Reviving the Silk Route would amount to Reactivation of Civilizational Linkages

Reviving the Silk Route would amount to Reactivation of Civilizational Linkages
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Dr. Aashiq-ul-Islam

Right from the dawn of civilization, the Silk route history dimensions have shaped and reshaped our cultural hierarchy. With its centripetal outlook, ancient travelers along with religious preachers including Sufis of the higher order and even philosophers and traders have played a pivotal role in exchange of cultures from one region to another. On account of its peripheries of Islamic history, the Silk route across Central Asia has played an important role in propagating Sufi thought and Sufi philosophy. It is of course an absolute fact that renowned Sufis have travelled this trade (Silk) route and reached even to interiors India and that way tracing out our ancient Sufi relationship which later on through passages of history extended beyond territorial boundaries.
The name ‘Silk Road’ or ‘Silk Route’ was coined only in the nineteenth century by the eminent German geographer Ferdinand Von Richtofen for the first time. Besides close cultural, commercial , spiritual interactions and interpenetrations of various civilizations, there were substantial diplomatic and political relations among states that existed at that period of history along the Silk Road in Central Asia and beyond it. Since ancient times, the Central Asian region has been an area where Central Asians themselves and various “aliens” have frequently communicated each others.
It should be emphasized that in addition to preaching tolerance and promotion of enrichment of cultures, there were very tense and frequent clashes of diverse civilizations in Central Asia for trade routes along the Silk Route. After the Turkic Khanate was established in 552 A.D, the Turkic, the Hephthalite, the Persian, and the Byzantine empires were engaged in active diplomatic relations and military alliances. The tense competition of the Arab-Islamic and Chinese empires for Central Asia and trade routes began, in the end of which the Abbasid Caliphate prevailed by defeating Chinese troops on the banks of the Talas river in 751 known as the battle of Talas, which was defined by Vasily Bartold, a prominent Russian Soviet historian, as a clash of the two civilizations. Due to this stunning victory, until the complete decline of the Silk Route, almost all the trade routes and market places were monopolized by Muslim merchants. The last period of the Silk Route coincided with the domination of Mongols who managed to establish their firm control over all major trade routes of the Silk Route. The international importance of the Silk route came to an end, because of discovering maritime routes by Europeans. Thus, throughout Middle Ages until its total decline, the Silk route especially its Central Asian section, had been an important arena in which all major Eurasian civilizations had permanently communicated facilitating the development of cultures and societies as well as diplomatic relations with one another.
In ancient times and in the Middle ages, this was the trade route between China, the Eurasian Steppe, Central Asia, India, Western Asia, and Europe, which then went on to the Byzantine Empire, Venice, and beyond. The Route was used for transporting Silk from China, while in the opposite direction, from Rome and other countries, traders brought to the Celestial Empire glassware, jewellery, and other goods of high aesthetic value. This was the route that for many centuries saw the movement of people, object, and ideas.
Religious ideas pervaded nearly all aspects of the Silk Route. This was the route which was frequently used by traders, travelers, missionaries, and philosophers, facilitating thereby cross cultural, social and ideological fertilization. In fact, their cultural, traditional, language and religious history had deep central Asian impact. Richard Foltz in his book, “Religions along the Silk Road” has described how trading activities along the Silk Route over many centuries facilitated the transmission not just of goods but also ideas and culture, notably in the area of religions. Foltz also illustrates a vast variety of religions including Manichaeism, Nestorians (one of the sects in Christianity) Zoroastrianism, Islam, and so on. along with their relationships with each other and their various influences. He further explains every angle of each religion, what affected them, where their roots were, where they spread, what caused the declines of those that have less significance today. As Xinru Liu notes: “The eschatological concern so dominated philosophical thinking an deciding perspectives in life that it often guided people in earning, accumulating, spending, and exchanging their material wealth”. Ethnic migrations, trade that was at first conducted in stages and later by caravan, the spread of advanced technologies and ideological conceptions all were part of the process by which the achievements of the different peoples of Eurasia blended into a universal stream that enriched the world.
Historically, experiences of the Silk Route had been recognized as of great importance because the route played a vital role in connecting people in multidimensional aspects in past for centuries. Significantly, trade had been a facilitating force in creating conducive environment which spilled over on other converging areas of interests. In fact, the stable and secure regional environment paved the way for having strong and rich trade and cultural relations among the civilizations. Old trade routes like Silk Route have not just traded goods, merchandise, civilizations or religions along its way but also aspirations, ambitions and perceptions about each other. The Silk Route carried many commodities like gold, ivory, precious stones, and glass ware, which was not manufactured in China until the fifth century. Even some animals and plants were transported across this route. Of all the precious goods, silk was perhaps the most remarkable for the people of the West.
It can be concluded from the preceding discussion that the Silk Route was one of the pivotal routes for administering trade and exchanging culture. The Silk Route exceedingly bestowed to the civilization of mankind, not only merchants and goods travelled but there also moved along it the products of human thought, skill and migration. The revival of Silk route will definitely bring peace and in the emerging geo-political scenario in extended Central Asian region where China and Pakistan are emerging as significant players; it will be in the interest of India to revisit its policy on mutual relations with its immediate neighbors in which the revival of Silk Route can play an important role.

The author teaches at the Department of Islamic Studies, Government Degree College, Pampore. He can be reached at:

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