Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
“The ideals that governed the spirit and body of Indian society were of the highest kind, its social order secured an inexpugnable basic stability, the strong life force that worked in it was creative of an extraordinary energy, richness and interest, and the life organised remarkable in its opulence, variety in unity, beauty, productiveness, movement. All the records of Indian history, art and literature bear evidence to a cultural life of this character and even in decline and dissolution there survives some stamp of it to remind however faintly and distantly of the past greatness.
“To what then does the charge brought against Indian culture as an agent of the life power amount and what is its justification?
“In its exaggerated form it is founded upon the characteristics of the decline and dissolution, the features of the decadence read backward into the time of greatness, and it amounts to this that India has always shown an incompetence for any free or sound political organisation and has been constantly a divided and for the most part of her long history a subject nation, that her economic system whatever its bygone merits, if it had any, remained an inelastic and static order that led in modern conditions to poverty and failure and her society an un-progressive hierarchy, caste-ridden, full of semi-barbaric abuses, only fit to be thrown on the scrap-heap among the broken rubbish of the past and replaced by the freedom, soundness and perfection or at least the progressive perfectibility of the European social order.
“It is necessary to re-establish the real facts and their meaning and afterwards it will be time to pass judgment on the political, the economic and the social aspects of Indian culture.
“The legend of Indian political incompetence has arisen from a false view of the historical development and an insufficient knowledge of the ancient past of the country.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 20, pp. 385-386)
The “Idea of India” is a part of the Leftist discourse which believes that there was never a concept of India before the British came. Indian sub-continent was simply a “cluster of regional identities” and various “ethnic or racial” groups fighting with each other. Indians apparently learned about nationhood only after the advent of British. The indoctrination has been so effective that many otherwise educated people insist and even declare openly in international literary fests, human rights meets and even write books on India being an idea rather than a country!
In one stroke, the “Idea of India” discourse dismisses 5000 years of Hindu civilization, the progress of Indian science and technology and the notion of any sort of semblance of unity or underlying unifying force. Additionally, the so-called “fault-lines” are then exploited by various groups – separatists or Evangelical groups to foster their agenda.
Harvard scholar like Diana Eck in her book, India: A Sacred Geography admits that “the idea of India dates to a much earlier time than the British or the Mughals.” But one must not be misled by this because she goes on to say: “I was concerned that this book might reinforce this sense of India as a Hindu idea. But there is a sense in which the early definitions of Bharat from the Mahabharata are not racially or ethnically circumscribed. They really talk about the land from the Himalayas to the southern seas.” (Chari, 2016)
The purpose of the “Idea of India” camp is to challenge the legitimacy of India as a Nation-state. In one sense, they are correct because the very idea of nation-state is not more than 200 years old. India on the other hand is and has been a civilizational state, and that too the only continuous civilization to have survived to modern day from ancient times, with traditions and customs that have survived for unthinkably long periods of time. For example, the Vedas were transmitted orally by Brahmins from generation to generation for at least 4000 years, a feat unparalleled in human history!
Much has been lost but what is still existing is a lot. And this disturbs the “Idea of India” camp, many of whom are either working as academics in Western/Indian universities with strong links to the leftist and/or communist ideologies, or are part of evangelical church groups which see India as a fertile ground for ‘soul-harvesting.’ A 5000-year or longer, a continuous civilizational view of India is disturbing and disruptive for their agenda. This is a view which stands for inclusiveness, a holistic and integral work-ethic and collective responsibility, representing a drishti which is completely opposite to Judeo-Christian exclusivity, Protestant analytical work-ethic and Western individualistic culture.
[Some] people maintain that we are not a nation to begin with. According to their thinking, what we call a nation is an imaginary thing, not a reality. In India, they say, there are thousands of castes and subcastes, countless sects and subsects, and any number of religious creeds with differences of opinion and practice; in that case the use of the word “national” in the Indian situation becomes meaningless.
But these people do not really understand what is meant by a nation. They suggest that a nation can only come into existence when these castes and creeds are abolished. But this line of argument – that we will have a nation only when everyone in the country has the same religion and there is only one caste – is a fallacious one, for religion and caste are not permanent aspects of a nation.
Other people argue that although India is a vast country geographically, still it cannot be termed a nation. But we view it differently. To us, by its very geography the country appears to be quite distinct from other countries, and that itself gives it a certain national character….The inner and outer body of India, the customs, culture and religion of its people, have an independent character different from those of the rest of the world. It has its foundations in the ancient past.
