Indian, Hindu, Bharati
Identification. India constitutes the largest part of the subcontinental land mass of South Asia, an area it shares with six other countries, including Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. It has highly variable landforms, that range from torrid plains, tropical islands, and a parched desert to the highest mountain range in the world.
Location and Geography. India, on the southern subcontinent of Asia, is bounded on the northwest by Pakistan; on the north by China and Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan; on the northeast by Bangladesh and Burma (Myanmar); and on the southwest and southeast by the Indian Ocean, with the island republics of Sri Lanka and the Maldives to the south. Excluding small parts of the country that are currently occupied by Chinese or Pakistani military forces, the area of the Republic of India is 1,222,237 square miles (3,165,596 square kilometers).
Demography. The 1991 census enumerated 846,302,688 residents, including 407,072,230 women, and 217 million people defined as urban dwellers. However, with a population growth rate estimated at 17 per one thousand in 1998, by May 2000 the national figure reached one billion. Life expectancy in the 1991 census was sixty years, and in 1997 it was estimated that almost 5 percent of the population was age 65 or older. The population is still primarily rural, with 73 percent of the population in 1997 living outside the cities and towns. In 1991, the largest urban centers were Bombay or Mumbai (12,596,243), Calcutta or Kolkata (11,021,915), Delhi (8,419,084), Madras or Chennai (5,421,985), Hyderabad (4,253,759), and Bangalore (4,130,288).
Linguistic Affiliations. There are four major language families, each with numerous languages. Indo-Aryan, a branch of Indo-European, covers the northern half of the country, and the Dravidian family covers the southern third. In the middle regions a number of tribal languages of the Munda or Austroasiatic family are spoken. In the northeastern hills, numerous Tibeto-Burman languages are spoken.
Symbolism. The national flag, which was adopted in 1947, is a tricolor of deep saffron, white, and green, in horizontal bands (with green at the bottom). In the center of the white band is a blue wheel, the chakra , which also appears on the lion column-capital of the Emperor Asoka at Sarnath. This carving, which is over 2,200 years old, is also a national emblem that is preserved in the Sarnath Museum. The sandstone carving features four lions back to back, separated by wheels ( chakra , the wheel of law), standing over a bell-shaped lotus. The whole carving once was surmounted by the wheel of law. The national anthem is a song composed by Rabindranath Tagore in 1911 entitled Jana-gana mana. The nearly useless Saka-era calendar also may be considered a national symbol, adopted in 1957 and still often used officially alongside the Gregorian calendar.
History and Ethnic Relations
Emergence of the Nation. India has a history going back thousands of years and a prehistory going back hundreds of thousands of years. There was a long phase of Paleolithic hunting and gathering cultures parallel in time and characteristics with the Paleolithic peoples of Europe and East Asia. This was followed, eight thousand to ten thousand years ago, by the development of settled agricultural communities in some areas.
In 2700 B.C.E. , the first genuinely urban civilization in the Indus Valley and western India
Despite the extent of the Empire of Asoka (272–232 B.C.E. ) and the Mughal Empire (1526–1707), it was left to the last foreign invaders, the British, to establish a unified empire that covered most of the subcontinent during its final century.
India was ruled by the British government after 1858 through a viceroy and a council, although several hundred "princely states" continued to maintain a measure of independence. The Indian National Congress, founded in 1885, slowly moved from a position of advisor and critic for the British administration toward demanding the transference of power to native Indian politicians. In 1930, the Indian National Congress, led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, adopted a policy of civil disobedience with a view to achieving full national independence. It was to be a long struggle, but independence was achieved in 1947, with the condition that predominantly Muslim areas in the north would form a separate country of Pakistan. Mohammed Ali Jinnah was to be Pakastani's first prime minister, while Nehru became the prime minister of the Republic of India. The departure of the colonial authorities, including the British armed forces, was peaceful, but the splitting off of Pakistan caused a massive population movement and bloodshed on both sides as a result of "communal passions." A quarter century later, the eastern wing of Pakistan split from that country to become the independent country of Bangladesh.
National Identity. National identity is not a major political issue; regional identity and the mother tongue seem to be more important. There are still millions of illiterate people who seem hardly aware that they are Indians but can be vociferous in their support of chauvinistic regional politicians. Thus, India has been plagued with secessionist struggles since independence, the most prominent of which have been a Dravidistan movement in the south, an armed struggle among Kashmiri Muslims for a union of their state with Pakistan, a Khalistan movement among Panjabi Sikhs, and a guerilla movement seeking independence for all the Naga tribes in the northeast.
Ethnic Relations. India is home to several thousand ethnic groups, tribes, castes, and religions. The castes and subcastes in each region relate to each other through a permanent hierarchical structure, with each caste having its own name, traditional occupation, rank, and distinctive subculture. Tribes usually do not have a caste hierarchy but often have their own internal hierarchical organization. The pastoral and foraging tribes are relatively egalitarian in their internal organization.
India is no stranger to ethnic conflict, especially religious wars. Nevertheless, in most parts of the
Indian shop workers in the main bazaar in Jaipur, Rajasthan.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space
In the Indus civilization of 2700 to 1500 B.C.E. , India developed one of the earliest urban societies in the world, along with an extensive trading economy to support it.
The walled citadels in some early cities developed into elaborate palisades, walls, and moats to protect the multitude of Iron Age and medieval cities throughout much of the country. The towns and cities are of eight historic types: (1) ancient pilgrimage centers, such as Madurai; (2) local market towns, roughly one every 20 miles; (3) medieval fortified towns, such as Gwalior; (4) ancient and medieval seaports, such as Bharuch (Broach); (5) military cantonments first set up by the British, such as Pune; (6) modern administrative centers such as New Delhi; (7) new industrial centers, such as Jamshedpur; and (8) great modern metropoles such as Bombay (Mumbai) and Calcutta (Kolkata).
Architecture developed distinct regional styles that remain apparent. These styles reflect the relative influence of the medieval Tamil kingdoms, Persian and Turkic invaders in the north, Portuguese and British Christianity, and all the distinctive features of the religious monuments of Jainism, Buddhism, Islam, and medieval Hinduism.
The landscape is dotted with over half a million villages, and each region has distinctive forms of domestic architecture and village layout. Holy places of the various religions are commonly within villages and towns, but the numerous pilgrimage sites are not necessarily located there.
Food and Economy
Food in Daily Life. About half the people eat rice as their staple, while the remainder subsist on wheat, barley, maize, and millet. There are thus major geographic differences in diet. Just as fundamental is the division between those who eat meat and those who are vegetarian. Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and Christians all eat meat, with the important proviso that the first three groups do not consume pork. Lower-caste Hindus eat any meat except beef, whereas members of the higher castes and all Jains are normally vegetarian, with most even avoiding eggs.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Every caste, tribe, town, village, and religion has a panoply of traditional ceremonies that are observed with enthusiasm and wide participation. Most of these ceremonies have a religious basis, and the majority are linked with the deities of Hinduism.
Basic Economy. With a large proportion of the population being located in rural areas (73 percent), farming is the largest source of employment; for hundreds of millions of people, this means subsistence farming on tiny plots of land, whether owned or rented. In most parts of the country, some farmers produce cash crops for sale in urban markets, and in some areas, plantation crops such as tea, coffee, cardamom, and rubber are of great economic importance because they bring in foreign money.
