Being an avid reader of history and current affairs, I have often seen few questions being raised on the idea of India as a unified nation. Many so called self-elevated experts from our neighboring country (on the west) hold on to this by saying that India was never a unified nation in its history, and was often a country ruled by kingdoms. Also, they go ahead claiming that it was the British who unified India as a nation. Besides, this also goes along with the question of any similarity between different parts of the India due to their distinct culture, language, tradition, food etc. Hence, I decided to write a post about this to elucidate my opinion on why India is being India? How has it withstand as a united country for the past 73 years after independence? And when we say “Unity in Diversity”, what does it actually mean?
India is a unique nation, and it has been since 5000 years. The epic tales of Ramayana and Mahabharata have happened here, then known as Bharatvarsha. The present boundaries though are limited to the Himalayas in the north, and surrounded by Indian ocean in the south, Arabian sea to the west and Bay of Bengal to the east, but centuries back it was stretched far away from today’s boundaries. The present day Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bali, Thailand, Tibet all were a part of India. The names in this region are synonymous with Indian heritage such as Kandhara from Gandhara, Kashgar from Kashyap, Hindukush meaning the land where the last Hindus lived, which is located in the present day Afghanistan. It isn’t strange that the Maratha-Peshwa empire was stretched till Attock in present day Pakistan.
Even though many invaders from Afghanistan, and later Mughal rulers established their rule in India, with Delhi being the center of power, but there were always regional powers who had firmly established their kingdoms. The Mughal rule lasted for more than 500 years, and hence during this time there were rulers like Maratha empire, Peshwa empire, Rajputana, Vijaynagara empire, Gajpati kingdom etc who continued to influence in their regions. Later when the British came, they had to collaborate along with the regional kingdoms like Rajputs, Nizam, Travancore, Mysore kingdoms to establish their rule in other parts of India. And so it was not the invaders or British who united India, but it was always united before, though ruled by different kings.
The geography of the country makes it unique to stand united. As it is surrounded by sea and oceans on its three sides, hence it is natural for it to stay together as a province. Even the north is surrounded by giant Himalayas which have always restricted the invaders from China, Mongolia to come to India. Only the north-western part of India comprising of Punjab, Rajasthan, Sindh is open and hence, historically, all the invaders except Europeans came via land route. Even the monsoon affects the whole region and so it is natural to consider the whole sub-continent under one umbrella, India!
India has a diverse set of religions. Even though Hinduism is the majority religion but the tenets of Hinduism suggests it to be more so a way of life. There are many gods and goddesses in Hinduism, but the main four practiced are Lord Shiva, Vishnu, Durga Mata and Ganpati. Ram and Krishna are considered to be a avatars of Vishnu. They are called as four denominations in Hinduism such as Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Shaivaism and Smartism. When we see the temples in India for these Gods, they are also located & worshipped uniquely in different parts of India. Ganpati is worshipped largely in the western ghats region of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, while Krishna bhakti is more so in the northern land of Mathura, UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat. We often hear “Jai Shri Krishna”, “Radhe Radhe” from people saying to each other in those parts as a greeting. The famous Ram temple is in Ayodhya, UP and the region of UP, Bihar, MP is known for its Ram bhakti, and “Jai Ram Ji ki” is the common greeting there. The epic “Ramayana” shows the vanvasa for Ram, Sita and Lakshaman started from Ayodhya till southern land of Sri Lanka, all the way through India’s heartland, north to south, passing through Chitrakut parvat in Madhya Pradesh, Panchavati in Maharashtra etc. This shows the continuity of Indian history from north to south, even during those times.
Then, the northern most and southern most areas for known for their Shiva temples. The Himalayas have been the most sacred mountains for Shiva temples such as Kailas Manas-sarovar, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Amarnath etc, while the South India is also equally known for Shiva worship with numerous temples such as Rameshvaram, Srisailam, Meenakshi temple etc. Infact it is wonder that all the Shiva temples in the north ad south are located on the 79’E longitude. This again shows the unification of the country on grounds of religion and faith.
Also, it is worth noting that worship of Durgamata is heavily practiced in two provinces in India which are Gujarat and West Bengal, which are located on the two corners of the country. Even other religions have found their places of worship all over India. Sikh Gurudwaras in Amritsar and Nanded are very famous, so are Buddhist temples from Bodh Gaya to Sarnath, Jain temples in Mt Abu and Shravanabelagola, and Islam from Jama Masjid till Haji Ali.
That’s why, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said during his speech in Ayodhya, “Across the length and breadth of India, from Kanyakumari to KsheerBhawani, from Koteshwar to Kamakhya, from Jagannath to Kedarnath, from Somnath to Kashi Vishwanath, SametShikhar to ShrawanBelagola, from Bodhgaya to Sarnath, from Amritsar to PatnaSahib, from Andaman to Ajmer, from Lakshadweep to Leh, the entire country is encompassed by and for Lord Rama!“. This is the length and breadth of India, with a unique mixture of unity and religious diverseness.
