[Vol. I No. 13] 16 - 31 December 2006
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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Bill Gate
Single Parent Family

 Islam and the Making of Indian Civilization    By A. R. Momin

The comparative study of complex cultures and civilizations presents us with two significant and inter-related facts: the wide range of cultural diversities across, as well as within, cultures and civilizations, and the universality of cultural exchange, cross-fertilization and coalescence. All civilizations have been composed of diverse ethnic groups and cultural communities with their distinctive cultural traditions and identities.

All civilizations had to grapple with the problematic interface between diversity and unity and had to work out some kind of reconciliation and synthesis. Civilizations evolve through a dynamic process of borrowing and adaptation, accommodation and assimilation, hybridization and cross-fertilization of ideas, artifacts, social institutions and cultural patterns. The American anthropologist Alfred Kroeber has perceptively observed that the essence of a civilization is not in its being but in its becoming. The classical Greek civilization, for example, was a mixture of primitive Greek, Minoan, Egyptian and Asian elements. The Japanese civilization is partly autochthonous, partly Chinese, partly Indian, and partly Western (Kroeber,1972:259).

Diversity and Unity in Indian Civilization

Since the middle of the second millennium BC, Indian civilization has drawn several migrant groups and communities to its fold. The advent of the Indo-Aryans, the Tibeto-Burman-speaking Mongoloid people, Kushanas, Sakas, Greeks, Huns, Arabs, Turks, Persians, Afghans and Mongols in the ancient and medieval periods and the Portuguese, Dutch, French and English people in later times testifies to the pervasiveness of the migration process in India. In the course of time, most of these migrant groups adapted themselves to local conditions and were influenced by the languages, beliefs and cultural patterns of the indigenous people. The extensive and protracted process of interaction, exchange and mutual adaptation among the various groups and communities brought about India’s characteristic diversity and a composite structure of culture and civilization. The Indian subcontinent has witnessed one of the most creative and ingenious experiments in cultural cross-fertilization spanning five millennia. The fabric of Indian civilization has been woven from strands and shades of varying textures and hues drawn from a variety of sources. This fact is borne out by archaeological and historical evidence, philological and linguistic researches, textual and literary sources, and studies in folklore.

Archaeological evidence points to the existence of commercial and cultural relations between the borderlands of north-western India and Iran and Central Asia even before the dawn of the Indus Civilization (Possehl,1982:79). The Indus Civilization had extensive trade and cultural relations with Mesopotamia, Persia, Afghanistan and the Mediterranean world. The migration of the Indo-Aryans from south central Asia into the Indian subcontinent began from 1500 BC onwards. Three facts about the advent and settlement of the Indo-Aryans are note-worthy. First, there seems to be a striking similarity between Vedic gods and goddesses and ancient Iranian and Hittite deities (Kosambi, 1987:72-91; Chattopadhyaya, 1978:43). Secondly, the Indo-Aryans were ethnically a mixed people. Thirdly, the Indo-Aryans, who were pastoral nomads, adopted the technology and occupational pattern of the Indus people who were urban-based agriculturists and of the Dravidian-speaking indigenous people. Interestingly, the Rg Veda contains at least 25 Dravidian loan words, including agricultural terms which do not occur in other Indo-European languages (Sharma, R.S.,1999:45). Punjabi and Haryanavi, for example, have quite a few Dravidian agricultural terms (Trautmann,1979:164). The presence of proto-Dravidian in vocabulary, syntax and phonetics in Vedic literature is fairly well established. The later Vedic texts display an even greater admixture of Dravidian words (Burrow, 1965; Deshpande,1995:67-84; Thapar, 1992:11, 94). The Austric languages, which are still spoken by some tribal communities in eastern and central India, also influenced Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages. Certain kinds of echo-formations which are characteristic of Austric languages found their way into Indo-Aryan speeches. For example, the most commonly used word for plough in Vedic literature, Langala, was derived from Mundari, one of the Austric languages.

There are frequent references in Vedic and post-Vedic literature to the migration of foreign people, including the Yavana, Pahlava, Saka, Kushana, Parada, China and Abhira (Sharma, R.S.,1958:32; Thapar,1979:152-159). Many myths and folk traditions, particularly about Aryavrata, Balhika, Himavanta, Meru, Uttarakuru and Uttaramadra, in later Vedic texts, early Pali texts and in the epics and the Puranas suggest migration of people (Sharma, R.S.,1999:99). The Sama Veda refers to a ritual whereby non-Aryans were admitted into the mainstream of Vedic society. Manu mentions that several foreign tribes who came in contact with the Aryan people were accorded a place within the fold of Hindu society. Many foreign tribes, such as the Saka, Kamboja and China, were included in the four-fold organisation of Hindu society. They were described in the classical sources as varnasankara or mixed castes (Bose,1967:207-208; Bhattacharyya,1998: 250). The Atharva Veda refers to the Vratyas who were outside the fold of Hinduism. The Brahmans made considerable efforts to draw them to the mainstream of Vedic society. The Saka or the Scythians, who entered India around the first century BC, were accorded a Kshatriya status (Thapar,1979:176-177). The cult of sun-worship was brought to India by the Maga people who came to India around the first century BC from Sakadvip or Persia. Initially, they were not admitted into all the rituals and ceremonies but subsequently they came to be absorbed into Vedic society and came to be known as Sakadvip or Maga Brahmans (Bhandarkar,1913:153-155; Jairajbhy, 1963:153; Joshi,1975:179; Walker, 1968:3).

