The Future of Our Past: Indology Genesis and Evolution

The Future of Our Past: Indology Genesis and Evolution

I have chosen the theme of Indology for this Memorial Lecture firstly because it has occupied me for many decades and more and more prepossessingly in the last four and a half decades, particularly, despite my having been immersed, from head to toe, in Law, Public Life and Diplomacy. During all these years of my life India and its heritage has been the warp and woof of my involvement, endeavour, striving and aspiration. The fascinating message of the life and work of Acharya Swami was always dedicated to Bharat that is India. A lecture to commemorate his life and work may therefore appropriately be centered on Indology.

Moreover, I have also chosen the theme because I feel that the discourse of Indology needs to be revisited, rectified, revised, rescued and reinforced. The discourse of Indology is in a sense a discourse of exploration and discovery, a discourse of dreams and nightmares, a discourse of hope and striving and an attempt at blueprinting, route-charting and reconstruction. In my opinion it is a discourse of every generation with shifting frames and foci of contemporary relevance and reference. It is not a discourse merely of the past or the present. It is much more a discourse of the Past for the Present and for the Future. Such a discourse, has to be of us, for us and by us. It has to be objective and yet Indocentric.

MacCauleyIt is no doubt a public discourse with scholarly inputs, not chauvinistic in pride and prejudice, but Indocentric in search, research and orientation all the same. The discourse of Indology can no longer thrive or survive in the soil of a subservient mindset with borrowed wisdom. It cannot be too exotic or too esoteric, nor can be too narrow exclusive and subjective.

Reading Amartya Sen’s “The Argumentative India” and conversing with him on his analysis and once again going through his distinguished grandfather’s famous and notable book on Hinduism after many years, my choice and caption of the theme slowly became compelling to my mind particularly as I was invited to deliver this lecture under the aegis of the Asiatic Society in Kolkata the inauguration of which takes us to Charles Wilkins and Sir William Jones, who pioneered the discipline of Indology which has had a chequered career in the eye of the storm of colonialism with evangelism riding on the crest of its wave.

My explication of the theme as “The Future of our Past” seeks to focus on perspectives in respect of India’s Past and my concern about the persistent and motivated attempts to distort and belittle India’s Past in the name of self-proclaimed academic objectivity guided by a West-oriented demeaning discourse and many erroneous assumptions of secularism on the one hand, and on the other hand, in the name of narrow, emotive, wounded and outraged Hinduism with occasional undertones of obscurantism. Detractors and critics with or without a voluntary disclosure of their hostile agenda are forever drawing conclusions about India, which have little or no resemblance to the central truths of India or Hinduism and the broad Indic legacy, and its meaning and relevance to our Present as well as our Future.

Equally, there are those who would admit to nothing but the glories of our past and are prepared to accept nothing which calls for change and correction in the Past which according to them we inherited. Obviously that is not in the best tradition of the constantly changeful and dynamic way and style of life we associate with Eternal India. I would like to state at the outset that my view of Indology is that it is or ought to be an emancipating view of the stream of Indian life. If Indology is Vidya, it is so because it liberates. Sa Vidya Ya Vimuktaye.. Indology is for me a faithful discourse of our Past, a faithful and critical appraisal of the contemporary Present and a faithful, committed, constructive and self-confident exploration of the Future. Indology is for me a discipline of disciplines relating to every branch of knowledge and every aspect of life in India.

As Edward Said pointed out in his outstanding work on Orientalism, “To speak of scholarly specialization as a geographical “field” is, in the case of Orientalism, fairly revealing since no one is likely to imagine a field symmetrical to it called Occidentalism.” The logic of predatory colonialism was simple and straightforward. Since the area conquered or to be conquered was the Orient, the study was called the Orientology. The logic of triumphant colonialism and that of the audacious Christian missionaries engaged in another expedition of conquest was more or less the same. Orientology and Indology is after all the nomenclature coined by Europeans. Orientology and Indology are the disciplines originally cultivated by Europeans and to which Indians contributed as the discipline grew and evolved.