Regarding diversity among the different states in India, it is often compared to be like European Union. For ex: Rajasthan is the previous Rajputana kingdom, Gujarat includes the previous Saurashtra, so is Maharashtra state from its erstwhile Maratha kingdom. Though it seems to be like that, but it isn’t. This is because even though the states were a part of some previous kingdom or empire, having their unique culture, tradition, cuisine, clothing style and have been created on linguistic basis, but unlike European union nations, they all have a common historical reference and spiritual identity with each other. Let me throw some light on this.
Historically, Europe has always been a distintegrated union. The various countries such as Germany, France, Holland, Poland, Spain are all part of Europe, and share some common traits such as Christianity( though its again split up into Protestant, Catholic, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox etc), Caucasian ancestry and later colonization over the world ( though England, France, Dutch and Spain dominated the most) but they also differ a lot with each other. They have waged wars against each other, inspite of the commonalities of religion and ancestry. The two world wars have been caused and played mostly in the European territory. The countries in Europe never shared the common historical identity with each other. We see that Napoleon and Hitler tried to dominate Europe through their own empires, but it never got succeeded. They also never exhibited the spiritual tradition, like we see in India. The nations in Europe have always maintained their own identity, and often it over-rides the mutual bonding. Even though historically, there had been Greek and Roman empires which had occupied the entire Europe, but they also had to disintegrate due to attacks from other regions of Europe. The continuation of Monarchy in many parts of Europe(UK, Denmark, Spain, Norway etc) is a prominent example of why Europe is not united as one. Even though they have modernized and accepted democracy, but still the presence of monarchy conveys that nations are propelled to maintain their own identity, however titular it may be.
In India, however, things a somewhat different. India shares a common historical identity. Even though there were many different kingdoms in different parts of India, but they have always maintained the notion of being part of a larger India ( or Bharatvarsha as it was called then). The kingdoms fought with each other but never did they form a nation on its own. Further, India have always had Muslim invaders from North-West frontier, and later Europeans from the sea, and this proved a common thread to bind the different kingdoms together to fight against the invaders to protect India. The invaders came to proselytize with their own religion, and hence this was firmly resisted by most of the local kings. However, due to internal frictions and unable to keep up with the modern weapons, most of the kingdoms in India had to accept defeat under Mughals and later the British. Infact, in 1857, the descendents of Mughal empire and other kingdoms had came together and fought against the British, known as the “Uprising of 1857”. So, this idea of India which had been invaded by external forces have always remained and binded us together.
Further, India shared a common spiritual heritage as well. This is in no way restricted only to Hinduism. Infact all the religions have been accepted and assimilated. Only the forceful proselytization and violent nature of invaders have been fiercely resisted. Hence, we can see all the religion and its adherents have flourished in India. The Muslim invaders eventually got settled and built their mosques and Darghas all over India. They also learnt from the local Indian tradition, and with this fusion, a unique blend of ‘Sufism‘ emerged which is extremely popular and confirms the unity between Hindus and Muslims. The Zoroastrians who had fled from Persia, came to India and later India became their permanent abode. The religion not only survived but also remains as the only religion which has never suffered from any violent conflicts. No wonder the Parsis today are one of the most respected community in India. Even Jews who had to undergo centuries of persecution in Europe and Middle-east, never have suffered any oppression in India. Hence, Jews proudly say that India is the least anti-semitic country in the world.
Adding to this universal acceptance of all religions, is the unique spiritual tradition being passed on with generations. It is common for people in South India to come to north to visit temples. Infact, many of the temples in Northern India have had the religious priests from Southern India. The sadhus and rishis from all parts of India often go to Himalayas for transcendence and enlightenment. The Kumbha mela which is conducted every 12 years/1 tapa invites hermits and pandits from all parts of India. The teachings of Swami Vivekananda and Swami Prabhupada originated in Bengal, but got accepted in all parts of India. We see the Vivekananda Rock memorial in Kanyakumari, the southern most tip of mainland India, and not in West Bengal. Even the modern day spiritual organizations like Art of Living and Isha Foundation which have originated in Bangalore, have spread and acclaimed in all parts of India. This is the spiritual tradition which binds India together, inspite of the different states and territories.
Finally, the modern history tells us that India’s unity had strengthened several folds after the advent of British Raj. However this does not credit that British united us. But the incessant invasion from North-west India did stop after British came, and this led to the end of wars which used to happen between kingdoms and invaders. Hence, what happened after that is the coming together of all Indian diaspora to fight against the British rule. Later, the legends such as Gandhi, Bose, Bhagat Singh, Nehru, Savarkar all united the people. It is as if the unity was already there, but just got bolstered together by a common cause.
Today, this unity still remains intact. We call it by different names like “Unity in Diversity”, but the underlying reasons are not known to all. People from other parts of the world often get confused with this, and believe a false notion that India will become like Europe someday. Sorry folks, but this isn’t gonna happen. If it did not happen in 1984 or 1992-93, when the roots of our foundation were severely shattered by the ongoing riots between different religions, then it certainly is not going to happen now. The Lutyens media and the communists might be adhering to this fallacious theory, but it seems they have never understood India.
Hence, the song which still lives in the hearts of millions of Indians, is a tribute to our unity!
“Mile sur mera tumharaa, to sur bane hamaraa….”