From the post-World War II decolonization to
about mid-1980s, mainstream development
thinking has focussed on ‘economics’, on the
one-dimensional abstraction of homo
economicus, to the exclusion of all else: specially
the socio-cultural context in which development
might take place. This divorce of ‘development
from ‘culture’, however, was "poor economics"
—a hard fact, which the international community
has come to discover gradually, experientially.
"The United Nations too was not found wanting
inits shared concern for culture. On 21 January
1988, it launched — under the aegis of Unesco
— "The World Decade for Cultural Development’
in its effort to chiefly (a) strengthen awareness
of cultural dimension of development, and (b)
enrich cultural identities the world over.
In the Indian capital, the Indira Gandhi National
Central for the Arts (IGNCA) has initiated a
multidisciplinary discourse on development
issues vis-a-vis the whole range of cultural
variables and definitions. Which its newly
introduced series : Culture and Development
proposes to cover in entirety.
This inaugural volume, thematically focussing
on "Interface of Cultural Identity and
Development", comprises 23 presentations of a
Unesco-sponsored meeting of experts: 19-23
April 1993 at IGNCA, New Delhi. Highlighting
the basic distinctions that exist between
anthropocentric and cosmocentric approaches
to the question of cultural identity and
development, the authors reflect on what
constitutes culture and development not per se,
but as an integral holistic notion of culture and
lifestyle, culture and development, culture and
region, culture and linguistic/ecological
identities, and how some of the viable alternative
development paradigms could be evolved from
the convergence of mystical ancient insights
and modern science.
Authored by eminent anthropologists,
sociologists, scientists and other area-specialists
from Australia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia,
Tran, Mongolia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and
Turkey, the papers here not only consider diverse
theoretical issues of cultural identity and
development, but also set out case studies in
different field situations.
Baidyanath Saraswati, an anthropologist of
international eminence, is Unesco-Professor at
the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts,
New Delhi. And is former Professor of
Anthropology at the North-Eastern Hill
University; Fellow of the Indian Institute of
Advanced Study: and Visiting Professor at the
universities of Ranchi and Visva-Bharati.
Professor Saraswati's published work comprises
a number of books and monographs, among
which notably figure Pottery-making Cultures
and Indian Civilization; Brahmanic Ritual
Traditions, Kashi : Myth and Reality; and
Spectrum of the Sacred — besides his edited
titles. like Tribal Thought and Culture, Prakrti :
Primal Elements — the Oral Tradition, Prakrti:
Man in Nature; Computerizing Cultures; and
Cross-Cultural Lifestyle Studies.
One of the major programmes of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts is the
lifestyle studies which aim at exploring all fields of cultural knowledge with a view
to understanding the functioning of various communities in their totality. In 1989,
an international Workshop on "Cross-cultural Lifestyle Studies with Multimedia
Computerizable Documentation’, was organized under the aegis of Unesco. The
proceedings of the Workshop have been published in two volumes. The deliberations
on general concepts, theories, and methods, were followed by a series of pilot studies
of various cohesive communities in different parts of rural India. Each of these
studies pointed out not only the processes of inevitable change but the pace and
speed of change. All societies undergo change, adopt, assimilate and reject influence.
However, trauma on the individuals and societal psyche occurs when pace is
artificially accelerated or there is only an external impetus. Identity crisis is sense
of loss of what is most precious in a human being. It is a matter of gratification that
Unesco responded again to this concern of the IGNCA and facilitated a Meeting of
Experts in April 1993, toexamine the question of cultural identity, and tothink about
issues revolving around that other crucial word ‘development’.
The broad area of cultural identity is, indeed, complex since it requires one to
ask, initially, questions about the ‘self and the ‘other’. It means covering a whole
range of variables and definitions; the notions about the self — individual and
collective — and the cultural ‘other in terms of whether one is referring to
economic, social or cultural dimensions. These debates are very active in the West,
and elsewhere, wherever the idea of ‘development’ and ‘progress’ has taken roots.