In 1996, the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was $380, and the GDP growth rate was almost 6 percent from 1990 to 1996. In that period, the average annual inflation was 9 percent. In 1994, national debt was 27 percent of GDP. Over the past half century the economy has been expanding slowly but at a steady rate on the basis of a wide range of industries, including mining operations.
Major cities such as Bombay are considered residential creations of British administrators.
Land Tenure and Property. In an economy based on agriculture, the ownership of land is the key to survival and power. In most parts of the country, the majority of the acreage is owned by a politically dominant caste that is likely to be a middle-ranking one, not a Brahmin one. However, the various regions still have different traditions of land tenure and associated systems of land taxation.
India has only recently seen the last of the rural serfs who for centuries supplied much of the basic farm labor in some parts of the country. There are still numberless landless wage laborers, tenant farmers, and landlords who rent out their extensive lands, and rich peasants who work their own holdings.
Commercial Activities. India has had many traders, transport agents, importers, and exporters since the days of the Indus civilization four thousand years ago. Market places have existed since that time, and coinage has been in circulation among urban people for 2500 years.
In modern times, an expanding investment scene, combined with continuing inflation, has formed the background to an extensive import and export trade. The major industries continue to be tourism, clothing, tea, coffee, cotton, and the production of raw materials; in the last few years, there has been a surge in the importance of the computer software industry. Russia, the United States, Germany, and Great Britain are among the major importers of Indian products.
Major Industries. The modern infrastructure was created by the British administration in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The country still relies on a vast network of railroad track, some of it electrified. Railroads are a government monopoly. Roadways, many of them unsurfaced, total about 1.25 million miles. The first air service, for postal delivery, grew into Air India which, along with Indian Airlines, the internal system, was nationalized in 1953. In the 1980s a number of private airlines developed within the country, while international connections are provided by a multitude of foreign companies as well as Air India.
International Trade. The major trading partners are Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Political animosities have long ensured that trade with neighboring South Asian countries remains minimal, although there is now considerable transborder trade with Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Bhutan.
Division of Labor. The division of work is based on gender. Age also separates out the very old and the very young as people unable to perform the heaviest tasks. Those jobs are done by millions of adult men and women who have nothing to offer but their muscles. Beyond these fundamental divisions, India is unique in having the caste system as the ancient and most basic principle of organization of the society. Each of many hundreds of castes traditionally had one occupation that was its specialty and usually its local monopoly. Only farming and the renouncer's life were open to all.
Classes and Castes. The caste system is more elaborate than that in any of the other Hindu or Buddhist countries. Society is so fragmented into castes that there can be twenty or thirty distinct castes within a village.
This society has a hierarchy of endogamous, birth-ascribed groups, each of which traditionally is
A family at the Taj Mahal, one of the most famous buildings in the world.
Hindu religious theory justifies the division of society into castes, with the unavoidable differences in status and the differential access to power each one has. Hindus usually believe that a soul can have multiple reincarnations and that after the death of the body a soul will be reassigned to another newborn human body or even to an animal one. This reassignment could be to one of a higher caste if the person did good deeds in the previous life or to a lower-status body if the person did bad deeds.
The highest category of castes are those people called Brahmins in the Hindu system; they were traditionally priests and intellectuals. Below them in rank were castes called Ksatriya , including especially warriors and rulers. Third in rank were the Vaisyas , castes concerned with trading and land ownership. The fourth-ranking category were the Sudras , primarily farmers. Below these four categories and hardly recognized in the ancient and traditional model, were many castes treated as "untouchable" and traditionally called Pancama . Outside the system altogether were several hundred tribes, with highly varied cultural and subsistence patterns. The whole system was marked not just by extreme differences in status and power but by relative degrees of spiritual purity or pollution.
A curious feature of the caste system is that despite its origins in the Hindu theory of fate and reincarnation, caste organization is found among Indian Muslims, Jews, and Christians in modern times. In the Buddhist lands of Korea, Japan, and Tibet, there are rudimentary caste systems, their existence signaled especially by the presence of untouchable social categories.
The major cities in modern times—Bombay (Mumbai), Madras (Chennai), Calcutta (Kolkata), New Delhi, and Bangalore—were essentially residential creations of the British administrators. Architecturally, professionally, and in other ways, they are therefore the most Westernized cities in India today. In these cities and their suburbs, there is now a developed class system overlying and in many respects displacing the more traditional caste system. As a consequence, there are many modern cases of intercaste marriage in all the cities, although this practice remains almost unthinkable to the great majority of Indians.
Symbols of Stratification. There are many symbols of class differentiation because each caste tends to have its own persisting subculture. People's location in this stratification system thus can be gauged accurately according to the way they dress, their personal names, the way they speak a local dialect, the deities they worship, who they are willing to eat with publicly, the location of their housing, and especially their occupations. The combination of all these subcultural features can be a sure sign of where individuals and their families are situated in the caste hierarchy.
Government. The national system of government is a liberal democratic federal republic, making India the largest democracy in the world. The country is divided for administrative purposes into twenty–eight linguistically–based states, plus a further seven small "Union Territories" administered directly by the central government in New Delhi, the national capital.
Leadership and Political Officials. The central parliament in New Delhi consists of the House of the People ( Lok Sabha ) and the Council of States ( Rajya Sabha ).
The states all have legislative assemblies ( Vidhan sabha ) and legislative councils ( Vidhan parishad ). Members of parliament and the state legislatures are selected in democratic elections. An exception to this procedure is that the Lok Sabha has two seats reserved for Anglo-Indian members, and of the 4,072 seats in all the state legislative assemblies, 557 have been reserved for candidates from the Scheduled Castes and a further 527 for candidates from the Scheduled Tribes. These provisions have ensured that the main minority populations have legislative representation and an interest in pursuing the electoral process. The Lok Sabha recently had sitting members from twenty one different parties. State legislatures also host a multiplicity of political parties.
The head of state is the president, and there is also a vice-president, neither elected by general franchise but instead by an electoral college. The president is aided by a council of ministers, and appoints the prime minister of each government. This prime minister is the leader of the dominant party or of a coalition of prominent parties and has been elected as a member of parliament. The president has the power to dissolve a government and order new elections or to dismiss a problematic state government and declare "president's rule."
Social Problems and Control. Indians have lived under the rule of law since ancient times. Hindu law was codified over two thousand years ago in the books called Dharmasastras. There is now one legal hierarchy throughout the land, with the Supreme Court at its head. Legal procedure is based on the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which was drafted in the mid-nineteenth century, and the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973. The constitution promulgated in 1950 went further than any other South Asian country has gone in curtailing the influence of traditional legal systems that in practice applied only to the followers of a particular religion, whether Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or Parsi.
The huge legal profession helps push cases slowly through the complex apparatus of magistrates' and higher-level courts, sometimes creating the impression that litigation is a national sport. While fines and imprisonment are the most common punishments, the Supreme Court has upheld the legality of the death penalty.
