The Idea of India: Before and After Independence

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15th August 1947, the day when India got Independence, the day when an oppressed country saw the enchanting rays of freedom from the clutches of a tyrannical foreign regime. But was it a day when a nation was born? A nation that was a conglomeration of independent states which didn’t coexist as a singular entity earlier, or was it the rebirth of a nation that has existed since time immemorial but it went awry because of lack of leadership and unity? The answer to this lies in Article 1 of the Constitution of India.

Article 1 of the Indian Constitution states ‘India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States’. Article 1 mentions the name of the nation as both ‘India’ and ‘Bharath’. It beautifully articulates and captures the rebirth of a nation with its historical essence. Clearly and succinctly, Article 1 illustrates that though the modern name referred may be ‘India’ but the soul of the nation lies in its civilizational ethos with its historical name ‘Bharath’. However, the question which still needs to be answered is what is Bharath? Is it a name of a nation?  Is it an emotion? Or Is it a geographical entity? Puranas mention Bharath as uttaraṃ yatsamudrasya himādreścaiva dakṣiṇam varṣaṃ tadbhārataṃ nāma bhāratī yatra santatiḥ’ meaning the country (varṣam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the Himalayas is called Bhāratam and its people as Bharati. But beyond this geographic definition of Bharath, lies a continuity of civilization, extending beyond a millennium that correctly captures the ethos of what is Bharath. Be it the four ashrams established by Adi Shankara in the four corners of India or even the homogeneity in the practice of Shiva and Vishnu worship throughout the defined geographical area, the coherence of culture within a specified geographical area highlights the essence of Bharath. The traces of the continuation of this civilizational thread also can be observed in the geography mentioned from Gandhar to Hastinapur in the Mahabharath or from Ayodhya to Sri Lanka as in the Ramayana. But when we talk about the idea of Bharath, there are some key characteristics of Bharath that has maintained its continuity since time immemorial. In this article, we will discuss the five points that have been consistent with the idea of Bharath before and even after independence. These characteristics are:

Courage

Courage, valor, fearlessness are the principles that have been taught and practiced in Bharath since its inception. Be it the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita that “Fear not what is not real, never was and never will be” or the quote from Swami Vivekanand that states “The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one”. The seeds of courage are instilled by the great Gurus who have traversed this land since eternity. The same valor is reflected in the stories of Mahabharata and Ramayana in the ancient time to the legends of Chhatrapati Shivaji and Maharana Pratap in more recent times. Such legends and stories have been passed from generation to generation to promote fearlessness. Similarly, the courage of some lesser-known great warriors like Lachit Borphukan of the Ahom Dynasty in Assam has installed valor in the subsequent generations to fend off foreign rule without caring for life. The same valor is reflected in the first war of Independence of 1857 through the stories of Rani of Jhansi and others. Also, an extension of such stories is observed in the freedom struggle through tales of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Veer Savarkar, Bhagath Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad and Subhash Chandra Bose to name a few. We also saw the tremendous power of Ahimsa as preached by Mahatama Gandhi which brought forth a unification of the entire freedom movement. It exhibited the courage it takes for a nation to choose non-violence against an armed enemy and win. Moreover, that same valor and courage are reflected in the various wars we have won soon after rebirth, like in 1948 and also in the war of 1971 and 1999. The nation today is fighting the Covid-19 issue with utmost discipline and self-control, barring a few incidents. The undying spirit of succeeding against all odds is the characteristic of the Bharath. It is this courage that has existed throughout history and will very well define us in the future.

Prosperity

India has remained one of the most prosperous nations throughout history. This is substantiated by the data as presented by Angus Madison which states that from 1 AD to 1600 AD India on average covered around 28 percent of the World’s GDP. Marco Polo in his book ‘Travels of Marco Polo’ had mentioned “King wears, between gold and gems and pearls, is worth more than a city’s ransom”, highlighting the riches prevalent at that time. In the past three centuries, there has been a downfall in the economic dominance of India in the world. This has been majorly because of the loot and plundering by the foreign elements and the restriction they imposed on the trade and commerce. Also, exorbitant tax rates added salt to the wound. Though not in terms of taxes, this trend of providing limited growth opportunities was continued even after independence owing to the pseudo-socialist policies of the State. This trend has however changed ever since the economic policy has been altered to be made more liberal. The results are pretty clear of the growth trajectory ever since these changes. The inherent quality of running successful trade and commerce runs through the veins of many communities of India. The outcome of this is evident. It can be rightly said prosperous we were earlier and prosperous we will be in the future. Prosperity is one of the inherent features of the idea of Bharath.

