Relevance of Gandhi in Today’s World

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Dr. Anju Seth

Looking at the present state of affairs in India, the birthplace of Gandhi, one would probably surmise that Gandhism, whatever the term may mean, cannot have any relevance in this twenty-first century. Gandhi is rightly called the Father of the Nation because he single handedly stood up against the mighty British Empire, without any arms, and brought her independence. However, today, Gandhi is mostly forgotten and his relevance questioned even by his ardent devotees. Today Gandhi is remembered in India mostly on his birthday which is celebrated as a national holiday rather as a ritual.

Gandhiji Line Drawings (1)

(Source of Image : http://devang-home.blogspot.com/2011/08/sketches-of-mahatma-gandhi.html)

As a matter of fact, India is not following any of Gandhi’s teachings which are mostly confined to text books. In fact, since independence, the country has witnessed many violent communal riots in this multi communal country. Gandhi’s message of ‘swābalambī’, self-sufficiency with home spun ‘khādī’ cloth is not used now-a-days even as a social slogan. Statistics shows that the country is definitely not following ‘sarvodaya’, a broad Gandhian term meaning ‘universal upliftment’ or ‘progress of all’ reaching the masses. On the contrary, India today has the unique distinction of being the only country in the world which has the richest man in the world while at the same time more than 30 per cent of its population lives in dire poverty.

The above shows that today, Gandhism is a very confused ‘ism’ in India. Today many politicians in India use the term merely as a slogan and the common man make Gandhi almost out of reach of the younger groups by making Gandhi an unwilling ‘avatāra’. That may be one reason why the only photo we see of Gandhi in India is always that of an old man which brings the image of a very simple and pious man who was meek and mild like Jesus Christ. While Gandhi was not a simple man to say the least, the above does not gives the right image of Gandhi and does not bring any inspiration to the younger group, the group most relevant for Gandhi.

But Mahatma Gandhi, in this twentieth century, produced a very sophisticated approach because he implemented that very noble philosophy of ahimsā in modern politics, and he succeeded. That is a very great thing.”

And that is precisely the greatness of Gandhi and that is the message of Gandhi to the modern world. In the past century many places in the world have been drastically changed through the use of brute force, by the power of guns the Soviet Union, China, Tibet, Burma, many communist countries in Africa and South America. But eventually the power of guns will have to be changed by the will of the ordinary people. If we try to analyze the secrets of Gandhi’s success, we would probably find Faith and Action and Populism, the three most important aspects of his life. Gandhi’s extra ordinary communion with the masses of ordinary people was another of his secrets. In contrast to many of our present day leaders of this highly democratic world, Gandhi was a true leader and friend of the people. Disaku Ikeda, the Japanese Buddhist leader who takes great inspiration from Gandhi has this to say about him. “His activism is not mere action but contains many aspects of a spiritual practice that is inspired by the inner urging of the conscience”.

The phenomenal success Gandhi registered in far-away South Africa fighting for human rights and civil liberties has great significance when we find that later his teachings were adopted not only by Nelson Mandela, the South African freedom fighter, but it was also subsequently revealed that the former South African president De Klerk was greatly influenced by Gandhi’s principles. In fact, from Dalai Lama to Desmond Tutu and from Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela, many world leaders were inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, all in their own different ways.

Gandhi left many valuable sayings for the modern man to fight for goodness in society in a non-violent way. “Good” Gandhi said “travels at a snails pace.” “Non-violence” Gandhi said “is a tree of slow growth. It grows imperceptibly but surely.” And then “Mere goodness is not of much use.” Gandhi stated. “Goodness must be joined with knowledge, courage and conviction. One must cultivate the fine discriminating quality which goes with spiritual courage and character.” The modern man can also take great wisdom from what Gandhi said the seven social sins: Politics without principles; Wealth without work; Commerce without morality; Education without character; Pleasure without conscience; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice.

It was the unique non-violent movement under his leadership that earned for India freedom from the colonial rule. In spearheading the campaign against the alien rule, Gandhiji adopted the innovative techniques of civil disobedience and social transformation, which had several exemplary features.

The Gandhian technique of mobilizing people has been successfully employed by many oppressed societies around the world under the leadership of people like Martin Luther King in the United States, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and now Aung Saan Sun Kyi in Myanmar, which is an eloquent testimony to the continuing relevance of Mahatma Gandhi.

