Fusion of many cultures in India
Introduction – As India passed through various phases in the past, each and every social, political or religious group has left its influence on the composite culture of India, which has come down to the present generation in an unbroken chain of succession, with some modifications and adaptations. All the sects present in India, whether foreign or indigenous, have left their influence on its indigenous religion – Hinduism, its thinking, practices and systems. All the religious communities present in India have also influenced the culture of India.
Following cultures have contributed in enriching the composite culture of India : –
The growth, influence and refinement of values of different religions generated within the land of India.
The interaction between value-system of indigenous religions of India and religions of diverse migrating or foreign communities like Islam, Christianity, Zorastarianism etc.
Vedic Hindu Culture
Vedic Hindu Culture is one of the oldest living cultures in the world. It mainly originated and flourished in northern parts of India and later on spread throughout India. The word ‘Vedic’ is derived from the word ‘Vid’ meaning ‘Knowledge’ and signifies’ ‘knowledge par excellence’.
The Vedic culture came into being due to intermixing of the culture of Aryan with the culture of indigenous tribal people of India during 2nd century BC to 650 AD. The origin of the Vedic culture can not be traced in any single founder; neither can it be confined in one single authoritative text.
Its knowledge has been handed down from time immemorial, earlier by verbal transmission and later on, in written form by the ancestor to succeeding generations. It has not prescribed final absolutes. It is a constant search for more knowledge. Vedas are not supposed to be the end of quest for knowledge. It is a non-ending process(Neti-Neti).
The strength of Vedic culture is proved by the facts: –
Despite centuries of foreign rule over 75% of Indian population remains Hindu.
Had it become obsolete, it would have given place to other religions and cultures.
It influenced almost all other religions found in India.
Buddhism and Jainism
Budhism and Jainism has influenced the thought, moral and life style of many Indians. Buddhism attracted equally the elite as well as the lower strata of Hindu society. Buddhism drew the attention of people towards the harsher effects of the caste system, sympathetic attitude towards lesser human beings and system of organised education. Major contribution of Jainism is the principle of non-violence.
After the sudden disappearance of Indus valley culture, of which the most characteristic feature was its town planning, Dravidian culture with its advanced social system, industry and trade made a mark in the South.
After the tenth century, Islamic culture influenced the Indian culture substantially. Its influence could be seen in the rejection of elaborate rituals and caste pretensions. It preached a simple path of faith, devotion, brotherly love and fellowship. With the growing political strength of Muslims, the need for mutual understanding and communal harmony gave rise to Sufi tradition of Islam and Bhakti movement of Hindus. Both these emphasized the need for mutual appreciation, tolerance and goodwill. Like Buddhism, Islam also provided an alternative to people, wishing to opt out the caste system.
Eighteenth century onwards, the British culture influenced the Indian culture substantially, especially that of elite and intellectuals. Access to modern education, Western literature and philosophy gave Indians the understanding of liberal and humanitarian ideas of the West.
Some of the contributions of the British to India are political and administrative unity, many democratic institutions like Parliament, bureaucracy and concepts like rule of law, unified nationality, a common currency, a common Judiciary. They gave a new economic structure based on industrialization. British-rule gave an impetus to social progress and brought many reforms.
The British influence on Indian minds was as discussed below: –
Many reformers welcomed rationality and other good features of English culture. They advised people to interpret religion rationally and make efforts to eradicate social evils like Sati, child marriage, untouchablity etc. prevalent at that time.
Some people were so influenced by the alien culture, that they developed a complex about the primitiveness of Indian society.
Some reformists tried to revive their own rich ancient culture and prevent the masses from being swayed away by the glamour and materialism of Western culture. It gave the call for ‘Back to Vedas’.
Two aspects of Hindu culture received a good deal of attention of British: –
The Caste system and
Reluctance to convert people of other religions, on the ground that all religions are valid.
The British condemned the Caste system, but the later, they enthusiastically applauded. iv
Hindu, Islam and Christian religions had received substantial state patronage for sufficiently long period.
Assimilation and fusion of different cultures has been a continuous process of the India civilization. A major cultural synthesis took place during 6th and 10th century, between Vedic Hindu culture, Buddhism and Dravidian culture. Another assimilation was seen after the 10th century, when the thinking of Arabs, Turks and Afghan, mainly guided by reason, influenced Indian thought. Sufi and Bhakti movements are examples of this. These two sects taught the people to love and respect all human beings irrespective of caste or creed. These also brought changes in the nature of mutual understanding, communal amity and accommodation.
Once again, during the period between 18th century to 20th century, a major cultural synthesis took place with modernization and industrialization ushered in by the British.
Many principles and cultures developed in the past, elsewhere in the world, had created such a wave that swept over the entire world for some time. An anti-wave, replacing such waves, emerged soon. It wiped off the previous influence. The Vedic culture, however, has proved to be an exception in this regard. There had been periods, when the Vedic culture became weak, especially under foreign rules. But it re-emerged every time, and whenever it re-emerged, it did not destroy other sects, it assimilated them within itself.
Despite of having different kinds of diversities, most of the times, the Indian society has been able to develop “an attitude of reconciliation rather than refutation, cooperation rather than confrontation and co-existence rather than mutual annihilation.”v
It has happened due to basic tenets of Vedic culture along with tolerance, which are very close to every Indian. The principles of Varna, Dharma and Karma have contributed to the growth of the Indian society as a whole in a systematic way. It has organized orderly performance of various functions needed to provide a quality of life to its people. It prepared an atmosphere for co-existence of different sections of the society – be it ruler or ruled, be it rich or poor. It served to give Indian society coherence, stability and continuity; and held together different castes and communities having diverse languages and practices for generations – thus making unity in diversity a reality.
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