Akbar to Independence and Beyond: Middle class India and after

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The 1857 Mutiny

The 1857 Mutiny

Part four and finish of my early historic review toward Hindu nationalism, undertaken when I first arrived in India in an effort to understand her.

To large for one post, here is part four, revealing my thinking from the past. Click here to see Part 1 Akhbar to Derozio , or Part 2 Ram Mohan Roy to Macaulay. and part 3 Drabendranath Tagore to Vivekananda.

The rise of Indian nationalism was inspired by the rising Indian and Muslim middle class who success in the British system outweighed old school Muslim and Hindu.

However, following ‘the mutiny’ of 1857, British suspicions of Indian loyalty increased racial discrimination partly ‘justified’ by social theories inspired by Darwinism.

Highly educated Nationalist moderates had read English classics promoting justice, freedom and love of one’s country teaching Britain was providential; toward Indian self government.

Moderates attacked disparities but not British rule, placing them at a political disadvantage to extremist groups who could rally greater popular support under the banner of Indian symbols.

They demanded the rights and liberties of the British and constantly recalled Parliament and Queen Victoria’s promise that Indians could compete equally against English in the Indian Civil Service.

hume1However, they were a more effective, but perhaps largely forgotten, force in changing British opinion. The first meeting of The Indian National Congress was fathered by sympathetic retired civil servant Scotsman Allan Octavian Hume.

“You are the salt of the land” wrote Hume in 1883 “and if amongst even you, the elite, fifty men cannot be found with sufficient power of self sacrifice, sufficient love for and pride in their country, sufficient genuine and unselfish heart-felt patriotism to take the initiative, and if needs be, devote the rest of their lives to the Cause – then there is no hope for india.”

Bombay born Dadhabai Naoroji (1825 -1917), ‘the grand old man of India’, was the son of a Zoroastrian priest whose descendants had fled Persia after Muslim conquest. His little used family name was Dordi meaning a twisted rope made of coconut husk.

“You may burn a dordi” said Naoroji “but you can never take the twist out of it. So it is with me. When once I form a decision nothing will dislodge me from it.”

Dadhabai Naoroji

Dadhabai Naoroji

The first Indian to achieve a professorship of Mathematics, serving twenty seven years at Bombay’s Elphinstone Institution, Naoroji moved to permanently to London to help the British become aware of India’s problems. He was the first Indian elected to the house of commons and pushed for a parliamentary commission into the financial administration of India.

Naoroji bitterly condemned the costly drain of British rule on India. He praised the abolition of suttee and infanticide, destruction of thugs, the ‘remarriage of Hindoo widows and charitable aid in time of famine” “of which any nation may be rightly proud.” Britain’s civilizing influence had no debit but more could have been done. The education of male and female, ‘though only partial’ and the ‘resuscitation of India’s own noble literature’, peace and morality, freedom of speech, railways and irrigation are to be praised.

There is generally “a slowly growing desire to to treat Indians equitably” but there have been “repeated breaches of promises” to give “natives” a fair share in administration.

“No greater calamity could befall India than for England to go away and leave India to herself” Naoroji claimed. However the ‘great moral evil’ was the drain British rule placed on India.

However, Europeans isolated themselves and were not the peoples “mental, moral or social leader, or companion”. They cannot enter Indian thoughts feelings or sympathies.

British came “acquire India’s money, experience and wisdom” and carry both away with them” when they return home leaving “India so much poorer in material and moral wealth” and their pensions, without training administrative and statesman to act as ‘natural guides of the rising generations in their national and social conduct’ for future generations.

Thousands are now educated but find no positions available for them in their motherland. Potentially, they are a ‘wild, spirited horse, without curb or reins’ that could recoil on the rulers.

With ‘culpable indifference’ every effort is made to extract taxation without adequate effort to ‘increase the peoples means to pay’.

Naoroji was thrice elected president to the Indian National congress (1886. 1893, 1906) and prominent in its first session in 1885.

