Imagine India sans the Taj Mahal; London without the Big Ben or the Tower Bridge; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with the symbolic statue of Jesus Christ missing from its landscape; the streets of Mumbai without vada pav. Take the culture away from a society, and what have you?
The key differentiator, yet the binding factor for each region, is the distinct attributes and preferences ingrained over centuries, which set the tone for the unique identity of each nationality. ‘An Englishman in New York’ or any part of the world for that matter, will mostly prefer an English breakfast tea, while an Italian would feel nostalgic without his aromatic double espresso shot. The Indian monsoons would hardly be the same without a nice hot ‘masala chai’. If you take away the soul of a human being, what remains is nothing but human anatomy! That’s what culture is for a country. It’s the ‘soul of the nation’; the soul of India!
To me, culture is a figurative rainbow that has the potential of creating a ‘halo effect’, an immediate sense of patriotism, of belonging, an inherent unifying quality, irrespective of the part of the world you have domiciled in. It’s like a virtual thread that gently pulls you towards the rich ancestral legacy, inviting unconditional support and loyalty. Ask a man who has spent sufficient time away from his motherland at Rutgers’ University in New Jersey, USA what is that one thought, that one conviction that has never left his mind. My answer to that question would be ‘a deep connection with my culturally-enriched childhood and the constant feeling of going back to my roots and making that difference’. That was the unequivocal force, a reminder of the Indian in me.
When you see India from that great a distance, through those moist eyes, the complexities, the shortfalls pale against the rich backdrop of culture, tradition, and history, and you know you owe it to this great nation, to our Indianness.
Culture defines us as human beings and plays a vital role in the socio-economic development of a country. It combats poverty and promotes sustainable growth. If we dig deep into the rich history of India, we see that culture has always exhibited an inherent quality of innovation and creativity, which provides a deep insight into the challenges we face in the current times. All the questions related to our present seem to have an answer in our past, which holds relevance to our future.
India has always been described as rich and exotic by travellers through centuries. There is a certain mystique that has captivated the imagination and reinforced the determination of many to discover India. Our country maintains its distinct identity and imbibes a certain cultural resilience, which can only be defined as ‘multifaceted dynamism’. The manifestation of culture and creativity is found in almost all economic and social activities in the country. India, by definition, is a gold mine with a rich history, mythology, symbolised by the plurality of its culture. Hence, logically speaking, tourism should be the single-most thriving industry to revitalise our economy.
We have the advantage of being one among the countries of the world with the largest collections of songs, music, dance, theatre, folk traditions, performing arts, rites and rituals, paintings, and writings, known as the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of humanity. Heritage, in essence, is a narrative of the story of mankind. It tells our story. Tourism can enliven this heritage, which thus offers an immense opportunity to contribute to inclusive economic growth, social development and stability, and heritage preservation. Hence, it’s vital for us to preserve our past, so we can protect our future.
When Napoleon Bonaparte referred to China as ‘a sleeping giant’, he clearly missed the mighty energetic Hanuman standing right in front of him. Such is the fate of most of India’s achievements over the centuries as per chronological records of world history. The single, most important reason being lack of awareness and communication.
In order to set the context for the subject, may I take you through a quick virtual journey into 3300-1300 BCE—a time when the Indus Valley Civilization flourished; what is now northwest India and Pakistan. A sophisticated and technologically-advanced urban culture developed in the mature Harappan period, from 2600-1900 BCE, followed by the Iron Age Vedic Civilization, which extended over much of the Indo-Gangetic plain and witnessed the rise of major polities known as the Mahajanapadas. In one of these kingdoms—Magadha—Mahavira and Gautama Buddha propagated their Shramanic philosophies during the fifth and sixth centuries BCE. Most of the subcontinent was conquered by the Maurya Empire during the fourth and third centuries BCE. The Gupta Empire witnessed the Hindu religious and intellectual resurgence, known as the classical or ‘Golden Age of India’. During this period, aspects of Indian civilisation, administration, culture, and religion (Hinduism and Buddhism) spread to much of Asia, while kingdoms in South India had maritime business links with the Roman Empire from around 77 CE. During this period, Indian cultural influence spread over many parts of Southeast Asia, which led to the establishment of Indianised kingdoms in that region.
India, by its sheer history, has always been an economically-rich and a culturally-evolved society. This was probably one of the main reasons why travellers like Vasco Da Gama, and (a failed attempt by) Columbus set out to discover India. It is time for us to reacquaint ourselves with the rich cultural legacy and address the irony of sorts that India is hardly an emerging economy. We are, in fact, re-emerging!
Therefore, to answer the earlier question ‘Who?’, it has to be us, the people of this great nation! As to ‘when?’, there is no better time than this very moment!