A Forgotten 120-Year-Old Whitepaper on Introducing Sanatana Education in Indian Schools

At the height of British colonial rule in 1902, a fine Hindu thinker, Sri Sundararaman authored a brilliant essay advocating the introduction of Sanatana education in our schools to combat the Bible education that was fast spreading.
A Forgotten 120-Year-Old Whitepaper on Introducing Sanatana Education in Indian Schools

Note

The most prominent and recurrent refrain of Sri Dharampal was to study the history of India of the last two hundred and fifty years with the seriousness, depth and detail that it deserves. While Islamic invasions followed by almost a millennium of oppressive Muslim rule altered Bharatavarsha forever in uncountable ways, the damage and change that British colonialism wrought has proven far more enduring. Indeed, it remains so enduring that we are still unable to even grasp its essentials, let alone come to terms with it.

As we repeatedly mention in The Dharma Dispatch, education has been a primary fount of this damage and the profound ongoing tragedy is the fact that it remains un-redressed. Our ongoing researches in this area have yielded a rather remarkable essay published in April 1902 that we unearthed from our archives. In the contemporary idiom, the essay is akin to a whitepaper. Its primary focus is to usher in what the author calls “religious education” in schools. As you will read, what the author really advocates is an undiluted Sanatana education of which he is an undoubted champion.

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The essay is remarkable for multiple reasons among which the most prominent is its foresight on the practical side of such an education. For example, the author correctly observes that the “introduction of religious education in the form in which the Bible is taught in Christian Colleges and schools cannot produce the intended effect of checking the evils of Christian conversions.” It is also noteworthy for its courage given the fact that at the time it was written, India was deeply colonized and the British were pretty frank and brazen about their “superiority” and the “right” to rule India.

This is the first part of an ongoing series. Minor editorial changes have been made to suit the contemporary audience.

Religious Education in Indian Schools

In modern India, all forms of organized public activity are apt to be spasmodic. While the great masses of the people run their predestined course of struggle for daily bread according to the opportunities available to them from time to time and then turn their thoughts heavenward in contented and silent resignation during the intervals of rest from toil, some highly educated men who enjoy office, emoluments, comfort and leisure seek out a hundred opportunities for making a stir in the minds of the few who are akin to them in tastes, pursuit, and aims. The leaders as well as the rank and tile of this cultured minority of Indian Society create but very little impression on the immense population around them on whose behalf they work and for whom they speak. Their views and feelings find expression in a language unknown to the millions, they produce little or no effect on the practical life of Society at large, or any section of it.

We have to point out that in regard to the agitation for the introduction of religious instruction in the schools and colleges maintained or aided by the state, there is also great deal of unreality, though arising from very different causes. The cry for religious education is founded on the vague impression in the minds of some educated Hindus that thereby they can put an end both to Christian Conversions and also to the tendency to adopt European fashions in regard to food, clothing, hair-dressing, &c. But we believe that the introduction of religious education in the form in which the Bible is taught in Christian Colleges and schools cannot produce the intended effect of checking the evils above mentioned, or even of transforming those who remain within the pale of orthodoxy.

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We purport to explain our reasons for holding these views, and then to state what we consider the proper methods of giving religious instruction in Hinduism to our young men with a view to promote a truly spiritual life among them and in order to give both Aryavarta and the rest of the world the benefit of our well-meant and well-directed efforts to promote the knowledge of the light and life that is eternal peace, joy, and freedom.

The Religion of the Rishis

The religion of the Rishis is presented to us in two aspects. These are the practical and the philosophical aspects of the Aryan religion. The practical aspect concerns the duties of life and consists of two parts, viz, the ceremonial, and the ethical and social. This practical aspect of Hinduism is what is known as Dharma, or Karma, or Yoga—all of which are synonymous terms, though they may be used also with special reference to some particular portion of the entire code of duties.

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With the Hindus, all human duties have one and the same source, viz, the authority of the Sruti and the Smriti, i.e., the scriptural injunctions of the divine sages and teachers who have known and taught the truth. We reason about Dharma and Adharma only to ascertain what the prescribed duties are, to reconcile apparent contradictions, and to unify the whole into a consistent scheme of life. But we ought not to alter them, and we are bound to observe them in our daily life.

Maharshi Vishwamitra: Rama and Lakshmana
Maharshi Vishwamitra: Rama and Lakshmana

Without the purification of mind, heart and nature, no man can become fitted for the inquiry into, and the practical realisation of, the ultimate philosophical truths of Vedanta. That purification can only be obtained by placing one’s self under the discipline of a properly qualified preceptor or Guru, who decides what sort of discipline would best suit his several disciples.

The Vedic Scheme of Social Organisation

The founders of the Vedic religion have laid down a comprehensive scheme of social organization which includes all the distinctive types of human life and thought found in all existing communities. In ancient India that scheme was carried out in its entirety in what is known as the four Varnas and Asramas. We no longer have that social scheme at work now in India, and we must not judge what it was by the ruins of it now existing in India.

We have ample justification for holding that the ancient Aryan social organization had an amount of elasticity and solid unity of which we can now form only a vague idea from the records we have. Under that organization, Gurus or spiritual preceptors admitted disciples from both the “twice born” and other Varnas, which is clear from the several examples mentioned in the sacred literature of the Arya community. Without this arrangement it would have been difficult to preserve the social solidarity which was characteristic of Ancient India.

In the present epoch of renovated energy and hope which has now commenced, and under the democratic ideas which are now dominant among large numbers of educated men, anybody who has eyes can easily see t hat thoughtful Hindus realise that the elastic Hindu social system above mentioned is not inconsistent with true progress. If we have patience and faith, we can truly renovate Hindu Society and secure to us the social unity we require.

To be continued

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