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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 11, No. 1. March 17th. 1948

Renaissance in India — Student Reviews Cultural Developments

page 4

Renaissance in India

Student Reviews Cultural Developments

India's political and national determination has caught the eyes of the world, but apart from the political aspect nothing or little is known of the inner transformation of the sub-continent. To even outline the developments of "Cultural India" would be a task of great magnitude and the transformation in that country can but merely be touched.

Decadent India

To those who have had little to do with Indian cultural progress, the great revival of learning would be obscure. With this in mind, I will endeavour to bring to notice what really has been and is taking place in India.

From 1206 India had been declining until the middle of the 19th century—her culture and progress had come to a standstill. In proportion to her population and in comparison with the past India was virtually a decadent country. She had made no startling new contributions and her sole fame rested on the country's past glory.

The Cause of Renaissance

In the middle of last century the Indian Mutiny of 1857 roused Indians to political and national consciousness and that in its turn gave impetus for the deep interest in culture and a desire for progress in all spheres of life. The country again became spiritually alive and every school of religion was going under transformation. In Bengal, Ram Mohum Roy fought against the rigid rules of Hindu orthodoxy and founded the Brahmo Samaj. There was Ramakrishna who had a new interpretation of Hinduism. Then a long list of ardent reformers and theological-philosophers such as Kishub Chunder Sen. Bepin Chandra Pal. Barendra Ghose, Arabind Ghose, Swamis Dayanand Saraswati, Visweswaranda. Brahmanana, Saradananda and a host of other with a later addition of Sir Radhakrishnan and Ananda Coomaraswamy who are internationally known.

The Islamic world in India also had reformatory movement. In 1890 the Ahmadiyya Movement was founded by Ghulam Ahmad and there is a catalogue of Muslim reformers who are lesser known.

On the political-religious scene there are and have been countless men of outstanding ability who have contributed towards India's independence and religious reformation. I will list a few who are internationally known. One whose leadership and contribution cannot be challenged is the late Mohandas Gandhi, then follow Tilak, Bonnerjee, Naoroji, Malaviya, Das, Ansari, Parsad and Jinnah. Those who have not mingled religion and politics to complicate the life of political India are: Pandit Motilal Nehru (father of the Prime Minister of India), Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Mrs. Sarogini Naidu (the poetess) and Vallabhai Patel.

Indo-Anglican Poetry

Much could be written on IndoAnglican poetry, but there is neither space nor time to give a critical analysis on such a diverse subject. It was in the sunset of the 19th century that thousands of Indians were found travelling to England, Europe, America and China in the quest for knowledge. A new door was opened for India and she entered it without fear of breaking tradition and agelong customs of religion and caste. Indians began to express themselves in English and before long a new contribution was made to English literature. This Indo-Anglican literature (otherwise known as AngroIndia, Indo-English or Anglo-Oriental literature) was gradually seeping into English and European journals and was made popular through the sympathy of such scholars as Professor Max Muller, the German orientalist. This contribution was unconsciously a response of a new India that was making her soul acquainted with the new world. Indo-Anglican literature belongs as much to the Indians as it does to the West. It was through western education that such an offspring was born. Therefore a keen interest is expected of westerners in this new contribution to world literature. It is the only permanent and binding link between the East and the West and it is a chain far stronger to secure world peace than all the international organizations working for peace and world understanding.

However, despite the opening of the renaissance by countless numbers of poets, writers, artists and political leaders, the world was not conscious of the new trend until Rabindranath Tagore made his appearance. Tagore was nothing less than a whirlwind for the West, he took the world unaware. Tagore was no doubt famous throughout the length and breadth of India but he was little known outside. It was through the efforts of W. B. Yeats, the Irish playwright and poet, that Tagore was introduced to the West. The oriental scholars in Sweden were so touched by the depth and philosophy of his writings that they awarded him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. On the medal was written "For reason of the innerdepth and the high aim revealed in his poetic writings." Two years later he was knighted by the King-Emperor. Because Tagore is universally known it would be better to take him as an illustration for the new era in India.

