Indian Civilization at the Close of Twentieth C.
Indian Civilization at the Close of Twentieth Century
By Dr. Ravindra Kumar
Indian civilization is an ancient one, I am not the one to say so but world history testifies it. World history also tells us that Indian civilization has had a unique identity of its own. While other civilizations have become extinct with time Indian civilization has remained evergreen and continues to propagate the message of humanity. This prompted a poet to say: “Greece, Egypt, Rome, All have vanished from this world, But still there are left, Signs of our existence”.
Now, it is but natural therefore, that you ask, what are the signs identifying the unique identity of Indian civilization? While still remaining evergreen, what message does it give to humanity? What are the reasons behind its survival? And, while we are at the close of Twentieth Century, what is its present condition? Before seeking answer to the above questions, it would not be out of way if we understand the meaning of civilization.
Meaning: Civilization is formed from the word 'Civil'. When the word 'Civil' is associated with man, it certainly identifies certain qualities of him. Similarly civilization identifies those qualities of the inhabitants of a particular region or nation that are commonly found in them and additionally, becomes their identity.
Historical exploration has revealed that human beings inhabited India even during the prehistoric period. Even during the period that the historians have termed as 'Stone-Age', there was civilization among Indians. A lot of information is available of the history of the past five thousand years that acquaints us with the Indian civilization during that period. During that period there were civilizations in the Nile Valley, Egypt, Valleys of Dajla and Euphrates, Babylon and Assyria or Mesopotamia and Greece too.
The history of the ancient Indian civilization, about the period, of which we discussed above, tells us of many qualities of the inhabitants then. But the main among them was non-violence that accorded cooperation to the common man, and thus progressed.
Periodically, if we proceed further we would find a blend of many other qualities in the inhabitants of India. In this blend the one that I consider being the main, is progressiveness Indians have always prepared a conducive environment for this and will continue to do so in future too.
On the basis of the two above mentioned qualities-non-violence and progressiveness, Indian civilization became known to the human world in the ancient times and even today. Indian civilization harmonized with the qualities of various other civilizations. Not only Dravidians or Aryans but Greeks, Shakas, Hunas, Kushanas, Monghols, Arabs and Europeans are with Indian civilization, but it maintained its uniqueness.
History has witnessed many upheavals in India. Numerous examples of fundamentalism may be found here. India has experienced numerous External and Internal aggressions. But no one was able to destroy her civilization.
Non-violence is an essential condition for not only existence but also for development and achievement of goals of human beings. It is permanently present in human society. It is the basic element of Indian civilization. The collectivity found in the beginning of human society was possible only due to the fact that non-violence was the basic characteristic of the lives of Indians. Within its sphere, various streams of co-operation broke forth, transcending national boundaries, and a civilization that ensures existence, repeatedly stresses on collectiveness and urges co-operation at all levels, has a bright future.
We discussed about progressiveness too. This too has been a basic and important quality of the civilization of India. The sphere of this progressiveness has been extensive, beautiful, unambiguous, harmonious and a symbol of unity in diversity; advancing continuously with the pace of development, the Indian civilization remained harmonious and hospitable to everyone. It continuously sought concord so that the harmony of mankind might never diminish.
This is the reason that Indian civilization kept attracting the human world towards itself, and as already mentioned in the beginning, kept it alive. Besides that it kept nourishing the qualities of other civilizations in India. In contrast, the civilizations became extinct at their respective places of birth and development. Numerous monuments, forts, arts and styles along with the different characteristics found among its inhabitants confirm the fact that various qualities of different civilizations have been nourished by Indian Civilization for a long period of time.
We are discussing the Indian civilization in 20eth century. No doubt today its features do not appear to be the same as they were 2000 years ago. It is not surprising that it has not remained so, because as far as we can imagine, we will find continuous transformation. In other words, nothing is permanent. What appears to us to be stable for years, is actually not so. A living body becomes lifeless. It can be kept preserved with the help of chemicals but still, it is subject to continuous change. We would normally believe that a healthy person, in spite of his increasing efforts to preserve his body as it is, would never be able to do so. The body continuously transforms. The same principle is applicable to every other object in this world. I would like to repeat that nothing is permanent. Then, how can we expect the features of Indian Civilization to remain as they were?