Military Activity. Five wars with Pakistan and one with China since independence have provided training for several generations of soldiers. India thus has a strong program of national defense, with four national services: the army, navy, air force, and coast guard (since 1978). In 1996, these branches
An Indian shopkeeper with his wares. Small shops still make up a big part of the Indian economy.
Social Welfare and Change Programs
Traditionally the family was responsible for the care of the poor, incapacitated, elderly, and very young. For rural populations this is still largely true. In recent decades, underfunded state governments, often with international help, have tried to create more jobs for the poor as a direct way of helping them. Beyond this, welfare organizations have helped, but they are largely private and often religious foundations with relatively little financing. The population in need of social welfare support is too vast for the facilities that are available, and these people are disproportionately concentrated in the cities.
Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations
There are numerous nongovernmental organizations of social, political, religious, educational, or sporting natures. Every village, town, and caste and most temples have at least one associate formal organization and sometimes dozens. Beyond some attempts at registration, for example, of cooperative societies and charitable endowments, the government does not attempt to control organizations.
Gender Roles and Statuses
Division of Labor by Gender. Gender provides the basis for a fundamental division of the work force, with perhaps only the lowest day-labor jobs and the most modern professions being regularly staffed by people of both genders.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. "Patriarchal" is the word most commonly used to describe the traditional Indian family and the gender relationships within it. This is true in all family systems except the defunct matrilineal system of the Nayar castes in Kerala. Within all branches of Hinduism, priests can only be male, though they may be boys. In Islam, the leaders of a prayer group are males. In Zoroastrianism and Roman Catholicism, only men can function as priests.
It is said that a woman must first obey her father, then her husband, and then her son; this seems to be the normal pattern as she goes through life. The opinion of the male head of household is especially important in the arrangement of marriages, because in most religious communities these are effectively marriages between two families. At such times, romantic preferences get little consideration. Since it is the male head who typically controls the family's finances, it is he who pays or receives a dowry at the time of a child's marriage. Although older women may be very influential behind the scenes, they wield little legal authority in property and marriage matters.
Marriage, Family, and Kinship
Marriage. Although the different regions and religions have considerable variety in marital arrangements, the arranged marriage is a traditional feature of virtually every community; today, except among the urban middle classes, it still is widely practiced. Marriages that are not arranged by the couple's parents, often termed "love marriages," are looked down on as impulsive acts of passion. The more usual style of marriage unites a couple who have barely met beforehand. It is through the institution of arranged marriage and its correlate, caste endogamy, that parents exercise control not only over their adult children but also over the social structure and the caste system.
Generally, the country has two main types of marriage: a north Indian one in which the man must not marry a closely related cousin and a south Indian one in which a cross-cousin, whether the mother's brother's daughter or the father's sister's daughter, is the ideal spouse. Many south Indian castes also permit uncle-niece marriage. Maharashtra state has intermediate forms.
Domestic Unit. The residential unit is normally the household, but this unit varies widely in its structure, from housing a large extended family of three or four generations to a household made up of a lone widow. In large buildings with many rooms, it is common to find a number of discrete households, especially in cities; each of these households may be distinguished by its use of a common cooking hearth and perhaps by depending on a common source of funds. In crowded urban conditions, each room may constitute a separate household, as may each small grass hut in a roadside encampment.
Inheritance. The written will is largely unknown except in modern urban areas. The tradition has always been that sons inherit property and status from their fathers and that daughters can hope to receive a dowry at the time of their marriage. However, there is much local and caste variation in precisely who inherits. In some groups, the oldest son inherits everything and then makes an accommodation for his younger brother and provides his sisters' dowries. In other groups, the brothers may inherit equal shares, except that the youngest brother inherits the house. Other patterns occur, but in general, although modern law states that daughters should inherit equally with their brothers, this almost never happens except in Islamic families.
Kin Groups. The largest kin-based group is the caste, of which there are several thousand. A caste is an endogamous unit with its own traditional occupation and rank. It is made up of a number of clans, which are also kin-based but are exogamous and often intermarrying units. The clan in turn is made up of smaller and more localized groups called lineages, which are also exogamous. A caste may include hundreds of lineages of varying size and status, depending on how many generations of depth they claim. Major lineages commonly are composed of minor lineages, but the smallest are so localized that they are made up of a number of neighboring and closely related extended or nuclear families. Thus, a caste is endogamous, but all the kin-based units below it are exogamous and follow rigid rules about which clans or lineages are allowed to inter-marry.
Infant Care. Infant care is almost completely the responsibility of mothers, older siblings, and grandmothers. When the mother works in the fields or a factory, a grandmother commonly is the chief provider of daytime care for an infant. After about the age of two, older sisters spend much of their time in this activity.
Child Rearing and Education. In 1995, the government spent over 2 percent of its resources on education. Although the government's goal of eradicating illiteracy among people age fifteen to thirty five by the year 2000 has not been achieved, there has been a steady decrease in illiterary since the late nineteenth century. Among people above age six in 1991, 52 percent were literate, a 9 percent increase from 1981. Kerala state has the highest rates of literacy. However, nationally there remains a great sexual disparity: While 64 percent of men were literate in 1991, only 39 percent of women were. The central government is more interested in military power than in literacy, and millions of rural parents, especially Muslims, feel that the schooling of girls is a waste of time and money. Only the establishment of sixteen as the minimum legal age for marriage has made it possible for many girls to get their parents' reluctant permission to attend school.
While in earlier times missionary-run schools were important, especially in rural areas, in the last century local and state schools have educated the vast majority of students. Over the last half century universal school attendance for eight years, equal opportunities for female students, relevant vocational training, and improvement in the quality of classes and textbooks have been national goals, with an emphasis on free and compulsory education for everybody from ages six to fourteen. However, there has been a recent growth of privately run schools, many associated with religious organizations, which tend to do a better job but commonly charge fees.
Higher Education. There were 166 universities in 1996, including thirteen central universities which are the oldest, best known, and best funded. The rest are run by state governments or religious foundations. Funding, hiring professors, and setting educational standards in all universities are centralized through the University Grants Commission, which was established in 1956. About a hundred colleges throughout the country have an autonomous status, but others are branches of major universities within their states. In 1996 there were 6.4 million university students enrolled throughout the country, of whom 5.7 million were undergraduates and 2.2 million were women. There are 418 institutions that grant degrees in engineering and technology and 1,029 that award diplomas.
Adult education programs combat illiteracy, lack of knowledge about family planning, and inadequate understanding of new farming techniques. Such programs tend to be more accessible in urban areas. A major hurdle has been the language of university instruction. The central universities generally teach in English and produce graduates with internationally acceptable credentials, but most of the smaller universities teach in the local (state) language so that their students' skills are not easily transferable even to other parts of the country. The opportunities for graduate study overseas are much reduced for this category of students, and even the acquisition of up-to-date textbooks can be a problem.
Indians are usually very hospitable even when poor and go to considerable lengths to make a visitor feel comfortable. Women normally adopt a deferential attitude toward men, especially to their husbands and fathers-in-law. All the people tend to show deference to religious figures and government officials.
A woman decorates the streets with vibrantly colored rice powder paintings during a festival in Madurai, India.
