30th May, 1909 is an important day in the history of Indian culture. On that day, Sri Aurobindo, acquitted and released after an year-long confinement in the Alipore Jail delivered a speech at Uttarpara, a suburb of Kolkata. He was then a mesmerizing leader of the Bande Mataram Movement and everyone expected him to speak of the future course of political action for patriotic Indians. But Sri Aurobindo had undergone a tremendous change in the jail. No more was his vision confined to the political freedom of the country. He wanted now to work for the resurgence of India’s Sanatana Dharma, the Ancient Way that had kept the spirit of the nation alive through all the millennia of external aggressions and internal dissensions. He firmly believed that India had to rise again not to save herself but to save the world for if at all there can be a world religion, it had to be the Hindu religion:
‘But what is the Hindu religion? What is this religion which we call Sanatan, eternal? It is the Hindu religion only because the Hindu nation has kept it, because in this Peninsula it grew up in the seclusion of the sea and the Himalayas, because in this sacred and ancient land it was given as a charge to the Aryan race to preserve through the ages. But it is not circumscribed by the confines of a single country, it does not belong peculiarly and for ever to a bounded part of the world.’
Sri Aurobindo was saying all this just a decade and a half after Swami Vivekananda had given his message at Chicago. The inspiration is obvious and Sri Aurobindo himself had a vision of Swami Vivekananda guiding him in his yogic sadhana. With these great men coming to the forefront of action, India (and the world) were saved from the catastrophe of racial suicide. Among foreign friends of India who have been inspired by Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo is Michel Danino. As a student he had ‘felt a certain shudder while reading Swami Vivekananda, perhaps the same shudder that ran through his listeners at Chicago in 1893.’ For the last three decades he has lived in India and has been active in clearing the cobwebs that prevent us from having a unified view of Indian culture. To name a few of these veils of accumulated dirt and dust are the Aryan invasion theory, the rejection of Saraswati as a mythical river and considering Indian culture itself as a worthless relic of the past.
Indian Culture and India’s Future opens with questions as to why the Indian youth look up to the west for leadership, rejecting the time-tested wisdom of the Orient. This is no obsolete culture but a think-tank for global prosperity, even if one wants only material advancement. Science and technology in India’s past were not negligible entities. The mathematical genius Aryabhata and Sayana’s touching upon the velocity of light yesterday have their modern counterparts in J.C. Bose and Srinivasa Ramanujam. Only, India did not isolate materialism from spirituality. It has always been an integral view for the Indian and it has spread its riches all over South-East Asia as also the West.
Colonization has, of course, worked havoc on the Indian psyche. The ‘divide and rule’ as also the educational policy of the British Government paid dividends, since Macaulay could exult: ‘Our English schools are flourishing wonderfully . . . The effect of this education on the Hindoos is prodigious. No Hindoo, who has received an English education, ever remains sincerely attached to his religion.’
Fortunately the roots of our Sanatana Dharma held on, they had gone so deep and remain strong as ever except for the ‘educated’ class. A misuse of the term ‘secularism’ has debilitated the post-independence generations and Danino is constrained to get back to Sri Aurobindo’s statement made in 1926: ‘Aggressive religions tend to overrun the earth. Hinduism on the other hand is passive and therein lies the danger.’ Danino also places the Gita in its proper perspective as a call for action ‘not for ourselves but for the world and the divine Intention in it.’
Twentieth century blessed India with the leaders who led its Vande Mataram Movement. Sterling patriots all, they linked the rise of India with the rise of human unity. They saw through the machinations of the colonizer who raised the divisive bogey of an Aryan invasion of India. The good work of the leaders has been sought to be nullified by new evils like the encouragement given to Dravidian, Dalit and Tribal separateness, cooked-up myths like the martyrdom of St. Thomas in a Chennai suburb and the Ayodhya controversy, to name a few. Danino concludes his well-argued thesis with the warning that if Indians do not realise what is happening on the political, economic and religious fronts to destroy the India nurtured by our Santana Dharma, they would have only themselves to blame. If they want to get to action, the model is ready:
India’s model, if she has one, is neither the melting pot nor the mosaic, but the thousand-branched tree of the Rig Veda, an endless diversity growing out of a common trunk. I am tempted to evoke the proverbial banyan tree, constantly replanting itself, but unlike the banyan, Indian culture allows a lot of undergrowth to thrive, (p 208)
Michel Danino’s balancing profound spirituality with the claims of material progress makes Indian Culture and India’s Future the best gift for India’s youth generation of today.