There is no definition of art or nation that does not quickly become problematic in the Indian context, and this is indicative of the complexity of the issues at hand when we ask: in what ways do art and literature help in nation-building in India? Definitions are still manageable in the case of art and literature; here we may call art any deliberate and systematic composition that is meant for an audience, amongst which the most common forms are visual art, music, literature, theater, and cinema. However, defining the concept of a nation is much less tractable because the borders here are often more fluid than we are used to imagine: expressions of this ambiguity include neighboring countries no less than non-resident Indians, as I will explain in the course of my essay.
Hence, we should always bear in mind the distinctions between the socio-cultural nation, the political State, and the geographical country, and remember what Sunil Khilnani, amongst others, has said: the Indian nation is founded on neither history, nor geography, nor religion, nor custom, nor languagebut, instead, on an abstract idea.
[...] Nationalistic sentiments sometimes run through art even when it does not deal directly with the topic. For example, we see embedded in a number of Bollywood movies nationalistic messages, be they about “Hindustani values” in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or about an Indian mother being proud of her child singing the Indian national anthem in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. Cinema is also a relevant case in point when discussing the indistinct lines of nationalism: as articulated by Christophe Jaffrelot, “these films form the cement of communities that are distant, disparate, antagonistic, even enemies. [...]
[...] Socio-cultural movements in India and art was more of an appendage and even a product of the movement rather than its cause. (McCully) Nation-building through art and literature after independence, but only via the State The importance of the State in order for art and literature to help in nation-building becomes clear only in retrospect. Its basic function is the recognition of certain arts on the national level, as the Indian State has done with dance forms like Bharata Natyam, Kathakali, Kathak, and Manipuri. [...]
[...] Secondly, because the Indian Socio-cultural movements in India diaspora community is large, and lives, very often, as neighbour to the very people who colonised them, the need to distinguish itself (again, from their colonisers) presses all the more strongly, and finds an appropriate channel frequently only through nationalistic themes. Perhaps this is why, of all the art forms, the strain of self-conscious nationalism seems to run through literature the most. Socio-cultural movements in India Bibliography Books Allen, Richard, and Harish Trivedi: Literature and Nation: Britain and India 1800-1990, London, Routledge Guha, Ramachandra: India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy, New York, HarperCollins Publishers Hogan, Patrick Colm, and Lalita Pandit: Rabindranath Tagore: Universality and Tradition, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press Jaffrelot, Christophe: L'Inde contemporaine : De 1950 de nos jours, France, new edition, Librairie Arthème Fayard et Centre d'études et de recherches internationales Khilnani, Sunil: The Idea of India, 2nd edition, Penguin Publishing Luce, Edward: In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India, Great Britain, reprint edition, Abacus McCully, Bruce Tiebout: English Education and the Origins of Indian Nationalism, reprint edition, Columbia University Press Tharoor, Shashi: India, Delhi, Penguin India Articles Cherian, Anita: Institutional Maneuvers, Nationalizing Performance, Delineating Genre: Reading the Sangeet Natak Akademi Reports Hue, Jean-Louis: L'Inde du Mahabharata à Salman Rushdie, le magazine littéraire, Mar 2007; vol. [...]
[...] Literature provides the most eloquent example here due to the sheer profusion of languages in India. To overcome this divisive force, the Indian State supports institutions like the National Book Trust and the Sahitya Academy that facilitate exchanges between the various language communities: while the former is a State publisher that publishes books in different language editions, the latter subsidises translations from one language to another. In this manner, diversity in Indian art and literature has become a symbol of national richness instead of partition, but only with the assistance of the State. [...]
[...] However, even so, the help that art and literature lent to nation-building during the British colonial period was minimal, primarily because Indian “nationalism” itself had as its cement the common British enemy, and was thus based merely on negative cohesion. As a result, there were many divisions within the Indian itself, such as the Hindi-Urdu split. Even Rabindranath Tagore, who himself contributed so much to Indian music and literature, was sceptical of nationalism and the way it took shape in his homeland. [...]
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