Cultural Orphans - Indians Ashamed Of Their Own Heritage

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For an Indian, a visit to  Indonesia can be an eye-opener. It is fervently proud of its heritage. Although  it is the largest Muslim country in the world, it has inscribed the picture of  Lord Ganesh on its 20,000 rupiah currency notes. Even the most prestigious institute  of technology has Lord Ganesh in its logo. Indonesia’s official airline is  called Garuda (Lord Vishnu’s mount) and the official bank is named after Kubera  (the Hindu god of wealth).

Indonesian government  patronises and supports dance dramas and puppet shows that depict stories of  Ramayana and Mahabharata. It has also issued many stamps on the two epics. Jakarta has a huge sculpture of Lord Krishna revealing Bhagavad Gita to  Arjuna. In Bali, statues of Hindu deities adorn most public places. Several  cross-roads have massive sculptures portraying scenes from Hindu scriptures,  like the sun-god riding his chariot, yoked by seven horses.

For an Indian, it is a  puzzling experience: a Muslim country honouring Hindu gods. Unable to control  his curiosity, a tourist quizzed our guide Mustafa. After looking at the  perplexed faces of the group, Mustafa responded, “Earlier all of us were Hindus  and worshipped these gods. Whatever be the reasons, we converted to Islam. I do  not pray to these gods but respect them because I know that my parents,  grand-parents and ancestors worshipped them? They are a part of my heritage and  ancestry. Should change of faith make me disown my heritage? That would  amount to my disowning my own lineage and ancestors.” The silence was  deafening.

In a few sentences,  Mustafa had taught us what we Indians have not learnt for centuries. No  educated Indian ever boasts of India’s rich heritage. Our education system has  ingrained in us an acute sense of inferiority. We eulogise everything that is  Western and run down our own glorious past. Everything concerning ancient  India’s intellectual prowess, cultural richness, multiple philosophies and  liberal thoughts is painted as narrow-mindedness.

India is perhaps the only  country in the world that is ashamed of its heritage. Yes, the word ashamed is  an apt description. Expressions like Vedas, Hindus, Hindutva, Saffron and  Bharat Mata have come to convey a sense of inadequacy. The whole world applauds  India for its Vedic knowledge, philosophical expositions, ayurveda, yoga and a  host of other gifts to humanity. However, our Westernised stooges carry on  deriding our heritage. Using Mustafa’s taxonomy, they take pride in  masquerading as ‘cultural orphans’. Let me cite two events of the recent past  to prove my assertion.

The World Yoga Day

On 27 September 2014, Prime Minister Modi exhorted  the UN General Assembly, “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient  tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint  and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health  and well-being.” He suggested that 21 June be adopted as the World Yoga Day. In  less than 90 days, the UN General Assembly passed the resolution unanimously,  accepting the fact that yoga originated in India around 5,000 years ago and is  an immensely beneficial mental, physical and spiritual practice.

It was recognition of  India’s heritage and a matter of great pride for India. While the  intelligentsia ignored the feat, no channel ran prime-time programme to  highlight the achievement. For them, anything belonging to ancient India cannot  be acclaim-worthy.

At the first official  observation of the World Yoga Day on 21 June 2015, a total of 35,985  participants from 84 nationalities performed asanas. Modi’s words, on  the said occasion, were truly sagacious, “India’s priceless legacy is today  world’s legacy.” 

As is the wont of our  India-deprecating critics, no one had a good word to say about the event. They  faulted Modi for not doing asanas in the proper manner. Some even  doubted his claims of doing yoga regularly. A significant segment appeared to  be more obsessed with the spreading of yoga mats rather than the import of the  occasion. Deviously, a campaign was started that the soldiers were demeaned as  they were forced to lay mats whereas the fact is that the mats were laid by  civilian workers and the army had provided a few Havildars to oversee layout  and alignment.

An occasion of national  pride was deliberately portrayed as a fundamentalist and anti-secular agenda of  the ruling party. Baba Ramdev’s laudable offer of training yoga teachers for  the army has also been termed as a step towards communalisation of the army.  One wonders as to how Indians can revel in degrading India.