In India, economic development has been mostly confined to the urban conglomerates. In the process, the rural India that comprises 700 million people has been given short shrift. Gandhiji’s philosophy of inclusive growth is fundamental to the building of a resurgent rural India. He believed in “production by the masses” rather than in mass production, a distinctive feature of the industrial revolution. It is surprising, even paradoxical, that these days Gandhian philosophy should find increasing expression through the most modern technology! Now, it is possible to establish small-scale and medium-scale factories in smaller towns and remote corners of the country, thanks to the phenomenal innovations in communication and information technologies. New technologies have brought in widespread and low-cost electronic connectivity that enables instantaneous contact between industrial units and the sellers and consumers of their products. Location and logistics are no more a limitation or constraint for industrial development.

If we say that the twenty-first century is the century of the common man, then we see that Gandhism has even more relevance in this age, and Gandhi will inspire generations of individuals fighting for goodness of the society. If today we find that Gandhism is in severe test in countries like India, it is not because there is certain inherent weakness in Gandhism, but it is because we have not seen in India strong leaders with the required courage and conviction to fight the evils in society. We may borrow Gandhi’s own words on Ahimsā, and say that Gandhism is only for the courageous people.

-Dr. Anju Seth, Associate Professor, Department of Sanskrit, Satyawati College (Day), University of Delhi, Delhi, India

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Indian Family Traditions, Laws, and Government

Prof. Bal Ram Singh

Traditions can also take ugly forms, such as dowry system, female feticide, outraging modesty of women, etc. which can make family lives of the women (and men) anguished and intolerable. Despite (and may be due to) the laws against dowry, the menace of discord continues to grow in Indian society. Government response to enact further laws to protect women has also taken an ugly turn, and is being used settle scores between families.

Clearly, enacting laws, particularly with selfish culture in mind, is not very effective approach to solve social and family problems. However, government of India has gone on with several intriguing laws to solve family problems. Interestingly, these laws are enacted only for Hindus, the majority community in India, leaving Muslims and Christians untouched presumably to exhibit government’s secular practice. An exception is a bill that was recently introduced againt triple talaq practice of Muslims.

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In addition to giving an impression of Hindu practices in need of reforms (thereby wrong), the secular principles borrowed from West where culture and practices are very different are being applied to Indian culture, many times confusing the population, and also at times at the behest of international organizations and groups.

Some of the recent laws or government positions are listed below:

  1. Government of India enacted a law that children are liable to take care of parents, and can be sued by parents if they default.
  2. Parents cannot sell inherited properties without children’s consent.
  3. Live in relationship is fine, citing Radha and Krishna as example of live in relationship.
  4. Girls and boys of less than 16 years of age can have sexual relationship even though marriage age is 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys.

Many may not know that in several states of USA there is no lower age limit on marriage, and many states have provision for marriage as young as 14 years of age!

These laws and assertions are obviously anti-family and anti-Indian culture, and unfortunately applied selectively to Hindu population. Even Supreme court judges took the government to task on the selective application of amendments to Hindus.

The Supreme court of India said  that government’s attempts to reform personal laws don’t go beyond Hindus who have been more tolerant of such initiatives (Times of India, February 11, 2011; http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/7456761.cms?prtpage=1)

“The Hindu community has been tolerant to these statutory interventions. But there appears a lack of secular commitment as it has not happened for other religions.” 

Justices Dalveer Bhandari and A K Ganguly made the observation while hearing petitions filed by the National Commission for Women and its Delhi chapter. The petitioners had sought formulation of a uniform marriageable age and complained that different stipulations in as many statutes had created confusion. 

In fact, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 itself is fairly arbitrarily done, and has almost nothing to do with Hindu philosophy or general practices. At least no references are made to any Hindu scriptures, consultation, or consensus. Government continues to make laws for Hindus without even a shred of consideration to either the community or its religious authorities. Many a times Hindu related laws are singled out to be enacted at the behest of a few elite class experiences, international pressure, domestic politics, or to create equivalence to other communities, viz., Christians and Muslims, both communities having extensive references to the social and legal aspects in their religious books, unlike Hindu texts.

It is certainly true that Hindu texts are more of guidance at spiritual, intellectual, and social levels, and allow flexibility for time and place. Nevertheless, a secular government, with a society less inclined to be intellectually engaged at mass level, and much less being sought to provide philosophical input to the provisions, is committing a grave long term mistake in imposing Western practices on its people. This acquires more significance and importance when one considers the diversity that the Hindu community exhibits traditionally, which has continued with the many of the practices of the only living ancient living civilization.

Obviously, there is a major disconnect between the society and the rulers. India is a very large society with many of the cultural intermixes to be ruled by a single set of laws and provisions. India and Hindu represent a diversity of thoughts and practices that is integral to its existence. There is no reference in ancient India to have a constitution, judges, advocates, as wide ranging as it is currently enforced. It has been a self policing society, governed by Kuldharma, Jatidharma, Varnadharma, Rashtradharma, and paramdharama. Currently, uch things are not even seriously considered while making policies and laws for the society.

