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Art and Culture of India

12 Mar 2022

Category : Arts,Heritage and Culture

Topic: Art and Culture of India


In numerous aspects, Indian culture is distinct. It has a continuous history of evolution stretching back over five thousand years. Throughout this time, it has grown by absorbing all types of influences and effects. This has provided vibrancy to Indian culture and spared it from repetitive homogeneity. In reality, travelling across India's length and breadth reveals the throbbing patchwork of this culture in vivid detail. You will notice a feeling of togetherness that underpins this great diversity.
Thus, when we speak of Indian culture, we are referring to a diverse set of cultural traditions rather than a single entity.
This plurality is the result of a common origin (as in the case of the majority of Indian languages), a shared heritage (as in our music, architecture, many popular religious cults, and so on), and a common struggle against colonial control in others. Equally significant is our perception of ourselves as part of a shared culture that transcends national boundaries. This common cultural heritage is the result of millennia of shared existence and the complicated interaction of many cultures. In the parts that follow, we will take you on a historical journey through the growth of Indian culture.


Let us begin this voyage with a discussion of what makes culture. The terms are frequently used interchangeably, and both have a history in terms of what they have signified at various moments in time and in different societies. Both originally referred to a process, and this meaning is still present in the ways these two words are employed.
The term civilization is now commonly used to define a completed state or condition of structured social life, as well as the method by which it was accomplished. Through comparative studies, we now encounter descriptive terminology such as western civilization, modern civilization, industrial civilization, and so on.
Culture is a more nuanced idea than civilization. The term is used in a variety of contexts to refer to values of general human growth that is no longer easily contested, such as freedom, democracy, equality, and so on. The particularities of many communities that comprise their rights and expression are also included in the definition of culture. The definition of the term culture can be defined at three main levels, some of which overlap:
  1. The broad process of intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic growth.
  2. A style of life, whether of a people, an era, or a group.
  3. Intellectual and artistic works expressed through music, literature, art, film, and so forth.

Culture, Society, and History

To begin, culture is the life and mind of a society at any point in history. A society's or age's culture cannot be divorced from its historical environment. Cultural traditions' continuity, alteration, or transformation are influenced by current social, economic, and political changes and vice versa.
To name a few examples, agricultural production growth and changes are inextricably tied with the emergence, development, and changes within India's Vedic culture. The Vedic civilization, which gave birth to varnashrama and the caste system, has had a significant impact on Indian culture.
The changes, caste system - an unavoidable element of our society throughout history - have adopted adaptations and flexibility to meet the changing needs of India's numerous ruling dynasties. Because of its cultural relevance in a specific historical and social setting, the early Dravidian civilization had a significant influence.The Maurya and Gupta periods saw the peak rise in art and literature, as well as the construction of Buddhist monuments which would not have been possible without the period's wealth and expansion in commerce. The same is true of Chola temples and Vijaynagar structures.
The Bhakti movement was founded on the expansion of trade and commerce, as well as the resulting construction of towns in the 14th and 15th centuries, which prompted a questioning of caste restrictions in certain occupations in the name of religion. The preachings of Bhakti saints in the people's languages, as well as their collection, enabled the development of Braj, Awadhi, Rajasthani, Gujarati, Marathi, Panjabi, Kashmiri, and other regional literature.
The immense expense involved in the Mughals' spectacular building was only possible due to the greatly greater state share of surplus produce during the Mughal reign. The development of new musical forms and their popularization in the courts, translation of key writings from throughout the world, and the emergence of new production techniques were all greatly aided by the Court patronage generated by this greater surplus.
The concepts of equality as part of anti-caste and peasant economic struggles, the movement for women's education and emancipation, a scientific temper, secularism, democratic culture, and democratic culture emerged in the context of modernity that came with the development of capitalism in India as a result of British conquest.

The Gupta Period

The Gupta period is frequently considered as representing the pinnacle of Indian civilization. There is truth in this assertion in terms of literary and philosophical achievements. Although the Sanskrit epics Ramayana and Mahabharata were written earlier, they are considered to have been collected during this time period. During this time, Hinduism saw a resurgence, and the great dispute between Buddhism and Hinduism began. Manu, Yajnavalkya, Narada, Brihaspati, and Katyayana codified the Hindu social and family regulations. The emphasis in Hinduism changed from sacrifices to idol worship. Bhakti (devotional worship) was encouraged. There was a schism between Vaishnavism and Shaivism. Some of the greatest astronomers of the time were Aryabhatta and Varahamihira.
During this time, the greatest Indian literary figure, Kalidas, wrote his poetic and dramatic masterpieces. His epic poems Kumarsambhava and Raghuvamsha, as well as the lyrical poetry Meghaduta and the magnificent drama Shakuntala, are regarded as among the finest works of global literature. Later, Shudrak (MrichchhaKatika) and Banabhatta (Harsha Charita) added to this illustrious literary legacy. The world-famous literature, Vatsyayana's Kamasutra, was also written during this time period. The Gupta period was also notable in terms of architectural or sculptural developments.