F. Max Mueller When the areas conquered or to be conquered were India, China or Tibet, the field of study was called Indology or Sinology or Tibetology respectively. The area of study extended to and could be extended to any aspect of human material in that area. Those fields of study became the precursors of the more contemporary area studies and country studies.

The otherness of the other was implicit in Orientalism, Indology, Sinology and other such area studies. Indology and Orientology, unlike other conventional disciplines were uniquely linked to geography, which called for territorial lines of demarcation to be drawn. The West arbitrarily drew its own boundaries and what was beyond those boundaries became the Orient even though Europe was in geographical fact an extension of the Asian continental landmass. It is noteworthy that geographical location of a region from the Eurocentric point of view often accounted for the nomenclatures such as Near East, and the Far East. China, however, remained China and India remained India.

Looking at the area to be studied were the “orientalist” occidental scholars, civil servants, policymakers, missionaries and other visitors with their telescopes and wide-angle lenses. Of course they saw what they saw and most of them with their blinkers and coloured spectacles in the age of triumphant western colonialism. With a very few honourable exceptions, they were prisoners of their prejudices. We owe it to ourselves to remember and honour those few western exceptions whose legacy is the stuff with which civilizational bridges are built. That legacy was thwarted, frustrated and eclipsed by the strident combination of colonialism and aggressive evangelism.

Issues: Semantics, Prejudices and obsessions

Colonial genes and imperial pedigree of Indology are clearly discernible during different periods of Indology in India during which Christian missionaries procreated certain presumptions and prejudices and disseminated many distortions which was one of the worst vitiating causes of perversion and subversion of Indology under the impact of Eurocentric indologists who had their own conceits and concoctions. My anguish is that many Indologists of Indian Origin dignified colonial Indology by their own endorsements in the name of objectivity and out of misplaced deference for the colonial masters and mentors.

There was thus an array of antagonists and protagonists who made Indology look like the battlefield of Kurukshetra with only a few on the side of India who desisted from denouncing and denigrating India and its past. The battle continues even now on home ground by homegrown warriors, many of whom won and acquired their scholarly spurs and genes from their colonial mindset in the West. Even after the advent of freedom official indologists have remained prisoners of the colonial past which in my opinion has only a bleak future. On one side of the battle array we find the Eurocentric regiments including many Indian foot solders; on the other side of the battle array we find a few friendly European scholars as well as a small number of Indians, often anguished but nevertheless edifying and eloquent, with some of them unduly diffident and apologetic. An Indian Indologist toady wears the mantle of Arjuna in the twenty first Century Kurukshetra. His duty is to opt for

India and Indology: India by Indians

I should perhaps start with a reference to February 2, 1835, the date associated with the infamous Minute of Thomas Babington Macaulay who was, to use a loaded western Christian expression, the first among many antichrists of Indology. It concerned the use or application of about Rupees One Lac in the budget allocated by the East India Company. In that Minute, Macaulay rode his own hobbyhorse because he regarded the colonial racecourse as the Western fiefdom. So committed to his pet agenda in his Minute was Macaulay that he obtained the signature of the then Governor General in Lot haste and without letting the Minute go through the normal procedure of processing by the Member in charge of Education in the Supreme Council before being put up to the Governor General. Pines , the Member in Charge of Education in the Supreme Council, did, however, unravel the procedural irregularity in his note and diary and indicated his own disagreement on a few of the issues raised and discussed by Macaulay while riding his hobbyhorse in his Minute.