There are many ills that are creeping in the Indian society, as a result of not considering the traditions, practices, and ancient wisdom in making policies and laws by the politicians and bureaucrats, and in the enforcement by the police and judiciary. It is, therefore, essential to bring the issue of the Indian family system to at least a certain level of intellectual and scholarly debate. It is hoped that such an exercise will spill over into the policy debates and eventually in the society for charting its course for future.

– Prof. Bal Ram Singh, School of Indic Studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA, USA

Honoring the Father

– Prof. Bal Ram Singh

In a country where मातृ देवो भव, पितृ देवो भव, एवं आचार्य देवो भव have been the norms, designating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day may sound like a demotion of mothers and fathers. Instead, it is considered as a much needed appreciation of them in the western world.

There are several peculiarities surrounding the origin and establishment of Father’s Day here in the United States, where it is an official holiday. Interestingly, efforts to establish both Mother’s and Father’s Days were led by daughters, not sons, and both were in fact initiated by the Church (Mother May or Mothering Church for Mother’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day for Father’s Day).  While Father’s Day was established over 50 years after the Mother’s Day was already an official holiday, (in fact, after many more failed attempts at establishment than Mother’s Day) both holidays were in fact initially rejected by the US Congress: they jokingly extrapolated a future need of a “Mother-in-Law’s Day”.  Eventually, both holidays were proclaimed by presidential orders. However, the more sincere criticism from congress was that establishing appreciation for parents as holidays would lead to commercialization of these occasions, reducing a heart-to-heart moment to a hand-to-hand exchange of gifts.

During debates over the establishment of Father’s Day, it was common to argue that one parent (mother) cannot be recognized while the other (father) is not. The division of parents into distinct categories like “matriarchal” and “patriarchal” can be seen more as a lens perpetuated in my opinion by some modern social scientists than actual truth. Even in the animal kingdom, where the complexities of human society, tradition, culture, and philosophy do not exist, a child is often cared by both mother and father.  The social interpretation of the culture (sanskriti), traditions (parampara), and philosophy (darshan) needs narrational perspective and an integrative approach. Matri sattatmak (matriarchal) and Pitre sattatmak (patriarchal) societies inherently mean the motherhood and fatherhood, not simply woman and man as is generally implicated by social activists. Therein lies the narrative problem.

Indian cultures exhort raising of woman to the motherhood in perspective (not necessarily giving birth, although that reinforces it automatically). In India the nation is called motherland whereas in the West it is fatherland. Ancestors are referred to as पूर्वज in India whereas forefathers in America in a social context. Wikipedia lists 60 countries which call their native country as fatherland. Ancient Greek, Patris, fatherland, led to Latin Patrios, and finally into Patriotism. Thus father figure is a dominant cultural ethos of the western world.

In India it is, of course, Mother India or भारत माता, that is the war cry for the land. I had heard from a Swami ji (but could not find myself in any literature) that in Indian culture a child is most fortunate whose father is a dharmatma and whose mother is a pativrata. This is far cry from the competing dominance portrayed by the reference such a society as matriarchal vs. patriarchal, which Indian intellectual class apes it.

The combined differences between how Eastern and Western cultures view and treat motherhood and fatherhood indicate clearly that there is no simple mapping of words or cultural concepts from one onto the other. When comparing the two, one needs to understand the context in which terms, language, and celebrations are framed. Learning from other cultures is good, but doing so without an understanding of the differing perspectives, and without an appreciation for our own way of seeing the world, is counter-productive.

There is a book written with the title of ‘Dharti Mata aur Pita Akash’ by Pushpa Sinha, and of course the favorite Hindi song, Dharti meri mata pita Akash from Geet Gata Chal Hindi movie (1975) shows the complementarity of parents for appropriate care and growth of a child. Nevertheless, Indian culture is matriarchal right from the pauranic concept of Adya as the origin of tridevas and tridevis.  Even in modern times at least 500 years ago in Tulsi Ramayana, there is a clear mention that mother holds higher position than the father – जौ केवल पितु आयसु ताता, तौ जिन जाउ जानि बड़ि माता -as stated by Ram’s mother, Kaushalya. So, while Kerala tradition may be matriarchal (or maybe ladyarchal to be more appropriate). The matriarchal tradition of India as per Ramayana standards is widespread in the culture.

Once that narrative is accepted, it is then possible to integrate with the famous Manusmriti idea of ‘यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवता…’, which needs to be interpreted as, where women reach the status or level  of being worshiped (implying only motherhood) even gods frequent that place for pleasure.

