The Idea of India

Every great nation has a unique reason for its existence. There are some unique cultural and social contributions of that nation and people to humanity, which gives meaning to its very existence. All the support systems like economy, education, military, infrastructure, law, technology, etc. are meaningful only when they work to keep this national uniqueness alive.

Great leaders of India, who have really understood the heart and pulse of the nation, have expressed the core Idea of India very extensively. Here are a few quotes:

Swami Vivekananda: “Shall India die? Then from the world all spirituality will be extinct, all moral perfection will be extinct, all sweet-souled sympathy for religion will be extinct, all ideality will be extinct.”

Sri Aurobindo: “India of the ages is not dead nor has She spoken her last creative word; She lives and has still something to do for herself and the human people. And that which must seek now to awake is not an Anglicized oriental people, docile pupil of the West and doomed to repeat the cycle of the Occident’s success and failure, but still the ancient immemorial Shakti recovering Her deepest self, lifting Her head higher toward the supreme source of light and strength and turning to discover the complete meaning and a vaster form of her Dharma.”

Rabindranath Tagore: “I do not consider India to be a geographical entity. To me it is a spiritual personality. This is the spirit of faith in the metaphysical being of man which may perhaps exhaust all our material prosperity. Even after losing everything India stands steadfastly embracing that spirit. It is a glory sufficient to justify hope for its future.”

Mahatma Gandhi: “I feel that India’s mission is different from that of others. India it fitted for the religious supremacy of the world. There is no parallel in the world for the process of purification that this country has voluntarily undergone. … I am humble enough to admit that there is much that we can profitably assimilate from the West. Wisdom is no monopoly of one continent or one race. My resistance to Western civilization is really a resistance to its indiscriminate and thoughtless imitation based on the assumption that Asiatics are fit only to copy every thing that comes from the West… I do believe that if India has patience enough to go through the fire of suffering and to resist any unlawful encroachment upon her own civilization which, imperfect though it undoubtedly is, has hitherto stood the ravages of time, she can make a lasting contribution to the peace and solid progress of the world.”

During the election campaign in 2014, Sri Narendra Modi gave an excellent talk on “My Idea of India”, where he gave an excellent list of values that India stands for like: “vasudaiva kutumbakam” (world is one family), “sarva dharma samabhav” (equal treatment of all religions), etc.

Here is my idea of India is based on what I have understood and strongly wish that the people of the nation imbibe. Here are what I feel that India stands for:

Divinity of the whole of existence: In India, everything is considered divine – nature, animals, people, time, tools, vehicles, moral law, money, language, country – everything. Everything is considered as a manifestation of God, who is the divine essence of the whole of existence. When misunderstood, it can lead to complacency and superstition. However, when rightly understood, this gives Indians reverence, gratitude and forbearance in life. This also gives India its great hospitality, reverence to life and promotion of peace. This gives people the freedom to worship God in any form or as formless.

Practical and rational approach to religion: Through Indian religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, India has achieved the right balance between being non-dogmatic and being pragmatic about religion. Indian religions are not based on dogma. They encourage people to try, question, explore, think, refine, trim, extend, argue and criticize everything about religion. Nowhere else people enjoy such freedom with religion. This also gives India its great culture of religious tolerance. The alien religions that came into India do not allow its practitioners this freedom. They have created great disturbance to this ethos. Unfortunately, of late Indian religions are also copying the intolerance of alien religions, which is not good. Indian religions should be the examples for other religions to face modernity and serve their people in a more open way.

Supremacy of spirit over matter: The core value of India is that love and morality is always higher than pleasure and possessions. The supremacy of spirit over matter is the core teaching of all Indian scriptures and traditions. This makes India one of the most peaceful nations in the world. India has no intention to occupy foreign land or exploit other countries. India always goes for a win-win in all its international dealings. Due to a misunderstanding of this and following this to an extreme, India had lost its external vigour and lost its political freedom for a few centuries. Now, recovering from the mistake, India needs to apply this in the right spirit. This will position India as the champion of the cause of smaller, poorer and underdeveloped countries of the world. This will position India as the broker of peace between the big powers of the world.

