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Social and political Values and Systems in India.

India, one nation, one culture

“If there is honesty in India today, any hospitality, any charity…. any aversion to evil, any love to be good, it is due to whatever remains of the old faith and the old culture”. C. Rajgopalachari

Introduction

India occupies a special place in the global society and Indian civilization is one of the oldest alive civilizations of the world. It presents a fascinating picture of unity amidst diversity, cultural richness, largeness of area and huge population. It has assimilated multi-ethnic migrants into its fold. India comprises people of different ethnic, religious, castes, linguistic and regional identities.

Usually diversity makes divide easy. In India also, there have been periods of discord. However, the forces of unity have always been stronger than the divisive forces. Different identities in India have lived together for centuries and present a mosaic culture.

Factors leading to the unity of India – Important factors, which have kept unity and continuity of India intact, are:

  • Indian philosophy, Vedic literature and its value system – C. Rajgopalachari has said, “If there is honesty in India today, any hospitality, any charity…. any aversion to evil, any love to be good, it is due to whatever remains of the old faith and the old culture”. Indian philosophy contains a vast reservoir of knowledge. It is found in Vedas, Upanishads, Sutras and Smritis. Basham says that Vedic literature contains “an ocean of knowledge in a jar.”

The Vedic literature is a magnificent example of scientific division and orderly arrangement of rules in a few words, in different branches of human knowledge, covering almost all the aspects of life, be it phonetics, arts, literature, medicine, polity, metrics, law, philosophy, astrology or astronomy.

Indian philosophy and its value systemstill commands the respect and attention of an average Indian. The priestly schools had devised a most remarkable and effective system of transferring knowledge to succeeding generations in the form of hymns, restricting it only to those, possessing brilliant feats of memory and capability to keep extreme sanctity.

Only after raising oneself from ignorance, a person could be able to understand the greatness of the Indian value system. Like a jeweler, one could spot out gems from amongst worthless pebbles. A knowledgeable person could pick up knowledge and leave the undesired obsolete elements developed in it with passage of time.

 This gold mine of knowledge inspired not only Indians, but foreigners as well. Intellectuals from various countries have translated it in their own languages and reinterpreted it for a rational mind.

  • Doctrines of Varna, Dharma and Karma

The foundation pillars of the Indian civilization are the principles of Varna, Dharma and Karma. It give to the people, a purpose to live for and ideals to be achieved. Together these principles laid the foundation stones of Indian social structure and contributed to its growth. It has organized inter-relationship of various groups of society. In addition to all this, It has defined their roles by distributing various functions and managed the performance to improve quality of life.

Doctrine of Varna – Doctrine of Varna gives the Indian Society a stable, sustainable social structure, which distributes and organizes performance of various functions. It has made it possible for the people to lead a quality of life and ensured the continuity despite numerous foreign invasions, migrations and assimilation of various groups.

Doctrine of Dharma – The doctrine of Dharma defines the duties and vocations for different sections of society, ensures social harmony and prevents rivalries and jealousies.

Doctrine of Karma – Doctrine of Karma makes the inequalities, prevalent in the society, tolerable to an average Indian.

These principles have given to the people a distinct character. In the past, these principles had wisely directed all the activities – social, political, intellectual or economic – into proper life functions and controlled its malfunctioning or dis-functioning. It had made it possible for people to reach a high level of intelligence having specialization in different areas. It contributed to all round growth of cultural heritage and encouraged self-discipline, consciousness, self-control and self-direction. Decentralized self-regulated systems were the mode in social, political and economic life in ancient India.

  • ‘Sanatan (eternal) Dharma’ of Hinduism takes care of the basic physical, mental and spiritual needs of the human beings at different stages of life. It nurtures the basic instincts of human beings over nature, after a deep study of natural instincts, inherent attributes and natural behavioral pattern.

It has prepared an atmosphere for co-existence of different groups, be it ruler or ruled/rich or poor. It has provided unity of culture throughout India and serves to give Indian society coherence, stability and continuity.

