Culture Overview

By Editors

Let us begin by enjoying some short videos that provides a glimpse of this wondrous culture, as pictures and sound can paint culture far better than mere words.

The word culture has been variously defined as the description of the ways of life of a particular group of people during a particular period of time, or as the complex whole pertaining to a people that includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, laws, customs, and other common activities and habits of a given society, community, or country. Anthropologists define culture as an important concept that encompasses a range of phenomenon related to the social learning of human societies. Scholars in humanities define culture as a society’s degree of sophistication attained in the arts, sciences and education, and living skills. In all these definitions the common thread is the dynamic evolution of a culture by which progress is attained by a group or community. In this sense it is an indicator of the degree of intellectual, scientific, or social advances that any society gathers, starting from its primitive stage, as it attains wisdom, expertise, and experience. While such a definition is adequate when dealing with a small group of people or community such as a tribe, or human habitations confined to a geographically limited area, how does one conceptualize or comprehend the culture of an entire civilization, such as the one we are studying in ancient India?

            Indian civilization is one of the oldest of all human civilizations. The emergence of new evidence sInce the colonial era (when its history was distorted by the West, including the fact of its antiquity) points to a civilization that predates even the Harappa era, suggesting that this civilization might have thrived in the Sindhu Sarasvati basin not later than eight thousand years before the current era. In this vast span of time, the civilization was shaped and reshaped by historical vicissitudes that included major geographical upheavals, conquests, colonization, and the civilization’s own natural expansion. Thus, from the Sarasvati basin to the Gangetic plains, down below to Narmada, transformations were induced by racial and cultural mixing and mingling of groups such as the Dravidians, and other notable subcultures. The original Arya (or Vedic, or Aryan) culture, depending on the preferred nomenclature one chooses, underwent constant evolution and development. In fact, the process of sophistication that one associates in defining culture never ceased to operate. Today, in more than one sense, this civilization, unlike many others on the world scene, continues to be a living one, constituting a seventh of entire world’s population.

What was the cultural profile of the original inhabitants? A study of Vedic literature from the Vedas down to the Puranas, and vast and ever-growing evidence from archaeological studies (thousands of relics, carvings, pottery ornaments, seals and symbols) provide ample evidence of the rich tapestry of life these people lived, and the degree of sophistication they attained. There were many unique characteristics in their ways of living. By and large, they were people with peaceful, thoughtful, inventive, and reflective ways—always seeking new knowledge, probing not just nature, but delving deep into the very secrets of the nature of life and the universe. As intellectual and cerebral individuals they developed arts, and sciences of life, and were the originators of profound thought, which perhaps were their unique gift to humanity. Vedas, Vedantas, Darshanas, and their epic poetry contained in such immortal works as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata bear testimony to the profound thought that we have referred to. However, there were other more material sciences that they pioneered in this most ancient period: metallurgy, aeronautics, health sciences, fundamental mathematic concepts (such as notions of zero and infinity, the decimal system, and geometrical structures), architecture, and more. They also left their footprints on much of the then known world through their maritime capabilities, and trade-based activities. Ancient visitors from neighboring lands like China and lands farther afield, such as Greece and Central Asia, talked about the achievements of this unique civilization in glowing terms. They were fun-loving people, too. They developed a language, Samskrit, which went on to become the mother and grandmother of many languages spoken today. This language, like no other language, has a built-in rhythm, melody, and expressiveness, and has unique properties of even enriching other languages that emanate through its awe-inspiring, innate properties. Their prose, and particularly, their poetry, has no comparable equal in any other language of the world. Experts say it has a potential to revolutionize the “future use and applications of computers interface with human society”. Their poetry, drama, and literature are a delight to learn, and a blessing to enjoy.

Such a civilization and its variegated culture cannot be described in a small section on our website. It is important for readers to realize that the profile of ancient Indian culture permeates every theme of this website: history and timelines ranging through the Vedic systems, intellectual heritage, Ayurveda and Yoga, and up to the colorful potpourri.

The particular theme under the title, culture, merely covers some of the features of our ancients’ unique way of living in modern terms of the discipline, fine arts and humanities, which is taught to advanced students of culture. Presented through a set of papers by the reputed professor of culture, Dr. Choodamani Nandagopal, who is a noted author of many contributions on this subject, this section deals with aspects of cultural studies such as material culture, music, numismatics, iconography, and other related subjects which may interest some readers with advanced knowledge in this area. For readers interested in visual richness and voice, we recommend perusing the entire website—starting with the videos and images, and drawings and cartoons which will continue to enrich our website as it develops dynamically, and evolves over a period of time