Is There Evidence of an Indic Nationalism?

courtesy: WIkimedia Commons
उत्तरं यत्समुद्रस्य हिमाद्रेश्चैव दक्षिणम् ।
वर्षं तद् भारतं नाम भारती यत्र संततिः ।।
"The country (varṣam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bhāratam; there dwell the descendants of Bharata."
—Vishnu Purana

A lot of energy has been expended of late to understand what nationalism means to various people. The problem however has been addressed in a narrow, restricted manner. The definitions employed in the whole debate thus far are of a western construct. As Rabindranath Tagore wonderfully explained it in his pamphlet Nationalism, the construct used rests entirely on a concept of nation that is dominated by economy and polity only. It is a social contract amongst people based on these two pillars, and is validated by the principle of symbols representing this contract. Much of these contracts are a result of reactionary movements that seek to react to the actions of the Church that has long interfered in the process of nation building and nation breaking, particularly applied to Europe. Such nation states often seek to validate their presence subsequently in the name of God; however, the nation immediately deracinates itself from the presence of God in its political control except for a few ceremonial actions. The deracination is particularly a reaction to the Church games, whereby Divine powers were ordained unto select human being to be emperors.What this interprets into is that the idea of a nation in the western construct, based entirely on politics of the Church and the reactions to it. This often means that the process is arbitrary in nature and convenient at best. Several examples of both kinds can thus be seen - the church supported Holy Monarchies, the rebellion of Protestantism and the subsequent formation and political consolidation of Europe around political centers of power. Such fractured nationalism is exemplified perfectly in the repeated disappearance and appearance of the state of Hungary, or the birth of Poland, Spain or even the United Kingdom. Neither geography, nor culture, nor even a sense of belonging would necessarily play a role thus in such a national identity, however hard one may try to argue otherwise. The search for identity in such states is in a perpetual crisis mode, trying to grasp at thin straws when none exist really. At any moment, such national identities are fragile, at best tenuous, and tend to be undermined by the actions of the polity, perpetually weakening the state from within. The concept of rights and duties can never be ingrained in a state for they are perpetually under question and criticism, going as far to the point of outright rejection.

A direct contrast, or contest, to this idea has been the idea of a nationalism that is deeply rooted in Dharma, or civilization. Dharma does not ever refer to religion; rather it refers to overall identification and relative conduct necessitated by the presence in a certain geography, or rashtra, that is not just homeland of you and your ancestors, but is also the land of spiritual gratification (Matrubhumi, Pitrubhumi, Punyabhumi). This triple helix of identification with your homeland strengthens the bond of people with each other and with the rashtra as it gives not just a sense of identity of the self but also a sense of a place in the world.
As the Vishnu Purana identifies and mentioned in the beginning of the article, this concept of India has been defined within geographies. More evidence of this geographic identity comes from the Vedas themselves, where the identification of samudra or large bodies of water has been undertaken along what is identified now as the coastline of south and west India. The Nadistuti Sukta of the Rig Veda identifies the various rivers of India, surprisingly in a East to West directional movement. As the hymn goes

पर सु व आपो महिमानमुत्तमं कारुर्वोचाति सदनेविवस्वतः |
पर सप्त-सप्त तरेधा हि चक्रमुः परस्र्त्वरीणामति सिन्धुरोजसा ||
पर ते.अरदद वरुणो यातवे पथः सिन्धो यद वाजानभ्यद्रवस्त्वम |
भूम्या अधि परवता यासि सानुना यदेषामग्रं जगतामिरज्यसि ||
दिवि सवनो यतते भूम्योपर्यनन्तं शुष्ममुदियर्तिभानुना |
अभ्रादिव पर सतनयन्ति वर्ष्टयः सिन्धुर्यदेति वर्षभो न रोरुवत ||
अभि तवा सिन्धो शिशुमिन न मातरो वाश्रा अर्षन्तिपयसेव धेनवः |
राजेव युध्वा नयसि तवमित सिचौ यदासामग्रं परवतामिनक्षसि ||
इमं मे गङगे यमुने सरस्वति शुतुद्रि सतेमं सचता परुष्ण्या |
असिक्न्या मरुद्व्र्धे वितस्तयार्जीकीये शर्णुह्यासुषोमया ||
तर्ष्टामया परथमं यातवे सजूः ससर्त्वा रसयाश्वेत्या तया |
तवं सिन्धो कुभया गोमतीं करुमुम्मेहत्न्वा सरथं याभिरीयसे ||
रजीत्येनी रुशती महित्वा परि जरयांसि भरते रजांसि |
अदब्धा सिन्धुरपसामपस्तमाश्वा न चित्रावपुषीव दर्शता ||
सवश्वा सिन्धुः सुरथा सुवासा हिरण्ययी सुक्र्तावाजिनीवती |
ऊर्णावती युवतिः सीलमावत्युताधि वस्तेसुभगा मधुव्र्धम ||
सुखं रथं युयुजे सिधुरश्विनं तेन वाजं सनिषदस्मिन्नाजौ |
महान हयस्य महिमा पनस्यते.अदब्धस्यस्वयशसो विरप्शिनः ||

