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Saturday, September 23, 2023

Indian Culture: Vibrant and thought-provoking

By Sheiney Pullack

 Special to CSMS MagazineThe culture of India is a rich and varied one.  It was formed throughout world history, consuming customs, traditions and ideas from both invaders and newcomers. In India today there is cultural and religious diversity throughout the country (Culture of india, 2007).  Since cultural patterns do not operate in a vacuum, it is important to realize that they are interrelated.  Although the Indian culture, like most cultures, does include a combination of individualistic and collective parts, it is primarily collective.    In India, family members first and foremost see themselves as a part of a whole—as unified; sharing possessions, work, food, etc. and many members of a family often live together.  An Indian proverb says “An individual could no more be separated from the family than a finger from the hand” (Samovar, 2007).  This proverb aptly explains how integral to the individual the family is.  The people of India are taught to share both joy and sadness so as to multiply the first and alleviate the second (Culture of india, 2007).    As is often the case in collective cultures, politeness is a highly valued element of Indian culture. People are soft-spoken and raising one’s voice is seen as a sign of rudeness.  Looking another person in the eye is also seen as impolite.  Another distinctive feature of the culture is the absolute equality of all individuals within the society (Ancient indian culture as human culture, 007).     A genuine love and respect for elders is also an important tenet (Culture of india, 2007).  India has been the haven for a number of religions that have co-existed peacefully for at least a thousand years (Ancient indian culture as human culture, 2007).  Certain religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism originated in India before spreading throughout the world.  In addition, some of the most significant secular traditions of logic, rationalism, science, mathematics, materialism, atheism, and agnosticism were developed in India.     Thought to be the oldest materialistic school of thought in the world, Carvaka is the most widely known school of Indian atheism.  It was composed at about the same time as the Hindu Upanishads, and the philosophies of Buddhism and Jainism.  In current times, India has produced some of the world’s most influential philosophers who have written both in their native languages, and in English (Culture of india, 2007).  The world’s oldest known religion, Hinduism, originated in India and now has over a billion followers.  It is also the religion that is most difficult for Westerners to understand (Samovar, 2007).  Currently, over 80% of Indians practice Hinduism, while just over 13% are Muslim, and close to 2% each are Christian and Sikh (World factbook, 2007).     Hinduism, practiced by the majority of Indians, is a fascinating belief system based on the promotion of four different goals: three life-affirming goals and one life-negating one.  The three “life is good” goals are Dharma (virtue), Artha (success), and Kama (pleasure) while the “life is bad” goal is Moksha (release).  Dharma, otherwise known as the practice of virtue, is the living of a righteous life.  Artha refers to the desire for and the earning of success.  Kama, meaning pleasure, applies to aesthetic pleasure of all kinds, including art, music, dance, drama, literature, poetry and sex.  Moksha is the endeavor for release from life.  It is the turning away from the first three goals and the attempt to live without the things that make up life (Hinduism: living the religious life, 2007).     Hinduism is often seen in the Western world as a polytheistic religion: as worshipping multiple deities.  But that is not strictly true since it recognizes only one supreme God, which would make it a monotheistic religion.  The supreme God it acknowledges is the principle of Brahman, meaning that the universe is a single unity.  All reality is viewed as one divine entity who is at one with the universe while at the same time transcending it (Hinduism: a general introduction, 2007).  This explanation does not correspond with the Westerner’s concept of a supreme being.  Some descriptions of the Hindu God, Brahman, depict him as having three persons: Brahma, the Creator; Vishnu, the Preserver; and Shiva, the Destroyer.  This would make Hinduism atrinitarian religion, worshipping three deities.  A more exact description of Hinduism would call ithenotheistic because it recognizes a single deity with other gods and goddesses considered as forms, manifestations, or aspects of that supreme God (Hinduism: a general introduction, 2007).     Because Hinduism worships no single personified god, has no single founder, prophet or teacher and has no holy book that outlines its teachings, it is hard for people familiar with the world’s other large religions to understand (Samovar, 2007).  