Unity in diversity: India promotes diversity in all aspects of human culture – language, religion, gender, art forms, music, dance, folklore, ways of worship, philosophy, beliefs, clothing, cuisine, etc. Trying to make people conform to a major or dominant culture is against the Indian ethos. Everyone is free to create, follow, develop and propagate any culture, provided it does not create destruction or disturbance to another culture. Thus, any culture which also believes and respects diversity in any and all of the above aspects is welcome. Any claim that of a particular culture to be the only worthy one or only true one has no place in the Indian ethos.

Unique living cultural heritage: India has a unique cultural heritage in the form of its language, religion, art forms, music, dance, sculpture, painting, folklore, philosophy, clothing, cuisine, etc. Traditional methods of Ayurveda, Yoga, animal husbandry, agriculture, architecture, weaving, etc. are a great wealth to mankind. There are so many arts, crafts and manufacturing techniques which are unique to India. The rich and live tapestry of Indian stories, legends, anecdotes from great lives, etc. are unparalleled in the world. Every part of India has monuments marking its glorious cultural past. The uniqueness is that most of the crafts and techniques are still alive. There are traditional artisans who can recreate structures and artifacts similar to the ones which are even a thousand years old using the same old techniques.

Progressive society: Indian society has always been a progressive one. It might have progressed slower at times and faster at others. But it has been always on the forward march. Old practices, irrelevant conventions, outdated laws have been dropped and new ones picked up keeping with the changes in demography, social awareness, technological advancement, etc. Most of the changes have been brought about by leaders within. Most of the changes in India have been of evolutionary nature and not revolutionary. In this way, the Indian society is very flexible and eager to adopt new ideas. As in any society, there have always been some powerful people with vested interests in old systems and have resisted change. Time has shown that they will have to give way sooner or later.

Vibrant adoption of modern development: India has been greatly successful in adopting modern social and technological developments, while still keeping the unique values intact. Modern institutions like democracy, judiciary, police, military and stock markets have not interfered with the core Indian values. All the modern technological advancements have been imbibed and India has been a great contributor to modern science, technology and social ideas. Thus India is as modern as any country can be and also rooted in its living cultural heritage.

When India sticks to these core Idea of India, I feel India can really develop its full potential and play a great contributory role to the welfare of mankind. However, if India gets swept off by the onslaught of alien cultures – ancient or modern – and loses its uniqueness, it will be a great loss to humanity. Let us hope that India remains as India, true to its spirit.

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10 Responses to The Idea of India

  1. Chandra Rangnath says:

    Unity in diversity within the spirit of “…provided it does not create destruction or disturbance to another culture” is the key thing, isn’t it. How do you reconcile this with the basic ideology of the 2 aggressive Abrahamic faiths – one still insists that their messenger is the only true Son of God , the other considers everyone else as an infidel, to be eliminated. And how do you deal ‘non-violently’ with Maoists ? Have Indic religions conceded too much ground…? We may have done ourselves huge damage by repeating “all religions are different paths to the same goal”. Well, the fact is, they’re not. We should instead promote the idea “follow your own, and, respect all”.

    • gokulmuthu says:

      When the Indian Constitution says that everyone has the freedom to propagate their religion, there should have been a clause added that no religion can preach against plurality. Diversity of faiths is the core of India. Religions which do not accept that are not in line with the Indian ethos.

      Any violence by non-state entities is not acceptable. Extra-judicial violence by state entities is also not acceptable. In most cases, the root cause of the violent group is genuine. When the funds allocated by state to certain regions do not reach the people there for a long time, development and normal life of people get affected. When that happens, there will be social unrest. There are enough constitutional and political ways to deal with this. Resorting to violence is unacceptable. Getting into violence is a one way path. Once caught in that trap, it is very difficult to get out of it. Government should address the core issues and at the same time provide a safe exit route for the people caught in the trap to return back to normal life. Every problem has a solution when approached with genuine interest in their welfare.