Let me add that Macaulay’s hobbyhorse was an unruly horse of poor breed and little training. So far India and Indology were concerned, the rider of that hobby horse was culturally illiterate about India and was unabashedly hostile to Indian heritage and Indology. Riding that unruly horse, Macaulay deliberately misinterpreted his mandate and went for beyond the reference. His misinterpretation of the mandate was as motivated as it was malicious. Macaulay’s Minute was opposed to any outlay of money on Sanskrit because he regarded it as worthless. What is more, he strongly advocated the summary rejection and exclusion of Indian languages for educational purposes. To advance the agenda he had in his contemplation, he advocated the adoption of English as the medium of education to the exclusion and detriment of Indian languages and Indian people in the long run.

sriaurobindoMacaulay’s Minute flowed from his ignorance of the heritage of India and was compounded by his incorrigible imperial arrogance. He does not, in my opinion, qualify for any benefit of doubt. In his own words, Macaulay’s undisguised evil objective was “to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour but English in taste, in opinion, in morals, and in intellect.” His strategy was to enslave the mind and the sensibilities of the Indian elite. No wonder he regarded expenditure on Sanskrit learning as counter-productive and as a dead loss.

Knowing next to nothing about Indian philosophy, literature and languages, he dismissed them as being of no real intellectual consequence. In short, Macaulay regarded Indians (to use Macaulay own abusive words), as “ignorant and barbarous.” Assuming without conceding as centered by some scholars, that Macaulay’s declared purpose was not explicitly to convert the people of India to Christianity wholesale, with or without the active patronage and open connivance of the imperial Government, but there is not doubt that his avowed purpose was to de-Indianize India and to uproot the roots of India.

If a silver lining has to be researched in Macaulay’s dark and evil design, it is the argument that he questioned the idea of keeping the people of India ignorant of Western thought in order to keep them submissive. To his credit, he argued that even if people of India demanded European institutions based on European ideas, it would be the proudest day in English history. The fact remains that he did think that Indian history, Astronomy, Philosophy and Medicine were false because they were in company with a false religion. He inherited the evangelical presumption that the only true religion was the religion of Christ.

He must have thought like Lord Wilberforce,(whose anti-slavery campaign was no doubt a feather in his cap) that the non-Christian heathens rotting in their false religions had to be redeemed by converting them to Christianity. It is noteworthy that Macaulay’s father was a protégé of Wilberforce. Macaulay’s summary dismissal of Hindusim as “a false religion” had thus a traceable link with the missionary mindset and agenda. To that extent his prejudices were theocratic and to that extent he also shared the fanaticism of the crusading missionaries.

The unrepentant colonial administrator did not pause and reflect on the predicament of Galileo and Copernicus in Europe and the brutal and barbaric way the so called true faith of Christianity had treated them. Macaulay willfully convinced himself that people of India had sunk to “the lowest depths of slavery and superstition.” Slavery and superstition did have a devastating effect on Hindu Society, there was not a legitimate foundation for the wholesale rejection and denunciation of Indian heritage. Unfortunately, however, Macaulay’s fatal combination of arrogance and ignorance finally won the day with the approval of Lord Bentick, and by the same token both Sanskrit and Indo-centric Indology were pushed into a derelict corner. In the event, Macaulay’s impassioned and ill-informed Minute succeeded in changing the course of history.

Had it not been so, I would not have been speaking to you in the English language, which has successfully dislodged Sanskrit and has prevented all the Indian languages from taking their rightful place in the scheme of things in India. Due to that turning point in history English become the Indian elite’s lingua franca and its window on the world. In limited a sense, Indian familiarly with English language too may be seen as another silver lining. Macaulay’s Minute which was meant to reject Indology, Sanskrit and the glories of the antiquity of India, triumph beyond his best expectations. Macaulay left Indians of future generations divided on issues related to Indian Past. If, nevertheless, India’s Past is not extinguished or obliterated and remains in our memory and in our contemporary awareness, it is a tribute to the irrepressible genuine of India and the intrinsic resilience, and the enduring and indestructible quality of the legacy of our ancestors.