This lack of understanding has led to prejudice, and practitioners of Hinduism are often subjected to stereotyping in this country.  Of the two major families of religions in the world, Hinduism is in the Indic family, which is not the dominant one.     The Greco-Semitic family, consisting of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, has influenced the often-negative portrayal of the Indic religions, which consist primarily of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism (Western stereotypes of hinduism, 2007).  Another widely misunderstood belief of Hinduism is the Transmigration of the Soul, or what we would call reincarnation.  This results in a continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth throughout many lifetimes.  This cycle is known as samsara.  Karma is the total of a person’s good and bad deeds and outlines how a person will live his or her next life.  By living a good life, a person can be reborn at a higher level, and eventually can escape samsara and achieve enlightenment (Hinduism: a general introduction, 2007).     The values and standards of the culture greatly affect family life in India.  Families tend to follow a patriarchal, dual-family residential pattern, with the grandparents, parents and children living under the same roof.  While the mother is usually the nurturing, primary caregiver of the children, the father or grandfather is the dominant figure to be fearfully obeyed.  Indian parents stress loyalty to the family, obedience, religious beliefs and academic achievement.  Family interdependence is also stressed and autonomy is discouraged (Jambunathan, Counselman, 2002).    I think it is important for teachers who come in contact with students from an Indian culture to be aware of that culture.  Since respect is so highly valued and the Indian culture is an egalitarian one, I believe teachers should remember to particularly treat students with respect.  Since the Indian culture is a collective one, Indian children will be less likely to raise their hands and participate in class or otherwise call attention to themselves (Samovar, 2007).  This should be kept in mind so as to not bias a teacher against these students.     Because of the cultural prohibition against raising one’s voice, teachers should take care to keep the volume of their voices low.  Understanding that looking another person in the eye is culturally a sign of disrespect; a teacher must not translate a student’s refusal to look him or her directly in the eye as disrespectful.     Teachers need also to remain religiously tolerant and take care not to stereotype any religion.  In general, a teacher in a secular school should not ever discuss any religion specifically.  However, I think it is particularly important that a teacher not reiterate stereotypical “facts” about a religion such as Hinduism that is already the subject of much cultural bias.  Since a lot of pious Hindis do not eat meat or kill any creature and regard cows as particularly sacred (Hinduism, 2007) a teacher should take special care to refrain from bringing meat into the classroom or encouraging the consumption of meat, particularly beef.     The culture of India is multi-layered and fascinating, the deep structure of which will affect children of immigrant families for many generations.  It is a culture that teachers should be aware of since any teacher in South Florida will definitely encounter children and their parents of that culture.Note: Sheiney Pullack is an assistant professor at the University of North Florida. She wrote this Culture Study Report especially for CSMS Magazine. ReferencesAncient Indian culture as human culture (2007).  Retrieved February 20, 2007 fromhttp://www.indiaprofile.com/religion-culture/indianculture.htm.Culture of india (2007).  Retrieved February 19, 07 from http://www.indianchild.com/culture.htm.Hinduism (2007).  Retrieved February 22, 2007 from http://www.openflock.org/hinduism.htmlHinduism: a general introduction (2007).  Retrieved February 19, 2007 from http://www.religioustolerance.org/hinduism2.htm.Hinduism: living the religious life (2007).  Retrieved February 19, 2007 fromhttp://uwacadweb.uwyo.edu/religionet/er/hinduism/hrlife.htm.Jambunathan, S.,Counselman, K. P. (2002).  Parenting attitudes of asian indian mothers living in the united states and in india, Early Child Development and Care, 172, 657-662.Samovar, L. A., Porter, R. E., McDaniel, E. R. (2007).  Communication between cultures.  Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.Western stereotypes of hinduism (2007).  Retrieved February 19, 2007 from http://www.geocities.com/athens/7830/stereotype.htm.World factbook (2007).  Retrieved February 21, 2007 from http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/in.html. Also see Role of alternative languages in our society

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