NOTE OF THE EXPRESSION 'INDIAN RENAISSANCE'
The expression ‘Indian
Renaissance’ is, in my opinion, a misnomer. I further submit that
its continued use has misled our thinking. I do not know who was the first person, Indian or possibly European,
to coin this expression. Whoever
the person may have been, it is obvious that the choice of the expression
is based on some kind of analogy.
What the Renaissance is to the history of Europe, namely,
an ushering in of the Modern Age in succession to the Middle Ages,
so be the Indian Renaissance to the history of India, namely, an ushering
in of the Modern Age in succession to the Indian Middle Ages. Now up to a point in the perspective of World History of which the
history of the Indian Civilization, of the cultural zone of South
Asia is a past, this line of reasoning makes sense – with the reservation
that some thinkers have placed the beginning of the Modern Age in
South Asia to the coming of the Mughal dynasty to the North and the
coming of the Portuguese to the South.
Justice M.G. Ranado even, went to the length of likening the
bhakti movement to the Protestant Reformation.
Now without looking deeper into the historical issues, I should
at the same time like to point out that there is some need to identify
what is meant by the ethos of Medieval Europe and the ethos of Renaissance
Europe before the issue of motivating factors and their effects could
be taken up.
Medieval Europe can be identified with a feudal social order,
a Church-dominated cultural order, and a personality directed by the
Other (whether the expression ‘the Other’ can be understood in its
widest sense). In contrast to this Medieval ethos we can set up another
abstraction, namely, the Renaissance ethos.
Renaissance Europe can be identified with a mercantile social
order, a history-oriented cultural order, and a personality directed
by a search for a new order. (The Protestant Reformation is simply
a part of the Renaissance).
Now, what do we find when we turn to the nineteenth-century
Indian resurgence that we associate with names like Rama Mohan Roy
and M.G. Ranade? To begin with, it is fragmented by religion
(e.g. the Muslims and professionals drawn into it), by classes (e.g.
the scholars and professionals were only imperfectly in touch with
the new merchants like Jagannath Shankarsheth and merchant –industrialists
like Jamshedji Tata and with the peasant discontent), by region (e.g.
in spite of being a seat of the East India rule and of one of the
oldest universities, Madras did not figure as a Renaissance Centre
along with Bombay and Calcutta). Next, it is not all-pervasive: it
is interesting that Marx did not reach the Indian intellectuals till
the beginning of the twentieth-century, that while literature, the
theatre, and the visual arts were affected by the new ethos, music
and dance were left severely alone, and that the critique of religion
was not followed up by the emergence of a new philosophy. Finally, the Renaissance man was largely conspicuous by his absence.
The nearest we come to personalities
touching upon many sides of life are Justice Ranade, economist, historian,
statesman, religious and social reformer; Rabindranath Tagore, poet,
painter, a thinker and founder of Visvabharati and Sriniketan; and
Mahatma Gandhi, political and social activist, religious and economic
critic. One has only to look at these names and the
impact of those personalities and to compare these names with Indian
____ on the scene to realize that the so-called Indian Renaissance
is a far cry from the European Renaissance.
To conclude, we certainly need a handy designation for the
historical episode. But the choice of the expression ‘Indian Renaissance’
is not apposite. If we have to think of it as an analogue to a European
historical episode, then the European Enlightenment comes much nearer
to the ethos of the Indian movement. In Marathi I much prefer the
expression used by D.K. Bodekar, namely, Bharatiya prabodhan. Actually,
the gap between the label ‘Indian Renaissance’ and the reality is
a case of a tragic failure on the part of Indians to take their future
in their own hands. (Parenthetically,
I should like to point out that the debacle of post-Independence India
is in part traceable to this failure.
Any rectification of the contemporary failure has to being
with a critique of the Indian Prabodhan.)
The continued use of the misnomer makes us blind to the basic
failure of the Indian Prabodhan. It is time that we rid ourselves
of this blind spot if not of the misnomer that protects that blind
spot. The massive survival
of the Feudalistic attitude and tactics is an example of the failure
in modernizing India.
Etymologically of course the Renaissance was the revival of
Greek learning. (The Indian Prabodhan did have its small share
of rediscovery of the Sanskrit classics like Bhavabhuti and Kautilya
in addition to the tradition canon.)
The Indian Prabodhan (that is, teaching and awakening) did
not stand for the revival of the past but for the regeneration of
the Indian society by the assimilation of western values and the rediscovery
of Indian values of the distant past rather than the immediate medieval
Read at the seminar on Indian Renaissance : Problems and perspectives,
Indian Council of Philosophical Research at the University of Poona,
Pune, 16-17 August 1984. This
has remained unpublished.