The Art of Living’s World Cultural Festival

Last month, nearly four  lakh people from 155 countries attended anniversary celebrations of The Art of  Living (AoL) at Delhi. It was described as ‘an impeccable choreography of  spiritual exuberance’. Over 37,000 artists from around the world performed. The  programme was beamed live to millions across the globe. The whole world admired  it but not the self-proclaimed conscience-keepers of India.

They faulted the function  for likely adverse ecological effect on the flood plains of River Yamuna. It  was a laughable objection. Even a casual visitor can notice the appalling state  of the flood plains due to rampant encroachments, regular dumping of garbage/debris  and total neglect by the authorities. No environmentalist or social activist  ever raised hue and cry to force the government to act.

On learning of AoL  function, they suddenly rediscovered their long-forgotten concern for the flood  plains and launched a sadistic campaign against the organisers. As was to be  expected, media found a convenient issue to embarrass the government and dent  India’s image. It was unfortunate that our President was advised to skip the  function.

Despite repeated  assurances and guarantees by the organisers that they would neither do any  digging nor use any concrete, every effort was made to scuttle the initiative.  As was to be expected, no channel has reported the fact that AoL has left the  flood plains in much better condition than they were earlier.

The second objection was  regarding the alleged use of military bridging equipment for a private  function. It was conveniently forgotten that law and order and traffic  management always remain a state responsibility, more so as a large number of  foreign dignitaries were attending the programme. Aid to the civil authority in  preventing likely stampede cannot be faulted. Every Kumbh Mela sees such  bridges.
  As regards the bridging  equipment; launching and de-launching of equipment bridges is regularly  practised by the Engineers. Hence, the opportunity was used to train as well.  Interestingly, the army had built a similar pontoon bridge at Agra for a  musical concert by Yani in 2006. No questions were raised then. Apparently,  army bridges are fine for foreign performers but not for displaying Indian  heritage. 

Of Cultural Icons

While one may not agree  with all the statements made by Baba Ramdev, it cannot be denied that he and  Sri Sri Ravi Shankar have done India proud by showcasing richness of India’s  ancient civilization on the world stage. They are India’s cultural ambassadors  and national icons, far greater than many Bharat Ratnas of dubious distinction.

Baba Ramdev has taken yoga to the masses and made  the world aware of its mental, physical and intellectual benefits for overall  well-being. It is practised by the people of more than 170 countries now. Even  the UN has been forced to accept that the benefits of yoga are ‘amazing’ and  ‘holistic’. It is a monumental achievement.

Sri Sri has made AoL a  household initiative in most countries of the world. More than 370 million  people swear by it and practice regularly. One cannot think of another Indian  who has spread the message of ancient India’s vedic knowledge as worldwide.  Even the UN and the World Health Organisation  have recognised that AoL enriches life and promotes wellness through spiritual  growth and self-development.    

However, as is the wont  of many opponents of India’s ancient heritage, they abhor anyone taking pride  in it. To deride own culture has been the hallmark of India’s intelligentsia.  Modi was right in questioning the opponents, “If we keep criticising ourselves,  why would the world look at us?”

And, the parting shot

Reverting to Mustafa,  while taking leave of us at the end of the visit, his parting shot was, “India  has such a rich heritage. Which country can boast of ancient civilization, and  10,000 years of recorded history? Which country can claim to be the birth place  of so many major religions and philosophies?”

“Your heritage consists  of Vedic scriptures, Jainism’s Namokar Mantra, Lord Buddha’s teachings and Guru Nanak’s divinity. It is common to all Indians. No one can  claim exclusive right over it and no one can disown it either. Can ancestry be  disputed or renounced? The people who disown their heritage become culturally  bankrupt,” he added.

We were dumbstruck.  Mustafa had shamed us with his simple reasoning. By the time we regained our  composure, he had boarded a bus to head for his next engagement, perhaps to  enlighten another set of ignorant Indian tourists!

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Also read
1. Ganesha Temples in  Indonesia
2. Mother Temple Bali
3. Prambanam Temple Java


Krishna Arjuna in chariot – scene from Mahabharata