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What is India’s ultimate gift to the world?


India has ‘Been There – Done That’ as far as civilisation goes. India’s contribution to the world has always been immense ~ be it the contribution of today’s corporate world, or even from ancient times like that of Yoga, Ayurveda, Indian values, spirituality etc.  But what is India’s real or ultimate contribution? For that we have to take account and learn from her glorious past first.

India’s contribution to the world has not gone unnoticed by those who know about her ancient civilisation. It’s not just about a Gandhi, Tagore, Aryabhatta, Kalidas, AR Rahman or a Sachin Tendulkar nor its just about her heritage monuments like the mysterious Ajanta or the Taj Mahal. It’s about India’s very character and her knowledge traditions that have contributed to a refined civilisation that is still continuous but sadly forgotten.

A Sanskrit subh?shita praising knowledge says: “Knowledge cannot be stolen by thieves, cannot be taken away by the king, cannot be divided among brothers and does not cause a load. If spent, it always multiplies. The wealth of knowledge is the greatest among all wealths.” India also had great material wealth as India was one of the richest countries till the time of British rule in the early 17th century. Even Christopher Columbus, attracted by India’s wealth, had come looking for a sea route to India when he discovered America by mistake.

Even paid pundits of the Imperial British like Max Mueller couldn’t but be honest when he said: “If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions, I should point to India”.

Today, India’s image is not as high as it should be due to many reasons. However one cannot ignore or forget the unfortunate turn of events that led to some 1000 years ago of political slavery which has made her people forget her glory. Certainly today’s India is complex and not as glorious as it was in the past. India’s image is also being tarnished by what we read, hear and see in the media but little is known about her real contribution.

A friend of mine mentioned to me that India’s glory is only in the past not in the present and it seems to be true. But what is India’s real or ultimate contribution? For that we have to take account and learn from her glorious past first.

In 2001, a strategic taskforce report was published by the Planning Commission of India titled “India as a knowledge superpower” where it’s mentioned that “India is an ancient civilization with a rich heritage. It has a vast storehouse of knowledge in various fields, but general awareness of much of it is inadequate”.

The former President of India – Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kal?m elaborated in his book ‘Ignited Minds’ that

“Ancient India was a knowledge society and a leader in many intellectual pursuits, particularly in the fields of mathematics, medicine and astronomy.”

Anyone with even a passing interest on India knows that India has a rich tradition of intellectual inquiry and that’s her ultimate gift to the world ~ a knowledge tradition that was at the core of all progress that India achieved. Over several millennia, India has been home to mathematicians and astronomers who calculated the orbit of the earth around the sun with astonishing accuracy. India also had N?land?, the first university of the world. Set up in the fifth century BCE, in its heyday it accommodated over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. N?land? was an extraordinary centre of learning for seven centuries.

Most of the branches of knowledge that have survived till today in India were rooted in her spiritual traditions. The intellectual achievements of Indian culture lay scattered across several fields of study in ancient Indian texts ranging from the Vedas and the books of ‘self-knowledge’ i.e. the Upanishads to a whole range of scriptural, Gnostic, scientific and artistic sources.

In India, there is wide variety and multiplicity of thoughts, languages, life styles and scientific, artistic, philosophical perceptions and Darsanas. For example the six traditional branches of knowledge being Vy?karan grammar, Jyotish – astrology and astronomy, Nirukt – etymology, Shiksha – phonetics and phonology, Chandas – rhyme and  meter and Kalp Sutras – rituals) and gradually other scientific disciplines like arithmetic, algebra, astronomy, medicine, chemistry, biology, astrology, logic and grammar were the result of painstaking, accurate observation of natural phenomena.

Adding on to this, Swami Vivekananda remarks “In philosophy we are even now head and shoulders above any other nation, as Schopenhauer, the great German philosopher has confessed. In music India gave to the world her system of notation, with the seven cardinal notes and the diatonic scale, all of which we enjoyed as early as 350 BCE, while it came to Europe only in the 11th century. In philology, our Sanskrit language is now universally acknowledged to be the foundation of all European languages….”

Awareness about ancient India being a knowledge society, the university being an Indian invention and the different knowledge streams is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the knowledge tradition of India goes. There are many facets that India’s past provides about Indic knowledge through history, archeology and research. This could help us gain a better understanding and application of knowledge that existed in the past.

So what if India had a glorious past? What now? In response to such relevant questions, Dr. A.P.J.Kalam offers a wonderful advice to create a knowledge society in India and calls for using our ancient scriptures with the modern scientific methods to create a new source of knowledge that is useful for the generations to come.

The idea here is to learn the secrets of the world’s ancient and continuous Indian civilization which had reached its zenith of evolution. One can say India has ‘been there – done that’ but its time now to recreate the magical and mystical past.

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