In his book Gods and Politicians, Bruce Grant, former High Commissioner of Australia in New Delhi, observed: ?India is a place from which no traveller returns unchanged? of the countries I know well India is the most sensual. It is the evocation of things seen, heard, touched tasted and smelled, rather than intellectual recall, that enables me how best to remember it? It is an experience, an idea, a word meaning, many things to many people.? India is one of the few countries of the world, which has a very ancient culture and civilisation. It is distinctive for its antiquity and continuity. Apart from its own vitality, the continuity of India is largely due to its ability to adapt to alien ideas without losing its own identity. Her constant contact with the outside world also gave India the opportunity to contribute to other civilisations.
Every country has its own uniqueness and individuality, which is mirrored in its academic, social and cultural life and pursuits. This can be termed as its ?mind? or ?collective consciousness? which determines attitudes and directs the gesture of its people. While India never lost sight of the necessity of the material and intellectual dimension of life, she laid a particular emphasis on the moral and spiritual aspect. This spiritual dimension was non-existent in other countries until two thousand years ago, and then it developed only as an adjunct of religious dogmatism attached to a particular prophet and his set of religious tenets.
Spiritualism in India meant a dedication of one'slife to the perfection of soul or self-realisation. Of all the countries of the world, India alone, with all the hypocrisy and cant attributed to it by some foreign and even Indian writers, justifiably or otherwise, allows and even encourages search and research in the spiritual field as a worthy whole-time profession. The Indian philosophical tradition, from the period of Vedas up to the modern time, presents a glorious record of reflection on man'snature and his destiny. Spinoza has correctly said that ?the intellectual love of God? is a summary of Hindu Philosophy.
Indian civilisation is essentially religious. It is engaged in a continuous and sincere pursuit of the sacred. People of India have strong sense of individuality and at the same time, a sense of society at large, which enables them to think in terms of the common interests of groups and classes. Spread over a huge geographical area ?Indianism? that is the essence of a polymorphous culture, is difficult to define. It acquires different postures and modes according to taste, attitudes and mental sets of different groups and people united by a typical acceptance of certain constant social and cultural factors, such as the caste system, the belief in the cycle of successive lives, and sense of nationhood.
Aristotle (greater part of 4th century BC) had inborn contempt and prejudice for Asiatics and Indians. Ignoring Kautilya, who was chronologically near and comparable to him, Aristotle used to address Asiatics as barbarians. He conceded that natives of Asia are intelligent and inventive, but they are wanting in spirit, and therefore, they are always in a state of subjection and slavery. Those who have read the accounts of early English travellers to India, came to believe that the Hindus were like ?fiendish race? or ?a lesser breed without law?. Reputed ideologists like J.Z. Holwell, Alexander Dow, N.B. Halhed, Charles Wilkins, Max Mueller, William Jones and scores of others, however, proved that such a belief was wrong. Max Mueller remarked: ?If, I were asked under what human sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which will deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant?I would point to India.? Similarly, in his profound work: The Story of Civilisation, Pt. 1: Our Oriental Heritage, Will Durant has said that ??this is the India that patient scholarship is now opening up, like a new intellectual continent, to that western mind which only yesterday thought civilisation an exclusively European thing?. Again, in the same book Durant cites a European philosopher who believed that ?Indian wisdom is the profoundest that exists?, and also quoted the statement of a great novelist: ?I have not found in Europe or America, poets, thinkers and popular leaders equal or even comparable to those of India today.?
Deterioration of Indian art, culture and thought started with the decline of Gupta Period (500 AD), which is known as the ?Golden Age? of India. Most of the energy and imagination of Indians was dissipated in maintaining the purity of their blood by imposing certain restrictions on the intermingling of the people of alien races. This attitude was further reinforced by various rituals, caste consciousness and untouchability.
In medieval India, the intellectual life was embodied in the teachings of Hindu and Muslim mystic saints. Most of them denounced idolatory, caste system and untouchability. They also condemned polytheism and believed in one God. Seventeenth Century marked the period of climax of India'smedieval feudal culture. At the beginning of the 18th century the Mughal structure began to crumble. The Britishers took the fullest advantage of the weakness and follies of the Indian feudal rulers?Hindu and Muslim alike. Thus, another era of oppression started from 1757 onwards.
