Heritage is the inheritance of cultural traditions, influences and ideas.
Unfortunately, man has rarely learnt from experiences of the previous societies. It often takes great people to guide and enlighten the people. Guru Nanak, Ram Mohan Roy and Mahatma Gandhi are some examples of these people. They affected our heritage more than any war or rule did. They gave a direction to the people to think and progress. It is not easy to encapsulate the heritage of India. A variety of cultures and religions makes things even tougher. Geopolitical changes brought with them new ideas and fresher perspective.
All this has helped to develop a rich heritage for us. Some of the old beliefs survived; some were changed in the process. All this helped in creating an identity that is distinctly Indian. If things like idol worship, caste system and snake charmers are connected with India, it is because all these are part of our heritage. We started as a Hindu society and remain one largely. However, the Hindu beliefs were transformed with the advent of Islam and later by Christianity. The Indian society was divided and fighting within when the Afghan invasions started. Subsequently, the Mughal rulers came and found a divided people easy to conquer.
However, the Indians didn’t take to their ideas and culture. They preferred their own culture and traditions. This trait of faith in their beliefs has been reflected from time to time in the Indian society. They tried to insulate themselves from their Muslim rulers.
However, the inability to survive without interaction with the rulers drove some Indians of the lower classes into the service of the Mughal emperors. The Muslim rulers on their part were trying to propagate the teachings of Prophet Mohammed. They spared no efforts.
People desirous of working for them had to praise the religion and even learn Persian. This mixture of Hindi and Persian produced Urdu. However, they were not able to achieve their objectives, partly because they didn’t have great access to the minds of the people in India. Religion might have spread, but mindsets remained the same. What actually brought about changes was interacts marriages.
The Muslim and Hindu ideologies came to a head after such marriages. They were arranged out of compulsions rather than choice. They affected the society by bringing together different sets of values. Thus, a mixture of these ideas brought out some bad features of both these cultures. The ideas did take a lot of time to germinate but they showed themselves afterwards.
The effect of Mughal rule on Indian culture was reflected after the advent of the British. This was the period when the Hindus and Muslims thought themselves to be partners in trouble and gave each other some recognition. Unconsciously, they became a part of the same civilization though the face of the civilization itself had changed. There were some beliefs that survived even after this. Primary among them were the Hindu traditions like sati and caste system. It took the open and liberal ideas of the west to eradicate these evils from our society.
When the Mughals came to power, their major area of influence was in north India and central India. They were not as well represented in the southern states. This is the reason why southern Indian traditions are more close to the ancient ones than those of north India. In addition, there were inaccessible and backward areas of the country like some in UP, Rajasthan and Bihar, which survived with old values.
These are the regions of the country where the old Hindu practices are still there. The people in these regions remained insulated and still do from the changes taking place in the rest of the country. In terms of arts and culture, this period was a golden one.
The Persian form of architecture was dominant and gave the overall scene a rich look. Each major rule in India had left its stamp in every field but this Mughal style was distinct. It gave us some superb structures like Taj Mahal and also a new language. However, sea changes in Indian attitudes were brought about by the British rulers of the country.
The avenues they opened for the Indians, helped in shaping the face of our society as it stands today. Just as in the case of Mughals, the Indian society tried to insulate itself from the British. However, the increasing influence of the British in all parts of the countries made them hard to ignore. The British also had a superiority complex due to which they tried to stay away from the Indian society. This arrangement of ignoring each other suited both sides and did continue for a long time. The Indians refused to see the writing on the wall, that they were being ruled and it was a matter of time before their oppression started. Originally sent to India as a trading company, the British East India Company was able to get a stronghold in the Indian territory by shrewdly dealing with princes and leaders, who were being troubled by other European settlers like the Dutch, Portuguese and French. This way, they were able to gain some control over India.
