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Unity in Diversity
By Milind Sathye


The very foundation of Hinduism is the principle of unity in diversity.  This principle of unity in diversity binds India together, despite the fact that it’s a huge country with a huge population and with diversity of physical features, races, languages and religions. The population of India comprises of six main ethnic groups namely, the Negrito, Proto-austroloids, Mongoloids, Mediterranean or Dravidian, Western brachycephals and the Nordic Aryans.  India has as many as 1652 languages and dialects.  The constitution recognises 15 major languages.  The major religions of India are Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. The Indian attitude towards all living things grows out of the Hindu view of the unity or oneness of all life. Majority of Indians are Hindus. Hinduism , the scholars say, is not a religion but a way of life. Hinduism respects the right of all living beings to live. This right is brought into practice through the principle of non-violence in thought and non-violence in action.  Hinduism therefore shuns all kinds of aggression.  Mahatma Gandhi, voted as the man of the century by USA Today, was a living example of this Hindu thought.  

Unity and Diversity in The Hindu Thought 

The Hindu view of oneness of all life flows from every Hindu Scripture. It must be clarified that Hinduism does not have a founder or a prophet and hence Hindu Scriptures are a collection of the wisdom of many great thinkers of the Indus valley, evolved over thousands of years. The important among these are: 

·         The Vedas and the Upanishads: The oldest of the Vedas, the Rig-Veda, begins with a prayer  that let noble thoughts come to us from all sides.  Upanishads which form part of the Vedas are the real foundations of Hinduism.  Upanishads proclaim that the universal spirit resides in all being, whatever be their form (Ishavasyam eedam sarvam). “The Ultimate Truth or Knowledge” means the realisation that these outer appearances or forms are deceptive and that in essence all living beings are one and interconnected with each other.  Ignorance (maya) may prevent one from realising this fact. Schopenhauer, the 19th Century German philosopher, remarked ‘In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishad…The study of Upanishad has been the solace of my life and it will be the solace of my death’.

·         The Ramayan and Mahabharat: These two great epics of India also extol the virtues of universal brotherhood and compassion not only towards fellow human beings but towards all living beings.  The Mahabharata contains Bhagwad Gita (the song celestial) which is the gospel of philosophic Hinduism. It is like a manual for human conduct to dispel Maya (ignorance) and realise the Ultimate Truth, which is the oneness of all Beings.   

Unity and Diversity in the Hindu practice 

The thoughts are brought in to practice by Hinduism in several ways.  Notable among these are:

·         Not tolerance but fellowship: As the great Hindu scholar Vivekanand said ‘tolerance is blasphemy. It connotes superiority over the one who is tolerated’. Hinduism believes in fellowship, equality, togetherness or acceptance and not tolerance.  Through out the ages, Hinduism has abjured exclusiveness and has assimilated the elements of several extraneous cultures. 

·         I am OK, you are OK: Instead of taking a judgemental attitude that says I am OK,  you are not OK, Hinduism accepts and respects all religions. The temples constructed by the Ramakrishna Mission wherever in the world have symbols of all the religions of the world depicted on it signifying the respect of Hinduism for all religions.

·         Look not for differences look for similarities: The Hindu view that there is a single life force that exhibits itself in many forms, insects, animals, trees, and humans (of all hues and colour) tells that the focus needs to be shifted from picking difference to identifying similarities. Those who have seen ABC’s documentary on Zubin Mehta televised on Sunday 1st April 2001 would have heard him say that ‘it is my Indian heritage that taught me how to co-exist and create a great symphony.’

·         Not ‘divide and rule’ but unite and progress: The Hindu view is non-aggressive or non-threatening in all walks of life.  Hence the people of Indus valley have never harboured territorial ambitions.  The Hindu practice of ‘yoga’ is very popular in western countries.  The word “yoga’ literally means ‘union’ or ‘togetherness’. 


It can thus be seen that the people of Indus valley advocated inclusiveness and the oneness of all living beings many thousand years ago.  Unity in diversity was operationlised by the Hindu’s through advocating and practicing of non-violence.  

In every Hindu home just before dinner the following Sanskrit prayer is said which sums up so beautifully the Hindu view towards all living beings. 

Om Sahanvavatu, Sahanaubhunaktu, Sahaviryam Karvavahai
Tejasvinavadhitamastu Mavisdvishavahai. 

(So let us think together, let us act together, let us be victorious together
For we all belong to that great light, where there is no place for hatred).


1.       Aiyar C. P. R. (1967) Unity in Diversity and Tolerance, in Readings in Indian History Politics and Philosophy (ed.) K. Satchidanand Murthy, George, Allen and Unwin London.

2.       Fisher, M.P. (1997) Hinduism, in An Enclypedia of the World’s Faiths: Living Religions, Tauris, London.

3.       Holmes, F. R.  (1975) Indian Thought, India: Focus on Change, Prentice_Hall Inc, New Jersy.

4.       Rao, P. Raghunadha.  (1988) Indian Heritage and Culture, Sterling Publishers, Rohtak.

5.       Radhakrishnan, S. (1937) Hinduism, in The Legacy of India (ed.) G. T. Garratt, Oxford University Press, Claredon.

(Presented at the Multicultural Queensland Conference, Toowoomba held in April 2001)




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