Sir John Woodroffe (1865-1936), British judge of the Calcutta high Court is widely renowned as an early expositor of Tantra.
In this small book (published for the first time ion 1981) taking excuse on the view of an English writer that India was not a civilized country, he writes a strong and passionate defense of Indian and its culture exposing the principles that made her civilization. In an epoch where criticism of India was widespread in the Western world and imitation of English culture was predominant among the Indian elite. Woodrofe encourage Indian to follow her own tradition and ways.
Ninety years after the publication of this book in spite of the changed political and social environment it surprise us to see how much alive are his words and to how much an extent they are still valid for the India of today.
The question which forms the title of this book is of course absurd. Even the most antipathetic or ignorant would admit that India has a civilization (as he would say) of Sorts. There is an acute difference as to the value of it. The question however is not mine but is raised by Mr. Wm. Archer a literary and dramatic critic of note in his recent book India and the future. He finds India as a whole to be in the state of Barbarism. “What does it matter if he does say so, “Said and Indian to me adding this is only “the last of a long list of misunderstanding works abusive of our country and its culture.” That is so though the number is increasing nowadays of those who respect both. Yet this indifferent attitude is a mistake. India cannot at the present moment allow any charges against her to go unanswered. I have here given some reasons why without waiting for the completion of a larger work I had in the first steps of preparation on the general principles of Indian Culture. Lordship over alien peoples at present ultimately rests on might though particular circumstances may reader its actual enforcement unnecessary. But (apart form such implied consents as may in any particular case be held to exist) the right which power holders today allege is culture superiority and the duty to raise the ruled to the culture level religious moral and intellectual of those who control. It is with reference to such a duty that Mr. Archer finds India to be barbarous
Though his book for want of sufficient knowledge without intrinsic value as a criticism of India civilization there are several matters which apart from the general ground stated make it a suitable object of reply. Unlike the general run of criticisms it is written not from a Christian but a “Rationalist” standpoint. It is next a typical instance of the cultural attack (and vehement at that) for it assails the fundamental principles of Indian civilization and every from of its culture religious intellectual artistic and social. Its vehemence may offend some. For myself I greatly prefer a candid violence to insidious attacks made under cover of patronizing or beguiling sympathy. I do not refer to the feeling which rightly corresponds to that glorious but today much prostituted word. As regards the matter of the book India and the future is largely a re-statement of commonly current criticism. Thereafter a reply to this onslaught is an answer to others; lastly the book in question well evidences the political basis of the culture attack. It makes an offer which may be nakedly stated in the following terms “Give up yourselves. Be like us. If you do you have our support for (to use a tedious common place) your political aspiration. You will not get if you persist in your barbarism.”
Mr. Archer thus treats of question of practical politics now agitating this country. With these I am not here concerned and upon them and I am here interested chiefly to show the three causes racial religious and political, which are at the back of the influences making for the cultural conquest of this country. It is oblivious also causes is not a detached and truly rational one. In judging of a civilization we must look to its fundamental principles. Indian thought with its usual profundity and avoidance of arbitrary divisions regards Philosophy as religious and religion as philosophical. We must therefore go to first principles however unfamiliar such a course may be to writers on Western civilization concerned with the external aspects of social and political life. It is right to say that the truth of such principles must be jugged by their result the test of Ayurveda. But we must compare results and if one is more defective than another we must be operating. Having lived in this country for a period of nearly thirty years I am well aware of the divergence between ideals and facts. The greater one’s interest in India the more acutely is it observed. But his charge is one which in varying ways can be made in different degree against all peoples. We must also distinguish between what is essential and of evoke contempt in minds characterized by the organic racial consistency means lack of moral and intellectual coherence and that man in the mass fulfils today his highest destiny not as an insolated individual but as a portion of an organic whole as a member of specific race.
The question of the value of Indian culture is not merely an academic one. It has present practical bearing on the future of India and the world. I every day ponder upon and question myself as to the future of this country. Will it preserve its essential character that is culture I say essential because I am thinking of its enduring principles and of their general applications. Some things are still happening which might lead one to think it will not. Thus after this book had been called an Indian leader in which he said that English institutions were the standards by which their (the Indians) aspiration were set. We may all benefit by the example and influence of others. But is the Racial Sun of those who speak in this way which is se. is it possible to conceive of any ordinary, much less a leading Englishmen or Irishman however friendly to and a admire of (let us say) France, saying that “French instructions were the standards by which his aspiration were set. He would think that his own perfected institutions and racial ideals were the standard according to which his aspiration should be set. Is it possible with such a frame of mind to have impendence and nobility of spirit? But perhaps it and other like sayings are only evidence of the occasional lingering of the servient are only evidence of the ration into a newly opening age of nobility courage vigor and freedom. I greatly hope so. An Indian Reviewer of this Indian who is capable thinks that I make too much of that type of Indian who is capable mouthing the portentous servile imagination that European institutions are the standard by which the aspiration of India are set that (he says) except for the rapidly dwindling class to which this spokesman belongs has its truth only in one field the political a very important exception I admit and one which opens the door to a peril of stupendous proportions but even there a deep change of spirit is fore shadowed I am glad to hear this for I have no desire to make of this evil more than is justified.
But is Indian civilization about to be renewed or to be broken up another instance of that disintegration which has followed the introduction of Western civilization amongst eastern peoples. Its poison does not harm the snake but is death to others. Who can be sure that the close of the War will not be followed by movements tending to the cultural conquest of the whole of the Asiatic continent. There are events and possibilities which point this ways. Moreover there is a party amongst the Indian people themselves who favors in varying degree, the introduction of western civilization a party which in the proposed new political order may be powerful enough to achieve its ends. In every way the coming assault on Hindu civilization will be the greatest which it has ever had to endure in the whole course of its long history.
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