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Indomania and Indophilia refer to the special interest India has generated in the Western world, and more specifically, the culture and civilisation of the Indian subcontinent. During the initial period of colonialism (during the conquest of Bengal) everything about India had an aspect of novelty, especially in Britain. This enthusiasm created a brand of people who started studying everything possible about India, especially its culture and ancient history. Later the people with interests in Indian aspects came to be known as Indologists and their subject as Indology. Its opposite is Indophobia.
18th and 19th century
The perception of Indian history and culture by Europeans was fluctuating between two extremes in the 18th and 19th century. Though 19th century European writers had seen India as a cradle of civilization, their romantic vision of India was gradually replaced by "Indophobia", which marginalized Indian history and culture.[page needed]
Friedrich Schlegel wrote in a letter to Tieck that India was the source of all languages, thoughts and poems, and that "everything" came from India. In the 18th century, Voltaire wrote that "I am convinced that everything has come down to us from the banks of the Ganges, astronomy, astrology, metempsychosis, etc...
Much of the early enthusiasm for Indian culture can be traced to the influence of Sir William Jones. Jones was only the second known Englishman to master Sanskrit, after Charles Wilkins. His insight that the grammar and vocabulary of Sanskrit bore a resemblance to Greek and Latin marked the discovery of the Indo-European family of languages. In February 1786 Jones declared Sanskrit to be 'more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either.' Jones translated into English a drama[which?] of Kalidasa and published it in 1789. The Calcutta edition was an immediate success and two London editions followed within three years. Jones also discovered that chess and algebra were of Indian origin. Every branch of Indian studies owed something to his inspiration.
An important development during the British Raj period was the influence Hindu traditions began to take on western thought and new religious movements. Goethe borrowed from Kalidasa for the "Vorspiel auf dem Theater" in Faust. An early champion of Indian-inspired thought in the west was Arthur Schopenhauer, who in the 1850s advocated ethics based on an "Aryan-Vedic theme of spiritual self-conquest" as opposed to the ignorant drive toward earthly utopianism of the superficially this-worldly "Jewish" spirit. At the end of the introduction to the World as Will and Representation, Arthur Schopenhauer claimed that the rediscovery of the ancient Indian tradition would be one of the great events in the history of the West.
Goethe and Schopenhauer were riding a crest of scholarly discovery, most notably the work done by Sir William Jones. (Goethe likely read Kalidasa's The Recognition of Sakuntala in Jones' translation.) However, the discovery of the world of Sanskrit literature moved beyond German and British scholars and intellectuals — Henry David Thoreau was a sympathetic reader of the Bhagavad Gita — and even beyond the humanities. In the early days of the Periodic Table, scientists referred to as yet undiscovered elements with the use of Sanskrit prefixes (see Mendeleev's predicted elements).
Voltaire once said what would later prove to be true:
"It does not behove us, who were only savages and barbarians when these Indian and Chinese peoples were civilized and learned, to dispute their antiquity."
A quote from Max Mueller sums up what India has contributed to the world: "If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions, I should point to India."
Helena Blavatsky moved to India in 1879, and her Theosophical Society, founded in New York in 1875, evolved into a peculiar mixture of western occultism and Hindu mysticism over the last years of her life. Hinduism-inspired elements in Theosophy were also inherited by the spin-off movements of Ariosophy and Anthroposophy and ultimately contributed to the renewed New Age boom of the 1960s to 1980s, the term New Age itself deriving from Blavatsky's 1888 The Secret Doctrine.
The Hindu reform movements reached Western audiences in the wake of the sojourn of Vivekananda to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission, a Hindu missionary organization still active today.
Influential in spreading Hinduism to a western audience were A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (Hare Krishna movement), Sri Aurobindo, Meher Baba, Osho, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Transcendental Meditation), Sathya Sai Baba, Mother Meera, among others.
During the 1960s and 1970s, there was a similar phase of Indomania in the Western world, with a rise of interest in Indian culture. This was largely associated with the hippie counterculture movement; the hippie trail, for example, was a journey that many Westerners undertook to India during this period. The Hare Krishna movement gained popularity in the 1960s. Indian filmmakers such as the Bengali auteur Satyajit Ray as well as Bengali musicians such as Ravi Shankar gained increasing exposure in the Western world. Indian musical influence, particularly the use of the sitar, became evident in jazz (see Indo jazz) and rock music, among popular Western artists such as The Beatles (see The Beatles in India), The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, among others, leading to the development of psychedelic music genres such as raga rock and psychedelic rock, which in turn paved the way for heavy metal music.
- Trautmann, Thomas R. 1997, Aryans and British India. Berkeley: University of California Press., Bryant 2001.
- Ludwig Tieck und die Brüder Schlegel, Briefe. Edited by Lüdecke. Frankfurt/M. 1930.
- Voltaire, Lettres sur l'origine des sciences et sur celle des peuples de l'Asie (first published Paris, 1777), letter of 15 December 1775.
- Keay, John, India Discovered, The Recovery of a Lost Civilization, 1981, HarperCollins, London, ISBN 0-00-712300-0
- "Fragments for the history of philosophy", Parerga and Paralipomena, Volume I (1851).
- Stefan Arvidsson 2006:38 Aryan Idols.