Home Biography Stories Essays Quotes Publications

Our Culture
History or Puranas?


Our Culture
by Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao

Culture is man-made. Every man is born into some culture or the other. He interacts with a spirit of 'give and take' with the society around him to the extent he likes and feels such an interaction possible. Culture is collective and is a result of an evolutionary development. The cultural process is influenced by the external circumstances and has national and regional features too. But all people belonging to a national or regional group do present or exhibit the same kind of culture. Some are culturally weak and others are strong and capable of influencing their fellowmen and other national groups as well. People like Tolstoy of Russia, Shakespeare of England, Tagore of India, the Christ, the Buddha and the Prophet Mohammed seem to have influenced the people of all regions through their cultures. But their influence is spread over the ages and is not related to any specific age or any single stage of social evolution of mankind.

Today, the sway of religion is weak and so is that of religious culture. What is strong is the influence of Karl Marx, Lenin and Mao. But there are still people around the world who influence others through religious ideas. The Babas of our country have followers' abroad also. The religious influence is limited in impact and will not help in the extensive development of mankind as the age of religion is over. Similarly, literary culture can rarely influence today's life. For example, there may be poets in our country today, but they will not get the same fame across the world as Tagore got. The only culture that can propel the present day life is the politico-economic culture. Only those nations which have modernised their life will progress and prosper. Others who cling on to the old politico-economical cultures will slip back and regress.

Culture is an essential necessity for man. It is culture that determines how an individual or a society faces and finds solutions to the problems that confront them. We should clearly understand that culture embodies the value system of the age. For example, there are people who continue to live in the bygone age of religion. Our ancestors used to arrange fire-tests like dances with red-hot sticks and holding live fire in palm to decide whether the accused has committed the crime or not. Today, we do not consider such conditions as superior culture. Yet, in countries with political systems based on religious fundamentalism, crude punishments like chopping off of limbs of a petty thief and stoning to death of women indulging in permissive sex are still practised!

Superstitions abound in individuals and nationalities where science has not seeped in. it is quite easy to establish their backwardness. Similarly, the economic and political backwardness of individuals and societies is clear from their ideas in these fields. The ritualistic mantra of democracy can be chanted by anyone. But it appears from the attitudes of the political leaders to the political and economic problems that these leaders do not even know the rudiments of democracy. Bridging the economic disparities and achieving universal employment remain only as concepts borrowed from those countries that have moved ahead of us. Even parrots may be taught to pronounce words like 'democracy' and 'socialism'. But to understand them is altogether a different matter.

Today, we do not have to toil to build a new culture. There are countries that have raised the political and social dynamism of all their people by just reducing the economic disparities. These countries have no problems of inflation. Inflation and universal employment are not contradictory. These countries are in the forefront of the modern age and are most competent to solve the problems facing mankind. Those countries with such glaring contradictions as food grains rotting due to insufficient storage capacity on one-hand and starvation deaths on the other, have to learn from them.

On the contrary, boasting about 'our culture'--our cinematic art and escapist literature evolved amidst ghastly social injustices, carnage on Harijans, and political stink--sounds ridiculous. Even today, there are nationalities living in stone-age civilisation. Any claim, in such circumstances, by either individuals or groups about their cultural advancement is only self-deceit. Probably, the very first step in out cultural advancement lies in the realisation that stone age civilisation is still alive in almost all spheres in out 'civilised' life. We live amidst political murders, dowry deaths, protection for culprits from the rich, muscle men's support for political parties, ineffective police force and blood sucking bureaucracy. It is beyond all imagination how the individual or social culture can survive, let alone advance, in such an atmosphere.

(Translated from Telugu by B Chandramohan)

Back to the top

by Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao

Is it history or Puranas that help a nation to achieve progress? Perhaps only an Indian would affirm. Unlike westerners, we have neglected to document historical facts. This has lead to a strange situation. The westerners see in our vedic literature the great civilisation of India. The Central Asians see the glory of mathematics, geography and medicine in our culture. But we see our culture as being only in the Ramayana and are prepared to boast about it to the whole world.

Propagandists of Puranic culture indulge in loud propaganda that the Ramayana has everything that is meant for our daily lives. Unfortunately, we hardly tend to learn from history. Whoever says that our future depends on the Ramayana!