The classical literature provides ample evidence of inter-marriages between the Indo-Aryans and other groups, both foreign and indigenous. The Vedic texts refer to Aryans of Dasa descent (dasiputra Brahmans), who were a progeny of Brahmans and slaves (Sharma, R.S., 1958: 63-64; Thapar, 1992:84). The later sources mention the Abhira Brahmans, who were contemptuously described as Mleccha because they were a product of inter-marriage between Brahmans and the untouchable Ambastha caste (Thapar,1975:31). A seventh century inscription from south India mentions the Boya Brahmans, the Boyas were otherwise described as a Shudra tribe. There were inter-marriages between the Brahmans and the forest-dwelling Naga tribe. It is significant that Naga genealogies and myths are accorded a prominent place in the opening canto of the Mahabharata (Kosambi, 1987:94; Thapar,1979:122-151). It is also interesting to note that, in the folk tradition, some of Krishna’s sixteen thousand wives seem to be of foreign extraction (Kosambi, 1987:116).

Pluralism and Syncretism in Hinduism

The process of Aryanization or Sanskritization often entailed the adoption of Sanskrit names, rituals and customs. However, it did not always bring about uniformity and homogenization. The adoption of Brahmanical customs and rituals was often a selective process. Furthermore, it was blended with regional customs. For example, the Brahmanic institution of gotra was adopted by non-Brahman, including tribal, communities in different ways. In some cases, Brahmanic gotras were blended with regional and folk customs. From early times, tribal and folk cults and ritual practices were incorporated into Brahmanism. Totemic deities such as fish, tortoise and boar were made into incarnations of Vishnu (Kosambi, 1987:170). Shiva was formed by a fusion of the Vedic Rudra with some non-Aryan deity, including the Indus deity, which has been described as proto-Shiva (Chattopadhyaya, 1978: 47, 91-92; Bhandarkar,1913:104). Narayani and Durga, manifestations of Shiva’s consort, which were associated with non-Aryan tribes, came to be absorbed into classical Hinduism (Thapar,1992:178-179; Gonda, 1976; Shivapadasundaram,1934). Similarly, the deities of tribals and low-caste groups were absorbed by Brahmanism. Serpent worship and phallus worship, which found their way into Hinduism, were taken over from forest-dwelling tribal communities. Heterodox sects and cults, including the Shakta and Tantra traditions, incorporated several esoteric features from indigenous and tribal cultures (Woodroffe, 1951; Bharati, 1965; Dasgupta, 1962).

The foregoing discussion makes it fairly clear that the Hindu religious tradition and Hindu society have been internally differentiated and pluralistic rather than monolithic and homogeneous. Pluralism has been one of the quintessential features of Hinduism at the metaphysical as well as socio-cultural level. For example, it is believed that if two Sruti traditions are in conflict, both are to be held as valid and authentic. The epics, in both textual as well as folk forms, bear the imprint of pluralism. For instance, the Ramayana has several versions or variants (Raghavan,1980; Richman,1992). A.L. Basham has observed, “Hinduism can absorb new ideas and can, if need be, find room for new gods; moreover, every passage in the Hindu sacred texts is open to figurative interpretation, so that it is possible for different schools of Hinduism to hold diametrically opposed doctrines without serious antagonism” (Basham,1958). There exists a rich tradition of heterodoxy, agnosticism and atheism in the Hindu philosophical tradition. The literature in the atheistic and agnostic tradition in the Sanskrit and Pali languages is larger than that of any other classical language. In the fourteenth century, Madhavacharya’s book Sarvadarshansamgraha devoted the first chapter to arguments in favour of the atheistic position (Sen, 2001). The pluralistic ethos of Hinduism is also reflected in the wide range of beliefs and ideas, in social organisation, in rituals and ceremonies, and in behaviour patterns (Karve,1961:1-14). R.S. Sharma has rightly commented that Hinduism encompasses a pluralistic cultural universe (Momin,1996: viii).

From early times, Hinduism appears to an amalgam or synthesis of Aryan, Dravidian, tribal, folk and other elements. In other words, Hinduism has been a “mosaic of distinct cults, deities, sects and ideas” as Romila Thapar ( 1992:68) has perceptively observed. Syncretism within the fold of Hinduism is conspicuously evidenced in the survival of non-Aryan deities, rituals and ceremonies in villages which have been in the heartland of Hindu expansion (Marriott,1955:209-210).

The process of acculturation and integration has been extensively at work at the regional level. Though all groups or communities in Indian society have their distinct identities, they do not exist in a social or cultural vacuum. Rather, they are knit together in a dynamic network of reciprocity, interaction and exchange. The sharing of space, village identity, and material and cultural traits at the regional level cuts across religious and sectarian differences and binds the people together (Singh, 1992; Singh,1999). The distribution of material traits at the regional level indicates a significant complementarity in that it is marked by both local differentiation and inter-penetration. Often, a cluster or complex of material traits at the regional level unites different groups and communities (Bose,1961).

