The Indian colonial period is marked by an intense transformation of the Indian psyche towards fundamental religious values. This transformation can be seen most prominently in the way philosophy is done today versus how it was done in the Vedic time. Bhushan and Garfield wrote the paper “Pandits and Professors : The Renaissance of Secular India” broadly to analyse how Indian Philosophy written in English under the Colonial Rule and after has contributed to Indian Philosophy as practiced today, not only within India but in the entire world. Prior to the advent of the British in India philosophy was an activity restricted to the maths and it was the pandits who practiced it, passing it down from generation to generation through the guru-shishya lineage. This was also how various philosophical systems came to be and how different philosophers identified with the philosophy of their guru and followed in that tradition. This situation changed when the English education system was introduced to India by the British, bringing philosophy away from the temples and into the classrooms.
The authors identify with the thought that claims that it was the introduction of western education in India which brought philosophy as it is being practiced today to the academic sphere. Specifically, they argued how this kind of Indian philosophy in English has given to India what they term the “gift of the secular” (Garfield and Bhushan 2011)In this paper I aim to broadly look at how the idea of secular modernity is applicable to India and Indian philosophy in particular, both secular and modern being categories borrowed from the West. I do not aim to put any value judgements on either but merely wish to start a discussion, thereby giving space for further considerations on the same.
IThe word renaissance comes from the latin root ‘nasci’ which means to be born. Renaissance started out in Europe as a cultural bridge between the Middle Ages and the modern period where arts, sciences and modern machinery started to flourish dispelling outdated models of thinking built on religious fundamentalism. The word has since been adapted to suit different cultures throughout the world whenever there has been a marked shift in the perspective of a society regarding its own culture and the adoption of new ways of looking at the old by it. The term is used in the paper Pandits and Professors to indicate a new birth of philosophy which occurred in India due to the introduction of the English language in academia. Western modes of thinking applied by western orientalists to Indian philosophy secularized it. This signified the new birth of Indian philosophy as it is seen and practiced today.
However, was it a rebirth which was actually happening or a gradual homogenisation of the indigenous culture which has been glorified to suit western tastes? The authors talk of a rediscovery which happened, cobwebs and dust that had settled on Indian culture and history were removed with the help of an English lens. If we talk of the “rebirth” of a secular India that would signify that India was secular in its origin and the imposition of something else made it non-secular which consequently led to the rising of a secular India from the ashes, much like a phoenix. However, if rebirth was spoken of in the sense that a new way of doing Indian philosophy was being created in the secular space, neither fully Indian nor fully western but nevertheless being done in English, then that remains to be diagnosed.
Naravane writes in reference to H.C.E.
Zacharis’s Renascent India : “There are books ostensibly dealing with the ‘renaissance’ in modern India, in which-incredible though it may sound- there is not a single reference to any philosopher or to any important intellectual movement. (Naravane 1964)” One of the pioneering figures of modern Indian history has been Aurobindo who has spoken and written extensively about the Indian renaissance, and whether a renaissance actually even happened in India. He insisted that the answer to the question depended on what one meant by the term renaissance and also what the future holds since he was speaking from a perspective when India was still in the thick of things. “It is when a greater light prevails and becomes general that we shall be able to speak, not only in prospect but in fact, of the renaissance of India” (Ghosh 1918), he said. It is worth questioning how this Renaissance which occurred during the colonial times is faring now that the Indian self-consciousness has reached its puberty.IIAccording to the authors, post the mutiny of 1857 there was a rediscovery of India by the creation of a national identity which was rooted in Vedic culture but looking towards the international stage.
Different narratives were adopted by people to provide an origin story for the development of this new-found Indian self-consciousness. Key players here were Coomaraswamy (geographical and cultural narrative), Aurobindo (spiritual narrative) and Nehru (historical narrative).The authors argue how the fusion of Indian and Western Philosophy has served its purpose by legitimizing Indian Philosophy as an enquiry of global concern, by segregating Indian philosophy from the traditional maths and taking the discussion to a secular space and by providing an ideological dimension to the development of this Indian national identity.Since “secular” was a western term only introduced to the Indian political sphere by the arrival of the British it leaves me with a question about how there could have been a ‘rebirth’ of a secular India and how this category imposed by the western world played a part in forming the National Identity that Indians have, by an informal consensus, chosen to adopt and enact since then.It is in this secularization of Indian philosophy by the use of the English language that much of context was lost. Western orientalists have received their own share of flak for being the forerunners in this regard.
