India, a country of many ethnic groups, is a land of myriad languages, a veritable babel of tongues and numerous modes of apparel. For the most part, the continental dimensions of the country account for these variations and diversities. Besides, there are several religions, sects and beliefs. But there are certain common links and uniting bonds that people have sought to develop in order to achieve the eminently desirable goal of unity amidst diversity.
It is true that superficial observers are likely to be bewildered by the astonishing variety of Indian life. They fail to discover the one in many, the individual, in the aggregate; the simple in the composite. With them the whole is lost in its parts. What is needed is the superior interpretation, synthesis of the power of the mind that can give rise to a vision of the whole.
A keen penetrating insight will not fail to recognise the fundamental unity beneath the manifold variety in India. The diversity itself, far from being a damaging cause of disunity and weakness, is a fertile source of strength and wealth. Sir Herbert Risely has rightly observed: “Beneath the manifold diversity of physical and social types, languages, customs and religions which strike the observer in India, there can still be discerned a certain underlying uniformity of life from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin.”
From his long and first-hand •experience in India, Vincent A. Smith says that the civilisation of India “has many features which differentiate it from that of the other regions of the world, while they are common to the whole country in degree sufficient to justify its treatment as a unity in the history of human, social and intellectual development.”
Even the early Indian history unmistakably shows that the political consciousness of the people has from the very early times, grasped the whole of India as a unit and assimilated the entire area as the theatre of its activities. India is not a mere geographical expression, nor is it a mere collection of separate peoples, traditions and conventions. India is much more than this. The best proof lies in the fact that Indian history has quickened into life.
India has many races, castes, sub-castes, nationalities and communities, but the heart of India is one. We are all heirs to a common and rich culture. Our cultural heritage consists of our art and literature as they flourished centuries ago. Our cultural heritage serves as a bond of unity between people of different faiths and creeds.
The streams of different cults and cultures have flowed into our subcontinent to make us what we are and what we will be. There were Dravidians in India before the coming of the Aryans and Hinduism is a blend of the cultures of the North and the South.
India has one hundred and fifty dialects, and twenty two recognised regional languages, but Hindi, like English, has come to stay as the lingua franca of our nation. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Mumbai to Nagaland, Hindi is now understood and is recognised as the national language of India.
India has a rich cultural heritage. We are inheritors of several grand treasures in the fields of music, fine arts, dance, drama, theatre and sculpture. Our sages and seers have left behind a tradition of piety, penance, spiritual greatness, conquest of passion, etc. Our scriptures are the storehouses of spiritual wisdom. Our saints and rashes aspired to the realisation of the Infinite. We have inherited great spiritual values contrasted with which the materialistic progress of the West appears insignificant.
The West has to learn a lot from India, and it has now been realised when people in the United States and Europe are turning to the Indian way of life. Indian yogis and maharishis, musicians and spiritual leaders, have all attracted them in a big way. A significant move to project India’s cultural unity has been the holding of Festivals of India in various parts of the world. The West is fast inclining towards our spiritual values which include meditation and contemplation, charity and love, universal brotherhood and fear of God, piety and unselfishness, control of passions and peace of mind.
Our cultural unity is further exemplified by the temples of the South and of Khajuraho, the caves of Ajanta and Ellora, which are shining examples of India’s proficiency in sculpture and architecture. Our music has come to enjoy worldwide popularity.
Indian classical music, like the Indian dances, is built on the concept of ragas and talas. Each raga is regarded appropriate to a certain time of the day or the night. There are believed to be about 250 ragas in common use in the North as well as in the South. In the modern times, people like Ravi Shankar have taken Indian music to the West and thus bridged the gap between the music of the East and the West.
Other significant features of India’s cultural unity are the variety, colour and the emotional richness of its dances. The country abounds in tribal dances, old-dances as well as classical dances of great virtuosity. Throughout India, nee is regarded not merely as an accompaniment to social intercourse, but also as a mode of aesthetic expression and spiritual realisation.
The great symbol of dance is Shiva, the Cosmic Dancer, depicted in sculpture and poetry as Nataraja. Similarly, the classical theatre in India has a history of more than two thousand years. It was performed in palaces and in temples. The classical plays combined music and dance. Tragedy was, and is, still discouraged otherwise; the range of themes covered is wide.
It is this strand of cultural unity running through the country that we are heir to, and to which people in the West are increasingly turning now. It is up to the younger generation to uphold this torch of cultural unity for the rest of the world to see, follow and emulate, and not get dazed by the superficial prosperity and material achievement of the West, where man has set foot on the Moon in his quest for space travel, but finds himself isolated in his own society and community.