India has a rich cultural tradition. There is a harmonious blend of art, religion and philosophy in the Indian culture. They are so beautifully interwoven in the fabric of Indian way of life and thought that they are inseparable.
Indian culture is actually an outcome of continuous synthesis and has absorbed many external influences in the course of long jurney of history. The first stirring of civilisation occurred amongst the people of India some 4,000 years before the birth of Christ.
From those ancient times till recent past, we were exposed to unbroken sequence of civilisations. It is only the dynamism and the flexibility of Indian culture that enabled it to survive these foreign invasions and retain its originality and traditional character even after imbibing the best of these external influences.
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Indian people, by nature tolerant and fatalists, did not at any time ridicule the traditions of foreign civilisations.
On the other hand, Indian mind has assimilated much of the thinking of the other cultures, thus enriching it and thereby becoming unique in its character. Today, it is the uniqueness which attracts the Western societies to the Indian culture. Disillusioned with their materialistic lives, they turn to India for solace and peace.
The wisdom of our ancient epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata serves as a beacon light to the seekers of spiritual bliss.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells how every human being can come to live the subtle philosophical principles laid down in our scriptures in the actual day-to-day life. Lord Buddha taught us to follow the ‘Middle Path’ by exercising control over the passions. One has to admit that
Indian sages and philosophers had started pondering on great issues more than 200 years ago which have been raised in the West only in the last century.
Indian art was influenced by the religious beliefs and the philosophical trends of the times. The temples of the south, the caves of Ajanta, Ellora and Khajuraho are living testimony to the artistic excellence achieved by the Indian artists, sculptors and architects in those gone by days. Foreign tourists experience a spiritual reawakening on visiting these temples.
Indian music is remarkable because of the continuity in its growth. Long before the Christian era, it had developed not only definite laws of theory and practice, but even comprehensive theories of appreciation.
Like Indian dance, it is built on the concepts of ragas and fast. Each raga is regarded as appropriate to certain emotions a certain mood suitable for certain time of the day or night.
There are two major schools of classical music—the Hindustani and the Karnataka. Both derive their rules from the classical treatises Natya Shastra of Bharata and Sangeet Ratnakarby Sarangdeva. There are about 250 ragas commonly used in north as well as south. Indian music has had great impact on the Western music. Great maestros like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Zakir Hussain, etc. have made valuable contribution towards popularising and promoting Indian music abroad.
The background of Indian dance is infinitely rich and varied, as varied as the land itself, yet with the same underlying unity which binds the people of the country together.
The dances of India, whether folk or classical, are an eloquent expression of an ancient civilisation, whose timeless wisdom continues to evoke the passionate search of man for conscious identity with God. Folk and tribal dances of India are of innumerable types.
But they all express its people’s natural gaiety, sense of abandon and rhythm. The origin of classical dances is attributed to the Hindu temples. It was in the temples that they were first conceived and nourished. It was also in the temples that they attained their full stature. While it is true that dances were also performed in courts, and on festive occasions, etc. yet the impulse that gave them birth was religious.
There are four major systems of classical dances in India— Bharat Natyam, Kathak, Kathakali and Manipuri. Other prominent dances are Kuchipudi of Andhra, Odissi of Orissa and Mohiniattam of Kerala. As in all Indian performing arts, so in dance the concept of rasa holds the central place.
In dancing the rasa is conveyed through bhava or expression, through the technique of abhinaya. One of the latest developments in the field of dance is ballet, which has brought about a synthesis of the lyricism, grace and pictorial quality of Indian dance forms—classical and folk—combined.
Since independence, Indians themselves have become increasingly keen to promote their sense of national identity and cultural unity and in consequence there has been a revival of interest in indigenous folk arts, especially in the realm of music and dance.
Now, it is up to our educational institutions to ensure that the younger generation imbibes the right values and tries to uphold the torch of spiritual and cultural renaissance for the rest of the world to see and emulate and not get carried away by the materialistic ideology of the West, where man has achieved astounding success in unraveling the -mysteries of nature but feels alienated and rootless in his own community and society.
We must ensure that modern India does not at any stage forget its rich cultural heritage—a legacy of our ancient seers, philosophers afid sages.
The success with which ‘Festivals of India’ have met with in the U.S.A., France and Russia proves the interest of foreigners in our cultural traditions.
At home too, the government’s efforts to promote a revival of interest in our folk arts, music and dance have met with tremendous public response.
The classical theatre has a tradition of more than 2000 years. These were mainly performed on platforms raised in temple courtyards and palaces. The choice of themes was mainly taken from folk stories, epics and religious texts; it was an elaborate affair and combined dance, acting and music.
Historically speaking, with the passing of early Hindu kingdoms—under whose patronage the arts had flourished in
India—and the Muslim invasion of the North, the dramatic tradition almost died in the North. However, south of India retained a remarkable continuity of its cultural heritage virtually because of its geographical position, where the foreign invaders did not meet with much success.
It goes to the credit of the Indian people’s tenacity and ability that they were able to retain their essential traditional outlook in spite of fierce onslaughts by invaders.
The British Raj to a certain extent was responsible for the revival of intellectual curiosity. A deep interest was taken in the story of India’s past and to preserve the country’s rich cultural heritage.
It was a sign of maturity and foresight on the part of the British to leave the people to follow their faith and beliefs of which they were not aware. All these are attempts to keep our cultural heritage alive and transit it to the younger generations.