Tradition and Modernity in India

Tradition and Modernity in India

Tradition refers to the customs, beliefs, and cultural practices that are passed down from one generation to the next generation. It has its origin in the past. Indian traditions are the resultants of certain historical processes. They actually construct the structure of Indian culture. These traditions belong to several ideologies such as Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, tribals, and western modernity. The process of synthesis has, therefore, constructed these traditions.

Modernity refers to contemporary behavior or way of doing things. It is fresh, new, and modern.

Tradition and Modernity both prevail side-by-side in India. Indian culture is a blend of traditional values and the modern spirit.

Modernity is not altogether new in India. It is more than a hundred years old and has during this period been making steady headway.

The Hindu tradition itself is not homogeneous, as many of its spokesmen and critics often seem to assume. Some of the Hindu traditions are indeed inherently incompatible with the modern spirit. In ancient India,  particularly during the period of Rig Vedic Society,  the Indian society was free from most of the inhibitions of later Hinduism.

The  old age tradition that is still dominant in Hindu society, though some of the harmful traditions are no longer prominent today such as:

Sati is prohibited,

Indian widows are remarrying,

Child marriages are on the wand,

The caste system in India is being increasingly secularized,

The Dowry system is declining,

Girls are taking active participation in education and profession.

But the supreme values of old Indian tradition are still relevant in Modern Indian Society, such as

Simplicity and non-possession of material goods,

Respect for the status and authority that go with power.

The supreme value of life is, of course, Moksha, the release from the bonds of karma and the cycle of births. All the other values and attitudes that Hinduism comments have to be in harmony with this.

This Modern Indian society cannot completely break itself from the old traditions. No society can do that, nor is it necessary for India. Her past is remarkably rich and varied, capable of providing a starting point for modernity. Indian Tradition offers numerous instances of the spirit of free and critical inquiry of the highest intellectual order, determination to pursue truth regardless of where it leads a positive and secular approach to life, and a tradition of abstract thought necessary for the growth of modern knowledge.

India needs to modernize herself but she does not have to seek inspiration solely from a culture that is not a part of her own tradition. She can partly get it from her past and establish continuity with it. Indigenous symbols and myths are available, which can make the transition to modernity less traumatic than it would otherwise be.

The rich tradition and culture of India's past can provide a bridge for the masses between the present and the future. Except for a handful, Indian intellectuals do not extend beyond the narrow sphere of their own professional work. For example, when an educated person (for instance a doctor, or lawyers) fall ill, they not only call in a qualified doctor but also perform puja to appease the gods, take talisman and consult holy men. Indians, particularly Hindus, actually keep two opposing sets of habit patterns.

Social reforms such as abolition of the un-touchable, and the dowry system are in full motion. But if a departure from tradition or custom, such as women taking up employment, holds the promise of easily visualizable benefits, their response, even in the countryside, is more encouraging than metropolitan intellectuals are likely to imagine. Whenever imaginative leadership and enough facilities to inspire confidence have been available in recent times, people in rural areas have shown a commendable willingness to adopt new ideas and practices. Those who have watched the attitude of the agricultural community in western Maharashtra to programs of work in the fields of education, agriculture, and even family planning would be inclined to believe that the lack of leadership and facilities, not irrational attachment to tradition, is the real problem that advocates of modernity have to solve.

Indian Society continues to live in two worlds, the traditional and the modern, at the same time. What seems to have happened with most of us is that we have accepted modernity in our professional work, but we continue to be traditional in our values and attitudes unless the personal gain is involved.

Consequently, the Western liberal institutions—universities, for example, or the press-introduced in India, still function largely in an authoritarian way.

Modernity has a wider connotation than modernization. The latter refers to civilization and mainly implies a high level of literacy and urbanization with vertical and geographical mobility, a high per capita income, and a sophisticated economy that has gone beyond the take-off stage. Modernity, on the other hand, connotes a certain type of culture whose quality is determined by rationality, the liberal spirit in its broadest sense, a plurality of opinion and centers of decision-making, autonomy in the various fields of experience, secular ethics, and respect for the private world of the individual.

We need to identify and preserve the precious elements of Indian culture such as Music, dance, handicrafts, and the like. One may also seek to preserve a great deal of the color and variety in certain aspects of Indian life such as food, dress, and festivals. However, this is not enough. It is also necessary to identify the elements that must go if the spirit of modernity is not to be crushed under their weight.

This implies an inquiry into the structure and working of each of our major institutions such as family, school, the university, etc., and insistent demand for their reform from the standpoint of modernization of India. Indian universities and colleges may become a vital center of modern Indian culture. They can play an active role in blending the old Indian traditions into Modern society for its benefit.

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