Every country and people have an uniqueness, which makes their existence meaningful. A country is not merely a piece of land with a common currency and government. It is a cultural entity, which thrives in the lives of its people. The government, military, economy, technology and other structures are only to preserve, nurture and celebrate the unique culture of the people of the country.
In this age of globalization, it is very important to understand what Indian culture is and what it means to the world. Several cultures have been wiped off the face of the Earth. Some cultures exist only in museums and books. Many more have not been fortunate even to that extent. It is a great loss to the people who belonged to that culture and also a great loss to humanity as a whole. Loss of a culture is like extinction of a species. It is an irreparable loss to the whole of humanity.
Every culture has three aspects – philosophy, legends and customs. These engage the intellect, emotions and actions of the people, respectively. They are interdependent and it is important to ensure that all of them flourish to ensure the continuity of the culture.
Some of the core aspects of Indian philosophy are given below. They are common to all the theistic and atheistic sub-cultures which form a part of the Indian culture.
- Principles are more important than personalities. A principle is valued not because it was told by a particular person. A person is valued because he or she followed a great principle.
- There is an integral unity of the whole of existence. All that we see – the inanimate world and the animate living beings – are just manifestations, from a relative standpoint, of the same unitary fundamental infinite entity, from an absolute standpoint. This has a few important implications.
- The ultimate reality is both immanent and transcendent. There is nothing that exists apart from It. It is all that we see, and much more. So there is no division between sacred and profane.
- Diversity is to be celebrated. Seeing the fundamental integral unity in diversity is the core of Indian culture. Diversity is not a problem. It is the sign of life.
- The integral unity also implies that the parts need to sacrifice for and serve the cause of the whole. Thus, individuality comes only after the universal. This puts duties before rights. One person’s duty automatically serves another person’s rights. Thus, sacrifice and service form the two pillars of the relationship between the individual and the society.
- A person has the freewill to decide what is to be done in the given circumstance. What a person faces in life is the result of the fruits of the actions that he himself has done in the past. What he does now will decide his future circumstances in life. This spans across multiple lives.
- The goal of the cycle of lives is to realize the integral unity and drop the concept of hard reality associated with individuality. This is the essence and culmination of all human pursuits in the world.
- The goal is accessible only to an individual who has developed enough mental purity by living a moral life, by dropping excessive value to worldly prosperity and by becoming mentally calm.
- The spirit of inquiry is promoted in Indian culture. There are no dogmas to be believed. Every concept has to be listened to, questioned, understood and assimilated.
These are presented in the various scriptures like the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, Sutras, commentaries on all of these, sub-commentaries on those commentaries, sub-sub-commentaries on those sub-commentaries, and so on, Puranas, Itihasas, music, prose and poetic compositions by saints, teachers and rishis, who lived from the earliest of times to the recent.
The same concepts are presented in the various Buddhist, Jain and Sikh literature also.
The legends of Indian culture give a personal touch to the principles stated above. They are glorified and dramatized history of thought and actions of the Indian people. They cannot be entirely called fiction. Neither can they be considered as hard history. Stories are spun around distant historical events to convey the principles as outlined by the Indian philosophy. These include the various stories and conversations as recorded in the various puranas, itihasas, kavyas, poetry, dramas and the like. They also include the innumerable local variations of the stories. The stories of various saints, poets, kings, artists and other ordinary people in the past and present are also included in this huge body of cultural heritage. Stories like the Kathacharitsagara, Jataka stories, Panchatantra, Vikram and Vetal, Akbar and Birbal are also included in this.
Equally important are the living embodiments of the Indian culture in the form of customs. These include the rituals and customs like saying “Namaskar” when greeting someone, bowing at the feet of elders, not stepping on written matter, respect given to food, application of religious marks on the body, asking for pardon if accidentally touched someone with feet, etc. They also include the various customs of dressing, jewellery, decoration, cuisine, art, architecture, painting, music, dance, drama, poetry, literature, sculpture, wood craft, metal craft, yoga, ayurveda, etc. They include pilgrimage and celebration of various festivals.
Culture is a dynamic and living force. It thrives in the heads, hearts and hands of the people who live the culture. It constantly rejuvenates itself in a natural and organic manner.
In this age of globalization, where people of different cultures have to live, work and play with each other, Indian culture provides the template to the world to live with mutual respect. The hallmark of Indian culture is its capacity to respect diverse thoughts, feelings and customs. It accommodates diversity in a way that makes people of every other culture wonder.
In this age of scientific inquiry, Indian culture provides the leading light to other cultures to formulate their concepts and beliefs in a rational manner. It has the answers to the onslaught of rationalists on the necessity and efficacy of various religious and cultural structures.
No other culture has studied the inner world of man – his ideas, emotions, beliefs, fears, limitations and also more importantly, his possibilities – as thoroughly as the Indian culture. Indian culture has the key to mankind’s peace, prosperity and fulfillment.
It is the duty of every Indian to take up some aspects of Indian culture that is to their liking, study them thoroughly, promote them and contribute their little to the benefit of themselves and for the future generations to come.