Indian Renaissance - National Awakening
S. S. PUJARI and S. S. NARAYANA
Lexicons call Renaissance “new
birth.” The European Renaissance which started in
The land, rivers, mountains, seas, etc., of the country remain what they have always been: they neither die nor are they born anew. The national habits, folkways, culture, religion, etc., of the people also continue to be almost alike; so also the general composition of the Indian people. Or we can say, amidst certain invariable changes there is a deep underlying continuity.
What, then, is it which can be said to have been newly-born with the advent of the so-called renaissance?
What is called renaissance or new birth in
The Indian Renaissance
begins with the Modern Period. And the Modern Period starts with the British
Raja Ram Mohun Roy, generally acclaimed as the prophet of the Indian renaissance or Indian awakening or Indian nationalism, took up the task of the study of English language and literature immediately after starting his crusade against idolatry, politheism and Sati. In other words, his movement for the reform of Hinduism and his call to his countrymen to go back to the teachings of the Upanishads antidate his familiarity with English literature and Western ideas.
This important fact leads us to assert that
the impact of the West could at
best be the occasion for the birth of the national awakening, but definitely
not a veracause. On the contrary, the spirit of
The British Impact (negative aspect)
The important fact to be noted is that with
its roots in a materialistic view of the universe and self-untreadness
as well, the Western civilization was incapable of reviving the spiritual
culture of ancient
Another important feature to be born in mind
is that the first and immediate effect of the introduction of Western pattern
of education in our country by a joint effort of some of the leading citizens
This is how they became great admirers of
everything Western and opened the doors for
“This was the first time perhaps that the Indian mind was thrown off its balance. Even the devastating Muslim invasions and conquests had not produced a result of this kind.” (Sarma, D. S. Hinduism through the ages. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. P. 58.)
British Impact (Positive side)
Every “no-moon” has its positive side to show
at some or other time. And the impact of Western thought is no exception. It
gave momentum to the renaissance movement in
The Indian thinkers were now determined to reform society and purge it of all its evils. Infanticide, child marriage, Sati, enforced widowhood, purdah, Devadasi, untouchability, caste system and prohibition of foreign travel appeared to them as the plagues of Hindu society which were to be rooted out altogether. Above all, the Indian thinkers and reformers of this period condemned and discouraged the tendency of some English educated people to entertain blind and uncritical admiration for everything Western and cherish hostility towards their own culture and civilization.
Some reformers and leaders of this century
aroused in people a sense of patriotism and greater admiration and respect for
its rich cultural tradition. To this effect they also got considerable support
from a section of Western indologists, orientalists and some other Western friends and well
Translations of Sanskrit texts into English created sensation in the Indian mind and made English-educated people to realize the greatness and depth of Indian culture and civilization. The names of some of the great Western indologists and orientalists to be particularly mentioned here are Sir William Jones, Sir Charles Wilkins, Colebrooke, Wilson, Muir, Monier Williams, Max Mueller, James Fergusson, Dr. Buffler, Dr. Fleet and Havel.
That is how the many-faceted contribution of Britishraj is recognised for the birth of Indian Renaissance Movement. But some scholars like Sri Aurobindo would not like to recognise the British impact, rather would bestow the credit on Indian spirituality or the inherent Sakti. At best British impact might have had indirect effect in a secondary level. So in what follows, we shall discuss how the Indian spirit is responsible for Indian renaissance.
It is quite evident that the spread of Western education could not by itself have fostered and promoted the renaissance unless there had not been a genuine urge from within, a spirit of renaissance aiming at the revival of what was noble and elevating in India’s past. That is how we are led to assess that though the West has had its influence on Indian minds for a national resurgence, the main factor responsible for this is the Sakti of India which has thrown up a large number of high-souled Indians who incarnated in themselves the new spirit of awakening. How the sprout of Renaissance came out to stand as a gigantic banyan tree is the stimulation of the West to revive the dormant intellectual and critical impulse of the people, to force them to turn to their past and recover the spiritual heritage, and put the revived spirit face to face with novel conditions and ideas and the urgent necessity of understanding and conquering them.
The so-called Renaissance Movement is not confined to religion only. It is so comprehensive that it reflects almost all departments of national life; a many-sided movement concerned with rejuvenating all aspects of Indian life and thought, education, humanities, the social sciences, the physical sciences, the economic, political and social life of the country, literature and the other fine arts: Philosophy and Religion.
