India is a plural society both in letter and spirit. It is rightly characterized by its unity and diversity. A grand synthesis of cultures, religions and languages of the people belonging to different castes and communities has upheld its unity and cohesiveness despite foreign invasions and the Mughal and the British rule. National unity and integrity have been maintained even through sharp economic and social inequalities have obstructed the emergence of equalitarian social relations. It is this synthesis which has made India a unique mosaic of cultures. India fought against the British Raj as one unified entity, India is, in fact, a panorama of its own type without a parallel in other continents. Foreign invasions, immigration from other parts of the world, and the existence of diverse languages, cultures and religions have made India’s culture tolerant on the one hand, and a unique continuing and living culture with its specificity and historicity on the other.
Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism and Christianity are the major religions. There are fifteen national languages besides several hundred dialects. There is diversity not only in regard to social composition, religious and linguistic distinctions but also in patterns of living, life styles, land tenure systems, occupational pursuits, inheritance and succession law, and practices and rites related to birth, marriage, death etc.
Past – Independence India is a nation united against several odds and obstacles. The idea of unity of India is inherent in all its historical and socio-cultural facts as well as in it cultural heritage. India is a secular state. It has one constitution providing guarantees for people belonging to diverse regions, religions culture and languages. It covers people belonging to all socio-economic strata. The Five-Year Plans and several other developmental schemes are geared to the upliftment of the poor and weaker sections of society.
The Indian cultural tradition is unique. The motions of Dharma (normative order) Karma personal moral commitment and Jati (caste) as the hierarchical principle of social stratification are basic to Indian culture. A certain level of configuration of these elements and consensus has resulted in persistence and equilibrium in Indian society and hence no major breakdown has taken place in its culture. It is said that the change is in the cultural system and not of the system. In other words, basic cultural and social values and norms still continue with some modifications. The values of Dharma, Karma and Jati continue to guide social and cultural activities to a large extent. Hence change is in the system and not of the system.
The uniqueness of the Indian cultures does not simply refer to this esoteric nature. It requires a though study of India’s culture in terms of its history. Absorption and assimilation are trends of social and cultural change. Aryans and Dravidians lived together. Hindus and Muslims lived in close proximity, socially and culturally. Later on, Christians joined them. Today Hindus, Jains, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and people of other faiths participate together in the government industry, commerce and other sectors of public life. Thus, there has been a continuous unity even in the greatest diversity. The diversity is reflected in thousands of caste groups each having its rituals, rites, rules and customs. It can be seen in terms of linguistic religious and other ethnic variations. The style of life differs from region to region and even between different castes and religious groups within the same village. The emperor Ashoka worked for the unity of India by advising cultural and religious harmony and administrative efficiency.