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Indian Society

Indian Society

Hinduism commonly called Sanatama Dharma by Hindus is generally considered to be the oldest major world religion still practiced today and first among Dharma faiths. Hinduism is characterized by a diverse array of belief systems, practices and scriptures. It has its origin in ancient Vedic culture at least 2000 BC back. It is the third largest religion with approximately 890 million followers worldwide majority being in India. Essentially any kind of spiritual practice followed with faith, love and persistence will lead to the same ultimate state of self relealization.Thus Hindu thought distinguishes itself by strongly encouraging tolerance for different beliefs since temporal systems cannot claim sole understanding of the one transcendal truth. To the Hindu this idea has been an active force in defining the eternal dharma.

It has been for Hinduism what the infinite Divine Self of Advaita is to existence remaining forever changed and self-luminous, central and pervasive in spite of all the chaos and flux around it. In general Hindu views are broad and range from monism, dualism, pantheism alternatively called monistic theism by some scholars and strict monotheism. Hinduism rests on the spiritual bedrock of the Vedas hence Veda Dharma and their mystic issue, the Upanishads as well as the teachings of many great Hindu gurus through the ages. Many streams of thought flow from the six Vedic /Hindu schools, Bhakti sects and Tantra Agamic schools into the one ocean of Hinduism, the first of the Dharma religions.

  • Four Goals of Life
  • Yoga Dharma
  • Four stages of Life
  • The Six Schools of Philosophy
  • Upanishads
  • Marriage in Hinduism
  • Impact of Colonial Rule on Indian society
  • Social Background of Indian Nationalism
  • Social Reforms
  • Indological Approach of G.S.Ghurye
  • Modernization of Indian Tradition

Four Goals of Life

A major aspect of Hindu dharma common to all Hindus is that of Purushartha, the four goals of life. They are Kama, Artha, Dharma and Moksha.It is said that all humans seek Kama and Artha but soon with maturity learn to govern these legitimate desires within a higher pragmatic framework of dharma or moral harmony in all.

The only goal that is truly infinite whose attainment results in absolute happiness is Moksha or liberation (mukti) from Samsara, the cycle of life, death and existential duality.

Yoga Dharma

Hinduism is practiced through a variety of Yogas (spiritual practices), primarily bhakti, Karma Yoga, Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga. These are described in the two principal texts of Hindu Yoga: The Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras. The Upanishads are also very important as a philosophical foundation for this rational spiritualism.

Four stages of Life

The human life is also seen as four Ashramas or stages .They are Brahmacharya,Grihasthya,Vanaprastha and Sanyasa.The first quarter of one's life ,brahmacharya is spent in celibate, sober contemplation of life's secrets under a Guru building up life.Grihasthya is the householder's stage known as samsara in which one marries and satisfies kama and artha within a married life and professional career.Vanaprastha is gradual detachment from the material world giving over duties to one's sons and daughters spending more time in contemplation of the truth and making holy pilgrimages. Finally in sanyasa the individual goes off into seclusion to find God through Yogic meditation and peacefully shed the body for the next life.

The Six Schools of Philosophy

The spirit of restlessness and the intellectual curiosity led our ancestors into deep regions of mind to understand the nature of the soul, of universal soul and of the beyond. The subject remains, elusive and yet attractive to human mind. This probing gave rise to the well known six schools of philosophy: the Nyaya, the Vaisshesika, the Sankhya, the yoga, the Mimansa and the Vedanta. These schools of thought were evolved before the rise of Buddhism. The Brahmanical, Jain and the Buddhist thinkers from time to time interpreted them in the light of their beliefs and experience.


Upanishad means sitting before the teacher who imparts the doctrine and to receive the same. There are one hundred and eight Upanishads. The most known and distinguished are 12 Upanishads namely Aitareya,Kausitaki,Chhandogya,Kena,Taittiria,Katha,Svetsvatara,Brihadaranyaka,Isha,Prasna,Manduka and Mandukya. The chhandogya and brihadaranyaka are considered the oldest. They are pre-Buddhist and are dated 800 BC.The Upanishads expound and explain the concepts of the Maya meaning that the material world is an illusion, the Punarjanma, the rebirth, the karma, action and mukti, the final deliverance. The emphasis in the Upanishads is on the Jnana Kanda the true knowledge. The Upanishads open before us a new world of thought and action, of knowledge of self and the absolute self, of objective inquiry and of spirit of adventure all in the pursuit of truth with earnest sincerity demanding total disregard to dogmatism and misbelieve.

Marriage in Hinduism

The aims of Hindu marriage are said to be dharma, praja (progeny) and rati (pleasure). Through sex is one of the function of marriage it is given third place, indicating there by that it is least desirable aim of the marriage. To stress the lower role of sex in marriage, the marriage of a Sudra is said to be for pleasure only. The Sudra is considered to be a contemptible fellow who has no high purpose in life. Because the Sudra is despised, relations with a Sudra woman are viewed unfavorable through they can't be stopped. Consequently the brahmanic legislators enjoined that a sudra wife would be taken only for pleasure. This association of Sudra wife with sex is another way of indicating the proper place of sex in marriage. The institution of Hindu marriage occupies a prominent place in the social Institution of the civilized world. Hindu marriage can be defined as religions sacrament in which a man and woman are bound in permanent relationship for physical, social and spiritual purpose of dharma, procreation and sexual pleasure.