Islam in India

The commercial and cultural relations between India and Arabia go back to pre-Islamic times. During the pre-Islamic period as well as during the time of Prophet Muhammad (569-632), a wide variety of Indian goods and commodities, including camphor, sandalwood, spices, perfumes, medicinal substances, coconut, timber, cloth, precious stones and swords were exported to Arabia. Indian goods were sold in the bazaars of Hadramawt, Suhar, Yemen and Aden in Arabia and thence taken to Iran, Egypt and the Byzantine empire. Some people of Indian origin had settled in Arabia even before the birth of Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet is reported to have made a mention of some Indian substances, such as musk, camphor and costus. He recommended the use of the Indian costus for toncilitis and respiratory ailments. After his demise some of his companions visited India. Long before the conquest of Sindh by Muhammad ibn Qasim in 712 AD, Arab traders and merchants had settled along the coast of Kerala and Gujarat.

Migrations, Conquests and Cultural Diffusion

There is a tendency in certain circles to characterize the advent of Muslims in India exclusively in terms of barbaric invasions and conquests. This is nothing but a distortion of history. For one thing, the various groups of Muslims who entered India at different points of time did not comprise a culturally homogeneous category. They were differentiated in respect of ethnicity, occupation and motivation. For example, the first wave of Muslims who entered India in the seventh century included traders, merchants, scholars and men of piety. They were followed, in the course of time, by artisans, craftsmen, Sufi saints, men of letters, poets, soldiers and conquerors. In the 13th century, when Mongol hordes overran and devastated the famed cities of Samarqand, Bukhara, Hirat, Naishapur, Merv, Balkh and Khwarizm, thousands of artisans, craftsmen and men of letters took refuge in Lahore, Delhi, Badaun and other Indian cities. These people underwent a process of adaptation and indigenization (Misra,1974). They adopted local languages and cultural patterns. Many of them married local women. The descendants of Muslims of foreign descent in India--Arabs, Turks, Afghans, Iranians, Mughals etc--constitute less than ten percent of the total Muslim population in the country. In most cases, their cultural traditions and identities have been diluted or lost as a result of inter-marriages with the local people as well as a long drawn out process of indigenization. An overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims are of indigenous origin and share genetic and biological traits as well as local languages and dialects, material traits, customs and cultural features with the rest of the Indian population.

It is often argued that conquests bring in their train only barbaric destruction and devastation. This is only partially true. History testifies to the fact that invasions and conquests have negative as well as positive consequences. Conquests bring about contacts and interactions between peoples and cultures and thereby lead to the diffusion of technology, ideas, inventions and innovations, architectural and literary styles and cultural traits. The conquest of Spain by the Arabs in the seventh century served as a catalyst in the hybridization and cross-fertilization of ideas, science and technology, medicine, philosophy, architecture, crafts, music and literature. The Mongol invasion of Asia and Europe in the 13th century brought in its train the transmission and diffusion of technology, including the use of gun powder, magnetic compass, printing and the spinning wheel from Central Asia and China to Europe. One of the significant and enduring consequences of the Crusades was the diffusion, from Islamic lands to Europe, of medical arts and hospitals, public baths, musical instruments, dyes and gun powder, windmills and water wheels, compass, astronomical and surgical instruments, and perfumes and sugar.

The Indian subcontinent has been exposed to foreign invasions much before the Arab, Turkish, Afghan and Persian conquests. The Muslim conquest of India brought about substantial technological, military, political, economic, social and cultural changes in Indian society. As mentioned in the foregoing, the Turkish, Afghan and Persian conquests of India brought in their wake the migration of thousands of skilled craftsmen, artisans, engineers, men of letters and poets. The development of India’s composite civilization, especially in the fields of architecture, arts and crafts and languages and literary styles, owes much to their skills, craftsmanship and ingenuity. In the wake of Muslim conquests came right-angle gearing, very important for water lifting, as also the spinning wheel (Habib,1994:13). The windmill was not a Greek or Roman or European invention; it was invented by Muslims. The Arab geographer Al-Masudi saw windmills in Persia in the ninth century AD. The European references to windmills appear three centuries later. The windmills set up by Muslims in several parts of India, including the one at Aurangabad in Maharashtra, are among the marvels of medieval technology and engineering. Muslims introduced pedals in looms which accelerated the speed of weaving. Sericulture was introduced by Muslims in Bengal and Kashmir. The Turks introduced cavalry in armed combat, which brought about qualitative changes in techniques of warfare. It is interesting to note that, in Sanskrit sources, the Turkish sultans of Delhi are described as Ashwapati or lords of horses (Nizami,1961:82). Another significant military innovation introduced by the Turks in the Indian subcontinent was the use of artillery. The use of gun powder and cannon are reported, for the first time, during the Bahmani siege of Adoni in Tamil Nadu in 1366. The extensive use of gun powder and cannon brought about far reaching changes in techniques of warfare and in defence strategies (Momin,1998).