Art & Culture

India has always been a land of great art and culture. Starting from almost the first literature on drama the ‘Natya Shastra’ to even the most subtle human expressions as captured in the Kamasutra. This lineage of such terrific literature continued through the works of Kalidasa and Tulsidas. The art and literature are captured in the regional texts as well. Tamil Literature considered today as the oldest has produced gems that have inspired people for many generations. The art & culture is reflected even in the precision of the temple architectures. The marvel of ‘Kailasa Temple’ has thrown many riddles that still remain unsolved. The education system of India was the true representation of the cultural roots of the nation. From the greatest of Universities like Nalanda and Takshila to small gurukuls that existed throughout the nation, education was one of the main features of culture and values. Though the British tried to change the education system and the endeavor was continued even after independence by the political class left but the art and culture still thrive throughout the nation. The tradition of Mahabharata and Ramayana depiction through plays has continued even till today. The film industries have come up both nationally and regionally which have continued the presence of art throughout. Also, literature has moved from leaps and bounce. Even though Sanskrit literature has reduced but literature in regional languages has thrived. The presence of art and culture has been consistent throughout the nation. Thriving of it is consistent with the idea of India.

Diversity

Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti” the Upanishad aphorism meaning there is only one truth but sages call it by various names, represents the roots of diversity as entrenched in the culture of India.  The various sects with diverse religious beliefs have coexisted in Bharath from ancient times. Along with being the birthplace of various religions, the nation has peacefully accommodated people of religion initially foreign to the land. Be it tales of early Parsi settlement or the existence of Jews before the formation of Israel, Bharath offered peace and love to all. India is also home to the second oldest mosque ‘Cheraman Juma Masjid’ in Kodungaloor-Kerala establishing the roots of Indo-Islam before the barbaric Islamic invasion started in India. However, this established principle of peaceful coexistence took a dent because of the policy of ‘divide et impera’ as followed by the British. That policy was continued by the subsequent governments after independence which focused on appeasement in the name of promoting diversity. This has led a section of people astray. The malpractice of the principle of secularism has only worsened the condition. But even with so much of negativity around the political narrative, the people across Bharath promote harmony and love for the nation. Few exceptions still thrive in the society and political narrative but diversity as a fundamental feature of the idea of India thrives on a solid foundation.

Vishwaguru

Mark Twain has rightly said “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most artistic materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only“. India has always been a ‘Vishwaguru’, i.e, the teacher of the world. From the strongest philosophy to the birth of most liberal and accepting religion which has forever guided the discourse of human history, Bharath has forever shown the path for the world to follow. The Sanskrit texts which drive research the world over, in almost all fields even today, is a clear example of how  Bharath will lead in the times to come. The leadership of Bharath in science, mathematics, astronomy, metallurgy, medicine and many others has guided various civilizations in the past and continues to guide scientists today.  From the military might of the Magadha Empire which scared away Alexander to the historic economic and cultural dominance of the past Bharath has forever acted as a leader of the world. In the past few centuries, we have seen the downfall of civilization. Battling with extreme poverty and consistent foreign-imposed wars, Bharath is slowly rising after 70 years of independence. The economic upsurge which we are witnessing in recent times is an indication of the things to come and how Bharath will again rise and shine to lead the world. The position of ‘Vishwaguru’ is most fundamental to the idea of Bharath, where the art, culture, diversity, philosophy and knowledge thrive and prosper.

The above five characteristics are core to the idea of Bharath. These have been immutable since eternity. They have driven Bhartiyas in the past and will continue to drive them in the future to fulfill their aspirations, goals, needs and wants with gratitude and a sense of service. The Bharath of tomorrow is courageous, the Bharath of tomorrow is prosperous, the Bharath of tomorrow celebrates art, culture and diversity and the Bharath of tomorrow just like old times will be ‘Vishwaguru’ for the world to admire and follow.

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