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A perennial stream of Bharatvarsha


What is Bharatiya Concept of Rashtra? At a seminar organised by the National Book Trust at the IIC in Delhi Sh. Ranga Hari, popularly known as Hariyettan in RSS, enunciates

By Ranga Hari

Many people say that nationalism is a new concept in Bharat and it has its genesis in the arrival of the British. It is not sure. In fact, nationalism as a concept is  age-old in Bharat and is embedded firmly in its culture. We find its evidence in Sanskrit literature as much as in other regional languages. In fact, many centuries before the words like nation, nationalism and nationality came into circulation in England, the word “Rashtra” finds expression in the Sanskrit Vedic literature. And it was not used sparingly. There are hundreds of Vedic “richaay” (cantos) in which the word “Rashtra” finds reference. Historically, if nationalism came about in Europe as a reactionary and strife-loaded concept 3-4 centuries ago,  in Bharat it is many centuries old and is a cooperative and creative concept. In fact, the nationalism of the West is political, whereas that of Bharat is humanist.

Vedic Times

In the Vedic literature, there is an elaborate mention of the genesis of the concept of “Rashtra”, its aim and the duties of its nationals. The concept was evolved by Vedic Maharashis for the welfare of the world and it was founded on the principles of truth, honesty, chivalry, yajna, acquiring knowledge and broad viewpoint. It was an essential duty of  the inhabitants to serve the land they live on. They would consider it their motherland and would expect it to protect them. We don’t see any political connotations in the Vedic concept of Rashtra.

Some centuries later we see similar references to the concept of Rashtra in historical  scriptures like Ramayana and Mahabharata. It is during this period that two separate concepts of state and nation evolved. But unlike the two being separate concepts as is observed in the present day definitions, the two, state and Rashtra, seemed to be overlapping in our ancient times. For instance in Ramayan when Lord Rama is exiled, his grief-stricken mother Kaushalya tells King Dashratha that “due to him state and Rashtra would be destroyed”. In Mahabharata also Yudhishtir tells his brothers that their exile they would attain their state and rashtra. It seems that during the period of Valmiki the Vedic concept of Rashtra fructified to the hilt. The expansion of motherland is more vivid in this period. Maharishi Valmiki while describing Lord Rama observes that He is firm like Himalaya and steady like an ocean. It depicts the geographical expanse of the Bharatvarsha. In another reference, however, Hanuman ji tells Lord Rama and Sugriva that they both were capable of protecting the land between the sea and Meeru-Vidhya expanse of land. In a way Lord Hanuman’s venture of getting the Sanjivni plant from far Himalaya to Lanka is a first north-south recorded travel. So the popular expression about Bharat, AAsetu Himachal” came in vogue to define the boundaries of Bharatvarsha.

In Mahabharata, this term finds wider and more explicit expression. The ashvamedh and Rajsuya yajna of Yudhishtir make it further clear.

Next, during the time period of Chanakya the definition of Rashtra becomes more concrete and definitive and while defining “Chakravarti” he says, “The land itself is the country and the immense expanse of land from the ocean to the Himalayas in the north is called “Chakravarti” region”. Before articulating this definition Chanakya must have taken a good round to all nooks and corners of the land, studied the varied habits and traditions of the people, yet he must have realised a running thread common to all. It was in this period only that we find Aitreya Brahman making a reference to “Rashtra” saying that piece of land extending up to the ocean is Rashtra”.

Sangam Literature

In the Sangam literature poet, Mangudi Marudnar in his “Pattupatu” poem addressing the king says, “Hey King, the limits of your kingdom extend up to Kumari in the south, Himalaya in the north and the ocean on the  eastern-western side”.

Almost on similar lines poet, Kurudankolliur Killar repeats the concept for Maharaja Mandaran Irrunpor. Saint Tiruvalluvar’s Tirukkurl (voice of the saints)  also resonates with it saying that ”an ideal country has oceans on its two sides, mountains on one side and abundance of rain”. Of course, the mention is about Bharat only.

Pauranic Period

The follows the Pauranic period in which Vishnu Purana says “the land on the north of ocean and on the south of Himalayas is called Bharatvarsha, and its inhabitants are Bharatiya”. The Purana converts knowledge about Rashtra into love for Rashtra (Rashtra bhakti) and makes a mention of a song which says “even deities feel that people born in the land of Bharata to attain heaven and moksha are better than them”. The writer of Brahmvaivrat Purana also says that Bharat “is different from all other countries, it is the land of Tapasya which bestows well-being to all” Markandey Puran goes a step further and says, “Bharat has four boundaries, it has an ocean on its west, south and east while it has mountains on the north giving it an appearance of a bow.” Later, the great poet Kalidas describes King Raghu’s excursions up to Kamrup in the east, up to Kerala in the south and up to Parsik in the north-east indicating the oneness of nation in his times. Even Bhas in his “Swapnavassdattam” talks about Bharat being ruled under one flag under one king.

Regional Echoes

In the later period, the concept finds frequent mention in literature written in regional languages as well. In Gujarat, Sant Narsingh Mehta sings in the same tone as does Shankar Dev in Assam. In Saurashtra, Swami Pran Nath and in Kerala, Puntan Namboodari. They all touch on Bharatvarsh and the culture of the land. Similarly, in Tamil, poet “kari Killar” describes his king as a king not of Tamil Nadu, or that of Dravid, but of the land that is extended up to the  Himalayas. So from the Vedic period to the Bhakti period, thus, nationalism was peculiar in many ways. It was for once bereft of politics. Whosoever be the king, for a common man the concept of nation was beyond the king. But the post-16th century after the Moghul invasions there was a painful disturbance in the set-up. As a large number of temples were destroyed, forceful conversions started taking place. Even in the British times, it continued unabated. But with the introduction of technology as the printing came in vogue literary writers found new idiom to convey to the people. But there was regret and disappointment among creative writers. KC Bandyopadhyay, for instance in a Bengali play, Bharat Mata Natak,  openly talks about the pathetic state of sons of the Bharatmata. Yet till the country achieved Independence one finds a large number of poems harping on the struggle for “swarajya” and “swadharma”.

Soon people like Bankim Chandra Chatterji and Swami Vivekanand infused a refreshing spirit of enthusiasm among people invoking nationalism to the core. Veer Savarkar echoed it in his poems as well. In the post-Independent India, though valour and war-cry were among the main themes, what should be the direction of new Bharat, this subject was not elaborated on.

The nationalism of Bharat has evolved from its soil. It is not a conceptualisation of barely two centuries old political thought. If there was not the name of the UK or that of Portugal on this land, the feeling of nationalism would have flourished still.

Courtesy: Organiser