Those who oppose our view contend that India was never a nation. Let us see then what we mean by the word “nation”….Look at our philosophy: what is in the individual is also in the universal. A nation is a living entity, full of consciousness; it is not something made up or fabricated. A living nation is always growing; it must grow, it must attain ever loftier heights. This may happen after a thousand years or in the next twenty years, but happen it must.
Our personality, our constitution is made up of three parts. We have three types of body, gross, subtle and causal. In the same way the nation has three bodies. According to our philosophy it is not only the outward appearance, the gross body, that makes a complete man. All three bodies have to be taken into account; only then can we get some understanding of him. As with a man, so with a nation.
To think about our nation is first to think about our physical motherland. Stretching from the Himalayas in the north to Kanyakumari in the south, its boundaries are formed by the seas on the east and west. Ganga, Jamuna, Narmada, Krishna, Godavari flow here unceasingly; here are ancient cities, tall and imposing temples, artistically designed palatial homes. Such is the part of this earth we call India. It is this picture, this figure that comes to us when we speak of our nation. This is the gross body of our nation. Bankim Chandra’s song Bande Mataram describes this aspect very beautifully. Thirty-three crores of people live on this land with their joys and sorrows, their good and bad desires: they are all part of its subtle body. Then there are aspects of the country which may undergo changes in the course of time, yet always remain in the body, in seed-state, as permanent as the atom; they are always present there and, being the origin, it is out of them that the future takes shape. This is the causal body of the nation.
But this is not enough. According to our scriptures, when we think of a man we think not only of his present condition but also of his past and future. The same is true of a country. When we speak of the rivers, mountains and cities of our country, we have in mind not only the present, not at all. What we speak of is a history of five thousand years. When we speak of Delhi and Agra, does not the image of Delhi as it was during Emperor Akbar’s time stand before your mind’s eye? That is why, in speaking of the nation, we should recall the great achievements of our ancestors; then Shivaji, Asoka and Akbar at once become an integral part of our nationhood. So too the ancient Rishis.This is taken for granted….
Whatever you do today, you are doing not for your own sake but to pay the debt you owe to them. This you must never forget. Not only your ancestors – the generations to come are also an organic component of your nation. When we envision an Indian nation, it should be along these lines. We should not be carried away by Western advances or cowed by their achievements. What we need is a wide, engaging vision of our nation and of nationalism; our action must match that vision and as a result our nation will produce great philosophers, statesmen, warriors and commanders. (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 7, pp. 811-813)
Every nation has a Grand Narrative (a.k.a Master Narrative or Meta Narrative). It is defined as (Goswami, 2014):
— Inheritors of Greek and Roman civilization
— Beneficiaries of European Christian Enlightenment
— Forefathers fled persecution in search of freedom
— Braved incredible hardships because of courage of their convictions
— American Exceptionalism or the “belief that the United States is unique or exceptional when compared with the historical development of other countries.”(Rationalwiki, 2016)
Consequently Americans in general view themselves “through the lens of a special historical determinism… separate from broad historical trends in the rest of the world”. The American meta-narrative signifies that given their uniqueness, U.S. as a nation is immune from things like terrorism and dictatorship, and that US must assume an activist role around the world in promoting “freedom” or being a “shining example” to the world. (Rationalwiki, 2016)
Bad history like slavery, treatment of Native Americans, segregation, the “Wild West” or Atomic Bomb deployment in Japan does not form part of the grand narrative. Unlike Indians/Hindus are who are continuously reminded of “evils” of caste system, oppression of women, treatment of Dalits, poverty and are made to feel massively guilty and ashamed to be called Hindus, most Americans have no such qualms about what their nation-state or ancestors did in the past and never stress these negative aspects in their meta-narrative.
All Americans are taught this grand story of courage, exploration and valour in their schools and colleges, and this is reflected in their arts, Hollywood movies, and their foreign policy. An average American clearly understand what he represents. Having a meta-narrative doesn’t exclude the possibility of several other smaller narratives, but when speaking of a larger national identity, it is the umbrella meta-narrative that is invoked. This point must be understood.
In the same way, almost all major super-powers like China, Japan, Russia, Germany, and UK etc., have their own Grand Narrative.
Not only does India not have a Grand Narrative, but actually has a negative self-image of itself, supported and funded by Breaking-India forces discussed earlier.
— If Indians launch a rocket people will ask “What about poverty?”
— If a factory is built, they will be asked “Development is fine. But at what cost?”
— If India wants to start a bullet-train, people ask “What about women rights?” and so on.
Image credit: Vijayal