Burden of Unity

Modern Mythmaking 16 Comments

Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, October 31, 2010

I recently made a short trip to Canada. What struck me was the homogeneity of Ottawa, the capital city, I visited. Everything was organized and structured and clean. It made me extra-sensitive to the heterogeneity of Mumbai: on one side tall fully air-conditioned high rise buildings and on the other side slums and garbage piles. No wonder, in Hindu mythology, we have the idea of many Lokas, or realms, some occupied by various children of  Prajapati-Devas, Asuras, Rakshasas, Yakshas, Apsaras- all existing simultaneously and (almost) harmoniously.

There are many Indias that exist simultaneously. There is rich India and poor India. There is Hindu India and Muslim India. There is English India and Hindi India. There is Bengali India and there is Tamil India. The Canadians found it amusing that every Indian needs to know at least two or three languages in order to survive, and not the same two or three languages (Canada has two languages – English and French). In fact, just to help foreigners understand the complexity of India, I tell them to count the many scripts in an Indian hundred Rupee note. That one exercise silences all arguments on diversity. They realize how difficult it is to come up with a single blue print for India.

Diversity of India is most evident in Bollywood films. The world of Karan Johar (KJ) is so different from the world of Ram Gopal Verma (RGV) which in turn is so different from the world of Vishal Bhardwaj (VB). Their stories reveal their respective subjective truth. In the KJ mythosphere, there is no poverty and everything is spotlessly clean, designer labeled and delightfully shallow. In the RGV mythosphere, there are only angry gangsters, and corrupt politicians and policemen. VB’s mythosphere is gritty and dirty and feudal.  Which is the real India, I wonder?

During the festival of Navaratri, in many parts of South India, there is a ritual when clay and wooden dolls of various gods and goddesses are placed on a many tiered platform. I wonder if the ritual was aimed to sensitize children to the idea of diversity. Gods come in all shapes and sizes – fat, thin, blue, green, male, female, tree or monkey. Were these rituals designed to make Indians more tolerant? It is something to wonder about.

While linguistic, economic and religious diversity is seen in every part of the world, and is rising in first world countries with increasing immigration, what makes Indian diversity unique is the idea of caste. And members of different castes differ remarkably in social habits. Members of one caste may have more in common with members of the same caste in another part of the country than with their neighbors in the same village.

Until the British, no one bothered to unite India. It was not required. Diversity was allowed so long as the taxes were paid. The British needed to unite India and they worked very hard to create this one India – railways, law, police, postal services. We have inherited the British burden to unite India but we also want to be democratic. Democracy necessarily allows diversity. Different people therefore align themselves not to one national party but to regional parties that create vote banks using religion and caste as the lever.

This heterogeneous nature of India, I believe has its roots in the belief in rebirth. When one does not live only one life, there is no right way to live life. Everyone can live different kinds of lives in different lifetimes. So why bother trying to homogenize society? Let diversity prevail. Only the modern mind, conditioned by ideas that have their roots in America and Europe, carries the burden of homogeneity, hence unity.

  • India has been united by “culture” and mythology more than language or politics.

    Our histories and even scriptures speak of the many “sacred sites” related to the “Jambu dvipa”. The fact that we called our land a “dvipa” shows we have always known that ours was a sub-continent that was separate to Asian land mass.

    A homogeneous culture, when conquered, gets impacted as a whole and crashes / converts on-mass. Where as a heterogeneous culture like ours could not be converted or crushed though we were ruled over by foreigners for nearly 1000 years.

    Large trees can be felled by a single storm. Grass, being smaller and split into many clumps, can weathers many storms. We have survived being ruled by Muslims and Christians and that is a miracle in itself. Most other nations / civilisations have not last a generation or two under these two religions.

    Divided, we have stood the test of time.
    Though we do need to unite to forge a glorious future.


      NICE THOUGHT !!!

    • K Raj

      You r absolutely right. We can definitely unite to forge a glorious future only if, following on the lines of Britishers, our own POLITICIANS stop dividing the citizens. Hope every Indian who, under any INFLUENCE, is preparing to fight ‘another’ Indian, thinks for a moment ‘what is he trying to do and what will he achieve out of it’.

  • Sai Kalluri

    You are awesome as ususal. One thing comes to my mind, can/cannot unity be achieved in a heterogenous setting like india? Do you think the great indian freedom movement was successful to some extent in getting the unity in diversity? Or is it due to the British’s effoort to homogenise india that backfired and compelled them to declare independence…..

  • This “oneness” of India probably is on account of its deep rooted Age Old philosophy of “Vedanta” which always includes infinite possibilities and yet remain standing as one.

    India has always stood erect and firm on her feet and head held high on this spiritual journey of “Many to One”…and the belief of billion Indians would make it continue to do so

  • Sreevalsan

    Good thought ! :)
    So then the famous maxim “United we stand, divided we fall” is an aberration! In India’s case we will have to say Divided we stand. :)

    The British united India for Administrative purpose – to rule well but also politically divided it to rule well ( Divide & rule policy)- So is it then a Unite & Divide Policy ?

