You only have to think of the Tagalog word for teacher, guro, to realize that, like most countries in Southeast Asia,
the Philippines has also been influenced by India, the South Asian nation with one of the world’s oldest civilizations.
The Sri-Vijaya and Majapahit Indian empires that traded with the early Filipinos, not surprisingly and quite naturally,
also influenced the culture of the Philippines. It was from India, which celebrated its National Day recently that ancient
Filipinos drew the names of their gods and mythological heroes.
Although I grew up in an Indian home, I found it was not difficult to adjust to our neighbors in Malate and my classmates
at St. Scholastica’s College because there were many similarities between us in terms of culture and customs. So I grew
up both an Indian and Filipino.
At home I learned Hindi and in school I learned Tagalog. Learning to speak both languages was not at all difficult, as
words like asawa (spouse), diwa (thought), puri (honor), lakambini (princess), wika (language), guro (teacher), budhi (conscience),
dukha (poor), sampalataya (faith), mukha (face), laho (eclipse), maharlika (noble), sutla (silk), kapas (cotton), naga (dragon),
katha (fiction), vaya (nurse) and many more are similar to our Sanskrit or Hindi terms.
Bathala, for instance, the name for the supreme god of the ancient Tagalog, was believed to have come from the Sanskrit
Bhattara Guru or “the highest of the gods.” The sarong (skirt) and potong (turban) are also Indian in origin.
Historians say the ancient Filipino alphabet originated from India, and about a fourth of the words in the Tagalog language
are believed to come from Sanskrit.
Writer Jozon A. Lorenzana cited Indologist Juan Francisco’s observation of the many Filipino words of Sanskrit origin:
“Onion is lasuna in Ilocano, lasun in Sanskrit; face is mukha in Filipino, and Sanskrit’s mukha means ‘mouth,
face or countenance’; silk is sutra in Tausog, and Sanskrit’s sutra means thread or string.”
Lorenzana added that during a two-year stay in Delhi, he also learned Hindi verbs and adjectives that were very familiar:
“Likhain both Tagalog and Hindi means ‘to write’; and dukha in Filipino means ‘poor’ or ‘destitute,’
while in Hindi it means ‘sorrow.’”
The works of Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, a Filipino scholar and statesman, suggested that Sanskrit words adopted by the
Tagalog language signified “intellectual acts, moral operations, passions, superstitions, names of deities, planets,
higher numerals, botany, war and its outcomes and vicissitudes.” Lorenzana said the words could include aral, mahal,
budhi, mamaya, asa, hari, bahagi.
Myth and folklore
Filipino literature and folklore also show strong Indian influence.
“Darangan,” a Maranao epic, is said to be Indian in plot and characterization, while the Agusan legend about
Manubo Ango, who was turned into stone, is similar to a story in the Hindu epic “Ramayana.”
The legend of Ifugao Balituk, who obtained water from the rock with his arrow, is similar to Arjuna’s adventure in
“Mahabharata,” another Hindu epic.
Some Filipino customs, like greeting visitors with garlands of flowers and showering the bride and groom with rice after
a wedding, may have had their origin from India.
Even the old practice of paninilbihan, immortalized in many Filipino movies, when a suitor helped with chores in the home
of his beloved, and the giving of a dowry to the bride’s family, as practiced in some parts of the country, trace their
origin to India.
Decorative art and metalwork of the early Filipinos and the use of brass, bronze, copper and tin also suggest a strong
Many Filipino dances, particularly those from the South like the singkil, are also evocative of Indian culture.
These similarities made it easy for Indians to make the Philippines their new home.
Among the earliest settlers were Indian soldiers who mutinied against the British Army when the British briefly occupied
the Philippines in 1762-1763.
Called Sepoy, they married local women. A significant number of Cainta’s population is descended from these Indian
The Indian community has since grown. It has built a Hindu temple (in Paco) both as a place of worship and center for its
The Indian Chamber links Indian and Filipino businessmen while the Seva (To Serve) Foundation helps the needy through regular
feeding programs and eye camps in remote areas.
The Indian women, through The Ladies Club, support children’s education and other charities.
With additional materials from Inquirer research
The author was born in the Philippines. With her husband, she runs Time N Treasure, which sells Indian handicraft and other
items at The Fort (tel. 7280052).