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sampradaya and samskrti ...

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Culture – A western concept

The word 'culture' encompasses customs, ideas, social behavior, collective intellectual achievements passed on to successive generations etc'. Most of us are schooled in western thought processes and look at the world from that view. We do not have a direct linkage with thought processes in our ancient past.

Many of our value systems are indeed derived from the west. Though we claim them as ours, actually it is the result of us thinking like the west.

When we say culture we look for past customs, traditions, intellectual achievements, past works etc that are passed onto us as one indivisible set, that we need to follow, maintain or evolve.

But there is no such thing as 'culture' in our ancient past. There was no equivalence of this word culture in our ancient past.

In the past, we had two different words. One 'SampradAya' and another 'SaMskrti'.

saMpradAya – What we have been given collectively

Sam-pradAya means that is collectively (saM) given to us (pradA). Whatever is passed on to us is saMpradAya. It involves customs and traditions.

The way we dress is part of our saMpradAya. Different regions, castes and community groups had different saMpradAya with respect to the way we dress. It is because the way we would dress depended on climate, terrain and professional needs. Hence different regions in India had different saMpradAyas.

Several of our rituals depended on our saMpradAya. For eg. in Tambrahm community, most yajurvedis followed Apasthamba sutras, most sAmavedis followed drAhiyayana sutra. Though the grhiya sutras they followed were supposed to be common, depending on their migration patterns (sub-sects), depending on the family fortunes, rituals evolved differently. Hence the saMpradAya of different Tambrahm families even inside the same subsect, sometimes even inside the same region varies slightly.

Our worship methodologies are based on our saMpradAya. It varies from temple to temple, mutt to mutt. The way we dress our idols, the way we dress during the puja, the food that we offer to our gods all depend on saMpradAya. It varies widely. Altogether saMpradAyas are always supposed to evolve and supposed to vary.

Our food habits are part of our sampradAya. It varies based on region, availability of food, climatic conditions, professional needs etc. For those who are in coast fish is the sampradayic food. For those who are landed, rice and cereals are the sampradAyic food.
For those who did not own land, eggs, poultry, mutton and beef are smapradAyic food.

For Brahmanas, the knowledge providers, who have reduced physical work and more mental work, sattvic food that does not have too much of sugar, fat with more fiber and biotic content is the sampradAyic food. For kshatriyas, the service providers, who have a lot more physical work combined with mental work, more of fat, carbohydrates, more spices (more passionate) content, rajasik food is the sampradAyic food. For vaishyas, the material providers, more tamasic food with lot more water content is the sampradAyic food.

Often we mistake saMpradAya as saMksrti , due to the western outlook we have.

saMskrti – Our collective performance

saMskrti means our ‘collective performance’. saMskrti, our collective performance as a society defines our collective value systems. It is based on the collective moral principles that we follow. The value systems and moral principles help the society to collectively work together as a team and prosper.

How does saMskrti develop..? It develops by saMskAras. saMs-kAras are collective actions. The saMskAra develops our saMskrti. Our collective actions develop our our collective performance as a society, defines our value systems, defines our moral principles or moral compass. The aim of the saMskAras is thus to make a society to work together as a team, efficiently and effectively.

Panini answers what is a saMskAra like this “samparyupebhyaḥ karotu bhūṣaṇe”. The act that adorns one’s personality is a saMskAra. The Shabda-koṣa defines it as “saṃskārāṇāṃ guṇāntarādhānam saṃskāraḥ” — that which brings about quality transformation. The Jaiminiya sutras define saMskAra as acts which make a certain person or thing fit for a particular purpose. Acts that impart suitability by removing the sinful thoughts (pApa-ksaya) or generating a clean mind (citta-suddhi) are saMskAras.

The eight Atma gunas

A society is a team of people who work together to collectively progress the society. There are eight gunas that are required for a team to function effectively. These eight gunas are required in a society as a whole for it to work as a team, prosper and evolve.
The saMskAras are supposed to develop these eight Atma gunas. The eight gunas are dayA (compassion), kSAnti (peace), ana-asuya (without envy), sauca (cleanliness), anayAsa (fatigue free), mangala (happy minded with positive thoughts), akArpaNya (free from miserliness), asprha (free from longing or continued attachment).

These eight Atma gunas are to be developed by saMskAras, our collective actions, which will define our collective performance as a society.

These eight gunas define our saMskrti.

When someone talks of Sanatana dharma saMskrti or its culture, these eight coming out through the collective performance of our society is what should be meant. Each one of these gunas are well thought through gunas.


A sanatana dharmic society has to be filled with dayA or compassion to others. A society is a team-work. In any team, weakness of one has to be compensated with strength of another. With compassion, weakness in people gets matched with strength from others. The society is able to function better as a team.


A sanatana dharmic society has to be filled with kSAnti. For an evolving society, an order is required. For order peace is required.


A sanatana dharmic society has to be filled with ana-asuya. It has to be free from envy of each other. A society is like a team of people. In a team people don’t compete with each other. They compete with natural forces, their environment to reach their overall goals. For team-working, not being envious is a key criteria. Everyone has a role to play. No role is big or small. Envy amongst people leads to pulling down of each other or under-cutting each other and the overall society suffers. For eg. the jAti based varna dharma implementation lead to asuya amongst the castes which resulted in invaders being successful.


A sanatana dharmic society has to be clean. Sauca or cleanliness leads to society being disease free and able to prosper.

A sanatana dharmic society has to be fatigue-free ( anayAsa). It means that some members of the society should not be overworked or burnt-out, while some others enjoy.


A sanatana dharmic society has to have happy people with positive thoughts (mangala) leading to auspicious environment. It should have inspired, motivated people looking for a glorious future.


A sanatana dharmic society should not have misers or it should be miser-free (akarpaNya). People who have a miserly mind-set tend to be extremely self-centric. Though they may have dayA (compassion) in their heart, their self-centric miserly mindset makes them not to help others.


A sanatana dharmic society should not have people extremely longing or extremely ambitious (spRha) for anything. That extreme ambition or longing could be for money, power, position etc makes them hide the truth and somehow remain in power or retain money to remain where they are. As Satyam Raju once said, they start riding a tiger with their lies, with their mis-information campaign, with their deceiving and hoodwinking of people around them. If they become powerful, the entire society gets hoodwinked by their lies, by their deceit campaigns and the entire society pays for their ambitions.

History has lot of such people who were extremely ambitious from Ravana to Hitler who led their society to destruction.

Our saMskAras, our collective actions, have to make us learn and exhibit these eight gunas. Our saMskrti our collective performance has to display these eight gunas to other societies. These eight gunas help a society to work as a single team and evolve and progress.

That is the real saMskrti or the essence of what we indicate as 'culture'.

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