By Rabindranath Tagore
What is the chief significance of Bharatavarsha? If a precise answer to this question is sought, the answer is available. And the history of Bharatavarsha upholds that answer. We find that a single objective has always been motivating Bharatavarsha. This objective has been to establish unity among diversity, to make various paths move towards one goal, to experience the One-in-many as the innermost reality, to pursue with total certitude that supreme principle of inner unity, which runs through the differences. It has also been her endeavour to achieve these without destroying the distinctions that appear in the external world.
The ability to perceive this oneness in diversity and to strive to extend unity are the native characteristics of Bharatavarsha. It is this quality that has made her indifferent to political glory. For, it is the mode of conflict that forms the basis of political achievements. Those who do not whole-heartedly regard others as truly outsiders cannot accept the achievement of political glory as the supreme goal of life. The urge that impels one to establish oneself against others is the foundation of political achievement. And the endeavour to form communion with others, and the effort to harmonise divergences and contradictions within one’s own fold are the basis of ethical and social advancement. The kind of unity that the European civilisation has opted for is discord-centred; the kind of unity that Bharatavarshiya civilisation has opted for is concord-centred. Although the noose of discord that the political unity of European kind wears around its neck is able to keep it arrayed in a tight pull against others, it is unable to provide harmony to its own self. And because of this, the antagonism and distance between man and man, between rulers and the ruled, between the rich and the poor are constantly kept alive.
It is not that these various sections carry in harmony the whole society together with their distinctive roles in their respective spheres. In fact, they remain mutually antagonistic. The constant and ever alert effort of each section is to try its utmost to prevent the increase of power of other groups. Where everybody is thus engaged in pressing and jostling, equilibrium of power is not possible. There, numerical strength acquires ascendancy over excellence and collective accumulation of wealth from commerce overwhelms the householders’ savings. Thus the social equilibrium is lost. And in an attempt to keep these mutually antagonistic and repugnant parts somehow cobbled together, the government keeps on enacting law after law. This is inevitable; for, when discord is the seed, the harvest too would only be discord. The well-nourished and luxuriant thing that is seen in between is only the sprightly and strong tree bearing the fruit of discord.
What history should we learn?
The history of Bharatavarsha
Bharatavarsha has endeavoured to knit together in ties of relationships diverse elements, even if these elements are disparate. Where there are real differences, it is only by ordering the differences and assigning the differences to their proper places and by reining them in that unity can be really achieved. Merely enacting a law to the effect that henceforth everybody is united does not bring about unity. The only way to knit together in ties of relationships those who cannot be unified is to distribute them over different areas of special preserves. If the incompatibles are artificially forced into a unity, through force again they split. And the breakup is accompanied by shattering events. Bharatavarsha knew the secrets of integration. The French Revolution had the haughtiness to think that it would wipe off all differences among men with blood. But it has produced the very opposite results. In Europe, the rulers and the ruled, the wealthy and the common people, all the repositories of power, are gradually becoming fiercely antagonistic to each other. The goal of Bharatavarsha too had been to tie everybody in a bond of unity; but the method she adopted was different. Bharatavarsha tried to delimit and demarcate each of the antagonistic and competitive forces of the society and make the body-social fit for both functional unity as well as diversities of occupations. She did not allow conflict and disorder to remain ever active by giving room to constant attempts at overstepping the area of one’s own rights. She has not made the duties and works, the home and the hearth and everything else subject to a terrible vortex of sullied directionlessness by driving all the energy of the society to the single path of twenty-four-hour fierce competition. To discover the heart of unity and to achieve integration and to secure the space for attaining the ultimate fulfillment and liberation in peace and stability were the quests of Bharatavarsha.
Providence has pulled in diverse people onto the lap of Bharatavarsha. Since antiquity Bharatavarsha has been provided with the opportunity to put into practice the special talent her people were endowed with. Bharatavarsha has forever been engaged in constructing with varied material the foundation of a unifying civilisation. And a unified civilisation is the highest goal of all human civilisations. She has not driven away anybody as alien, she has not expelled anybody as inferior, she has not scorned anything as odd. Bharatavarsha has adopted all, accepted everybody. And when so much is accepted, it becomes necessary to establish one’s own code and fix regulation over the assorted collections. It is not possible to leave them unrestrained like animals fighting each other. They have to be appropriately distributed into separate autonomous divisions while keeping them bound on a fundamental principle of unity. The component might have come from outside but the arrangement and the fundamental idea behind it were Bharatavarsha’s own.