From the last decade of medieval period to the beginning of the modern times, Indian thought is found to be in the grip of darkness. No notable progress in the realm of thinking was noticeable at this time. Political subjugation brought all-round demoralisation to Indians. The English education in India, as introduced by British rule, influenced the minds of educated men to a great extent. They became great admirers of everything western and in course of time came to develop an inferiority complex and an attitude of contempt towards the great religious and cultural traditions of their own country. This was the first time, perhaps, that the Indian mind was thrown off its balance. Even the Muslim invasions and conquests had not produced a result of this kind. Indian scholars took great interest either in elaborating western concepts or in getting endorsement of their ideas in western literature. This ?dependence proneness? or ?follower syndrome? of Indians increased so much so that their own reasoning ability and creativity were blunted and stifled. As Shils (1960) has pointed out, the effectiveness and productivity of Indian intellectuals got more restricted than their capacities made it necessary.
The architects of 19th century renaissance reinterpreted the religious scriptures and made vigorous efforts at synthesizing tradition and modernity. Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1720-1833), the father of Indian recovery and perhaps the first modern man in India, powerfully pleaded that he was not opposed to ?Brahminism? in its original form, but to a perversion of it. The greatest contribution of the 20th century Indian thinkers is that they gave social content to the spiritual tradition. They took an integral and all-comprehensive view of life and existence. The idealistic tradition of the west and the Christian ideal of love and social service found expression in their writings. Unlike the 19th century reformers, the 20th century thinkers have made tremendous impact on the entire Indian Society. It is fast shedding its rigidity, ?holier than thou? attitude and traditional approach to deliverance. Tagore has beautifully expressed this in his own poetic style:
?Deliverance is not for me in renunciation.
I feel the embrace of freedom in a thousand bonds of delight.?
Those Indian writers who have settled abroad have, by and large, painted a dark, gloomy and negative picture of India. To V.S. Naipaul India is wounded beyond recovery. Indians have stunted ego and they are incapable of creative work. This is too pessimistic a portrayal of Indian mind. Khushwant Singh is forthright in his comment that Naipaul'sbook: India?A Wounded Civilisation presents a totally negative picture of the country and the illustrations have been so chosen as to fit into his preconceived notions of India. Foreign Indian writers don'tvisit India for decades during which India acquires a very different landscape. Therefore, their writings remain superficial and unreal. Because of their outmoded knowledge they fail to address themselves to the major and vital issues India is facing today. India may be a wounded civilisation but it has immense power of resistance and recovery.
?The utmost creed of India?, says Tagore, ?is to find the one in the many, unity in diversity. India does not admit difference to be a conflict, nor does she espy an enemy in every stranger. So she repels none, destroys none, and strives to find a place for all in a vast social order. She acknowledges every path and recognises greatness whenever she finds it. Since India has this genius for unification, we do not have to fear imaginary enemies. We may look forward to our own expansion as the final result of each new struggle. Hindu and Buddhist, Muslim and Christian shall not die fighting on Indian soil. Here they will find harmony.? Thus, the Indian people have an enormous sense of accommodation and assimilation.
The spirit of modern India is something like the ?spirit of nature? itself. It is ever new, constantly changing, yet old. While Indians are actively engaged in their pursuits of scientific achievement, the Vedas and Upanishads will continue to fascinate and inspire them. Their search for the ultimate continues without losing interest in the mundane pursuits. Meanwhile, they will bear the weight of poverty with their characteristic quietness and contentment. Mahatma Gandhi'sconcept of ?Ram Rajya? will always lure and inspire them more than the Marx's?dialectical materialism.? And, perhaps, their means will be as important as their ends. Yet, what India represents today is the emergence of new ?Sarvodaya Civilisation?, not merely the continuation of the old ?Varanasharam Dharam?.
The famous philosopher and historian Arnold Toynbee is quite reasonable in this assertion that ?at this supremely dangerous moment in human history, the only way of salvation for mankind is an Indian way. Here we have the attitude and the spirit that can make it possible for human race to grow together into a single family and in this atomic age this is the only alternative to destroying ourselves.?
(The author is a former Vice-Chancellor and Retd. Professor of Education, Devi Ahilya University, Indore. He can be contacted at K-404, Shalimar Township, A.B. Road, Indore.)