(Last Updated on : 27/01/2012)
Advent of Indian renaissance is wholly attributed and dedicated to European countries post the Middle Ages. During this time the surge of education and culture had successfully entered every European home. In fact, every country facing renaissance owe their lot to Europe and its bunch of highly sophisticated and intellectual men, spreading the revival of learning and more learning of everything cultural and enriching. The gradual, but subtle advent of Indian renaissance also had towed in similar lines, being thoroughly inspired by the European masters. It is prestigious enough that in times of internal insurgence and struggle for Indian independence from the English, a class of people had fought seriously for native betterment, in the process sealing friendly ties with foreign nationals. However, Indian renaissance did not only begin its journey during the British Raj; the 'revival' advent also has had traces in pre-English domination.
Going down the Indian historical lane, advent of Indian renaissance first finds its traces during the Portuguese supremacy. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to establish trading posts in India. They were followed by many other Europeans, like the Dutch, the French, the Danish and lastly the British. However, till the mid-eighteenth century, these were no more than just tiny enclaves. The scenario changed after the British East India Company acquired Bengal, post the Battle of Plassey in 1757. Over the next several decades the East India Company came to directly or indirectly control most of the subcontinent. Herein lies a tremendous dichotomy related to British advent and the consequent advent in Indian renaissance. The British may have conquered India for their own commercial and imperialist purposes but they still did have a positive long-term impact on India's 'wounded civilisation' by introducing India to modern institutions, science and the 'English language'. Most importantly, they created an environment where a number of remarkable individuals were able to set about unshackling the Indian mind.
Perhaps the most important of these early reformers to have impacted upon the advent of Indian renaissance were Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. Both of them were Bengalis who lived in the first half of the nineteenth century. By this time, the glories of ancient India were mostly forgotten. The great works of Aryabhatta, Charaka and the Vedic philosophers had not been entirely lost but they were learned by repeated memorising, without giving a thought to their meaning. Even the short-lived freehanded vibrancy of Mughal Emperor Akbar's sixteenth century court was fading into oblivion. The disintegration of the Mughal Empire had left the country lurking in chaos during the eighteenth century. Ram Mohan and Vidyasagar then had set about reconstructing the civilisation from its ashes, paving the way for a resurging revival.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy was fluent in several languages including Bengali, Hindi, Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit. However a realisation dawned on him that a true renaissance would only be possible by the country being provided with a means to access new ideas emanating from the West. Advent of Indian renaissance can be stated that it had fallen in able hands, with men like Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar leaving no stones unturned to make India a better place. Therefore, Raja Ram Mohan fought for the introduction of English in Indian schools and for the teaching of 'modern' subjects like Human Anatomy and Mathematics.
From then onwards Indian renaissance's advent commenced in a smooth pace with an inter-mixing of Western and Oriental cultures. In this regard, the importance of English language in rekindling India cannot be understated. The language played an intensely crucial role in not just opening the country to new ideas but also in the rediscovery of its own past. For the first time since the decline of Sanskrit, the 'educated Indian elite' had a common language capable of conveying new ideas. Introduction of English language by the British may have been a matter of convenience for the colonial power but the leading Indian reformers of that time were strongly in favour of English.
Vidyasagar was one of the first products of the new approach to learning. He came to Calcutta from a remote village to study at the newly opened Sanskrit College in 1829. Over the next few years, he taught himself the ancient Sanskrit texts as well as English and Hindi. Having imbibed the spirit of renaissance, Vidyasagar went on to make major contributions in areas ranging from women's rights and education, to Indian language publishing. He even simplified the Bengali script and gave the language its present form. Vidyasagar is also believed to have been responsible for the establishment of numerous schools for girls and helped establish Calcutta University, the subcontinent's first modern university, in 1857. These were sumptuous information in Indian history that had further elevated advent of Indian renaissance to esteemed heights.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar were followed by a series of brilliant renaissance reformers, including Dadabhai Naoroji, Gazulu Chetty, Madhav Ranade and Swami Vivekananda. In virtually every case they were products of the new education system and lived in the 'British' cities of Madras, Calcutta and Bombay. The old 'Indian' cities of Delhi, Hyderabad and Lucknow in fact had produced few reformers. Post eighteenth century and the beginnings of advent in Indian renaissance, the nineteenth-century reformers were all very conscious of the need of a wider reawakening of civilisation. This is perhaps counted under a most important header, driving history of Indian towards an international direction. Over the next century, the reformists' idea of cultural modernisation led to the Independence movement. It can also be noted that throughout this Indian renaissance period, the country's intellectual leadership continued to emphasise the need for innovation and cultural openness. Ram Mohan Roy's intellectual successor, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore wrote this famous poem in his Gitanjali collection (published in 1913):
Mind Without Fear
(translated from Bengali)
"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;"
Tagore's phrase 'narrow domestic walls' had much to infuse into the young and old minds alike, during times prior to independence, which made a considerable impact upon Indian renaissance and its triumphant advent in the following era.