Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Why Bharat is a Nation

This standard commie crap that India is nothing but a bunch of warring kingdoms unified by British etc etc etc has wide ranging implications. What unfortunate turn of events has come over India. Indians have to prove to fellow-Indians and others that India is indeed a nation. “Intellectual reasons” are needed for a truth which is simply obvious if you close your eyes and ask your heart.

Let it be. That should not discourage us from trying to prove the same.

Before I go into the subject, I will like to add one more word- people might have noticed that I have used the word Bharat and not India. This is to avoid any confusion between the present State of India and the historical India with the land presently called Pakistan included. Hence, I am using the word Bharat due to this reason.

Now coming to the topic… what is a Nation. The defining perspectives of nationhood are typically multidimensional. A nation is not just a geographic area separated from the world by internationally accepted boundary lines; a nation primarily exists in the minds of its citizens. Hence, in one sense, the defining perspectives make a nation.

Most of the confusion in this regard owes its origin to some of the misconceptions spread by the British. They did not find any merit in giving the Indian nation more than two hundred years of existence. In order to ensure their own dominance, they strongly asserted that there has never been an Indian nation before the nineteenth century. Their contention was that there was only a zone called India consisting of small kingdoms ruled by different dynasties. According to them the concept of unified Indian nation emerged as a result of the enlightenment brought about by western education among the elite.

All this confusion can be overcome by first understanding the difference between Nation with State and what patriotism means.

Why should one be even patriotic at all? Is it because we just happen to be born in this country by some random turn of events not in my control (assuming one does not believe in Karma and Reincarnation).. is it because some guys sitting in delhi made a line on maps and then told us that this part is India, this part is Pakistan etc etc and that they have to be loyal to it?

No, I don’t think that can be the case. If that is to be true, then nationalism is just jingoism. A nation is not a mere geographical or political entity. It is rather the name given to the collective consciousness of a group of people bound together by common set of ideals etc. Though these ideals cannot be tooo specific (else there is nothing in common) these cannot be at the same time too vague and hence absurd. (like “humanity”, “mankind”)

Just like a unit of army may have a particular goal to be archived which it does thinking and working as a group, nation is a group of people who are brought together by common ideals, aims and easy of getting together. This may be helped by factors like common history, common culture, common geography etc etc.

The bottom line is the individual ceases to act as an individual and acts as a part of the group (this need not be seen as a negation of citizen’s individuality. Its just a realization that individual interests too are best served by acting together).

Patriotism is the name given to the responsibility towards the web called Nation of which is also a part.

Thought a Nation is set of individuals bound together by a common ideal, they need a agent through which their collective aspirations are given shape. Thus comes the idea of State. A State is a political set up which acts on behalf of the (majority) individuals (note the difference between a Nation and a State)

The state is the means a nation chooses to give certain amount of freedom to the individual but enforces some minimum solidarity towards the Nation.

Now having established the difference between a Nation and a State and that a Nation is much much more than mere political entity, lets come back to the topic.

Cultural Oneness:
Are there are pointers which can prove that indeed such collective consciousness was present among the people of Bharat? Is the idea of Bharat a mere British contribution of was there earlier? Yes it was.

The idea of India, as Bharatavarsha or Aryavrata, appears to have been alive for thousands of years in our stories, thousands of years before there was an America or a Great Britain or a Mexico or France.

From the Manusmriti, we learn of the land of Aryavrata stretching from the Himalayas and Vindhyas all the way to the eastern and western oceans. Without the idea of Bharata, there could have been no epic called the Maha-Bharata that engaged kings throughout this land of Bharata. The story of Mahabharata shows a remarkable degree of pan-Indian context and inter-relationships, from Gandhari, the wife of Drithrashtra who came from Gandhara, (spelled as Kandahar in present-day Afghanistan), Draupadi from Panchala (present day Jammu and Kashmir), all the way to Arjun meeting and marrying the Naga princess Uloopi on a visit to Manipur in the east (from where he gets the `Mani' or Gem). Interestingly, Arjuna is said to have gone on a pilgrimage to the holy places of the east when this happens, showing the current North-East was very much linked in this. Finally, Krishna himself is from Mathura and Vrindavana (in UP) though his kingdom itself is in Dwarka (Gujarat).

Similarly, the story of Ramayana draws the north-south linkage from Ayodhya all the way down to Rameshwaram, at the tip of which is finally the land of Lanka. Note that it is not, for this particular thesis, important that the stories are historically accurate.

What we are interested in rather is whether the idea of India or Bharatavarsha or Aryavrata as a culturally linked entity existed in the minds of the story-tellers and ultimately in the minds of the people to whom these stories were sacred. And these stories were then taken and told and retold in all the languages of the people of this great civilization, till the stories themselves established a linkage among us and to the sacred geography they celebrated. This sacred geography is what makes northerners flock to Tirupati and southerners to the Kumbha Mela.

