Nani Palkhivala, in his book “We, The Nation — The Lost Decades” quotes Will Durant on the need for preserving and nourishing the culture of a nation.
“Just as continuity of memory is necessary for the sanity of an individual,
continuity of the nation’ s traditions and culture is necessary for the
sanity of the nation”
I think this is a profound statement on why a nation needs to pay importance to preserving it’s traditions and culture. A man without memory is at best an animal — or just an unintelligent machine. Such a person cannot experience joy — can’t feel or express happiness. An existence without purpose — without meaning.
Similar will be the state of a nation which “forgets” its culture. It may have the greatest material prosperity — but its society will forever be lost — in search of a reason for its existence.
Sanatana dharma says every soul is intrinsically pure bliss — ananda. That is its natural state. The entire cycle of life and death is to realize that innate quality of each individual’s soul— and give full expression to it — to feel naturally happy. The rituals, practices, traditions of sanatana dharma — in other words — the ‘‘samskriti’’ of sanatana dharma — is therefore custom made to help individuals and society attain its intrinsically natural state of happiness.
There is no other, extant, culture that nurtures this underlying philosophy. Which is why preserving and enriching sanatana dharma is indispensable to us Bharatiyas. That is why it is not ok for us to allow our samskriti to die nor is it ok for us to embrace any other foreign culture (in to-to). The experience of our rishis — for thousands of years — has established beyond a doubt that our current path is the right one — the one that will take us higher — to our final goal. There is no question, therefore, of abandoning our current path — especially when it is THE right path.
Stages of erosion
In my opinion there are three main stages in the erosion of a nation’s culture.
a) Loss of knowledge
b) Loss of pride
c) Loss of cultural instruments
Loss of knowledge of the facets of a society’s culture is the first, and most damaging, phase. Without a firm grounding on why we do what we do — it is impossible to be convinced about the need to practice anything. The emphasis on education — and including culture in it — was for this very reason given extreme importance in our history. As is well documented now, the Macaulayian project of destroying Bharatiya education has been carried forward, with greater vigour, by successive secular governments in independent India. It has reached a stage of considerable success now. The very talk of imparting our traditional knowledge evokes ugly reactions from the “elite”.
The task of ensuring loss of knowledge has reached a significant milestone, I would say.
The natural fall out of loss of knowledge is lack of pride or attachment. A follow on stage is disgust and denial. This is what we see amongst a huge section of our youth today. Every ritual is termed ‘superstition’. Every festival is ‘damaging’. Every custom is a ‘burden’. The minds of our youth are being ‘cleansed’ of any cultural remnants. Once the cleaning is complete, these minds are sitting ducks for takeover by other ‘cultures’ (if one can call them that).
Loss of pride is immediately followed by actual decline of the cultural practices themselves. We see this happening throughout the year. Our festivals are now occasions to take ‘annual breaks’ when one needs to head off to a resort to ‘rejuvenate’. In most houses, Deepavali has been reduced to only two things — eating sweets and shopping for clothes. Navaratri is when one can go drink and dance. The list goes on…
Of course, there are exceptions to all of the above. There are still pockets where the traditional customs have been preserved and are practised. But exceptions exist in every issue. The worry is always about the dominant case.
The Road to Recovery
In my opinion, the fight back has to happen at all three levels. We should ensure the sustenance and practice of all rituals and customs. We should propagate these elements to make sure it gets considered as mainstream (wearing traditional dresses, speaking vernacular languages, eating in the traditional style, external symbols, and so on and on).
But most importantly, we must regain our ability to transmit traditional knowledge and educate our next generation! Each individual doing his or her own bit at a personal level to educate kids and others is one aspect. What is more important is to be able to do this at an institutional level. We need the ability to educate, freely, about our culture, customs and languages in our schools and colleges.
While our ancestors transmitted our cultural knowledge at an individual level, they also established massive universities such as the ones at Nalanda, Takshashila and Mulabagal for educating society at large. Our history is replete with examples of Kings patronising such activities. All this point to the necessity of institutional support.
Therefore, we should no longer neglect the loss of institutional control that Hindus have suffered in independent India. A focused and sustained campaign on (a) freeing our schools and colleges from the clutches of government control and regulations (b)the uncapping of the artificial and meaningless block on teaching our traditional knowledge and (c) greater autonomy in teaching, is the need of the day.
Technical education and skill imparting is critical and definitely has its own position in building a economically strong nation. Training of the mind, intellect and soul — the real ‘education’ — is equally, if not more, important in building a culturally strong nation.