi Minh, the president of Vietnam, visited India, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru welcomed him as a great revolutionary and an almost legendary hero. However, Minh said, ‘I and others may be revolutionaries, but are disciples of Mahatma Gandhi, directly or indirectly, and are also influenced by great Indian heroes’.
Unlike top powers of the world like the USA, China and others, India’s soft power comes out of its morality and ethical-cultural values. It was India’s moral authority that inspired it to give shelter to Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama in 1959, which continued antagonizing China and invited wrath many a time. Moreover, India’s principled boycott of South Africa for its racist Apartheid policies, which Gandhi had started in the late 19th century, won it respect from post-colonial states across Africa and the rest of the world.
In 1971, when India, despite overwhelming opposition from America and the UN, intervened in East Pakistan, which resulted in the formation of the independent state of Bangladesh, this historic move came out of its moral and spiritual authority only, which it espoused and nurtured for thousands of years.
With a reasonably very good track record of leveraging its cultural, moral, political, social and religious values for national and international objectives and a strong moral streak in the engagement with the outside world, espousing pluralistic views, India is vigorously working on the objective developmental metrics like economic and educational aggrandizement of the people, which is sure to further boost its economic and soft power in the days to come.