One of the highly important and enduring contributions made by Muslims to the development of Indian civilization was the introduction of paper. The invention of paper can be traced to the year 105 AD when Tsai Lun, an official attached to the imperial court in China, created a sheet of paper using mulberry and other fibres together with old rags and hemp waste. The Chinese kept the technique of paper making a closely guarded secret for well over six centuries. In 751, a war took place between the Chinese and the Arabs in Samarqand. The Chinese lost the war and a number of Chinese soldiers were captured as prisoners-of-war by the Arabs. The Arabs set a condition that the Chinese prisoners could secure their release by teaching them the technique of paper making, to which the latter agreed. Muslims contributed to the craft of paper making in three important and ingenious ways. First, Chines paper was made from mulberry and young bamboo shoots, as a result of which it was quite delicate and expensive. Muslims experimented with linen, cordage and rags, which made the paper sturdy and much less expensive. Secondly, they introduced certain ingenious techniques such as maceration of rags with a stamping mill. Thirdly, unlike the Chinese, Muslims did not keep the knowledge of paper making to themselves. Instead, they disseminated it far and wide (Hunter,1947; Momin,2001). The first paper factory was set up in Baghdad in 793 and in a relatively short time, paper factories sprang up in Samarqand, Damascus, Egypt, Morocco and Andalusia. Paper began to be exported from Andalusia, Sicily and Morocco to Europe. Paper factories were set up in Europe four centuries later in the 13th century. In ancient India, the leaves of the aloe tree and the palmyra tree were used for writing purposes. During the medieval period, paper began to be imported from Baghdad, Samarqand, Damascus and other cities of the Islamic world. Muslim rulers set up paper factories in Bihar, Kalpi,, Jaunpur, Aurangabad and Kashmir. King Zainul Abideen introduced paper in the Kashmir valley in 1420 (Momin,2001).

It is commonly believed that the Muslim conquest of India was motivated by the proselytizing zeal, that Muslim kings and emperors forcibly converted the local people to Islam, and that Muslim rule over India was marked by fanaticism, bigotry and oppression. The fact of the matter is that the Turkish, Afghan and Mughal invasions of India were motivated, not by the Islamic spirit, but by material considerations such as territorial expansion and economic or financial gains. Similarly, in the conversion of large masses of people to Islam, the use of force was an exception rather than a rule (Arnold,1997:81-82,157-158,173-174; Ahmad,1964:82). Dr. Rajendra Prasad has observed,”The attitude of the Muslim conquerors had, on the whole, been one of toleration and, in spite of the fanatical zeal manifested by some of them at times, it may be safely asserted that there had been a continuous effort from the earliest days to deal with the Hindus fairly” (Prasad,1946:86; Sharma, S.R.,1954:8). Following the conquest of Sindh, Muhammad ibn Qasim decided to allow the civil and revenue administration to remain in the hands of the local people. This policy was followed in the Delhi Sultanate as well. The finance and revenue departments of the state continued to be run by Hindu officials. This process was accelerated during the Mughal emperor Akbar’s reign. He gave charge of revenue administration to Raja Todar Mal, which had far-reaching consequences. During Aurangzeb’s reign, Jaswant Singh was appointed the governor of Gujarat. The tolerant and sagacious policies pursued by the Muslim rulers in India are also reflected in land grants bestowed by them for the maintenance and upkeep of Hindu and Jain temples. Emperor Aurangzeb, who is often maligned as a fanatic and a destroyer of Hindu temples, granted endowments and jagir to scores of Hindu and Jain temples across the country. Temple authorities and priests in the Someshwarnath Mahadev temple in Allahabad, the Jangambadi Shiva temple in Varanasi and the Vrindavan temple have preserved the original firmans granted by Aurangzeb. Tipu Sultan used to regularly send gifts to 156 temples in Mysore.

The spread of Islam in the Indian subcontinent owes much to the sincerity, tolerance, compassion and human sympathies of Sufi saints. They set up their spiritual centres or khanqahs in the midst of the settlements of the masses, conversed with them in the local dialects, shared their joys and sorrows, and tried to mitigate their suffering in various ways. In Kashmir, for example, the first person to embrace Islam was a tribal leader from Ladakh named Ranchan. Ranchan, who ruled over Kashmir in 1320-1323, was influenced by a Sufi saint Bulbul Shah. Sufism exercised a significant influence on the Bhakti movement. The emphasis placed by the Bhakti movement on devotion to a personal God, egalitarianism and its disdain for empty ritualism and religious obscurantism were inspired by the teachings of the Sufis.

Syncretism in Architecture, Arts and Crafts

The contribution of Indian Muslims to the promotion and development of architecture, arts and crafts forms a magnificent part of India’s composite civilizational heritage. Monuments of Indo-Islamic architecture, particularly in Delhi and Agra, exhibit a creative and exquisite blend of Saracenic, Persian and Central Asian architectural styles and motifs, on the one hand, and Rajput and Jain styles, on the other. Arcuate and brick construction by the use of the arch, construction of dome, and cementing by lime and gypsum were introduced in India by the Muslims. Muslim architects, engineers, masons and craftsmen innovated new techniques of decoration in brick work, tile work and wood carving. They adapted existing designs and devised new ones. They made an ingenious use of local materials and regional motifs and patterns. All this gave Indo-Islamic architecture a rich diversity of design, style and pattern. In addition, an over-arching Islamic pattern was superimposed on this diversity, which was marked by large spaces, a powerful and imposing geography, a pervasive sense of harmony, functional significance, aesthetic elegance, and an extensive use of ornamental calligraphy (Hark,1968). Indo-Islamic architecture had a far-reaching impact on architectural styles and patterns through the length and breadth of the country. Interestingly, even Hindu temple architecture was influenced by Islamic architectural designs and motifs. The temple of Govinda Deva in Mysore, for example, has a porch covered by a vault with radiating arches in the style of Indo-Islamic architecture.

