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The Historical Perspective

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Indo-German cultural relations go back many centuries. They have always been vigorous and multi-faceted, be it in the visual arts, literature and oral traditions, theatre and dance, or films. Here are short write-ups about a few aspects of these.

Early Influences

Over the centuries legends and stories from the Indian literary dources, be it oral traditions or story collections in Sanskrit, travelled overland, undergoing a number of translations and adaptations, and were incorporated into German – and European - narrative traditions.

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Indology/Literature

Indological studies have had a great tradition in Germany. It was in Bonn that the first chair for Indology was established in 1819, and well known are the translations of Vedic and ancient Indian texts by German Indologist Max Mueller. This academic tradition is as strong today.

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Study of Indian Languages

The contribution by German and German-speaking missionaries to the study of Indian languages, local customs and religious practices, is unsurpassed, because of their meticulous documentation. Here is a brief list of select examples from the book “German Indologists”, by Valentina Stache-Rosen (MMB, Delhi, 1980).

German Contributions to the Study of Indian regional languages and Sanskrit


Interaction in Literature

In Germany, the interest in India's religious, philosophical and classical literatures has always been very strong. German writers, philosophers and academicians incorporated Indian ideas into their works, such as philosophers Georg Wilhelm Hegel or Arthur Schopenhauer, or writers such as Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann or Günter Grass.

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Fine Arts

The interaction between Germany and India in the field of the visual arts has, to a large extent, been through indirect contacts, for example through the Jesuit priests who brought illustrated Bibles to the Moghul court, or the fascination of the exotic in Germany. German printing technology caused a proliferation of mass-produced and affordable images in the Indian market. The legendary cultural richness and diversity drew several German painters and photographers to India.

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Theatre, Dance and Film

It is hardly known that it was a Russian ballerina who kindled the appreciation and development of Classical Indian dances among the enthusiasts in India, and that the Indian film industry had a German midwife: Franz Osten, a film maker from Bavaria, came to India in the1920s.

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