Macaulay’s intrusive and preemptive intervention relegated Sanskrit and Indian Indology to the margins and the backwaters. It also accentuated internal alienation and a wide range of inequalities in India. Despite its damaging and deleterious impact, however, the sense of India and its heritage surged as a tidal wave of revival and renaissance. The colonial strategy created class divides but the access to the rest of the world through English also gave rise to a stronger sense liberty and egalitarian. In the ultimate analysis we did not bid farewell to Sanskrit and our heritage of culture and religion. The English language which Macaulay’s Minute imposed on India became in fact an articulate vehicle of India’s freedom. The British people led the conquest India, Indian elite did in turn master the language of the conquerors today leads in the knowledge society in Information Technology and is poised to turn the corner in economics and technology. I see the tide in the fortunes of India not as a gift or consequence of Macaulay’s curse but an eloquent testimony of the genius and destiny India.

Edward Said Oriento logy

Macaulay was not the only aberration in the history of European Indology. He came to his own conclusions in his Minute in the particular context of how best to spend and why not to spend a grant of Rupees One Lac for Sanskrit or for the study of other Indian languages, literature, philosophy and science in carrying what he mistakenly thought was the Whiteman’s civilizing mission and burden in a country of “superstitious barbarians”.

William JonesTo be fair and objective I need to make a guarded and limited exception in respect of a handful of those European Indologists who knew better and who gave expression to eloquent and evocative accolades to the antiquity of India and the greatness of its luminous peaks of achievement and excellence. To name only a few such honorable scholars, I may mention among them Charles Wilkins, Sir William Jones and Herman Jacoli. For a long time, I thought that Professor Max Mueller too belonged to that class.

I was, however, shocked and shaken to find a hidden evangelical crusader in Max Muller after whom we mistakenly got the road on which my beloved and cherished India International Centre is situated in New Delhi as Max Muller Marg. His many and copious tributes to India’s Vedic heritage are often quoted. Much less known is the hidden agenda of that “Scholar Extraordinary”, which unravels his disparaging and denigrating slings and arrows aimed at Swami Dayanand Saraswati. I recall and recapitulate in a state of utter amazement and shock Max Muller’s many tributes to Indian philosophy. I also remember that he described himself as “Sharmamyadesh-jaten, Gotirth-nivasinah” and as “MoxeMular”

What crusading evangelical atavism was it that made Max Mueller give expression to his own dark and hidden agenda in an intimate personal letter to his wife, which finds a place in his published book. “Chips from the German Workshop” is beyond my comprehension. Long ago in my Foreword to our 23 volume translation of Vedas, I described that approach of Max Muller as ‘a compulsive concession to the overriding denominational claims of the Christian Church.” Elaborating my anguish and caustic conclusion, I wrote in extenso and I beg to quote a few paragraphs from my Foreword to the 23 volume translation of the Vedas published by Veda Pratishthan of which I have had the proud privilege of being the President. I wrote nearly a quarter century ago in my Foreword:

“Among his contemporaries, Max Muller is believed to have been one of the most respectful and sympathetic in his approach to Indian thought and traditions but in some of his writings he too refers to Christianity as “that faith which we hold to be the only true one.” I may be forgiven if I confess to a sense of dismay in what that observation of that scholar extraordinary unravels and implies. Nor was that observation a solitary flourish or a casual lapse of thought or expression. For instance, he advocated the elaboration of the science of Religion by a comparison of Christianity and other religions so as to help towards confirming that Christianity was better and superior. Apparently, with contemporary European Christians in mind, and perhaps to enthuse them, Max Muller added (and I quote verbatim): “But this is not the only advantage of a comparative study of religions. The Science of Religion will for a comparative study of religions. The Science of Religion will for the first time assign to Christianity its right place among the religions of the world; it will show for the first time fully what was meant by the fullness of time; it will restore to the whole history of the world, in its unconscious progress towards Christianity, its true and sacred character.

In another passage Max Muller argued persuasively how a comparative study of the religions of mankind would be of the greatest assistance to the missionary, and footnoted the statement of a native Indian convert to Christianity who said; “Now I am not going to India to injure their feelings by saying your scripture is all nonsense, is good for nothing; anything outside the old and New Testament is a humbug. No, I tell you I will appeal to the Hindu philosophers, and moralists, and poets, at the same time. Bringing to them my light, and reasoning with them in the spirit of Christ.” 

