THE NAME ‘INDIA’ : ‘India’ comes from the name of the river which the Indians called ‘Sindhu’, the Persians ‘Hindu’ and the Greeks ‘Indus’. Foreign chroniclers call the country ‘India’. Indians themselves called their land ‘Bharatavarsha’ which now has been shortened into Bharat, after the name of the most famous legendary kings of India. The Indians regarded Bharata-varsha as the southern division of Jambudvipa, one of the seven islands, making up the world. In this book ‘India’ will be used in its historical sense till the march of events reaches the time of the partition of the country into India and Pakistan in 1947. Diversity in India can be viewed by different considerations in India.
The People in India
A Systematic ethnography of the Indian population is admittedly an extremely difficult task. It was perhaps in the New Stone Age that men became divided into racial groups with distinctive characteristics in colour of the skin, shape of the head and nature of the hair. No one has explained satisfactorily how different ethnic groups came to develop their own civilizations and languages; some of the racial characteristics are of such uncertain stability that we may wonder whether they do not exist more in words than in fact, while others offer extremely marked differences dividing men of the world into the white, yellow and black races. The term ‘race’ is so bound up with emotions that one would do well to avoid it altogether and speak only of cultures and peoples.
True, the modern European, proud of his science and technology, can be easily distinguished from a native of Asia or Africa by the colour of his skin and facial cut. But the fact remains that ‘Europe is a continent of energetic Mongrels’. Nowhere in the world does purity of race exist and India is no exception. But there are in India people like the Todas of the Nilgiris and the Santal and the Ho of Chota Nagpur who have no this day preserved their purity of blood and culture from a remote period in the New Stone Age. India contains a larger variety of human types than any other land.
Physical features of India
The physical features of the Indians have traces of admixture of different ethnic groups that came to India as invaders and chose to become settlers. Inter-racial marriages had been common till the system was evolved which, while still absorbing fresh elements of the populations, sought by marriage and other restrictions to maintain semblance of purity of blood.
Broadly stated, the whites of the Indo-Aryan type are predominant in the north-west from Kashmir to Rajputana and the blacks of the Dravidian type in the south. In the modern State of Uttar Pradesh is to be found the Aryo-Dravidian type extending through Bihar and to parts of Rajputana. The two main component elements of the Indian population are the representatives of the white Indo-Aryans supposed to have come some four thousand years ago and the dark Dravidians considered as directly descended from the original population. The Mongolo-Dravidian type prevails in Bengal and Orissa. The Mongoloid type is found in the hills of Assam, in Bhutan, Sikkim, and Nepal and all along the Himalayas as far as little Tibet in Northern Kashmir.
Diversified people in India during ancient times
New elements that entered the ranks of Indian peoples deserve notice. The Greeks, Sakas, and Pahlavas including the Kushans were the first to come in after the Indo-Aryan civilization entered upon its settled course. The Huns came in somewhat larger number at the close of the Gupta epoch, and they were quickly Indianized; probably the Rajput dynasties that came into prominence in the seventh century A.D. had a fair measure of Hunnish blood in their veins.
On the west coast are to be found some Jews who, according to their traditions, left their country after the destruction of their great sanctuary by Titus (A.D. 70). Similarly a large number of Parsis fled from Persia before the zeal of the Muslims and the coast of Bombay is now inhabited by them. Though small in number, they have been big businessmen who have remained true to their religion, Zoroastrianism. The Muslim community of the Moplahs of Malabar are the products of unions between Muslim merchants from Arabia and the women of the west coast. The Muslim immigration into India began even before the Arab invasion of Sind early in the eighth century A.D., and ended with the establishment of the Mughal Empire in the sixteenth century. This was the last movement and in a way important because it produced some perceptible changes in the composition and culture of the population. Among those that migrated were Persian Muslims akin to Indo-Aryans in physical features besides Turks and Afghans. Their total number was never very great. Intermarriages and conversations of the indigenous population tended to assimilate the Muslims to the rest of the population in general appearance, but differences in religious beliefs and habits persisted. The Indo-European community in India has grown from the infusions of Portuguese, Dutch, French and British blood since the fifteenth century A.D.
