The social and religious traditions in a society are the products of three main factors— environments, personalities and social groups. The course of action that famous figures of history take and the environments and the society in which they are placed give birth to traditions, social, religious, economic or political. Such traditions develop gradually and imperceptibly during the course of time. Let us study some social traditions of our country.
Family: The family was the pivot of Indian society. Joint families were common. The relations between the members were cordial. They shared a common life and the entire property belonged to the family. The head of the family was highly respected. He could punish the wrong deeds of any family member. The decisions of the eldest male member were final even in the matters of marriage. But in the modern age, these traditions are fading away. Due to the changes in the life style of the people, the joint families are breaking. The eldest member of the family is no more shown the same respect.
Position of Women: In the early Vedic Age, the women enjoyed highly respectable position in the society. Among the composers of the Vedas, names of some ladies such as those of Ghosha and Sikata Nivavara are also mentioned. All the religious ceremonies were performed by the husband and wife together. Every mother was the mistress In the household matters. Marriage was a sacred ceremony. Women had the freedom in the choice of their partners, which is proved by the performance of Swayamvara. Polygamy was rare. Widow remarriage was not prohibited. Thus the standard of female morality was very high and women enjoyed an honourable position in the society.
But there was a marked decline in the position of women in the later Vedic Age. She could not inherit property. She could not take part in political activities. A daughter began to be looked ‘upon as a source of misery while a son was a light in the highest heaven. The practice of polygamy had increased their sorrows and miseries. Position of the women in the medieval age further deteriorated. She was generally treated as inferior. Her husband was her only hope and resource. If he died, she had to remain widow. Her only chance of happiness was to bear his son. Several high castes such as Rajputs committed female infanticide. There was the practice of purdah both among the Muslim and Hindu women. Early marriage was very common. The girls were given in marriage at the age of 7, 10 or at the most 12 years. The practice of Sati was not uncommon especially among the upper caste Hindu women.
Simple Life: In the ancient times, the Indians lived a very simple life. Most of the people were vegetarians. Their food consisted of parched grams, cakes, curd, and various vegetables and fruits. The rise of Jainism and Buddhism further encouraged the people to become vegetarians. Even today, most of the Hindus are vegetarians.
The people wore simple clothes. A dhoti and another sheet sufficed for men. Sirnilar1) a simple croset and dhoti were the dress of women. The dhoti or saree was artistically worn. The clothes were made of cotton or wool. The rich wore artistic clothes generally embroidered with gold.
People led a merry pastoral life. Men and women enjoyed themselves in festive assemblies with music and dance. Dicing, drinking and gambling were the common vices.
Caste System: In the early Vedic period, the caste system in its rigid form did not exist. The word Varuna distinguished the Aryans from the non-Aryans. The modem caste names Kshatriyas and Brahmans were used in different sense altogether. Kshatriya means strong, Vipra means wise and Brahman means merely a composer of hymns. In the same family, father, mother and sons followed different occupations. But in the later Vedic Age, the whole society was divided into four Varunas or castes— Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras. The Brahmans occupied the highest place in the social organisation. Philosophers, scholars, teachers and priests were Brahmans. Next came the Kshatriyas. They were administrators, soldiers and leaders in war. The bulk of the people who were engaged in agriculture, industry trade and craft and cattle breeding were called Vaishyas. The lowest caste in the society was that of Sudras. They depended only on physical strength for their livelihood and served the other three classes. They were also looking after agriculture.
The most unfortunate feature of the Hindu society of the ancient times was the class of untouchables. They performed the menial and unclean jobs. They were criminals, hunters, fishermen, leather workers, sweepers, liquor venders etc. and were grouped as Chandals. They lived outside the villages or the towns, as their professions compelled them to do so. Gradually, distinct changes came in the social structure. The number of castes multiplied and caste rules were more rigidly observed. Now small occupational groups took the place of the older and bigger caste groups. The narrow outlook created by rigid caste system was a stumbling block in the growth of national spirit.