Muslim artisans and craftsmen introduced a variety of materials and pigments, including glass, lapis lazuli and cobalt blue. Glass was manufactured in Baghdad, Egypt, Persia and Andalusia as earl as the ninth century. Muslim craftsmen developed the technique of enamelling glass, which travelled to different parts of the world, including India and Europe, during the Middle Ages. Muslim craftsmen excelled in the art of inlaying intricate designs in bronze, brass and silver. They perfected the technique of inlaying wood with ivory, bone and mother-of-pearl.

Carpet weaving was introduced in the Kashmir valley, under Turkish and Persian influence, by king Zainul Abideen. The art of lacquered papier-mache was introduced in Kashmir by Persian artists and craftsmen under Mughal patronage. The famed blue pottery of Jaipur and Khurja bears the unmistakable influence of Persian and Central Asian techniques and motifs. Similarly, Mughal and Rajput miniature painting has been influenced by Persian art. Mughal miniature paintings are widely appreciated for their arabesque designs, depiction of minute details and the vibrancy of colours. The Renaissance artists were greatly fascinated by them. Rembrandt (d.1669) had a personal collection of more than two dozen Mughal and Deccani paintings, which he copied in his inimitable style. Muslim artists introduced several kinds of colouring materials, which were used by artists in different parts of the country. Lapis Lazuli, which was used in the Ajanta paintings, was brought from Persia.

The contribution of Indian Muslims to the promotion and development of Indian classical music, both instrumental and vocal, is generally known and widely appreciated. Amir Khusraw has a legendary reputation in this field. Masters and practitioners of Indian classical music enjoyed the patronage of Muslim rulers. Pundarik Vitthal of Karnataka composed several works in classical music at the instance of Shah Burhan Khan of Khandesh. When Khandesh was conquered by Emperor Akbar in 1599, Pundarik Vitthal joined Akbar’s court. An accomplished musician, Chatur Damodar, was attached to the court of Emperor Jahangir. The association of Muslim musicians with the rich tradition of Indian classical music continues to this day.

Syncretism in Languages and Literary Traditions

Five inter-related dimensions of the contribution of Muslims to the enrichment of Indian languages and literary traditions are note-worthy: (i) the patronage of Sanskrit language and Sanskrit scholars by Muslim rulers (ii) compositions in Sanskrit by Muslim scholars and poets (iii) translation of Sanskrit works into Persian and Arabic (iv) the impact of Arabic, Persian and Turkish languages on Indian languages in respect of vocabulary, phonetics and script (v) contribution to the development of regional languages.

Sanskrit scholars and poets were honoured and patronised by several Muslim kings and emperors, including Emperor Akbar and king Zainul Abideen of Kashmir. Uday Raj, an eminent Sanskrit poet, was attached to the court of Sultan Muhammad Beg of Gujarat. He composed a poetic work in praise of the Sultan. Emperor Firuz Tughluq commissioned the translation of important Sanskrit works into Persian. A treatise on Hindu astronomy and astrology was translated into Persian under the title Dalal-I-Firuz Shahi. Sultan Zainul Abideen of Kashmir (1420-1470) commissioned the translation of the Mahabharata into the Kashmiri language. By the order of Alauddin Husain Shah, the Sultan of Gaur (1493-1518), the Mahabharata was translated into Bengali. Emperor Akbar, who was a great admirer and patron of Indian culture and learning, commissioned the translation of the Atharva Veda into Persian. The Mahabharata, Ramayana and some of the Puranas were also rendered into Persian under the royal commission. It is estimated that about 90 Persian translations of the Ramayana are in existence. Some of them have been printed; others are in the form of manuscripts. Emperor Akbar’s revenue minister Todar Mal translated the Bhagvata Puran into Persian. The patronage of Sanskrit continued in the reign of Jahangir, Shahjahan and Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb’s courtiers included Sanskrit scholars and poets like Indrajit Tripathi and Samant. Prince Dara Shikoh, who was well versed in Sanskrit, translated the Upanishads into Persian in 1656. Most of these translations have survived the vicissitudes of time and are preserved in the India Office Library and the British Museum. In the 18th century, a French scholar Anquetil du Perron rendered Dara Shikoh’s Persian translation of the Upanishads into Latin under the title Oupnekhet. It was published in Paris in 1801. The celebrated German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (d.1860) turned into an admirer of Indian philosophy after reading this translation. Several Muslim scholars were well versed in Sanskrit. The great Indianist Al-Biruni (d.1051) studied Sanskrit under the tutelage of Brahman scholars and translated some Sanskrit works of a scientific nature, including Brahma Siddhanta and Kalpayara, into Arabic. He is also said to have written a treatise in astronomy in Sanskrit called Kiran Tilak. Abdur-Rahim Khan-I-Khanan, Abul Fazl and Faizi, the well-known courtiers of Emperor Akbar, were well versed in Sanskrit and Hindi. Abul Fazl and Faizi translated the Ramayana into Persian. Khan-I-Khanan composed Shlokas which were half in Sanskrit and half in Hindi. Shaista Khan, one of the generals of Emperor Aurangzeb, composed poetry in Sanskrit. Ghulam ali Azad Bilgrami, a distinguished writer and poet who lived in the 18th century, was conversant with Sanskrit.

