I n last month's Wordplay article, we looked at words which entered English from India, especially during the Raj (which itself is an Indian word that means "reign"). India continued to influence our language even when Britain began to lose its power over the sub-continent.

One of the activists who undermined that power was Gandhi, whose influential teachings and methods ensured that westerners learnt such Indian terms as ahimsa (refusal to harm living things), ashram (a Sanskrit word for a hermitage or religious retreat), harijans (Gandhi's name for "untouchables"), sarvodaya (the welfare of all) and satyagraha (non-violent action, from satya truth and agraha force). And of course Gandhi was called "Mahatma", from a Sanskrit word meaning "great soul".

Indian campaigns against the British gave us such words as Swadeshi (boycotting foreign goods and using only Indian products - from Bengali swa' (one's own), plus deshi' (country) and Swaraj - a movement advocating self-government).

India as a country of spiritual enlightenment gave us the Sanskrit word guru for a spiritual teacher and hence for anyone dispensing wisdom. Pundit (from Hindi pandit) similarly describes a learned person. The Indian prime minister from 1947 to 1964 was widely known as Pandit Nehru.

Other words associated with Indian spirituality are darshan, karma, mantra and maharishi. When jazz guitarist John McLaughlin formed a band including Indian musicians, he named it Shakti, a Sanskrit word for energy or power.

From the 1960s onwards, westerners like the Beatles became interested in Indian music, teaching us such terms as raga and tala, and introducing us to Indian instruments like the sitar, tabla, tambura, sarod, vina and (my personal favourite) the sarangi (a bowed instrument which produces those wailing sounds familiar from some of Satyajit Ray's films).

An Indian Glossary, compiled in 1800 by T T Roberts, listed curry as "a mixture, eaten by all the inhabitants of India". The word curry for a dish cooked with strong spices is actually found in English as early as the 16th century but the modern popularity of Indian food in Britain has introduced many related terms into our language.

George Whitworth's Anglo-Indian Dictionary (1885) included "Chapati, a thin flat cake; especially one of flour and water, without leaven, baked on a griddle". The OED includes such words as pilau and tandoori from as early as the 17th century. Basmati, poppadom and chutney are found in 19th-century English, while vindaloo occurs in W H Dave's 1888 book Wife's Help to Indian Cookery.

The word balti seems to have originated in Birmingham where "balti houses" proliferated in the early 1980s - cheap restaurants serving highly-spiced food in wide metal pans. The word may derive from balti, a Hindi word for a bucket, although there are several other possibilities, including a connection with Baltistan, a region of Kashmir.

The popularity of Indian food in Britain is just one sign of a multicultural society.

So-called "Asian" people (Brits with Indian forebears) are also generating a mixture of Indian and English vocabulary known as Hinglish (from Hindi + English). This came to many people's attention with the TV comedy series Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No. 42, which both featured Asians living in Britain.

The shows parodied British attitudes towards Asians and vice versa - such as the Kapoor and Rabindranath families, who insisted that their names were anglicised to Cooper and Robinson. The shows were sprinkled with Indian slang phrases like "kiss my chuddies" (chuddies meaning underpants).

Hinglish is gaining influence in Britain because many aspects of Asian culture are fashionable. The trend probably started when Indian popular music was combined with western rock and disco music to produce bhangra. More recently, a female Indian rapper recorded a song called Glassy, which is Hinglish for an alcoholic drink. The rapper called herself HardKaur - a blend of "hard core" and Kaur - the female equivalent of "Singh" as a personal name in Punjabi families. A reviewer said that this record generated "tidal wave-size ripples in the pool of desi hip-hop culture," using the Hinglish word desi which means authentically South Asian.

Other signs of Asian influence are films like Anita and Me, Bend It Like Beckham and Bhaji on the Beach; the musical show Bombay Dreams; the popularity of Indian fashion; and people's increasing familiarity with Bollywood (Bombay + Hollywood) films.

Young people pick up Hinglish vocabulary from their Asian friends, so that we may increasingly hear such words as haina (a Hinglish equivalent of innit), yaar (a friend), would-be (someone engaged to be married), badmash (a hooligan or dishonest person) and kitty party (a gathering of women).

One particularly interesting Hinglish word is stepney, which originally meant a spare tyre for a vehicle (designed to be clamped over a flat tyre). It is in the OED from 1907 in this sense, and it got its name from Stepney Street in Llanelli, where the spare was manufactured. But now the word is used - in Britain as well as India - for anything spare, especially as a derogatory expression for a "spare" woman or mistress.

Tony Augarde is the author of The Oxford Guide to Word Games (OUP, £14.99) and The Oxford A to Z of Word Games (OUP, £4.99).