And the diffusion of these common ideas was certainly not only from the north to south. The great Bhakti movement started in the 6th and 7th centuries AD had its roots in the south in the Tamil and Kannada languages. Even while the boundaries of kingdoms changed, enormous cultural and religious unity continued to take place across India. It started off with the Alvars and the Nayanars (Tamil, 7th to 10th century AD), Kamban (Tamil, 11th century), Basava (Kannada, 12th century) and moved on to Chaitanya Mahaprabu (Bengali, 15th century), Ramananda (15th century, born in Allahabad of south India parentage, guru of Kabir, 15th century), Raskhan (16th century), Surdas (Braj, 16th century), Mirabia (Rajasthan, 16th century), Tulsidas (Avadhi, 16th century), Nanak (Punjabi, 16th century) and Tukaram (Marathi, 17th century), among the many. All these together weaved a garland across the land that spoke again of our common truths, our common cultural heritage.

The Bhakti movement retold our ancient stories in the language of the common people, in Marathi and Bengali, in Avadhi (present day UP) and Bhojpuri (present day Bihar), in Gujarati and Punjabi and in Rajasthani. We can marvel at the cultural unity in India, where while the Bhakti poets initiated the great movement for devotion to Shiva in the south, the erudite philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism was being developed coevally in the north.

Or that Kamban in the south was the first poet to take the story of Rama to the major regional languages, and Tulsidas, much closer to Ayodhya, came centuries later. Or that the great Krishna bhakta Chaitanya was celebrating his devotion to the King of Dwarka in Bengal while Tukaram sang praises of Lord Vithal in the west. An immense body of pan-Indian worship revolved around the triad of Vishnu, Shiva and Shakti in their various forms – whether as Rama, Krishna, Sri Venkateshwara, Sri Dakshinamurti, Jagdamba, Durga Mata or Kali. These common stories were told and retold without the mandate of any central church and seeped through the pores of the land of Bharata, forging a shared bond, unlike any other seen on the planet.

It was this idea of civilizational unity and sacred geography of India that inspired Shankaracharya to not only enunciate the mysteries of the Vedanta but to go around setting up mathas circumscribing the land of India in a large diamond shape. While sage Agasthya crossed the Vindhya and came down south, Shankracharya was born in the village of Kalady in Kerala and traveled in the opposite direction for the establishment of dharma. If this land was not linked in philosophical and cultural exchanges, and there was no notion of a unified nation, why then did Shankracharya embark on his countrywide digvijay yatra? What prompted him to establish centers spreading light for the four quadrants of this land – Dwarka in the west (in Gujarat), Puri in the east (in Orissa), Shringeri in the south (Karnataka) and Badrinath (Uttaranchal) in the north? He is then said to have gone to Srinagar (the abode of `Sri' or the Shakti) in Kashmir, which still celebrates this in the name of Shankaracharya Hill. What better demonstration that the idea of the cultural unity of the land was alive more than a thousand years ago?

And yet, these stories are not taught to us in our schools in India. We learn instead, in our schools, that the British created India and gave us a link language, as if we were not talking to each other for thousands of years, traveling, telling and retelling stories before the British came. How else did these ideas travel so rapidly through the landmass of India, and how did Shankracharya circumscribe India, debating, talking and setting up institutions all within his short lifespan of 32 years?

These ideas of our unity have permeated all our diverse darshanas. We have talked about Bhakti and Vedanta and the epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. But this idea of unity was not limited to particular schools. They were equally present in the tantric schools that exerted a tremendous influence on popular worship. Thus we have the legend of Shakti, whose body was carried by Shiva and cut up by Vishnu, landing in 51 places throughout the landmass of India that are now the site of the Shakti Peetham temples. The body of Shakti, or so the story goes, fell all the way from Neelayadakshi Kovil in Tamil Nadu to Vaishno Devi in Jammu, from Pavagadh in Gujarat to the Kamakshi temple in Assam and 47 other places.

Why would the story conceive of these pieces of Shakti sanctifying and falling precisely all over the landmass of India, rather than all of them falling in Tamil Nadu or Assam or Himachal (or alternately, Yunan (Greece) or China, or some supposed `Aryan homeland' in Central Asia) unless someone had a conception of the unity of the land and civilization of Bharatavarsha? Whether these stories are actual or symbolic, represent real events or myths, it is clear from them that the idea of India existed in the minds of those that told these stories and those that listened.

Together, all these stories wove and bound us together, along with migration, marriages and exchange of ideas into a culture unique in the story of mankind. A nation that was uniquely bound together in myriads of ways, yet not cast into a mono-conceptual homogeneity of language, worship, belief or practice by the diktat of a centralized church, intolerant of diversity.

