India Culture

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Traditional Indian values must be viewed both from the angle of the indivi­dual and from that of the geographically delimited agglomeration of peoples or groups enjoying a common system of leadership which we call the 'state'.

The Indian' state's' special feature is the peaceful, or perhaps mostly peaceful, coexistence of social groups of various historical provenances which mutually adhere in a geographical, economic, and political sense, without ever assimilat­ing to each other in social terms, in ways of thinking, or even in language.

Modem Indian law will determine certain rules, especially in relation to the regime of the family, upon the basis of how the loin-cloth is tied, or how the turban is worn, for this may identify the litigants as members of a regional group, and therefore as participants in its traditional law, though their an­cestors left the region three or four centuries-earlier. The use of the word 'state' above must not mislead us.

There was no such thing as a conflict between the individual and the state, at least before foreign governments be­came established, just as there was no concept of state 'sovereignty' or of any church-and-state dichotomy. Modern Indian 'secularism' has an admittedly peculiar feature: it requires the state to make a fair distribution of attention and support amongst all religions.

These blessed aspects of India's famed tolerance (Indian kings so rarely persecuted religious groups that the excep­tions prove the rule) at once struck Portuguese and other European visitors to the west coast of India in the sixteenth century, and the impression made upon them in this and other ways gave rise, at one remove, to the basic constitution of Thomas Moore's Utopia.

There is little about modern India that strikes one at once as Utopian: but the insistence upon the inculcation of norms, and the absence of bigotry and institutionalized exploitation of human or natural re­sources are two very different features which link the realities of India and her tradition with the essence of all Utopias.

Part of the explanation for India's special social quality, its manifest virtues and compensating shortcomings, lies not in any prudent decisions by any men or groups of men, but in the traditional concept of the society in which praja (the subjects) and raja (the ruler) were the two principal elements, one might say, polarities; and part again lies in the fact that, though the ruler was a guardian of morals, the 'cause', as it was put, 'of the age', the power of penance was immeasurably more vigorous than any service the state could perform-even granted the fact that the prerogative of corporal or capital punishment (danda) served also as a penance for the guilty, and granted, too, that it was in theory one of the king's tasks to see to it that penances were actually performed.

Ideals were expressed in terms of ethics, and are related, some to people in general, and some, more specialized, to the principal classes, in particular the brahmans, whose inherited religious and magical powers, and responsibility for the spiritual and even material welfare of the state-, marked them out for respectful treatment, financial patronage, and, if they were suitably conscientious, cramping taboos. Special ideals were naturally developed for the raja, the key figure in leadership, whether he was a head of a clan, or an emperor.

The 'twice-born', to whom we shall return, reached, according to Manu (vi. 92), supersensory bliss by obeying a tenfold 'law', which was a mixture of moral and intellectual requirements Harita, who goes into greater detail, gives the constituents of sila (good conduct) as ' piety, devotion to gods and ancestors, mildness, avoidance of giving pain, absence of envy, sweetness abstention from injury, friendliness, sweet speech, gratitude for kindnesses, succoring the distressed, compassion, and tranquility'.

Dharma, a term we shall discuss, in its wider sense of a...
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