Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation

Indian Culture, Samarasata and Governance – a reading from Narendra Modi

By Avadhesh Kumar Singh

A culture is known by ideals that it cherishes, not always by its practices. Indian culture has cherished and practiced, as Swami Vivekananda stated, the ideals of tyaga (renunciation) and seva (service). These two were ideals for individuals. The individuals who practiced them were elevated to the level of gods and goddesses like Rama, Sita, Krishna, Radha, Bhishma, Buddha, and Mahavir among others. Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and a host of freedom fighters epitomized these ideals in not so distant past, as they served the nation and humanity by sacrificing personal comforts and even lives. They could have easily attained positions of their choice, if they had so willed. But they desired them not, in order to subscribe to the cultural ideals of tyaga and sewa.However, at the collective level, ‘samarasata’ is the ideal for harmonious social order to be realized by individual and collective social practices and also in governance. Let me add here that the word ‘samarasata’ has no equivalence in English, though its shades may be found in equanimity, harmony, cohesiveness and agreeability.

Indian culture is difficult to define. Its long history and diversity make it full of multitudes that it appears contradictory at times. Whatever one says about it may be true. The opposite may also be true. It is like a python whose tail is in the pre-historic time and head in the 21st century. Indian Culture may best be understood in terms of a few characteristics.

In terms of gati or motion, Indian Culture is an energy worshipping culture. Brahman is Infinite. It is so because it knows no difference. It may be realized by ‘non-differentiating intellect’ (abhedbuddhi), not by binary-intoxicated ‘differentiating intellect’ (bhed-buddhi). Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh are manifestations of the Brahman (Infinite) into three kinds of energies respectively: Procreative (srajan), Protection (sanrakshan) and Annihilation (samhar) i.e., vilaya or withdrawal of forms into the Infinite. I must hasten to add it here that Indian Culture considers buddhi (intellect) as an instrument of knowledge, though not the exclusive one.

It becomes obvious that Indian Culture privileges (abhedbuddhi), over ‘differentiating intellect’ (bhed-buddhi).

The motion (gati) of energy in Indian Culture is centripetal and centrifugal both. Hence those who are not able to comprehend it fail to understand the simultaneous existence of disintegrating and unifying forces.

Due to it, fragmentary and integrative forces operate in it simultaneously. Monistic and dualistic or multiplistic are basically not antithetical forces. ‘Ekam sat vipram bahudha vadanti.’ It becomes the paddhati (mode or method) of understanding various phenomena.

The motion may appear to be slow but in reality it moves in a measured manner without disjunction from the past, unlike the west.

Time (samaya) in Indian Culture is co-existence of kshana (moment) and ananta (eternity), as discussed by Anand K Coomarswamy in Time and Eternity (1947).[1] In terms of time, it is dominantly cyclical without being abhorrent of linearity of time. It combines synchronic and diachronic modes of looking at time. Myth and history in the western sense of the term collapse in it.

In Indian Culture, the issue of locus (sthiti) of diverse elements or entities is understood in terms of their interdependence and co-existence. It may be understood by the metaphor of Sheshnaga, the mythical snake with a thousand hoods. Each hood is a unique entity, yet related to another. Some may pose a question which is the central hood. In fact, the locus of the hoods has been decided by nature in an organic manner. But the reality is that the hoods on the margins are integral to the existence of others. Without them the central one cannot move. They are served, supported and balanced by the same stomach and tail. The metaphor, unique to Indian culture, underscores the importance of interrelatedness, helps in understanding human predicament and provides vision for the world.

In this situation arises the question of consequences or over-all effect of (prabhava) diversity in the universe. This is resolved by the metaphor of Deepshikha in Indian Culture. The Deepshikha is a cluster of lamps arranged in a symmetrical manner from bottom to top with lamps located at different places with one at the top. All lamps are unique and at diverse places. But when all lamps are lit, the light that is emanated from all of them is one. Hence, the prabhava is mutual illumination. It becomes truer in case of the name that is collectively accepted as Bharata (Bha= light, rata= engaged i.e., people engaged in the pursuit of light.

The discussion of main attributes of Indian Culture makes a few things clear.

Nature defies uniformity, as it does not create two beings and entities in the same way. Consequently, diversity is an inevitable reality. It makes world and society a beautiful entity. To respect specificity of diverse constituting elements is human. To see beyond formal difference is a matter of Culture.  The negative perception of difference and over-insistence on difference is caused by differentiating intellect. It breeds conflict and unending adversarial discourse continues unabatedly. In the west many souls understood it, as did John Hume who remarked, “All conflict is about difference; whether the difference is race, religion, or nationality.” This realization justifies consideration of non-differentiating intellect as superior to differentiating intellect. Difference is neither to be abhorred nor eliminated. It is to be recognized, respected with its understanding and enriched with the spirit of togetherness. Also, difference is not to be aggravated to an extent that the interrelatedness is not only glossed over but severed. Due to it, the essential nature of Indian Culture is integrative.