If the concept of India did not exist earlier, why did the British, when they landed in Bengal, form the East India Company and not East Bengal company- how is it possible unless the conception of the land of India (a term derived from the original Hind) was shared by the natives and the British? They used this name much before they had managed to politically hold sway over much of India, and before they educated us that no India existed before their arrival. Why would the Portuguese celebrate the discovery of a sea-route to India when Vasco de Gama had landed in Calicut in the south, if India was a creation of the British Empire?

Ethnic/Civilizational Oneness:
The other pet argument people like to give is that India is a conglomeration of different set of invaders coming and settling here in different points of time.

The recent gene studies on the DNA samples of the people of India suggest the complete opposite. See tis research paper for example:

The Genetic Heritage of the Earliest Settlers Persists Both in Indian Tribal and Caste Populations
The American Journal of Human Genetics

Two tribal groups from southern India—the Chenchus and Koyas—were analyzed for variation in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), the Y chromosome, and one autosomal locus and were compared with six caste groups from different parts of India, as well as with western and central Asians…. H, L, and R2 are the major Indian Y-chromosomal haplogroups that occur both in castes and in tribal populations and are rarely found outside the subcontinent....
Haplotype frequencies of the MX1 locus of chromosome 21 distinguish Koyas and Chenchus, along with Indian caste groups, from European and eastern Asian populations. Taken together, these results show that Indian tribal and caste populations derive largely from the same genetic heritage of Pleistocene southern and western Asians and have received limited gene flow from external regions since the Holocene. [Source]

Political Oneness
Having seen how Bharat is culturally and civilizationally one, I come to the next topic of political unity.

As I said different political kingdoms does not in any way disprove nationhood. For example, in US all the 50 states are very different in many many ways, they even have double citizenship, different laws etc. But such mere administrative differences cannot disprove the concept of Nationhood.

Having said that, we can see that many successful attempts at political unity too were also made in India.

Among the earliest political consolidations, even by the dates of present colonial scholarship, was under the Mauryas from the 6th century BC to the 3rd century BC, when most of India was under their rule.

After the Mauryas, there was repeated political consolidation of large parts of India, even when all of it was not under a single rule. The Kanishkas consolidated the north from the Hindu Kush Mountains to Bihar and south to Gujarat and Central India. The Satavahana Empire, considered to be founded by high officials of the Mauryas, consolidated the south and central parts.

The Gupta Empire again politically consolidated the area from Afghanistan to Assam and south to the Narmada, possibly exerting political control even further down south. Samudragupta led an expedition all the way down to Kanchipuram in present Tamil Nadu. While the southern areas were not formally part of the Empire, they were quite likely de-facto vassal states, paying tribute to the Emperor.

Note that it would be a thousand years after the Mauryan Empire was established and even much after the Gupta Empire that the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century AD would first move into the region that would later be called England. It would be nearly five hundred more years before the territory of England would be consolidated as an independent political entity. Only much later would there be attempts at unity of `Great Britain'. The `United Kingdom' that includes Scotland, Wales and Ireland, as we mentioned earlier, is only a recent political artifact.

After the Gupta Empire, the Chalukya-Chola dynasty consolidated most of India in the south, leading expeditions even up to the north of the Ganges river.

Later on, much of India would be consolidated again under the Mughals, and after the Mughal empire disintegrated, by the British.

So while the British were the last power, before the current state of India, to administratively consolidate its territory (as well as to divide it up as they left), they were by no means the first ones to do so.

Even when multiple kingdoms existed, these kingdoms were not like the countries of today with a passport and visa regime needed to cross and all kinds of regulations on movement of goods and people. A continued exchange of ideas, people, goods and scholarship took place throughout the sub-continent, largely unmindful of the boundaries of kingdoms.

Furthermore, the territorial boundaries of India were largely maintained. There were few, if any, times before the British came when large parts of India were consolidated into kingdoms that were centered outside it. There were no significant long-lasting kingdoms, for instance, that ruled from Persia to the Ganges plain, or from Burma to Bengal, or from China or Tibet to Delhi. There was a separateness and integrity to this land.

Even in the case of the British, when all of India became part of a larger empire centered outside it for the first time, it was clear that it was distinct from Burma, for instance, even though they were contiguous land areas ruled by the British. And thus the freedom movements in Burma and India were separate. Burma and India did not become one after their respective independence, nor was there any call by Indian or Burmese nationalists to do so.

Thus there was an idea of India that made it be regarded as a separate and whole, even through political change and shifting boundaries of internal kingdoms.

In conclusion, I can only say that this crap of Bharat is not a Nation before and thanks to British for making it one is just a case of a lie repeatedly told until people started taking it as a sort of truth.

"India is not just a piece of land, not merely a collection of people, but a conscious spiritual being, a Divine Power, a Shakti, Devi, Goddess. India is Mother India, a living form of Divine Mother." ~ Sri Aurobindo

Disclaimer: Many part of this I plagiarized from this article and some are my additions.


Blogger Yzerfontein said...

Nice to see Vasco de Gama getting a mention.

10:29 AM  

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