It is thus naturally difficult to count all the departments of activity which were shaped by the Renaissance Movement. Raja Ram Mohun Roy was concerned in a way with education and social life and its reformation and some aspects of the Hindu religion. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda liberalised and modernised Hinduism and took it back to its universal roots and form. They were concerned with the very soul of the Indian Renaissance.
Having thus analysed some factors which contributed to the Indian Renaissance, we may now set forth its various phases.
As is said earlier, the impact of the West on
The educated youth became denationalised and began to ape European manners and to look with irreverence, if not with contempt, upon the past civilization of the Hindus. As Lord Ronald says that westernisation became the fashion of the day and westernism demanded its votaries that they should cry down the civilisation of their own country. The more ardent their admiration for everything European, the more vehement became their denunciation of everything Eastern.
But fortunately, this spirit did not spread
widely. It failed to filter down to the masses nor
could it affect all the educated youngmen. The factor
which India could receive from complete westernisation
was that she lives centrally in the spirit, with less buoyancy and vivacity and
therefore with a less ready adaptiveness of creation,
but a greater, intenser, more brooding depth. In this
When men like Raja Ram Mohun Roy in Bengal and Mahadev Govind Ranade in Maharashtra who had some knowledge of the past to react differently to the West, by way of looking upon the past culture from a new angle and tried to understand and reshape it in the light of new ideas and knowledge to suit the modern society, there arose Indian renaissance. They became the pioneers of social reforms and initiated the liberal tradition in Indian thought. Though Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Justice Ranade are famous as great social reformers, they were no less interested in political and educational matters where they showed remarkable towers of their minds. Of course, for several reasons they could not exercise their powers in these fields at large.
We have to look to men like Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozeshah Mehta, Gopala Krishna Gokhale and Surendranath Banerjee who with many others, introduced, formulated and strengthened the Western pattern of the so-called liberal tradition in the political thinking of modern India. This, without any hesitation, may be regarded as the first phase of the Indian renaissance which was the outcome of Western impact on Indian spirituality.
The contrast feature, as it could be said the
next phase of the renaissance, is said to have been carried on by Swami Dayauanda Saraswati who did not know English at all. Thus
this patriot remained uneffected from the influence
of English civilisation and asked his countrymen to go back to the purity of
the Vedic civilization. The Arya Samaj
founded by him was mainly responsible for the awakening among the people of
During the third phase, there arose a great figure in the personality of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who laid emphasis on the recovery of the old spiritual knowledge and experience in all its splendour, depth and fullness as the first and the most essential work of the religious and the social reform. His great disciple, Swami Vivekananda, carried out the flag flying adding a new dimension by interpreting Vedanta scientifically and uplifting the masses by channelising their thought in political and philosophical realm.
In the pronouncements of Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo we see the fourth stage of Indian renaissance. Their contribution through literature helped Indian renaissance to become fuller and more self-conscious, and nationalism purer and nobler. The tradition both in Indian renaissance and political thinking of Modern India finds its high water-mark in Tilak, Lajapat Rai and Bepin Chandra Pal.
The most significant phase starts with Mahatma Gandhi. He contributed immensely towards giving a new direction and form to the Renaissance Movement and brought forth into active life some of the old and characteristic features of ancient Indian culture. He was mainly responsible for turning the national struggle for independence into new channels and thereby made a rich addition to social, religious and political ideas.
Thus the overall description suggests that
the social, political and
philosophical thinking of modern
Till this day Western impact has not been
“It is rather a process of a new creation in
which the spiritual power of the Indian mind remains supreme, recovers its
truths, accepts whatever it finds sound or true, useful or inevitable of the
modern idea or form but so transmutes and Indianises
it, so absorbs and transforms it that its foreign character disappears and it
becomes another harmonious element in the characteristic working of the
ancient goddess, the Sakti of India, mastering and
taking possession of the modern
influence no longer possessed or overcome by it. (Sri Aurobindo, The Renaissance in
Since the renaissance has exerted a great deal of impact on the proceedings of Indian National Movement playing a notable role in shaping its political, philosophical and social thinking, it can very well be inferred that the later must have been greatly shaped and moulded by its central feature, namely spirituality. In its most representative and leading thinkers like Lokamanya Tilak, Tagore and Sri Aurobindo and Mahatma Gandhi, social, philosophical and political thinking stands at the edge of religion.
If the distinctive feature of the ancient Greek political thought was its ethics and that of the Roman thought legal approach and if German political thought is immensely influenced by its metaphysical trend, in modern Indian thinkers philosophy, politics and religion have been closely knitted very successfully. Gandhiji dazzles as the best illustration in its favour. He made it as the mission of his life to interact religion and politics.