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Social and political Values and Systems in India.

Vedic Culture and Its Sanatan Dharma

Vedic culture of India and its Sanatan Dharma (Eternal Value system) present one of the oldest, continuous and uninterrupted living culture 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’.

It has been like an anchor for Indian society, which has kept its boat in safe harbour. Now that the anchor is weakening, the boat is at the mercy of wild waves on stormy ocean (turbulent times).

Many intellectuals, philosophers and reformers regard Vedic culture and its Sanatan Dharma, in its pure form is one of the most scientific ideology and way of living ever developed anywhere in the world. Its values, systems and principles have always remained an inspiring icon of peace, harmony, compassion and other human values for the whole universe.

Origin of Vedic Culture – Vedic culture originated during the period of Indus Valley Civilization (around 3300–1300 BCE on the Indo-Gangetic Plains, (in northern parts of India) and matured by 2600–1900 BCE). It spread/flourished throughout India during 1500 BC and 500 BC. The blending up of migrating social groups with that of the indigenous tribal people living in this region gave rise to Vedic Culture and its system of eternal values (Sanatan Dharma).

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 non-ending process (Neti-Neti).

Ocean of knowledge in a jarValues and systems of Vedic culture has passed on up-to present generation. ”Rig Veda”, dated to between 1500–1200 BCE is said to be the oldest  complete religious holy book that has survived till now. 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. Later on, it was put together in ‘Vedas’, ‘Smritis’ ‘Sutras’, and ‘Upanishads’. Basham describes Vedic literature as “an ocean of knowledge in a jar.”[i]

Vedic literature, Scriptures and philosophy contains a vast reservoir of knowledge. It is found in ‘Vedas’, ‘Smritis’ ‘Sutras’, ‘Upanishads’. Ramayan, “Ramayan”, “Bhagvat Gita” and “Mahabharat” are the great epics of Hinduism. These are not merely the scriptures/religious/spiritual books, but also a perfect guide to lead a quality of life. Its values and systems have been passed on almost intact up-to the present generation. Principles of Vedic philosophy and its value systemstill commands the respect and attention of an average Indian and are followed by common men in India.

Its values and systems are  magnificent example of scientific division, fusion of various beliefs,  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.

Foundation of Vedic Culture – The foundation pillars of the Indian civilization are the principles of Varna, Dharma and Karma, which give to the people, a purpose to live for and ideals to be achieved. 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.

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 makes the inequalities, prevalent in the society, tolerable to an average Indian.

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. These principles have given to the people a distinct character. It has defined their roles by distributing various functions and managed the performance to improve quality of life.

 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.

Principle of Varna based on Division of labour according to attitude and aptitude of an individual – Varna system is based on the principle of division of labour.  All the functions needed for maintenance and growth of the society are divided properly. According to the Vedic ‘Principle of Varna’ Indian society has been classified into four Varnas – Brahmins (Intellectuals), Kshatriyas Warriors), Vaishyas (Business Community) and Shudras (Service Class).

In the northern part of India there always were four Varnas, within which all the social groups came. In Dravidian South, Varna came comparatively late. In Western part of India, there was a fifth Varna also, known as Panchamas or untouchables. South Indians were more rigid in their ritual observances. (Basham)

Persons interested in learning and gaining knowledge were called Brahmins.  Physically strong persons were known as Kshatriyas (warriors). Persons having acumen were called Vaishyas (Business community). Each Varna is assigned a distinct function to perform. Earlier the placement in each Varna was not on the basis of birth, but according to attitude and aptitude.

Brahmins are members of the priestly class, one of the four Varnas or social groups based on occupation according to the as discussed in early Upanishads. Individuals having intellectual and spiritual qualities and positive mindset were put in the category of Brahmins. 

Clear-cut set of rights and duties for each Varna Each Varna is assigned a distinct function to perform. There was no confusion or frustration on matter of work, because everybody had his traditional occupation. Each and every Varna serves the community in its own way. Brahmins have been assigned the pious duty of Brahmins to study, analyse the systems on the basis of their knowledge and set norms for common man, so that the whole society could benefit from their knowledge.

Members of all the four Varnas could live with dignity and honour with a feeling that he/she, too, is contributing something to the society.  Clear-cut definition of rights and duties for each caste, based on its traditional occupation, has developed clear vision of one’s responsibilities.  This separation of rights and duties combined with the principle of inter dependence provides its own system of checks and balances over arbitrary use of one’s authority. There has been an automatic decentralization of authority.

Assignment of work – Varna system had assigns different activities to different groups according to its natural endowment, qualities and aptitudes. (Bhagwat Gita, XVIII 41.) It believes that the whole world of activities is a result of complex intermixing of three basic qualities of human nature – goodness (Satwa), Passion (Rajas) and dullness (Tamas).  `Goodness was associated with purity, peace and knowledge; `Passion with comfort and action; and `Tamas with ignorance, sloth, sleep and carelessness. (Mahabharata,  XI6, XIV7, XIV8) These qualities determine the tendencies, potentialities, limitations, traits and character of individuals and give them direction for action. `Adharma (immoral behavior), Alasya (laziness) and Agyan (ignorance) are held responsible for evils, exploitation, and miseries of the people.

On the basis of natural inclinations, predominantly psychological characteristics, persons having `Sat and `austerity, Brahmins were especially given training in literary skills and spirituality. They were assigned the work of pursuing knowledge continuously. 

