Musings on ‘Indic civilisation’ and Indianness

Contact Counsellor

Musings on ‘Indic civilisation’ and Indianness

  • India’s civilisational heritage must be treated as a matter of pride — as one that unites every Indian.

The long reach of culture

  • From the greatest hindu temple of Angkor Wat to the impression of Indic civilization in the east and southeast.
  • Hinduism was brought to Cambodia by merchants and travellers more than a millennium ago.
  • It has disappeared over time by another Indian export- Buddhism.
  • Hinduism profoundly influenced the culture, music, dance, and mythology of the Cambodian people.
  • People still speak with admiration of a sensibility which, in the 16th century, saw Hindus and Buddhists worship side by side in adjoining shrines within the same temple complex.

Last outpost standing

  • At a time when the north of India was reeling under waves of conquest and cultural stagnation, our forefathers in the South and East were exporting aspects of Indianness to Southeast Asia.
  • The anonymous task was not executed in terms of sword or conquest but by individuals who had come in peace, to trade, to teach, and to persuade.
  • Their impact was profound to this day
    • The kings of Thailand are crowned in the presence of Brahmin priests.
    • The Muslims of Java still bear Sanskritised names.
    • Garuda is Indonesia’s national airline.
    • Ramayana is its best-selling brand of clove cigars.
    • The Philippines has produced a pop-dance ballet about Rama’s quest for his kidnapped queen.
    • Thai kings are still named Rama in continuation of the Ramayana tradition and the current monarch, Vajiralongkorn, is styled Rama X.

Ideas that are inadequate

  • The cultural idea of India from the roots and influence of Sanskrit and the geographical idea of India or the geopolitical idea of India are inadequate for the civilisational idea of India is much broader.
  • The south east nations during large parts of the first millennium CE, were culturally as much Indian as Andhra Pradesh or Bangladesh during that very period.
  • In these countries, non-Sanskritic languages were spoken and local gods were worshipped.
    • But the language of culture and politics was Sanskrit.
  • But contemporary international politics has rendered all this much less significant than the modern indices of strategic thinking, economic interests, and geopolitical affinities.
  • India is far less important to the countries that still bear such ‘Indic’ influence than, say, China, whose significance is contemporary, rather than civilisational.

The idea of India and beyond

  • We should care that no great civilization can afford to be indifferent to the way in which it is perceived by others.
  • One needs to understand Indic civilization.
  • Some have argued that India is a “civilization-state” rather than a “nation-state”.
  • They anchor the idea of Indian civilization solely in the Hindu dharma with no regard for the multiple non-Hindu influences that have undoubtedly helped shape contemporary Indian civilisation.
  • The Huntington idea that the principal fault lines in the world would be between civilisations rather than ideologies. — over identity rather than ideas.
  • This idea appeals to votaries of the Hindutva movement, who see Hindu civilisation as the defining characteristic of the Indian nation.

A hybrid

  • Indian civilisation has today evolved from not just Hindu tradition but from Islam, christanity, Sikh, Jain, Budhism along with 200 years British rule.
  • Indian culture is enriched by qawwali, the poetry of Ghalib, or for that matter the game of cricket.
  • Indianness today is composed of elements influenced by various civilisations that have made their homes on Indian soil and subsume the classical Indic civilisation.
  • Let us treat our civilisational heritage as a matter of pride, and not of parochialism; as a heritage that unites, rather than divides one Indian from another.