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In this article, we will discuss the definition of culture, its origin and the basis of Indian culture.

Definition of culture:

i) For a layman, the word ‘culture’ assumes the same meaning as words like norms, customs, traditions, conventions, values & beliefs, etc. 

ii) Etymologically, the word has been derived from the Latin word ‘agriculture’, which means to till or cultivate. The Sanskrit equivalent for culture is sanskriti.

iii) Thus, German philosopher Arnold Keyserling defined culture as ‘the transformation of the uncultivated into the cultivated humanity.’

iv) Culture can thus be summed up as something which is formed, shaped and moulded as per the inherent tendencies and outlooks and forms the basis of the holistic political, social, economic and religious activities. 

v) Culture is expressed in the form of arts, sciences, literature, industry and crafts.

Contributory factors in the shaping of culture: 

i) The biggest contributing factor in the building of a region’s culture is its environment. It plays a vital role as the soil, atmosphere and heredity are features that determine the local characteristics.

ii) The second factor is the group of intellectuals or elites, who are from the same soil but tend to mould the contemporary culture.

iii) Family is the third most important factor as it is primarily responsible for transmission of culture.

iv) Fourthly, foreign impact is responsible for the formation and development of native culture.

Culture & its determinants: 

As we have seen, the environment, the intellectual and the elite, family and foreign impact, etc. are the core factors influencing culture in each generation. But, the question remains, how does it happen? How is culture determined and shaped economically, socially, historically and politically? Let us understand how these factors have intermingled to shape our culture over thousands of years.

1. Socio-economic influences:                                                                                     i) Major cultural transformations happen due to socio-economic and political developments. 

ii) The emergence and development of Vedic civilisation in India can be one of the best examples of economic influences on culture. The Vedic civilisation gave birth to the Varna system, which then mutated into the caste system, which is even today a major aspect of Indian culture. 

iii) Economic growth and prosperity were essential for growth of art and architecture during the Maurya and Gupta period. 

iv) The growth of trade & commerce enabled towns to flourish in the 14th and 15th centuries. This disrupted the age-old barter system in villages, which was actually based on the caste system. Eventually, it raised questions about occupational restrictions due to the caste system. Thus, it was the rise of Bhakti movement across different regions. 

v) The Bhakti movement played a vital role in reshaping Indian culture and bringing a modern thoughts to counter irrelevant and age-old traditions. The teachings of Bhakti saints were compiled in local languages like Braj, Awadhi, Panjabi, Marathi, Gujarati, Kashmiri, etc. As a result of this, monopoly of the priestly class was challenged and the importance of Sanskrit language began to decline.

vi) The increased surplus production during the Mughal rule resulted in a rise in the Mughal architecture during the medieval period. Various forms of arts like music, painting and writing also developed due to the court patronage by Mughals.

vii) During British expansion in India, due to the rise of capitalism, Indian culture started to take a modern turn. This led to the rise of middle-class people with western education & morals and rise of cities brought the concept of equality and secularism. This modern class became the source of movements against caste system, false traditions and campaigned for women’s education, equality and emancipation.

2. Political influences:

i) Different political structures of various reigns also impacted our culture. 

ii) For example, vast empires like that of the Mauryans, Guptas and the Mughals had followed autocracy and political centralisation by bringing in various feudal regions under one rule. This ensured a formation of a unified culture which later formed the basis of national culture.

iii) However, soon after the fall of these dynasties, feudal lords assumed command of their respective regions and paved way for a separate identity of their religion. This was the beginning of rise and development of regional cultures in India.

iv) Many monuments and architectural buildings were built by rulers/dynasties bearing expressions of the religions they professed. For example, after accepting Buddhism, Emperor Ashoka raised many stupas such as Sanchi stupa, Bharhut stupa, Lion capital, etc.

v) In the later period, the British expansion laid the roots of democracy in India, which eventually became the basis for modern Indian culture. 

3. Foreign influences:

i) Since the earliest time, Indian society had been in contact with the outside world due to trade & commerce, migration, settlement and foreign invasions.

ii) The Aryans brought forms of agricultural products, new gold and beliefs. The gunpowder, cavalry and new military techniques were brought to India by Turks. 

iii) Trade and commerce ties with China, Rome and Europe brought India stitched cloths, domes, arches, paper, glass making techniques & water wheels etc.

iv) The Mughal invasion brought into India the Mughal style of architecture, miniature paintings, new melodies, musical forms, musical instruments, dastan & ghazals as new forms of literary expressions, etc.

v) The British rule brought to India the Victorian form of architecture, modern weapons, military discipline, democratic culture, telecommunications and other modern inventions. 

vi) These new additions greatly influenced different aspects of the Indian culture, which is rightly given the tag of ‘unity in diversity’.

To read the other articles in the series

Capsule 2 :…

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