The term culture is understood variably, often encompassing different manifestations of human, intellectual and other expressions, in particular of ideas, beliefs, customs and social behavior. On a more granular level, this design incorporates different art forms, languages ââand literature, traditions and values, and even religious norms and practices. Sometimes urban lifestyles and demanding tastes of material subjects are also seen as the archetype of what culture embodies.
India, with its almost continuous history of over 5000 years as an evolving civilization, has a vibrant and vibrant culture. She is rightly proud of this unique heritage which is often considered a key part of her own national identity. However, questions arise as to what true Indian culture is and what hue in this multitude of cultural chroma can be considered the epitome of Indian civilization. But it begs further questions about what civilization is, what is the larger realm of culture, how has it evolved in India, how inextricably linked to our religious thoughts and practices, and , above all, what is the nationality itself. To grasp even a glimpse of vibrant Indian culture, one needs to conceptually appreciate these integral institutions. But first, what is culture?
The connotation of the word culture is vast and cannot be limited to a single definition. However, it can be understood as the collective values ââof a society, manifested through its many institutions as well as, in the disposition, attitudes, manners of its individual members. These in turn find expression in various material objects, abstract ideas and beliefs of individuals and society.
Thus, culture includes certain aspects of collective institutions, such as morals, religion, spirituality, law, custom, art, etc. which are not reserved for an individual and which are passed down from generation to generation. Obviously, the institutional elements of culture are evolving and dynamic.
Culture also includes intellectual and knowledge elements relating to languages, literature, human learning, social norms, customs and behavior. Human and social aesthetics are another key aspect of culture, encompassing within it the many manifestations of tangible and intangible art forms, namely, music, dance, sculpture, painting and architecture. , etc. New age theater and cinema are as much a reflection of modern culture as are the cave paintings of a prehistoric society, of which we know so little. The Bhakti and Sufi movements were the embodiment of the spiritual elements of medieval culture, as were the imposing forts and grand palaces of this era, a reflection of its societal and bodily cultural constituents. Sangam literature was the manifestation of the human intellectual and socio-ethical elements of a culture at its peak nearly two millennia ago. Folk art and traditional lifestyles are also indicative of a society’s culture, as are the urban lifestyles and fleeting tastes. Thus, our habitat, our cuisine, our costumes, our physical objects, apart from the performing arts and architecture, reflect all the material or tangible elements of culture, just like religions, customs, festivals, traditions, social practices and ethics, philosophy and law, reflecting intangible or intangible elements.
But Culture in itself is never static or an isolated mass of homogeneous attributes. It is permeable and dynamic, with new waves of socio-cultural influences pushing pristine cultural backgrounds. Inclusiveness and evolution are its inherent and integral traits. It is this very indispensable characteristic which is reflected in the words of Mahatma Gandhi: âNo culture can live if it tries to be exclusive.
But given its ephemeral nature, what is this permanent essence that provides the continuum and sustenance for a culture, to maintain its integrity through the ages? At the very heart of the myriad of cultural manifestations is the element of goodness of civilization and its people. This is the enduring element. The narrow canons of the ego do not restrict it, nor is its domain limited to a specific society. It is all-encompassing and its philosophy is best exemplified in the ambitious Upanishads hymn, sarve bhavantu sukhinah (May all be happy).
Indeed, its universality extends even beyond human domination, to all sentient beings and in its noblest manifestation, even striving for the sustenance of the biotic world and the abiotic realm. Civilizations may equate this element somewhat with ethics and law, while religion may perceive it as the tenets of morality or the essence of spirituality. But goodness, whatever its classification, is the one and truly the eternal soul of any culture, bereft of its outward attributes, however glorious and sumptuous they appear to be, are little more than a lifeless mass.
The author is an IRS agent and author of the book “Indian Heritage, Art and Culture”. The opinions expressed are personal.