India’s cultural history is stretched over several millennia. A subtle but strong thread of continuity has made India the “epitome of the world.” The diversity of geography, race, religion, language and regional traditions have never impeded its progress. The reason for this is that Indian culture has always been synthetic in spirit. Apart from self-knowledge, tolerance, familial integration and other aspects of Indian culture, its adaptability has helped Indian culture to be universal in character.
Indian culture has, thus, been a composite one. A composite culture is that which successfully absorbs and harmonizes the impact of various ways of life and traits of civilization. Sir Herbert Risley aptly comments, “Beneath the manifold diversity of physical and social type, language, custom and religion which strikes the observer in India, there can still be discerned a certain underlying uniformity of life from the Himalayas to Cape Cameroun.”
From ‘Bharatavarsha’ to ‘Bharatmata’ and ‘Vandemataram’ singnifies a deep geographical sentiment of unity. The national anthem eulogizes various parts of the country and highlights the integral wholeness of India. The holy rivers (sapta sindhu) add flavour to it.
Various ‘Chakravartin’ and ‘Rajadhiraja’ who ruled India, have come and gone. Each regarded the unity of the entire country under him as his paramount political goal. Also, one of the very few good aspects of the British rule in India was the growth of a general national consciousness. Centralization of federal authority in the hands of the Mughals and the British gave India a unitary set-up .The Constitution of India also speaks of “We the people of India” and of “India that is Bharat shall be a union of states.” Political unity is a reality, not a figment of imagination.
Monotheism has been a consistent feature of the Indian spiritual tradition. Whether it is Varuna of Vedic times or Visnu since the epics or Siva since Harappan times till date or whether it is a sectarian god, Indians have always united under the banner of divinity. Even the concept of the void (sunya vada) as God speaks of the absence of a presence. When Sankaracharya established his four centres in four different parts of India, he envisaged the religious unity of India.
This is also magnified by years of veneration for the holy waters of the seven sacred rivers of India, namely, the Ganges, the Yamuna, the Godavari, the Saraswati, the Narmada, the Indus and the Kaveri. Places of pilgrimage, scattered throughout India, help bring about interaction and mutual contacts among people of all parts of India.
It helps generate a deep sense of religious unity. The co-existence of Buddhism and Jainism or Sufism and Bhaktism or Brahmo and Arya Samaja is a typical example of the richness and elasticity of Indian religious tradition. Today, secularism resistance to non-communalism are not artificial but natural outgrowths of such tradition.
Culture consists in a search for the higher ideals of life. The Indian is born into a tradition of love, compassion, selflessness, fellow-feeling, discipline unity, the quest for the permanent and a glorification of virtue and a dread for vice. This being basic to Indian culture, as manifest in literature, philosophy, fairs and festivals and all other areas of life, it is natural that this common outlook accounts for a cultural unity evidenced both in theory and practice.
In India fairs and festivals are celebrated by people belonging to all communities. Beginning with the Gandhara School of Art that inaugurated Indo-Greek contacts, the Indo-lslamic and Indo-western syntheses have been more natural than quaint. Indian culture, today, is as cosmopolitan as it is composite.
Though a polyglot jumble, the adoption of a common language by all people has been a characteristic feature of Indian culture. First, it was Prakrit, then came Pali and Sanskrit and finally, inspite of regional linguistic affiliations, Hindi and English.
The literature of India has always passionately championed cultural unity. Be it the Vedas or Upanishads or the epics or the Gita, be it works written by Kalidasa or Jayadev and the British gave India a unitary set-up .The Constitution of India also speaks of “We the people of India” and of “India that is Bharat shall be a union of states.” Political unity is a reality, not a figment of imagination.
The Aryans, Dravidians, Sakas, Huns, Scythians, Persians, Mongols and Europeans have all theoretically, created a society that is diverse. But actually, seldom has there been a social group which has not merged into the mainstream of Indian national culture. Hospitality and charity are the hallmarks of Indian social tradition.
Society, in this instance is a sponge that absorbs, not a sword that resists. As the eminent historian Jadunath Sarkar points out, Muslims who migrated to India became so Indianized as to become different from their “brethren living in other parts of Asia.” India, a country of kings in the past, is a king of all countries in the world today.
Napoleon described India as “the birth-place of all metaphysics.” From the monotheism of Vedas to the monism of Sankaracharya, from the politheism of the epics to the postulates of Ramanuja and Nimbarka, from the atheism of Buddhism and Jainism to the concept of the void, from the devotion of Chaitanya, Tulsidas, Kabir and Jnaneswar etc. to the soothing philosophies of Nanak and Nizamuddin Auliya, spiritual bliss an a final attainment of redemption of soul (Moksha) have expressed themselves eloquently through all kinds of subtle and intricate philosophy. This tempted Professor Max Muller to say that, given an opportunity, he would ask God to grant him the privilege of being born in India.
The Hindus have maintained the fundamental unity of India throughout their history and amidst external manifestations of diversity. The followers of Islam and Christianity have also been Indianized enough to follow this tradition and truth of Unity in diversity. Fissiparous tendencies of caste and creed, community and religion are too superficial to affect India’s profound unity.