Traditional Indian Society had a very high regard for knowledge.
In any family, older people with more experience of the world and its ways had more knowledge. They were respected and their words carried weight. In their turn, they were expected to conduct themselves with dignity and unselfishly with the best interests of everyone at heart.
In such a scenario, the younger folk who had more energy and less experience served their elders. “Respect shown to elders” was a hall mark of a well brought up youngster.
In any school or gurukula, the teacher or acarya was knowledgeable and the student who knew less than that teacher, was grateful to be accepted as a student so that he could gain learning. In return for knowledge, food, stay, love, guidance and blessings, the students served their teacher with devotion and obedience.
In any marriage, the husband was not only older but also better educated and knew the ways of the world. So in worldly matters it was the husband who was respected and served, while the wife was respected and served by family members who were younger than her, in all matters relating to the household.
Among the males in the society, the brahmans had to practice austerity and focus on knowledge and the others were allowed bhoga or enjoyment of life’s pleasures, but they respected the knowledgeable brahmins who used to advise the families as well as towns and kings on what was best for society as gurus, ministers, and purohitas etc.
Even in foreign lands, you see austere priests and teachers were respected in society as were benevolent husbands and venerable elders.
The problem occurs when the subject is loyal and the king is a despot, when the student is devoted and the guru is jealous, when the wife is respectful but the husband is a chaunnist, when the youngster serves, but the elders exploit. many Indian movie “socials” have addressed this problem repeatedly with the bad guy reforming in the end and conforming to the ideal role model.
In modern times, greater knowledge can exist with the younger set (eg.. information technology), women (better educated and worldly wise), students (with better textbooks and internet connections).
This has sort of upset the traditional balance.. and at one time, you had sweet government sponsored serial showing school going children teaching their grandparents to write..
Even today it is austerity and knowledge that are respected as well as a desire to benefit society. Thus Gandhiji, a vaisya, was a mahatma, a jathi pita, the father of the nation, because of these qualities that he personified. Medha Patkar who devotes her life for the benefit of the down trodden, is a woman who is respected as is Kiran Bedi, who was the most sincere police officer and a woman.
Brilliant children preparing for exams are waited on hand and foot by their parents.. because they are “studying”.
It is hard for a self-indulgent or greedy person in our society to earn any amount of genuine respect, even today.
Even today it is austerity and knowledge that are respected as well as a desire to benefit society. These are the true purohitas and they exist in all ages, castes and genders., and they still command the respect of the small number of people who know them.
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