Religious Beliefs. In the 1991 census, 82 percent of the population was enumerated as Hindu. However, 12 percent of Indians are Muslim, a fact that makes this one of the largest Islamic nations in the world. The next largest religious category is Christians, who make up only over 2 percent of the population and are closely followed in number by Sikhs. The only other groups of numerical significance are the Buddhists (less than 1 percent) and the Jains (less than half a percent).
Rituals and Holy Places. The thousands of rituals and millions of shrines, temples, and other holy places of many faiths defy categorization here. For Hindus, large pilgrimage temples are the holiest centers, whereas for Muslims the tombs of saints ( pir ) are the most important. For Buddhists, many of them overseas visitors, the sites associated with the Buddha are crucial.
Death and the Afterlife. While Muslims, Jews, and Christians pray that their individual souls will go to a paradise after death, Hindu ideas about the afterlife are very different. Muslims, Jews, and Christians bury their dead in cemeteries, as do most Zoroastrians today. However, Zoroastrians are
Women walk on a trail through drying chilies in the Bundi District of Rajasthan.
Most Hindu communities have a fundamental belief in reincarnation. The basic idea is that one's soul can be reincarnated for an unknown number of rebirths and that what the soul is to be reincarnated into depends on the balance of one's sins and good deeds in past lives. This belief provides the justification for the inequities of the caste system: One is born into a particular caste, whether high or low, as a result of the accumulated virtues or sins of one's soul in a previous life. One can never hope to move out of one's caste in this life but may do so in the next reincarnation. Particularly evil individuals may be reincarnated as animals.
Hindus normally cremate the dead on a pile of logs, but the very poor may resort to burial. Extremely saintly figures may be buried in a sitting position, as are members of the Lingayat sect.
Medicine and Health Care
India has a tradition of medical healing, teaching, and research that goes back more than two thousand years to the two basic medical treatises written by Charaka and Sushruta. Today the country has four major medical systems as well as dozens of localized and tribal ones that depend on herbal treatments. The oldest of the four systems is still widely followed under the name of Ayurveda , meaning "science of long life". It is highly developed, with its own hospitals, clinics, pharmaceutical factories, and medical textbooks. It depends primarily on non invasive herbal treatments. The diagnosis and treatment emphasize a holistic approach. Sidda is a distinct tradition that developed in south India and follows principles of physiology close to those of Ayurveda. Diagnosis depends on a careful reading of the pulse. Treatment is mostly herbal and psychological. A third medical tradition is called Unani. This system came to India with Muslim travelers and was developed under the patronage of the Mughals. It emphasizes holistic diagnosis and treatment, but the theory of human physiology is distinct. All three of these systems attribute disease to an imbalance between underlying constituents. The fourth and most widely favored system is biomedicine, or scientific medicine. It has been used in the cities for three centuries and is practiced in the best hospitals and training colleges. India has about 140 medical colleges.
Public health is a major concern of every state government because of the continuing incidence of epidemic diseases, high rates of infant mortality, and the need for family planning (usually sterilization) to control the growth of the population.
Public holidays in most states include 1 January (Gregorian New Year), 26 January (Republic Day, when the constitution was adopted), 1 May (International Labor Day), 30 June, and 15 August (Independence Day), 2 October (Gandhi's birthday), 25 December (Christmas), and 31 December (New Year's Eve). Parsi New Year and Telugu New Year, both locally celebrated, fall at different times.
The Arts and Humanities
Support for the Arts. Historically, the arts flourished under the support of two main categories of patron: the larger Hindu temples and the princely rulers of states both small and large. Over the last two centuries, the patronage of British residents and art collectors has become important. In independent India, a national art institute, the Lalit Kala Akademi, promotes the visual arts through lectures, prizes, exhibitions, and publications.
The government supports the Sahitya Akademi, which was set up in 1954 to promote excellence in literature; the National School of Drama (1959); and the Sangeet Natak Akademi (1953), which promotes dance.
Literature. India has some of the earliest literature in the world, beginning with Sanskrit, which may be the oldest literature in any Indo-European language. The Rig Veda is the oldest of the four Vedas , long religious texts composed in an early form of Sanskrit some time late in the second century B.C.E. It was followed by three other Vedas , all liturgical in character, and then by the principal Upanishads during the eighth through fifth centuries B.C.E.
The first significant secular document in Sanskrit was a sophisticated grammar that fixed the structure of the language, probably in the fourth century B.C.E. Then, during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya, the text of the great epic Mahabharata , the world's longest poem, was established around 300 B.C.E. , although it continued to be developed until about 100 C.E. About 200 B.C.E. there emerged the second great Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana , which probably took on its final form four centuries later. Both epics incorporated material from extant folklore.
By roughly the third century B.C.E. , the Tripitaka or Three Baskets , the Buddhist canon in the Pali language (closely related to Sanskrit), was fixed. It was soon to become the most influential body of literature in the eastern half of Asia and has remained so to the present day, especially in Chinese and Japanese translations.
In that era the image of the social structure of India was codified by two books. During the late fourth century Kautilya, who is said to have been the prime minister Chanakya, wrote the Arthasastra , a Treatise on the Good , which was rediscovered in 1909. Shortly thereafter came the compilation of Manu's Laws (Manusmrti). This treatise on religious law and social obligation described in detail a society, possibly a utopian one, in which there were four caste blocks, the varna , each of which had its own occupation, status, and religious duties. This book continued to exercise an immeasurable influence on Indian society for the next two thousand years and the varna model is still a popular image of Hindu caste society.
Around 150 C.E. , there began in south India the Tamil Sangam, an academy of poets and philosophers that lasted for decades. While its history is shrouded, it set the stage for an outpouring of medieval poetry in Tamil, a Dravidian language. Some of this work was devotional, but much was secular in its appeal, including the first known work of Indian women writers. The most famous example of this poetry was the Purananuru , an anthology of four hundred poems praising Tamil rulers. Equally important, the Kural was a collection of moral maxims compiled by Tiruvalluvar in perhaps the third and fourth centuries. It has been likened to a Tamil Koran. At about the same time, there was a flowering of Sanskrit drama in the northerly parts of India. In the fourth or fifth century lived the greatest Sanskrit poet, Kalidasa. The best known plays that have survived from this era are Shakuntala and The Little Clay Cart , the former written by Kalidasa and the latter a comedy also perhaps written by him.
During the Middle Ages, science and philosophy flourished in Sanskrit texts. Perhaps the best known, if the least scientific, work was the Kama Sutra or a treatise on love by Vatsyayana, who wrote it in a legal style of Sanskrit in about the third century. The Middle Ages witnessed an outpouring of religious and philosophical literature not just in Sanskrit, which was still the prime liturgical and scholarly language, but also in a number of regional languages. Logic, metaphysics, devotional poetry, and commentary developed over the centuries.
In the period 850–1330 there appeared an important new philosophical literature in Karnataka, beginning with the Kavirajamarga. This was Jain
A farmer leans under the burden of a harvest as it is carried to the top of a building in Zanskar Valley, Ladakh.
Around 1020, another Dravidian literature, in Telugu, made its debut with the grammarian Nannaya Bhatta and the poet Nannichoda. At about that time the Malayalam language became differentiated from Tamil. A century later the oldest known manuscript was written in Bengali. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Mukundaraj became the first man to write poetry in Marathi.
