Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The story of Mother India

More than four millennia have passed since the many artefacts of the ancient Indus civilisation were fashioned. Yet one tiny sculpture, made by an unknown artist, still seems strikingly relevant to us today. The seal shows a seated figure on a low platform in a pose that is familiar to modern practitioners of yoga and meditation: the knees spread to the sides with the feet touching, and the arms stretch from the shoulders away from the body with the fingertips resting on the knees. Assuming the symmetrical and balanced form of a triangle, the body of the adept thus posed can endure lengthy sessions of yoga and meditation without needing to shift.

The word yoga means "to unite" and ancient yoga was intended to prepare the body for meditation through which the individual would seek to understand his or her oneness with the totality of the universe. Once this understanding was complete, people could no more hurt another living being than themselves. Today, such practices are routinely prescribed to complement western medical and psychotherapy treatments. Among the documented benefits of yoga and its corollary, meditation, are lowered blood pressure, greater mental acuity and stress reduction.

To the ancients who developed and perfected these mentally and physically challenging methods, however, yoga and meditation were tools for finding inner peace and a harmonious existence. Once you look closely, plenty more evidence points to the non-violent, peaceful nature of these early peoples. For example, the archaeological remains of the cities and towns of the Indus civilisation during its florescence from c2300-1750BC show little if any indication of internal dissent, criminality, or even the threat of war and conflict from the outside. There are no known fortifications, nor is there proof of ransacking and pillaging.

There is also an emphasis on citizenship rather than a ruling elite in this period. Indeed, archaeological evidence suggests there was, in fact, no hereditary ruler – such as a king or other monarch – that amassed and controlled the wealth of the society. Thus, in contrast to the other ancient civilisations of the world, whose vast architectural and artistic undertakings, such as tombs and large-scale sculptures, served the wealthy and powerful, the Indus civilisation leaves nothing in the way of such monuments. Instead, government programmes and financial resources seem to have been directed towards the organisation of a society that benefited its citizens.

Another feature that sets the ancient Indus culture apart from other early civilisations is the prominent role played by women. Among the artefacts we have been able to unearth are thousands of ceramic sculptures representing women, sometimes interpreted as goddesses, and, specifically, mother goddesses. This is a core element in the major religious developments of India, which are populated with goddesses – some supreme and others whose role is to complement male deities who would otherwise be incomplete or even powerless. It is thus hardly surprising that the symbol chosen for the nationalistic independence movement of the early 20th century and the establishment of India's modern democracy was Bharat Mata – that is, Mother India.

Read more on the website.

Huntington, Susan. 2010. "The story of Mother India". Guardian Series: Guides to the ancient world. Posted: November 12, 2010. Available online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/nov/12/ancient-world-india

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