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Indian literature research


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Indian literature research

  1. 1. Ronanki 1 Aditya Ronanki Walls 4 10th Lit/Comp G 26 February 2014 The Indians, a Moral and Cultured People: A Look at Themes in Indian Literature and Their Underlying Cultural Implications Indians believe that there are concrete definitions of subjective ideas. Their literature reflects a clear, unchanging conception of the differences between concepts such as good and evil or light and dark. Furthermore, it reflects rigid social definitions of these subjective concepts. It also reflects a cultural emphasis on moral obligations that are related to those definitions. Moreover, said definitions also result in an emphasis on concepts related to morality, such as rules of conduct and loyalty. To understand why these concepts are important in Indian culture, one must have a clear understanding of India‟s religious makeup. To be clear, India is a land of many faiths, although Hinduism is the predominant of them. The arrival of Indo- Europeans from somewhere in Central Asia around 1500 BC ushered in the dawn of the Vedic ages, so named because the Vedas, the most important of the Hindu texts, were compiled during this time period. Gautama Buddha, who eventually founded Buddhism, was born in 567 BC. A man named Mahavira, who founded Jainism, also lived during this time period ("Incredible India - History"). In the 4th century BC, a man named Ashoka, of the Maurya Dynasty, established an empire called the Magadhan Empire. Based in the city of Pataliputra (now Patna), this empire came to encompass most of what is now India. Ashoka embraced Buddhism and is known for the monuments that he built at Sanchi, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Ashoka pillar
  2. 2. Ronanki 2 at Sarnath is now India‟s national emblem, and the Dharma Chakra on that pillar is featured on the Indian flag ("Incredible India - History"). Following the fall of the Maurya Dynasty, northern India was ruled by the Gupta Dynasty, whose rule ushered in a period called the “Golden Age of India”. Christianity was introduced to India around this time. Prior to this, some Jews had also arrived in India. Around the 7th century AD, a group of Zoroastrians arrived in the Indian region of Gujarat. In the 15th century, a man named Guru Nanak founded Sikhism in the Punjab region of India ("Incredible India - History"). In 1192, areas in northern India began falling under the control of the Delhi Sultanate, whose rulers were Muslims. It was during this time period that Islam was introduced into India ("Incredible India - History"). Upon achieving its independence from Britain in 1947, India was partitioned. A country called Pakistan was created in the Muslim-majority regions of northwestern India, while the Hindu-majority regions became the modern-day country of India ("Incredible India - History"). The religious makeup of India as of that nation‟s 2001 census is as follows: Hindus 80.5%, Muslims 13.4%, Christians 2.3%, Sikhs 1.9%, Buddhists 0.8%, Jains 0.4%, others or religion not stated 0.7%. As a result, there is a strong Hindu undercurrent in much of Indian literature, which results in an emphasis on the aforementioned concepts due to their basis in Hindu religious texts, such as the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita. Indians believe that there are clear distinctions in life between nebulous concepts such as good and evil or light and dark, as is reflected by their literature. For example, take this statement from Sri Sri‟s poem “Contrasts”: “Lucky you people are! You love light! You hate shadows! You have metal walls between good and evil!” (Syamala). People in Indian society have a clear conception of what is good and what is evil. “Contrasts” again sends a similar message when it reads, “Your ideas on good etiquette, manners, behavior, quality and values are all irrevocable,
  3. 3. Ronanki 3 predetermined!… The people on the other side of the line are all criminals!” (Syamala). People in Indian society have very concrete, unchangeable ideas about what constitutes good and what constitutes evil. Indian literature reflects an emphasis in Indian culture on moral obligations. Take, for example, this statement from Sri Sri‟s poem “An Old Beggar Woman”: “She was laid up with disease not in a position to even beg… Growing old, with her joints in disarray… „If that granny dies, whose fault is it?‟ the mad winds moved on asking the question” (Syamala). The message sent is that someone should assist the old woman in her struggles and that those who do not attempt to do so are guilty of wrongdoing. There is a strong emphasis on moral obligations in Indian culture. Indians believe in social responsibility and in the idea that one should assist those who are struggling. An emphasis on moral obligations in Indian culture is also reflected in the following statement, from the story “Selvi” in Malgudi Days: “She ignored his objection and said, „My mother was my guru; here she taught me music, lived and died… I‟ll also live and die here; what was good for her is good for me too…‟” (Narayan). The implication is that the character in question, Selvi, is feeling guilty about the fact that she was not by her mother‟s side during the final days of her life. This implication, therefore, reflects an emphasis in Indian culture on the moral obligation to serve one‟s parents and assist them in old age. Indians appear to believe that, just as one‟s parents are to care for one in childhood, so one must care for one‟s parents in old age. Indian culture also places a strong emphasis on rules of conduct. For example, take this statement from the Mahabharata: “The battle was to rage for eighteen days on the field of Kurukshetra, sometimes in favor of one side and sometimes in favor of the other. It was strictly understood that action should begin at sunrise and end with the setting sun…” (Narayan). There