But along with transformation, and even after the long march of progress, Indian civilization is still alive for the reason that non-violence has been a permanent feature of it. And as already mentioned, it kept on exploring concord, kept increasing the harmony of mankind. Due to this reason, in spite of various invasions and upheavals, it not only remained stable, but also kept on reappearing more enriched than before. Even today at the close of 20th century, it is appealing to the world, by displaying glimpses of its proud history, in which the harmony of mankind has been maintained and it has continuously created an atmosphere of concord.
Favourability, in fact, is the criterion that can preserve anything. I repeat that no living thing can ever continue to be in the same state. Change is compulsory. If there is no favourability, let alone progress even existence will not be affirmed. Therefore, as long as favourability is there, existence continues and progress goes on. As it starts diminishing, the pace of progress stops, downfall begins and finally the existence itself ceases. In the case of civilization too, this is absolutely correct.
As compared to other civilizations, the outstanding feature of Indian civilization has been that it has always provided an environment conducive for non-violence and progressiveness. That is why it has lived on. If we look at its beginning and its condition in subsequent periods, we would be able to realize the truth regarding the aforesaid statements.
What do we see about the ancient period of Indian civilization that we had mentioned before? We see that the Indians, after initially being flesh-eating hunters, slowly moving towards growing crops with the help of tools i.e., agriculture had become their foundation. Not only that, they were also involved in cattle rearing and engaged in building permanent dwelling. All this is possible in a conducive climate and environment i.e., on the banks of rivers, living collectively and co-operating with each other.
Now, let us have a glance on the period of Indus valley civilization. You will notice that Indian civilization has developed greatly as compared to earlier. Now not only of the villages, you will find development and extension of cities as well. From the point of view of concord, you would find systematic orderliness in the civilization, may it be in the field of construction, cleanliness, activities or bartering. Besides that, to ensure existence, there is sufficient emphasis on awareness towards non-violence, in this period. The presence of symbols representing ‘God of Animals,’ confirms this fact.
Now, let us proceed to the Aryan age. Here we have a new turn in progress. Striving towards cultural unity, for the sake of concord, we find that Indians were involved in literature, ceremonial rituals, arranging sequence of time and various other explorations. These explorations are associated not only with the earth but also with the Sun, Moon, Stars, Sky etc. and their effects on the inhabitants of earth. There is abundant knowledge regarding subjects like medicine, number system and also about soul, living-method, earth, heaven etc. among Indians.
If everything at all times remains perfect, how does one experience imperfection? The difference between perfection and imperfection should be realized. Not for one, but for many reasons and for the accomplishment of many purposes. In this context circumstances play an important role. Who are at the root of these circumstances? I am not going to delve into that argument. Yes, circumstances changed during and following the Aryan age. The effects of imperfection multiply. It seems that selfishness and individualism were about to swallow the basic qualities of Indian civilization. At that time Buddha and Mahavira did the task of reviving those basic qualities. Mahavira stresses on complete and genuine non-violence, where as Buddha infuses a different practical form of kindness into the hearts of the masses? Civilization again returns to its own path.
The Mauryan period enters into a new age of progress through the path shown by Buddha and Mahavira. A new chapter in environment of concord begins. It is during this period that Greek Civilization came in contact with the Indian Civilization, and scholars like Panini were born. Now theatre, sculpture, literature, the plays and medicine, etc. present a beautiful yet realistic form of the civilization, according to the circumstances of the country and the transformed or rather refined ideology kept repeating the message of Indian civilization.
Shaka, Kushana and Gupta periods, are those periods in Indian history which amazed the human world in terms of progress i.e. not only did literature find a new direction, but mathematics, Geography, Medicine and Chemistry made unprecedented progress. Ayurveda too developed quickly and many mysteries regarding Earth, Nature and the Skies were unrevealed. At this time many civilizations mingled with Indian civilization and could assimilate its message of progressiveness and non-violence.
