Indians come from many ‘INDIAS’…
The more the world comes to know about India, the more it gets surprised. It is not uncommon for Indians living overseas to mention to the locals that “there is no such thing as a stereotypical Indian”. Indians come from different Indias within the Indian sub-continent with different languages, dialects, food habits, religious beliefs etc. So what can we make out of this pluralism and diversity?
Many who come mono-cultural background assume India to be homogenous mono-cultural and brand Indians coming from one ethnic basket. That’s obviously a hasty conclusion and stereotypical. The fact is that we come from different Indias within the Indian sub-continent which is so different in topography, climate, landscape, languages, customs, beliefs, cuisines and even the taste of water. Indian culture is not mono-cultural and is certainly not plain vanilla when it comes to her diversity.
India being multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-religious has been truly multi-cultural for many centuries. The four religions born in India ~ Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, are followed by 25% of the world’s population. According to many scholars, India is the most culturally, linguistically and genetically diverse geographical entity with a dozen religions, atleast 15 regional languages with some 3000 dialects. Being the world’s largest and complex democracies India is also the world’s largest, oldest, continuous civilization.
Here’s another illustration of India’s diversity: An Indian in Kerala or Kashmir or Bengal or Punjab eats different food, and wears clothes of different texture, style and colour. In Bengal, Diwali is not as important as Durga Pooja while no other state in India celebrates Durga Pooja, and yet they are from the same religion. The Ganesh festival is a big thing only in Maharashtra. A Karva chauth or Lodi is almost unheard of in South India just like Onam festival may have no bearing in Nagaland. The Manipuri is different from Kuchipudi and a Bhangra is different to BharataNatyam. But a Swami Vivekananda or a Tagore from Bengal is equally revered in south India just like the works of Adi Shankaracharya from Kerala is studied in northern India. There is as much difference between a Keralite and a Maharashtrian as there is between a Greek and Norwegian.
So what has influenced this assortment of pluralism and multiplicity? One reason is India’s unique topography. India the seventh largest country in the world is well marked from the rest of Asia by mountains and the sea. As we all know India is bounded by the great Himalayas to the north; it stretches southwards and at the Tropic of Cancer, tapers off in the Indian Ocean between the Bay of Bengal on the east and the Arabian Sea to the west. Lying lock, stock and barrel in the northern hemisphere of our planet the Indian mainland extends measures some 3000+ km from north south between ‘extreme’ latitudes and about 3000 km from east to west between ‘extreme’ longitudes. It has a land frontier of about 15000+ km. Snow, backwaters, delta, desert, plateaus, mountains , mighty rivers – you name India has got it. It’s still an agrarian culture which influences the lifestyle of people. But the Indian culture is the same despite the covering.
This legacy of topography along with the history and philosophy of the land has made us what we are – different in every way, yet bound by an invisible culture which many of us live everyday but aren’t openly aware of. The more we learn and understand this binding force the better we are at peace with ourselves, each other and the world. This will also help us truly assimilate in the diversity of the world modeled on the Indian experience of atleast 1000 years than a narrow version of nationhood.
The Republic of India like the entire European continent is a pluralistic society made up of many languages, races and religions. Yet, the vision of the Indian culture is unified unchanged. But in our ignorance if we don’t seem to have the unified ‘vision’, hence see things in ‘division’.
Echoing this idea is Dr.Karan Singh, President of Indian Council for Cultural Relations when he remarks,
“As a multi-cultural civilisation with rich repositories of memories, refinement and values that are mature and distilled, we see ourselves as bearers of foundational ideals of special relevance to the modern world, ideas which demand a blend of the ancient and the contemporary, of the old and the new, of the past and the future.India is a model for pluralistic unity. Multiplicity is embedded in every aspect and detail of our lives and behaviour”
The Indian community anywhere in this planet is thus a community of communities. We don’t have to read the history of India to know that her diversity in culture, language, cuisine, traditions, habits, dress, festivals etc etc etc is unrivalled by any country. A quick look at any good Indian matrimonial website will help us verify the jaw-dropping kaleidoscope of people with their colourful backgrounds. Indian family names and the community we belong to have a history which probably is as old as any royal genealogy in the world.
If we are thus used to living in a multi-cultural society, our Indian multi-cultural experience is unquestionably a lesson in providing leadership, wisdom and insight to help our polarized world co-exist in a multi-cultural framework where there is a fine balance to accommodate both individualization and globalisation.
But awareness and understanding of the perennial Indian philosophy is vital to this enlightened model of united living and peaceful co-existence. Just like the great Gautam Buddha (500 BCE) once said “He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings…”