By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
We are all familiar with the word ‘culture’ and often use it in our conversation. The terms ‘cultured’ and ‘uncultured’ are used by us to describe the ture and attitude of a person. But in a wider sense it is not really an individual trait—every tion has its own culture. The dictiory meaning of the word ‘culture’ is intellectual and artistic achievement or expression. In the words of the sociologist Dewey, “culture means something cultivated, something ripened, it is opposed to raw and crude”. Some writers remark that culture has two sides—exterl and interl. The exterl side is civilization and the interl side is culture. Our thoughts, activities, art and craft, morality, religion etc. are the expression of culture. The goal of culture is the achievement of some value and the means used for the attainment of the goal. In the opinion of Gisbert, “civilization is exterl and mechanical, utilitarian and concerned only with means, while culture as dealing exclusively with ends, is exterl, organic and fil.
Every action of a human being is directly or indirectly linked with his social and tural environment. The action or reaction of a particular environment arises directly from some need. The need may be judged from two different points of view. One is material need, for which man cultivates soil, produces food and clothes, makes houses, discovers minerals and so on. But there is another need, which is aesthetic and spiritual. For this reason man learns music, fine arts, writes poems and other forms of literature, participates in religious discourses, deals with philosophy and joins in diverse activities for his spiritual and aesthetic development. Both spiritual and material needs influence man. According to Gisbert, “This complex of object and ways of behaviour of material and immaterial interests and satisfaction, has been desigted by early and modern anthropologist by the me of culture”.
We may say that culture is a way of life of a group of people residing in a particular place and at a certain time. It is reflected in the practices that regulate the individual and collective lives. It has diverse aspects, notably aesthetic, moral, social and spiritual. All the cultural practices are guided by a belief, which represents a particular way of looking at the world and provides meaning and significance to peoples activities and relations. All sorts of social customs are derived from the particular way of looking at the world. Some people aim at wealth and power and some aim at truth and virtue. These aims are regulated by a particular culture and it puts forward means to pursue the goal. Beliefs belong to the reality of thoughts and form the foundation of a culture.
It has been said by some scholars that Indian culture origited in the indigenous civilization of Indus valley which was multi-lingual and multi-ethnic. Some of the elements of the period through its synthesis with the Vedic culture continue till today. Upanishadic thoughts can be termed as the basis of Indian culture and it is obvious that Indian culture has a rich heritage.
The popular meaning of culture for us is refined taste and behaviour. Every tion follows some traditions and customs, which comprise the culture of that tion. Indian society too has its traditions, and that is our culture. To preserve our culture we have to follow certain rules and practices, which would represent our rich heritage and of which we should be justifiably proud. A glimpse at our ancient literature and architecture abundantly demonstrate the rich culture of ancient Indian society. At the same time it is also true that nothing remains the same in this world and everything changes through the passage of time. Culture too goes through certain changes in a tural way, which is inevitable. In fact the culture of a tion becomes richer if it incorporates some good aspects of another’s culture. Only thing is that we should be careful that some foreign culture does not destroy our own Indian culture. We may imbibe the positive aspects, and not the negative ones, which may have a destructive impact on our traditiol Indian culture.
At present it does seem that western culture has elbowed out our traditiol Indian culture. Our young generation have come under the grip of a foreign culture, which may have changed their mental and physical setup. Hence it is time to review the situation and think about ways to save the Indian culture from foreign invasion and find out means to preserve it. In our country we notice the celebration of some events which are certainly not of Indian origin. For example, holding of beauty pageants, New Year Eve celebrations, ball room dancing etc. do not follow Indian tradition. Then observation of Valentines’ day is certainly not our culture. These are only a few instances out of many, which we have borrowed from others and have adopted as our own. There is of course no harm in adopting certain foreign culture, if it does not harm our own culture.