The Ashram system: An important tradition which began in ancient times was the Ashram System. The Grayhya Sutra and Dharam Shastras laid down a series of acts which an average man or woman was expected to perform in the whole span of his life. A man’s life, for instance, was divided into four Ashrams or periods, each of 25 years span. The first period (Brahmacharya) upto the age of 25 years was to be spent as a Brahmacharya. During this period, he was to undergo rigorous dis,cip line, learning various arts and crafts according to his tastes and requirements. During the second period called the Grahasth Ashram, a man was to live a householder’s life. He was to marry and look after his family. During the third period called the Vanprasth, he had to wean himself away from his wife and children and lead the life of a recluse. He was to render every type of social service to society and to make preparations for the Sanyas i.e. renunciation of the world. During the last period called Sanyas Ashram, he was to live as a hermit in the woods and meditate on God and attain Moksha or Nirvana.
These four Ashrams were laid down as an ideal way of leading life for human beings. There is ample evidence in the Vedic literature that some Aryans put into practice such a life. In fact, the best of the philosophical works in Sanskrit literature were produced by the ascetics and hermits who lived in the woods and meditated on the spiritual problems of life hereafter.
Asceticism: Another notable tradition of Indian society was the glorification of the ascetic way of life. An ascetic was a person who did not allow himself worldly pleasures. He believed that the life of
Tapas (austerity), Brahmacharya and detachment might lead to even greater results than the rituals and Yajnas. He renounced the worldly life and retired to the jungles to meditate on spiritual aspects of life.
This asceticism was widely preached in ancient times and it is practised by some even in the modem age.
Sanskrit language: Another important Indian tradition is reverence for the Sanskrit language. It developed in the Vedic age and deeply influenced all languages of India in vocabulary and structure. Its influence has gone so deep that scholars regard all other Indian languages as variations from the common language i.e. Sanskrit.
The earliest religion in India is Hinduism. It is rooted in the Vedas. It has developed throughout the centuries on the basis of the moral and religious ideas of many prophets, saints, philosophers and law givers of ancient
and medieval times. It is a synthesis of spiritual principles, moral precepts and practical rules of conduct. It is a way of life rather than a set creed. It is based on universal love, tolerance and sacrifice. In spite of multiplicity of gods such as Indra, Varuna, Agni, Vayu, Prithvi, Prajanaa, Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva etc. the Hindus believe in One Supreme God. The Supreme God is the creator of all, including the gods. Common belief in several hundreds of gods is an indication of the Hindu sense of tolerance and
belief in the all pervading nature of the Supreme Being. He is uncreated, self luminous, eternal spirit and the final cause of the Universe
and the power behind all force. To the Hindus, religion means the realisation of the Supreme.
Spirit: The study of scriptures, performance of rituals and practice of charity have no meaning without realising God. He is to rise above love and hatred, pleasure and pain, good and evil etc. Every man can do it by controlling his senses and the Hindu scriptures assert that every one including women and children can do it.
The personality of individual must be fully developed. A rich and vigorous life based on the four fold ideals— Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha must be pursued. Enjoyment of material goods and satisfaction of emotional and cultural need, is, therefore, inseparable part of true religious life. The Védas, the Puranas and the Epics prescribe optimistic and creative life. At the same time, man must not be a slave of passions and pleasures. Dedicating oneself to social service and upliftment of the common
Toleration: During the medieval period, in spite of the fundamental differences and tension between Hindus and Muslims, there began to flow a general current of mutual harmony and toleration in different spheres of life. In course of time, both the communities began to realise the futility of war and persecution. Gradually, a spirit of harmony and co-operation developed between them. The healthy spirit of mutual toleration found expression in the growing veneration of the Hindus for the Muslim saints. A desire for mutual understanding induced Muslims to study and translate the Hindu Sanskrit literature in the Muslim courts like those of Zainul abidin in Kashmir and Hussain Shah in Bengal. Muslim preachers and saints began to study Hindu philosophy like Yoga and Vedanta. A spirit of harmony, toleration and co-operation was visible in the growing attempts of some Muslim nobles to adopt Hindu customs while living in Hindu environment.
Tradition of Live and let live: Since times immemorial, India has been following a policy of coexistence or live and let live and not war with other countries. India sent its missions to other countries for moulding the civilization and culture of the vast regions in the continent of Asia which lie beyond the Himalayas and the sea. This cultural and colonial expansion of India beyond its natural frontiers is often termed as Greater India.