  4. 4. Ronanki 4 is a belief in Indian culture that, even in something as violent as war, there must still remain a sense of fair play. Indians believe that one must always follow strict moral guidelines, even if it may sometimes be in one‟s interest to act in a cleverer, more cunning manner. Furthermore, Indians believe that only a victory achieved under a strict set of rules is truly legitimate and that a victory that is achieved through the use of sneaky tactics is false and undeserved. In other words, it is unfair to strike an opponent who is unprepared because only a fight that occurs under equal circumstances for both parties can truly prove which party is the superior one and, therefore, the worthy victor. The Mahabharata again sends a similar message when it reads as follows: Just when this happened and the battle was about to begin, much to everyone‟s surprise, Yudhistira was seen crossing over to the other side, after taking off his armor and mail coat. The Kauravas thought at first that he was approaching to sue for peace, having become nervous at the last moment. But Yudhistira went directly to his master, Drona, and bowed to him, touched the feet of his grand- uncle, Bhishma, and the other elders, and returned to his post. Wearing again his coat of mail and armor, he gave the signal for attack. (Narayan) There is an emphasis in Indian culture on respect for one‟s elders. Yudhistira is the commander of the Pandavas‟ army, who are engaged in a war with an army led by their cousins, the Kauravas, in order to regain their kingdom, which has wrongfully been taken from them by the Kauravas. Drona was the teacher for both the Pandavas and the Kauravas, but is now fighting on the side of the Kauravas. Even though Yudhistira will, mere minutes later, be engaged in mortal combat with these very individuals, for now he still shows them the utmost respect and humility. Despite the fact that these people are now his enemies, he does not insult or spite them. They are
  5. 5. Ronanki 5 his elders, and, therefore, he must always respect them, regardless of the circumstances. This is an unchanging rule. Indian literature also reflects an emphasis in Indian culture on loyalty. For example, take the following statement from the Ramayana: “Rama took in the shock, absorbed it within himself, and said, „I will carry out his wishes without question. Mother, be assured that I will not shirk. I have no interest in kingship, and no attachments to such offices, and no aversion to a forest existence.‟” (Narayan). Rama is a prince in the city of Ayodhya. His father is stepping down as king, and had initially planned to have Rama succeed him. However, through an unfortunate twist of events, he is forced to exile Rama to a forest for 14 years and make Bharata, another one of his sons, king. There is a strong emphasis on loyalty in Indian culture. Rama, while he is surprised, appears to have no qualms whatsoever about giving up the throne that is rightfully his and, furthermore, living outside of civilization for an extended period of time. He is blindly obedient to his father‟s command, regardless of its merit (or lack thereof). He does not protest or make any attempt to resist this command, unjust as it may be. The message that is sent is that a true son should always be loyal to his father, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of any personal sacrifices that it may entail. More generally, the message that is sent is that one must sometimes sacrifice one‟s personal welfare for others‟ sake; that one‟s personal welfare is by far secondary to the welfare of society in general. In summary, the literature of India appears to suggest that the people of that nation believe that there are concrete definitions for subjective ideas. It reflects a clear, unchanging conception of the differences between concepts such as good and evil or light and dark. Also, it reflects rigid social definitions of those ideas. Furthermore, it reflects a cultural emphasis on moral obligations, which are closely related to those definitions. Finally, said definitions are also
  6. 6. Ronanki 6 reflected in Indian literature through an emphasis on concepts such as rules of conduct and loyalty, which may be seen as extensions of the ideas in Indian culture regarding morality.
  7. 7. Ronanki 7 Works Cited "Incredible India - History." Incredible India - History. Samtech Infonet Ltd., n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2014. <>. Narayan, R.K. Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 1982. Electronic (Kindle). Narayan, R.K. The Mahabharata: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1978. Electronic (Kindle). Narayan, R.K. The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic. New York: Penguin, 1972. Electronic (Kindle). "Religion." Census of India. The Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India, 2010-11. Web. 02 Apr. 2014. <>. Syamala. "Selections From Sri Sri And Other Essays - Part 2.", 2014. Web. 24 Mar. 2014. <>.