Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

Indian Culture: Beyond Self and Senses


Culture, Sanskriti in Indian terms, is a variation of the word sacrament –Sanskara. Sacrament is a further extension on the word sacred, i.e., something that involves piety and sanctity in behaviour and expression. Mathew Arnold can be rightly quoted here to bring home the true essence of culture. He said that culture is, “to know the best that has been said and thought in the world.” That is why; a person possessing sacramental disposition and leading life gracefully is called a cultured one. Likewise, Sanskara from which the word Sanskriti is derived divulges a special characteristic corollary of age-old ethical and moral values. One who is filled with Sanskaras, and whose life is guided and inspired by certain value system, is acknowledged as a Sanskari.      

Hence, in brief and a positive sense, culture signifies special tenets of people of a particular region, or a society. Further, culture denotes people’s distinctive practices or behaviours to make known their worth and identity to others. 

The fundamentals of a culture, which indeed and predominantly are iconic for a group of people of a particular region or a society on the basis of their merit could in general be analysed from the prospects of their progress. Moreover, they could also be identified by drawing attention of others towards them through their virtuous practice. This indeed includes the way of living of people concerned –all of their day-to-day practices, faith, social and emotional exchange, habits, customs, traditions, language, literature, art, and music.    

          Indian culture without a doubt possesses all of these as its basics. Indians since ancient time have a unique identity on the basis of their way of living, behaviour or day-to-day practices just as others reflect in different parts of the world. However, India culture has remained evolutionary, harmonious and comprehensive in its nature for years, which made it stand apart among other cultures of the world. Along with this, Indian culture had for long possessed the qualities of acceptability, amalgamation and refinement in ideas as per the demand of time and space, which contributed to make it exceptional and contextual. These features of Indian culture have in fact paved the way for its blend with many other cultures of the world, which came in contact with it from time-to-time. On the strength of these features it has also influenced the history of the whole world. So many elements of India's cultures, those related to the Dharma-practices, the Yoga, diverse beliefs, ceremonial rites and rituals, and cuisine in particular have left a profound and unique impact on people across the world.

The history of Indian culture goes back to more than five thousand years. It is well available to us from the days of the flourishing Indus Valley Civilization [approximately 3000-2000 BCE especially extending from today’s northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India].1 Evidences of this blooming culture have also been found in the remote Southern regions, and north-eastern parts of India. The digging works undertaken at various sites of the Indus Valley Civilization, particularly at Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, Kot Diji [all in Pakistan now], Kalibangan [in Rajasthan], Dholavira and Lothal [in Gujarat], and Rakhigarhi and Bhirrana [in Haryana] categorically divulged evolution, harmony and comprehensiveness [broad outlook] to be the part and parcel of the life of Indians, along with diverse ways of life. Further, they were carrying out day-to-day practices systematically as is evident from their life-style, which include construction-works [planning of houses, storage, bathrooms, roads, and drainage], socio-religious, administrative activities and economic relations with others. People had in those days wide-ranging inland and foreign trade –export and import, by both, overland as well as maritime as proved by the occurrence of small terracotta boats and the vast brick built dock at Lothal.2 These worth mentioning realities clearly reveal an ethnic life of Indians in those days. There existed exemplary values in life on one hand, and a sound culture, the foremost features of which have already been discussed in brief, on the other.  

The foremost and exemplary features of Indian culture –evolution, harmony, broad outlook and acceptability, which is proved from admissibility of existence of diversities and their protection, surfaced as the basics of Indian culture five thousand years ago.  From these the spirit of globalization [Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam] also emerged as is evident from India’s relations especially trade with others in the world. On the strength of these and other features, which developed from time-to-time and become an indivisible part of it3, Indian culture has completed thousands of years of its journey successfully. It still remains alive by maintaining its own identity while many other known and more developed cultures occupying a substantial part of history have had their time and ceased to exist. They came to an end much prior to their expansion while Indian culture stands erect on the strength of its exemplary basics with an evergreen and universal  message of Jiyo aur Jeene do –Live and Let Live.      

            Indian culture saw numerous ups and down from time-to-time in its long journey of five thousand years. It faced challenges and bore cruelties one after the others externally and internally, both. External invaders and aggressor tried continuously to destroy the basics of Indian culture. They attacked India in the name of religion to bring Indian culture in the state of isolation. Particularly in the medieval period their attacks were of severe nature. It was then that the precious treasures of Indian culture including arts, literature and monuments were destroyed. Though, the facts remains that those conquerors, invaders and destroyers never succeeded in their mission of felling the tree of Indian culture. They could not fulfil their vile dreams of draining the cultural values running in the veins of the Indians. Despite this, on the strength of its basics and with a clarion call of Live and Let Live Indian culture not only faced the challenges successfully, but could also continue its journey.

I reiterate that along with acceptability, broad outlook and unity in diversity, it is an evolutionary approach that remains fundamental to the Indian culture. These very tenets are the guiding principles of the Indian way and philosophy as well. The Indian way and philosophical values have predominantly, as known to all of us, played the vital role in the development of features of Indian culture. These values are eternal. That is why; India on the basis of its unique culture is not only fully capable of leading the world, but also to unite the humanity as a whole. It renders all possibilities to meet challenges successfully in a unified way, however tough they may be in nature. 

In these days of multiplying globalization the world needs to step forward in unity and harmony for peace and prosperity of one and all. These two –peace and prosperity could only be possible if along with the overcoming of the state of isolation, the spirit of acceptability, mutual respect and tolerance is not only realized by each and everyone, but it is also developed in the common life in all walks of life. This is the only way available to the world today to establish peace, and to accord prosperity, the prerequisites for the safe existence of life on this planet. The ideals of Indian culture are worth adopting in their refined form as per the demand of time and space. For this, Indians need to introspect first; donning the true Indian spirit, and coming forward to lead the world for a cultured society.           

*Extract of a lecture delivered on April 25, 2014 at the Centre for wellbeing and Self-Empowerment, Ubud, Indonesia.

  1. The Indus Valley Civilization, also known as the Harappan Civilization, is acknowledged as one of the ancient civilizations of the world; the civilizations of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia are the other two oldest civilizations of the world.
  2. It has been established from the evidences that people of the days of Indus Valley Civilization were widely engaged in foreign trade, distribution of exquisite beads and ornaments, metal tools and pottery produced by specialized artisans in the major towns and cities in particular, while cotton, lumber, grain, livestock and other food stuffs as the major commodities of both the internal and external trade. They used to import copper from Arabia, gold and silver from Persia [Iran], jade from the regions of Central Asia. Amethyst Harappan seals and other small objects used by the merchants and traders for stamping their goods have been found in Mesopotamia.
  3. As Bakhtiyar Khilji –a Turkish Muslim who destroyed the treasures of the Nalanda University –a world renowned ancient centre of higher studies and learning, its library in particular in 1193 AD.



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