Culture of India

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The culture of India or Indian culture, sometimes equated to Indian civilization, is the heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems, artifacts and technologies that originated in or are associated with the Indian subcontinent.


  • More high-reaching, subtle, many-sided, curious and profound than the Greek, more noble and humane than the Roman, more large and spiritual than the old Egyptian, more vast and original than any other Asiatic civilization, more intellectual than the European prior to the 18th century, possessing all that these had and more, it was the most powerful, self-possessed, stimulating and wide in influence of all past human cultures.
  • "Spirituality is the master key of the Indian mind. It is this dominant inclination of India, which gives character to all the expressions of her culture. In fact, they have grown out of her inborn spiritual tendency of which her religion is a natural out flowering. The Indian mind has always realized that the Supreme is the Infinite and perceived that to the soul in Nature the Infinite must always present itself in an infinite variety of aspects. The aggressive and quite illogical idea of a single religion for all mankind, a religion llniversal by the very force of its narrowness, one set of dogmas, one cult, one system of ceremonies, one ecclesiastical ordinance, one array of prohibitions and injunctions which all minds must accept on peril of persecution by men and spiritual rejection or eternal punishment by God, that grotesque creation of human unreason which has been the parent of so much intolerance, cruelty and obscurantism and aggressive fanaticism, has never been able to take firm hold of the Indian mentality." ... "India is the meeting place of the religions and among these Hinduism alone is by itself a vast and complex thing, not so much a religion as a great diversified and yet subtly unified mass of spintual thought, realization and aspiration."
    • Atributed to Sri Aurobindo in Mitra, Sisir Kumar (1972). India: Vision and Fulfilment. D. B. Taraporevala Sons. 
    • Sri Aurobindo, Sri Aurobindo The Renaissance in India 'Arya', August 1918-November 1918 (reviewed and corrected in 1920) also in Mitra, Sisirkumar The vision of India New Delhi: Crest Pub. House, 1994 p. 53 - 54, Ghose, Aurobindo The renaissance in India. Arya Publishing House Calcutta. A Defense of Indian Culture.
  • In actual life, it is impossible to separate us into two nations. We are not two nations. Every Moslem will have a Hindu name if he goes back far enough in his family history. Every Moslem is merely a Hindu who has accepted Islam. That does not create nationality. … We in India have a common culture. In the North, Hindi and Urdu are understood by both Hindus and Moslems. In Madras, Hindus and Moslems speak Tamil, and in Bengal, they both speak Bengali and neither Hindi nor Urdu. When communal riots take place, they are always provoked by incidents over cows and by religious processions. That means that it is our superstitions that create the trouble and not our separate nationalities.
    • Mahatma Gandhi, Conversations with Louis Fischer, June 6, 1942, in Louis Fischer, A Week with Gandhi, pp. 45-46.
  • The notion of a single Hindu culture, incommensurable with Islamic or western epistemes and forms of organization, is the real fiction at work here, imposed by orientalism and painstakingly promulgated, organized, and reformulated by generation of Hindu nationalists and other Indian nationalists for more than a century. [...] In order to understand Hindu nationalism we need to analyze carefully the official secularism it opposed. Textbook versions of secularism as the absence of religion from the public sphere, or a more fashionable understanding of secularism as a metonym of scientific rationalism, will not suffice. We need to take a closer and more informed look at the practices and meanings of secularism in the public culture of independent India. The dominant interpretation of secularism in India did not entail the removal of religion from the political sphere, but rather the belief that religion and culture were elevated to an ostensibly apolitical level, above the profanities of the political. This institutionalized notion of culture and religion as apolitical, and the derived notion of selfless "social work" as ennobling and purifying by virtue of its elevation above politics and money, provided an unassailable moral high ground to a certain genre of "antipolitical activism," conspicuous among social and cultural organization but also often invoked in agitations and in electoral politics in India. I submit that it was from this discursive field of "antipolitics" and "religious activism" that the Hindu nationalist movement, with great ingenuity, built its campaigns and organizational networks for decades. Like other forms of cultural nationalism, the Hindu nationalist movement always entertained a complex ambivalence vis-à-vis democracy and apprehension toward the "political vocation." The evolution of the movement, its organization, and its political strategies must be understood in the context of a constant negotiation and oscillation across the deep bifurcation in modern Indian political culture between a realm of "sublime" culture and realm of "profane" competitive politics.
  • Judged by a similar standard, the patronage and cultivation of Hindu learning by the Muslims, or their contribution to the development of Hindu culture during their rule . . . pales into insignificance when compared with the achievements of the British rule... It is only by instituting such comparison that we can make an objective study of the condition of the Hindus under Muslim rule, and view it in its true perspective.
    • R. C. Majumdar, ed., The History and Culture of the Indian People, vol. 6, The Delhi Sultanate (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1952), p. 623. quoted in Ibn Warraq, Why the West is the best, "India under the Arabs and the British". also quoted in Bostom, A. G. M. D., & Bostom, A. G. (2010). The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims. Amherst: Prometheus.
  • In A Cultural History of India , A.L. Basham notes that '[by] the fifth century ce, Indianized states, that is to say states organized along the traditional lines of Indian political theory and following the Buddhist or Hindu religions, had established themselves in many regions of Burma, Thailand, Indo-China, Malaysia, and Indonesia'.
