Multiculturalism and the Indian Tradition

M. Rajagopalachary & K. Damodar Rao

Kakatiya University, Warangal (Telangana), India

Vol. 1, No. 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/bp.v1n1.11


In order to save mankind we have to learn to live together in concord in spite of traditional differences of religion, civilization, nationality, class and race.

                                                                                                         —Arnold Toynbee

Whence this vitality that overcomes destruction and death? Whence this wisdom that reconciles opposite truths? The story of India’s culture unravels the secret of that vitality and that wisdom. It is a story of unity and synthesis, of reconciliation and development, of a perfect fusion of old traditions and new values.

                                                                                                           —Humayun Kabir

The only thing that truly links every Indian today is a knowledge, first hand and constant, of diversity.

                                                                                                                            — Pico Iyer

Indian democracy has survived for more than five decades despite ominous predictions to the contrary, and Indian tradition has survived over five millennia despite periodic setbacks and recent challenges. Its social diversity and cultural pluralism have proved to be its strengths, in fact, its structural principles. Added to these, its stability and continuity have made it truly ‘functional’ at every level, social-political-cultural. India’s experience of living together with different religious faiths, of accommodating diverse ethnic groups and languages might not have the linguistic denomination of multiculturalism but the fact remains that India happened to be one of the first few countries to have celebrated cultural pluralism as a way of living.  The markers with which it came to be characterized are many including ‘unity in diversity,’ ‘cultural pluralism,’ ‘living together separately,’ ‘religious neutrality,’ ‘honeycomb,’  ‘syncretistic,’ and the recent ‘multiculturalism’, and ‘hybridity.’

The linguistic denominators vary from one country to the other. Besides, ancient civilisations like India may not carry the burden of modern markers like multiculturalism and secularism, but may still have lived the experience.  It is well known that each language has its own history, geography and symbols, and a specific cultural context: “One language differs from another, not only in its sounds, intonations and the meaning its words convey, but also in its ‘word view.’  Each language looks at the universe in a particular manner, tests it and translates it into its own meanings in a special way” (Verma 265-6).

The subcontinent has become home to a staggering array of languages and spiritual creeds, and “myriad literary, intellectual, musical and artistic traditions as well as diverse political philosophies, economic systems and ways of living” (Priyamvada 66). It believed in the Rig Vedic dictum: Aano bhadra kratavoyanti visvatah, (“Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides”). As a social reality in India inclusiveness and accommodation were celebrated as a way of life. If Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Bahaai, Jain, and Parsi and various other ethnic communities have continued to co-exist for many centuries now it only celebrates the multicultural nature of its ethos. Asim Roy says that the Indian ethos operated on a system of fission and fusion…Full Text PDF