The Pertinence of Indian Traditions in the Modern World
I was having a great time talking with one of my childhood friends and suddenly he threw some serious questions.
‘Why we as Indians do not value our own traditions?
Are our traditions just superstitions?
Why it requires the western world to first accept our traditions and then we think it is worthwhile?’
I didn’t know what exactly to tell him.
These are kind of deep questions about which so many things wander in mind but it is hard to decide where to start with.
While I am writing this article, an abundance of thoughts running in my mind making me perplexed which to write and which to not.
Some articles are more logical and some are more emotional by the way they have been written.
This one is surely going to be an emotional one.
Now let’s get back to my friend’s hard-hitting questions.
What answer you would have given if you were in my place?
Close your eyes and let your mind wander.
Of course, you let me know your answer in the comment section after reading the article.
When we say, culture or Indian tradition, what we mean by that?
Culture consists of the behaviors, objects, and other characteristics common to the members of a particular group or society.
Through culture, people and groups define themselves, conform to society’s shared values, and contribute to society. Thus, culture includes many societal aspects: language, customs, values, norms, etc.
This article is not about what are Indian cultures and how relevant are they.
I am not trying to convey the superstitions or greatness of Indian traditions rather how and why we are becoming more ignorant day by day about our own culture.
It won’t be surprising if 20 years down the line people would have no idea about the essence of Indian traditions or culture.
You perhaps are aware of your countries traditions or culture but it is highly doubtful if your child would have the same.
Of course, there are people who would say
‘Why do we even need to be aware of so-called Indian culture, we are living in the age of globalization, can’t we just focus on world culture’.
To which I often wonder, what exactly is world culture?
People follow the most economically powerful people as authority consciously or subconsciously, that’s what is the norm of today’s societies.
Most of us follow what people in America think is cool. Because America is the wealthiest country in the world.
So there is no world culture. We tend to follow what economically prosperous people think is good.
There is no harm in the following someone provided my eyes and ears are wide open and I am aware of what is good and bad.
But it is not ok to blindly follow someone.
Today most of us have become just blind followers with our eyes, ears, and minds closed.
We are not following the best of the world culture, we are following the best of economically powerful nation’s culture.
Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican political activist, entrepreneur once said-
“People without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots”
People without roots in their past cannot have a creative sense of their future.
There is a phrase in Upanishads (a Hindu text) that says ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ which means ‘The world is my family’
The ancient Indians always had the idea of becoming a global citizen. So it is not even a new idea that people talk about today.
Up to the 17th century, the wealth in India was more than twice that of the rest of the world combined.
India’s share in world GDP used to be more than 30% (Today America controls 16% of world GDP).
It is no wonder why so many civilizations invaded this country.
What makes me proud as a citizen of this country is that instead of being powerful and wealthy in those times, India never believed in territorial or religious expansionism.
Civilizations came and went extinct but the 7000 years old civilization of this country is still going strong.
Won’t it make you wonder sometimes, what makes this country special?
What our ancestors have done right that preserved this countries essence instead of so many invasions and attacks?
In today’s time, I strongly feel that foreigners are more interested in India’s past and future than Indians themselves.
People outside India are embracing more of Indian cultures than Indians themselves.
Again, they don’t just blindly follow our traditions, they are aware most of the time about what value or meaning these traditions carry.
10 years back how often you used to hear about yoga or meditation?
I am sure very little.
But today you are seeing yoga and meditation everywhere.
What happened suddenly?
One of the main reasons is that people in the west have adopted yoga and meditation in their lifestyle.
That’s why many Indians today think yoga and meditation are really valuable.
I think that’s precisely what my friend's question was.
Why it requires the western world to first accept our traditions and then we think it is worthwhile?
I understand we all get educated in a western education model. No wonder our faith and believes are also shaped by what the western world thinks.
From clothes to foods, we are following and adopting a lifestyle that is more famous in the west.
Trust me this is not the actual problem. There is nothing wrong with following or adopting other’s lifestyle if it’s really good.
And there are plenty of good things to adopt from the western lifestyle.
But the problem is when we adopt a lifestyle without even thinking it’s good or bad.
We have become like those sheep that follow the first sheep in the line.
Here are some of the examples of Indian cultures that I believe are meaningful but have lost their essence in this age.
Of course, every tradition must evolve with time and cannot be rigid but the essence must remain the same.
1. Family Structures
No doubt, the concept of joint family is not very practical at this age. The point is not to start a joint family but to understand the meaning of this tradition.
For me, the structure of Indian families in earlier times taught me numerous lessons. There is no fun in enjoying your success alone or weeping in your failures.
You need trustworthy people around you. People to whom you can look up to. Even if living in a joint family is not possible always, having warm relations with relatives and friends is certainly possible.
Don’t let your next-generation feel strange about the concept of several people living together.
The future of a country can be predicted by looking at the ways families conduct their children.
No wonder why ancient Indians used to give special attention to growing up of children so that he/she become disciplined and a person with good values and principles.
Of course, we have failed to do that to some extent in today’s time.
The extreme individualism idea from an early age has given birth to numerous problems like wrong additions, premature physical relationships, disordered lifestyle, etc.
3. Marriage values
The meaning of love and marriage have dramatically changed for most Indians than what our ancestors used to have.
The increasing number of divorce cases and extra-marital affairs are evidence of that.
Marriages used to be thought of as a journey where two people shared their life with each other with some compromise, some sacrifice, and with a sense of responsibility.
But somehow today marriage in many ways has become a professional bond or a so-called commitment to share life without compromising their self-interests.
There is still a lot to learn from how our ancestors viewed marriage rather than just blindly following what is cool in America.
4. Food, clothing, and dialect
Don’t get me wrong. I am not at all saying to discard foods or clothing other than Indian. That would be insane.
West has so much great to offer in terms of food or clothes. But at the same time, we should also not neglect Indian foods or cuisines.
India has more than 120 unique weaves for clothing and is dying but yet most people have never heard of them nowadays.
If we are buying 2 pairs of blue denim, perhaps we can also think of buying one cloth made of Indian weaves sometimes.
Availability is not the problem today.
Awareness and willingness of people is the actual problem.
What makes people believe that learning a foreign language like Spanish or French (except English) is a matter of pride but not learning Indian languages.
Today more German Universities are teaching Sanskrit than in India.
What is wrong with us?
Why are we neglecting our own heritage and glories?
Perhaps because those history books in school have only taught us how this country was conquered, looted, raped, beaten, etc. by other people.
Those shitty books made sure that we don’t associate pride with our culture.
Perhaps they are successful in doing that.
At the end of this discussion, I would like to summarize by saying what happens to a culture or tradition of a nation or society depends on the mindset of people there.
Whether people think of their culture as an asset or liability.
If you think of your culture as a liability then it is just a burden to you.
But if you think of it as an asset then you would find many insights and lessons in it.
It doesn’t matter which culture or tradition you embrace as long as it is making your life better in every possible way. Just don’t follow blindly.
As an individual, I would also like to call myself a world citizen or want to be a world citizen.
But that doesn’t prevent me from embracing the assets of Indian culture that can make my life more meaningful.
It’s been a roller-coaster of emotions while writing this article.
As I said, this would more of an emotional one than logical.
I am sure you have also felt the same while reading.
Let me know in the comment section whatever you felt.