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INDIA'S UNIQUE CULTURAL HERITAGE

 


 

  -- by  Dr Ausaf Sayeed


India
or Bharat, the fifth largest and the second populated country in the world, is one of the few countries which can boast of an ancient, deep-rooted and diverse culture, which stretches back to 5000 years.  In ancient times, India was known as 'Bharata Varsha', the country of the legendary king of Puranic times called Bharat, and was supposed to be a part of the island continent called 'Jambu Dvipa'. Geologically speaking, India formed part of the Gondwana land and was attached to Antarctica and Australia , before it was liberated from the Antarctica complex about 135 million years ago and started drifting towards the north and finally joining South Asia about 45 million years ago.

The Siwalik foothills of the north-western Himalayas served as home to the fossil primate genus known as Ramapithecus, which lived some 14 million years ago.Researches have also found that a species resembling the Australopithecus lived in India some 2 million years ago. Some anthropologists believe that the Chotanagpur region witnessed the transformation of Homo Erectus to Homo Sapiens.


Extensive archaeological excavations carried out at Mohenjodaro in 1922 brought to light the existence of a highly sophisticated and urbanized culture known as the Harappan Civilization in India dating back to about 2600-2000 B.C., which
dominated the north-western part of the Indian Subcontinent. It is believed that this civilisation covered an area of 1600 km from east to west and 1100 km from north to south, which exceeds the area occupied by contemporary civilisations like the Egyptian and Mesopotamian Civilisations.     The next most important phase in the Indian history came centuries later with the advent of Aryans from the northwest of India . The Aryan migration to India was gradual and spread over many centuries. The Aryans developed a remarkable culture, popularly known as Vedic culture, which was markedly different from the Harappan Culture.  

Endless Diversity

There is an endless diversity in India starting from its physical features to Geologic structure, fauna and flora, demographic structure, races, languages, religions, arts and crafts and customs and traditions. India has been variously described as "the Mini World", the "epitome of the world" and an "ethnological museum". The diversity in India is unique. Underneath this diversity lies the continuity of Indian civilization and social structure from the very earliest times until the present day.


India
's culture has been enriched by successive waves of migration, which were absorbed into the Indian way of life.   The successive waves of migration into India started with the Indo-Greeks (2nd Century B.C.), followed by the Kushans (First century A.D.), the incursions from the northwest by Arab, Turkish, Persian and others beginning in the early 8th century A.D. and culminating with the establishment of the Muslim empire by the 13th century, and finally the advent of Europeans -- the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English, the Danes and the French.  These interactions over the years led to introduction of newer elements in India ’s arts, music, literature and customs and traditions, thus enriching our cultural heritage.


From the very ancient times
India not only absorbed the foreign cultures into its composite fold, but it also managed to spread the rich elements of its own unique Shore Templeculture in different parts of the world. It is historically recorded that the Chola rulers had cultural contacts with countries like Ilamandalam ( Sri Lanka ), Sri Vijaya ( Sumatra ), Chavakam (Java), Kamboja ( Cambodia ) and Kadaram ( Malay Peninsula ). Evidences of these early Indian contacts are still found in the art and architecture of these countries. The Southeast Asian countries formed a stronghold of Indian culture from the early centuries of the Christian era. The various Southeast Asian languages show strong influence of Sanskrit.  Many earlier kingdoms of these countries had adopted Hinduism as their religion, whose influence is perceptible even today.


India
presents a picture of unity in diversity to which history provides no parallel. There is complete harmony in India in each of its cultural elements. Religion and philosophy, which forms the bedrock of any civilisation, are evident in India in the form of all major religions in the world -- Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zorastrianism and Judaism.


Regional Diversity


Each state of
India has its own language and set of tribes, festivals, arts and crafts and customs and traditions. While there are the Chenchus tribes in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, Bhils and Gonds in Central India, Dogris, Gujjars and Ladakhis in Jammu and Kashmir and Nagas, Bodos, Mishmis, Gharos and Khasis in the Northeast, there are tribes like the Jarewas, Onges, Andamanis and Sentinelese in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  There are some festivals, which are typical of particular states, cities or towns like the Bonnalu of Andhra Pradesh, Pushkar of Rajasthan, Rajrani of Orissa, Teej of Rajasthan and Bogali Bihu of Assam .  Each region is also identified with its typical folk and tribal dance forms, like Puli Vesham of Andhra Pradesh, Keli Gopal of Assam , Chhau of Bihar , Dandia of Gujarat , Bhangra of Punjab and Otthanthulal of Kerala. Similar parallels can also be drawn in the folk drama, theatre and arts and crafts.


Development of Arts and Fine Arts


There was a continuous evolution of drama, music, dance, painting and folk art forms under the different political rules in
India that ultimately led to the development of the definite 'Indian' element in each of these forms.  Thus, within the ambience of Indian culture one can identify 'Indian Music', 'Indian Dance', 'Indian Theatre', 'Indian Literature', 'Indian Fairs and Festivals' and so on.  


Indian music
has a very long and unbroken tradition, which is an accumulated heritage of centuries and traces its roots to Vedic days. Bharata's Natyashastra (4th Century AD) is a great, comprehensive work on the science and technique of Indian drama, dance and music.  The advent of Muslim rule in India brought in a changed perspective in the style of Northern Indian music. The traditional Hindu devotional music form of dhruvapad got transformed into the classical dhrupad form of singing under the Muslim rule. The khayal developed as a new form of singing in the 18th century A.D. and became equally popular among Hindus and Muslims.  Different ragas began to be introduced from the medieval times. Tansen created many new ragas like Darbari Kanada, Darbari Todi, Miyan Ki Todi, Miya ki Malhar and Miya ki Sarang, which until now, are regarded as the foremost ragas of Northern India .  Sultan Hussain Sarki of Jaunpur introduced ragas like Jaunpuri tori and Hussaini Kanada. Amir Khusro is credited with the creation of the Hemant, Prabhat Kali and Hem Behag ragas.  A large variety of foreign musical instruments like Harmonium, Sarod, Shehnai, Sitar, Tabla and Violin were introduced in India to supplement the ancient musical instruments like Flute, Nadaswaram, Veena, Gootuvadhyam, Thavil, Mridangam and Plain drum.


The six outstanding Sanskrit playwrights of all times, Shudraka, Harsha, Visakhadatta, Bhasa, Kalidasa and Bhavabhuti have made tremendous contributions in the field of dramatics. Kalidasa's Shakuntala, King Harsha's Ratnavali, Bhasa's Swapna-vasavadatta, Bhavabhuti's Uttara-rama-charita and Mahavira-charita, Visakhadatta's Mudrarakshasa are some of the outstanding Sanskrit plays, which indicate that India had a highly sophisticated theatre tradition in the ancient times when in most other countries it was still in its infancy.

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[i] Dr Ausaf Sayeed;'Trends in Indian Culture and Heritage',  p.80, Har Anand Publications Pvt. Ltd, 2012, 579 pages


 


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