February 28, 2024

Culture, A Cure in Crisis

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The wisdom of our ancient Indian culture can be the anchor for our society in these difficult times.

Keywords: Pandemic | Isolation | Uncertainty | Mental Health | Culture | Society | Indian Culture | Ancient Wisdom 

Without a doubt, today there is no aspect of our world that has remained untouched by the COVID pandemic. Ever since the virus began to spread across the world, there have been proliferating cases of medical deaths, suicides, violence & separations. Adding to that job losses, economic downturn, and isolation have led to loneliness, depression and frustration percolating into the psyche of many individuals. Coping with the immeasurable impact of human loss has led to feelings of insecurity and anxiety haunting the minds of people of all age groups.

As we continue to follow the guidelines on physical distancing, wearing masks, stepping out only for essentials and/or during emergencies, we often tend to undermine and ignore the significance of human connections. That too when the pandemic has created an urgency for this connection more than ever before.

No man is an island. Human to human connection is a basic need and fundamental nature of all human beings. Longing for social connections, for a sense of belonging and a community, is very intrinsic to the biology of humans. Scientific researchers have proved that deep human connections make individuals more confident, optimistic, and also more altruistic. 

While the news channels and social media spell doomsday every day now, we sometimes find stories on human bonds of love, compassion and appreciation that stretch a silver lining in the dark clouds of these days. Pictures of children reuniting with their friends, healthcare workers overwhelmed by surprise appreciation showered by grateful neighbours, efforts made by police personnel to put smiles on the faces of the marginalised, dispel the sense of gloom and instil hope in us.

It is these times that remind us of the importance of a national culture of compassion and celebration. By their very nature, cultural societies build emotional strength and support individuals to bear through difficult times. If cultures do not meet these basic needs of the people, they become redundant and cultures cannot afford that.

India is home to one of the most ancient and continuous civilizations in the world. Indian culture continues to evolve and syncretise with the times. Indian culture is founded on the need for human connection, for oneness with nature, and with the Universe. The colourful diversity of Indian culture enables this appreciation. Even the holy Vedas proclaim the value of harmony and wholeness in humanity. It is this vision that springs forth the noble thought of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, that the world is one family. That our wellbeing and peace depends on the wellbeing and prosperity of the world around us. This verse of Maha Upanishad is engraved even in the entrance hall of the Parliament of India.  These values, thus continue to contribute to the idea of India as a constitutional entity.

In today’s times when our world is undergoing rapid and unprecedented changes, individuals crave for stability and familiarity. This order in chaos can be found if we hold on to the wisdom of our ancient culture which despite a thousand years of oppression, continue to be relevant and provide a strong anchor to the tides of change. The importance of a resilient culture and societal values comes to fore in these trying times.

In Ramayana when Sri Rama was tormented due to the abduction of his beloved wife Sita, it is Lakshmana, his younger brother who steps in to give energy and enthusiasm to his older brother, underscoring the importance of strong support from family in times of need. Similarly, when Sita was in despair due to separation from her husband Sri Rama, the words of assurance and solace by Sri Hanuman that no efforts are being spared by Sri Rama to retrieve her, bring life back within her – marking strong support from a devotee in times of need.

In fact, the sacred scripture of Bhagavad Gita, delivered by Sri Krishna himself during the Kurukshetra war, was rendered to remove the conflicted agony of the valiant warrior-prince Arjuna. This dialogue continues to guide the values of our society even till date. While the common people derive strength from these fabled lines to deliver towards their dharma in the face of daily struggles, even leaders invoke the ideas of Bhagawad Gita when faced with national challenges.

Therefore in these unprecedented moments, it is imperative that we look back to our ancient culture, and to its timeless wisdom for solace and strength. As a society, the teachings of the ancient texts, of the holy books, and even the time tested folklores passed on to us, generation to generation, can be the anchor providing us security and stability during these uncertain times.

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Pavithra Srinivasan

Pavithra Srinivasan is a Visiting Fellow of India Foundation. She is an acclaimed Bharatnatyam dancer, and founder of Arsha Kala Bharathi.

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