By Pandit Vamadeva Shastri (Dr David Frawley)
There is an ongoing battle occurring at many levels relative to the concept of India and what India is, was and is meant to be. This is not merely a scholarly debate to arrive at truth but resembles more a struggle for power. Whoever controls the idea of India, as presented at media, education and government levels, to a great extent controls the country along with its resources, and shapes its future.
In this debate about India, the term Bharat – which is the correct and long term name for the country – is usually left out, as that would immediately change the tenor of the discussion.
Bharat is the traditional name of India and is enshrined in the constitution, showing that those framed the constitution were aware of the importance of the term and its equivalence for India as a whole. Article 1(1) of the constitution states, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.”
If we use the term Bharat for India a number of issues of the nature and identity of the country are automatically solved. Bharat is the name of India in the region’s literature going back to Vedic times and shows a continuity of the country for thousands of years.
If we look at India only since 1947, we start with the idea of partition and tend to build upon it with further partitions and divisions of culture, people and language, each with its own separate identity. Those who are biased against the older history of India avoid the term Bharat so that they can redefine India today as if it no real past as a country before 1947, which allows them to turn the country into what they would like it to be, with no specific culture of its own.
Some modern thinkers say that India as a country was invented by the British during the period of colonial rule, who put together under a single administration the diverse group of peoples, countries, cultures and languages of the subcontinent, which overall had little in common to begin with. Other credit the Moguls (who called India “Hindustan”) for providing some sense of national unity to the far flung land.
If we use the term Bharat, no one can say that there is no unity of culture, civilization or history to the region. Bharat implies a history of the country going back to the famous Vedic emperor Bharata, one of the early kings in the ancient Puru dynasty said to have reigned long before Rama, Krishna or Buddha.
Bharatiya Samskriti: The Culture of Dharma
Indian culture translates as “Bharatiya Samskriti” in the older terminology of the region, which also explains a lot as to what it is. Indian culture is not something invented over the last century or two and enshrined in the intellectual circles of modern Delhi. Indian culture is Bharatiya Samskriti, the culture of Bharat.
Samskrit is not simply a language but a way of culture and refinement, and a body of knowledge. The idea of Bharatiya Samskriti naturally brings back the culture of Bharatiya or Indian classical music, dance, poetry, philosophy, medicine, mathematics and science, and aims at a renaissance for them in the modern age. It includes the Prakrits or regional languages of the country as well as their cultural traditions, which are all linked together.
The culture of classical India or Bharatiya Samskriti is first of all a culture of dharma. It is built upon an effort to understand the dharma of all life and all aspects of human life and culture. This dharmic culture embraces a pluralism of spiritual paths, including the many sects of Hinduism, as well as Buddhists, Jain, and Sikhs and can be extended to anyone who honors a pluralistic view and respect for the whole of life.
Who are those who uphold the culture of Bharata or Bharatiya Samskriti in India today? It is not the English language media or even most of academia. These groups may address aspects of the traditional culture, but usually in a fragmentary manner, forgetting the overall connections, examining local folk customs in isolation for example. Or they may denigrate the idea that there was any overriding culture for the region as a whole.
Those who uphold the culture of Bharat are now on the periphery and often criticized as narrow minded or out of date, though the dharmic culture of classical India or Bharat cultivated a broader view of life and consciousness than what we see in predominant modern ideologies and educational trends. Yet these voices of Bharat can still be heard and are making their present felt again.
This means that there is no need to create a new Indian culture post-independence in order to bring unity and identity to the country. The need is to honor the ongoing continuity of Bharatiya and Dharmic culture, its relevance for the future and its ability to adapt itself to the times, including its capacity to embrace and integrate diverse views. If India is a free and democratic country today, it is because of its history as Bharat.
Yet Dharmic culture is not confined to the boundaries of any political or religious system or dogma. This Bharatiya Dharmic culture was not limited to the subcontinent of India but spread throughout Asia and influenced Europe and much of the rest of the world as well. Yet it was in Bharat itself that this characteristic dharmic civilization most took root and survived.
