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Indo-Romanian Cultural Confluences 
By Daniela Tane

Lying at the crossroads that link the Orient and the Occident, Romania claims to belong to both. If modern Romanian literature is the offspring of Romanian culture grafted onto Western cultural trends, the old Romanian legends and beliefs lie under the sign of another spiritual zodiac, that of myth and ancient sages.

Since time immemorial, the Getae, a branch of the Thracians, believed in the immortality of soul and considered the body an obstacle which should destroy itself at the moment of death. According to them, humans should aim at freeing themselves from the body so that the soul could lead its life in the kingdom of Zamolxis (a god similar to Varuna of the Vedic mythology), This is similar to the Hindu concept, according to which when the body dies, the human soul returns to the infinite spring of life, to Brahma. The history of the Dacian-Getic invasion by the Roman conquerors is somewhat similar to that of India's invasion by the Aryans (a theory now in dispute). In both cases, there was a native background, characterized by a passive, dormant resistance to the new spiritual forms imposed by the conquerors, whose traces are extremely difficult to identify at present.

Similarities do not stop here. "Miorita", the most widespread Romanian myth, has been found to practice a doctrine resembling ahimsa - non-violence. Folk books like "Alexandria", "Sindipa" or "Panchtantra" helped Romanians become familiar with Indian literary, philosophical and moral values.

Interestingly, in Romanian religious art - in Voronet monastery, for instance - we can see saints sitting on lotus flowers just as Buddha and some mythological characters are represented in the Indian sculptures and miniatures. All this made Lucian Blaga, one of the greatest poets and the philosophers of the Romanian culture, state: "Taking into account the level, dimensions and internal proportions of the Romanian culture, I think that nowhere else in Europe has the Indian thought had a greater influence than in Romania." It may not come as a surprise then that some of the greatest names of the Romanian literature - Eminescu, Hasdeu, Cosbuc, Brancusi, Blaga, Mircea Eliade - have been deeply marked by the encounter with the Indian thought, an initiation experience that was bound to reflect in their works.

The continuity of the archaic thought made India preserve the symbolic dimension of the spirit and of the world. India's greatest masterpieces, both artistic and theoretical, must be related to the dialectics of symbol. We deal here, as Eminescu so nicely put in a famous line, "with a world that thought in terms of legends and spoke in rhymes."

Except for old Romanian literature - which came to a close with Dimitrie Cantemir - before the early 19th century, and before Romanticism reached Romania, the Romanian spirituality was deeply rooted in the universe of folk culture, which was loaded matter emerging from the remotest archaic springs. Romanticism, which marks the transition from the ancient to modern culture, does not contradict other cultural ideas; on the contrary, it unveils the tradition it claims itself from and takes farther on. Under the circumstances, India's reception was made in a space related to it in its very core. This explains why with Eminescu, India became, as Blaga puts it, "the inalienable presence of our culture", the cosmic and cosmogenic pathos - with its symbolic and sacred significance. It can be simultaneously related both to the Indian view of the world and to that of the Romanian national folklore.

After Eminescu, Lucian Blaga discovered the magic of the Indian symbolical forms. One can certainly state that Romanian literature has two kavis - poet-sages - to use the Indian term. Like all great Indian poets, from the Vedic sages to Rabindranath Tagore, they clothed their philosophical view in the veil of poetry. Mircea Eliade, the reputed historian of religions, has also stated that India taught him what symbolism meant. By discovering the archaic roots of Indian culture, he came to understand the deep structures of his own national folklore. Mircea Eliade emphasized that what is characteristic to Romanian culture and differentiates it from the European one is, in fact, its affiliation to the ancient background of universal values.

In 1937, the same year when Mircea Eliade was trying to highlight the importance of India in the context of symbolical thought in Romanian folklore, Constantin Brancusi, the Romanian sculptor, left for India, to Indore. This is where his artistic works, inspired by Romanian folklore were to be a part of a funeral monument, a fact in perfect harmony with the sacred traditions of Indian architecture. Brancusi's sculptures display primeval cosmogenic symbols - The Egg, The Bird, The Pole/Column, The Couple which diminish eventually the manifestation of forms to their essence. What can be more relevant than his "Endless Column" which is also found in the Vedic texts as the World Pole that separates the Heaven from the Earth? The entire work of Brancusi, inspired from the endless source of ancient Romanian folklore, represents the reiteration of India's cultural ethos through the centuries. It is an attempt at conceiving the new in compliance with the old and which becomes richer and richer owing to the ever more fresh torments of creation. This similitude reveals the undeniable affinities between the two cultures, owing to the similar manner in which they perceive the sacred.

As Lucian Blaga said about Romanian spirituality: "Through a total assimilation, the motifs of Indian origin have so deeply penetrated our being that they can be taken away only by tearing off vital tissues." The Indian values which reached Romania directly or indirectly have represented for the Romanians a world in which they have re-discovered their own cultural vitality.

The author is a member of the Romanian Foreign Service.

Courtesy: Diplomatic Club Monthly (Romania)





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