The existing political state of India came into existence on 15th August, 1947. But with a history of at least several thousand years, India is clearly much more and extends much beyond its political boundaries. It is not just a country, but a nation, a state, a culture, a society and more than anything else ... a civilization.
India as the 21st century Country - A Political State
Since 15th August, 1947, we have a federal state of India, consisting of several provinces that are bound in the form of a union through the Constitution of India that they adopted on 26th January, 1950. This country is a relatively recent political unit, and its people, around 1300 million of them, proudly consider themselves as India. Indeed, today, it is this country, South of Himalayas and North of Indian Ocean that "is" India.
But is it all that we mean by India?
What about the India that has been known to the world since thousand of years... What about the culture that includes the mother of all languages, Sanskrit, and has a flavor that retains its identity, even in the most cosmopolitan parts of the world... What about the people from Gandhar (in Afghanistan) to Java and Bali (in Indonesia) that lived through the ages, following a way of life that was unique and referred to as Hind, Indo, Hindu, Hindi or Indian...
Clearly, India is neither limited to the geographical area that came to be identified with the planes of Sindhu river, which lies today in Pakistan, nor can it be confined to the political boundaries of the 21st century India. India is definitely something more...
India as a Nation
The word nation is usually defined as a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.
One can certainly use this definition to label India as a nation state. Only, one needs to remember that India has more than 21 constitutionally recognized languages, variety of cultures spread from North to South and East to West... and a lot of that often flows across it political boundaries to other neighboring countries. India is certainly different from the nation states of Europe in that regard, which came into existence largely during the last millennium.
India as a Culture
Indian culture can be said to have an identity that is different from the political state of 21st century India. This culture, in spite of its diversity, is unique enough in so many ways that it retains its Indian identity in its every form and variation. It exists, survives and extends beyond the political boundaries of India, through its Diaspora and its immigrants. The Indian culture establishes the Indian identity beyond its political organization, again making it clear that Indian is something more...
Indian as a Civilization & Society
The most unique aspect of India is the manner in which its people have been organizing themselves as a harmonious, peaceful society since ages. It is perhaps the social characteristics of India that are most unique to it. Not that there is anything astonishingly complex there... the large joint family, the non-violence (ahimsa), the vegetarianism, the rural predominance of populace, and the social traditions... India can be understood to a large extent by its people and their societies.
The social characteristics of India are far more unique than its political ones. They have been in existence since much longer as well. Ages have witnessed the traditions of Indian society and seen its simple, meek, extremely tolerant people survive the onslaughts of nature, beasts and tyrants. Ages have seen them prosper from their peaceful co-existence - it formed one of the most prosperous parts of humanity for a very long time, before falling from grace to a state of utter poverty during the last few hundred years. Yet, the society retained its fabric, the family bonds remained almost unyielding, and the society and its civilization continues.
Perhaps, the best way to see and understand India is in the form of a Civilization - the oldest living one that humanity brought into existence. A civilization that was followed by its peers around the world, and not because of their scientific advances, well developed markets or powerful armies or emperors. India always derived its power and authority from the simple ordinary men and women and the families that they were able to form and adhere to. It was not religion that bound them - indeed religion is too weak an instrument to be able to do that - it was something else that gave the Indian families a strength that was, is and will perhaps always remain unparalleled in the history of mankind.
Perhaps, it is this family based civilization that made India what it was through the ages, and still does to a large extent. Perhaps it is not the boundaries of the political state that matter so much when we referee to India, but the unique characteristics of its society that make India.
India is certainly more than a country, a nation, a political state, a federal government ... it is all of them but more than anything else. it is a civilization!
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