The Hindu marriage is not really a social contract but a religious sacrament. It results in a more or less permanent relationship between a man and woman. Their aim is not nearly physical pleasure but spiritual advancement. It is not merely an individual function but has a serial enjoyment of sexual pleasure. It exhibits unintegral approach to this serial institution. The main aim of Hindu marriage can be summarized as follows.

(i)Fulfillment of dharma or religions duties: According to the Hindu scriptures marriage is a basic of all religion activities. In the words of K.M Kapadia"marriage is primarily for the fulfillment of duties; the basic aim of marriage was dharma".

(ii) Procreation: In Hindu families the child is given a very important place. According to Riga Veda, the husband accepts the palm of wife in order to get a high breed progeny. According to manu, the chief aim of marriage is procreation Mahabarat has also maintained the same view.

(iii)Sexual pleasure: The Hindu scriptures have compared the sexual pleasure with the relation of divine bliss. According to vatsyanyan sexual pleasure is the chief in aim marriage.

As marriage is said to be sacred it is irrevocable, other parties to the marriage can't dissolve it at will. Each is bound to the other until the death of either of them and the wife is supposed to be bound to her husband even after his death. Concept of marriage, that it is, indissoluble, is a lofty one because it means that the husband and wife after marriage age to adjust their tastes and temper their ideas and interest, instead of breaking with each other when they find that these differ. Hindu marriage, thus viewed, is not an ordinary affair where in the weakness of flesh plays a dominant part. On the contrary, demands of personal gratification and pleasures are subordinated, and the individual is called upon to make marriage a success by means of compromise and adjustment. Despite the fact that marriage was considered to be irrevocable the two partners were not regarded as beings equal in their obligations, privileges there was obvious discrimination made in their responsibility towards each other and in responsibility for succession of marriage.

It is a sacrament also in another sense. A Hindu male goes through the performance of several sacraments during the course of his life. Which begins with the laying of the fetus and end with the cremation of his body. Their importance in Hindu life can be understood from the fact that while in the early law cremation was prescribed for a child who had completed two years, in the later law it was enjoined in the case of a child who had undergone the sacrament of tonsure. Similarly, marriage is said to be essential for woman because that is the only sacrament that can be performed for her. Even in the performance of religious duties the wife was more of a passive partner and was generally selected from a family, which did not neglect the performance of sacred rites. Marriage was a serious duty towards the family and the community and there was little idea of individual interest. The social background provided by the authoritarian joint family, and caste with its dominion small spheres of life, afforded no scope for the recognition of any personal factor, individual, interest or aspiration, in the relations between husband and wife.Dharma, Artha, Kama and even moksha are some of the guiding factors of Hindu marriage. Attainment of lines is also the main object of a married life. A man is only half of a whole unless he is not married. Marriage is also essential according to Hindu scriptures because only by entering a matrimonial alliance with opposite sex, a man can enter into grahs thaskram, and it is only this asharma where he is allowed to practice dharma, artha, kama and mokhsa.On the other hand, marriage is considered to be self-contented social institution. But is not a social institution in the same sense in which family is Mr. Sumner has rightly pointed out that the term marriage has always been elastic and variable usage

Impact of Colonial Rule on Indian society

The establishment of British rule in the late 18th century prompted British officials, missionaries and scholars to acquire knowledge of the classical languages of India, of the structure of Indian society and of values and manners of her people. The economic base was primarily agricultural, the tools and implements did not register any remarkable change through time, and arts and crafts mostly connected with poorly developed production grew. Socially the framework consisted of comparatively self-sufficient village communities in groups of contiguous villages. Caste was the typical Indian institution to accommodate various socio-economic strata and nascent classes, binding them together in groups and ensuring such constituents an occupational protection as well.

The British rule introduced the railways, the press, and the western system of education, clubs and associations all of which shook the prevalent socio-economic order. But the processes of exploitation unleashed by them destroyed the possibilities of development of industries and a modern economic system in India. The British rule rather systematically destroyed the native industries of India for the benefit of the industries in Britain and their market in India. Even though it sought to tie down the people it ruled to colonial backwardness, it released new historical forces within the Indian fold by throwing the traditional economic system and socio-cultural order out of gear. It gave birth to the desire of material advancement and better amenities and living conditions of individuals. Also it gave birth to a spirit of inquiry in the minds of Indian intellectuals who came in contact with western education. Both the social reformists and the conservatives took a fresh and critical look at their own society and culture as a reaction to western interpretation of the same.

Social background of Indian Nationalism

There are several distinctive conceptual formulations of Indian nationalism both by Indian and foreign scholars. A dominant view is that of historians and sociologists who see the rise of nationalism in the context of British colonialism and the distortions it created in social structure and ideology of our society. These distortions refer to class character of nationalist leadership and its social, cultural and economic policies. It is said these colonial distortions contributed to the rise of communalism, partition of the country and persistence of communal politics even after independence.