During the Medieval period due to various internal and external difficulties, religious tendencies played an important role in keeping the basic qualities of the civilization in moderation With the dominance of Vedic-Hindu religious community, there was development of 'Jnana Marga' and progress of devotion; regional languages and mingling of Monghol, Huna, Arab civilizations and other with the Indian civilization were the main events of this period.
Historians and other scholars review this period according to their point of view. They have every right to do so. But I sincerely believe that in spite of terrible conditions, Indian civilization, along with its basic qualities, kept creating an environment of concord, as it was doing earlier. Personalities like Ramanuja were present who were not in favour of discrimination among the creation of God on the basis of caste or colour. They believed in equality, considered religious fundamentalism redundant even if it involved deep study of religious text and favoured simplicity.
During the period of Muslim rulers, the emergence of Sufism, which within the ambit of Islam, fully supported tolerance, and is an excellent example of the assimilation of the basis qualities of Indian civilization. Besides that various Indian saints and scholars, who can be called the true representatives of civilization, created a favourable condition for Indians by harmonizing at various levels both in theory and in practice. We can include Kabir, Nanak, Namdev and Chaitanya in this link. All of them presented a perfect example of adopting the paramount principle of Humanity.
During Mughal period, royal poets and writers worked in order to strengthen the bond of unity, poet like Rahim is a unique example. Not only he but also poets like Faizi, Bedil and Gavvasi may be cited as examples in this context and we may call them as the true followers of the qualities of Indian civilization.
Probably today's generation is unaware that Bedil totally condemned manslaughter in his works and gave priority to humanity. It is possible that at the governing level or by certain adherents of a particular religious community, there were fanatic activities, but the others who have harmonized with Indian civilization have not been able to distance themselves from it and will not be able to do so in future too.
We all know that European civilization too met with Indian Civilization. Many of the effects of this convergence were beneficial. I will not discuss the political situation here, although I have been a student of political science. In the context of civilization, I would say that even during the period of British rule, it propagated the message of creating an atmosphere of concord. There have been attempts to tamper with civilization. People, who themselves were nourished by it, tried to separate from it; selfish interest seemed to be gaining an upper hand and fundamentalism too became apparent but it also gave an excellent team, in the form of Gandhi and his associates, that lit the path of his country men on the basis of non-violence which itself has been a unique example of harmony till now.
India became independent. The world knows that it happened at a great cost. India was divided into two parts. As a result many problems arose. Even then, India adopted a path of co-operation with the rest of the world in a novel way. In the new age of internationalism, India became an equal partner and tried its best to strengthen international organization. This co-operation is the basic feature of its civilization. Besides that in accordance with its civilization India supported freedom, equality and welfare of citizens of countries all over the world. It opposed colonial and imperialistic hegemony and when necessary, raised its voice for its abolition.
We are, now, at the beginning of the 21st century. There will be many internal and external problems facing India. Not only India, most countries will have similar problems. In spite of unprecedented progress in various fields, the basic features of civilization will probably face challenge. But it will certainly create conducive atmosphere for human beings as it has kept on doing from the very beginning. Indians will continuously be directed by its marvelous qualities, that is what I believe. Ups and down have been continuously witnessed and faced by this civilization. At the close of the century too it is doing so. But it is flexible. Non-violence and progressiveness are its foundation. How will it not survive? It will and along with its basic foundations continues to encourage the world with the message of 'Live and Let Live' and 'progress and allow others to progress'. In other words, direct our path in new regulations and circumstances, by creating concord and accordance, just as it did from the very beginning. I have presented the historical matters briefly before you. I am confident that you would believe in what I have narrated, because my purpose of presenting the aforementioned matter was that you may understand that Indian civilization continuously kept moving forward chronologically along with its basic qualities. Moreover, you might realize that in spite of upheavals, fundamentalism, aggressions and difficulties, it remained firm and continued to create human friendly environment.
Dr. Ravindra Kumar is a universally renowned Gandhian scholar, Indologist and writer. He is the Former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Meerut and the author of the book entitled, ‘Fundamentals of Civilization’.