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India – A Land of Cultures

by Jay Maniyar - 28 October, 2020, 12:00 282 Views 0 Comment

India is a land of myriad and exquisite cultures and subcultures. For a civilization which stretches its roots to as far back as several millennia ago, India has emerged as a cultural colossus today. The Oxford Learners’ Dictionary defines the word ‘culture’ as “the customs and beliefs, art, way of life and social organization of a particular country or group”. In India’s case, this definition falls woefully short as India was, is, and has always been much, much more than the tenets that comprise the definition. India’s cultural hierarchy has involved a host of dimensions that, till date, mark its cultural identity(s). India is also home to a variety of subcultures, often defined as cultures that exist within the ambit of overarching cultures but tend to differ in views and beliefs.

A basic case for India’s cultural vastness is fundamentally based in its religions and the festivals that mark their hypotheses. The world has been left in much awe of India’s cultural heterogeneity when its religious expositions have enchanted and mesmerised countries with a deep interest in what the make of India is. To describe India as a ‘land of cultures’ is to synonymise the pot and the kettle. The taking of the proverbial fish to the pond is the congruence between India and cultures. India cannot live without its varied set of cultures, while its cultures and subcultures are bland and meek in the absence of India.

Cultures comprise diverse religions with principles and identities unique to them and those that have amassed a number of followers and believers, belief systems encompassing rules and norms that cater to said cultures, common behaviour that results in the portrayal and depiction of cultures in various strata of society, and tenets of cultures such as festivals and ceremonies that take place within the essence and ambit of time.

The Ministry of Culture views cultures as carrying infinite dimensions by including pluralism, languages, cultural education and studies, history, exchanges, exhibitions, films, arts, drama, music, monuments, the manufacture of ancient and modern Indian handicrafts, historical manuscripts and papers, heritage (such as sites of archaeological distinction and others such as India’s maritime heritage), the treatment of the poor and the underprivileged in Indian society, and un-emphasised traditions as being inclusive to the gargantuan umbrella of what encompasses the cultural domain.

The dawn of Indian culture can be traced back to the belief that India’s cultural leanings were among the first-ever. From the very foundations of India as a civilisation, it was culture that was all-pervasive. The Indus Valley and Harappan civilisations were the two civilisations which existed 5,000 years ago. Indian cultural inceptions can be traced back to the very founding of India as a civilisation thousands of years ago. Over the years, Indian culture transformed itself into what it has become today, fusing together modern principles and ideals on its journey to the twenty-first century (with a truly unfortunate colonial standstill in between).

Religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism have emerged to be deeply cultural owing to their belief systems translating into enforcing cultural bonds and ties among its followers. Gandhism – the philosophy of the Father of the Nation, M. K. Gandhi, that espouses facets such as an adherence to religious tolerance and persistent non-violence as values to achieve peace and stability – is also perceived to be a ‘cultural’ element of India. India’s cultures tend to have leanings to religion, although good societal conduct and decency and dignity in personal behaviour sans religion is also considered to be deeply and soundly cultural. It is apparent that India’s conception of its culture is now wide-ranging and covers all aspects that may not have been traditionally cultural or included in the definition of the word ‘culture’, such as films utilising modern technologies in their conception. This all-inclusive spirit will certainly pave the path to Indian cultural pre-eminence and the seemingly infinite cultural individuality that characterise India as a country, the world over.

The six Indian philosophies from the founding religion of the Indian civilisation, Hinduism, too have cultural dimensions, such as yoga which is fast emerging as one of the world’s foremost spiritual mechanisms to harness the soul and body towards good health and peace of mind. The Indian government is promoting yoga globally to increase its visibility, and the aim remains to enlighten the world’s mentally and physically ill and distraught on the benefits of India’s divine exercises. The International Day of Yoga was formally publicized in India and globally by the Government of India in 2015, and is celebrated on June 21 of every year.

The Government of India has undertaken a host of initiatives to promote Indian cultures globally. The Ministry of Culture, which was instituted as the Ministry of Scientific Research and Cultural Affairs in 1961 and has since undergone various changes in terminology, undertakes programmes to facilitate cultural upliftment of the people of India at the local and global levels. Museums housing diverse and historical sets of artifacts and manuscripts, heritage monuments, dedicated libraries, missions, cultural awareness centres, cultural education centres, and exchange forums form the core cultural infrastructure of the country. A Government of India portal, called Indian Culture, has been dedicated to India’s myriad set of cultural diversities. An app is available for those with an interest in Indian culture on the Google Play Store for Android devices. Two other apps of note are Sangam and Sanskriti.  The former, available on multiple platforms including a website, is dedicated to the religious kaleidoscope of devotional Indian music, while the latter informs its users about cultural events and happenings in India such as seminars and lectures.

To summarise, cultures form a core inclusive aspect of India’s existence both as a civilisation and a nation-state and are the outstanding reason for India’s vibrancy, vigour and multidimensionality as a civilisation dedicated to peace and prosperity. Modern India, too, is a vivid proponent of Indian culture with the inclusivity, unity and secularism afforded to Indian minorities in stark contrast to regimes in its neighbourhood. Cultures act as unifiers and harbingers of peacefulness within the ambit of a governing state. While India’s chaotic real-life demeanour continues to stymie the country’s protracted journey to everlasting order and permanent peace, Indian cultures and their subsets are surely one to help forge a coherence in India like no other. And in these testing times, even more so.

Disclaimer: The views reflected in the article are the opinions of the author in a personal capacity, and do not reflect the views of his employers.

Jay Maniyar
Jay Maniyar
Author is a Research Associate at the National Maritime Foundation in New Delhi, India, and researches on maritime issues pertaining to Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

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