India is truly a phenomenon worth pondering over. It is not a mere expanse of square miles, it is a living, thriving entity forged by the will of countless millions and tempered by the wisdom of great sages.
Bharatvarsha, as this land was traditionally called, is truly ancient. Even when the Egyptians were raising the pyramids, India was an ancient and mature culture. A highly complex civilization had blossomed in the subcontinent and flourished for centuries.
Almost five millennia have rolled by. The Pharoahs' Egypt, Homer's Greece, Darius' Iran and Caesar's Rome are dead, having become relics for scholars and researchers. But India has stood the tides of time and is a living culture still. In this sense, India is unique. Conquerors have come and gone, unleashing brute force upon her, but the culture of this land has maintained an unbroken continuity across the centuries.
Perhaps one of the most enduring legacies are the ancient texts of this culture. The sacred traditions of the Vedas and still earlier spiritual processes constantly resonate in today's life. The Vedas, the Upanishads, the epics and the many non-sectarian practical volumes that were penned by the learned men of the past are still a matter of study today. For example, the Arthashastra, written 2,400 years ago, is a text on governance and empire-building and is no less potent and relevant today, as it was when Chanakya, its author, helped Chandragupta Maurya craft and rule one of the largest empires in Indian history. Business managers and corporate leaders in India still swear by and quote passages from this and its sister text, the Chanakya Niti.
Similarly, the epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana, and the section of the Mahabarata that has become the Bhagavad Gita, are still widely read and known today. The Gita presents a religious, philosophic and ethical system of unparalleled depth. Like the sun, it carries a message of new life, infusing and stimulating the body, mind and soul with its transformative verses.
But it is the Upanishads that are the pinnacle of Indian philosophical thought and logic. The Upanishads were composed between 800 and 450 BC. They are the fruition of many discussions and debates between the sages of the past and their students. In fact, the word "Upanishad" literally means "to sit down near" and indicates that these were texts created as a result of students listening to and imbibing knowledge from their Gurus or masters. The Upanishads are called the "listened to" texts or shrutis. They represent the spiritual quest that was the hallmark of this age, when the primary goal of an individual was mukti or liberation from the bondages of life.
The scriptures in Hinduism are thus a multifarious collection representing the mundane and the esoteric, the everyday and the mystical. They form a perennial source of wisdom for Hindus today, who unknowingly draw on them through the cultural thread embedded in their psyche and way of life. Through these scriptures and the colorful tapestry that is Indian culture, the ancient sages of the past, whether Gautama the Buddha, Kautilya, Patanjali or Panini are living influences even today.