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.