In a letter Max Muller wrote to his wife in 1868,… yet this edition of mine and the translation of the Vedas will hereafter tell to a great extent on the fate of India and on the growth of millions of souls in that country. It is root of their religion, and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, the only way of uprooting all that has been sprung from it during the last three thousand years.” In the context, I find the aggressive attitudinal uprooting stance of Max Muller’s intimate epistolary expression baffling, and his “chips from a German workshop” wanting in that standard of objectivity and empathy which we have been accustomed to associate with him and some of the leading nineteenth century western scholars of ancient oriental heritage.

“All this is neither to question the undoubted contribution of Christian religion to world culture, nor to raise a polemical debate about missionary precepts and practices, nor to detract from the epoch-making scholarly work of Max Muller and other Western scholars in the field of Vedic studies. We need, however, to put ourselves on guard against denominational or colonial imposition in any guise. We must endeavour in all humility to achieve a more complete and comprehensive understanding of the Vedic traditions, culture and literature in a holistic perspective.”

As I have repeatedly pointed out in my writings, that a truly holistic perspective of Vedic tradition, culture and literature eluded most of the Western scholars of Indology. Surprisingly, Wilson, who followed Sayana closely, found most of the verses of the Vedas “singularly prosaic.’ Cowell found the Poetry of Rgveda ‘singularly deficient in that simplicity and natural pathos or sublimity which we naturally look for in the songs of an early period of civilization.” Another notable translator and commentator, Griffith, pointed out the “intolerable monotony of the great number of hymns.” Griffith regarded the study of Sanskrit as central to the science of comparative philology and the study of Veda as indispensable for the comparative history of religions of the world, but that homage was more philological and historical than holistic. Roth, in St. Petersburg Lexicon, preferred the philological path to the translation and interpretation of Vedas.

Sri Aurobindo reflects with great equanimity and in an even handed way on the mental roadblocks which impeded Western Indology in the following passage which goes to the root of errors and prejudices of Western Indologists: Said Sri Aurobindo with a seer’s insight:

“It was the curiosity of a foreign culture that broke after many centuries the seal of final authoritativeness which Sayana had fixed on the ritualistic interpretation of the Veda. The ancient scripture was delivered over to a scholarship laborious, bold in speculation, ingenious in its flights of fancy, conscientious according its own lights, but ill-fitted to understand the method of the old mystic poets; for it was void of any sympathy with that ancient temperament, un- provided with any clue in its own intellectual or spiritual environment to the ideas hidden in the Vedic figures and parables. The result has been of a double character, on the one side the beginning of a more minute, thorough, careful as well as a freer handling of the problems of Vedic interpretation, on the other hand, a final exaggeration of its apparent material sense and the complete obscuration of its true and inner secret.”

Part VII

There was a ubiquitous missionary mindset in the West keen on “conquest” by religious conversion. There were indeed a variety of motivated mindsets of blatant bias which afflicted many of the European Indologists but the evangelical mindset was by for the most powerful. I was astonished to discover that the purpose of the 12th Century Pope Honorius IV who encouraged the learning of oriental languages did so not merely to share the gospel among pagans but to harvest their souls by converting them to Christianity. The words “pagan” and “infidels” were negatively judgmental, loaded with decision and patently pejorative in the semantics of the missionaries. The colonial scholars lapped up the Church semantics. The Ecumenical Council of the Vatican was more evangelical than ecumenical in its approach, when it ordained in 1312 AD in express terms that “the Holy Church should have an abundant number of Catholics well versed in the languages, especially in those of the infidels, so as to be able to instruct them in the Sacred doctrine”