As a result of prolonged and extensive cultural and linguistic interaction between Hindus and Muslims during the medieval period, a large number of Arabic, Persian and Turkish words found their way into the vocabulary of Indian languages. It is interesting to note that the word Hindu is of Persian origin. The Persepolis and Naqsh-I-Rustam inscriptions of Darius (d. 486 BC) refer to the frontier regions of the Indus as Hindush. The term was later used in Arabic geographical and historical sources (Sircar,1965:7; Wink, 1990:5). The Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas, an Avadhi version of the Ramayana, contains a fairly large number of Arabic and Persian words.(1) The scripts of Kashmiri, Sindhi, Punjabi (in the pre-Partition days) and Urdu have been derived from the Persian script.

Indian Muslims have made a highly significant contribution to the development of regional languages and literary traditions. The contribution of the Sufis to the promotion of regional languages and dialects is particularly note-worthy. The earliest extant specimen of Hindwi, the prototype of Urdu and Hindi, are to be found in the Sufi literature. The early Hindwi poets such as Masud Sa’ad Salman (d.1121) and Amir Khusraw (d.1325) drew inspiration from the Sufi masters and composed their literary works in the local idiom. In the Deccan, Gesu Daraz( d.1422) and other Sufi writers and poets were among the early pioneers of Urdu literature.

India’s composite heritage is pre-eminently reflected in the development and efflorescence of Urdu. One need not belabour the point that Urdu is deeply rooted in the Indian tradition. Three-fourth of its vocabulary is derived from Sanskrit and Prakrit and only one-fourth from Arabic, Persian and Turkish languages. Its grammatical structure is almost the same as that of other Indo-European languages. The beginnings of early Urdu literature can be traced to the Deccan in the 16th century. Dakhani Urdu literature is deeply imbubed with Indian folklore, imagery and symbolism. The variety and range of religious literature in Urdu testifies to its plural and composite character. All the major scriptures of Hinduism, including the four Vedas, the epics, the Upanishads, four of the Puranas and Manusmruti have been translated into Urdu. There exist more than 200, full or partial, Urdu translations of the Ramayana. Several translations of the Mahabharata and at least sixteen translations of the Bhagwat Gita exist in Urdu. In the 19th century, a number of Urdu journals and weeklies were devoted to the defence and propagation of Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Christianity and Islam. During the early decades of the 20th century, Urdu served as a popular and effective medium of the anti-colonial struggle. The revolutionary writings of Urdu poets and writers, who included Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, fired the patriotic fervour of the Indian people.

The joint participation of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in the anti-colonial struggle forms a magnificent chapter of Indian history and symbolises the sustained vitality of India’s composite civilization.

India’s Composite Civilization and the Nationalist Discourse

Since the 19th century, one can discern two distinctive and contrasting strands in the nationalist discourse in India. One may be characterised as ethnonationalism or Hindu nationalism, which is a premised on a conflation of nationalism and ethnicity, particularly religious revivalism, and on the assimilation of the minorities and other marginalized communities into the culture of the majority. The other is based on a shared political discourse, as reflected in equality, citizenship and fundamental rights. The assimilationist ideology is camouflaged and expressed in many forms, including cultural nationalism, national mainstream and national ethos. It is necessary and important to deconstruct the rhetoric of the assimilationist agenda. The agenda has three major premises or presuppositions. First, the assimilationist ideology presupposes that India is socially and culturally homogeneous and that it has a homogeneous national culture. Secondly, the assimilationist ideology identifies the national culture with the beliefs, rituals, institutions and cultural traditions of Hinduism. Thirdly, the assimilationist agenda sends out a clear message to the minorities and other ethnic groups that they should assimilate themselves in the national mainstream. The subtle message is that they should identify themselves with India's Hindu past, Hindu mythology and Hindu religious and cultural traditions.

All the three premises or presuppositions are fallacious and untenable for the following reasons. First, the assumption that India has a homogeneous national culture flies in the face of the country's historically embedded and pervasive diversity. This diversity exists at three distinct levels. First, it exists within the fold of Hinduism, in beliefs, ritual practices and cultural traditions. Secondly, the scale and range of diversities in India is truly extraordinary. They encompass morphological and genetic variations, languages and dialects, religious beliefs and ritual practices, forms and patterns of marriage, food habits, dress patterns and cultural traditions (Singh, 1992). Thirdly, this diversity is particularly striking at the regional level.

Secondly, the view that the minorities and other ethnic groups should assimilate themselves in the national mainstream implies that hitherto they have been leading a secluded life, that they are insulated and isolated from the larger Indian society. This view is fallacious, dangerous and untenable. It is fallacious because it perpetuates the colonial myth that Indian society is fragmentary, static and atomized. It is dangerous because it maligns and demonizes the minorities and other marginalized communities. It is untenable because it is premised on a distortion and misrepresentation of facts. Thirdly, the assimilationist ideology is at variance with the democratic ethos of our time as well as with the secular-democratic spirit of the constitution of India.

