Meaning and Essence of Culture

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Meaning and Essence of Culture

Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. The Center for Advance Research on Language Acquisition goes a step further, defining culture as shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs and understanding that are learned by socialization. Thus, it can be seen as the growth of a group identity fostered by social patterns unique to the group.

The word “culture” derives from a French term, which in turn derives from the Latin “colere,” which means to tend to the earth and grow, or cultivation and nurture. “It shares its etymology with a number of other words related to actively fostering growth,” De Rossi said

The term “Western culture” has come to define the culture of European countries as well as those that have been heavily influenced by European immigration, such as the United States, according to Khan University. Western culture has its roots in the Classical Period of the Greco-Roman era and the rise of Christianity in the 14th century.

Eastern culture generally refers to the societal norms of countries in Far East Asia (including China, Japan, Vietnam, North Korea and South Korea) and the Indian subcontinent. Like the West, Eastern culture was heavily influenced by religion during its early development, but it was also heavily influenced by the growth and harvesting of rice. In general, in Eastern culture there is less of a distinction between secular society and religious philosophy than there is in the West.

The continent of Africa is essential to all cultures. Human life originated on this continent and began to migrate to other areas of the world around 60,000 years ago, according to the Natural History Museum in London. Other researchers, like those from Estonian Biocentre in Tartu, believe that the first migration may have been much earlier, as early as 120,000 years ago. Researchers come to these conclusions by studying human genomes from various cultures to trace their DNA to common ancestors. Fossil records also factor into some of these theories.


No matter what culture a people are a part of, one thing is for certain, it will change. “Culture appears to have become key in our interconnected world, which is made up of so many ethnically diverse societies, but also riddled by conflicts associated with religion, ethnicity, ethical beliefs, and, essentially, the elements which make up culture,” De Rossi said. “But culture is no longer fixed, if it ever was. It is essentially fluid and constantly in motion.” This makes it so that it is difficult to define any culture in only one way. While change is inevitable, the past should also be respected and preserved. The United Nations has created a group called The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to identify cultural and natural heritage and to conserve and protect it. Monuments, building and sites are covered by the group’s protection, according to the international treaty, the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. This treaty was adopted by UNESCO in 1972.

Physical Environment of India

Nature has always been very vibrant, giving and resilient to a very large extent. We, as Indians, take pride in our strong cultural heritage. Religion protects and nurtures nature. If we take a look at Hinduism, we worship the sun, wind, land, trees, plants, and water which is the very base of human survival. Likewise, respect and conservation of wildlife—garuda, lion, peacock, and snake—are part of our cultural ethos from time immemorial. Almost the entire living of God Ram and Goddess Sita was very close to nature.

Further, ancient texts written in Sanskrit, Pali or other languages can provide significant details. For instance, the scripture Vishnu Samhitâ in Sanskrit language contains some direct instructions dealing with biodiversity conservation.

In fact, whole civilisations have come into existence near sources of water like Indus Valley Civilisation. In this sense, nature and culture become intertwined. Our culture reflects our history, tradition and our beliefs. Revolutions in the technological and communication fields and the advent of globalisation have made an impact on our culture which has also evolved with time.

The process of economic growth and development, though vital for any nation’s progress, done at the cost of environmental degradation through industrialisation and urbanisation—transportation, burning of fossil fuels and deforestation—has led to the emission of green house gases into the atmosphere. These gases absorb the heat of solar rays, which results in the warming of the atmosphere, seas and oceans leading to floods, droughts, severe storms, melting of ice at the poles, receding of glaciers and rise in sea water levels. These issues have brought the concerns for environmental conservation and sustainable development to the forefront.

The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, adopted by the 32nd session of the General Conference of UNESCO in September 2003, calls for safeguarding knowledge and skills that are recognised by communities, groups, and in some cases individuals, as forming part of their cultural heritage; are transmitted from generation to generation and constantly recreated; are crucial for the sense of identity and continuity of communities and groups; are in conformity with human rights, and, mutual respect and sustainable development. This is commonly known as traditional or indigenous knowledge.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2006, recognises “that respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment”. In India, the Biological Diversity Act contains a framework provision for the protection of this rare knowledge of indigenous communities but it is always in the implementation part that we lag behind.



Role of History

Indian history begins with the birth of the Indus Valley Civilization and the coming of the Aryans. These two phases are usually described as the pre-Vedic and Vedic age. Hinduism arose in the Vedic period.

The fifth century saw the unification of India under Ashoka, who had converted to Buddhism, and it is in his reign that Buddhism spread in many parts of Asia. In the eighth century Islam came to India for the first time and by the eleventh century had firmly established itself in India as a political force. It resulted into the formation of the Delhi Sultanate, which was finally succeeded by the Mughal Empire, under which India once again achieved a large measure of political unity.

It was in the 17th century that the Europeans came to India. This coincided with the disintegration of the Mughal Empire, paving the way for regional states. In the contest for supremacy, the English emerged ‘victors’. The Rebellion of 1857-58, which sought to restore Indian supremacy, was crushed; and with the subsequent crowning of Victoria as Empress of India, the incorporation of India into the empire was complete. It was followed by India’s struggle for independence, which we got in the year 1947.

