In the early 19th century, the cultural estrangement of India from the Indian civilization started with their linguistic assimilation into the global Anglophone community. The cultural rot started with Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), member of the governing council of the East India Company from 1834 to 1838, who successfully advocated the replacement of the native languages with English as the medium of education. He formulated his policy proposal in his Minute on Indian Education, delivered in Kolkata on 2 February 1835. The Governor-General of India, William Bentinck, approved the proposal on 7 March 1835, so that it became the cornerstone of British-Indian educational policy until Independence (and remained largely in force after that as well). A new India was born in 1835. The very foundations of India’s ancient civilization began to rock and sway. Pillar after pillar in the edifice came crashing down. Lord Macaulay’s address to the British Parliament on February 2, 1835:
“I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”
So, what is this soul of India, which has survived in spite of many ups and downs that we have witnessed over millennia? The core of Indian Culture is the Vedic vision of life. As long as this spiritual worldview is alive and handed down in tact from generation to generation, India will not only survive but thrive in the ages to come with many new expressions of creativity.
A nation that has no cultural heritage is like an orphan who has nothing to feed upon. An individual human being, a race or a nation must necessarily have certain roots somewhere. India is deep rooted in the culture of her past—the glorious past. India is a vast country, and centuries old. It is difficult to sum up her heritage in a few words. Her past has been full of glory. She has been the birth place of many great men and women. She has given birth to many great movements in religion, art and literature. These movements have not been limited to India alone, but they have travelled to other parts of the world. The India of today has a rich past over which we can look back with pride. Our past has given us a definite way of life, which is typically Indian and yet universal in approach.
The most prominent feature of India’s culture it that it combines many cultures. India is a land of great variety and many influences have worked to produce modern India. India has shown great capacity for absorbing what came to her from outside. The base of the Indian civilization was formed by the coming together of the old Indus Valley Civilization and the Aryan Civilization from beyond the North-West frontier of India. It has been repeatedly influenced by other civilizations: the Greeks, the Romans, the Scythians, the Turks, the Russians, the Arabs and the Europeans left their mark. India’s capacity to absorb was so great that they all became Indian.
For several hundred years India came under foreign rule. In ancient times, Indian missions went out, carrying India’s religion, language, culture, habits and art, all over South-East Asia, Western and Central Asia. Ashoka, the great emperor, sent missionaries to spread Buddhism all over the then known world, some of the oldest books in Sanskrit drama have been found in the Gobi desert.
Throughout her past India has preached and practiced toleration and understanding. These have been the basis of Indian religion, philosophy, art and literature. The charms and graciousness of the Indian way of life endured due to the philosophy of life.