Europe wants to make the society safe by driving away the strangers, by decimating them. Specimen of this behaviour can be seen even now in America, in Australia, in New Zealand, in the Cape Colony. The reason for this is that they lack a proper sense of cohesion within their own social fabric. They have not been able to give appropriate places to the various communities of their own and many a limbs of their own societies have become burdensome to them. In such a situation where would they find room for outsiders? Where one’s own relatives are ready to create trouble, there the outsiders would never be offered hospitality. A society that has order and has a principle of unity and where everybody has one’s own demarcated place and rights, only in such a society is it easy to accommodate others as one’s own. There are two ways of dealing with others: either by thrashing and killing and driving them away and thus making one’s own society and civilisation safe or by providing them proper places in one’s own system and by disciplining them with one’s own customs. While Europe by adopting the former method has kept alive its antagonism to the whole world and remaining ever ready to strike, Bharatavarsha by adopting the latter method has been trying slowly and gradually to make everybody her own. If Dharma deserves reverence, if Dharma is regarded as the highest ideal of human civilisation, then the superiority of the method of Bharatavarsha has to be accepted.
This article on the teaching of history in India was written by Rabindranath Tagore in August 1903.
It needs talent to make outsiders one’s own. The ability to enter others’ beings and the magic power of making the stranger completely one’s own, these are the qualities native to genius. That genius we find in Bharatavarsha. Bharatavarsha has unhesitatingly entered others? beings, and has effortlessly accepted things from others. Bharatavarsha was not frightened at the sight of what is termed by foreigners as idolatry and did not sneer at it. Bharatavarsha has adopted even grotesque elements from communities like the Sabara, Pulinda, Vyadha, etc., and has infused her own philosophy into these elements and has given expression to her spirituality through them. Bharatavarsha has not discarded anything and has made everyone her own after accepting him or her.
Not only in social organisation, but also in the area of faith and belief we notice the same trend of the building of unity and harmony. The effort to establish harmony between knowledge, action and devotion that we see in the Gita is a trait that belongs especially to Bharatavarsha. It is impossible to translate into Indian language the expression called ‘religion’ that exists in Europe, for within the domain of faith, Bharatavarsha has resisted the dividing of the mind. Our intellect, our belief, our conduct, all that we hold dear in this world and in the next, all of these together constitute our Dharma. Bharatavarsha has not divided the faith into the pigeonholes of ‘everyday use’ and ‘formal occasions’. For example, the life-force that courses through various limbs of the body like hands, feet, head, stomach, etc., is really the same entity and is not divisible as the life in hand, the life in feet, and so on. Similarly, Bharatavarsha did not slice the Dharma into various pieces like the Dharma of belief, the Dharma of conduct, the Dharma of Sunday, the Dharma of other six days, the Dharma of the Church, the Dharma of the home, etc. The Dharma of Bharatavarsha is the Dharma of the entire society. It has its roots struck into the earth while its head soars into the sky. Bharatavarsha has not looked upon the roots and the top as disjoined parts. Bharatavarsha has looked upon Dharma as one magnificent tree stretching from the earth to the heavens and covering the entire life of man.
Amongst the civilisations of the world Bharatavarsha stands as an ideal of the endeavour to unify the diverse. Her history will bear this out. Amidst many travails and obstacles, fortunes and misfortunes, Bharatavarsha has been seeking to experience the One in the universe as well as in one’s own soul and to place that One in the variegated, to discover that One through knowledge, to establish that One through action, to internalise that One through love, to exemplify that One through one’s own life. When through the study of her history we would be able to realise this everlasting spirit of Bharata, then the rupture of our present with the past will disappear.
The Dharma of Bharatavarsha is the Dharma of the entire society. It has its roots struck into the earth while its head soars into the sky. Bharatavarsha has not looked upon the roots and the top as disjoined parts. Bharatavarsha has looked upon Dharma as one magnificent tree stretching from the earth to the heavens and covering the entire life of man.
(Translated from Bengali by Sumita Bhattacharya and Sibesh Bhattacharya, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.)