Similarly, Kashtriyas having `Rajas quality, were befitting for actions of courage, bravery, power and protection of the weak.  Initially, according to Smritis it is not birth, but the qualities and deeds, which fitted one into a particular group. (Varna 180, 21, 23) But, later on, upbringing, atmosphere and convenience tended to make these groups hereditary.

Vedic culture has 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.

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.

The beauty of Vedic culture is that it has 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.

As time passed on, different communities,  sects or faiths, whether foreign or indigenous, (be it Buddhism, Jainism, Dravidian, Islamic or European) have left some influence on the Vedic culture,  which has come down to the present generation in an unbroken chain of succession. It has led to some modifications and adaptations from time to time in Indian way of thinking, practices and systems.

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

Sanatan Dharma simple and with conformity with nature  Sanatan Dharma is a set of eternal (beyond the time) values. It is the Universal Truth which sustains the very core of Universe and its beings. Sanatan Dharma nurtures the basic instincts of human beings in conformity with the forces of Mother Nature. After a deep study of basic physical, mental and spiritual needs, natural instincts, inherent attributes and natural behavioural pattern of human beings at different stages of life, it prepares a simple  compact life package. It was applicable to all, irrespective of the Varna, caste or creed for all time to come. Even today it is as relevant as it was earlier. According to it, following are the different stages in human life –

  • Pre-Ashram stage (Infancy or Childhood) – At this stage, Society through family contributes. Individual remains Neutral. Task for family is to lay the foundation for the development of the personality of a child (say upto 5 years) with love and care.
  • Stage I, Brahmcharya Ashram (Stage of Learning for an individual) – At this stage, Society is the giver and individual is recipient. It is a period of strict discipline. Individual has to be disciplined by elders by practicing “Saam (Equality}, Daam (Incentives), Dand (Punishment) and Bhed (Comparison). Purpose is learning and acquisition of knowledge. For mental and physical discipline Yoga and knowledge play an important role.

Guru/Teacher inculcates knowledge of all Aspects and ramification of Dharma and guides learner to get control over his senses, mind and intellect. Society rears, protects and gives its best as heritage  to individual.[i]

Individual has to lead a very simple life leaving all worldly comforts. Complete obedience is expected from  learners. It is a neutral phase for an individual.

  • Stage II, Grahasthashram – At this stage, Society is the recipient, individual make contribution. Individual is  trustee and  Manager of social estate. Individual has direct contact with  society and makes direct contribution to  society consistent with the dictates of his own knowledge and conscience. It advises an individual to lead an active married life. His tasks are practice of Dharma and protection to his dependents with love and care.

This stage, the most energetic one, was regarded as the real ground to utilize one’s intellectual and physical capabilities. To indulge one-self in economic activities in order to fulfill one’s dreams and ambitions, to keep direct contact with the society, and to take proper care of the dependents, which included elders, children, members of extended family and strangers in need of help. It presents opportunities to practice and cultivate all the three Dharmas – Artha, Kama (fulfillment of duties and financial and material success for full enjoyment of life).

Society is recipient. Proper management of other three Ashrams depends on Grahasthashram, as their needs (like provision of food and financial help) are directly or indirectly supported by  householders.

Of all the Ashrams, Grihasthashram is given a high place of honour as it offers opportunities for practice and cultivation of all Guna and establishes direct contact with the society.

  • Stage III, Vanaprastha Ashram (Adulthood withdrawal) – It is a neutral phase. Material success is not aim. It advises a person to prepare himself for loosening earthly bonds. It advises him to achieve salvation through good deeds and social service. Task assigned to this group is teaching Dharma and extended care.
  • Stage IV, Sanyas (Renunciation) or Old age – It is a phaseofresignation and renunciation. A person is completely free from any obligation. Realization of Dharma and wisdom is the aim. It advises individual to achieve complete detachment and lead a simple life.

Earlier, when human life was not so complicated and men were closer to nature, people could follow the Sanatan Dharma without any hassle.  But in modern times, life has become quite difficult, materialistic and complex. Moral values are being eroded continuously It has become almost impossible to observe Sanatan Dharma truthfully in real life. It has been observed that people have become so greedy, that they are running blindly after money, power, position, name and fame even in their old age. They do not wish to lead a retired life at all  till the end.

Conclusion – 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.

Adaptability of Vedic culture – Vedic Culture its values and systems have survived the vicissitudes of time, saved itself, so far, by erosion from within and assault from outside only because of its adaptability. It has taken different shades and meaning with changing times and places. Its character during Indus Valley Civilization was altogether different from what exists today.

It has carefully nurtured and preserved the culture of each identity, coming into its fold, it has also absorbed the good points of other cultures also, which has enriched the composite culture of India. More than anywhere else in the world, it holds a multitude of thoughts, processes them and practices them. There has been co-existence of varied belief, pattern and thought due to inter-mixing and cultural mingling.

It is still in a transient phase. The multi-centricity of Indian society has given it a syncretic character, a pluralistic tradition and an absorptive nature of internalizing alien influences. That is why, it presents one of the oldest social institution and a continuous and uninterrupted living culture still existing in the whole world.

Only after raising oneself from ignorance, a person could be able to understand the greatness of the Vedic values and its Sanatan Dharma. Like a jeweller, a knowledgeable person should spot out gems from amongst the worthless pebbles added into it with the passage of time. He    should pick up only useful ideas and leave all undesired obsolete elements developed into the system.

This gold mine of Vedic Philosophy, its values and systems have 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.

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[i]            Manusmriti VI 4,5,6,14,16,26 and Yajur III 45,46,51,54.

November 9, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

   

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