      • Chandra Rangnath says:

        thanks, Gokul, for your reply. Under “Practical and rational approach to religion”, you are saying that ‘unfortunately Indian religions are copying the intolerance of alien religions’. This is again similar to economically disadvantaged people embarking on violence when their peaceful appeals have gone unheeded for several decades. When the appeals of peaceful Indian religions to politicians to stop vote-bank politics, to crack down on illegal infiltration from neighbouring countries designed to change the population mix, to stop smuggling of bulls and cows (not buffaloes) for illegal slaughter, goes unheeded for over 70 years, the follower of Indic faiths may have no recourse but to take matters in their own hands. The situation regarding the growing threat to the Hindu and Buddhist in the border areas of Assam from illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh has reached dangerous proportion, according to the last few issues of Hinduism Today. If governments (including BJP) don’t respond soon, Hindus and tribals cannot be blamed for violent counter attacks.

        • gokulmuthu says:

          There can be no justification for violence. I agree that if no platform for peaceful protests is given or if reasonable demands made in a peaceful manner are not responded to, people would tend to get into violence. But, that does not justify violence.

  2. viswanath says:

    This idea of “sarva dharma samabhav” (equal treatment of all religions) is a fake idea. Is there any scriptural sanction to this ? Adi Shankara argued against Mandana Mishra because he did not believe in this idea.

    No bank treats all customers equally. Those who have a higher probability of default are charged higher interest rates, thats why the bond prices of bonds issued by different companies are different. Likewise, all religions should not be treated equally. In particular, colonizing religions must be treated with contempt and efforts must be made to get people out of it.

    • gokulmuthu says:

      “sarva dharma samabhaav” applies to those parts of their ideology that is not against “sarva dharama samabhaav”. To maintain the diversity, any ideology that is intolerant of diversity should not be tolerated.

      When we accept a person or a religion, it does not mean that we accept all kinds of nonsense. We accept the good things and give freedom to the person or religion to fix their own bad things. No person or religion is perfect. Everything has good things and bad things. Everything should be dynamic and should keep developing.

  3. viswanath says:

    Even the idea of “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam” has no scriptural sanction

    • gokulmuthu says:

      The words “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam” may be from Hitopadesha. But the concept of diversity has scriptural support. From the religious stand point, “sah brahmah sah vishnuh sah sivah sah indrah sah aksharah paramaswaraat”, “ekam sat vipra bahudaa vadanti”, etc. are in the Vedas. Now, tolerance towards diversity should not be at the cost of diversity. Intolerance towards the intolerant is not intolerance. To maintain the diversity, any ideology that is intolerant of diversity should not be tolerated.

  4. Praveer says:

    What do you mean by “Indian religions are also copying the intolerance of alien religions”?
    If some individual or group of individuals performing some terror act blame the religion? For example, Godse was a Hindu. So blame his religion? How do you define a religion?
    Religion as i understand is a western concept. dictated by a holy book, a prophet or a messenger of god & a holy place.
    In India there is no such concept called religion. It is all philosophy by various individuals. Krishna gave Geetha. Gurunanak & Sikh gurus gave Guru Granth. But they did not say, you are a kafir or infidel if you dont follow me. They did not say one must invade others faith and convert it. Our philosophy doesn’t dictate invasion on others faith. It rather encourages deeper faith in ones own faith. So ours is not a religion at all.
    The Abrahamic religions are religions. And they dictate invasion of others faith. It is not individual terrorists, it is the philosophy of terrorism which is propagated there. So it is the religion which takes the blame and not the individual.
    Correct me if am wrong.

    • gokulmuthu says:

      Dear Praveer, I agree with you on most of the points. However, even deeply religious Hindus are getting into a closed mindset in response to the aggression by alien religions.

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