  •  Tolerance – The spirit of tolerance and firm belief in the principle, ‘Live and let live’ has always been the part of Indian ethos. Tolerance is most evident in the field of religion. Tolerance is not confined to religion alone. It is seen everywhere in the Indian way of life. Indians believe in ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’. The whole world is one family. Truth, Ahimsa, peace and non-aggression are the hallmark of Indian culture. The people endure injustice and unfairness until they are pushed right to the wall.

John Fischer mentions, “Even during Bengal famine, an extreme situation – when necessity knows no laws, people did not take law in their own hands, nor was there any violence. No grocery stall, no rice warehouse, none of the wealthy clubs or restaurants was ever threatened by a hungry mob… They just died with docility, which to most Americans is the most shocking thing about India.’ Many times in the past, Indians had accepted oppression and exploitation without much protest, while such situations, elsewhere in the world, would have led to bloody revolutions.

Even today, in the hope of better future, Indians are patiently tolerating the criminalization of politics, high-handedness of authorities, corruption, scams and scandals and inefficiency of the administration without much protest. Administration is one such area, where tolerance is harmful, as it not only hinders the development, but also pushes the nation backwards.

  • Validity to all religions – Hindu faith in an all pervading omnipresent god, multiplicity of gods and goddesses as representing some portion of the infinite aspect of the Supreme Being, inspired it to accommodate people of all faiths. The places of worship of Hindus, Muslims and Christians, (major religions of India) i.e.Mandir, Masjid and Church, all have 6 alphabets in it, and their religious Granths, Geeta, Kuran and Bible, each one has the same no. of 5 alphabets in it, all preaching the same ‘God is one’.    

Hinduism concedes validity to all the religions and does not lay down strictures against any faith or reject any religion or its god as false. That is the reason, why all the twelve major religions of the world are present and flourishing in India without any hindrance.

  • Path of assimilation – Hindu religion neither repulses any trend vehemently, nor allows others to sweep its established culture off its roots. It has adopted the path of assimilation. It does not force others to convert. It does not impose its beliefs, practices and customs on others. In the past, it has assimilated numerous social groups willing to join it.
  • Fusion of different cultures –As India passed through various phases in the past, various  religious communities have left its influence on Indian culture, which came down to the present generation in an unbroken chain of succession, with some minor alterations, modifications and adaptations here and there. All the sects present in India, whether alien (like Islam, Christianity,  Zoroastrianism etc.)or indigenous(originated within the land of India like Budhism, Jainism, or Sikhism etc) have been influenced greatly by Hindu thinking, practices and systems. Also the interaction between value-system of Vedic culture and other religions (of indigenous, migrating or foreign communities) present in India, have contributed in enriching the composite culture of India:
    • Vedic Hindu Culture – Vedic Hindu Culture is one of the oldest living cultures in the world. It mainly originated and flourished in northern parts of India and later on spread throughout India. The word ‘Vedic’ is derived from the word ‘Vid’ meaning ‘Knowledge’ and signifies’ ‘knowledge par excellence’.

The Vedic culture came into being due to intermixing of the culture of Aryan with the culture of indigenous tribal people of India during 2nd century BC to 650 AD. The origin of the Vedic culture cannot be traced in any single founder; neither can it be confined in one single authoritative text.

Its knowledge has been handed down from time immemorial, earlier by verbal transmission and later on, in written form by the ancestor to succeeding generations. It has not prescribed final absolutes. It is a constant search for more knowledge. Vedas are not supposed to be the end of quest for knowledge. It is a never ending process (‘Neti-Neti’ meaning ‘no end, no end’).