There is much to learn from Indian philosophy as to what a mother is to be – life giver, guru, teacher, god, etc., which is what elevates her to the level of worship, not those who hire maids to take care of their children or those who do not have education, training, knowledge, and resources.

A father is a gyan guru, and is expected to give diksha to the son, and perhaps daughter by the time of the upanayana sanskar (there are instances where daughters undergo upanayana sanskar). In this ritual, the father utters some secret mantra (usually Gayatri mantra) in the ears of the child at the ceremony. This indicates the conclusion of education from father and commencement of the education from Guru. In the story of the Ganesha his father Shiva cuts off Ganesha’s head, eventually replacing it with the head of an elephant at the behest of Ganesha’s mourning mother Parvati.  Instead of taking only the story’s literal meaning, we can instead see symbolically Shiva playing his true role as a father: removing Ganesha’s ignorance, as symbolized by the head he was born with, and replacing it with a much larger head of an elephant, symbolizing his newly gained wisdom.

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(Image : Prof. Singh and his son)

In my own personal life, living in America, I try to emphasize on Father’s Day what a father is supposed to do on a regular basis: I normally cook breakfast for the family showing my cooking ability and skills (all three children learned formal cooking from me rather than their mother who is obviously more skillful at cooking than I am); I then make sure to mow the lawn, which I do despite my wife’s advice of hiring landscaper (quite common in United States); we spend time relishing some father-child memories; finally, I give some fatherly advice (lecture!!) to my children. I do not like to be pampered by any special treatment or gifts from children, as that encourages commercialization (the original concern of US lawmakers in opposing declaring Father’s Day an official holiday), and reduces the idea to materialism, which is quite different from what I consider my children as संतानाः, as in सम्यक तान्यते ते संतानाः those who reflect not only my material body but also my subtle body (ethereal, astral, mental, and spiritual) and spiritualism. May all of us have a Father’s Day by becoming and having संतानाः!

Prof. Bal Ram Singh, Director, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA, USA 

वासन्ती पर्व ’होली’

 – डॉ. शशि तिवारी

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हमारी कृषि-व्यवस्था दो भागों में बँटी है―(1) वैशाखी, (2) कार्तिकी। इसी को क्रमश: वासन्ती और शारदीय फसलें कहते हैं। फाल्गुन पूर्णमासी वासन्ती फसल का आरम्भ है। होली पर्व का एक प्राचीन नाम ’वासन्ती नवसस्येष्ट’ है। यह मूलतया वसन्त ऋतु में नये अनाजों से किये जाने वाले यज्ञ कर्म (इष्टि) का नाम है। हमारी वैदिक परम्परा है कि  नवान्न को सर्वप्रथम अग्निदेव को समर्पित करते हैं, तत्पश्चात् स्वयं भोग करते हैं। वसन्त ऋतु में चना, मटर, अरहर एवं जौ आदि अनेक अन्न पक चुकते हैं। अत: उनको देवों को समर्पित करते हैं। चारों वर्ण परस्पर मिलकर इस विशाल यज्ञ को सम्पन्न करते हैं। आहुति देते हैं और परिक्रमा करतॆ हैं, यह यज्ञ की प्रक्रिया ही है।

संस्कॄत की परिभाषा ’तृणाग्निं भ्रष्टार्धपक्वशमी धान्य: होलक:’ के अनुसार तिनके की अग्नि में भुने हुए अधपके धान्य (फली वाले अन्न) को होलक कहते हैं। होली शब्द होलक से बना है। इसी कारण इस पर्व को ’होली’ या ’होलिकोत्सव’ कहते है। होली नवान्न वर्ष का प्रतीक है। लॊग प्रतिवर्ष सामूहिक रूप से होली जलाते हैं।

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(Source of Image : httpswww.jansatta.comlifestyleholi-2018)

ऋतुओं का सन्धिकाल रोग उत्पन्न करता हैं । होली का समय हेमन्त और बसन्त ऋतु का योग है। रोग-निवारण के लिए यज्ञ उत्तम साधन है। अत: होली जलने का संबन्ध फसलों के साथ-साथ ऋतु-परिवर्तन से भी है।

एक पौराणिक कथा होली जलाने को भगवान् से जोडती है―होलिका हिरण्यकश्यपु नामक राक्षस की बहिन थी। उसे यह वरदान था कि वह आग में नहीं जलेगी। हिरण्यकश्यपु का प्रह्लाद नाम का बालक पुत्र था जो विष्णु की पूजा करता था। पर हिरण्यकश्यपु पुत्र को रोकता था कि “तू विष्णु की  पूजा न कर मेरी पूजा किया कर“। जब वह नहीं माना तो हिरण्यकश्यपु ने होलिका को आदेश दिया कि वह प्रह्लाद को आग में लेकर बैठ जाये। होलिका प्रह्लाद को गोद में लेकर आग में बैठ गई,  वह जल गई और प्रह्लाद बच गया। तब से प्रह्लाद, होलिका तथा विष्णु की कथा की स्मृति में होली का त्यौहार मनाया जाता है l

