Bahudha: The Alternative Way of Living

The world is witnessing several clashed in the name or religion, region, community and caste.  Is there an alternative to these clashes?  What is the way to harmonious living? Can India show the way in this?  The Ministry of Culture has assigned an ambitious project “Bahudha: Framework of Public Policy of Harmony” to Shri Balmiki Prasad Singh, a distinguished civil servant and well-known scholar.  The IGNCA is the tool agency, which is carrying out the project, under Shri Singh.Shri Singh, educa5ted at the universities of Patna and Oxford is well-versed in the texts and traditions of India.  He has been the recipient of several awards and fellowships, including the Jawaharlala Nehru Fellowship (11982-84).  Over the past 40 years he has held a variety of important positions within Assam as well as in the Government of India including Culture Secretary and Home Secretary.  He was until recently Executive Director and Ambassador at the World Bank representing India, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Three major events of last fifteen years in the world have compelled him to draw the Bahudha philosophy as an alternative framework of communal harmony.  And “each event” according to Shri Singh, “has made deep impact on lives of millions of people in the world and on the course of future hisotyr.  They are, the breaking down of the Berlin Wall, the return of Hong Kong by the British to China, marking the end of colonialism in Asia and the terrorist attack on America, now known as 9/11 terror strike.

The underlying philosophy in all the three incidents is the capacity (or the lack of it) to understand and accept differing and different cultures and values.  Bahudha, accroding to Dr. singh stems from the Rig Vedic hymn ‘Ekasm Sad Vipra Bahudha Vadanti.’

Shri B.P. Singh expalins, “I imagine this approach of ‘one truth, many interpretations’ was formulated by our rishis both in order to understand the complexities of natural objects and their inter-relatioships and for harmonious living in society among peoples of many-side beliefs and practices and each claiming superiority over the other.”

“The Bahudha approach is central to the generation of an attitude which creates an environment for harmony among communities and religions, harmony between nature and humans, and enables a person to understand another’s point of view about life and religion, science and spirituality.  Whether one reads India’s great national epics or travels though the length and breadth of its sacred geography, one is struck by the fact that neither our literature nor our places of worship emphasize a singularity of approach to truth.  The idea of ‘one of the many’ is central to this thought process,” he says.


However, he does not deny the conflict between cultures, religions, philosophies, etc., but at the same time tries to draw the link of communal harmony among peoples though Vedic texts, teachings of Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Christianity, orientation and approaches of saints and seers, speeches of great spiritual leaders and thinkers like Gandhi, Tagore, Vivekananda.

The fundamental question facing the world is ‘How to live’?  The need to work for harmony among peoples and for the spread of democratic governance are widely felt tasks.  How could love and compassion be made to prevail over oppression and exploitation?  How could people in different countries be made masters of their own destiny?  the very concept of living together is reflected in the Indian way of life right from the Vedic period.  It finds expression in our culture, literature, and folklore.

Shri Singh presents a thought provoking statement about the eternality and historicity of the Indan pluralism and says, “The pluralist approach towards all life and every human life is at the heart of India’s civilizational endeavours.  The life is at the heart of Idnia’s civilizational endeavours.  the Vedas and Upanishads as well as the oral traditions are full of ideals propagating harmonious ways of thinking.  All these have invariably emphasized on inclusiveness among all people, all societies, all natural objects including water, the earth and the sky.  It also talks about unity of mind.  This approach has been both an idea and a reality.  The existence of plurality as an idea helps us understand our cultural diversity and incredible ethnic, religious and linguistic varieties.  As a reality, it enables us to participate in this diversity.  In my view, it is not simple tolerance for others’ points of view but seeking of understanding.”

The saints and seers of the Vedas, for example, had very clearly tried to create the atmosphere of harmony and peaceful society.  For example, during the Vedic period Sabha was a body of village elders and it assisted the janasya gopah.  Samiti was a general assembly in which all the members of the community participated.  Its main function was to elect the ruler.  The remarkable fact about all these assemblies was that women also participated in it.  Sabha and samiti are depicted as the two daughters of Prajapati and especially samiti ahs been termed as narista, that means a place where intellectual discourses or discussions can be made.  Sardh, vrat and gana are the three other assemblies to which there are a number of references.


Vedic seers used a fascinating term, madhyamsiriv, i.e. in case of indecision, the elders should opt for the middle path to maintain harmony and solve problems.  So the Vedic period assured a balance and an ordered civil society.


An IGNCA team under the visionary leadership of Shri B.P. Singh has already started working in this project .  Literature survey is on, and a tentative outline has been drawn up to present the findings of the project in the following headings: The World Today; Origin and Meaning of Bahudha Philosophy; The Vedic World View; Manifestations of Bahudha Philosophy in India; Framework of Public Policy of harmonious living; Meaning of Religion; Education Policy; UN System: Global Political Architecture; The Culture of Bahudha and Future Perspective.


By Dr. Kailash Kumar Mishra

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