The word “instruct” was a term of art in the Vatican’s vocabulary. More than a century later in the year 1434 AD, the General Council of Basel decreed unabashedly that all Bishops must send men well grounded in the divine word to those parts where infidels live, to preach and express the truth of the Catholic faith in such a way that infidels who hear them may come to recognize their errors.” Significantly, the General Council added the mandate of compelling the infidels to hear their preaching Coercion and inducement in proselytization this became legitimate under the mandate of the Church. In 1876, during the First Vatican Council, Hinduism was frontally condemned. No wonder, Christian prejudices and aspirations for the conquest and conversion of infidels in India had its inevitable impact on colonial Christian scholars administrators, and the imperial colonial discourse of Indology. The agenda of the Church naturally unfolded and unveiled itself and began to be implemented by colonial administrators in tandem with the missionaries. The hands of missionaries were often found in colonial gloves.

CornwallThe incipient colonial intrusions were first and foremost a part of a competitive and often cut-throat commercial rivalry. Commerce which then moved into seats of power. In the role of governance, the East India Company occasionally and initially tried to curb and restrain the harder, harsher missionary zealots and cohorts for fear of having to pay a dreadful price in terms of losing their commercial and political footholds. The colonial restraint was more often than not a matter of convenience and strategy.

With a few exceptions, missionaries and servants of the East India Company had little understanding and less respect for the heritage of India and for the people of India. Not long after he landed on the shores of India, Claudius Buchanan, a missionary attached to the East India Company, declared in a racist tone and tenor, “neither truth, honesty, honour, gratitude, nor charity, is to be found in the breast of a Hindu.”

Even a man like A. H. Bourman who held Hinduism to be “a great philosophy …. with its stronghold in Vedanta” felt compelled to describe Vedanta in hostile and adversarial terms as the most subtle and powerful foe of Christianity.” Though the administration of the East India Company was initially and especially in the time of Lord Cornwallis moderate and tolerant in the matter of religion, the common run of missionaries and colonial administrators who were chips of the same block and had imbibed the European discourse of Indology, steeped in prejudice, belonged to the die-hard coterie of arrogant and culturally illiterate soldiers of fortune. They readily concurred with Alexander Duff, a prominent Scottish missionary who had said that “of all the systems of false religions ever fabricated by the perverse ingenuity of fallen man, Hinduism is surely the most stupendous.” A Reverend William Ward, an English missionary wrote a polemical magnum opus of four volumes to characterize the Hindu faith as “a fabric of superstition concocted by Brahmins” Indeed the refrain of the song, often vociferous and sometimes discreet but implicit was “the false religions of India and the only true religion of Christianity”.

Although Lord Cornwallis had outlined a policy of non-interference and had decreed “to protect the natives of India in the free exercise of their religion”, the East India Company did in fact aid and abet the Christian missionaries, although with considerable caution lest the backlash should lead to an uprising. Mr. Twinning, a tea dealer who felt like a part of the entourage of colonial administrators, and was, closer to the ground, put it aptly : “ As long aswe continue to govern India in the mild, tolerant spirit of Christianity, we may govern it with ease; but if ever the fatal day should arrive, when religious innovation shall set her foot in that country, indignation will spread from one end of the Hindustan to the other, and the arms of fifty millions of people will drive us from that portion of the globe, with as much ease as the sand of the desert is scattered by the wind.” (emphasis added)

But the East India Company could not afford to opt out of the credit due to it for spreading Christianity Witness, for instance the discreet testimonial of Charles Grant who wrote: 
“The Company manifested a laudable zeal for extending the knowledge of the gospel to the pagan tribes among whom its factories were placed.”

Leaders of the missionary enterprise in India, however, were more outspoken and strident. To them conversion of Indians to Christianity was the principal rationale of colonial “exertions”. To missionaries and officers like William Carey (1761-1834), William Archer A.H. Bowman, Claudius Bucchanan, J.N. Farquhar, William Ward McKenzie, Alexander Duff and Richard Temple, it was necessary to destroy native traditions before they could disseminate and establish Christianity in India. Spread of Christianity by conversion became the marketing gimmick of missionaries who represented India as the greenest pasture waiting to be captured. They freely used scurrilous invective against Hinduism which they perceived to be their greatest enemy. India was to them the mighty bastion to be “battered, blow by blow, by “heavy artillery.” In the words of Richard Temple who spoke in London:

“India presents the greatest of all fields of missionary exertion… India is a country which of all others we are bound to enlighten with external truth…But what is most important to you friends of missions, is this – that there is a large population of aborigines, a people who are outside caste….If they are attached, as they rapidly may be, to Christianity, they will form a nucleus round which British power and influence may gather.”