In every sphere of life we can clearly notice the profound influence of the West on the Indian way of life. This tilt towards the western culture may be due to the fact that once Indians were ruled by the British people and somehow their culture might have rooted deep in the psyche of the Indian people. Or, it might be due to the fascition of our youths towards the white people and their life style. The irony is that even after seventy years of independence, the West is still ruling us psychologically and morally. Our young people go to discotheques, celebrate certain events, not even remotely connected with Indian tradition, talk in a smattering of broken English, dress and behave like a foreigner—like some European or American person. Our young girls are reluctant to wear traditiol Indian dresses and have opted for mini-skirts, shorts, jeans and tops with weird figures. Boys too have taken to western dresses. Jeans have become very popular with both the sexes.
We have become so hypnotized by the western way of life, that we have forgotten our own culture. Even nursery children are encouraged to speak in English by their parents. Some of them proudly say that their children cannot read or write in their mother tongue. Because of the lop-sided view of the parents, English medium schools have sprouted everywhere like pan shops. Of course it must be admitted that learning English or other foreign language is admirable. In fact, English appears to be the richest language in this modern era, which has a vast stock of literature. It has become a kind of world language and hence our children should certainly learn it. But at the same time they must learn their own language as well. Only through our own language we can make a correct representation of our indigenous culture. Hence one may learn as many languages as he/she wishes, but in the process one’s own language must not be denigrated.
It is very true that some of the customs we have adopted are not of Indian origin. Yet I feel that culture is not something static and stagnt, but it is a dymic process which goes through an evolutiory procedure, as the whole world is doing. As civilization progresses, man’s mental setup also changes and so does culture. So it is only tural that Indian culture also has gone through several changes in its onward progress.
Every primitive culture has some good and some evil aspects. Hence in the evolutiory process the culture of a tion has to go through certain changes. We may sum up by saying that in the ongoing progress culture imbibes something new, something old and something borrowed. But that does not imply total rejection of one’s own culture and adoption of a foreign one in its entirety. Today we notice continuous assault on Indian culture, which might lead to disastrous consequences. Without any discrimition our people have taken to western culture like duck to water. It is essential to recognize the fact that western culture too has both positive and negative aspects. It is entirely reprehensible to blindly imitate a foreign culture and forget one’s own. Culture of a tion may be enriched by adopting the good points of another’s culture, but total rejection of one’s own culture is disastrous.
Since culture represents the identity of a tion, its identity will be lost if we totally discard our own culture. The Indian culture truly expresses the ethos of the people, but it must be progressive and dymic and should not remain static in its primitive form, since only with a dymic culture a tion can progress. There is no harm in assimilating some aspects from the culture of other tions, provided they do not destroy our identity. Actually it gets richer with some of the good customs, derived from others. Change is the means for progress and one has to accept it, but the basis of change is one’s own culture, which must not be distorted. Change may be constructive or destructive. Constructive change does immense good to the tion, but destructive change causes irreparable damage to a community’s mental framework.
Religion is closely connected with the meaning and significance of human existence and therefore it is associated with culture. It has been said that religion shapes a culture’s system of beliefs and practices and culture influences how a religion is interpreted. Diverse sects have diverse culture and human civilization has not yet developed a culture that is universally applicable.
Indian culture was based on the Upanishads and its trend was spiritualistic. From time immemorial the Indian culture has always leaned towards spiritualism. But now that glorious tradition has been lost. In ancient age Indians were firm believers in spiritualism, virtue and moral conduct. In Bhagavad Gita, in the dialogue between Lord Krish and Arju, we find the rich tradition of Indian philosophy, which happens to be the very basis of Indian culture. But now that great Indian culture seems to be replaced by the western culture, based on materialism. In every sphere we notice vulgar competition for material gains and as a result, the selfish greed of individuals for money and power is obvious. Because of the loss of high moral values, which was the trade mark of Indian culture, we see alarming rise of horrible crimes.
It is time to revive the Indian culture with its wonderful legacy of spiritualism and morality with a search for eterl truth. In their senseless imitation of the western culture, Indians have lost their high moral values of life. Unless our traditiol rich culture with some modification in conformity with modern ideas is regenerated, the future of the tion appears to be dark and grim. Culture not only represents the tion, but it also gives shape to our tiol look. For the true progress of the country, the Indian culture has to be regenerated in order to lead the tion to the eterl truth, where lies the ultimate happiness.
Metamorphosis of Indian Culture
By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee