Navina Bhaaratam, The Renaissance

In the past five years, India has commenced its process of renaissance or Punar Jagran, a sense of awakening. As we all know, our ancient civilization, Bharatam, is 5,000 years plus old with clear geographical definitions as evidenced by the famous Sanskrit couplet attributed to verse 2.3.1 of the Vishnu Puran, “Uttaram Yat Samudrasya, Himaadraishchaiva Dakshinam, Varsham Tad Bhaaratam Naama, Bhaaratee Yatra Santatihi (The country north of the oceans, south of the Himalayas is called Bharat and the denizens are called Bharatis) and is as seasoned as an enduring business model.

Enduring societies as enduring businesses see ups and downs and have inbuilt learning which reflect on its actions and thoughts. Sometimes these thoughts and actions are mellowed, subtle and demure and then comes across an inflexion point or a day when the wheel turns for good or bad. As a country we have seen this enough and the world can learn from us as much as we can learn from them. There are many examples of this turn. In the last 100 years, we saw the freedom movement, banning of practices which are not in conformity with the new world, adult suffrage, creation of democratic institutions of recent times, gender equalization, women in different roles in the society and great leaders who propelled or acted as catalysts. Some became heroes and others faded from the pages of history, but the change for better from lessons learnt prior were always happening.

Thus, the churn or renaissance was happening and thus the appropriate of use of term “Punar Jagran” or “Renaissance” today.

This renaissance lost its steam briefly post-independence.

Culture is independent of religion. Our culture irrespective of to whom we prayed to or believed in was that of inclusion, tolerance, equality, openness to new ideas, etc. has been in our DNA for centuries. I always think, although we were made of 500 odd princely states, there was a common culture, the culture of Bharatam. There were unifying emperors that bought in unification of states either through conquests or marriages or alliances. The kingdoms of Bharatam spread the culture to South East Asia in the east to Iran in the west. The remnants of this culture can be found in either overt or subtle forms across geographies. Thus, the democratic culture and institutions were in existence thousands of years ago.

A few examples of our culture:

  • Gender equality displayed by existence of Matriarchal system, where women were the head of the household, popularly known as The Marumaka Thayam in South and other different names elsewhere. The great Indian philosopher, Adi Sankara, who lived in the 8th century in his celebrated theological debate with Mandana Mishra, accepted Mishra’s wife as the adjudicator of their argument, signifying a level of equality which was unheard of. Even today, we hear corporate corridor grumbling as to how many women have not been selected for the top job or not able to break the glass ceiling. Why, even the United States, the world’s oldest modern democracy has not had a woman President
  • Women in combat positions and power, from earlier times like Viphala around 130 BC to the most recent ones like Rani Laxmibai, Ahilyabai Holkar, Kuyili in South, Akkama in Ullal etc.
  • Acceptance of Jews, Zoroastrians, people of Han races from times immemorial
  • Great Kings and Emperors like Maharana Pratap, Shivaji Maharaj, Raja Rajendra Chozhan, Krishna Deva Raya, Maharaj Ranjit Singh, Chandra Gupta Maurya to name a few. These Kings established just and robust governance, expanded kingdoms to as far as South East Asia and Iran. Sadly, we have not been taught or have not been curious to know more about them
  • Many religions like Buddhism, Jainism were born here
  • Concept of village councils lead by a Pradhan, Mukhiya, Patil, where citizenry voted or formed a part of governance
  • Grievance addressable systems setup by kings in the simple nature of ringing the bell in the court, good enough for kingdoms of smaller size
  • Family vocation and skills of core competence, which were flexible and interchangeable. It was wrongly labelled as caste and demonized. They were not decided by birth but by mindset, qualities and training. Is it not similar to trades and skills of today like goldsmith, trader, teacher etc. and akin to concept of core competence?
  • In this age, Indian GDP was around 26% of world GDP, it is believed, meaning we produced, traded both domestic and internationally, acquired and perhaps conquered kingdoms and had a blue water navy
  • Every region competed with each other in developing arts, crafts, music, just governance and a pluralistic society

The culture took the turn with invasions from Central Asia, Persia and Mongolia. Brute force, deceptive forces took control over people who were so advanced that they forgot the art and science to fight back, focusing on spiritual, philosophical and altruistic goals. With the European invasion, there were further changes, to the changes in system of education, rewriting of history, Chinese walls between provinces and exploitation of wealth and resources. This period saw us Bharatis look inward with shame, inferiority, disowning our culture, forgetting our culture and aping our invaders.

India is experiencing a renaissance phase now.

There is a keen interest in knowing who we are, what we did years ago, how did we manage societal changes, how our societies evolved centuries ago, our culture, our ethos and the common thread of oneness. This is reflected by others in the world accepting our culture, dress forms, cuisine as much as we are learning ourselves. We are doing this as we imbibe the best from the rest of the world. At the same time there are still challenges to our culture, but we are fighting back the push with a shove. The culture is renewing and regenerating. This is subtle and sometime overt too, so be it.

Time has come when we are beginning to believe in ourselves and the world is extending a tight handshake that acknowledges the growth and change, besides warmth. There is more solidarity and acceptance today for us than before! We need to be decisive, stand up for our beliefs, culture, opinion while being polite and yet firm. The good thing is it has started already. This country will grow further when we say with Pride, I am a Bharati!

Jai Bharatam.