Early in the fifteenth century two poets brought Bengali literature into prominence: Chandidas and Vidyapati, with the latter writing in Sanskrit as well as Bengali. Contemporary with them were two Telugu poets, Srinatha and Potana, as well as the best-loved Hindi poet, Kabir (1440–1518). Kabir wrote in a medieval regional language closely related to Sanskrit. Although Kabir was a low-caste Hindu, he drew inspiration from Sufism and criticized the caste system, ritualism, and idolatry. He was followed in 1540 by the first important Muslim poet of India, Mohamed of Jais who wrote the allegorical poem Padmavat in Hindi. Contemporary with Kabir was one of the greatest of woman poets, the Rajput Mirabai, who wrote in both Hindi and Gujarati. A century before her, Manichand had written an important historical novel in Gujarati.
In 1574 the Hindi version of the Ramayana ,by Tulsidas, appeared it was to be a forerunner of numerous versions of the Ramayana in regional languages.
At that time there was a strong Persian cultural influence in some parts of the country. One ruler of the Muslim province of Golconda (later Hyderabad) was Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah, a poet who wrote in both Persian and Urdu, which was a new form of Hindi containing many Persian words and written in an Arabic script.
In 1604, the Adi Granth , the canonical text of the Sikh religion, was established in Punjabi. Thirty years later there appeared, also in northwestern India, a book in Urdu prose, the Sab Ras of Vajhi. In more southern parts of the subcontinent the middle of the seventeenth century also saw the writing of the Kannada poem Rajasekhara , by Sadakshara Deva, the works of the Gujarati storyteller Premanand (1636–1734), and the influential Marathi poems of Tukaram (1607–1649).
With the arrival of the printing press in south India, Tamil literature underwent a renaissance. Arunachala Kavirayar wrote The Tragedy of Rama in
India has the largest film industry in the world.
In the eighteenth century, there was a further flowering of Urdu poetry by Vali, Hatim, Sauda, Inch'a, and Nazir. By the time of Nazir, the British hegemony in India was well established, and along with it went the spread of regional printing presses, the opening of the first modern universities, and the increasing influence of European literary forms, especially in the English language. This influence is evident even in writers who published in their native languages. Bengal in particular experienced a great literary and intellectual renaissance in both English and Bengali, including the novels of Bankim Chandra Chatterji and India's first Nobel Prize Winner, the poet and dramatist Rabindranath Tagore. A parallel literary renaissance occurred in Hindi at the beginning of the twentieth century, with the first novels by Premchand. Tamil also began to produce novels with an English influence.
The twentieth century saw a continuation of this modernization, fueled by the ease of publication and the increasing size of the reading public. An unexpected development during that century was the emergence of numerous world-class and prizewinning novelists writing in English, and often not residing in India. Pre-eminent today are the London-based Salman Rushdie, from Bombay, and the Delhi-based Arundati Roy, from Kerala.
Graphic Arts. India has a multiplicity of visual arts extending back over four thousand years. Early painting has not survived, but urban architecture and some small sculptures have. Most of the thousands of stamp seals that have been found are masterpieces of glyphic art, showing the large animals of northwestern India in miniature relief.
The main visual arts arose in the context of religious worship. Sanskrit handbooks still survive stipulating the rules for the production of Hindu religious statues, temples, and paintings. Distinctive regional styles of temple architecture are a feature of the landscape and a clear marker of the presence of Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Christianity, and Hinduism in each part of the country. Within the Hindu temples there is a great variety of images of the deities, some skilfully carved in stone, some cast in bronze or silver, and some modeled in terra-cotta or wood.
Painting was an ancient accomplishment, although the climate has not been conducive to preservation. One can still see second and third-century wall paintings and monumental Buddhist sculptures in caves in Ajanta (Madhya Pradesh).
Despite Islamic prohibitions on the representation of the human face, painting and drawing flourished under the Moghul emperors. Realistic portraits, historical scenes, and botanical and zoological subjects were evoked with a sensitive line and a subtle pallet of colors during that period.
Painting in oils dates back two centuries, to the time when the first European portrait painters began to work in India. Today there are many professional graphic artists, some inspired by old Indian traditions and some by modern abstract expressionism. Art schools, public exhibitions, and coffee-table books are the means of reaching their public today, while religious patronage has practically evaporated.
Performance Arts. India has the largest film industry in the world. In 1996, 683 feature films were certified by the Board of Censors. Although television came to even rural India more than twenty years ago, the cinema remains the major popular visual art form. In 1996, India had 12,623 cinemas, with an attendance of ninety to one hundred million weekly. Radios are widespread, primarily as a source of light music, but not as a major source of information.
The State of the Physical and Social Sciences
India has long had government-sponsored national research organizations for the sciences, including the Archaeological Survey of India (1861), the Botanical Survey of India (1890), the Census of India (1867), the Ethnological Survey of India (1901, later the Anthropological Survey of India, 1946), the Geological Survey of India (1851), the Indian Forestry Service (1865), the Indian Medical Service (1786), the Indian Council of Medical Research (1912), the Indian Meteorological Department (1875), the Linguistic Survey of India, and the Zoological Survey of India. The antecedent of all these institutions was the Survey of India (1832), which did the first scientific mapmaking of the subcontinent. There has been an annual Indian Science Congress, a national conference, which began as the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science in 1876.
With independence, an overarching bureaucratic organization came into being, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, as well as an Atomic Energy Commission and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. To avoid centralization of these organizations in and around Delhi and Bombay, regional institutes of technology were set up in a number of large cities. The government also supports four national academies: the Indian National Science Academy in New Delhi, the Indian Academy of Sciences in Bangalore, the National Academy of Science in Allahabad, and the Indian Science Congress Association in Calcutta. Other centrally supported research councils include the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, the Indian Council of Historical Research, the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, the Indian Council of Social Sciences Research, and the National Council of Educational Research and Training.
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A brief discussion on the fundamental characteristics of Indian culture reveals two important aspects:
1. Its diversity or diverse cultural traits
2. Its unity or the fundamental underlying flame of unity.
The present name of the country “India” refers to ancient “Bharatavarsha” or the Land of Bharata of mythological fame. Various Muslim nations to the west of India prefer to call it as Hind or Hindustan. Thus we find diversity in the nomenclature of the land itself. For a better understanding on the diverse elements of Indian culture we shall first should focus on its various aspects. Then we shall examine how among these diverse elements there is the eternal flow of unity which is the fundamental characteristic of Indian culture.
1. Physical Diversity:
Geography has given India different physical diversities in its very structure. It has vast varieties of soil, wide differences of the frontiers with four distinct geographical divisions.
They are as follows:
1. The Himalayan Mountains with its Eastern and Western ranges
2. The Northern plains enriched by Indus, Ganga, Brahmaputra and their tributaries
3. The Central Indian plateau and the Deccan plateau
4. Long strips of coastal lands between the sea and the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats Mountain ranges
These different geographical units very well show that India represents extreme diversities of mountains, plains, rivers, deserts, plateaus and coastal areas in its physical features. Thus it is referred to as a sub-continent rather Chan a mere country. Physical diversity has its side effects. Differences in physical features automatically have brought differences in altitude, climate, temperature, rainfall, flora and fauna.