Many Languages reflect Diversity in India
The languages of India are as various as the elements of her population. Linguistic surveys show a list of 225 distinct languages in addition to varying dialects. This is no doubt a bafflingly large number for a country which has a political unity. But the position is not really as complicated as some Western authors think. The great majority of the people speak languages which can be reduced to two main families, namely the Aryan and the Dravidian. Ali the principal languages of Northern and Western India, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarathi, and many others, descended from Prakrits are closely akin to the Vedic and to the later literary forms of Sanskrit. It may be mentioned that to the Aryan or Indo-Germanic family of languages belongs the old Persian or Zend language, Greek, Latin, German, English and many other European languages. Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kanarese (Kannada) and a few other South Indian language belong to the Dravidian group. Tamil is the oldest languages of this group and its grammar and structure greatly differ from Sanskrit. Literary evidence shows that all these languages have been influenced by Aryan ideas and diction. Aryan ideas and institutions have shown a marvelous power and vitality in all part of India.
Munda languages spoken by other three million people called Kolarians are distinctly different from Aryan and Dravidian languages. It is believed that they belong to the Mon-Khmer family of languages found in Indo-China and are distantly related to the Austro-Asiatic language group. Munda languages are perhaps older than Dravidian. Some hold that the changes in the phonetics and vocabulary of the Vedic language can be explained on the basis of Munda influence much better than on that of Dravidian. The fact that Munda languages have ceased to be of any influence on Indian culture, while Dravidian languages have continued to flourish shows that Munda civilization was less seriously organized than Dravidian.
As India after the States Reorganization of 1956 has been divided into linguistic States for administrative purposes the chief areas in which the principal languages of India are spoken can be easily known.
Religions show Unity
The bulk of the people belong to Hinduism and its offshoots Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Representatives of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam are found in varying numbers. The presence of representatives of almost all religions of the world in the country is proof of the traditional tolerance of Hinduism.
Unity in Diversity when compared to other Nations
Some Westerners interested in the history of India are puzzled at her many contrasting features such as the splendor of her temples, mosques and tombs alongside the squalor of her villages, the intellectual brilliance of the educated men and women at the top side by side with the ignorance and superstition of the bulk of the village folk. The wonderful way in which India has assimilated strands of the different cultures with which she came in contact at the same time retaining the essentials of her own culture has attracted the attention of several foreign historians. In spite of countless revolutions the people have managed to maintain the spirit of an immemorial past. Indeed as a British historian puts it India is ‘a land, vast, unknown, unknowable, where the keenest Western minds, after a lifetime of endeavor, profess that they know no more of the inner being of the people than they did at the beginning’.
Diversity in India
The West with her comparatively early advancement in science and technology has no doubt greatly influenced the culture of India in recent times. But it should be recognized that Indian possesses a separate culture standing on its own ground and worthy of study in its own right. Only then can it be properly realized that the intercourse between the West and India has not been a one-way traffic. India’s contributions to the West began in early times and have continued to the present day; to mention a few, cotton textiles to modify its economy, pepper and other spices to please its palate, the taste for baths in the social sphere, the pyjamas for dress, and words like durbar, bazaar and pukka to enrich Britain’s spoken language. The realm of religion and philosophy India’s influence on the West is not inconsiderable. Recent times Mahatma Gandhi gave the West ahimsa or nonviolence both as a way of life and as an ethical principle. In the intellectual sphere India’s ‘Arabic’ numerals replaced the clumsy Roman notation and her zero helped the decimal system. The ‘Laws of Manu’ have been hailed by Friedrich Nietzsche, as ‘a work which is spirited and superior beyond comparison’. The discovery of the connection between Sanskrit and European languages lad to the study of comparative philology as a discipline. Thus it will be seen that India has influenced the outside world not by war conquest but in the realm of mind and thought.
In India, from early times, there have been attempts to adumbrate the political unity of the country. Bharatavarsha has always meant entire India, although split up into a number of independent Kingdoms, great and small; Asoka, Harsha, Vikramaditya and Akbar afford examples of attempts at nation building, not to mention the heroes of legend.
In fact India owes her political unity to the British; but it must be said that the division of the country into India and Pakistan is as much due to the communal struggle for power as to the British policy of ‘divide and rule’. The readiness and willingness with which most of the ‘Native States’ merged themselves into India was in no small measure due to the statesmanship of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The way the Indians have adapted themselves to political democracy is proof of the underlying unity in diversity. The fact that the entire nation rose above communal squabbles and party differences to stand up to the Chinese aggression confirms the stability of the unity India has achieved.