Indus valley civilization, which flourished between 2800 BC and 1800 BC, had an advanced and flourishing economic system. The Indus valley people practiced agriculture, domesticated animals, made tools and weapons from copper, bronze and tin and even traded with some Middle East countries.

After the death of Harsha the Rajputs came into prominence on the political horizons of North India. The Rajputs were known for their bravery and chivalry but family feuds and strong notions of personal pride often resulted into conflicts. The Rajputs weakened each other by constant wrangling. And the Muslim and Mughals followed soon after.

Emperor Akbar, also known as Akbar the Great or Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, was the third emperor of the Mughal Empire, after Babur and Humayun. He was the son of Nasiruddin Humayun and succeeded him as the emperor in the year 1556, when he was only 13 years old. Shah Jahan, also known as Shahbuddin Mohammed Shah Jahan, was a Mughal Emperor who ruled in the Indian Subcontinent from 1628 to 1658. He was the fifth Mughal ruler, after Babur, Humayun, Akbar and Jahangir. Shah Jahan succeeded the throne after revolting against his father, Jahangir.

Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was the founder of the Maratha Empire in western India. He is considered to be one of the greatest warriors of his time and even today, stories of his exploits are narrated as a part of the folklore. King Shivaji used the guerrilla tactics to capture a part of, the then, dominant Mughal empire.

The History of India begins with the Indus Valley Civilization and the coming of the Aryans. These two phases are generally described as the pre-Vedic and Vedic periods. The earliest literary source that sheds light on India’s past is the Rig Veda. It is difficult to date this work with any accuracy on the basis of tradition and ambiguous astronomical information contained in the hymns.

During the late 16th and the 17th Centuries, the European trading companies in India competed with each other ferociously. By the last quarter of the 18th Century the English had outdone all others and established themselves as the dominant power in India. The British administered India for a period of about two centuries and brought about revolutionary changes in the social, political and the economic life of the country.

India was a British colony. The British left behind them in India a strong imprint of their philosophy and culture and even today it is evident that English which is a foreign language is the most important and respected language in India. But the British were not the only Europeans to arrive in India and have their imprint. Since the ancient period, even before the beginning of the Christian era there were relations between Europeans and Indians. The main Europeans to arrive in ancient India were Greeks. The Greeks are referred to in ancient Indian history as Yavanas. The most famous ancient Greek conqueror, Alexander the Great, arrived in India, he arrived up to the present India-Pakistan border. But there were other Greeks who arrived in India and established kingdoms. Many of these Greek communities later on adopted Hinduism and integrated in the Indian caste system.

Later on, other Europeans arrived in India because of commercial reasons. The Indian sub-continent was then world famous for its spices. But when the Muslim Ottoman Empire of Turkey ruled the Middle East, they caused lots of problems to European Christian merchants who tried to pass through their land. Therefore the Europeans tried to find other routes to reach India.

From the 15th century the European representatives arrived in India, namely English, French, Dutch, Danish and Portuguese. Among these European powers the Portuguese arrived first in India in 1498 via sea after they had circled the whole of the African continent. These representatives arrived in India after they received from their country rulers charter to do business with India.

The Portuguese, who along with their business tried to enforce Roman Catholicism on the Indians were defeated by local rulers sometimes in collaboration with Protestant European powers. But still the Portuguese remained in India with small pockets. Their main center in India was Goa. The Dutch, who had holds in south India and the Danes, who had holds in east India, left India for their own reasons. The two main European powers that remained in India were British and French. These two powers tried different ways to control India and to defeat each other. Each of these European powers sometimes collaborated with local Indian rulers to defeat the other European power. Eventually the British became the rulers of India. But the French like the Portuguese remained in India with small pockets and both these powers remained in India even after the British left India in 1947.

The British East India Company was actually a trading company and it received from the British crown charter to trade with the Indian sub-continent. They arrived in India for spice trade in 1600. Like other European powers that arrived in India, they at first requested from the local rulers permission to trade in their entities. The British East India Company was more sophisticated than other Europeans who arrived in India. This company offered different sophisticated agreements to the different Indian ruling families, which made them the actual managers of the Indian kingdoms. They sometimes used their army against the local rulers and annexed their territories; with the result that there was a lot of embitterment among the Indians against the British. After the ‘Indian Mutiny’ of 1857, the British Crown took back the charter from the East India Company and ruled India directly through a Viceroy. The British gave India independence in 1947, but its last soldier left India eventually in 1950. The French also left India in 1950. The Portuguese were the last to leave India, in 1961.

There is also an Anglo-Indian community in India, who are also descendants from European (English) fathers and Indian mothers, but these relations between English men and Indian women started because of romantic reasons. The Anglo-Indians are mostly Christians and have adopted English as their first language. According to the Indian Constitution, two seats in the Indian Parliament are reserved for the Anglo-Indian community members.




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