It is very interesting to note that India represents the three main climates of the earth:
1. The Polar Climate
2. The Temperate Climate
3. The Tropical Climate
The Great Himalayan region is known for its snowy and cold climate having its impact on the North and North Eastern states. The Southern Indian states are typically prone to tropical climate whereas in other parts of India we find the prevalence of a temperate climate. This is a unique example of the diversity of the country with multi-climatic zones.
The climatic conditions very well affect the soil of the region. If we have comparatively barren and rocky lands in the extreme north, we have a contrast in the very fertile and productive lands of the Gangetic plains and the Malabar territories. Physical diversity is again found in case of seasons. All the traditional six seasons are experienced in India.
1. Summer Rains
Out of the six seasons the main four seasons such as Summer, Rains, Winter and Spring amply justify the existence of striking varieties in the climate of the country. Similarly differences are also found in the percentage of rainfall in various parts of the country. The rainfall varies from 7.5 cms. to 1200 cms. per year. As a result the temperature varies from the eternal snowy mountains to the scorching heat of the Thar desert.
The North-Eastern region and the marshy lands of Bengal have the highest degrees of rainfall whereas Western India has relatively scanty rainfall. Thus if we have the rich alluvial soil in the Gangetic plain we also have the high table lands of Deccan plateau and the sandy deserts of Rajasthan.
The differences in the rainfall, soil and temperature have their impact on the flora and fauna of the country. India possesses many of the striking varieties of botanical as well as zoological specimens found all over the world. If we have the rare variety of Olive Ridley at Gahirmatha in Orissa, the forests of Assam have the unique one-horned rhinoceros.
Further the geographical division of the country has stood on the way of a united history of the country. We find the growth of different regional kingdoms, different dynasties and different ideals of kingship through the ages. This is mainly due to the physical diversity of the land.
2. Racial Diversity:
In the words of the prominent historian V.A. Smith: “India is an ethnological museum.” Even the ancient Greek historian Herodotus remarked: “Of all the nations that we know of India has the largest population.” In the 21st century also India is the second most populous country of the world. This population is composed of so many races and it represents primarily all the ethnographical dimensions of mankind.
1. White type constituting Caucasian group
2. Yellow type signifying the Mongolian group
3. Black type of the Ethiopian group
These three basic types of human races are present in India.
The 1901 census of India gives the following eight ethnic groups present in the land:
These ethnic groups prove one thing. The Dravidians, Aryans, Greeks, Parthians, Sakas, Hunas, Arabs, Turks, Mughals, Afghans, Anglo-Indians, tribals like Bhils, Kurals, Nagas, Mizos etc. have all merged with the Indian population to form a greater human race. Because of this racial diversity, the physical features of her inhabitants are bound to differ. That is why the people of sub- Himalayan regions resemble the mongoloids while in the Gangetic plain they have similarities with the people of the middle-East. Likewise the Southern Indian region also has lots of dissimilarities.
3. Linguistic Diversity:
Racial diversity of India has its direct reflection on the linguistic variety of India. As per the Linguistic Survey of India, India possesses 179 languages and 544 dialects. These languages and dialects are spoken by the people of different regions and different races.
The Constitution of India has given recognition to 18 languages as modern Indian languages. Among the prominent Indian languages mention may be made of Hindi, Bengali, Assamese, Oriya, Guajarati, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Manipuri, Sindhi, Punjabi and Urdu Even foreign languages like Arabic and Persian are still in vogue.
4. Scriptural and Literary Diversity:
India being a multi-lingual country has a vast treasure of different scripts and literatures. When the languages are many, naturally scripts are of different types. No wonder then literatures have emerged in various languages and dialects, both major and minor, thus contributing to the richness of a Pan- Indian literature including Sanskrit. So far as script is concerned India has got a good number of scripts.
The major ones among them are:
Similar is the case with literature. We have a vast variety of Indian literature such as Hindi literature, Oriya literature, Bengali literature, Tamil literature, Dingal literature, so on and so forth. The literature of one language exhibits its own specific characteristics, easily distinguished from the literature of other languages.
5. Socio-Cultural Diversity:
The variations in physical features, racial structure and languages have resulted in considerable differences in dress, food habits, social customs and beliefs of the people. The people of India differ considerably in their social practices and cultural differences vary from state to state.
For example the dress habit of the people of a hot place like Rajasthan will definitely differ from that of Kashmir because of a very cold climate. The North-Eastern people have their traditional dress whereas the tribal dress is unique of its own. Even the style of wearing a dhoti or a saree differs from Uttar Pradesh to Bengal to Tamil Nadu to Maharashtra and Gujarat.
In matters of diet and mode of living Indians also show extreme diversities. The North-Western people are mainly wheat-eaters but in Eastern India it is rice and fish which constitute the staple food of the people. In the South people prefer hot and spicy dishes. Though majority of the people of the country are vegetarians the number of non-vegetarian people is no less.
The Hindu society as such is divided a into a four-fold caste system which include:
The Brahmanas, The Kshatriyas, The Vaisyas and The Sudras.
In fact the social structure of the Indian society is composed of the social organisation of her original inhabitants, the Aryans and the invaders who settled here later.
The traditions, customs, rituals in Indian society have their regional variations. Diverse elements are found in the performance of social rites, festivals and ceremonies.
In the words of R.K. Mukherjee:
“India is a museum of cults and customs, creeds and cultures, faiths and tongues, racial types and social systems.” Thus various conflicting trends of social systems and modes of life style have together built up a rich and complex diversity in India.
6. Religious Diversity:
India is a country of many religions. All the major religions of the world are found here. Mention may be made of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism etc. People of different religions live here in sizeable numbers. All these religions have grown here quite freely with their different sects and sub-sects.
India is in a sense unique that it is the motherland of four major religions of the world — Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Hinduism which is the religion of the majority has various sects like Saivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Tantricism, Sun-cult, Ganapatya-cult etc. Buddhism with Mahayana, Hinayana, Vajrayana and Kalachakrayana sects, Jainism with Svetambar and Digambar sects, Islam with Shia, Suni, Shafi and Hannafi sects, Christians with Catholic and Protestant sects live in this country alongside each other quite peacefully. The primitive tribes of the country have their own peculiar cults too.
Fairs and festivals peculiar to each religion are celebrated here with much gaiety and pomp. Religious preachers of different religions have preached their sermons in different ages of history. We cannot claim any single religion as the religion of the entire land. Rather it is a land which encourages people of various religions to live in peace and harmony. Thus India is a land of religious variety— both old and new.
7. Economic Diversity:
Since ancient times India has been regarded as the land of milk and honey. It is for this economic prosperity of the land India has been invaded and occupied by the foreigners many a time though at present the picture is not so rosy.
Rather from economic point of view India presents a picture of diversity. It is a country of princes and paupers, aristocrats and middle class people, highly rich and extremely poor people. If India is proud of possessing some richest people of the world, it is also a matter of shame that millions go without two square meals a day. Crores of Indians live below the poverty line for generations while the rich continue to grow richer and richer.