Integration is augmented for the good of all, if it is supported by ruling class. Good Governance is based on the principle of samdarshan among diverse elements. The ruling class without samadrashti  leads to social disharmony and chaos in the longer run.

Samadrashti is vision and samarasata is a state of social being. Samarasata is based primarily on rasata. Rasata or relish as the ultimate experience is the essence of Indian Culture. In fact the Vedic discourse equated rasa to Brahman or the Infinite (‘Raso vai sah’), and termed it and the bliss of the Infinite as born of the same womb (Brahmananda sahodara’). Though it needs to be added that they are brothers but not identical. In metaphoric terms it may be understood in terms of thali that has many dishes- salted, hot, pungent, plain and sweet. Each has its own specificity, form, nature and relish but all of them put together make a thali leading to ultimate relish or satisfaction of the consumer.

In his epic Kamayani (Part II) Jaishankar Prasad had dealt with this ideal in poetic terms in the following manner:

“Hum anya na aur kutumbi/Hum keval ek humin hain,/ Tum sab mere avayav ho/Jismein kuchh nahin kami hai.

Shapit na yahan hai koi/Tapit papi na yahan hai,/Jivan basudha samtal hai/Samras hai jo ki jahan hai.

Samras the jad ya chetan/Sundar sakar bana tha,/Chetanta ek vilasati/Anand akhand Ghana tha.”

The end of all human endeavours in Indian Culture is ‘lokasangraha’ or ‘lokakalyana’. This ideal cannot be achieved till there are exploited, deprived or oppressed people in the society– Dalits, women, poor or victims of violence or exploitation of any kind. Moreover, samarasata is inconceivable in a state of discrimination on any ground—region, religion, race, caste, colour or language.

The ideal of samarasata is more easily expressed than practiced, particularly in the obtaining political realities that persuade power-hungry politicians to indulge in politics of power by harping on difference in the name of caste, region or religion. Among Indian politicians the import of samarasata was realized by Sri Narendra Modi during his stint as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, and put it forward as an ideal of social harmony and order. For harmony, accordance and equanimity in the society, samarasata is needed. As a keen student of Indian Culture, he strove to live it in letter and spirit.

The book Samajik Samarasata by Narendra Modi in 2011, a collection of his essays and speeches on the issue, bears a witness to his understanding and commitment to it. The title page of the book has the photo of Sri Modi with the photo of Dr Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar looming large over it from behind and above. It means that it tries to address the issue of oppression of dalits and the struggle for their emancipation by Dr Ambedkar who understood strategies of the British and vested interests in the country as well. The basic principles of samarasata, according to Sri Modi are Samvedansheelata (Sensibility), Kartavyanishtha (Sense of Duty) and Pratibaddhata (Commitment). The approximate English translation of Samvedansheelata should be empathy with the sufferer. Without them, an individual can be a good citizen or human being for that matter. It is truer in case of governance, as it is required for social harmony. According to him true development of a society is measured in terms of its ability to alleviate the pain and suffering of the poor and deprived and their development. Also true development aims at reaching the hinterland and including the poorest on the margins of the society in its fold.

It may be discerned in his good will gestures at national and international levels in almost a year that opened with the invitation to the SAARC leaders, the prompt and personally supervised operation during the J & K floods, swift and safe evacuation of the Indians and foreign nationals during the Yemen crisis, the operation Maitri during the Nepal earth quake, the resolution of the border dispute with Bangladesh, the Diwali celebration with the army soldiers and the people of J&K, focused projects for the North East, or the projects for the Naxalite-infested Dantewada among others. His message on the Buddha Poornima Day on May 4, 2015 centered on satya (truth), love (prem), compassion (karuna), and peace (shanti). These become the constituent elements of samadrashti that strains to establish samarasata.

Not that the concept of samarasata goes unopposed. Some sections of Dalits consider it as a ploy to either divert or appropriate their political movement that they fear will be subsumed in the name of samarasata in the society before their main goals are realized.

What is needed now is commitment to cultural ideals and resolve to live them. For that ‘engaged culturalism’ (Kriyasheel Sanskritivad) becomes a movement, so does ‘engaged samarasata.’

[1] Ananda Coomaraswamy, (1877-1947) legendary philosopher, art & cultural historian.

Professor since 1993. Vice Chancellor, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University, Ahmedabad from 2006–2009 & Convener, Knowledge Consortium of Gujarat, Government of Gujarat, Gandhinagar, Director, School of Translation Studies & Training IGNOU from 2011- 2014. Areas of interest include Comparative poetics, Contemporary Literary Theory and Criticism and Interdisciplinary Studies. Published more than 130 papers and 15 books till now. Editor, Critical Practice since 199 and has lectured in the University of Bonn, University of Magdeburg, University of Dusseldorf, and University of Muenster among others. Visiting Faculty, Centre of Environmental Planning & Technology (CEPT), National Institute of Design (NID). Delivered more than 70 Keynote and Plenary Addresses in various national and international seminars and conferences and is proficient in Hindi, Gujarati, Sanskrit, and English Language. Latest publication–Revisiting Literature, Criticism and Aesthetics in India, D K Printworld, 2012.