Closely linked with the crisis of cultural identity, are developmental issues
which seem to take for granted the primacy of socio-economic man, and that, too,
within the context of nation-state notions. But in doing so, it, in its very logic, tends
to sow the seed of fragmentation, conflict, and crisis. This is so because it implies a
confrontation between several interests, especially, between the individual self and
society — the ‘other’ — at many levels.
The area of cultural identity in this seminar, brought to the fore, the basic
distinctions that exist between two world-views; one, the anthropocentric approach,
and the other, the cosmocentric viewpoint. It seemed that cultures could be
defined in these terms, as seen in their lifestyle within the content of the ecological
environment. For example, cultures of the cohesive traditional communities, and
those of the modern world, are clearly distinguishable. The attributes of the
former, often referred to as preliterate, preindustrial societies, are characterised by
the whole gamut of variables attributable to oral traditions; viz., a lifestyle discernible
in their dress and food habits, music and dance, habitat, rites-de-passage and
above all, in these cultures, the distinction between the individual and society is
not only blurred but it is not one of confrontation as is the case in modern society.
It does not mean that uniqueness and diversity are absent; it means that there is
great deal of interdependence within the cohesive community. On the other hand,
in modern societies while great emphasis is given to the individual personality, yet,
at the same time, he/she has to conform to the other — society — in terms of some
impersonally imposed standardization and homogenization that arises out of a
monolithic world-view. Briefly, then, these are some of the problems which as well
confront the developing world today.
Clearly, one sees that today there cannot be just one universal model of
development that can be applied to all cultures everywhere. The diverse nature of
humanity, and the ecological environment which is essentially linked to this world-
view, has to be taken into account by the ‘developing’ world. We are all well aware
of the disastrous consequences of a homogenized global village, and, consequently,
the increasing violent demand for cultural autonomy in many parts of the world.
Not only are alternate paradigms needed to be evolved, but a reconsideration of the
instrumentalities — ranging from policies and programmes, industry and technology
— has to be urgently taken up. Of course, focus on the convergence of mystical
ancient insights and modern science has to be noted in seeking alternatives for the
crisis of cultural identity and development.
Can a particular life-style be superior to, or more satisfying than, another? Can the
life-style of another culture (in its widest anthropological sense) be adopted without
disturbing one’s own cultural identity? Can a people's cultural identity remain
absolute, independent and eternally valid? Can a true assessment of the human
world be made without examining its internal realities? If the answer to all these is
in the negative, then there emerges the need and possibility of a paradigm shift in
The twenty-two essays collected here are based on a Unesco-sponsored meeting
of experts on ‘Interface of Cultural Identity and Development’ held at the Indira
Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, on 19-23 April 1993. The meeting
aimed at: (a) rethinking universality in modern sciences and the mutually
differentiating epistemologies or world-views; (b) examining cultural identity, touching
upon aspects from grassroots sociology and cosmology to the philosophers’
metaphysics; (c) evaluating development ideologies and the crises of creative
individuals in a changing techno-cultural order, arising from the imposition of
alien paradigms on social reality; (d) identifying development processes, forms of
modernisation and methods of restoration of the moral order in relation to ecology,
economy and society; and (e) considering endogenic development models, mainly
with reference to traditional visions of one’s own cultures.
Can human imagination grasp the technical mystery of the universe?
Yes, by employing meditation, mathematics, and geometry as an unfailing guide.
The key feature of Upanisadic thinking concerns the Universe of Brahman.
What is Brahman’?
Brahman is the universal Self.
Is Brahman the creator of the universe?
Brahman itself is the universe.
How did the universe start?
The universe did not start at any particular time. It is set in eternal cycles of
creation, existence and dissolution.
How can the universe change and yet remain eternal?
Although space and time have beginning and end, both continue for ever
through a cosmological scheme that repeats itself endlessly.
Is the universe a machine called Brahman?
Not, in the Newtonian sense of a deterministic machine.
To what extent does the Upanisadic concept of the universe relate itself to
This picture of the universe is different from that of the Semitic traditions. But
it does not seem to be much at variance with modern theories in science.
The Upanisadic sages have shown that ‘One is many and many are One’, that
every part of the universe contains the whole and the whole all the parts. In such a
world-view there is no place for the notion of a universality that claims to be
exclusive, unique and chosen.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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