होली उत्सव एवं यज्ञ का सांस्कृतिक प्रतीक है। स्वयं को प्रकॄति से जोड़ने का पर्व है।

आप सभी को इस उत्सव की हार्दिक शुभकामनायें।

डॉ. शशि तिवारी,अध्यक्ष, वेव्स -भारत 

India: A Concept of Nationhood (Part-II)

Continued from Part-I

Dr. Raj Kumar

The Vedic phase is very significant and influential in the evolution of Indian society. It affects its cultural, socio-economic and social-political tradition. Although, there is a prolonged debate on the Aryan influence on Indian society, nothing conclusive could be presented. Some social activists view Aryans as a native of India, whereas several scholars and academic historians’ opinions are opposite. Whatever the view, Aryans evolved the tribal society to a well-developed civilization. Development of civilization provides the people a cohesive environment for discussion, and the people start looking for the answer of the fundamental questions. Every other civilization of the world meditated upon some fundamental questions for a long time; a) how to live life, b) what is the goal of life, and c) what is the way to find happiness. The idea of India provided a unique path to get the answer to these fundamental questions. As an Indian, our traditional goal of life is a virtue (Dharma), live with success and wealth (Artha), to live with pleasure (Kama), but in the end seek enlightenment (Moksha). Vedic philosophy also discussed several ideas; idea of consciousness, idea of humanity, idea of ethics in social life, idea of spirituality, and more importantly the idea of individuality (for example, Shrimad Bhagavad Gita tells your interpretation of life is different from others, but it doesn’t mean you are wrong or others are wrong. Similarly, Ayurveda treats a person based on their personal traits and habits, instead of using any generalization). These ideas influenced the thought process of the people of the region and shaped the idea of India.

The founding concept of India was not just an abstract idea of a plurality or an idea of a common interest. It is an idea of practical understanding of the compulsion and constraints, yet accommodative, between differing ideas and views. Now, let’s examine the characteristics of India as a nation.

Let’s define nation first. In my view, the best definition is provided by Ernest Renan’s. According to him, “A nation is not formed on the basis of dynasty, language, religion, geography or shared interests. Rather, a nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. A spiritual principle is a combination of two things, which in truth are one. One lies in the past i.e. the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories. Other lies in the present, which reflects the desire to live together, and perpetuate the value system and continue the heritage that one has received in an undivided form.” The idea of India exactly fits this definition. So many people of different value system, cultural system, belief system, and interests are coming together to develop an Idea of India. Probably only place in the world where we have preserved the traditions which were practiced thousands of years ago (rich legacy), yet all Indian together try to compete with the modern world (perpetuate the value system and desire to live together). Like any other nation, India also has gone through turbulent times. Even in those turbulent times, instead of hankering for purity, India gave some very powerful ideas to this world….. the idea of accommodation, the idea of incorporation, the idea of inclusion, the idea of embracing, and the idea of mixing without losing the basic character. She sees the moment of mixing as the most creative and imaginative one. She sees the moment of mixing as an opportunity to create the culture of give and take, and ultimately become one. So, the idea of India is not an abstract idea of just cultural pluralism and democracy, it is an idea of amalgamation of different ideas.

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This amalgamation gave diversity to Indian system. Scientifically speaking this process increases the entropy/randomness, which all the thermodynamic systems aspire to. Energy is constant in an entropy-driven process. So, we need to know how to utilize this energy in a useful way. That is why increasing entropy can be advantageous and disadvantageous, too. Advantageous when you know how to utilize this excess entropy and balance the system, and disadvantageous when you don’t know how to control the randomness. I will use an example to simplify the above statement. Protein folding, a biological process, is a very important event when the linear sequence of amino acid organizes different interactions to devise a biologically functional shape. In this process, entropy is decreasing to create a useful structure. While acquiring a biological function from linear sequence, protein has two very important intermediate stages, molten globule and intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs). These two states are very flexible (higher randomness) and when needed can acquire a biologically functional state (entropically low structure). In another way, randomness is a necessary requirement but to perform function system needs to be organized. Randomness provides flexibility and fluidity, which is a necessary trait of our existence, and the idea of India already have this naturally.