He asked whether ‘the days of the Rajahs like the great Vikram’ or ‘the later empire of our friends, the Mahomedans’, ‘even in the days of the great Akhbar himself’ were as important as congress second session in 1886, praising the civilizing rule of the queen that ‘made it possible for us to meet in this manner’and for Naoroji to travel without fear for his family in his absence.

Rather than preaching sedition, ‘we are loyal to the backbone’ and Congress was ‘another stone in the foundation of stability of government.’

India’s ‘great misfortune’ was British not knowing their wants, calling on the British sense of ‘fair play and justice’ of making India both self supporting by either returning wealth to her or increasing India’s material position to be able to produce more income and satisfying India’s ‘reasonable and growing political aspirations to administer her own country.

While Britain rightly expected economic return on investment it was ‘economically rude and unintelligent’ to expect public works intended for future benefit to be immediately paid for by the present generation[1].

A businessman would not pay a manager more than he earned, yet demands to Britain exceed Indian production. In his many returns to India, Naoroji served as Chief Minister to the Princely state of Paroda in 1873- 74, to prevent the crown from annexing it for mismanagement.

Moderates promoted understanding between Hindus and Muslims and Bengali Surendranath Banerjea (1848 – 1926) exhorted young men to strive for unity as a patriotic duty.

Surendranath Banerjea

Surendranath Banerjea

Called ‘surrender not’ Banerjea, the son of a Brahman doctor, he was one of the first Indians selected for Indian civil Service. Unlike the British, he was dismissed for a minor oversight, failed to have it overturned in London and failed to be admitted to the bar he returned to India convinced “the personal wrong done to me was an illustration of the impotency of our people” he was determined to spend his life “redressing our wrongs and protecting our rights, personal and collective.”

Calling young men “ the hope of your country” he used his oratorical skills to rouse Bengali and Punjabi to “lead worthy, honourable, and patriotic lives that we may all live and die happily and that India may be great.”

Just as Englishmen look back with ‘pride and satisfaction’ “when Hampden offered up his life for the deliverance of his own country, when Algerian Sydney had laid down his head on the block to rid his country of a hated tyrant.”

This principle of “Indian unity” was taught in the Punjab three hundred years ago by Nanak, ‘the immortal founder of the Sikh empire” who endeavoured “knit together Hindus and Musulmans under thee banner of a common faith.”

“We too must preach the great doctrine of peace and good will between Hindus and Mussulmans, Christians and Parsees” and all sectors of the Indian community, said Banerjea. We must meet on the “common platform …of our own countries welfare.”

“There is a common divinity, to whom we may uplift our voices in adoration. The divinity who presides over the destinies of our country” he said.

Discouraging blind loyalty to Britain, it is “unnecessary” to use violence to ‘redress our grievances. Constitutional Agitation will secure for us those rights, the privileges which in less favored countries are obtained by sterner means.”

He stubbornly apposed extremist calls against foreigners and started the tradition of welcoming imprisonment to demonstrated injustice after criticizing a judge.

Britain would grant self-government when India was prepared for it. We must take the community on “a process of steady and gradual uplift’ so there be“no sudden disturbance or dislocation” described as “the normal path of progress in Hindu society.”

Society is moving as was seen by changes to ‘the question of sea voyage, or child marriage, or even enforced widowhood’ and the ‘remarkable’ removal of ‘restrictions of caste’ including the now ‘not infrequent’ marriages ‘between hitherto prohibited sub castes of Brahmins and Kayasthas”. Twice president of Congress, he left it in 1918 to head the All-India Liberal Federation when younger congress members threatened to block the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms.

Maharashtran Mahadev Govind Ranade emerged from the Elphinstone Institution and the new Bombay University where he taught economics, history and literature. Appointed a subordinate judge in the government courts of Poona, he was barred from politics worked to reform child marriage, non marriage of widows and the seclusion of women.