There have existed, since ancient times, extensive linkages and networks in Indian society which have knit the various groups, communities and segments together. These linkages and networks are historically-embedded and continue to exist in contemporary Indian society with remarkable tenacity. This has been forcefully brought out in the People of India Project carried out by the Anthropological Survey of India. Most communities and social groups are located within the cultural-linguistic region where they share material culture, social space, regional ethos and identity, languages and dialects, and customs. All social groups and communities are closely intertwined in respect of subsistence and economic pursuits, adaptation to the environment and utilization of local resources. The extent of linkages between the various religious communities, including the majority Hindu population, is truly remarkable. Thus, according to the People of India Project, Hindus share a very high percentage of traits with Muslims (96.77 percent), Buddhists (91.19 percent), and Sikhs (88.99 percent). Likewise, the extent of shared material traits between Muslims and Sikhs is 89.95 percent and between Muslims and Buddhists 91.18 percent (Singh, 1992). Muslims share genetic and morphological traits with the Hindu population. There is a great deal of convergence between Hindus and Muslims in respect of kinship organization, marriage customs, local languages and dialects and regional identity. In fact, village identity often cuts across and transcends religious distinctions.

National Identity and National Integration

One can identify four distinct models of national integration in post-Independence India.

(A) The Composite Culture Model
(This model is based on the idea of unity-in-diversity, peaceful co-existence, reconciliation and co-operation between Hindus and Muslims in particular and among the various religious communities and ethnic groups in general. The idea of composite culture as the bedrock of Indian nationalism was strongly endorsed by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.)

(B) The Assimilationist Model
(This model is founded on Hindu nationalism and the assimilation of minority communities, tribals and other groups into the orbit of Hindu society and culture.)

(C) The Secularist Model
(Espoused by the Westernised Indian elite, this model emphasizes political parameters such as citizenship, secularism, federalism and fundamental rights as providing the edifice of nationalism. This model disregards the role of religion and ethnicity in public life.)

(D) The Pluralist/ Multicultural Model
(It argues that India is essentially a plural and multicultural society. Therefore, Indian nationalism should be founded on the tolerance and appreciation of ethnic diversity, peaceful co-existence and respect for human and community rights, especially minority rights.)

The constitution of India enshrines several elements and features from (A), (C) and (D). It envisages a pluralistic polity through the conceptual instruments of secularism and federalism. Although the constitution does not contain the word secularism in its Preamble, it pervades its spirit and the whole gamut of its provisions. In the Indian context, secularism is essentially a matter of state policy towards religion and is marked by three features: (i) equal citizenship and equality before law as well as equal legal protection to all citizens ( Article 14), (ii) guarantee of freedom of religion to individuals and groups ( Article 19 (1) (a), (iii) the State's equal distance vis-à-vis various religions in the sense that it cannot discriminate in favour of or against any religion of the country. The constitution also promotes regional pluralism by providing for a federal government (Articles 370,371). The constitution guarantees religious and cultural freedom to all citizens, which includes freedom of conscience, freedom to practice and propagate religion, freedom to the minorities to preserve their religion, culture, language and script and to establish their own educational institutions (Sathe, 1992).

The assimilationist model is out of tune with the spirit of our times and at variance with the universally acknowledged tenets of democratic pluralism and human rights as well as with the composite ethos of Indian society. Therefore, it deserves to be discarded. While the idea of composite culture as the bedrock of Indian nationalism is largely based on historical and contemporary reality, it is rather simplistic and banal in its conventional formulation. It seems to highlight and focus only on one facet of Indian civilization, namely Hindu-Muslim exchanges and syncretism in architecture, music, arts and cultural patterns. The full reality, as I have tried to demonstrate in the opening part of this paper, is that the scale and magnitude of India's composite civilization is far more pervasive and extensive. Another problem with the idea of composite culture is that it tends to exaggerate the significance and impact of certain monistic-syncretistic trends in medieval Indian society, such as the cult of Deen-e-Ilahi patronized by Emperor Akbar, the metaphysical monism of Emperor Shah Jahan's son Dara Shikoh, and the mystic monism of Kabir. The cult of Deen-e-Ilahi, which was a bizarre hodge-podge of doctrines and rituals drawn from Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, died with the Emperor's death. Kabir's critique of excessive formalism and ritualism on the part of Hindu priests and Muslim mullahs and his emphasis on a personal experience of the divine appealed to large masses of people, both Hindu an Muslim, in northern and western India. However, it failed to have any extensive and enduring impact on Indian society. Ironically, the Kabirpanthi sect split into Hindu and Muslim segments. Some secular-minded advocates of India's composite culture emphasize the positive role of such things as Hindu-Muslim inter-marriages, the organization of concerts by Muslim musicians in Hindu temples and the voluntary participation of Muslims in Hindu rituals and ceremonies in fostering national integration. However, such things are peripheral in nature and are not endorsed by Hindus and Muslims in general. Yet another problem with the idea of composite culture is that it takes a rather facile view of India's past and glosses over areas of conflict and tension, especially between Hindus and Muslims. In recent years, the issue of India's past, particularly medieval history, has become a subject of contentious debate and acrimonious polemic. Colonial historiography has cast an ominous shadow over the interpretation of Indian history, particularly medieval history. Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing trend towards mixing mythology, particularly religious mythology, with history. J Carsten has considered the significance of 'forgetting' in the construction of identity, In a situation like ours, where much of the country's history is contested, certain historical episodes and narratives need to be subjected to the process of conscious and deliberate 'forgetting'. The need for the demystification and de-colonization of history is equally great and urgent.(2)

The secularist model, which endorses the idea of civic nationalism or what Jurgen Habermas has described as constitutional patriotism, has a great deal of merit in it, but as Craig Calhoun has rightly pointed out, nationalism is not merely a matter of politics but also of culture and identity (Calhoun,1997:3).