He addressed a mission in New York in bolder terms:

“Thus India is like a mighty bastion which is being battered by heavy artillery. We have given blow after blow, and thud after thud, and the effect is not at first very remarkable; but at last with a crash the mighty structure will come toppling down, and it is our hope that someday the heathen religions of India will in like manner succumb”


The alliance of Colonialism and Christianity was consistently visible in Western Indology and in its many misconceptions and intellectually dishonest strategies. Indology lost its chastity and integrity in the colonial and aggressively evangelical discourse. That discourse inevitably influenced in greater or lesser measure even those Indologists who did not on the face of their writings seem to share the spite and disdain of other European Indologists for India.

Indology grew as a multi disciplinary field of study. History was joined inter alia, by archeology, anthropology, sociology, religion; law, literature and linguistics. To begin with, there was a spirit of enquiry and exploration. Tragically, that spirit was soon afflicted by the virus of racism and proselytization. That was the time when Indology lost its way in the plateau of colonial prejudices and equally in the mire of missionary misconceptions.

The magnanimity and radiance of ancient India in the depth and breadth of ancient India’s philosophical inquiry, the spirit of India’s scientific awareness and the cutting edges of rationality in the dialogue of ideas and the grace and beauty of poetry in Sanskrit Prakrit and Pali, as well the majesty of prose in Sanskrit was there for everyone to see. The heights of Indian imagination and the sheer humanity, liberality and sophistication of the Indians of antiquity and above all the civilizational grandeur of India was not entirely unknown to Europe. Intoxicated with their colonial victories, they were embarrassed out of their wits by the wisdom and splendour of India. It was then that their petty pride and prejudice took hold of them and they set out to disparage, denigrate and denounce and to question and condemn India. At that point of time, Indology became an unabashed handmaiden of commercial colonialism and invasion and missionary intrusion with no holds barred.

The discipline of Indology will never become obsolete so long as India remains an important player in the world and Indian Society retains its vitality and is keen to comprehend and nurture its identity for Identity finds its anchors in Time and Space and Indology is the key to our Identity in Time and Space. Indology will no doubt change and may be redefined but there will, I believe always be continuity in change. There is no reason to believe that Indian antiquity will be pushed into oblivion or be discarded and cast away for the Past lasts much longer than the time in which it was and the time in which we reflect upon it. Nor is Indology entirely of the Past. It is also the Past as we perceive it and therefore it is the Past in the present and future tense, and Today is the yesterday of Tomorrow and Tomorrow is the yesterday of Day After. It is true as Mahatma Gandhi wisely taught us that Past belongs to us but we do not belong to the Past. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that a part of us also belongs to the Past and the Future. What then are the tasks before contemporary Indian Indology? I would like to encapsulate those tasks in a new Panchsheel of Indian Indology.

Firstly Indians must take over and make Indology more Indian than in the past three centuries. In other words, it must liberate itself from its western orientological obsessions and alienations and reject the colonial condescension and evangelical Eurocentric attitudes. To put it in one, sentence, Indian Indology must be based on an emphatic, objective empathetic and self-confident approach. Indian Indologists must always remember Indian the central principle that there is much more to Indology than European predecessor knew or cared to know. Indeed there is much for Indian Indologists today to search and research and to develop and discover. Secondly Contemporary Indology must not fall into Eurocentric traps nor should it create its own traps of undue justification, self-glorification and chauvinistic exaggeration. Indian Indologists should never be victims of obscurantism and never deprive themselves of the clear stream of reason. They need neither to be crusaders apologists.

