By O.P. Kejriwal, pages 293, 1999, OUP
This is a rare book. A history of the history books on India. A band of Englishmen who came to India as servants of the Empire, went on to make their names immortals, as discovers of the Sanskrit language, translators of Sakuntala, Bhagavad Gita, Rig Veda and other classics that wee till then lying in palm manucripts or in the possessions of brahmins who didn’t show them to any outsiders.
I want Indians to remember this; there was also already in existence in Caclutta itself for half a century the Asiatic Society of Bengal (founded on January 15, 1784). Under the leadership of Sir William Jones (1746 – 1794) had made the first discoveries of India’s past and established a scientific chronology of Indian rulers and their dynastie. Jones who assembled around him, in his lifetime (he died a premature death in his 48th year) and after him a succession of Englishmen all turned into remakable individuals and great scholars who mastered Sanskrit, skills in deciphering Asokan edicts and other obscure inscriptions that all turned out to be landmarks in Indian history and scholarship. Each name is worth writing about in details. Such was the pioneering work that later proved to a historic step and a revolution in knowing India’s past. This story of the half a century of a legacy of establishing and provding India as a world civilization makes Macaulay now a pigmy.
Thus,started a series of adventures, yes, the lives and works of these band of men read like crime novels! They also stumbled upon many dilapidated monuments, the Allahabad pillar, that led to the establishment of Indian chronology and the names of Maurya, Gupta dynasties came to the knowledge of indians for the first time! Likewise, the Saranath stupa, lying hidden in the ground was unearthed, and the Asoka emblem came to the knowledge of the world.
So too the Asoka liars, their edicts were deciphered for the first time and Asoka’s great contribution to the world of civilization was unearthed. For the first time!So, the founding of the Asiatic Society of Bengal was a saga of unparallelled history and a great discovery of the ancient India. There are so many small and yet path breaking details. The names and their achievements need a full-scale story, they all march before our eyes like a royal procession.
They discovered the ancient monuments that were lying in decay, they first found out Sanskrit’unique greatness, Jones testified in his immortal words that led to be put into every school textbook in Indian schools , they translated Sakuntala into English, over which a galaxy of European minds from Goethe onwords were exited, Jones himself wrote a friend : imagine how Shakespeare would have benefited if only he had read Sakuntala ! BagavatGita was translated. Asoka edict was deciphered by James Pinsep. One wrote “That one name (Asoka ) is enough to put the entire western civilization to shame! The name Buddha! yes,it was also discovered by the Society . The names: Sir William Jones (1746-1794),H.T.Colebrooke (1765-1837),James Prinsep(1799-1840),Charles Wikins(the traslator of BagvatGita, Colebrooke (the greatest Sanskritist-Max Meuller)and the list is too long!
Even when the first Chair in Sanskrit was instituted in Oxford , in 1832 by one Boden(For Propagating Christianity) the very first incumbent H.H.Wilson was selected only for his mastery of the Sanskrit language and not for religious purpose!Also long before Macaulay came, a decade before his arrival, already there were branches of the Asiatic Society in Paris, Berlin, Great Britan Vienna, Budapest, later in the USA,Oslo,Copenhagen. A.A.Macdonell, the later-day Boden Professor, wrote in his history of Sankrit Literature: Since the Renaissance there has been no event of such world wide Significance in the latter part of the eighteenth century.
What Macaualy did was not any great audacious act, in my openion. Already before he came to India there was Raja Rammohan Roy who strongly advocated English language education .He himself a learned man in Arabic, Persian and Bengali and it was in his 28th year he learnt to write English and converse in that language .And see what impact it had on Indian thought and awakening ! He helped to abolish the evil practices of the Hindu tradition,I say it is the English language knowledge and its capacity to create in the Raja this new awakening. Thus, he wenton to found the Brahma Samaj and thus the Hindu religion got a new radical change.
Thus,what Macauly did was to give a new momentum to the already growing current of the yearing for new knowledge, as obtained in Europe. Also, in my view, the then existing traditional Sanskrit learning through the brahmin pundits was losing its historic context. The learning was so introvert, inward- lloking, the caste hold was also strengthening the old superstitions, rather than weakening, any learning must be.
Thus the British occupation didnt evoke any discomfort ot dismay amoung the learned indians. Nor,as the founders of the mid-eighteenth century didnt know their own past. They, the Indians at this point of time never had any idea of the ancient Indian rulers, they didnt know Budhha, Asoka or the Mauryas or the Guptas or even the many ancient sciences, the astronomy and algebra. Even before Macaulay, there was this prejudiced view of india.James Mill wrote a highly negative history of India and Indian character. Max Mueller was to come later. Even before MaxMueller, Rigveda was discovered and many copies were made, though it was Max Meuller who produced the definitive translation.
All these great Indian treasures and the glory of the land were found out only after William Jones landed in India, his penchant for learning languages helped to create the thirst in him to seek out Sanskrit. Thereby, India came to be known all through the world, as great a civilization, if not greater . There was much debate and discoveries about ancient Indian astronomy and algebra.The books must start with this book. So too all the teachers training colleges in the country must teach this book in this education philosophy and inform the teachers, how Indian history was written.
There is much for teachers training in this book . How Macauluy’s English edication met with resistence by this band of Englishmen, known as Orientalists and how a half century before Macaulay,India’s true treasures were found out and established. So,When Macaulay boasted about the non – existance of any Indian literature, when compared with literature in English language, he was in the true historic civilization. So, Indian education can get a new impetus, if only the Indian schools and colleges take the trouble of properly instilling this insight into the minds of teachers.
Image Source : hindu.com