I wish to propose an alternative, or rather complementary, model of national identity and integration in India, which I would like to describe as the multicommunitarian model. This model is not wholly original but based on a reformulation or reconceptualization of certain features drawn from the afore-mentioned three models. It is guided by the distinguished American anthropologist Alfred Kroeber's perceptive observation, quoted in the opening part of this paper, that the essence of a civilization is not in its being but in its becoming. In other words, civilization is a dynamic, unfolding process. It is inspired by an acute observation of Jawaharlal Nehru to the effect that Indianness is a matter of feeling, a dream, a vision, and an emotion. Some scholars have spoken about the conscious ‘invention' of national traditions and their role in the construction of national identity (Hobsbawm and Ranger,1983). The multicommunitarian model presented here is premised on a 'reinvention', rather than 'invention' , of national identity in the context of India.

The multicommunitarian model outlined in this paper is informed and guided by three broad premises.

(1) The national identity of a plural and multicultural society, such as India, should be inclusive rather than exclusive, open-ended and fluid rather than closed and rigid, dynamic and evolving rather than fixed and static, pluralistic and syncretistic rather than homogeneous and undifferentiated, tolerant and accommodating rather than totalitarian and tyrannical. It should be based on democratic consensus rather than on coercion (Momin,1994; Momin,1999; Parekh,2000). Like individuals, ethnic groups and cultural communities in plural societies have multiple identities which are often over-lapping and complementary (Sen,2001). The definition and construction of national identity in a plural society should allow sufficient autonomous spaces for the existence of these identities.

(2) The definition and construction of national identity in a plural society should be guided and inspired by a set of value-premises, including appreciation and tolerance of diversity, peaceful co-existence in a democratic framework, respect for human and community rights, especially minority rights, and adherence to the principle of reconciliation through dialogue and other legitimate methods of conflict resolution.

(3) A theory or model of national integration should not only be logically coherent and conceptually elegant but should also have a historical and empirical referent. In other words, a viable model of national integration should reflect both the historical reality of a given society as well as its contemporary situation. It should steer clear of being too idealistic, elitist or abstract. The multicommunitarian model of national identity and integration in the context of India is characterized by the following features.

(A) Extensive cultural and ethnic diversity not only exists across the country but is also endemic to the Hindu ethos, social organization and cultural traditions. This diversity is a valuable and inalienable part of Indian civilization and hence deserves to be preserved and maintained. Therefore, an ungrudging appreciation and tolerance of cultural and ethnic diversity is a sine qua non of national identity in India. Contrary to the misconception prevalent in certain quarters, diversity need not be a stumbling block in the path of national unity and integration. As Bhikhu Parekh has rightly observed, political unity does not require cultural homogeneity and is best preserved in a climate of flourishing and self-confident cultural diversities (Parekh,1997).

(B) India symbolises a veritable human and civilizational laboratory where the process of cross-breeding of ideas, beliefs, doctrines, social institutions and cultural traditions has been going on for the past five thousand years. As a result of this process, Indian civilization has been enriched, nourished and sustained by several cultural streams and ethnic groups. The rich and multi-faceted contributions of various social groups and ethnic communities, including the minorities, tribals and indigenous communities, to the shaping of Indian civilization, in the past as well as in the post-Independence period, should be openly and generously acknowledged. The protracted process of cultural interaction and exchange in Indian society has given rise to extensive linkages and networks between regions, social groups and communities. These linkages and networks are historically embedded and have a powerful resonance in the contemporary setting as well. These linkages and networks, shared memories and experiences of the anti-colonial struggle, shared traits, social and cultural spaces, linguistic and regional identities, and shared literary and artistic expressions are the greatest strengths and assets of Indian civilization. They should inspire and guide national identity, national integration and national aspirations.

The idea that India's composite cultural heritage should inform and guide its national identity does not necessarily entail a blurring, collapse or dilution of ethnic boundaries and religious identities. It is desirable, in my opinion, for Hindus and Muslims as well as other social groups and ethnic communities to preserve and maintain their respective religious and ethnic identities and to respect the boundaries within which these identities are embedded. At the same time, the creative strength and potential of their shared identities should be underscored and harnessed in the service of national integration (Momin,2001).

(C) It is gratifying that the constitution of India takes due cognizance of the country's pluralistic ethos and allows its various ethnic groups and cultural and religious minorities autonomous spaces. The multicommunitarian model, therefore, can be worked out and implemented within the broad framework of the Indian constitution.

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