In this post, I will explore the question – Why it is critically important for Indian children and youth to know about Indian history and heritage?
Quoting Bhartrhari, Prof. Kapil Kapoor said in one of his inspiring talks, that once upon a time an internally confident, intellectually rich India might have said – “What does he know who knows only his own tradition?” But sadly, today we live in times when we may say — “What does he know who does not even know his own tradition?” An unfortunate effect of modern education in India has been that Indians have been cut off from their own cultural traditions. They are unaware, for the most part, of the richness and the wealth of their Indian heritage, of the grandeur of the India that once was, of the intellectual, scientific and cultural contributions India made to the world culture and knowledge, and of the potential that is hidden in India.
UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, 2001 emphasizes dialogue of cultures and civilizations, and asserts that creativity draws on the roots of cultural tradition but it flourishes in contact with other cultures. Wouldn’t it make sense that if we want Indian youth to develop and draw upon their innate creativity, they must be made deeply and critically aware of the vast rich diversity and unity-in-diversity of their Indian cultural traditions?
One of the greatest secrets revealed by the Indian spiritual knowledge is that only when a human being finds and lives from the inner self, can he or she most embrace the universal being and become one with it. Only when one becomes truly independent, self-possessed (in a deeper sense, not just self-centered in the outer sense) and self-ruler (master of one’s impulses, instincts, thoughts, desires), can one become the ruler, master and shaper of the world in which one lives. Only a swarat can grow into becoming a samrat. It essentially means that when one truly lives in the soul one is also living in complete oneness with all, because then the distinction between self and other is no more.
On a more practical level, this deepest truth implies that one must consciously and in full awareness try to know oneself in all its totality and inter-related layers. Not only that, but one must also make continuous attempts to live truly, as much as possible, in accordance with the inner truth that guides and determines one’s path of life. When our self-expression – the line of work we do, how we connect with others, how we grow through our life experiences, the kinds of experiences that motivate us, everything – begins to flow from our inner center of being and is in accordance with our unique law of being, we may see we are on the path of discovering our swadharma (the true purpose of our existence in this life). This is certainly not an easy task. But it is the first necessity.
And it is true not only for the individual but also for the nation. Only when Indian children, youth and people know the inner history of India and its evolutionary march, can they truly be connected to the Indian spirit and work toward manifesting it through their own works and actions.
It can be facilitated through proper education and exposure. In the last post I spoke of some practical changes that are necessary if we want education to become a way of helping children make gradual progress in their journey to discover their inner law and truth of being, their dharma.
This journey of self-discovery however must be made in the context of another journey, that of discovering their nation and its heritage. Only when we know where we are coming from, we can truly begin to figure out where we are at the present, and how we can go ahead in future.
This learning about India’s heritage and history doesn’t need to be and should not be a chauvinistic and narrow-minded retelling of the past glory that India was. At the same time, we don’t want to shy away from the truth that India was indeed once upon a time a glorious land with great many riches of knowledge in all spheres of human life and activity, including material prosperity.
We must also help the youth of India learn about the deeper, inner driving forces of history, the significance of various psychological factors that have shaped India’s history. This is important because when we understand History only from the point of view of outer events (dates, key figures etc), we get only incomplete knowledge – e.g. while studying the period of British colonization of India, a study of the inner, psychological factors may help reveal that which had gone missing from the collective Indian psyche to bring that kind of oppression upon us? What were the larger world forces that led to the independence of India when it happened? Obviously, it can’t be just be one man’s non-violent revolution. So what other deeper psychological and wider outer forces were going on in the world at the time which made it possible? Why not before? Such wider and deeper inquiry can also lead to many other interesting exploratory opportunities for learners and teachers. And so it goes.
Learners must also be given full opportunity to critically evaluate and understand the reasons behind India’s decline and downfall, the factors – outer and inner- that led to it, the impact such a downfall has had on shaping the present-day India, and how a different future can be made possible. Instead of ideologically driven history wars which have a sinister political agenda, educational thinkers and policy-makers must figure out ways to facilitate a developing sense of unity among learners through a deep, critical study of Indian history that is free from preconceived mental biases and prejudices.
All this is not possible to be done in an isolated History class, instead some serious thinking is required on how age-appropriate study of Indian culture, heritage and history may be made an integral part of learners’ overall educational experience. Perhaps this can be made a running theme throughout the school curriculum, integrated within many subject areas, and with a great many variety of learning activities – individual and group – planned to facilitate a holistic learning experience. I mean, wouldn’t it be rather a matter of common sense to speak about the Indian connection to the value of Pi (π) in a Mathematics class? Or how about bringing up the great architectural knowledge of ancient Indians and other engineering marvels in India in a science class? Many such examples can be thought of. All it requires is some good intent and creativity.
Interested readers may like to watch this video for more inspiration….
It may sound counter-intuitive but I think that when we fail to appreciate, love and really know what our heritage and cultural richness is all about, we fail to appreciate what other cultures are all about. We fail to understand the uniqueness that each culture has, we in fact fail to appreciate the great diversity of world cultures because we have not understood what makes our own culture unique and different. We only imitate and that too not very well. We reduce other cultures to their mere outwardly forms, because that is all what we know about our culture. Only when we can appreciate our culture because of its inner truths and dimensions, we can be somewhat equipped to begin an understanding of how other cultures are inwardly different from ours.
Only then the possibility of a healthy dialogue of civilizations and cultures may arise. Because as India teaches us, those who live most powerfully in themselves can also most largely use the world and all its material for a greater self-discovery and can most successfully help the world and enrich it out of their own being.
Click here for the previous post in the series.