What is more amusing, we do not leave scriptures to themselves but tamper with them exaggerating anything to our convenience. For example, in the Ramayana that is considered the epitome of our culture, events like Sita's marriage, the story of Lava and Kusa have been given distorted over-emphasis. Similarly, events not to our taste have been misrepresented. Guha, who is considered friend of Rama is transformed into a Bhakta of Rama. Sabari is made another devotee. Rama who reveals his common human weaknesses in a few instances suddenly becomes a God to cover them up.

Even though the ancient culture is the basis of our present culture, we should, for political reasons, understand history better. But when we run into unpalatable facts of history we resort to the same tampering we do to the Puranas. Historical facts are straightjacketed to suit puranic accounts of the same events leaving no differences between them.

Various experiments are being undertaken to reduce the obscurity in history. Archaeology and Anthropology are so helpful in this attempt. Scientists are searching answers for questions like 'who were the Aryans?' and 'how were the Aryans related to the Indus Valley Civilisation?' In these attempts, the scientists are using Puranas also as sources of information. Puranas are not completely idle imaginary accounts. There are possibilities of finding some historical facts or clues about our past. If archaeological findings conform to the puranic accounts, these can be accepted as historical facts.

There are differences between the scientific approach and the puranic approach. The trouble with the latter is that it boils down to announcing huge monetary awards to those who discover the site where Arjuna is supposed to have made a bed of arrows for Bhishma or the site where Krishna delivered his Bhagwad Gita. But it does not even strike the people that the Gita could still be hidden somewhere. Prhaps they could only scoff at Kosambi, who has analysed our history scientifically, even if they have read him at all.

The historical understanding of our political pundits is quite farcical. It is the same in the case of the artists. No wonder the commoners ape the rulers. We do not seem to know the direction from which we came and the direction in which we have to move. We cannot have any goal if we do not know even the direction in which we have to progress. Understanding of the past is important for a clear direction into the future. But the culture of mythology very often misleads people. We believe that there were seven-storied buildings in the age of the Ramayana. And we know we never had such structures even after a thousand years after the Harrappan civilisation disappeared. Even assuming that such structures existed in the past (and now hidden), can we certainly say that they belonged to the Raayana's period? We may see Sita in our cinemas wearing nylon saris. But does it mean there were nylon clothes in the days of the Ramayana?

The attitude of traditionalist culture is quite different. They argue that there was everything in those golden days. We had, they say, tractors, atom bombs, transistors and even radar during the period of our mythological epics.

Historically speaking, mankind is progressing day by day. The common man of today has facilities like good highways, fast moving vehicles, cinemas and radios which even the kings and queens did not possess three or four centuries ago. Queen Victoria is reported to have said, "Not so fast, Guard, Not so fast!" as the first train in which she was travelling reached the speed of 15KmPH. In less than a century, things have changed so much that her present successor, Queen Elizabeth, can move a hundred times faster.

There was a time when ten acres of land could sustain only a single person. Today, just an acre can yield subsistence to several hundreds. The average life expectancy is on the increase. We have dependable medicines even for diseases considered deadly and incurable a few decades ago. Doctors are in a position to consider TB no more fatal than an ordinary fever.

But the traditionalists insist that the modern age can hardly be compared with the good old days. For them, life was unquestionably better in the Kritayuga and man has been deteriorating since then.

Even assuming that this is a fact, what we cannot forget is that we are children of the last generation and live and struggle with its problems in its own circumstances. We are not the children of the fables Saptarishis of the past. This is quite clear. Anybody who loses contact with the techniques of development will have to restart from the scratch. The culture of mythology can only keep repeating that whatever is there today was already there in the Kritayuga. There is no point in waxing eloquent on the so-called luxuries of our forefathers. We should come down to the realities of our day and see how best we can eke out a living.

Whatever was achieved through the efforts of people with an historical sense was lost in the irrationality of the mythological culture. Archaeological findings have proven that the cities of Mohenjodaro civilisation had no parallels in their day. In the days of the prosperity of Patna, nowhere on earth existed any city of its kind. Ashoka's palace was so magnificent that travellers wondered if it was made not by mortals, but by divine beings. Mauryan and Gupta took the Indian culture to very high levels. Today, nothing of this grandeur exists. Only trash like Ramabhajans, which do not even qualify as good mythologies, survive. After all, the traditionalists believe that mankind has been continually degrading and so we are in a mental frame ready for further deterioration.

(Translated from Telugu by B Chandramohan)

Back to the top