What exactly is India? Is it a country? An idea? A geographical area? A feeling? Or is it a message?
For me, the concept and the creation of India is a message- but what exactly is this message? The ‘Message of India’ can be summed up in an axiom which is quite often used in school textbooks and by school kids in their Independence day speeches- ‘Unity in Diversity’ .The ‘Message of India’ speaks about tolerance, mutual respect and understanding, peace, compassion, love and most of all celebrating our uniqueness, yet remaining united as a strong nation. It was this ‘Message’ which was reflected in our freedom struggle, The great Mahatma Gandhi inherently knew that the only way to achieve Independence was to celebrate our diversity and embrace our differences. Post-independence too, our foreign policy beginning with the Non-Alignment Movement during the peak of the Cold War was shaped by this ‘Message’.
A while ago I met a wonderful Jewish Grandmother in the vintage and colorful Jew town in Kochi. I spoke to her and her caretaker, while we chatted away, the ‘azan’ was called from the local mosque and her caretaker wore his skull cap and bid me farewell.
It was at this time that I really understood the ‘Message of India’. Across the world, conflicts between these two communities may have raged on like a wildfire, but in India, our love and acceptance has doused this wildfire of hatred and anger.
I have traveled to only about a dozen or so states in India, I haven’t seen a major part of this mosaic- like country, but each time I leave home and go to a new state, I am in awe of its unique culture and atmosphere, each of the 29 states( and union territories!) in India can boast of its own diverse, beautiful and lively culture, even the smaller states in the North-East of India each have their own languages, dances, foods and clothing styles. In fact within Indian states too there can be vast lingual and cultural differences. Religion in India has been more of a unifying concept rather than a divider, it is not uncommon to see Hindu families put up Christmas trees or to see Muslim families light up their houses for Diwali! Festivals and celebrations in India can last several days and everyone participates, regardless of the Holy-Book they follow.
Any statement which one can make about one part of our country can be paradoxically true in another part! I have now made it my life’s purpose to travel to each and every state of this country and spread this ‘message’ across the world. In this troubled, conflicted and chaotic world, the ‘Message of India’ can be an instrument of peace and tolerance.
Various travellers, rulers, refugees, tribes and cultures have left their undeniable mark on this country, each and every one of them have contributed to our rich and varied heritage, it may sound romantic but the ‘Message of India’ is precisely this, it’s a message of acceptance.When we closely study Indian history, it is interesting to note that apart from a few failed rulers who never understood the idea of India, almost every single Indian ruler has had members from other communities apart from his or her own community hold high positions in the administration or in the army.
Members from other communities were always present in their courts and palaces and many Indian rulers guaranteed protection and support to all communities within their empire.
An example of this tolerance can be seen in Vatapi or Badami, the erstwhile capital of the Badami Chalukyas, it is now a quaint town in the southern state of Karnataka, the Chalukyan Kings built 4 marvelous rock- cut temples in the surrounding hills back in the 6th century,the rulers were Hindus and therefore the first three temples were in honour of the Hindu Gods- Shiva and Vishnu, but what is interesting is that the fourth temple is a Jain Temple!
Jainism was another religion which emerged in Ancient India and Vatapi had a small yet vibrant Jain community, our ecstatic tour guide pointed out that the ruler built this temple in honour of ‘universal brotherhood’ and ‘tolerance’, this for me is the ‘Message of India’.
Even today, Indian politics is full of colour and noise, various groups and associations have their own parties and pressure groups, it is through this that the aspirations of 1.3 billion people gets fulfilled, the ‘Message of India’ thus is deeply democratic, it is democracy that has allowed for so many different voices to be heard, valued and accepted.Our Constitution is like a mother, she has 1.3 billion children and she feeds and nurtures every single one of them.
Many foreign travellers wrote about India- Indica written by Megasthenes, the works of ancient Chinese scholars Hiuen Tsang and Fa Hien, Kitab-ul-hind written by Al-Biruni are famous examples,these books talk about varied subjects about India and her people, they were all written with different viewpoints and at different times but the singular theme which they all seem in awe of is India’s all-embracing and all-loving character, the uniqueness of this land which didn’t have one set of unique people, but several sets of diverse people.Travelers, scholars and traders came from all over the world in curiosity of this land, some of them never returned to their homelands,others went back and preached the ‘Message of India’.
There is no doubt that the ‘Message of India’ has changed and evolved with time, but it’s central and core values has always remained rigid over the years. Great Indian men and women continue to preach this message of India, recently when the apex court in India proclaimed that same-sex relationships were no longer illegal, it was this all-inclusive and all-loving character of India that was on full display. I’m proud to recognize the fact that several people across the globe have used this message to unify people and to fight injustice, notable examples are Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, both of these great men used the ‘Message of India’ in their respective struggles.
I am often reminded of a powerful pledge we were made to recite in school, as young kids who grumbled at any type of work, this pledge and the whole ceremonial ‘hand on the heart’ pose always felt like a burden, but the more I explore and learn about my people and their lives, the more this pledge becomes relevant, let me end this with a part of this pledge we recited in school-
India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters.
I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.
I shall always strive to be worthy of it.
I shall give my parents, teachers and all elders respect and treat everyone with courtesy.
To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion.
In their well-being and prosperity alone, lies my happiness
(This pledge was written in 1962 by Pydimarri Venkata Subba Rao)
Let us all be proud of this nation and the values it has stood up for over the years, let us pledge to respect, protect and spread the ‘Message of India’.
If you haven’t yet visited India, come over, you have a family of a billion waiting for you, come explore this land and its diversity and get touched with the ‘Message of India’. Mahatma Gandhi once said “My life is my message” in a similar sense India’s existence is her ‘Message’
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