Tradition is the collective wisdom and modes of behavior of the ancestor’s cherished and ritualistical iy observed by the present generations. Tradition is also belittled occasionally when it is seen to sanction or promote unscientific and superstitious conduct and beliefs. Modernity as opposed to tradition refers to an outlook that is generally future oriented and forward looking.
Modernity rests on a rational interpretation of religious, social and economic institutions and phenomena. Modernity is identified very often with the industrialized western civilization where the family relationships, legal institutions and statecraft underwent tremendous transformation following the Reformation and Renaissance. Movements for abolition of slavery, voting rights to the women and universal suffrage were the natural outcome of the abandonment of traditional belief and practices in favor of a more democratic and equalitarian political and social system.
Traditions exercise a very strong and sometimes almost imperceptible and unconscious hold over us. Such influence is seen at its most pervasive in rituals relating to birth, death and marriage.’ The restrictions on the movement of the mother who has just delivered a child are universally observed by all classes and castes of people. Very few Hindus would willingly forego the vows of traditional marriage and feel properly married if they only sign on the register in the office of the registrar of marriages. Similarly at the time of death of father, the son only would light the fire and would also perform all the rituals to ensure that the soul of the dead obtains peace after death. Any deviation of short-circuiting of the procedures is normally resented by the near and dear ones of the deceased. It is seen that even the most modern-minded Hindus would not like to tinker with traditional rituals associated with the ceremonies of birth, marriage and death. Even very poor persons beg and borrow money to discharge their traditional obligations.
Although the industrialization and the consequent urbanization have brought immense change in the Indian society, the hold of tradition still remains strong. The marriages are still arranged mostly with the initiative or consent of the parents. Caste marriages constitute the vast majority of marriages even when castes are ignored. The four major Varnas-the Brahmin, the Kshatriya, the Vaishya, and the Shudras are still maintained in most marriage alliances. The marriages between the high castes and low castes are still rare. Even highly placed public figures in India have violently opposed inter caste marriages of their sons and daughters which became hot news in the national newspapers and media.
In many states of India, parents traditionally like to have male children, Now that the scientific advancement enables the parents to know the sex of the child before birth (although such a test has been declared illegal) many parents in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan get their female embryos killed through termination of pregnancy. This tradition of doing away with the unwanted female children is so entrenched that the population figures compiled by the 2001 Census of India has shown that the female population per thousand is much lower in some states due to female infanticide.
While large population of many states of India are still stuck in the traditional quagmire of superstitions, there are growing number of parents, who are giving equal importance to the education and bringing up of their daughters. As a result, women are increasingly competing successfully in competition for jobs and professional opportunities in the country. There are many women chief ministers, chief secretaries, industrialists, business women artists’ actresses, models and sportswomen who have impressed the world with their sterling performance and accomplishments.
They have broken the traditions of women playing a second fiddle and have become role models for the new generation to emulate their examples. Women have also joined professions like airline pilots, astronauts long considered a male preserve.
Media explosion and satellite television have facilitated intrusion of modernity even in the most traditional sections of population like the spiritual Gurus and astrologers.
There are ever increasing number of T.V. channels like Aastha, Sanskaar, Sadhana exclusively airing spiritual discourses and events. For many devotees, this has obviated the need to go to pilgrimage places or Gurudhams to sit at the feet of their Guru and earn Punya in their satsang. Thus the modern technology may reduce one to one contact between the Guru and devotee and dilutee the intensity of the spiritual experience which can be had only in personal contact. The astrologers have expanded their business enormously by using computer software for making horoscopes and making and communicating predictions on the internet. The modern technology has also been used effectively to reinforce and propagate the tradition.
Televising the serials on The Ramayana and the Mahabharata have revived interest in Indian mythology and tradition and acquainted the new generations with the great characters of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Krishna, Arjuna, Bhima, Yudhishthra, Draupadi and Bhishma. Indian children and youth now enjoy the exploits ofthe Spiderman and the Hanuman with equal delight courtesy the reach of satellite TV.
Apart for its external glamour, modernity actually refers to an out- look in life which is rooted in a scientific temper of mind. Modernity showed its first glimpse when Galileo rejected the traditional notion of the earth being flat and propounded the notion of the Earth being round. He also established the untenably of the earth centric universe and claimed that the earth revolves around the sun. Henceforth the exploration of knowledge declined itself from dependence on authority and ancient text and depended for its veracity on empirical observation and experimental results ever since modernity is bound as if with an umbilical chord with the scientific outlook on the world.
Nothing is taken on trust; the phenomena can be explained only by establishing relationship of cause and effect. This orientation has been responsible for all discoveries and scientific invention and the unimagined advancement in technology which has transformed the world more in two hundred years than the preceding millennia.
Indian metropolitan cities have been enormously modernized in its residential and hotel accommodation, offices, and transport facilities and above all by cellular phone services. Distance has been annihilated, connectivity is immediate. Express highways join many metropolitan cities on which you can safely drive at 120 kms an hour. The eating places are mushrooming in the cities.
The plastic currency of credit cards has obviated the need of carrying wads of currency notes at personal risk. The increasing practice of home delivery and shopping on the net has saved the modern man a lot of time and energy which he can use more profitably.
Although modernity is prominently visible in the occupational and professional spheres, in family and social life, tradition still looms large. Joint family has almost disappeared from the salaried classes, but it still exists in business families. The nuclear families are on the increase. But the extended family is not a thing of the past as yet; the old parents still want to live with their sons.
They find it difficult to live alone. The idea of going to old age-homes is anathema to the most. Working women are increasing in number. Many of them are still apprehensive of leaving them in creches and would prefer leaving them under the care of grand parents although out of compulsion for the comfort and security of their children and not out of love for their parents in-laws. Family – soaps on the television enjoy increasing viewership and are working as blood transfusion to a dying extended family system in the cities.
As a matter of fact, modernity in India has not replaced tradition largely or decisively. Indian tradition is ancient, long and haloed. Many western and eastern Spiritual personalities and institutions have made appreciative interpretations of Indian culture and traditions giving them a new lease of life. Yoga and meditation centers have sprung all over the world and are helping millions to gain physical and spiritual well being. Indian politics too is deriving nourishment by constant allusion and reference to the glorious Indian tradition. An obvious case in point is a string of successive Indian beauties winning the titles of Miss Universe and Miss World in international beauty contests. It was perhaps a combination of modern mind and traditional saris which won them the coveted titles of Beauty-Queens.