Our nation has recently celebrated with gusto the Diamond Jubilee of India's emergence as a sovereign democratic Republic.
The quintessence behind the celebration of Republic Day is not only to celebrate India's secularism and democracy but also to make us feel proud of our culture, languages, social norms, traditions, customs, religions and the individual distinctiveness that makes India a magnificent multi-cultural country, a rich mosaic of humanity. If art and architecture constitute the most important records of our cultural history, we have 'the greatest galaxy of monuments in the world', as Lord Curzon, the most incisive of India's Viceroys himself said.
We are a nation with 5000 years of tumultuous history. India is a living ethnographic and historical museum. Each of us sitting here are just specimen in it. Modernity and archaism perfectly coexist everywhere, surviving many millennia. We are the most diverse nation in this universe with many distinct pursuits, vastly disparate convictions, widely divergent customs and a veritable feast of viewpoints. We hold the most powerful defense of tolerance and of the need for the state to be equidistant from different religions and that ethos came first from the one and only great ruler of India-Emperor Akbar.
All the great religions in the world have flourished in India. We have 15 major languages written in different alphabets and derived from different roots; and, for a good measure, our people ' the argumentative Indians - express themselves in over 250 dialects. One billion people -- more than the combined population of Africa and South America -- live together as one political entity. Never before in history, and nowhere else in the world, has one-sixth of the human race existed as a single free nation. It is this spirit of marching as a single nation with a single heart beat that we celebrate on a Republic Day. A day to reiterate our pledges of fundamental rights and equality of religion to our fellow citizens.
There is a sense of infinite when we think about our cultural heritage. Where does the first raga in our music start and where does the last one end? Which is the first word in our Vedas and which is the last? Where do all the great tombs of Islamic emperors start and where do they end? Look at our mythical characters. Where does Arjuna start and where does he end? The duration of the universe, from its beginning to its dissolution, is just one day for Brahma; infinity of births precedes it, and dissolutions will follow it. Indian mythology strongly defies time. Our languages give us infinite tongues to speak. Even our overpopulation has this flavor of infinity. It is this sense of infinity of our nation and its eternal variations that has constantly enchanted me.
Though a rich civilization like Egypt has a spectacular visual history to flaunt, they never had an oral tradition. The same is the case with Mesopotamian, Inca or Aztec civilizations. None of them have produced a Mahabharata. In all probability we are the inventors and preservers of the first word of man.
'Om Agnimeele Purohitham, Yanjasya Devamruthvijam
is the first sloka of Rig Veda. Imagine the entire Rig-Veda being preserved for nearly 3,500 years in the minds of our men. Over 10,000 lines of Mahabharata, countless verses of Upanishads- all of them affirm the miraculous memory of Indians.
For Indians, Indianness comes from within. It is the depth of thousand seas. In this depth is hidden the nectar of Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads Ramayana, Quran, Geeta and Guru Granth Sahib and our spiritual ethos. It is this sense of Indianness that unites us amidst diversity. Materialism has still not dazzled our diversity. We are a nation awake holding dear our past while other nations have offloaded it. Our immense capacity and resilience and moral strength to adapt to desperate situations , daunting challenges and vicissitudes without sacrificing our deep-rooted vedantic ethos is truly inspiring.
I was recently reading the book 'What India Can Teach Us' written by Max Muller, the distinguished Indologist and German scholar. He says in that book and I quote-
'If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found the solution of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Socrates and Plato- I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself what literature we here in Europe, we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human, a life not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life - again I should point to India....'
Having said that, as a race we inherit certain unique qualities as well. Professor Wilson, a former Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University mentions frankness as one of the most universal features in the Indian character. Haven't we felt that our people are frank even when they loot? Our qualities of industry, intelligence, cheerfulness, co-existence, spirituality, reverence to elders, prayer and worship, return to nature, artistic expression, seeking prosperity, strong family ties, respecting even the tools of our trade, joyfulness and hospitality are indeed unique. No other country has probably as much intense relationship between a mother and son as in India. We have so many such wonderful traits which people in other parts of this world are blessed with only parsimoniously.
Consider another great Indian quality which will help us to survive as a nation even in the worst recession. I am talking about the 'saving mentality' of Indians. I live in a town called Jubail in Saudi Arabia. If a Philippino in Saudi Arabia will buy a Ray Ban glass and Levis Jeans with his first salary, we will see an Indian queuing outside the Al Rajhi bank battering even a blizzard to send 90% of his salary to his homeland. Right from our childhood, we have seen this saving mentality in our family. Mother saving food for her children, father setting aside a major chunk from his meager salary for his son's education or daughter's marriage. Individualism is more of a western value. Indian society has always focused more on paying one's debt to the society and being responsible for one's family rather than breaking away to pursue one's own individual desires. I agree that with increasing western influences, the conflict between individualism and fulfilling social obligations is a challenge for the current younger generation.
A robust nation like us has its Achilles' heel. The greatest weakness of India is that its finest men -- men of caliber and vision, knowledge and character -- are not in politics. If we tide over this greatest weakness, we can easily wriggle out from the mire of our maladies such as poverty, overpopulation, corruption, mediocre education, poor infrastructure, divisiveness, social inequalities and malnutrition - practically everything we deem as a disease.
What holds our people together is not religion, not race, not language, not our commitment to democracy or anything like that. What glues us together is our shared experience and memories. The soul of India aspires towards integration and assimilation. This ancient civilization has survived and will survive even when the raucous and fractious voices of today are lost in the silence of the centuries.
The major task before India today is to acquire a keener sense of single identity and national pride, to gain the wisdom to cherish its priceless heritage, and to create a unified and cohesive society with the cement of Indian culture. When we are bound by that togetherness, we shall become a resounding republic.
I wish to end by quoting the greatest mantra on 'Togetherness' that appears in Katho Upanishad
OM saha navavatu
saha nau bhunaktu
saha viryam karavavahai
tejasvi navadhitam astu
OM shanti, shanti, shanti
Om. May we be protected both together
May we be nourished both together
May we grow in spiritual knowledge and energy both together
May our study together be luminous
May we not hate or have discord between us
Om, peace, peace, peace.