Cultural identity is important for a country, where the country’s nationals share the same cultural identity, the nation finds stability as opposed to a disparate distribution of culture and mindsets. India today has demographics of a kind that only a few other nations in the world possess leading to multiple identities. We often deliberate on issues of migration as well as constructivism in the field of global politics but most of us are unaware about why our nation has culminated into possessing multiple forms of religions and culture.
The ancient history of the Indian subcontinent is a blend of the Indus valley civilization amd the Vedic culture, which brought about masterminds of city planning, cultural sentiments and Hinduism as a way of life respectively. The people inhabiting the Indus Valley Civilization or the Bronze Age were thought to be Dravidians, whose descendants later migrated to the south of India. They developed new techniques in handicraft and metallurgy (copper, bronze, lead, and tin). Noted for their urban planning, baked brick houses, elaborate drainage systems, water supply systems, and clusters of large non-residential buildings, Indus Civilization cities were remarkable for their apparent egalitarianism. There were no rulers and all enjoyed equal status without any disparity. Religious practices were confined to the worship of stones like the Ling and the Yoni, Lord Shiva and worship of trees and nature, which now in retrospect, fit into the Hindu narrative.
The decline of the civilization was marked by drought and the failure of trade with Egypt gave emergence to a completely different culture. The Vedic culture is described in the texts of the Vedas, the principal texts of Hinduism and the Upanishads. The period further instilled the culture and society that India is made of and the records are present in the Atharva, Rig, Yajur and Samveda. This period laid the foundation of Indian way of life, which culminated from the Brahmanic norms. Sanskrit was recognized as the language of communication and even writing scriptures and religious texts. In addition to the Vedas, the core themes of the Sanskrit epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are said to have their ultimate origins during this period.
During the Vedic period, the Mauryan Empire under Ashoka was then established as the first ever single empire to have reigned all of India. A period when Buddhism was introduced which eventually brought about the importance of non violence and republican ideology. The death of Ashoka led to the rise of the glorious Gupta Dynasty.
We have all read about the Renaissance in Europe as a result of the western education that we received during the British invasion, which comes much later but have clearly not been told about the reformation that took place during the Golden Age or the Gupta Dynasty in India since it brought about immense discoveries in mathematics, science, philosophy and the most prestigious, the discovery of zero by Aryabhatta. This period marked the birth of intellectuals and scholars.
The fall of the Gupta Dynasty gave rise to the Cholas who are the most undermined rulers of Indian history and have been scarcely read about across India. Staunch followers of Hinduism, they were the longest rulers of Southern India from Kalinga to Sri Lanka.
India was a flourishing nation known as the Golden Bird, and hence naturally attracted the world’s attention and envy. During this time in the 11th century is when Mahmud of Ghazini invaded India and destroyed the temple of Somnath opening a gateway of further invasions by Mohammed Ghauri, later in the 12th century followed by the Khalji Dynasty to be established by Allaudin Khalji in the 14th century. These invasions laid the foundation of Muslim rule in India that shook the identity that India stood for. The introduction of new religion, ideology, way of life and belief system left the country in mayhem, which was an obvious reaction as for 5000 years, this nation had its own way of life, which came to her naturally. This became a motherboard for the conflict that arose among the India nationals in the times to follow.
When religion and beliefs are challenged, there is little that people see rationally, even more so, when the belief imposed is radical in nature. Even though there was marginal profit of the Mughal Empire, the majority only led to shaking the foundations that the 5000-year-old culture people identified with. A country that has its roots in a civilization that can never perish the invasion and colonization lead to fragmentation, which changed the dynamics of ethnicity or the identification with inherent cultures. The Mughals and the British Empires stand testimony to the fact that an exterior force is detrimental to a nation’s growth and only a tool of realist expansion.
The Mughal Empire that reigned India as invaders, brought about drastic cultural shifts, during their reign, many developments took place. “Wah Taj” a marvel established in the Mughal Empire, a gift given to India that feature’s in the wonders of the world is by far the best gift that another empire that invaded a country, could bestow. The Mughal Empire gave us many such historical marvels and cultural architecture that have been restored and maintained till today. However, if we forget face value, it is obvious that it is the proof of an empire that saw an opportunity in India’s wealth, so decided to rule her as her own inhabitants till eternity. For Shah Jahan, the Taj was only a piece of marble that he created for his wife but for the Indians, it was a pillar of resurrection of the fear, that they were going to be ruled by this radical force, forever.
The Mongol ruler Babur, a descendent of Chenghis Khan established the Mughal Empire in India, when he first founded the empire, he did not emphasize on his religion, but rather his Mongol heritage of Persian and Urdu literature. He left behind as legacies, his memoirs (Baburnama), several beautiful gardens in Kabul and Lahore, and descendants who would fulfill his dream of establishing an empire in the Indian Subcontinent. Humayun, who inherited his father’s overly demanding task for a ruler like him, could not live up to the glory of his name. He died after falling off the stairs in his library while his son Akbar, at the age of 13, succeeded him to the throne.
