October 31, 2022

Cultural Nationalism: Indian Scenario

Written By: S. R. Bhatt

The concept of cultural nationalism has for quite some time been on the centre stage of global debate and academic discussion. Culture, in all its facets and dimensions, is a crucial constituent and instrument of human development. It is a state of being, a mode of thinking, a way of living, and a set of commonly shared values, belief patterns, practices and efforts. It is a complex whole comprising stock of knowledge, beliefs, customs, conduct, morals, law, and artistic, scientific and technological pursuits, humanities and social sciences. It is an individual as well as social affair. It is a totality of heritage borne by a society. It is crystallisation of material, mental, intellectual and spiritual wealth generated and preserved by the society. It contributes to discovery of meaning of life and enhances quality of life. Thus, it enriches life, enlarges fullness of life, brings delight of mind, and sharpens intellect and ushers in plenitude of peace and bliss.

Indian culture has a hoary past and a pretty ancient history with inspiring ideas and ideals. India has the fortune of possessing one of the finest cultures in the world in the form of Vedic wisdom. It is characterised by integral, holistic and spiritual view of Reality and a way of life based on that. It advocates fundamental unity of all existences, both animate and inanimate. Every existence is at bottom spiritual, pulsating with life and consciousness Everything in this cosmos has common source and sustenance. In fact, whatever existed, whatever exists and whatever shall come into existence, all are manifestations of the same Divine Being, declares the Puruṣa Sūkta of the Ṛgveda. The īśāvāsyopaniṣad of the Yajurveda states that in this mutating world every element is divine and is permeated by the Divine. It is one, unitary, self-existing principle which manifests Itself diversely, says the Nāsadīya Sūkta of the Ṛgveda. It is also experienced and expressed diversely.

It is a unique feature of Indian culture which exhorted not to have the mentality of “I versus thou”. Instead, it advocated the attitude of “I and we”. This is spiritual globalisation which is cherished and inculcated by Indian seers and sages all the times. The ‘other’ is not to be considered as external or alien or separate. The ideal to be emulated is universalisation of ‘self’, feeling oneness with the entire cosmos. In this schema of global family, there are both individual entities (piṇḍa) and their organic totality (brahmāṇḍa), in a harmonious relationship. A distinction has to be drawn between the two but they are not separable. This attitude is due to its openness and catholicity to accommodate and absorb the diversity. It has displayed a remarkable symbiosis of two sensibilities of belongingness to the whole and of being a part of the whole, of relatedness and of self-identity. It advocates a communitarian or participatory mode of living implying distinctness of its members along with solidarity with the whole enjoying an individual existence and yet partaking and sharing experiences with the whole. It is an inclusive social pluralism.

Indian culture has been holistic and integrated, catholic and symbiotic. This has provided it an inherent vitality. There are some noble ideas and ideals contained in it which are not only endearing but also liberating. That is why it has permeating influence within and outside India. This is what the Urdu poet Mohammad Iqbal has very convincing pointed out some time back in his well-known poem, “Sāre jahān se achhā Hindusatān hamārā” in which he proudly declares that,
Kucha baat hai ki hasti, mitati nahin humaari
Sadiyon rahaa hai dushman daur-e-jahaan hamaara
-Taranaa-e-Hind, 1904
(There is something momentous in Indian culture because of which it could not be wiped out in spite of the onslaughts of inimical forces for centuries together.)

Iqbal refers to the survival instinct of Indian culture which contains inherent vitality, the perennial force, the elan vitae. It has a vitalising and animating force of its own and yet it does not deny nourishment and nurture from extraneous sources as well by incorporating and absorbing them as its own. Both the variety and continuous identity are the assets of Indian culture. It is living and has vitality to live. Because of its organismic nature and character, it displays a unity-in-multiplicity and becomes conducive to self-identity and self-preservation as well as group solidarity and group-cohesion.

We have to remember that India is a nation which has essential identity with multiple diversity all intertwined. As Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya has put it in his Integral Humanism, “It is essential that we think about our national identity. Without this identity there is no meaning of independence, nor can independence become the instrument of progress and happiness. As long as we are unaware of our national identity, we cannot recognise and develop all our capacities.”

Indian identity is embedded in the multi-faceted Indian culture, which has been eternal bedrock of India’s glorious past, adventurous present and bright future. In order to discern Indian identity, one has to look precisely to the diverse cultural and sub-cultural traditions, which have evolved over times, in which the Indian people have been born or nurtured and by which their general human sensibilities have been refined and shaped. This is so whether they are Indian citizens or Indian Diaspora or adopted Indians.

The Vedas constitute the pristine foundation of Indian culture. They exhort for establishment of a virtuous society (vratī samāja). They inculcate a healthy and robust attitude towards life. They have provided ideas and ideals, moral and spiritual values, beliefs and practices, and patterns of behaviour—individual and social—on the basis of deep insight into the nature of Reality, which have universal appeal and inherent vitality to survive in spite of all odds and vagaries of history and which still continues to provide life sap to its adherents and votaries. It would be certainly beneficial to the whole humanity if those sublime ideas are reiterated in their pristine purity so that the discerning human mind can evaluate and emulate them.

Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya floated a seminal concept of Chiti which comprehends individual consciousness, national consciousness and cosmic consciousness. Chiti provides self-identity and autonomy to all these. It is the animating principle. Upadhyaya particularly emphasised Chiti of a nation, calling it as the soul of a nation. It is on its foundation that a nation rises and develops and becomes strong and virile. Strength and energy activating a nation is ‘Virāt’. It is like vital breaths (prāṇa). It infuses strength in every element of the nation. But it has to be channelized by Chiti. It is Chiti which awakens a nation’s Virāt. Every nation should have this vital energy for its survival and enhancement. Every nation should try to preserve, protect and augment it. This is what Swami Vivekanand and Sri Aurobindo also insisted on in their discourses.

