The Training, Character and Bequest of the Stalwarts of the New Indian Renaissance

This episode fleshes out the training, character and the legacy of the luminaries of the New Indian Renaissance. They shaped their era almost from the scratch, having no past masters to help and guide their work.
The Training, Character and Bequest of the Stalwarts of the New Indian Renaissance

Read the Earlier Episodes

Also Read
Bharatavarsha Must Consciously Reject the Western Model of Ideological Universalism and Accelerate Decolonisation
The Training, Character and Bequest of the Stalwarts of the New Indian Renaissance
Also Read
Decolonisation is a National Duty and a Hindu Civilisational Impertive
The Training, Character and Bequest of the Stalwarts of the New Indian Renaissance
Also Read
The Lost Access to the Hindu Societal Past
The Training, Character and Bequest of the Stalwarts of the New Indian Renaissance
Also Read
The New Indian Renaissance as a Guide to Decolonisation
The Training, Character and Bequest of the Stalwarts of the New Indian Renaissance

THE SUNNY TRAIT COMMON TO all the luminaries of the New Indian Renaissance is this: they were polymaths in the widest sense. In our context, they had a solid training and grasp of the Bharatiya tradition and had also mastered the Western intellectual and philosophical milieu dating way back to ancient Greece, Rome and all the way up to say, Huxley. This command enabled them to confidently hold the fort in any argument or debate with Western scholars.

An enchanting pleasure in life is to repeatedly savour their clinical demolitions of ill-informed Westerners pontificating on Hindu philosophy, culture, society and history with the omniscient air of a fundamentalist padre preaching from the pulpit. Five random names come to mind.

In terms of both volume and excellence, Mahamahopadhyaya P.V. Kane ranks first. A substantial chunk of the six thousand plus pages of his History of the Dharmasastra is a scrumptious feast of roasted Western scholarship. Of special note is how Kane repeatedly treats Dr. J. Jolly’s misinformed scholarship as if it were a football.

Likewise, Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri blazes like a lone, confident torch of truthful dissidence against the enduring hoax called the Aryan Invasion Theory. He stood apart and solitary in this courageous endeavour in a climate clouded by this colonial fog. Dr. Sastri was also among a handful of Indians who head-butted celebrated Western intellectuals of the calibre of Oswald Spengler.

In terms of sublimity, precision and unambiguity, few can match the prowess of Prof. M. Hiriyanna. He is perhaps the best model for us to learn the art and craft of how we can reinvigorate and preserve the continuity between the best ideals and traditions of Bharatavarsha and respond to ideas informed by the onslaught of Western ideas, trends and fashions. For example, when he writes that “Vedanta is the art of right living more than a system of philosophy,” we are left dumbstruck at the simple, unerring profundity of this statement. About a century ago, he predicted with equal elan the ensuing hijack of our Darshana Sastras by Western scholarly imperialism: “Owing to the impact of hostile forces and the growing secularization of life, there is a great risk of the true Indian ideal being obscured and even lost.” 

And then there is the indubitable Ananda K Coomaraswamy, whose best – and most prolific – missiles against Western mischief is found in his corpus of what is incorrectly known as “art criticism.” His essay, Indian Images with Many Arms remains a classic in the genre. Art apart, Ananda Coomaraswamy was perhaps the most pugnacious reviler of the catastrophe called education that the British had infected India with.

The final name is one of the patron saints who guides The Dharma Dispatch: D.V. Gundappa. He is unlike the four others who precede him in this list. DVG’s formal education had stopped well before his matriculation but “formal” is what it exactly means: a mere form. DVG’s true education was substantial. Just as he had sat the feet of great Sanskrit and Kannada Vidvans and Pandits in his boyhood, he had read all the volumes of Gibbon’s history of the Roman Empire twice – cover to cover – when he was just sixteen years old. He could expound on the nuances of Rta, Satya and Dharma in the pages of his Public Affairs journal with the same breezy elan that he employed to blast Western mediocrities like Rousseau and Spencer.

A WEALTHY CONTRIBUTOR to this near-supreme mastery was their early education which was entirely rooted in the traditional Hindu system. Memory, depth and error-free expertise are the greatest strengths of this system.

DVG for example, learned the alphabet by writing on sand, a practice as old as the Hindu civilization itself (see this essay in which a 16th century Italian traveler describes how young boys learned arithmetic in Gerusoppa). An impoverished R.C. Majumdar wrote and rewrote his school lessons on dried bamboo leaves.