You must have heard this statement ….. India is a very diverse country and its diversity is an asset. But nobody explains what is the meaning of this statement. Diversity means randomness, which is natural tendencies of anything in this world. It brings freedom; freedom of thought, freedom of action, and freedom of expression. Freedom is not the one-way road, it is a two-way path; one way is freedom, and another concurrent way is responsibility/onus/liability. Diversity in scientific terms is a degree of freedom, more degree of freedom more available options. More options mean more ways of doing things. In other words, different things can be done in a coordinated way to achieve the same goal. Therefore, in this sense diversity of India is an asset, but we need to know how to utilize it, we need to know how and where to direct this diversity, and we need to know how to fulfill our responsibilities and contribute to advancing the idea of India. One successful example of focusing diversity is the United State of America (USA). The USA has accepted people from all over the world, which gave her an asset of diversity. She utilized this diversity very smartly and focused to build a strong nation. India needs to do the same.

Thus, the idea of India is not a hypothetical one, it is a geographically, socially, philosophically, and scientifically proven idea. India’s diversity needs to be crystalized, so that the nation can move forward together in a constructive way. We did this very successfully in the past on several occasions, we need to do it again now to solve our current problems.

We are all pieces of the same puzzle.

References

  1. The Vedic Core of Human History by M. K. Agarwal, 2013.
  2. Indian Foreign Policy: Challenges and Opportunities by Atish Sinha, Madhup Mohta and Foreign Service Institute, 2007.
  3. ArunKumar, G., Soria-Hernanz, D. F., Kavitha, V. J., Arun, V. S., Syama, A., Ashokan, K. S., … The Genographic Consortium. (2012). Population Differentiation of Southern Indian Male Lineages Correlates with Agricultural Expansions Predating the Caste System. PLoS ONE7(11), e50269. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0050269.
  4. https://www.ibm.com/solutions/genographic/us/en/geno_story.html

 – Dr. Raj Kumar, Assistant Professor, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA.

India: A Concept of Nationhood (Part-I)

– Dr. Raj Kumar

I would like to start this article with the preamble of the Constitution of India.

We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic, and to secure to all its citizens:

Justice, social, economic and political;

Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship;

Equality of status and of opportunity;

And to promote among them all

Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation;

IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY, this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.

The preamble of the constitution is the essence of the idea of INDIA. A country like India will only shape with cross-cultural communication. The formation of this communication can only be possible, where listening to each other is more desirable than a monologue or non-dialogue, where the discussion is preferred to talking, and where community interest is given priority to the individual interest. Modern India came together through our Constitution.

The idea of India is a socio-political model for the most unique and unusual nation in the world. The vast diversity of religions, caste, region, language, views, and most importantly people of this country living together as a country in such a way that no country in the world embodies. America is also a very diverse country, but it began as multiple colonies before becoming a nation. India began as a diverse country that has been preserved through the millennia.

British, who ruled India for more than 200 years, never consider India as one country. British propagated this theory through scholarly publication of renowned 19th-century historian, John R. Seeley, who mentioned, “India is not one country, and therefore it has no one civilization.” Sir John Strachey in his book, India: Its Administration and Progress, wrote, “There is no such country, and this is the first and most essential fact about India that can be learned” (Chapter 1, page 2, Sir John Strachey).

If this is true, then what about a text at least 2000 years old, Vishnu Purana, which defines INDIA.

‘उत्तरे यतसमुद्रस्य हिमाद्रेश्चैव दक्षिणम
वर्षम तद भारत नाम भारती यत्र संतति’ – विष्णु पुराण (2/3.1)

Meaning, the country that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bharatam; there dwell the descendants of Bharat.

Not only our ancient texts, famous western scholars from time to time mentioned India in the text as one region.

Megasthenes (300 BC) wrote in Indika:

“India the being four-sided in plan, the side which looks to the orient

 and that to the south is the great sea; that towards the arctic is divided

by the mountain chain of Hemodus from Scythia, inhibited by that

  the tribe of Scythians who are called Sakai, and on the fourth side, turned

  towards the west, the Indus marks the boundary, the biggest or nearly

  so of all rivers after the Nile.”

Arrian (140 CE) defines in Indoi, Indou:

The boundary of the land of India towards the north is Mount Taurus

(Caucasus). The western part of India is bounded by the river Indus right

down to the ocean. Towards the south this ocean bounds the land of India,

and eastward the sea itself is the boundary.”