The strength of Vedic culture is proved by the facts: –

  • Despite centuries of foreign rule over 75% of Indian population remains Hindu.
  • Had it become obsolete, it would have given place to other religions and cultures.
  • It influenced almost all other religions found in India.
  • Buddhism and Jainism – Budhism and Jainism has influenced the thought, moral and life style of many Indians. Buddhism attracted equally the elite as well as the lower strata of Hindu society. Buddhism drew the attention of people towards the harsher effects of the caste system, sympathetic attitude towards lesser human beings and system of organized education. Major contribution of Jainism is the principle of non-violence.
  • Dravidian culture – After the sudden disappearance of Indus valley culture, of which the most characteristic feature was its town planning, Dravidian culture with its advanced social system, industry and trade made a mark in the South.
  • Islamic culture- After the tenth century, Islamic culture influenced the Indian culture substantially. Its influence could be seen in the rejection of elaborate rituals and caste pretensions. It preached a simple path of faith, devotion, brotherly love and fellowship. With the growing political strength of Muslims, the need for mutual understanding and communal harmony gave rise to Sufi tradition of Islam and Bhakti movement of Hindus. Both these emphasized the need for mutual appreciation, tolerance and goodwill. Like Buddhism, Islam also provided an alternative to people, wishing to opt out the caste system.
  • British Culture – Eighteenth century onwards, the British culture influenced the Indian culture substantially, especially that of elite and intellectuals. Access to modern education, Western literature and philosophy gave Indians the understanding of liberal and humanitarian ideas of the West.

Some of the contributions of the British to India are political and administrative unity, many democratic institutions like Parliament, bureaucracy and concepts like rule of law, unified nationality, a common currency, a common Judiciary. They gave a new economic structure based on industrialization. British-rule gave an impetus to social progress and brought many reforms.

The British influence on Indian minds was as discussed below: –

  • Many reformers welcomed rationality and other good features of English culture. They advised people to interpret religion rationally and make efforts to eradicate social evils like Sati, child marriage, untouchability etc. prevalent at that time.
  • Some people were so influenced by the alien culture, that they developed a complex about the primitiveness of Indian society.
  • Some reformists tried to revive their own rich ancient culture and prevent the masses from being swayed away by the glamour and materialism of Western culture. It gave the call for ‘Back to Vedas’.

Two aspects of Hindu culture received a good deal of attention of British: –

  • The Caste system and
  • Reluctance to convert people of other religions, on the ground that all religions are valid.

The British condemned the Caste system, but the later, they enthusiastically applauded.

Hindu, Islam and Christian religions had received substantial state patronage for sufficiently long period.

Assimilation and fusion of different cultures – Assimilation and fusion of different cultures has been a continuous process of the India civilization. A major cultural synthesis took place during 6th and 10th century, between Vedic Hindu culture, Buddhism and Dravidian culture. Another assimilation was seen after the 10th century, when the thinking of Arabs, Turks and Afghan, mainly guided by reason, influenced Indian thought. Sufi and Bhakti movements are examples of this. These two sects taught the people to love and respect all human beings irrespective of caste or creed. These also brought changes in the nature of mutual understanding, communal amity and accommodation.

Once again, during the period in between 18th century to 20th century, a major cultural synthesis took place with modernization and industrialization ushered in by the British.

Winding up

Many principles and cultures developed in the past, elsewhere in the world, had created such a wave that swept over the entire world for some time. An anti-wave, replacing such waves, emerged soon. It wiped off the previous influence. The Vedic culture, however, has proved to be an exception in this regard. There had been periods, when the Vedic culture became weak, especially under foreign rules. But it re-emerged every time, and whenever it re-emerged, it did not destroy other sects, it assimilated them within itself.

Despite of having different kinds of diversities, most of the times, the Indian society has been able to develop “an attitude of reconciliation rather than refutation, cooperation rather than confrontation and co-existence rather than mutual annihilation.”

It has happened due to basic tenets of Vedic culture along with tolerance, which are very close to every Indian. The principles of Varna, Dharma and Karma have contributed to the growth of the Indian society as a whole in a systematic way. It has organized orderly performance of various functions needed to provide a quality of life to its people. It prepared an atmosphere for co-existence of different sections of the society – be it ruler or ruled, be it rich or poor. It served to give Indian society coherence, stability and continuity; and held together different castes and communities having diverse languages and practices for generations – thus making unity in diversity a reality. om:offi

June 25, 2019 Posted by | Social and political values and systems | | Leave a comment

   

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