Saturday, April 11, 2009

Indian Culture - An Essay

What is ‘Culture’? This question may bring forth several responses.

‘Culture is that which makes life worth living’.

‘Culture is not merely the sum of several activities but a way of life’.

‘Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of the society.’

‘Culture is that which being transmitted orally by tradition and objectively through writing and other means of expression enhances the quality of life through meaning and value by making possible the formulation, progressive realization, appreciation and achievement of truth, beauty and moral worth.’

These explanations and several others in this genre are true individually, but none of them can be said to capture the meaning of ‘culture’ completely. In other words, it is obvious that the word ‘culture’ defies a simple definition.

A set of cultural traits adopted by a group ‘to meet its needs and ensure its survival’ constitutes its culture. In this sense, culture could be associated with a nation, town, village or tribe.

From this perspective, what is Indian Culture? Is it possible to identify the elements of Indian Culture which transcend the barriers of time and space? Are there unifying forces in Indian Culture in spite of apparent differences in race, language, religion, customs, and traditions in this vast and ancient country?

According to Mr. K. M. Panikar – ‘India has a life view of her own, a special outlook on essential problems, which has persisted throughout her history and would hardly be denied by anyone.’

Mr. Panikar also identifies the following as some of the outstanding factors of the Indian Culture:

1. The tradition of tolerance adding to the richness and variety of Indian life
2. The sense of synthesis as reflected in racial harmony, the primary institutions of the village and family, architecture, sculpture, music and painting, modes of worship, faith in democratic institutions etc.
3. The universal outlook reflected in views such as – the world is one family.
4. The philosophical outlook
5. Respect for the individual based on the philosophical equation of Atma and Brahma

Indian culture has survived because in every generation the best among us have lived by certain fundamental values. We see many examples of this in our history. Starting from the Rishis in the Vedic period, we see several divine personalities like Mahavira, Buddha, Ashoka, Shankara, Madhvacharya, Krishnadevaraya, Akbar, Basava, Guru Govind Singh, Gandhi etc. who have spread these values through their preachings and examples.

The first value which underlies our culture is the faith in the Moral and Spiritual order. The Vedic sages called it Rita but later it was called Dharma. Age after age refinements were made in this concept but the faith has persisted in our people.

Rita is universal order, material, moral and spiritual which unfolds life. Satya or truth is its personal aspect, to live up to it through knowledge, devotion and action becomes a paramount demand on the sensitive individual who finds fulfillment by living up to it.

Satya in the sense of absolute sincerity, unity of thought, word and deed is not to be cultivated in a cave, or in a place of pilgrimage. It has to be lived in every action, in every occasion and every relationship.

The other value is dedication, surrender of the ego to God (Samyama). By living a dedicated life the individual recaptures the values for his own generation and passes it on as a legacy to the next one.

The third greatest value is consecration of life (Samarpana). Rigid asceticism is not consecration. Giving up life to find permanent salvation is not consecration. In order to realize consecration an individual needs to lead a full life in which every act comes to be consecrated as an offering to God.

In order to live up to these values in individual and collective life desire, greed, malice, anger, hatred have to be converted to noble aspirations.

Our religious tolerance and love for peace have been the natural outcomes of these values.

The legacies of Indian Culture based on these values upheld generation after generation in all aspects of human endeavors is so enormous that any attempt to list them all would certainly be futile.

Indian culture has always been dynamic and open. Its innate strength is evident in the outcomes of the interactions with various other tribes. Indian Culture has received, adapted and digested elements of different cultures like Indo-European, Mesopotamian, Iranian, Greek, Arabian, Roman and has changed little with each influence. But Indian Culture will retain its continuity. The Bhagwad Gita will never cease to inspire men of action and Upanishads the men of thought. The charm and the graciousness of the Indian way of life will continue. Be it religion, philosophy, maths, commerce, art, architecture, music, painting, or any other enterprise the impact of the Indian Culture is easily discernible even in the global content.

PS: This was originally written when I was in 10th standard. This essay won the second prize in the Canara Bank essay writing competition.
Notable events on the prize distribution day -
  • Venkatesh Prasad handed out the certificates. The dude looks so much taller in real life than he ever does on the TV screen. He was easily the tallest guy there.
  • It was on July 30, 2000. The exact day that Veerappan chose to kidnap Dr. Rajkumar. The one time I got to watch a riot right in front of my eyes, first hand. The first time I walked for more than 8 kms because there were no other means of transport. The closest I have ever been to burning rubber tires and smashed cars. And the longest impromptu holidays.


Rakesh Babu G R said...

My definition
"Culture is how you decide to kill time and escape boredom. And culture is how you decide to have a sense of constancy"

Dha said...

My definition -
"Culture is what differentiates humans from all other animals."

evilsense said...

"culture is statistic observation of patterns of a human group done by people who are bored/want to survive(by getting some money of fooling the system that they are important)"

Dha said...

those people got to eat..

skhajone said...

The sum total of human activities with different wieghtages by the total number of people gives the culture of the place. How to divide qualities by number you say....... wont know that before you try :P

Too late it may be but a Congrats..... it was really nice :)

Dha said...

not very often, one can see math occurring in the same sentence as culture.
Interesting equation though.. [:)]
But the number of people being in the denominator makes the culture of a large population lesser than the culture of one man.