Said- al Andalusi, a Muslim Qadi (Qazi in Urdu) described categories of people in his book Al-tarif bi-tabaqat al-umam (Exposition of the Generations of Nations). He defined nation as a region of land which cultivates learning. Although nations on the human plane are uniform, they differ in three ways, namely, morals, shape, and language. His approach for defining a nation was based on the scientific-philosophical concept. According to this concept, there are three requirements; a) compression of a level of discourse (theoretical reason), b) asceticism and control of the temper of the soul, and c) the essential place of philosophy and natural sciences in self-education and training. He also identified the most important people in the history. They were Persians and Chaldeans (Syrians, Babylonians, Jews, and Arabs), Copts (ancient Egyptians, Sudanese, Ethiopians and Nubians), Greeks (Romans, Franks, Russians, Bulgarians and others from the same region), Turks (Kimaki and Khazars), Indians and Chinese.

Babur who equally recognized this in his Babur Nama (Sinha and Monta, 2007), “The country of Hindustan is extensive, full of men, and full of produce. On the east, south and even on the west, it ends at the great enclosing ocean. In the north, it has mountains which connect with those of Hindu-Kush, Kafiristan, and Kashmir.”

Let’s go to start of formation of earth landmass. If you examine the formation of Earth’s landmass (Pangaea), you can notice that India is sitting on the Indian Plate, a major tectonic plate that was formed when it split from the ancient continent Gondwana land. This plate starts moving around 90 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous period and covers the distance of ~ 3000 km before hitting the mainland of Asia to create Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas. The point I want to make here is that India has a unique place since the start.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Formation of Earth’s landmass. Note the formation of Indian landmass. This landmass formed and drifted separately than rest of the world.

In another way, the concept of India is not new. There is a direct evidence that human migration happens from Africa to India. Genetic evidence suggests that the first human from Africa migrated to Kerala about 70000 years ago (southern part of India). Gene M130 is the marker of the first human migrated from Africa, and Virumandi tribes of Kerala (southernmost state of India) have this gene. This is the most ancient migratory genes because the later migrations do not have this marker (Arun Kumar et al., 2012). There is already a growing view among geneticists that humans migrated to other parts of the world from India (Fig. 2). So, the first human evolved, then they migrated and at last they developed a language. Note that language is not the same as ethnicity. However, development of language provides a belief and thought system. The idea of the belief and thought system is so powerful that it provides a freedom to everyone a very robust system to believe in themselves, propagate their views, have every liberty to be proud of what they have. The idea of India allows this and it is the fundamental reason, I believe, why India is having a such a vastness of humanity with a diversity but still with the unity.

Figure22

Figure 2: Migration of human out of Africa (IBM Genographic project). Humans migrated from central Africa to eastern Africa, from there the migrated to India and distributed to the world.

Since the start of the language and writing, from time to time scholars defined India in their texts indicating British perspectives were not correct. However, British projected their view about India very strongly and most people still believe that. Honestly, I believed the same for a very long time. In fact, British did this to justify their reign and right to rule India.

I think I have given the right arguments to settle two things; a) why British were wrong in defining India, and b) from ancient to medieval period India was considered as one region.

                                                                                                                        to be Continued……..

 Dr. Raj Kumar, Assistant Professor, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA.

 

A Narration of Experiences of a Wife in Gurukul Life as Per Vedas in Contemporary Times

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– Mrs. Suvrata Vinod

I had been living a life of a modern career woman with a flourishing profession as a management consultant to many MNCs way back in 1990s. I got introduced to spirituality as a tool of Behavioual Science as is prevalent in our society today. I had a traumatic personal life with much confusion about customs and values. Destiny led me to a situation where I could jump to a new challenge of a ‘Life for Yajna’ (यज्ञार्थात् कर्मणोन्यत्र लोकोयं कर्मबन्धनः….Gita 3.9) rather than ‘Spirituality for Material progress’. Suddenly, I found myself learning and practising Vedic Life far removed from our familiar city life. A flood of some latent memories of Achara (Customary practices) came to me and I started understanding Spirituality not as a distant learning but something which I had left incomplete in some previous attempt due to some mischief or loss of patience (पूर्वाभ्यासेन तेनैव ह्रियते ह्यवशोपि सः…..Gita 6.44).

We were staying on the banks of River Narmada in Gujarat at that time. We had an Ashrama away from any village leave aside any town. We started with a purifying performance called ‘सर्वप्रायश्चित्तं’ in the presence of learned Brahmins of all the four Vedas. Our Guruji had taught my Pati our ancestral Shakha called Taittiriya Yajurveda. We now wanted to practise Karma Yoga as the Chosen Path.(लोकेस्मिन् द्विविधा निष्ठा पुरा प्रोक्ता मयानघ। ज्ञानयोगेन सांख्यानां कर्मयोगेन योगिनाम्। Gita 3.3) We decided to undertake a life of Grihastha with mandatory Panch Mahayajnya.(पंच वा एते महायज्ञाः..) Besides, we decided to share our learnings with whomsoever wishes to but in the prescribed fashion.

