What is India?

Is India just another country, one of the nation states or something more and unique...

What is India?
Image Source - Wikimedia (By Seba Della y Sole Bossio from Cordoba, Argentina - Kumbh Mela · Allahabad)
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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I like the title "What is India?" It has opened my eyes just absorbing the information and reading the words. I liked the feel of your writing, I liked how you depicted India from and since 1947 and I have not been to India, but would like to one day. Very precise informative article and you gave me a glimpse into a country culture it's people and politics in which I did not know before, but am still learning and achieing more knowledge.


Thanks for your comments and interest. I hope to write more interesting pieces on India. Hope you will find it interesting as well.


India is really a grand nation compared to my country of Canada. We are a very young country compared to yours. But in contrast we are still very underpopulated compared to you. After all we count only 35 million inhabitants in a country of about the same size as beautiful India. Our history is also very young compared to the long standing history of India. I certainly do not want to put down India but I am a Canadian and proud of it just as much as you are proud of India. I will have to admit though that I find your history very engaging and interesting compared to ours. Probably because you have been around for thousands of years.


Thanks for these very precise observations. You add to my thoughts as I try to walk through this maze of humanity trying to make sense of what is happening .... and what has already been happening for a very long long time....


I see more beautiful girls and I've watched more movies of India, really interesting...


I invite you watch more. Will even try to suggest some.. Indian movies...


India is more than political area with defined border lines- it is a great culture which extends much beyond our peninsula.Not long back- not to speak of Pakistan & Bangladesh-even Srilanka and Mynamar were part of India. Earlier Indian culture extended to Java, Sumatra, Bali-where linkages can be found in Thailand, Malaysia too. But our too much reliance on Ahimsa, caste divide had made us vulnerable. We remained slaves for almost 1000 years even to Slave dynasty and later to traders like East India Company who ruled over us for more than two centuries-siphoning our wealth. There have been great rulers like Shivaji, Mahraja Ranjit Singh and now our PM for whom India mattered most.


You make some interesting comments. I wish to write on these in more details.... I hope you will find them interesting.... By the way ... being peaceful is a sign of being civilized....!!!!


There are very interesting things to be found in the history of India where a great worriors, Kings, writers and many more personalities have passed away. They presented India as a gold egg laying that's why every time has been attacked.


It is very interesting .... what made India a golden egg for the world ?!