Bharatiya culture is largely a culture of knowledge and promotes learning, considering meditation as the most important form of study that one can do. The symbol of Bharatiya culture is the Yogi or Buddha sitting in meditation pose. This dharmic culture of knowledge can embrace science as well as spirituality and sees consciousness as the underlying ground of the entire universe. The Bharatiya tradition of learning and knowledge is the basis for the success of India’s diaspora in the US, UK and western world.
There are those who say that India is an inclusive concept but Bharat is communal because it is mainly Hindu, though Hindu Dharma itself has a pluralistic and respectful view of life. But traditional Bharat never tried to invade and conquer other countries. There us no history of wars of religious conquest or conversion by Bharatiya armies, or any Bharata based colonial rule and exploitation of other lands.
The Bharatiya model is an excellent model for the modern era in which we must integrate a number of cultures from throughout the world. Compared to the inclusive and synthetic Bharatiya model of culture, socialist and Marxist models are narrow, repressive and materialistic. Even the capitalist model lacks the depth of the dharmic approach and its sense of compassion.
What should be our model for defining India, if not Bharata? Is it China, the Soviet Union, the EU or the USA? Is it Nehruvian socialism, Bengali communism, European nationalism, or American consumerism? These may have some benefits but reflect much more circumscribed views of human life and culture.
Bharat has the longest and most extensive literary continuity of any modern country or culture. This extends through its massive Sanskrit literature to the main local languages from Tamil to Hindi, which are linked to Sanskrit, and often have larger literatures of their own than the literature of modern European countries.
The concept of Bharata as comprising the entire subcontinent of India is clear in the Mahabharata itself, which is over two thousand years old. The Mahabharata embraces every portion of greater India from Sri Lanka in the South to Uttara Kuru or the lands beyond the Himalayas to the north.
The Mahabharata is not just a story of ancient kings but outlines the kingdoms, countries and cultures of the region. It reflects all the main sects of Hindu Dharma as Vaishnava, Shaiva, Ganapata, and Shakta but also honors freedom of thought and inquiry, with extensive dialogues examining numerous subjects, spiritual and mundane. It discusses the rule and laws of kings and the role of dharma in all aspects of life. No other country or region, whether Europe, China or the Middle East, has a text of such extent and a continuity of culture as the Mahabharata.
The Mahabharata looks back on the older Vedic tradition, which originated in the Sarasvati region of North India over five thousand years ago, when the Sarasvati was a great river. Yet today it is in Kerala in the South that we find the strictest adherence to Vedic rituals and practices, showing the extent of influence of this ancient culture.
The Battle Over History
A nation is largely defined according to its history. There is a great battle, if not tamaasha, going on relative to the history of India. After independence, history studies and national institutions, such as the ICHR (Indian Council of Historical Research) were dominated by socialists, if not Marxists, who were naturally hostile to the older dharmic culture of the region.
Their goal was to emphasize a new India defined in the post-independence era that was removed from its traditional past. There were a few traditional figures like Ashok and Akbar who were brought in as historical precedents of their idea of India, but much of the history of the country was ignored. When the greatness of India’s past, such as the extensive urban sites along the ancient Sarasvati River were discovered, this largely Delhi intelligentsia found little to be proud of or made known. The older Vedic period was reduced and not made into anything foundational for India as a whole. It was treated as a limited culture said to originate from outside of India in Central Asia.
Today the Archaeological Survey of India and Geological Survey of India have placed the Vedic period on a firm footing, showing a continuity of culture in the Sarasvati region from the beginnings of agriculture before 7000 BCE to the drying up of the Sarasvati River around 1900 BC.
We can identify the early Vedic period with the period from 7000-3100 BCE. Curiously when the Greek scholar Megasthenes visited India along with Alexander’s armies, he noted a tradition of 153 kings going back over 6400 years to a date of around 6776 BCE. This suggests a continuity of dynasties in the region going back a very long time.