When these stalwarts reached adulthood and took the English model of education, this early grounding made their transition relatively effortless. They quickly understood an elementary truth – English was also just another language, a highly inferior language compared to Sanskrit or any other Bharatiya Bhasha.

Secondly, purely on the intellectual plane, traditional training in the Hindu Sastra system actually broadens and embellishes an intellect already fine-tuned by the rigours of Sastric scholarship.

The truth of this statement will become evident by an honest contrast with the post-Renaissance and post-Enlightenment intellectual tradition of Europe. The kernel of this tradition is rooted in intellectual abstractions and unresolvable dichotomies based almost entirely on the vicissitudes of the material world. They are unresolvable precisely because they are worldly and operate on the plane of the intellect. They not only do not recognize a plane higher than the intellect but explicitly reject these planes. In which case, how does a profound and fundamental Darshanic framework like the Pan̄cakōśa vidyā even accessible to the Western tradition? But even on a relatively mundane level, the mistranslation of Ātma as soul is a classic marker of this Western error. In this backdrop, how does one even understand the various prefixes and suffixes to Ātma, such as Jīvātma, paramātma, Ātmānanda, Ātmōd'dhāra, etc? We shall return to this point later in this essay series.

The giants of the New Indian Renaissance had perfectly grasped precisely this fundamental contrast. We can re-quote Prof Hiriyanna’s golden aphorism that “Vedanta is the art of right living more than a system of philosophy,” to clarify this further. We don’t see this definition of Vedanta anywhere in our substantial corpus of Sutras (Aphorisms), Bhāṣyas (Commentaries) nibandhas (Digests) whose combined timeline spans a minimum of three thousand years, and is spread across various Matas, panthas, and mārgas throughout Bharatavarsha. Yet, here is Hiriyanna giving us this contemporary definition of Vedanta in the 20th century in English. Even more astounding is the fact that Hiriyanna wrote almost entirely in English. This astonishment becomes more pronounced when we recall the fact no British or European scholar who studied Hindu philosophy and was Hiriyanna’s contemporary, was able to supply this definition of Vedanta in his own mother tongue.

This is the strength we’ve lost – hopefully not permanently.

In other words, our luminaries exercised authoritative command over the strengths and weaknesses of both systems and could evaluate both with clarity and precision. And they carried out this evaluation in multiple disciplines – philosophy, art, aesthetics, language, law, literature, and epigraphy.   

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate this point. The first quote is by DVG delineating the fundamental difference between the Indian and the Western society:

“In Chapter six of the Bhagavad Gita, two types of civilization viz., Daivi or divine and Asuri or material, are described. The civilization of the West is…of the latter type. If Socrates and Plato, Wordsworth and Carlyle, Goethe and Emerson… represent that civilization, it is not then, very different from our own. But they are not its exponents. It has grown in spite of them. Their teachings have mostly been cries in the wilderness. Bigotry, intolerance, jealousy, competition, aggression, and selfishness are among the most salient features of the civilization of the West. Therefore, while assimilating it, we should beware of its evils. It has its virtues also. Unanimity, cooperation for a common cause, public spirit, and resistance to unjust aggression — these are some of the qualities that we have yet to learn from the West. We have lost sight of our ancient ideals. Our Rama and Bhishma fall flat on our own ears. We have unlearnt that love for everything our own which formed such an important character of our ancestors … Therefore, [our] duty is to assimilate these virtues from the West if they can be found there, taking care… not to mistake vices for virtues.” (Emphasis added)

The second by U.C. Sarkar offers a contrast to and describes how DVG's prophecy had come true.

A certain class of Hindus were the peculiar products of Western civilisation and Western education. They did not understand the underlying spirit or genius of the Hindu culture and religion. Nor did they understand how to accept and assimilate what is best in a foreign culture and civilisation. They were always attracted more by the exterior rather than by the intrinsic worth. It may be said that those who were really benefited by Western contact were never unwise enough to denounce their own cultural achievements and contributions.” (Emphasis added)

Overall, these stalwarts of the New Indian Renaissance and their legacy remain the best archetypes for our present attempts at decolonisation.

To be continued

The Dharma Dispatch is now available on Telegram! For original and insightful narratives on Indian Culture and History, subscribe to us on Telegram.

The Dharma Dispatch