    • quoted from Malhotra, R., & Infinity Foundation (Princeton, N.J.). (2018). Being different: An Indian challenge to western universalism.
  • Years earlier, the British historian A.J. Toynbee remarked: 'India is the central link in a chain of regional civilizations that extends from Japan in the far north-east to Ireland in the far northwest. Between these two extremities the chain sags down southwards in a festoon that dips below the Equator in Indonesia.'
    • quoted from Malhotra, R., & Infinity Foundation (Princeton, N.J.). (2018). Being different: An Indian challenge to western universalism.
  • The unique feature of India's contacts and relationship with other countries and peoples of the world is that the cultural expansion was never confused with colonial domination and commercial dynamism, far less economic exploitation. That culture can advance without political motives, that trade can proceed without imperialist designs, settlements can take place without colonial excesses, and that literature, religion and language can be transported without xenophobia, jingoism and race complexes are amply evidenced from the history of India's contact with her neighbors…Thus although a considerable part of central and south-eastern Asia became flourishing centers of Indian culture, they were seldom subject to the regime of any Indian king or conquerors and hardly witnessed the horrors and havocs of any Indian military campaign. They were perfectly free, politically and economically, and their people, representing an integration of Indian and indigenous elements, had no links with any Indian state and looked upon India as a holy land rather than a motherland – a land of pilgrimage and not an area of jurisdiction.
    • Arun Bhattacharjee's Greater India, quoted from Malhotra, R., & Infinity Foundation (Princeton, N.J.). (2018). Being different: An Indian challenge to western universalism.
  • From at least the beginning of the Common Era until about the thirteenth century, Sanskrit was the primary linguistic and cultural medium for the ruling and administrative circles from Purushapura (Peshawar) in Gandhara (Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan) to as far east as Pandurang in Annam (South Vietnam) and Prambanam in Central Java. It influenced much of Asia for more than a thousand years. Sanskriti was neither imposed by an imperial power nor sustained by any centrally organized Church ecclesiology. Thus, it has been both the result and cause of a cultural consciousness shared by most South and South-east Asians regardless of religion, class or gender. Centuries prior to the Europeanization of the globe, the entire arc – from Central Asia through Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and all the way to Indonesia – was a crucible of a sophisticated Pan-Asian civilization... However, unlike the violent spread of the Roman civilization which made Latin the European language for centuries, the Sanskritization of Asia was entirely peaceful, without conquest, domination, or subversion of local identities. This is not to say that political disputes and wars of conquest never occurred, but in most instances, the motive was not the imposition of cultural or religious homogeneity.
    • Malhotra, R., & Infinity Foundation (Princeton, N.J.). (2018). Being different: An Indian challenge to western universalism.
  • Capitalism, or the ideology of the unbridled pursuit of wealth, is destroying culture on an unbridled scale... countless cultural activities, seen to be non-lucrative or less lucrative, are being abandoned all over the country. Others are being severely compromised in order to keep or make them lucrative: compromise in materials or techniques used, shoddiness in workmanship or performance, short-cut methods, etc. These are resulting in loss of natural spontaneity, cultural authenticity, technological expertise and performance satisfaction, which, in turn, gradually leads to the degeneration and further abandonment of cultural activities. All this is affecting various fields of culture: musical forms and styles, musical instruments, dance forms, architectural styles, art forms, handicrafts, traditional crops, culinary items, etc... owever, the concept of Money as God has now changed all this. For perhaps the first time in India’s long history, there is now no real official support for Indian culture. In the last decade or so, apparently coinciding with the advocacy and adoption of new policies of economic ‘reforms’, it is now passé for governments to do anything concrete to protect, preserve, record or perpetuate India’s traditional culture, or even to aid and encourage individuals or organizations doing so. Institutions established in the post-Independence era are being literally starved for funds, or funds are being used for any purpose but to achieve the original aims and objectives, or, simply, the very aims and objectives of these institutions are being changed. In any case no new activities, except occasional pedestrian ‘cultural’ projects of a political nature, are being undertaken: the institutions are being slowly transformed from cultural to commercial institutions, in line with the ‘changing times’.
    “Infinitely worse is what is happening to the detailed records of the research, documentation and collection undertaken by these institutions, in the not so distant past, to preserve, popularize and perpetuate different aspects of Indian culture. These archival records ¾ print, tape, film or actual physical objects ¾ are suddenly becoming an eyesore or an embarrassment, or simply a financial burden, to a cash-conscious leadership with a ‘reformist’ eye on the ‘globe’. A standard sequence now is as follows: state-funded museums, libraries and archives ¾ or at least the records in them ¾ slowly become rare or inaccessible, in different ways, to the (lay or scholarly) public eye. Often ‘constraints of space’ force the authorities to remove these records from their protected environments and dump them in ill-maintained godowns, to rot and decay, unseen and forgotten. And, occasionally, mysterious fires break out in the places which house these archives, destroying invaluable and irreplaceable records (including those pertaining to the golden age of Indian movies), then to be forgotten forever. All these events, coincidentally, make available valuable land and funds for more lucrative commercial purposes. The persons in authority are too busy saving or making money ¾ for themselves, or, if they are to be believed, for the public coffers ¾ to care.
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