Unlike his predecessors, Jalal Ud Din Akbar was a peace-loving, accommodating ruler who catered to all ethnic groups across the nation. Under him, the court abolished the jizya, the tax on non-Muslims, and abandoned use of the lunar muslim calendar in favor of a solar calendar more useful for agriculture. One of Akbar’s most unusual ideas regarding religion was Din-i-Ilahi, which was a mix of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. He encouraged widow re-marriage, discouraged child marriage, outlawed the practice of Sati, and persuaded Delhi merchants to set up special market days for women, who otherwise were secluded at home. By the end of Akbar’s reign, the Mughal Empire extended throughout most of India, this was the only period of peace in the Mughal Empire for there were no issues of petty rivalries or religious advantages.
But soon the Mughal Empire lost whatever respect and positive acceptance it received when Aurangzeb was crowned the King, who even killed his own father, Jahangir. Aurangzeb reversed every right decision that his predecessors had made and was a radical Islamist, he spoilt all relations with Hindus, imposing Islamic law and the Haj tax. Being involved in a series of wars: against the Pathans in Afghanistan, the Sultans of Bijapur and Golkonda in the Deccan, the Marathas in Maharashtra and the Ahoms in Assam, peasant uprisings and revolts by local leaders became all too common, as did the conniving of the nobles to preserve their own status at the expense of a steadily weakening empire. The increasing association of his government with Islam further drove a wedge between the ruler and his Hindu subjects the contenders for the Mughal throne were many, and the reigns of Aurangzeb’s successors were short-lived and filled with strife. The Mughal Empire experienced dramatic reverses as regional nawabs (governors) broke away and founded independent kingdoms.
Evidently, this very fragmentation is bound to occur when an external force is applied and this led to an outlet for another scavenger to set its gaze to feed off of India’s wealth. The British were missing out on this rich, Golden Bird so they decided to expand their already established East India Company in Surat to gradually proclaim Queen Victoria as the Empress of India. Due to the weakness in the successors of Aurangzeb, the Nizams and the Nawabs became puppet rulers in the hands of the British and the Mughal rule finally ended with the death of Bahadur Shah Zafar II and the British became the sole rulers of India.
A race, culture and origin, completely different form that of the Indian (by now Hindu and Muslim Indians.) They preached Christianity and established churches and schools associated with it that had English as their medium of instruction. In a nation where the population was already struggling to maintain their different ethnicities, imposing a third one was only part of their “Divide and Rule” scheme. They colonized India and maintained it by making sure the country is weak from within. These policies had grave impact in the field of education, which was followed through by recreating the Indian history. Although, one could give them merit for helping us preserve our history by their advanced ways, they still interpreted history in their own ways that did not always served the truth.
Moreover, the Indian economy was primarily a rural economy that earned its revenue from the trade of Muslin. But, at the beginning of the 18th century, Britain and other European countries passed laws prohibiting the entry of cotton and silk textiles from India although there was a demand for it. India was forced to produce cotton, indigo and other products which British industries required because of the European Industrial Revolution. India gradually became the provider of raw materials from a flourishing economy of proud and talented artisans.
Ever since then, these impacts have made it a struggle for Indians to revive our handicraft sector and even inculcate our moral value and culture in the field of education. The roots of this vicious tree spread so deep that Indians started believing that the theories of Locke, Mill etc on liberty and freedom call for change from villages to modernity. This discrepancy between the inherent nature of Indians and the impositions made on them created further fragmentation in society where now, not only on religious but even on ideological and economical basis, we faced immense chaos and have still not completely bounced back to what our nation stood for.
Till today, we are ambiguous about what our culture actually is; we are ambiguous about our past because our curriculums are restricted to Sepoy Mutiny, glorification of the British, The Muslim League, Gandhi and Nehru. Our handicrafts like the Muslin; Banarasi etc are just worn to make fashion statements and when anyone makes endeavors to revive this very culture, he or she is ridiculed for being radical and intolerant. We as Indians do not question the wrongs of the past but are ready to put allegations on those who want to revive India’s glory. It is imperative to face reality, more importantly at least know reality, till the time, these implications of the external rule of the British and Mughals are not seen as detrimental to India, we will continue to deem our well wishers as the radicals when the true meaning of the word lies in the sufferings of those who want to make the blind see.
Our nation is not just diverse because people migrated here, it is diverse because of the various ethnicities that were brought by the rulers which broke India apart. I am in no way implying that we must re unite all forces to stick to a particular religion but am imploring all to embrace the culture that we belong to and not turn a blind eye to the facts that are staring at us. Will continue giving my insights in my next write-up wherein would aim to highlight how we can bring some semblance to this mindset and move forward as a nation that is proud of its heritage and culture. Search for finding the identity as a nation continues.