Gandhi and Nehru may be colossal political figures in India, they have contributed to the Indianization of India, but when fully measured and compared to Tagore they are like two stars beside the moon. This harsh criticism is quite likely due to the fact that Rabindranath Tagore has been my idol from the days of my childhood, but national men and women throughout the world when summing up his contribution would tend to agree with me.

Before the advent of Tagore there were two outstanding poets in India: Bakim Chandra Chatterji and Ramparsad. The latter has written some of India's most perfect and beautiful lyrics. Tagore was not even capable of writing the type of popular song that Ramparsad has been noted for. The loveliest of all Bengali popular songs is Ramparsad's "This Day will Surely Pass. This Day will Pass." Tagore, great as he was, borrowed the first line for his own poem ("I Know this Day will Pass"). Other personalities in poetry are Iqbal (Muslim poet), Naidu (poetess). Ananda and Sen.

What is Indo-Anglican Poetry

Those figures who have written English while expressing their Eastern thoughts belong to the IndoAnglican school proper. However. Tagore broke this rule—his translations of his own works were so perfect and beautiful that the prosepoems were unchallenged. Mrs. Sarojini Naidu and Ananda write a great number of their poems directly into English. Mrs. Naidu's ("The Golden Threshold") first collection has shown her to be a great lyrical poetess. She stands apart from the others for she keeps to the rules of "poetry proper" i.e., she uses rhymes and adheres to western forms. Let me quote a verse from "The Illusion of Love" to demonstrate her style and mechanics.

"Beloved, you may be as all men say

Only a transient spark

Of flickering flame set in a lamp of clay—

I care not . . . since you kindle all my dark

With the immortal lustres of the day."

Tagore and Ananda have written nothing like it, they are contented to write prose-poems. Ananda has no excuse since he writes in English whereas Tagore's are translations. I fully believe that Ananda has been imitating Tagore like countless other writers. Though one common bond between Tagore and Ananda is that they write deep religious poems. The latter has never been able to realize his imitation fully for Tagore has the aptitude and gift of the most beautiful poetic language and on the whole he is an abstract poet. Ananda has not the richness of language though he ably binds the kite of mysticism to some concrete object.

Quotations from Tagore and Ananda might help to bring home their characteristics.

"Here is thy footstool and there rest thy feet where live the poorest, and the lowliest, and lost.

When I try to bow to thee, my obeisance cannot reach down to the depth where thy feet rest among the poorest, the lowliest, and the lost. Etc."

(Tagore; Gitanjali, No. 10).

"Morning hides her face in a veil of sea-bluue cloud.

Above Rondana's grey-white peak an icy silence sits." Etc.

(Ananda: Snow Birds, No. 5.)

Tagore can lose himself in nature and sometimes he disappears into mysticism where none can follow him. With the other poets this is not so, they bind mysticism and worldly objects together. Gandhian mysticism cannot be followed because of the great man's irreconcilable ideas, Gandhi could contradict himself a thousand times a day and yet his followers would let it pass, he was solely interested in Indian political achievement and to obtain this he fell to religion for support. Tagore was too great to resort to orthodox Hinduism to support his weaknesses. He was a universal poet. Tagore was a creative genius and his contribution to world literature and politics cannot be less than India's greatest gift to humanity. Tagore was a poet, novelist, educationalist, social reformer, preacher, dramatist, critic, artist, moralist, musician, historian, and economist and he has enriched world literature by contributing some four hundred books on diverse subjects. He was undoubtedly greater than Gandhi for he opened the golden age for India in all spheres of her life.

It is difficult to impress upon anyone who [unclear: has] not been familiar with the Indian renaissance the great strides that are being made. I can sum up the situation by writing that India is being reborn—her soul has been awakened to the age-long cry for progress.