Mahadev Govind Ranade
Mahadev Govind Ranade

Protected by the Western Ghats, the Maharashtran kingdoms were some of the last to fall to Europe. Established by the Marathi-Kunbi castes under Shivaji (1630? – 1680), the kingdom was ruled by his descendants, Peshwas (Prime Ministers) and later intellectual leaders of the Chitpavan Brahman caste. Even after the 1818 collapse of the Peshwa government Poona remained an intellectual centre.

An early member of the Prarthana Samaj, a prayer society modeled after Rammohun Roy’s Brahmo Samaj and founded 1887 following a visit to Bombay by Keshub Chunder Sen, Ranade admired Roy as a patriot and godly man and sought to keep its ties with Hindu society and gradually bring the orthodox around to its position.

In 1887 he founded the Indian National Social Conference and in 1890 the Industrial association of Western India.

He rejected the claim of the Brahmo and Arya Samaj for a revival of ancient faiths. In advocating a “return old ways, …old authorities and the old sanction …people speak without realizing the full significance of their own words.”

The past includes the Vedas, Smritis, Puranas, Mohuomaden and modern Hindu times. What ancient past should be revived? “Men and gods of the old days ate and drink forbidden things to excess” and lists past Nigoya system of brother in law marriage for widows. Or the eight forms of marriage that ‘included capture’, the sexual liberties ‘of the marital tie’ taken by Rishis and their wives. Or the ‘hecatombs of animals sacrificed’ “which human beings were not spared as propitiatory offerings” or flinging men into “rivers, or over rocks, or hook swinging, or the crushing beneath Jagannath car.”

Should Brahmins return to the past when they were beggars’ dependent on the king?

“A living organism, as society is, no revival is possible” argued Ranade.“Reformation is the only alternative open to sensible people”.

Revival may change the external. “It is not the outward form, but the inward form, the thought and idea which determines the outward form, that has to be changed if real reformation is to take place.”

Influenced by a social system that “set forth as isolation, submission to outward forms of power more than to the voice on inward conscience’ resulted in ‘perception of fictitious differences between men and women’, passive acquiescence” of wrong doing “indifference to secular well being, almost bordering on fatalism.”

“They prevent some of our people from being who they really are in all conscience, neither better or or worse than their fellows” he said.

Referencing Saint Paul, he says the past should be by “the fruits they have borne’ which Ranade calls ‘disastrous.’

Ranade encouraged cultivating ‘the spirit of fraternity or elastic expansiveness’ and not isolation. Every caste and sect’ splits itself off, teaching that knowledge and salvation is for an elect few. Ranade taught expanding your friends “towards a general recognition of the essential equality between and man. It will beget sympathy and power.”

Secondly, although we are ‘children of God’ he criticize being kept as children because someone in the past told you so. Rather than being helpless, he taught “that of freedom responsible to the voice of god in us.” There is “a divine principle enthroned in the heart of everyone’ and because of this power we have a duty to act.

Thirdly, “hereditary and birth explain many things, but this Law of Karma does not explain all things!” Rather than “enforce surrender” he taught ‘a new idea” that the “Law of Karma can be controlled and set back by a properly controlled will, when it has been made subservient to a higher will than ours.”

Fourth, Ranade denied that evil is inevitable in human life.

His patient, constructive, scholarly and devotion to Welfare inspired patriotism in hundreds of young man to whom he maintained constant correspondence inspiring Gokhale and Gandhi.    

Delhi 1947 Aug 15

Reflections Post Independence

For five decades following Indian Independence, writer John Murray recorded changing social attitudes across the sub continent.He argued that in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign her consort Prince Albert inculcated a ‘respect for truth and honesty, justice, efficiency and dedication to ones duty[2]’ but self imposed cultural isolation of the British, their superior air and in some cases arrogance helped feed Indian nationalism.

Murray writes of Michael, one of the last surviving Indian officials of the Raj, reflecting on the ‘decline in values, the self seeking and intrigue, diminished sense of responsibility and the unsuitability of many of the appointments’ in India following 1948.