Besides these two extreme classes we have a middle class who maintain a balanced standard of living. Interestingly this rising middle class has formed a strong backbone of the country’s economy in various fields like infrastructure, agriculture, science and technology.
States like Punjab, Maharashtra and Union Territories like Delhi and Goa are economically far ahead of states like Bihar, Orissa and Nagaland. The per capita income of a Delhite is far more than that of a Bihari or an Oriya. Some states continue to function better economically than the average national level while many others lag behind pathetically. The reasons behind such economic disparity are many and varied and quite puzzling too. Thus richness and poverty go side by side.
8. Political Diversity:
The vastness of the country, its geographical diversities, various races with various languages, religions, creeds and systems of belief have all contributed significantly to the political unification of India. Regionalism and local identity have played a great role in the path of maintaining this unity. Interestingly, history has time and again proved that Indians never presented a united front in the face of foreign invasion.
The regions in the extreme South never came under Northern rule. They remained independent under local dynasties. Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka, Samudragupta and a few other kings in the ancient period, Alauddin Khilji, Akbar and Aurangzeb in the medieval period tried hard to achieve the political unity of the country and fought a number of battles to materialize this dream. But they were not totally successful in this regard. After the death of any such powerful ruler, internal weakness, strong regionalism, separatist tendency and mutual dissension used to play their part. So the attempt of partial political unification attempted by the previous ruler used to end in failure leading to disintegration.
Even in the modern period when India was under the British rule, the Indians never gave a united resistance to the Britishers. Certain regions had waged heroic struggles for liberation against all odds. The Marathas, the Rajput’s or the Sikhs, for example, took up arms against the foreigners but never as a united Indian front. A united resistance might have checked the establishment of British rule in India.
In fact a popular national feeling was absent among the Indians till the 19th century. There were regional resistance movements or glorification of local rulers. This absence of political unity was largely due to the prevailing diversities in race, language, religion, caste, creed and, last but not the least, the imposing geographical barriers.
The physical features and natural barriers almost made some kingdoms, big or small, little worlds by themselves. They behaved like independent states. The principle of localism used to work more effectively which hampered the political progress of the country and checked the growth of a united kingdom of India.
Ideal of Unity in Indian Culture:
In 1888 Sir John Strachey had remarked:
“…that there is and never was an India or a country of India possessing, according to European ideas, any sort of unity, physical, political, social or religious, no Indian nation, no people of India, of which we hear so much.” Another contemporary historian Vincent Arthur Smith replied:
“The political unity of whole India, although never attained perfectly, in-fact, always was the idea of the people through centuries…” Smith further stated:
“India beyond all doubt possesses a deep underlying fundamental unity far more profound than that produced either by geographical isolation or by political superiority. That unity transcends the innumerable diversities of blood, colour, language, dress, manners and sects.” The above two views are contradictory.
While one view refers to the diverse elements of India, the other points to the underlying unifying tendencies of its culture. As a matter of fact a curious observer feels puzzled with the existence of so many diverse trends of Indian culture at first glance. Its history, tradition, custom, language, race, religion etc. present a bewildering picture of diversity existing in a tightly knit fashion.
But the other side of the trend is more amazing. Among these variations and diversions hang a strong thread of unity which binds the whole system. This unity is the spirit of Indian cultural heritage. It emboldens Indian spirit, Indian tradition and the process of Indianisation.
In the words of R. K. Mukherjee:
“…He (any superficial observer) fails to discover the one in the many, the individual in the aggregate, the simple in the composite.”
This unity is further nurtured by a uniform system of administration all over the country.
Of course one should not think that the ideal of Indian unity is a recent concept. It has been upheld right from the dawn of history. The spirit of unity has manifested itself in our life style, in the blood of our body, in the spirit of our thought and has thus become an inherent part of Indian culture.
9. Geographical Unity:
The unity of a culture to a great extent depends on its geography. It is geography that determines the spread of a civilization. Be it in Egypt, Greece, China or India, the topography of the land around a major river has played the most significant role in the growth of culture and history of a civilization.
The geographical unity of India is an age-old concept which was very much present in the mind of its inhabitants since ancient times. The first expression given to this sense of unity was naming the entire land from the Himalayas up to Cape Comorin by the single name of Bharatavarsha’ or the Land of Bharata till modern times.
Vishnu Purana gives us a vivid description of geographical location of Bharatavarsha as a single unit in the following manner:
“Uttaram Yat Samudrasya
Varsham tad Bharatam nam
Bharati Yatra Santatih
Yojananam Sahasram tu
Purve Kiratas Paschime
(The country which lies to the North of the sea and, to the South of the Himalayas is known as Bharata which is inhabited by the descendants of (king) Bharat. The country stretches from Himalayas to the sea for thousands of miles. On the Eastern boundary the Kiratas live and on the Western boundary live the Yavanas.)
Thus nature has provided a very well defined geographical boundary. On the three sides the country is surrounded by the seas and oceans while the Himalayas stands as a sentinel from North-East to North-West. The location of Bay of Bengal in the East, Indian Ocean in the South and Arabian Sea in the West has detached the land from the rest of the world. These boundaries have helped to make India a compact geographical unit by acting as a kind of natural line of control.
The epics and Puranas also vividly give a sense of unity to the people of the land. The very name of the land “Bharatavarsha” has a deep historical significance. From “Bharatavarsha” to “Bharata Mata” and “Vande Mataram” we find a flow of deep sentiment of geographical unity. Our national anthem “Jana Gana Mana” incorporates the unity of our motherland in so far as it highlights the integral wholeness of India by mentioning Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Maratha, Dravida, Utkala, Banga, Vindhya, Himachal, Yamuna, Ganga etc.
Thus the vastness of the country with its natural forests, mountains, rivers etc. has created among its subjects a consciousness of fundamental unity from the earliest times.
10. Political Unity:
The unity of Indian culture has also been amply promoted by the political atmosphere prevailing iji the country through different ages. In the pages of Indian history we come across several rulers who tried to bring India under one administrative unit.
Mention may be made of Ashoka and Samudragupta in the ancient period who had established their suzerainty all over India. In the epics, Puranas and ancient literature we find frequent use of titles such as Chakravartin, Ekrat, Samrat, Rajadhiraj, Sarbabhauma, Mahurajadhiraj etc. The kings aspired to gain such titles by bringing the whole of India under one control. Kautilya defines the extent of area of a Chakarvarti king in the following manner:
“The field of a Chakarvarti king extends from Himalaya to the sea, in other words covers the whole of India.”
The repeated performances of rites and sacrifices such as the Rajasuya, Asvamedha, Vajapeya and Mahabhisheka show the ideal of universal conquest and an all Indian over-lordship of the ancient Hindu rulers. The medieval rulers like Alauddin Khilji, Akbar and Aurangzeb partially fulfilled the concept of political unity of India by their wars and conquests. They tried to give a good centralised administrative system for the whole of India. The uniform official designations, laws, customs and system of coinage strengthened the bond of political unity.
Even during the time of British rule in India a unitary setup was given to the Indian territories. This led to the growth of national consciousness. The achievement of independence was the result of the sense of unity in political sphere.
The constitution of India also begins with “We, the people of India” and “India that is Bharat shall be a union of states.” Thus since the epic age a somewhat coherent political unity has been maintained over the land extending from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean.
