The many cultures of India

Diversity and coexistence in Indian society needs to be celebrated.
| Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Culture is an agglomeration of human labour. It is made up of the social, political, religious, and literary ethos of humans. Culture is the building block of human society. It has a very intriguing relationship with the space-time continuum. It is a continuous variable. That’s why it’s not inert but evolving. Society is a result of human behavior under different circumstances and it also defines its culture. As culture is an evolving process, there is a conflict between the human conscience and the circumstances of the moment. So culture can be defined as the result of this conflict. It is a refinement of every aspect of human nature. 

The development of Indian society is deeply rooted in its various cultures. Its different cultures acted as tributaries to become a vast, time-tested and inseparable entity that we know today as Indian culture or, in other words, cultures of India. Its core strength lies in its interdependency because it is a multicultural society. As our national song says, from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean, the country presents a carnival of different social, cultural, and geographical diversities. That’s why diversity and coexistence are so important to culture, which is now wrongly depicted by right-wing groups as a unilateral religious thought process. On the contrary, the cultures of India teach us about vasudaiva kudumbakam (the world is one family). Culture, then, is a result of argumentative and dialectical conversations on different ideologies and philosophies. But not about some religious fantasies. 

The Vedas, the Upanishads, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Agam Sutras, the Dhamma Padha, Tripitaka and Sangam literature have ignited dreams, stories, myth, history, fantasies, spiritualities and ideologies of Indian society for many centuries. On the one hand, there is Adi Sankara who taught us the principles of Advaita and, on the other, we have Sree Narayana Guru and Chattambiswamy who fought against blind faith. This coexistence of harmony and conflict can also be found in our classics and folklore. Tulsidas and Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan, who were scholars of Sanskrit language, created their masterpieces — Ramcharitamanas and Adhyathmaramayanam Kilippattu in the languages of the masses. In this context, I remember the words of noted Hindi writer Nirmal Verma: “Only in the time of labour and creation, man builds himself. In other words, the nature of his culture lies within the language of his labour.”

We see different ideological layers presenting Lord Rama in different perspectives by Valmiki, Tulsidas and Naresh Mehta. Tulsidas began his work, moved by the death of a male krauncha bird at the hands of a hunter and the piteous cries of the female on the loss of its mate. Sorrow and compassion had moved him. Lord Brahma came before Valmiki, urging him to compose the history of Lord Rama. Such is culture, which gives utmost respect to knowledge and even engages in an epistemological study of god himself in the thirst for knowledge.

Indian culture has always taught us to live a glorious life and celebrate its different ways. Whether it is a mantra from the Brihadaranyakopanishad which says, “ Mrityorma amritam gamaya” (from death lead me to immortality) or a prayer from the Vedas that says, “ Pashyema sharadah shatadam, jeevem sharadah shatadam” (give me 100 years of a healthy life with all its grandeur and pleasure). When Lord Krishna in the Gita says, “ Dehino asmin yatha dehe kaumaram youvanam jara tatha dehantara praptihi dheerasatatra na muhyanti” (change is inevitable and one should not fear it), the lines present us with a philosophy about life.

In the travelogues of Faxian, Hiuen Tsang, Pliny and Megasthenes, we see our glorious culture from the homes of ancient universities. Through the work of Aryabhatta, Bhaskaracharya, Varahamihira, Nagarjuna, Charaka, Sushruta and Vagbhatta, we see our culture reflected in philosophy, science and medical practices.

The cultures of India, in essence, is about socialism which gives equal importance to man and nature. It teaches us about collectiveness, harmony, welfare of all, tolerance, coexistence and, last but not the least, about love.

I would like to conclude with a mantra from the Shwetashwetara Upanishad which says, “ Tejasvinavadheedamastu” (may our study make us illuminated) and with a Kabir doha Guru govind dou khade kake lagu pai, balihari guru apne govind diyo batai” (when teacher and god stand before me, whose feet should I touch first in salutation? I would touch my teacher’s feet first because he is the one who taught me about god). So let’s be sceptical in a good sense about everything, even god.

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