Under the British everything was well run, without bribery or corruption, claimed Michael. But I wonder if Michael was speaking cautiously, even subserviently, to a white man? The British were guilty of corruption – but to a far lesser scale, reflecting their smaller numbers.

Sadly, says Murray, ‘many positive values of the Raj hive off to sink like scraps in rough water, while less desirable elements of foreign rule such as exploitation and inequality, have not been vanquished in an egalitarian Utopia’.

Corruption is so bad Murray quotes a Cabinet Member from Bihar as reported in The Hindu, lamenting that ‘graft and corruption have become so rampant’ that ‘government employers do not dispose of work of even ministers without extorting bribes … Not a single official paper moved from one table to another unless the person concerned paid a bribe at each stage of its movement.’

Nehru August 15, 1947

Nehru August 15, 1947

Many Indian educated youth would wipe British colonial history as if a bad dream, writes Murray who believes Britain and India were destined to meet but that India undeniably belongs to the Indians.

Britain and India “had qualities that the other lacked and they complemented one another” like a chauvinistic male and a subservient female.

Gandhi’s success drew in part by calling on India’s strength of character and his ability to uncover the ‘flaw in the psyche of his opponent. He undermined the credibility of the British stance on many issues’ infuriating the British to ‘hopeless perplexity’ against Passive resistance.

‘Gandhi was aware of his opponent’s weaknesses, but he also knew that it was the basic decency of English representatives of the crown and members of the Indian civil Service that would enable him to win the battle against Britain.’

He respected British culture and values and ‘bore no ill will’ but confronted Britain with a spiritual-mindedness, patience and courage that gave him greater stature’.

Gandhi warning of catastrophe was sidelined by Lord Mountbatten’s determination to see a deal between Pandit Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah resulting in columns of terrified refugees crossing borders formed without consultation or without adequate warning. All in an area that had been in a state of civil war for months.

The result was the most brutal peacetime slaughter in human history that left scars on the psyche of both India and Pakistan.

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Northern princely states could decide on either nation and the Kashmiri born new Indian Prime Minister Nehru prevailed on the indecisive Hindu Maharaja Hari Sing to side with India following attacks by insurgent Muslim frontier tribesman who raped, pillaged and tortured en-route to the capital Srinagar.

The Maharaja did not hold a proposed plebiscite of the mainly Muslim region fueling Indian/Pakistan division that many Kashmere’s today use to feed their own desire of independence from either state.

Sadly, however, ‘a myriad unresolved factors in [India’s] ancient national psyche’ reactively become newsworthy while the quiet tolerant majority are ignored. Fundamentalists calling for a Theocratic State ‘threaten to fulfill India’s irrevocable destiny or send the nation spiraling off course.’

‘It is perhaps a singular Indian trait’ wrote India Today of March 31, 1990 ‘to look for scapegoats whenever the crying need is for brutal self criticism.’

Or does Indian need to again look within – as Ramakrishna, Ram Mohun Roy and others suggest – and draw on it’s Hindu Monotheistic tradition to overcome what Murray describes as an ingrained arrogance and indifference fueled by an India divided by caste or growing economic inequality?

I hope India – the land I call home – reasserts her soul.

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[1] The same policy was applied to other colonies. For example, there was immediate pressure on the colony of New South Wales to be profitable.

[2] Murray, B., 2003,‘Reflections from an Indian Diary’, Wakefield Press, Kent Town

Akbar to Independence and Beyond: Debendranath Tagore to Vivekananda

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Part three of my early historic review toward Hindu nationalism, undertaken when I first arrived in India in an effort to understand her.

To large for one post, here is part three, from Debendranath Tagore to Vivekananda, revealing my thinking from the past. Click here to see Part 1 Akhbar to Derozio , or Part 2 Ram Mohan Roy to Macaulay.