11. Religious Unity:
India is a country where several religions are freely adopted and practiced. While discussing the diversity of Indian religions we have found the existence of all major religions of the world. But the significant feature is that among all these religions we find a peaceful and harmonious co-existence. The term ‘secular’ used in the Indian Constitution, guarantees the citizens equality of all religions. People of all religions and beliefs enjoy this freedom.
Hinduism being the religion of the majority has an overwhelming impact on Indian minds. It can be considered as the single most important unifying factor. Hinduism in India has provided an attitude or a way of thinking which is shared and cherished even by the people of other religions.
The gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon like Vishnu, Durga, Laxmi, Siva and Parvati are worshipped with same reverence all over India. The Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavat Gita, Ramayana and Mahabharat have their appeal all over the country. There are four dhamas of Hinduism, (Badrinathdham in the North, Dwarakadham in the West, Rameshvaram in the South and Jagannathdham in the East), twelve Jotirlingas and fifty one Sakta pithas in the whole country. This network of holy places creates a sense of unity among all Hindus. Festivals like Rakhi, Diwali, Durga puja, Vaishakhi and Pongal have an all India fervour.
The daily prayer of a Hindu includes all the major rivers of the country:
Narmade Sindhu Kaveri
Jalesmin Sannidhi Kuru.
(O rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Sarasvati, Narmada, Sindhu, Kaveri ! Come ye! And enter into this water of my offering.)
The prayer reminds us not only of the vastness of the country but also the cultural and religious unity of this vast land.
The list of sacred places of the Hindus in Sanskrit hymns shows the religious unity pervading over all parts of the country.
‘Ayodhu Mathura Maya
Kashi Kanchi Avantika
(Ayodhya, Mathura, Maya or Haridwar, Kashi or Varanashi, Kanchi or Conjeeverum, Avantika or Ujjain and Dwaravati or Dwaraka are seen as important sacred places in India.)
Religious concepts of Karma, rebirth, heaven and hell, Moksha, Nirvana, immortality of the soul, Monotheism etc. are universally accepted throughout the country. The saints, sages and preachers have always glorified the oneness of all religions.
If Jainism and Buddhism spread to the South from the North, Sankaracharya brought the message from the South, Kabir, Nanak and Sri Chaitanya established a link between the North and South through their universal faith. Further Sufi saints like Nizam-ud-din-Aulia and Moin-ud-din-Chisti added the message of fraternity and liberalism among the different sects. Thus among the diverse religious beliefs, faiths and customs the stream of religious unity works as a strong binding factor of Indian cultural heritage.
12. Cultural Unity:
The cultural unity of India is equally strong amidst its manifold diversities. The cultural roots of Indian life can be traced back to the Vedic period. This root gradually spread to Indian culture in course of time with its branches. Thus the basic unity of literary ideas, philosophy, outlook, conventions and practices has prevailed all over the country.
The social ceremonies, religious rites, festivals and modes of life are the same all over the country. The sanctity of family, the rules of the castes, the sanskaras like Upanayun, Namakaran, rites of cremating a dead body, the cleanliness of the kitchen etc. are common to all communities and sects. Besides regional festivals there are some typical festivals like Dussera, Holi, Diwali etc. that are celebrated throughout the country.
13. Scriptural, Linguistic and Literary Unity:
Although India possesses several languages, dialects, scripts and literary products in different languages, a sense of uniformity and oneness prevails among them. Brahmi is the oldest form of Indian script. The script of Modern Indian language has been derived from it. The other type of script called Kharosthi was in less use relatively. At present the Indian Constitution recognises the Devnagari script as the script of national language.
The strong root of Hinduism lies in the use of Sanskrit language which was the official and court language of the rulers of India for more than two thousand years. Before the Christian era Prakrit was the language of the people. The message of Buddhism was written in this language. Gradually Pali and Sanskrit replaced Prakrit after the downfall of the Mauryan rulers. Then in spite of regional linguistic varieties, Hindi and English have been in use all over India.
Now we find a three-language formula trying to bring about a linguistic unity of the country. The theoretical and the linguistic unity are provided by Sanskrit language because it is the original source of Hindi, Marathi, Guajarati, Bengali, Oriya, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam etc. Then during the British period English became the official language to bind all the Indians under one administration. In the post-independence era Hindi has been made Rashtrabhasa or national language to bring a linguistic assimilation among the Indian languages.
With different languages trying to maintain a national unity, literature of different regions too reflect this unified structure of the country. Sanskrit literature is the main source from which the writers, poets and dramatists of modern Indian languages have taken both inspiration and material. The Vedas, Upanishads, Gita or the works of Kalidas or Jaydev in Sanskrit are rich treasures of regional literature. Tulsidas, Iqbal and Tagore are respected in all parts of India because they have portrayed “Indian character” in their scholarly works.
14. Socio—Economic Unity:
The social diversity of Indian life is superficial. Irrespective of differences in dress, food and other habits there is the mark of traditional unity. For example, whatever may be the regional variation in dresses, Dhoti and Saree still remain the traditional Indian costumes. In spite of the differences in food habits, the way of taking food while squatting on the ground, the treatment in vegetarian and non-vegetarian diet have a standard pattern throughout the country.
Respect to the superiors, family bond, salutation by joining of both hands, marriage rites etc. bear the same amount of unitary strength irrespective of differences. Similar is the case with Indian economy. Economic disparity among the Indians is quite visible. But one thing we must agree is that the root of Indian economy lies in agriculture.
It is predominantly agrarian in nature. From the tiller of the soil to the owner of the soil, indirectly there is the bond of production from the soil which determines their way of living. Moreover, there are large numbers of agro-based industries in India because of our dependence on agriculture.
15. Physical Uniformity:
From the very beginning many foreigners like Aryans, Sakas, Hunas, Scythians etc. have entered the Indian soil. They came here, settled here and mingled themselves with the original Indian inhabitants and adopted the local culture.
The Muslims came during the medieval period, settled here and completely absorbed themselves into the fold of Indianness. In different periods of history different tribes and races have come to India and have acquired a sort of physical uniformity. An all-Indian character and a general Indian personality have been evolved out of this process of physical assimilation.
From physical uniformity a feeling of nationalism has flavoured the Indian soul. Mother and motherland have mingled into the very existence of India. Thus in spite of all diversities Indian culture has maintained a unique bond of unity. Indian religion, language, society etc. have preserved this sense of unity amidst its variety. The outsiders and invaders have lost themselves in the veritable ocean of Indian culture and have been Indianised thoroughly. This is the most wonderful part of Indian culture.
In Balmiki Ramayana we find its reference in an indirect way. When Rama killed the demon Ravana, the ruler of Lanka (Modern Sri Lanka), he advised his younger brother Lakshman not to stay in the prosperous land of Lanka. Rather Rama advised Lakshman to go back to his “Motherland Ayodhya.” He said so because for Lord Rama, “the mother and the motherland are more glorious than the heavens.”
This very feeling constitutes the essence of Indian culture and India has been worshipped as a mother-figure throughout the ages. This undercurrent has been able to preserve the traditional unity of the land despite thousand diversities.