Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
The basic characteristic of Indian culture is the synthesis which has emerged on the acceptance of superficial differences
Under the auspices of the Indo-Mauritius Association, Mr. B. Chatterjee, Commissioner for the Government of India, gave a talk on ‘Fundamentals of Indian Culture’ in Port Louis Theatre on last Sunday. There was a large and distinguished gathering representing a cross-section of the people.
The Commissioner in the course of his speech explained the cultural traits as expressive perfections in individual or community behaviour, suggestive of the training and refinement of mind and manners which find expression in the ways of life of the bulk of people, and may be regarded as an index of the inherent nobility of thought and cultivated values of life.
Mentioning that culture is not the monopoly of any race or country, he limited his observations to the basic trends as readily recognizable in Indian life. Pointing out that culture quite often is confused with certain regional habits, customs and practices prevailing in different regions and climate, he indicated the presence of cultural manifestations in Art, Crafts, Music and many expressed and implied ways of daily life.
The basic characteristic of Indian culture is the synthesis which has emerged on the acceptance of superficial differences, which he compared to the fingers of the hand — separated and yet co-operating at all times.
On that basis of unity in diversity, the Commissioner elaborated two principal characteristics — the humanistic approach and the spirituality in outlook.
From pre-historic times he drew the chart of events showing the mass human movements that were going on in India with the settlement of diverse racial elements with differing languages, customs and culture. He held a graphic picture of the cycle of assimilation consequent on the contact, conflict and compromise that resulted in the emergence of the ancient Indian people.
Describing the aggregating richness of culture, starting from the hetergeneous social complex of the Pre-Vedic period, he traced the influence of the successive eras. The universality of outlook was a contemporary philosophy and a way of Indian life. The same outlook gathered fresh vitality with the rise of Jain and Buddhist influence. Their social philosophy was universal with the community as the centre and the universe as the periphery and the horizon was viewed as ‘Vasudhaiva-Kutumbakam’. All earthly creatures were their relatives. A degree of sympathy, understanding, tolerance, fellow-feeling and a measure of sacrifice was embodied in that outlook.
Through the Post-Vedic period — with the developing ‘Bhakti’ or cult of devotion — a sense of spirituality was noticeable in the content of Indian thought and vision. It was complimentary to the humanistic approach to life’s problems. The socio-philosophical system of the time with an aspect of spirituality was a marked feature in the multifaceted totality of Indian culture which gave them a sense of perspective, a balanced view on life and faith in their own worth and also helped to place faith in others’ ways of life. This trait involving optimism, fortitude and sacrifice helped in accommodating freshly settled peoples with new thought and culture.
Christianity came to South India almost at the beginning of the Christian era. Then was the advent of Islam whose influence on music, architecture and fine arts was a rich legacy. The Western influence on thought and culture especially in the field of art, literature and learning generally brought about a culture renaissance. Indian society reacted to Western influence in the traditional ways, and while retaining its soul, it imbibed the best that such contacts offered. Ram Mohan Roy, Dayanand, Tagore and Gandhi were amongst the illustrious luminaries who were products of this new assimilation.
The Commissioner also sketched an aspect of humility as noticeable in Indian culture which he described as an expression of simple living or as a basic concept before the living universe.
While referring to the modern trends of Neo-culture, where with developing technological advances the people are physically brought nearer, he stressed on the views of Tagore and Gandhi — the embodiments of Indian culture — whose dream was to establish a human fraternity built on the basement of truth with stones of understanding, cement of love and colour wash of decency and beauty.
Friday 26th October 1956
* Published in print edition on 8 March 2019