Which roughly translates into

1. THE singer, O ye Waters in Vivasvan's place, shall tell your grandeur forth that is beyond compare. The Rivers have come forward triply, seven and seven. Sindhu in might surpasses all the streams that flow. 2. Varuna cut the channels for thy forward course, O Sindhu, when thou rannest on to win the race. Thou speedest o'er precipitous ridges of the earth, when thou art Lord and Leader of these moving floods. 3. His roar is lifted up to heaven above the earth: he puts forth endless vigour with a flash of light. Like floods of rain that fall- in thunder from the cloud, so Sindhu rushes on bellowing like a bull. 4. Like mothers to their calves, like milch kine with their milk, so, Sindhu, unto thee the roaring rivers run. Thou leadest as a warrior king thine army's wings what time thou comest in the van of these swift streams. 5. Favour ye this my laud, O Ganga, Yamuna, O Sutudri, Parusni and Sarasvati: With Asikni, Vitasta, O Marudvrdha, O Arjikiya with Susoma hear my call. 6. First with Trstama thou art eager to flow forth, with Rasa, and Susartu, and with Svetya here, With Kubha; and with these, Sindhu and Mehatnu, thou seekest in thy course Krumu and Gomati. 7. Flashing and whitely-gleaming in her mightiness, she moves along her ample volumes through the realms, Most active of the active, Sindhu unrestrained, like to a dappled mare, beautiful, fair to see. 8. Rich in good steeds is Sindhu, rich in cars and robes, rich in gold, nobly-fashioned, rich in ample wealth. Blest Silamavati and young Urnavati invest themselves with raiment rich in store of sweets. 9. Sindhu hath yoked her car, light-rolling, drawn by steeds, and with that car shall she win booty in this fight. So have I praised its power, mighty and unrestrained, of independent glory, roaring as it runs.

Thus we can see the evidence of the first twist in the deification of the geography of the land, i.e. the matrubhumi, through the veneration of the rivers. The Vedas are replete with the deification of the geography, and so are the Puranas, that hold mountains, rivers, lakes and even forests as sacred. identifying them with the identity of the people. Similar ideas can be seen across the East and other Dharmic religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Shinto faith as well. Thus, this deification did not happen for the first time with Bankimchandra Chatterjee and his graceful poem Vande Mataram, which is a continuation of the ancient traditions. Even the National Anthem is a part of the Prayer for the Nation of the Brahmo Samaj, to which Rabindranath Tagore belonged.

Similarly, we can see that the identification of ancestry within the Vishnu Purana also takes place. In the same set of shlokas preceding the one that defines the geography of the land, we see the following being written

ऋषभो मरुदेव्याश्च ऋषभात भरतो भवेत्।
भरताद भारतं वर्षं, भरतात सुमतिस्त्वभूत्  ||
Rishabha was born to Marudevi, Bharata was born to Rishabh, Bharatvarsha (India) arose from Bharata, and Sumati arose from Bharata

ततश्च भारतं वर्षमेतल्लोकेषुगीयते ।
भरताय यत: पित्रा दत्तं प्रतिष्ठिता वनम  ||
This country is known as Bharatavarsha since the times the father entrusted the kingdom to the son Bharata and he himself went to the forest for ascetic practices

Thus, the second twist within the triple helix can be seen to be evident. The importance of the pitru, or the ancestor, is marked by the various rituals and festivals that commemorate them, that are evident within not just India, but also amongst the Chinese, Japanese and the Koreans as well as the Dharmics of native origin of South East Asia. The Chinese Night of the Dead or the Japanese festival of Bon evidence this acknowledgment of the ancestors and their direct relation to the present and the identity of the people.

The third twist of the helix can be seen in the punyabhumi concept, or the sacred land. Much like the geography as mentioned in the Vedas, we have the Pauranic concept of the tirtha kshetra, or the holy pilgrim spots, being described in great detail. Most of the pilgrim spots fall within the Indian sub-continent, and are very well aligned with its geography. Great examples of the same can be seen in the 4 Dhams of Vishnu, the 12 jyotirlingas of Shiva or even the 52 peethas of Shakti/Devi. This concept is not just unique to Dharmics of the sub-continent and particularly India; we can see the sanctity of geography in other countries which has a native population that practices Sanatana Dharma, like Bali or Vietnam, where the local Dharmics have sanctity within geographies. Barring the holy sites of Buddhism within India, even the Buddhist populations of South-east Asia and East Asia identify holy spots within their own territories. Much of what has been described for Dharma can also be seen on a smaller scale within the Shinto faith in Japan. Even Sikhism has its own defined geography within the Indian subcontinent that spreads far and wide.

Thus, we can see how the Indic definition of Nationalism is distinct from the socio-political definitions of nationalism that the west has given us. Using European constructs for India is not just shoddy and sloppy effort of lazy pseudo intellectuals, it is also fraught with shortcomings. The identification of a people within the triple helix of Indic nationalism, also called cultural nationalism, needs to be acknowledged for it helps understand people. It is this that gives India that is Bharata its identity, which the Constitution also acknowledges by adopting that name for the nation. However, failure subsequently of the intellectuals trained in western paradigms of nationalism to identify the roots of nationalism in India results in various laughable episodes of the nature that happened very recently, over which much ink - physical and digital - has been spilled. Suffice to say, there is enough evidence of an Indic Nationalism, but only if one is receptive to it.


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