Cultural Nationalism

Emphasising national identity and the necessity of national awakening Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya was against western type of narrow nationalism. His idea of nationalism was cultural, based on the principle of dharma which is the sustaining principle of the entire cosmos. Nation is an organic whole which is to function in harmony and cooperation with the entire cosmos. He rejected the idea of regional consciousness and advocated common national consciousness widening into cosmic consciousness. Pointing out the significance of national consciousness he maintained that there should ofcourse be political independence, but it becomes meaningful only in the context of national identity and cultural independence. Under alien subjugation, a nation, like individuals becomes a prey to numerous ills when its natural instincts get disregarded or mutilated and perverted. He argued that the diseased organs are to be amputated and healthy ones are to be nourished. He averred that it was essential that we think about our own national identity. Without this identity there is no meaning of independence, nor can independence become the instrument of progress and happiness. As long as we are unaware of our national identity, we cannot recognise and develop all our potentialities.

State and Nation not the same

Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya highlighted the clear distinction between state and nation and the respective roles of the two. Nation is an organic entity which comes into existence of its own. It is not created, but a nation creates institutions. Nation consists of several institutions and state is one of them. It is important but not supreme. It is to be based on Dharma. Dharma is sovereign. Dharma is depository of nation’s soul and should permeate all its institutions. Fundamental principles of dharma are eternal and universal. But they are not rigid and need to be adapted to changing times and place. He retained the merits of the present day prevalent democratic patterns shorn of their demerits. According to him democracy is preferable form of governance but it should be based on dharma. It should be dharmarājya or Rāmarājya, a dharmocracy and not theocracy.

Though the modern concept of nationalism has emerged in the given historical context of western social development, the underpinning spirit behind the Indian cultural nationalism is the universalistic and unifying dharma-centric world view and life vision sustained by the Sanatana dharma.

The concepts of Varnashrama dharma and Purushartha which were the guiding principles of the social, cultural, economic and political organisation of life in Vedic period were based on this dharma-centric vision of life. The historical experience derived from centuries of subjugated social, cultural, economic and political life of Indian people bring forth the fact that culture, as a key factor in promoting unity and solidarity among different social groups, has become only a wishful thinking. It is a social reality that majority of Indian people have historically been outside the dominant stream of Indian culture. The creative character of the Vedic culture was lost post Vedic period onwards, especially since the eclipse of Ᾱtmajñāna mārga fostered and sustained by the ancient Guru and Rishi Paramparās and the advent of the present form of Hinduism and the caste system.

The universalistic and unifying life vision of Sanatana Dharma was misinterpreted and wrongly explained in conformity with the rising requirements of the caste system based social, cultural, economic and political organisation of Indian society. The caste system with its denial of knowledge and education for the majority of Indian population over a long period of time had contributed to the cultural, social, emotional and mental division of Indian masses leading to social disintegration and cultural decay of the society. If the culture is to be the agent of social unity and solidarity the religious practices, traditions and customs that are contrary to the universalistic and sublime vision of the Indian culture and have segregated and divided people, they are to be identified and demystified grounding on the basic premises of the wisdom tradition of India.

Therefore, the objective of the present write up is to revisit and evaluate culture as means to foster unity and national integration and examine the factors that have historically disrupted and destroyed the creative transmission and progress of the Indian culture. It is also purported to explore and suggest the means by which the arrested social evolution can be resumed and cultural creativity and awakening achieved so as to bring about unity and solidarity of the people beyond caste and religion. Similarly, it is important to examine the religious and cultural onslaught of foreign powers and modern western civilisation on the Indian spirituality, religion, society, culture, economy and polity and suggest appropriate measures to counter the same and establish the rationality and spiritual science behind Indian ethos, religious faiths and practices.

Several scholars and studies have questioned the relevance of cultural nationalism in the emerging Indian social scenario characterised by the rising conflicts and violence among various castes and social groups. With vested interested they have tried to project a distorted picture of age-old Indian culture and civilisation. Of course, they have failed in their nefarious design as the unbiased mind has not acceded to their sinister move but some are still active and more vehement out of frustration. They need to be enlightened as to what “India that is Bharata” has been and will continue to be so in spite of all malicious attempts by misguided or ill-minded persons. India has a pretty ancient history with sublime ideas and all these cannot be wiped out However, while examining India’s robust cultural past and civilisational achievements, there appears to have future prospect to promote and develop cultural nationalism provided the spiritual masters, religious leaders and followers along with political leadership strive to promote cultural creativity and social change by de-fossilising the traditions and rectifying deviations and distortions in the religious faiths and practices. Indianness is based on the principles of cooperation and reciprocity regulated by the spirit of duties and obligations rather than demands and rights. Unfortunately, this base is dwindling very fast in modern times and there is an urgent need to revive, revitalise and consolidate it.

Author Brief Bio: Prof. S. R. Bhatt is Chairman, Indian Philosophy Congress; Chairman, Asian-African Philosophy Congress; National Fellow, Indian Council of Social Science Research, Government of India Former Chairman, Indian Council of Philosophical Research, and Former Professor & Head, Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi.

1 http://www.asthabharati.org/Dia_Apr%20012/s.r..htm
2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sare_Jahan_se_Accha


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