Culture And Communication In India

Contemporary Relevance of Indian Classical Texts




अनुद्वेगकरं वाक्यं सत्यं प्रियहितं च यत्।

स्वाध्यायाभ्यसनं चैव वाङ्मयं तप उच्यते।।17.15।।

The discipline of speech and knowledge of underlying

reality bring harmony and welfare for all

Bhagvadgita 17.15

Sabdanusanam means the discipline of words. It also stands for the science of grammar. Sabdanusanam was the subtitle of Indian grammarian Panini’s classic text, Ashtadhayi, believed to have been composed around 550BC. Ashtadhyayi is considered as the most important grammatical text of ancient India and the world. Patanjali’s Mahabhasya, considered the second most important grammatical text, was composed around 150 BC,is an exhaustive exposition of the 4,000 aphorisms Ashtadhyayi. The Mahabhasya also begins with a consideration of the term Sabdanusanam, and its relevance for communication in the society. The focus of both the texts is on using the right word in the right place to achieve success and happiness in life.

The importance of using good communication for cohesion of people, and knit people with their immediate environment and beyond was never more urgent than today. We are all witness to instances of bad communication disrupting the bond of trust between people. The critical risk from miscommunication is not only in the realm of social relations, but also in legitimacy and sustainability of social and political cohesion. When public discourse of a country gets vicious and partisan, democratic society as a whole starts to fall apart. The loud-mouthed rhetoric based on half-truth instead of bringing people together breeds anger, hatred and division in society.

Fury and incomprehension of words erodes the minimum standards of courtesy and mutual respect in communication, specially in the cyberspace. Such violent language achieves its impact by denying any complexity, conditionality, or uncertainty. It exaggerates wildly to make its point. It is built on a presumption of bad faith on the part of the other person. It accepts no responsibility to anyone to explain anything to anybody, but instead treats the facts as they were a matter of opinion. In still many more cases, when the words are not violent or offensive, they are still inane. This is true particularly of academicians and journalists. They speak compulsively, mechanically, in jargons. They use many and big words for few and small things. Their debates, and writings are nothing but words reacting to words with little sense of relevance and reality.

A holistic and dynamic view of communication on the other hand is one that joins, links, coordinates and brings people together. Not in the sense of monotonous uniformity, and not in the sense of erasing all the differences, but in the sense of unity in diversity, shared commonalties along with differences. One way we can frame communication is to describe it as holistic, innermost and multidimensional coordination. That is, communication that originates from all dimensions of being – physical, emotional, rational, cultural, and spiritual, and seeks to reach out to as many aspects as possible of the listener. Inherently, then, all communicators should use inclusive approaches and language that evolve out of a clear understanding of the wider social and universal context of the speaker and the listener.

A primary assumption of this view is that the Sahridyata or identity we so earnestly seek does exist in all communication. Our ideas, feelings, and beliefs spring from the rich foundation of our common humanity and cosmic identity; at the most fundamental level, we are part of the same fabric of being amidst all existence. Conflict may therefore be due to misperception between different manifestations of the same unmanifest reality, and communication can be viewed as coordination to accommodate and integrate multiple manifestations of the ultimate reality. However, regardless of how that accommodation and coordination is defined, the commonality principle has been understood and practiced by very few, and there is instead a strong tendency to put people into different, hierarchical and even opposing categories. The objective of integral communication is to understand and appreciate the universal aspect of being, and the interdependent nature of everyone and everything.

It is the premise of this project that the negative trends in communication stem from a complex web of social, political, and cultural factors that go beyond any individual, ideology or situation. To find a solution to this problem we need to look within and examine the disconnect between the roots of language in the Indian society and the use to which language is being put by people who are unaware of the India’s linguistic tradition of Sabdanusanam- discipline of words. It is in this context that the classical texts on communication in India need to be explored and relevant ideas adopted for integrative and accommodative communication. Exploration of Indian intellectual tradition in communication is also relevant in the context of the emerging trend of scholars’ challenge from the non-Western world against the appropriateness of Eurocentric paradigm of communication being used in non-Western societies.