The Early Medieval Period

If we look at the time from the end of the Gupta and Harsha empires until the early 16th century, we may see the following cultural advancements.
i) During this time, Buddhism declined and Hinduism rose, led by the renowned South Indian religious figure, Shankara (788-820 AD.). He was born in Kerala and 9 created the Advaita philosophy (Monism). He toured extensively throughout the kingdom, debated Buddhist experts, organized a religious order, and established four math seats in the north, Shringeri in the south, Puri in the east, and Dwarka in the west.
ii) While Shankara supported Hinduism's orthodoxy, various streams emerged that preached a childlike devotion to God. This was known as the Bhakti movement, and it originated in South India. The Nayanars and Alvars, considered the first Bhakti saints, were already propagating their movement in the 8th and 9th centuries when Shankara was developing his monistic philosophy. These saints were opposed to monism, the caste system, and ceremonial worship. The Bhakti movement was popular in its origins and conception from the start. Hymns were written to glorify Vishnu, Shiva, and, subsequently, Krishna. The Vaishnavites influenced the Bengal Bhakti movement. Jayadev, Chandidas, and Chaitanya were three of the region's most powerful leaders. The baul movement, which has followers among both Hindus and Muslims in the region, arose from the Chaitanya tradition.
Ramanand inspired the Bhakti culture in North India, notably in the Hindi region. He was most likely born and raised in South India and belonged to Ramanuja's sect. Later, he journeyed throughout India, disseminating his teachings. Kabir and Raidas were well-known among their students. Kabir Das, regarded as one of the greatest reformers and poets in Hindi literature, was born in Banaras. He mingled with many of his time's saints and Sufis. He was severe in his condemnation of both conventional Hindu and Muslim religious practices.
He was a follower of Nirguna Brahma and associated Ram with Rahim, Krishna with Karim, and Hari with Hazrat. With him, the Bhakti movement not only crossed caste lines but also religious lines. His verses in Adi Granth, Kabir Granthawali, and Bijak are priceless treasures in our anti-orthodox and syncretized traditions. Raidas, Nanak, and Dadu were all part of the heritage that Kabir embodied. However, after them, it was channeled into Saguna and the non-critical streams of Mirabai, Nand Das, and Surdas, culminating with Tulsidas (1532 -1623), whose Ramcharitmanas became the most popular Hindu book. He attempted to combine existing trends in the "Bhakti movement" and poetry. The Bhakti movement also sparked significant regional literary growth. poetry. The Bhakti movement also sparked significant regional literary growth. Bhakti literature was developed and written in several Indian languages, including Tamil, Kannada, Marathi, Bengali, Oriya, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, and Braj. These regional languages increased the popularity of the Bhakti movement and offered a channel for the saints to contact the public. As a result, it is through them that this great movement became etched in popular memory.
iii) It was during this time that India first encountered Arabs and, via them, Islam. Arabia and India have had trade links since ancient times. Arabs built their principality in Sindh between the 7th and 8th centuries. Since then, there has been an important relationship between the two cultures. The urban populace was conversant in both Arabic and Sanskrit. The Quran was translated into Sindhi, and books in astronomy, medicine, ethics, and administration were translated into Arabic from Sanskrit.
However, Turkish control in India was established with Mohammed of Ghur's victory over Prithviraj in 1192 and subsequent victories by his generals. With their headquarters in Delhi, the Turkish chieftains spread over India, eventually establishing a strong central monarchy known as the Delhi sultanate under the suzerainty of Qutbuddin Aibak and then iltutmish (1210-36). By the 14th century, the Turks had gradually invaded most of India and forced the local kings to acknowledge their suzerainty. They had moved to India and felt themselves to be Indians. They included numerous local Hindu chieftains into the ruling structure and recruited Hindus to serve in their armies. Theirs was as much an Indian rule as any that came before or after them. Sufism, one of Islam's great religious movements, arrived in India during this time. Sufi saints had arrived in India long before the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate.
In India, Sufism embraced many native Indian concepts, such as yogic postures, music, and dance. Sufism is practiced by both Muslims and Hindus. Sufi orders were classified into two types:
  • Bashara - Adherents of Islamic law.
  • Beshara Those with a more open mind.
The Beshara was also referred to as the "mast kalandar." They were made up of Baba, or itinerant monks. They didn't leave any written evidence.
  • Sufism was an Islamic liberal reform movement. It originated in Persia and made its way to India in the 11th century. The majority of Sufis (mystics) were people of deep devotion who despised the display of wealth and moral decay that followed the establishment of the Islamic empire. They placed a strong emphasis on love as the bond that exists between God and the individual soul. Sufis believed that loving God meant loving humanity, and that serving humanity was equivalent to serving God. Self-discipline was regarded as a necessary condition in Sufism for gaining knowledge of God through a sense of perception. While orthodox Muslims place emphasis on external behavior, Sufis place emphasis on inner purity
  • Sufis were organized into 12 orders, or Silsilas, by the 12th century. The Chistis, Suhrawardis, Qadririyas, and Naqshbandis were the four most popular Silsilas.