We can identify the late Vedic period from 3100-1900 BCE with the urban Harappan period, in which the Sarasvati River was already in decline, which is how we find the river described in several later Brahmana texts, in Mahabharata and in Manu Smriti.
The New Battle for Delhi
Delhi is the seat of government in India. But it is also the main center for the English language media and academia in the country, which often uncritically reflects the opinions of its western education and values. This Delhi intelligentsia has had the main role in defining India in recent decades, though the culture of Delhi, particularly of its ruling elite, is very different from the culture of most of the country.
The Delhi elite has redefined India largely in a Nehruvian-socialist-Marxist image, mainly as India after 1947. They have tried to make classical India into a foreign culture or something merely regional, while glorifying recent political trends in the West as capable of defining and raising up India as a modern nation.
Even today we have well known communists appearing in the media, pretending to be defenders of India and examples of intellectual thinking, tolerance and compassion, though their comrades throughout the world have largely been thrown out of power, with their views discredited.
The Post-Marxist Era and the Twenty First Century
We need to redefine India in the post-colonial, post-Marxist era, which requires the rediscovery of Bharat. While India did throw off the British rule at an outer level in 1947, the rule of colonial based concepts, biases and institutions continued. These were gradually combined with Marxist and leftist concepts that maintained the denigration of the older dharmic culture of the region.
The great majority of Marxist countries in the world came to an end in the period from 1989-1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies. China has moved away from a Marxist orientation and is now reembracing its Confucian past. Russia once more emulates the Czars and the Russian Orthodox Church. Yet India’s intellectuals continue to promote Marxist ideas in India’s universities as if Marxism were still an important and innovative trend in world thought.
India Resurgent as Bharat
India today in the twenty first century is becoming resurgent as Bharat, because that is the actual foundation of the country through its enduring culture throughout the centuries.
India’s great dharmic traditions – including Yoga, Vedanta, Buddhism and Ayurveda – have gained respect throughout the world, with millions of followers in every continent. It is this older dharmic culture of Bharat that the world looks up to and hopes India develops, not the recent India of the Nehru dynasty.
Economically speaking, India is rising up today only by casting off the Marxist-Nehruvian-socialist yoke and embracing its own older Vaishya, merchant and dharmic economic traditions, which are similarly an integral part of Bharat. India was not poor when it was Bharat. It became poor when it ceased to be Bharat.
Bharat Mata as Mother India
The land of Bharat has always been regarded as Bharat Mata, Mother India. This is not a cultural concept defined by aggression, intolerance, and materialism, but one that honors Mother Earth and Mother Nature and sees culture as a mother who nurtures us, not as a social control mechanism.
Bharat Mata is also Yoga Mata and regards human culture as a movement towards Yoga and the evolution of consciousness, such as Sri Aurobindo so eloquently proclaimed. Bharat Mata is Ma Durga, the protective force the takes us from darkness to light. She is Bharata Bhavani, Mother India as the mother of life and culture. Bharat Mata embodies the Yoga Shakti or power of spiritual striving in humanity. She is not the imposition of a religious concept upon the country but a poetic/spiritual representation of the soul of its people and its dharmic ethos.
Bharat was traditionally Vishvaguru or the world guru among nations for many centuries. People came from throughout Asia and the Middle East to study at its great centers of learning like Takshashila and Nalanda. Bharat was famous for its spiritual and scientific knowledge but also for its art, philosophy, medicine, mathematics, and material prosperity.
Bharat remained prosperous until the period of British rule, showing that the colonial rulers did not raise India up but pulled it down. Colonial rulers tried to remove Bharat and in its place substitute an artificial idea of India, made according to their own biases, which they therefore had the right to rule.
Bharat Mata can be the Vishvaguru or the world guru, but India as defined by the last hundred years only cannot. It is time for Bharat to arise again and awaken the world to a greater destiny and higher awareness that goes back to its great ancient seers and yogis. A resurgent Bharat is of tremendous value for the entire world, if not essential for the future of humanity.