The people were still being ruled by Indian princes it was of no great benefit to them they paid obeisance to the British so the effect was undeniable. With the charge of India being shifted from the British East India Company to the forces of her majesty, the British made their intentions clear. They still looked down upon up the Indians but were aware of the fact that their own survival depended on people of the country. Hence they started a policy of divide and rule, which is shaking the roots of our society even today. In all this, the British looked to do nothing positive in way of improving Indian myths.
It suited them that they were ruling a backward and superstitious society. The difference of India from the African countries which they had also taken control of was that it was a richer civilization in every way. It had a richer heritage and was a very advanced society. Thus, the British had to find a way for effective management of the country. For this they needed local talent.
They found their answer in middle class Indian families who wanted to give their children a chance of making career. They started sending their young children to schools and colleges to become barristers and civil servants. Thus, to the western ideas which were more liberal and modern in outlook. These young people learned the more practical living style of European countries and learned more about their way of thinking. This helped them to compare their own values with that of the West. For some, it presented a pitiable picture and they chose to ignore their originality, preferring the sophisticated ways of the West. However, some realized the value of their own culture and heritage.
These people brought about the change in attitudes for the Indian masses. People like Ram Mohan Roy and Gandhi were the products of this very system. They were from the kind of family background that could afford to send their children to England for studies. They took advantage of the changes introduced by the British into the education system.
The western philosophy made these people distinct because they knew the wrongs that plagued the Indian society. On the other hand, they were confident of their own values and sought to put matters in the right perspective. What occurred because of this was the setting up of societies like Theosophical Society and Brahma Samaj. These societies had their roots in Hinduism only. However, they sought to put the texts in better light and expose to the society the evils of some of religious practiced prevalent in the country. It is a fact that had people like Mahatma Gandhi and Ram Mohan Roy not been exposed to western influence, they would not have been able to develop their ideologies their beliefs would have remained entrenched in their minds.
Mahatma Gandhi would not have realized the plight of harijans the untouchables had he not experienced segregation in South Africa. In later years, it was his fight for equality to the under-privileged that got these people special provisions in the Constitution and hence a better standing in the society. Their company is no longer considered taboo and they are not thwarted from leading a life like a brahmin or thatri. Brahma Samaj under Raja Ram Mohan Roy worked hard to eradicate practices like sati and human sacrifice. They had a philosophy that was closely following the ancient Hindu scriptures but did advocate the prevailing Hindu practices. They found a greater appeal among the urban Indians but found it difficult to spread the gospel in rural areas. These entire organisations helped in transforming the Indian mentality.
They sought to give the people of the country a better heritage. This is how some of our heritage was transformed as we see it today. Our society may not have progressed rapidly but it has gone for the better.
Social evils like caste discrimination, dowry and practices like sati and child marriage are not fully eradicated yet but they have certainly lessened in occurrence. The biggest reason for this has been that India is an independent country now. Ever since India became a democracy, the people have actually realized the essence of being an independent nation. To fit into this structure of democracy the people have mended their ways.
No segment of the society can survive without the help of the other and people realized it post independence. Since the democratic system does not allow such practices, therefore, they have been widely rejected. It might take some time for these practices to vanish altogether.
We have progressed as a nation. Fortunately, we have progressed into a civilization that has not lost its values down the centuries. We have improved by eradicating unnecessary social atrocities that were prevalent in the society.
What we need to remember is our heritage. It is our identity in this fast changing world. We need to be proud of such a culture as ours, which is so pristine and good that it has not lost its essence through centuries of metamorphosis.
The words given in Upanishads or Gita are still the right ones. The religious diversity we possess has enabled us to be morally strong people. We should feel proud that men like Guru Nanak, Vivekananda, and Buddha have left their legacy to us. It is up to us to follow their path and cherish our heritage, and carry their message to the world. India is still in a nascent stage of development, but a rich heritage and improved society can take us a long way. Let’s not forget we also bear the responsibility of leaving a heritage to the coming generations, of which they should be equally proud.