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Gandhi: An Embodiment Of Indian Cultural Heritage

Gandhi: An Embodiment Of Indian Cultural Heritage


By Dr. Ravindra Kumar

Speaking in a conference at Allahabad on April 5, 1936, Mahatma Gandhi said about India Culture, “Many of us are striving to produce a blend of all the cultures which seems today to be in clash with one another. No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive. There is no such thing as pure Aryan Culture in existence in India Today. Whether the Aryans were indigenous to India or were unwelcome intruders, does not interest me much. What does interest me is the fact that my remote ancestors blended with one another with the utmost freedom and we of the present generation are result of that blend.”

Gandhi’s above statement with special reference to the Indian Culture is extraordinary and factual, though at the first glance, it may appear general and ordinary. Extraordinary it is for the reason that Gandhi has said a lot in brief for the simple reason that this statement would be of great help, to some extent if we intend to explore the main features of the Indian Culture.

The first most important point about the culture that Gandhi has brought out in this statement is that any culture that tries to remain exclusive cannot survive. It means that for the long life of a culture, it has to remove rigidity and avoid parochialism. The rigidity and parochialism are in fact two demerits which keep one isolated from others and ultimately prove they self-defeating or in other words result in self-destruction. As opposed to it, flexibility and liberality are the two attributes that bring on synthesis and continuity in life. They function as a force of unification and not of segregation. It is necessary here to clarify while talking about flexibility; I do not mean that we have to break loose from all constraints and to refrain from being firm. Though the Indian Culture is known for its liberal and magnanimous attitude, it has never deviated from its fundamental values. This is the reason that it is still alive even after a lapse of thousands of years whereas, the other cultures about which we study in history are now non-existent. The main reasons for their disappearance are those that I have enumerated above.

In the perspective of Indian Culture, the second important point which Gandhi has raised is that there is nothing like pure Aryan Culture in the country. Discarding the concept of Aryan and non-Aryan cultures as unimportant issue, he says that our ancestors mingled with each other so well that the outcome is the present day generation. It clearly shows that Gandhi has on one hand struck at fundamentalism and on the other has brought out the basic principle of harmony. It is evident from history that the Indian Culture many a time was subjected to fundamentalism, but it could not deviate from its basic principles of patience, tolerance and above all non-violence. Sometimes it appeared that Indian Culture would lose its form because of fundamentalism and other attacking forces, but it did not happen and the culture remained firm on its course of progress. Consequently, the fundamentalism and the other weakening forces proved to be momentary and disappeared like water-bubbles.

Synthesis is a significant feature of the Indian Culture. We can also say that is the basic principle of the culture, the history of which goes back to the ancient past or we can certainly line it up at least with the Dravidian era. Later on, many other cultures came in contact with the Indian Culture and easily merged themselves into it according to the circumstances and conditions that prevailed in India rather than those in the land of their origin. In the same context, Gandhi is very true when he says, “It [Indian Culture] nurtured the synthesis of those cultures which stayed in this country. They affected the Indian way of life and in return got influenced by it.” Continuing further Gandhi regarded the homogeneity of the Indian environment the basis of this synthesis.

History is witness to the fact that all those cultures that came in contact with the Indian Culture were not completely or partially devoured by it. Not only did the Indian Culture through its great values make am impact on other cultures, it also imbibed their befitting features. This is the reason that there was no possibility of any pretence of harmonious blending of cultures. There was not anything forced upon, nor was their existence ever questioned. After the synthesis of Aryan and Dravidian cultures the vast Indian Culture came to be viewed in its entirety by the people of the world. Later on, many other cultural streams that flowed into the Sub-Continent from Greece, Persia, Arab countries or any other parts of Europe merged themselves into the vast ocean of Indian Culture. If we put aside the question of how and why these cultures arrived in this country, the picture that emerges before us reflects the unique characteristic of synthesis of Indian Culture.

It is fact that the Indian Culture is grand and unique and has fostered other cultures. Gandhi, in his time, was a great exponent and representative of Indian Culture. We can call him an embodiment of Indian cultural heritage glimpse of which we can have in his brief statement on Indian Culture exposing its characteristics of magnanimity, flexibility and above all of synthesis. Whatever views Gandhi held on Indian Culture and spoke about, he himself acted accordingly. He occupied himself with re-establishing the genuine cultural values throughout his life. As he has himself affirmed in the opening lines of his statement, he has in principle and practice remained firm on his views, “To remain aloof from the rest of the world or do erect walls around us…it is [definitely] to go astray.” It means that to keep ourselves with in the confines of narrow-mindedness and rigidity is to get lost and ultimately lose our entity. To do so will also be against the everlasting and coordinating culture of India which is replete with non-violence and its supplementary values such as patience, tolerance and progressiveness. Therefore, he urged his colleagues and the countrymen to act upon the real cultural values, but prior to it, he advised them to assimilate them.

Gandhi was justified in his grievance that the prosperous Indian Culture in which there is no alternative to the great values it represents, has not been given due recognition, made a subject of study and the specific features of which have not been properly evaluated. It is not all; he was unhappy with the disregard for it and the indifference to its values in their day to day application. Hence, in one of the issues of Young India, he wrote, “Our culture is a treasure-house of such great values as are hardly found in other cultures. We have not given it its due recognition; have seen it and learnt about it disregarding its proper study and undermining its values. We have almost discarded it by not conducting ourselves according to its tenets; [but] without the conduct, more intellectual knowledge is just like a corpse that may be preserved as mummy. It seems good to look at, but fails to inspire.” It means to observe the characteristics of a culture in right perspective and to comport oneself accordingly. It is does not happen so, in his own words, “…will be like a mass suicide.”

Gandhi’s views as a representative of Indian Culture are founded on facts, for they present it in right perspective; they make him an embodiment of cultural heritage. In brief, these views along with his conduct conforming to them will always remain capable of guiding one and all who would work with a desire to keep the true Indian Culture alive. It is not all; they will also be a source of inspiration to all other cultures of the world for their longevity.

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Dr. Ravindra Kumar is a renowned Gandhian scholar, Indologist, India expert and writer. He is the Former Vice-Chancellor of the CCS University of Meerut, India.

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