The Chisti Silsila

  • Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chisti (also known as Gharib Nawaz) founded the Chisti order in India around 1192 CE. After spending time in Lahore and Delhi, he relocated to Ajmer, which was an important political centre with a sizable Muslim population.
  • His fame grew after his death in around 1235 CE, when his grave was visited by the then-Sultan Muhammad Tughlaq, and the mosque and dome were built in the 15th century by Mahmud Khalji of Malwa. The patronage of the dargah reached unprecedented heights after the Mughal Emperor Akbar's support. Under the patronage of Sultanate ruler Iltutmish, Qutub ud din Bhakhtiyar Kaki established the Chisti presence in Delhi.
  • The Chistis lived a simple, austere life and communicated with others in Hindawi, their native tongue. They had no desire to convert people, despite the fact that many families and groups later attributed their conversions to the "good wishes" of these saints. These Sufi saints gained popularity by using musical recitations known as sama to create a mood of closeness to God. Nizamuddin Auliya practiced yogic breathing exercises to the point where the yogis dubbed him a Sidh, or "perfect." The Chistis preferred to avoid state politics and the company of rulers and nobles.

The Suhrawardi Silsila

  • The Suhrawardi order arrived in India around the same time as Chistis, but its activities were mostly limited to Punjab and Multan.
  • Shihabuddin Suhrawardi founded this Sisila in Baghdad, and Bahauddin Zakariya established it in India.
  • Suhrawardis believed that a Sufi should have three qualities: property, knowledge, and hal (mystical enlightenment). They, on the other hand, were opposed to excessive austerity and self-mortification. They advocated a blend of ilm (scholarship) and mysticism.

The Naqshbandi Silsila

  • Khwaja Bahauddin Naqshbandi founded this Silsila in India. It was later spread by Shiekh Baqi Billah and Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi (1563 1624), his successors. They were dubbed "silent Sufis" because they practiced heart meditation in silence.
  • Sufis followed Shariah law in its purest form and condemned all biddats (innovations in religion). They were opposed to Akbar's liberal policies, such as granting high status to many non-Muslims, abolishing jizya, and prohibiting cow slaughter.
  • They were also opposed to sama (religious music) and the practice of pilgrimage to saints' tombs.
  • Following Sirhindi's death, the order was represented by two important mystics, each with a unique approach. The conservative approach is led by Shah Waliullah, while the liberal approach is led by Mirza Mazhar Jan-i-Jahan.

The Qadri Silsila

During Mughal rule, Sheikh Abdul Qadir and his sons, Sheikh Niamatullah, Mukhdum Muhammad Jilani, and Miyan Mir, established the Qadri silsila, which was popular in Punjab. Another well-known saint of this order was Shah Badakhshani.. This silsila was a disciple of the Mughal princess Jahanara and her brother Dara.
Sufism, like the Bhakti movement, was a popular religious movement. The Sufis stood in opposition to Islamic orthodoxy and avoided positions of leadership. They upheld the fundamental Islamic doctrine of equality for all followers and chastised the ulema for being unfaithful to Islam. They remained nonconformists in their attitudes toward the state and organized religion and were occasionally prosecuted for heterodoxy and heresy. Sufism and the Bhakti movement both have an impact on each other. They both believed in spiritual direction (guru) and mystical oneness with God. During the Sultanate period, the Chisti Sufis and the Nathpanthi Yogis intermarried. Sufism and the Bhakti movement are both popular religious movements in India.