Last week, during lunch at my office cafeteria, I was discussing Indian and Chinese cultures with some colleagues of Chinese origin. It was formal discussion from food to clothes to languages. All of a sudden, one colleague asked me, “What is it being Indian?” and wore curiosity in her black curved eyes. I paused for seconds and told myself with audible sound, “Wait a minute! That’s my religion!”
That small statement evolved ocean of thoughts into me whole day. I kept thinking and now my pen (err keyboard) collaborated with paper (computer screen, ha); so I am here to stir thoughts into your calm lake of mind.
As world knows today the country named India is derived from Indus which is Greek version of word Hindu given by Persians. Hindu is again derived from Sindhu – a river in Northern part of India. Sindhu is a Sanskrit word meaning Ocean. Sindhu is a big ocean-like river. Persians used to call the land dwellers – Hindoo. So, Indus or Hindu has geographical reference in the name. Some Arabic people call India – Hindustan which literally means place of Hindus!
That term later on being used by Britishers as the word for a religion under umbrella of which sprung hundreds of sects. So, “Hindu” or for that matter “India” signifies religion. Britishers and to some extent natives used that term quite significantly to differentiate themselves from Muslims and Christians.
Ok, these are all western names or foreign names given to India. So, what would native people call this land? There was ancient emperor named Bharat who ruled majority of geographical land which is India in present times. So, this land was known as “Bharat” – land ruled by emperor Bharat! Bharat has meaning in Sanskrit as the place where people seek Brahman or God. So, name “Bharat” signifies spirituality irrespective of religion.
Constitution of India effective since 1950 January 26 officially considers two versions of name of the country – 1) Republic of India 2) Bharat. In modern India, secular India, people proudly proclaim being part of India or Hindustan. But, they ignorantly forget the name Bharat!
Now, let us take a look at harder aspect of being an Indian. We so far have glanced at the name of the country. Now, let us dare signify “being an Indian” part of it. Let us ordinary mortals sneer at the terms.
India is a country personified celestial beauty! Look at geographical rendition of Nature’s poetry! Thin neck, broad and protruding chest, long legs, open arms! When this beauty is laid on Mother Earth, she is divided in 29 states and 7 union territories. The beauty speaks in 22 official languages. Majority of states have their own official language, different cultural heritage, different clothing style, different food, and different look of habitats, different flora and fauna, different geography, different festivals. Many have different calendar systems. If you talk to two people from adjoining states, you have countless clues to find differences between them. Many a times, they seem to be from different countries. They have different dance traditions, different sculptor styles, and different architects.
An outsider is definitely at a loss to identifying common features among Indians. Do they speak the same language? No. Do they wear the same clothes traditionally? No. Do they have similar cuisine? No. Do they practice the same religious faith? No. Do they look similar? May be. Do they have the same cultural context? May be. Do they tolerate people from different states (forget countries)? I want to say YES here. But, blunt NO! I got it. They have different language. But, do they write the same script? Nooo.
What happened to that image of celestial beauty named India? So, let us explore some common factors that bind all Indians together irrespective of race(?), religion(?), gender and financial status(!).
All Indians know or speak national language Hindi and British legacy language English. All Indians follow one constitution. All Indians consider Bhagavad Gita as Holy book. All Indians consider river Ganga sacred. All Indians know Himalaya as sacred place and have high esteem for Mount Kailas. All Indians use spices or herbs in what they consume daily. All Indians have some faith in Ayurveda. All Indians know Amitabh Bachchan, Rajanikant and Sachin Tendulkar. All Indians consider Mahatma Gandhi as mentor of the nation. All Indians believe that corruption is inevitable. All Indians have a check list of places to visit. All Indians want India to be number one nation in the world. All Indians claim to have wisdom of life and would like to expand their knowledge territory to intrude into others’. All Indians know Yoga and Pranayama up to some extent and practice it knowingly or unknowingly. All Indians find root of what they speak into ancient language Sanskrut.
So, from ancient history known to the world today, concept of one land geographically known as “Bharat” existed in Indian psyche. Even tho there are 33 million Gods and Goddesses, all Indians believe in one supreme consciousness and consider these celestial forms of Gods and Goddesses as different paths leading them to Moksha or Nirvana or Mukti or union with Supreme Soul. Indians have affinity towards four vedas – Rugveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda. Indians consider Bhagvad Gita as esteemed doctrine for religious, spiritual and daily practice. Lotus is national flower as well as spiritual emblem. Peacock and tiger also are national symbols and pride. All these concepts bind all of us Indians together. Sutre mani gana iv as Gita proclaimed – all beads inter-woven to same thread!
Can we negate the fact that Vedic culture and Hindu way of living life are real identities of India? Can all Indians following different religions value that?