Monday, February 25, 2008


In the book, "From Midnight to Millennium" Shashi Tharoor ponders over a very simple question. "How can you best define India".

He further elaborates on how difficult it is for anyone to "box" India into one defining identity.

If you think of it, it's so true. We are not a monolithic lot. Even from a common "culture" thread POV we have as many cultures as people. A Kerelite Mallu is so different than a Punjabi in so many aspects and so on. Our food habits are different (In Kerela
you can actually order beef in restaurants), our attire is different,
not to mention language, food and traditions, within the larger Indian
... but basically you get the drift.

It's a complex but colorful mix we Indians are.

Recently i saw a very interesting BBC documentary on India. During the course of the doc one statement struck me. INDIA IS A 10,000 YEAR OLD EPIC.

Isn't that statement just awesome?

Note the commentator does not use term like civilization. He simply says EPIC.
India is like a 10,000 year old story that still continues to be told. That is a beautiful idea. Not a country, not a civilization, but a living

Keeping aside the romanticism and idealism of it all, it even makes simple sense to some extent. Like right from Harrappa and Mohen-jo-daro to Asoka and Maurya to Akbar and Shivaji to British and now the new emerging India agian,it is a story. Like Mahabharata, the world's oldest and grandest epic,India itself is a story. A story so full of drama and emotion and sacrifice and success and failure and adventure and deceit and honor and...
We are a "continuous" civilization. There have been great civilizations before us. Egyptians and Chinese and Romans etc. I think what differentiates India from these is its ever lasting nature.

Think of it. Gayatri Mantra was chanted more than 3,500 years ago. It is still a common practice to chant Gayatri Mantra in a very large population of the country. The mantra is not chanted for the heck of it on some "symbolic" occasions. It's actually a routine practice and very much an alive thing.

Bhagvad Gita is as old as India. But it still has an actual existence in the Indian hemisphere. Or for that matter Yoga. It has survived centuries and continues to flourish. That is that eternal nature to the Indian epic.It refuses to climax. It still is not a "lost civilization" by any stretch. Even with all the modernity it retains it's innate Indianness. It keeps adding while holding onto it's very rich past.

How many rituals from Egyptian or Roman empires are actually in practice today. How many of them are "alive". Not many i am sure. They got lost somewhere in the "transition" period of Empires. When new came, the old got lost.In India when new came, it got "updated" to India. It did not or could not completely remove the old India. There surely must be that durability factor to the Indianness.
We are ROOTED.

Nevertheless,the statement in that documentary gave me a satisfying feeling. Finally there was a way to define India in one simple sentence. "It's an epic"

I think i will hold on to it for a while.


Rathchakra said...

A 10,000 year old epic - AWESOME. Well said, its unfathomable and undecipherable by anyone. So true to holding on to the roots while adding the new on top of it.
I will have to disagree to the statement of how many of the Roman traditions (add another old civilization the Greek to this) are still in use - elections, senates (democracy), architecture, language, calendars, principles/rituals for wars, trade, advertising,accounting and marketing - all are contributions of the Romans. Many Roman/Greek traditions, rituals, systems were of practical use which can and are used even after thousands of years. Our sages, kings and other prominent figures did not do a good job of documenting the knowledge they had (we sucked at documentation even 10000 years ago), it was left to some buffoons to pass it on as legends and myths and tall tales. (Check out the story of conception of Drona - I bet this was the first example of a test tube baby)
Today's India can be best described as an "Assault on ones senses".
Must check out the documentary though.

Kaunteya said...

hehehe... ya we sucked at documentation.

Yet, to give where the credit is due, we did pass on a quite a bit.