How Macaulayite Hindus Destroyed the Pandit System of Scholarship

A Meeting held at the Bombay University Senate in 1913, among other things, set a blueprint of sorts to destroy the time-honoured system of scholarly education that produced Pandits of the highest order.
How Macaulayite Hindus Destroyed the Pandit System of Scholarship

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THE NEO-INDIAN SCHOLAR considers himself so far above the learned of old India, that they evoke in him a complacent feeling of benignant patronage. if not of contemptuous indifference. A discussion at a meeting of the Senate of the Bombay University held in October 1913, will illustrate the attitude of "new" India in this respect.

The discussion arose out of the following letter from the Secretary to the Government of Bombay, Education Department, to the Registrar of the University:

I am directed to state that the conference of Orientalsits held at Simla in July, 1911, there was a general consensus of opinion that it was necessary while making provision for Oriental study and research on modern critical lines, to maintain side by side with it the ancient and indigenous systems of instruction, since the world of studentship would suffer irreparable loss if the old type of pandit were to die out, and that what was needed to promote this indigenous system was encouragement rather than reform.

With this object in view it has been suggested that a Sanskrit school might be established at Poona for the training of pandits. The school should be furnished with a good library to which the collection of manuscripts at the Deccan College might be transferred. The student at the proposed school would be partly pandits engaged in the acquisition of Oriental learning on the traditional lines, and partly graduates interested either in Oriental research or in extending their knowledge of the more recondite branches of Oriental studies.

The staff would consist partly of the repositories of the ancient traditional learning and partly of modern Oriental scholars. Provision would also be made for imparting an elementary knowledge of the English language to the pandit students and or the German and French languages, a knowledge of which is necessary for the study of modern method of criticism.

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In connection with this letter, an elderly Fellow of the Bombay University, who is on the borderland between old and new Indian proposed:

That Government be informed that the University is prepared to establish a branch of Oriental studies with suitable titles of distinction if arrangements are made for the teaching of this branch of knowledge generally on the lines indicated in the Government letter.

This proposal met with a storm of opposition which was led by a prominent representative of New India. So far as I can gather, his reasons for opposing it are:

First: The traditional mode of learning developed the faculty of "cramming."

Secondly: It was adverse to "liberal education."

"The old traditional learning," said this gentleman, "would not stand the test of modern ideas. They should leave the pandits to take care of themselves. If Government desired to give them encouragement let them do so, but the University should have nothing to do with them. He did not want traditional learning at the expense of liberal culture."

Poor pandits! The fact that such men as Bhaskaracharya, Ramanuja, Ramananda, Madhavacharya, Chaitanya, Isvara Chandra Vidyasagara, Bapudeva Sastri and Dayananda Sarasvati have come from their ranks in comparatively recent times should have afforded food for reflection to men who have any pretension to ''liberal education."

There are defects in the indigenous system of education but it is not so harmful, nor does it compare unfavourably with the system of English education in vogue among us today. There is no less "cramming" among us than among the pandits. They exercise their memory to be thorough, we do so merely to pass examinations. Thoroughness and profundity are writ large on the brow of the pandits, as superficiality and shallowness on ours.

I am not sure that we can reasonably boast of superior discriminative capacity, when we remember that a good portion of our time has been consumed in committing to memory such things as the feats (with dates) of glorified assassins, murderers, freebooters, and swindlers.

A tree is to be judged by its fruit and I have grave doubts if the fruit of the exotic Western tree is markedly superior to that of the indigenous plant that we can despise it and leave it to perish.

The pandit is the embodiment of a high cultural ideal which actuates but few of us. He is but little influenced by commercial considerations. He not only imparts education without any fee but also feeds his pupils. Though Brahmacharya has undergone considerable relaxation of late, the physical and mental discipline they are still subjected to is far more wholesome than what is enforced in our English schools.

Physically, intellectually, and morally the average pandit does not compare unfavourably with the average product of English education. I doubt if the pandits as a body are more narrow-minded and illiberal than such sticklers for" liberal culture" as the Neo-Indian scholars who have arraigned them.

Lest I should be charged with bias in favour of the pandits, I shall cite the testimony of some Western scholars.

''The Brahmans who compiled," says H. H. Wilson, "a code Hindu law, by command of Warren Hastings preface their performance by affirming the equal merit of every form of religious worship. Contrarities of belief, and diversities of religion, they say, are in fact part of the scheme of Providence; for as a painter gives beauty to a picture by a variety of colours, or as a gardener embellishes his garden with flowers of every hue, so God appointed to every tribe its own religion."

It would be difficult to find such catholicity and philosophic toleration even now in many parts of the civilized West.

The pandits have at least preserved the precious heritage bequeathed by our ancestors. But for them much of it would have been irrecoverably lost. Instead of being grateful to them, to load them with contumely, argues a degree of flippancy and narrow-mindedness which one would be loath to associate with "liberal culture.''

Our outlook on life is certainly broader than that of the pandits. But how many of us have either the time or the inclination to inquire whether it is not shallower than of yore ? We have learnt to take a brighter view of mundane life than the pandits, but is not much of the brightness the mere shine of flimsy tinsel?

To be continued

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