India and Liberalism

Map of India. Most of India is yellow (elevation 100–1000 m). Some areas in the south and mid-east are brown (above 1000 m). Major river valleys are green (below 100 m).

India has never been more ‘nationalistic’ in recent history. With the wave of elections and the upcoming big one in 2019, it is even more obvious that a string of jingoistic messages are being floated. In equal measure though, is the ‘liberal’ front of things questioning ideologies and far standing traditions. The term ‘liberal’ is a more recent concept in the history of time (earliest references are 17th century) wherein freedom of religion, a general acceptance of free thinking, open and transparent society are fundamental tenets. Traditionally India has been a unitized fabric of rulers and the ruled; and religion has been inseparable, as it is today. Mighty kings fought and expanded their vast empires stretching all the way from Afghanistan to parts of present day Burma even. Up until the 10th century, predominantly, three religions were practised: Hinduism, Buddhism & Jainism. I shall not get into the Aryan-Dravidian divide and shall discuss India as it stands. Let us start from the time when a coherent system of barter, metallurgy, pottery, politics, warfare and agriculture was developed. Religion and state were never separated and yet society prospered at various times and at other times there were setbacks. How has the country fared from the view of the modern ‘liberal’ tag during several phases of her existence?

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The desire for youth

Related imageYayati was a powerful and handsome king of the ancient times. On being cursed with premature old-age by a sage, Yayati loses all that his youth had been giving him – pleasure, fame and riches. He approaches his dutiful son Puru to exchange his youth for his old-age, to which the boy readily agrees. Thus Yayati indulges in excessive passion for over a thousand years. Eventually Yayati realises the fruitlessness of lustful excesses and returns his youth to his son and renounces worldly pleasures and turns into an ascetic. This story from mythology is a beautiful depiction of the futility of youth if not constructively used.

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