The colonial contact though subversive generated social and economic forces that gave rise to nationalism and national movement in our society. In this approach the study of relationship between social structure and cultural ideology forms a relatively weaker link. It focuses on macro-historical processes, their intricate movements and patterns in the society. Some historians and social scientists show sensitively to the problem of linkages. They find macro-analysis of nationalism and national movement in India to be dominated by elitism either of liberal or Marxist variety. Such historiography of Indian nationalism suffers according to them by colonialist-elitism or bourgeois nationalist elitism an ideological product of the British rule in India. They suggest an alternative model for understanding national movement and nationalism which derives its inspiration from structuralist theory.

The national movement and the ideology of nationalism according to this view suffered in India from structural cleavages between the mass mobilization on horizontal lines and its vertical mobilization by elite nationalist leadership. The mass movement was located in principles of kinship, caste, class and territory; it was spontaneous in making and allied at social resistance against exploitation. Its mobilization was not based on formal ideological or legalistic strategy and it could change course and operation in midstream. The national movement led by elite leadership made use of such subaltern mobilization selectively. The subaltern could not forge national movement all by itself. Yet the elite leadership did not help forge these movements into a united front for social mobilization due to its own class ideology. Nationalism is a process a product of historical conjuncture of social forces through which the linkages are not only established or expanded but also qualitatively strengthened. Nationalism is therefore not a finished product nor a formal structure or normative model but an organic historical process through which civilized societies strengthen themselves by qualitative differentiation from within and their superior integration organically within a territorial boundary. According to Louis Dumont nationalism refers to the nation as a tendency inspired by its existence or as the aspiration to build up a nation.

Social Reforms

Brahmo Samaj
The most agonizing aspect of our social life which touched Raja Ram Mohan Roy and his Brahmo Samaj was against Sati system. He awakened public opinion both in India and England against Sati system. In the long run he was successful in getting sati system legally banned .Banning of the system weakened the power of priestly class and had deep effect on the Hindu society.

Prathana Samaj
The other organization which boldly pointed out our social evils was Prathana Samaj.It was opposed to orthodoxy and superstitions which had not only crept into Hindu society but were deep-rooted in it. The members of this samaj were opposed to blind faith and wanted that the women should be given equal rights to men.

Arya Samaj
Arya Samaj under Dayanand Saraswati brought to the front all that was good in the Hindu literature and thus created among the Hindus sense of pride and self respect.Dayanand Saraswati condemned idol worship and asked the people to worship one supreme God. He was also opposed to caste system and advocated inter-caste marriages. He was also opposed to caste system and advocated inter-caste marriages. He wanted that the women should be given high education and in all walks of life should be treated equal to men.

Rama Krishna Mission
Under the guidance of Rama Krishna Mission the movement started to uplift the status of women and to end casteism and untouchability.According to their philosophy proper consciousness about India's past on the one hand and spread of education and literacy on the other hand could solve many of the social problems. It revived glory of ancient India and tried to make every Indian realize that India's past was so glorious that every Indian could feel proud of it.

Indological Approach of G.S.Ghurye

Ghurye's rigor and discipline is legendary in Indian sociological circles. In the application of theories to empirical exercises or in the use of methodologies for data collection he was not dogmatic. He seems to have believed in practicing and encouraging disciplined eclecticism in theory and methodology. It would be appropriate to characterize Ghurye as a practitioner of theoretical pluralism. Basically interested in inductive empirical exercises and depicting Indian social reality using any source material –primarily Indological – his theoretical position bordered on laissez-faire.Ghurye's flexible approach to theory and methodology in sociology and social anthropology in sociology and social anthropology was born of his faith in intellectual freedom which is reflected in the diverse theoretical and methodological approaches.

Ghurye was initially influenced by the reality of diffusionist approach of British social anthropology but subsequently he switched on to the studies of Indian society from indological and anthropological perspectives. He emphasized on Indological approach in the study of social and cultural life in India and the elsewhere.Ghurye utilized literature in sociological studies with his profound knowledge of Sanskrit literature, extensively quoted from Vedas, Shastras, epics and poetry of Kalidasa or Bhavabhuti to shed light on the social and cultural life in India. He made use of the literature of modern writers like Bankimchandra Chatterjee as well.

Modernization of Indian Tradition

Modernization is a composite concept. It is also an ideological concept. The models of modernization co-vary with the choice of ideologies. The composite nature of this concept renders it pervasive in the vocabulary of social sciences and evokes its kinship with concepts like development, growth, evolution and progress. In the book on Essays on Modernization in India Yogendra Singh has analyzed the varied and complex processes involved in the modernization in India, the forces released by it and their bearing on the stability, creativity and development in India as a dynamic nation and composite civilization.

The emphasis on historicity in preference to universality defining the context of modernization the pre-eminence of structural changes in society to render the adaptive process of modernization successful in the developing countries particularly India and the eclectic nature of cultural and ideological response of India to the challenges of modernization represent some of the unifying principles. Singh portrays the challenges and contradictions that India encounters in the course of its modernization.

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