    One thing all agree is that from Kanyakumari to Kashmir there was an underlying unity in spite of various otherwise externally visible differences and that is belief – ( Om namshivaya or Narayana understood by all ) That extended to Bali dveep to south and scotra island to west and himalayas and Gandhar on the east and north. A wast expanse of land mass were already united with an invisible thread of faith.

    Despite the caste difference one important point to be noted is that nowadays with all castes allowed in all temples a ‘Oneness’ exists in an otherwise heterogeneous Hindu religion. On the contrary other so-called homogeneous religions suffer badly from disunity. A protestant never goes to a Catholic church and vice versa. In Kerala variety is wast like Marthoma, yacobite, pentacostal, syrian, latin etc etc. none goes to other church other than theirs. The same difference exists in Islam. Shias, sunnis, Ismalias, Ahamediyas.. etc etc.. They look like different religions though they follow one book & one prophet.

    So on scrutiny you find that the homogeneous are in fact divided and heterogeneous are united !!
    The external appearance is deceiving and it is what we call “Maya” !

    • jay

      pls don write sumthing for d sake of writing. what abut sc,st,untouchable,brahmins,do al of them goes to one temple. in christians no one stops anyone from going to others church.

      • jay

        here d point is to stay united .lyk dey find in us & canada & other advanced countries. in India there is a division in every thing from party to religion to financial status to region ,till the current job one does. these sort of differences are not found in other countries.

        • Deep Biswas

          You don’t get it simpleton. The frequency is beyond your wavelength. @jay

      • Sreevalsan

        :) I am not writing something for the sake of writing.
        Answer to your question Do all of them go to one temple is ‘YES’.
        We do not belong to the Temple.
        But Christians belong to one church or other ( they may be going to any church but may not become a member). There is no concept of Parish in Hinduism.
        I have several Christian & Muslim friends who goes only to their dedicated worship places. This is the truth. I am not saying a particular Religion better than the other because of this.
        It is natural that people get irritated when confronted with truth which is not of their liking.

  • hi

    the ancient concept of dividing life time in four ‘ashramas’ or the ‘varna’ pratha – division of societies tasks into four segments…..aint these an example of an attempt to homogenise ??


    We have to see the other side of heterogenity which is not so positive.Now there are differences and discrimation done
    based on caste,religion,native language,community etc. People of same community supporting and pulling up people
    from the same community.This happens starting from a very low level and extending up to a very high level.
    Even Corporate world is not spared, leave alone public sector.This is wrong.
    We need global thinkers like Nandan Nilekani who is trying to identify Indians based only on three things:
    UID,BANK ACC.,PAN CARD NO. We need more initiatives like this which does not include any personal level criterias.

    Changes should be done,but not on the basis that it is followed in USA or foreign countries but on the basis that they
    are justified and good.Certainly we can learn from other’s experience here. We can have a discussion based on advantages
    and disadvantages of Homo Vs Heterogenity. Lets see which scores better.

    ONE INDIA is must for thinking globally. I strongly believe that in India lies the strength which if spread globally can
    do wonders in terms of solving issues globally.

  • a l mohan

    devdutt’s conclusion that “only the modern mind, conditioned by ideas that have their roots in America and Europe, carries the burden of homogeneity, hence unity.”is hard to digest.ancient indian minds have not brought india to its doom in spite of its diversity.probably the american inspired globalisation and economic liberalisation can take india to its doom.

  • Sanket

    “Gods come in all shapes and sizes – fat, thin, blue, green, male, female, tree or monkey. Were these rituals designed to make Indians more tolerant? It is something to wonder about.”

    It is said in Rigveda ( The oldest vedic text ) That There is One God But different people approach it in different way based on experience & experiment they have with the Truth.

    For example there is just one Electric Current (Metaphor for God ) but it gives Cool Enviroment ( Air Conditioner ) during Summer , in Hot & Dry Region ; Warm enviroment (Room / Water heater ) during Winter, in Cold region of Himalayas , Europe etc. ; Reduced Humididity (Humidity absorber ) in tropical & Humid region , Reducing Dust & SPM(Dust & SPM absorber ) in dry & polluted climate / region.

    This Very Truth resulted in formation of TRINITY (Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh) & demi-gods (Devas) & made Hindus more tolerant.

    They started accepting propounder of other religion as Avatar .

    But The Unfortunate part of story of religion came from West Asia, propounding that there is Only One God & Only One Truth & Only One Path and forcing this ideology throughout the world with their Ambitious & Missionary Zeal by use of Sword & Money.

    The result is world chaos

  • Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive learn anything like this before. So nice to search out any person with some original thoughts on this subject. realy thank you for beginning this up. this website is one thing that’s wanted on the web, someone with slightly originality. useful job for bringing one thing new to the web!

  • Priya

    Hi all,
    Why was all the wealth of mythical information not passed on to future generations ? I might be mistaken, but a certain sect of people were only allowed to study vedas ? How can this bias be justified ? This bias of caste system in ancient times.If Indianess refers to all the spiritual teachings we share and tolerance as a virtue, think about all the evil we tolerate. No humanity towards fellow beings,no integrity,no fighting for what you believe in !

    Lost in thought!