I am reading Shyam Saran's How India sees the world. I came across this paragraph which talks about the "sense of being Indian":

There is an immemorial and abiding sense of affinity drawn from a geography cosmic in origin but reflected in the physical attributes of the subcontinent. This is intrinsic to the sense of being Indian and is anchored in the geography of the subcontinent. This sense of affinity is overlaid by a modern nationalism but has echoes of the mental map inherited from the past. Overcoming the fragmentation of this historical and cultural space is the challenge. The idea of making subcontinent whole again is powerful driver of India's foreign policy behaviour

I am not sure what the author means by ". . . drawn from a geography cosmic in origin but reflected in the physical attributes of the subcontinent". I am really curious to know what is actually encompassed by the "sense of being Indian". Has anyone read the book and understood what that paragraph means?


Shyam Saran means that there is a disconnect between the mythology of the subcontinent and its current political geography. He argues that most Indians strongly feel the drive to reconcile the two. He says that this drive also underwrites India's foreign policy.

The following ideas and beliefs illustrate the "cosmic origins of India's geography":

Such myths are what Saran refers to when he speaks of "a geography cosmic in origin but reflected in the physical attributes of the subcontinent". These examples are all from Hindu mythology, but the sense of a cosmically unified continent is so widespread that even the Muslim Muhammad Iqbal, the poet who was among the first to broach the Two-Nation Theory that led to the Partition of India, could write of the Himalayas as the guardian of the entire region of Hindustan:


پربت وہ سب سے اونچا، ہمسایہ آسماں کا
وہ سنتری ہمارا، وہ پاسباں ہمارا


परबत वो सबसे ऊँचा, हमसाया आसमाँ का
वो संतरी हमारा, वो पासबाँ हमारा


parbat vo sab se uu.Nchaa, ham_saayaa aasamaa.N kaa
vo santarii hamaaraa, vo paasabaa.N hamaaraa

Translation (mine):

That tallest mountain, the companion of the sky
that is our sentry, that our sentinel.

Saran says that this sense of a cosmically unified region prevails particularly in modern India, and its citizens yearn for a political reunification of the entire subcontinent as well. The irredentist concept of Akhand Bharat, an undivided India, is one example of their wanting to overcome "the fragmentation of this historical and cultural space". Saran argues that consciously or unconsciously, the desire to reconcile the cosmic unity and political disunity of the subcontinent defines "the sense of being Indian"; and that explicitly or tacitly, it is one of the chief drivers of India's foreign policy.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.