Two brahmacharins came to us for learning Veda. We had a small piece of land to cultivate and we bought a cow to complete our duties of fire worship etc. Narmada was 150 steps below and we chose not to have electricity, water-supply, road or telephone. We did keep a scooter to do a fortnightly visit to the nearest town Rajpipla.

Surya Argya

(Source of Image : http://gurukul.ashram.org/Home/A-Day-In-Gurukul)

The day starts early in the dark hours of pre-dawn. I would get up even before Acharya and Shishyas. I started with putting on the oil-lamp. Then I would visit the cow-shed to cleanup the cowdung. We will require this cowdung for making round-balls for preserving the household sacred-fire (गृह्याग्नि) incessantly. This practice is prevalent throughout the present day Vedics but I am told that this is just an Apad-dharma or contingency. They say, unknown to many practising Vedics, Vedas have no mention of using cowdung as fuel. [Footnote 1: Anyways, this is what we used till we shifted to Garhwal Himalayas. This part of the story will come in due course. But in short, over there we had an access to abundant dry firewood in the forest and a practise of keeping perpetual fire on logs of wood, without depleting the forest, by judicious cyclic usage.] After cleaning the cowshed, I would throw a bundle of dry fodder or green grass cut the previous evening from the fields to the cow as was the practise in Gujarat and come back to the hermitage. Meanwhile, Acharya would be sitting in the verandah surrounded by yawning young shishyas. They would be doing Pratah-smaranam. I also know the chants by everyday use but I never needed to learn them. प्रातरग्निं प्रातरिन्द्रँ हवामहे। प्रातर्मित्रावरुणा प्रातरश्विना। प्रातर्भगं पूषणं ब्रह्मणस्पतिम्। प्रातः सोममुत रुद्रँ हुवेम। They would be chanting this Sukta after their Apam-upasparshanam, splashing water on the face and sipping. He would ask them to drink cool water kept in the night in copper-vessel. And even I would drink some warm water. We used to go for bowels in woods at a distance and nearby for urination. [Footnote 2: Smritis have a detailed description of this मलनिर्मोचन. We admit that with the ever-shrinking space for human inhabitation, this is almost irrelevant now. But, Acharya tried to practise the prescribed way and he observes that the texts are very careful in maintaining hygiene and also respect the Mother Earth, Wind, Waters, Fire, Directions and Sun, all as Devata. This leads to a very healthy nature-friendly life, though we may find it cumbersome. We may envy their extravagant natural resources, the luxury of wild country-space.] This शौचमाचमनं is going on along with morning class of Veda-Avritti. This used to be hilarious or sometimes painful also for the young ones with all their sleepiness. They would be reciting with the Acharya doing Dhyanam or contemplation. This is the time which gives the best of insights into Past, Present and Future. Acharya would sit peacefully while I would dust the rooms and sprinkle water in the court-yard. I would draw Rangoli unless I am unfit in my natural menstrual cycle. Acharya told me an anecdote of how stupid and arrogant we are as the children of modern age. He once read a shloka ‘वैश्वदेवस्य यः कर्ता तस्य भार्या रजस्वला। भिक्षा तत्र न कर्तव्या यतिना हितमिच्छता।।‘ He construed it to mean: ‘He who is doing Vaishvadeva Homa, means his wife is unfit due to menses and hence Yati should avoid his house for Bhiksha, as it is certainly impure.’ He assumed due to unexposure to real practise that Vaishvadeva is to be done by the person who cooks. So naturally the wife would be ordinarily doing Vaishvadeva everyday. The day she is out, husband would cook and also perform Vaishvadeva. Now, along comes a Yati for Bhiksha and when he sees the husband doing Vaishvadeva, he understands the situation and walks away without having to be told the inside story! The readers are invited to share their interpretation as an exercise-problem to explain the importance of actual exposure to practises to interpret texts faithfully to the intention of the composer. We will answer the correct interpretation in the next issue. Acharya says, his Guruji in Kashi was ammused with this brilliant interpretation which was just false! Ofcourse he was crest-fallen and enlightened simultaneousely when the simple and elegant actual meaning was told by his Guruji.

This Rangoli is different for different clans. It also shows lots of innovations and adaptations. But the idea of fresh and pure household, fit for a ‘Life for Yajnya’ is what is common to all of them. This is our cultural unity in diversity in external form. We will keep sharing these little pieces, if the readers like it.

To be continued….

– Mrs. Suvrata Vinod, Anandavan Bhakta Samudaya, Institute of Advanced Studies in Veda and Science.