Towards an Indian Renaissance

Points for Discussion

1.      The word Renascence, Renaissance, or Renascimento means to be born again, or to begin to grow again. It is from the Latin root renascor (the same root as nature, renatus = reborn). What is reborn or revived?

 2.      Here are some examples of Renaissances:

  1. Carolingian Renaissance - Europe - 8th and 9th centuries - Charlemagne

  2. Italian Renaissance or Resorgimento of 19th century

  3. European classical Renaissance - 15th century. Revival of art, literature and philosophy - as well as the classical tradition as a whole

  4. Indian Renaissance - 18th century. Bengali response to British cultural aggression. Ram Mohan Roy, Arya Samaj, Brahma Samaj etc.

What is common to these?  

3.      Renaissance means the quickening of a civilization. In Toyabee's scheme, in world history 16 civilizations have risen and died. Nine others are at the point of death, including Indian, Chinese, Roman, Greek, etc. Western civilization - the 26th civilization to rise, has neither died, nor is at the point of death, but is being widely questioned. What keeps the spark of a civilization alive and what causes its death?  

4. All renaissances seemed to have been prodded by an external stimulus, a creative encounter, -- either positive or negative, sometimes a mixture of positive and negative factors. What are such stimuli? e.g.

  1. The violent encounter of civilizations, like the conquest of Alexander (4th century B.C.), the Moghul conquest or the British conquest;

  2. big increase in wealth?

  3. new interest in classics? 

5. The cultural element seems very important. A revival of art and literature --music, visual arts, philosophy and literary works-- both experience and express this renaissance. Schools aid libraries with vibrant thought and creative research have always played an important role. (See Arnold Toynbee's "A Survey of Renaissances", which is Vol 2: ch 10, XXXIV, in his Study of History abridged edition). Does this precede and cause the Renaissance, or is it one of its narks?  

6. The role of the middle class intellectuals, artists, and writers in sparking a renaissance has been studied by Toynbee. The creativity may arise with the middle classes but must carry the masses. Can we say that this is no longer so today, and that the sparking of the renaissance can come from the masses?  

7. Can a Renaissance be consciously engineered, or does it happen when certain factors fall into position? To what extent can conscious human effort trigger a renaissance when most of the conditions favourable to it are present?  

8. If Renaissance is actually the revival of something classical in our culture, then should we be backward looking for the deep study of that classical element, or should such deep study be diametrically related to the real aspirations of the people? Can we be future-oriented and rooted in the past at the same time? Looking back with pride to the past which is realistically understood, and at the same time looking forward to the future with a bright hope?  

9. Communal elements like the RSS are interested in a revival of an imagined Hindu Raj which existed in the past. What is wrong with that?  

10. We are at a time when there are huge upheavals in socialist thought and its relation to ''free enterprise". We are ourselves caught in a confluence of three forces -- the ideas and institutions of western liberalism, a line of Marxist thought which has always found it difficult to be flexible, and a deep nostalgia for our own past as Indians and our real Indian identity. How do we steer our way through these forces? 

11. What is the role of economic power in triggering a renaissance? Most Renaissances have brought a sudden inflow of wealth, by trade, conquest, war or plunder. What are the economic factors in India today that could contribute to a renaissance?  

12. What role do individuals play in the sparking of a renaissance? What kind of individuals? Literatteurs, thinkers, men and women of action, painters, other artists?