Thirdly Indian Indologists must reject the notion that there can be no reliable Indology without stone or metal objects. Fourthly Indian Indologists must resolutely reject and repulse the tendency of some of the western Indologists to pull down the chronological frontiers of Indology to post -Greek and post Christian periods. Indian Indologists must attempt a fresh reconstruction and a critical restatement of Indian chronological in a contextual setting. Fifthly, contemporary Indian Indologists ought to reexamine the conventional tools and metropolises of research, refusing and dating and to concentrate on deciphering the ancient scripts of Indian and other countries of the world.

Part IX

I confess I find it easier at this distance of time to forget Macaulay and to forgive the fierce hordes of missionaries but I find it difficult to condone our own neglect of our languages, literature, culture, philosophy, scientific tradition after we became free of the foreign yoke. Even after Macaulay’s infamous Minute, Sanskrit was only eclipsed but neither exiled nor buried. That tragedy was about to overtake us when Government of Free India promulgated a warrant of exile against Sanskrit in the name of national integration. Many of us learnt of that impending disaster when some of the schools under the Central Secondary Board of Education under the Government of India suddenly terminated the services of several hundred teachers of Sanskrit by a sleight of hand in Delhi Territory.

When I told Revered Paramacharya of Kanchi Kalakos Peetham, Mahaswami Chandrasekhara Saraswati, the centenary of whose Peetharohana we are celebrating this year, that great sage said to me in a tearful voice choked with anguish, “Do your duty. May Paramatma give you the strength and show you the way. Leave the rest to God.” I did not know what I could do. A week or so later, the then Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi went to Kanchi to offer his obeisance to the great sage. It happened to be Paramacharya’s day of silence. On that day of his meditation and silence, Paramacharya wrote my name on a piece of paper and gave it to the Prime Minister who was puzzled. When he returned to Delhi he sent for me and asked me what the Paramacharya had in mind when he gave the Rajivji that chit with my name on it. I remembered my visit of a ____days before to Kanchi.

I told him how Sanskrit was about to be banished from the Indian schools and their crucial and how catastrophic it would be culturally if Sanskrit were to be jettisoned in that way. He shared my sense of concern and consternation. With that winsome smile which was his hallmark and with great sympathy he told me there was nothing he could do because the Policy had already been approved and notified. I told him then that if he as the Prime Minister was helpless, I would have to go to the Supreme Court in the cause of Sanskrit. I did. Thank God, the Supreme Court had the wisdom and the clarity of mind to grant an injunction against the Central Board and the Schools and to pass strictures against the contentions of the Central Government in the affidavit filed on its behalf. The verdict in that case was an indication of my conviction that Sanskrit and India’s heritage are inextricably intertwined. It is my view that without our languages, including in particular our older and classical languages, there can be no comprehension of our culture and our tradition. Nor can there be any Indology without India and its languages, culture and heritage.

It is also my view that it would be a crime against our Common Future as a Civilization against the future generations of India to deny them a sense of pride in their heritage through willful and wayward mutilation and misrepresentation of that heritage. We must of course understand that though we are proud in our pluralism to be Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Sikhs, Buddhist, Zoroastrians, Jewish, Bahai, Rajasthani, Punjabi, Himanchali, Kashmiri, Dogra, Ladakhi, Uttaranchali, Assamese, Mizo, Naga, Khasi, Tripurian, Bihari, Bengali, Oriya, Andhra, Madhya Pradeshi, Uttarpradeshi, Nepali, Jharkhandi, Chattishgarhi, Vidarbhi, Maharashtrian, Gujarati, Keralite, Tamil, Kannada or whatever, we are proud to be Indian and let us not accept spurious, mutilatory, divisive, demeaning and false and fraudulent visions of our history and nevertheless we should be prepared to look at the minor of truth.

Let us be proud.

~ Dr. L.M. Singhvi, Excerpt from a lecture delivered to the Asiatic Society, 2006  



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