However, their contribution to the field cannot be outrightly denied or condemned as they were doing their best in their context with the means they had to produce the results they thought were the need of the hour. Krishna Mallick sheds light on this when he writes: “It is true that it is difficult to relate eastern and western cultural values. Radhakrishnan himself was aware of the fact. But I think that Radhakrishnan is one of the first philosophers who proposed such a meeting of the East and the West in systematic philosophical form. That itself is the greatest contribution of Rashakrishnan to philosophy. Now it is our, the present generations’ task to find out the correct methods that are workable.” (Mallick 1995)The orientalists were like Columbus going out into the great unknown. They came across unchartered territory and gave it to the world as Indian philosophy, which later proved to not be the case so much.
But in doing so the act itself opened up a whole new world for further intellectual explorers to engage with. IIISecular being analysed we now move on to the category of modern. Academia itself is rife with various debates about what exactly consists the modern and how is the problem of modernity legitimised when looked at in retrospect. Issues like humanism, consciousness, rationality, subjectivity, national identity, the western canon of great texts, gender, or even being in itself are being put under the radar now. In our age ‘modern’ really means western.
What are considered as the great achievements of European Modernity are being second-guessed. Many authors now argue how the issue of modernity is political. Debates on modernization are considered to be in essence debates on westernisation. The desirability of the implications of modernity have thus become questionable. Modernity itself is being questioned as being a repetition of Christian or even Platonic themes. Pippin goes further to argue that “many modern authors were well aware of the similarity between their own views and traditional Christian ones.
They were not unknowingly secularizing, but explicitly borrowing for their own purposes, often with quite unchristian ends in mind” (Pippin 1991). Modern was a social and political category adopted by Indian society more than a philosophical movement in the Indian thought tradition. In secularizing Indian Philosophy, were western orientalists unknowingly giving a hidden religious christian flavour to Indian philosophy? And in that sense, is the Indian Philosophy practiced in English really Indian Philosophy, as Daya Krishna puts it? Now that we are on the other side of the modern veil we have the means and scope available to analyze these issues and see whether any improvement can be done or whether the damage is irreparable.The article concludes by talking about Secular Modernity and how it simultaneously allowed a space for private practice of religion as well as a secular public dialogue that allowed India to be rooted in its religious tradition but still transcend to a modern stage. The adoption of the term secular modernity was one that arose out of a requirement to unite the nation under a common umbrella.
Was the thing being practiced in the maths religious Indian philosophy in the first place? Vedic and upanishadic scriptures were being taught which are not religious texts as has been lately stressed on by scholars of Classical Indian Philosophy. One of the major reasons why it was termed religious philosophy was because it was being practiced by Indian religious personnel. The content being secular in itself, was Indian Philosophy mislabelled as religious because of the people who were studying it? In fact, P.T.Raju speaks outrightly against secular modernity when he says that :”It is this very concept of secular modernity which deadened Indian philosophy. The guru-shishya tradition of India emphasised on disciples taking academic, spiritual refuge under a particular guru or mentor and ideas were developed in the school of thought that the guru propounded. In the West there was a tendency to give a new name to his system and to distinguish it from that of his teachers” (Raju 1985).
For Mohanty, the philosophy of India has been studied from three different angles, as religious thought, as a way of life and the values of life that it supports. He says that in all three we miss the proper Indian Philosophy and the reader gets the impression that India had no intellectual and academic philosophy, only religious texts. He says “if indian philosophy is not a proper philosophy then applying the same reason the whole of Greek, Hellenistic and medieval philosophy has to be omitted from the history of western philosophy” (Mohanty 2001). There is an academic side to all philosophical work. If that indeed is the case then how instrumental was this gift of the secular which the British gave Indian Philosophy? Was it already secular in its own right but not in the way the western conception of secular is? In India secular is taken with a positive connotation, it means an equal regard to all religions. In the West, secular is taken with a negative connotation and means taking a perspective which disregards religious backgrounds.
Given these basic differences in the outlook towards the word secular how justified is calling Indian Philosophy secular? And is this secularity something that is desirable or even appreciable in the Indian historical context?Conclusion Thus we have questioned so far, given its beginnings in Europe, how appropriate is the use of the term “Renaissance” in the Indian historical context in terms of philosophical thought. I then attempted to see through a dissection of the western categories of “secular” and “modern” whether a renaissance in Indian thought really happened during the colonial period as well as how justified is the idea of secular modernity in this case which Garfield talks of. I do not claim to have provided definite answers to these queries of mine but merely a provocation for researchers to dwell more on these issues and dig out that which has probably been lost in translation.