Debendranath Tagore

Debendranath Tagore

Debendranath Tagore continued the spirit of Roy’s Brahmo Samaj with its monotheistic creed. Orthodox Hinduism teaches “The supremacy of the worship of Brahma, enjoining image worship for help of those who are incapable of grasping its highest truth.”

The Brahmo rejected any ”mediums, symbols or idols of any description” denying that any “book, man or image be in the way of direct communion with God.” Tagore increasingly used his intuition, arguing that the bodiless soul was in direct communion with God.

“By the soul shalt thou know the supreme soul.”

Rather, it taught ‘loving him and doing deeds pleasant in His sight … is worship” without rites and ceremonies deemed essential in religions.

He who adores God and loves man is ‘a saint’ live with good deeds and refuse to contend with others.

“Not by wealth, nor by children, but by renunciation alone, is immortality attained” he quotes explaining “renunciation is not renunciation of the world by becoming an anchorite, dwelling in the wilderness, but dwelling at home, and living in the world, all lusts of the heart should be cast out.”

Attaining God here on earth can be attained when lusts are cast out.

‘By example and precept” the Brahmo was to “hold up a beacon the highest truths of the Hindu shastras” to purify ‘our heritage’ by acting consistent with true faith we must respond sympathetically to our ‘orthodox brethren’ and ‘make every allowance for, and abstain from persecuting or alienating, those who think different from us.’

Our motherland is dear to us, he said, but religion is dearer. “Dharma is our friend in the Lord, and dharma is our guide to the next”

Keshub Chunder Sen

Keshub Chunder Sen

More radically proactive the Bengali Keshub Chunder Sen took Roy’s openness and Tagore’s intuition to and bought the Brahmo to its peak but also irrevocably damaged it. He said he was ‘baptized’ in the ‘religion of fire’ and the ‘doctrine of enthusiasm.’

Britain was divinely providential for India, claimed Sen, and self government will come to India when she is ready and able to make a reciprocal contribution to Britain. Loyalty required allegiance to queen Victoria and to the ‘sacred book’ of British paternal rule, he described as a ‘most sacred religious ceremony’ when Victoria took the title Empress of India.

“The Hindu notion of god is sublime” Kechub preached, an ‘infinite spirit‘ ‘dwelling in His glory, pervading all space, full of peace and joy” worshipped in “quiet contemplation”. The “Mohomeden” describe God as “infinite in power, governing the universe in supreme authority as Lord of all’, who is worshipped with “constant excitement and active service” as a ‘soldier, crusading against evil.”

He desired a ‘crusade’ against the caste system of India and the ‘obnoxious distinction between Brahmin and Sudra’.

Kechub dreamed of a religion that blended these qualities. He taught a New Dispensation, an Indian National church that could unite Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

India eats, thinks and breathes in an all pervasive Christian atmosphere, and Jesus and the apostles were Asians, he said.

Just as Jesus followed Moses, Paul and Peter drank the blood of Jesus and imparted it to other Christian saints, and ‘modern’ India has ‘eaten, assimilated and absorbed, making their ideas and character our own.’

“How Asia eats the flesh and drinks the blood of Europe. How the Hindu absorbs the Christian; how the Christian assimilates the Hindu!” proclaimed Kechub. “Cultivate the communion … and continuously absorb what is good and noble of each other.”

Keshub would leave the Brahmo Samaj, taking many with him, founding the BrahmoSamaj of india, but would later scandalize this group claiming it was Gods will his 13 year old daughter marry a Hindu prince contrary to the policy he formerly advocated of minimum age for Brahmo marriage.

Dayananda Saraswati

Dayananda Saraswati

Just as energetic was the stern Bengali Vedic reformer, Dayananda Saraswati who rejected idolatry after practicing a Parthiva Puja. This ‘hideous emblem of Shiva’ “allows mice to run upon its body”. “I could not bring myself to believe that the idol and Mahadeva (Great God) were one and the same God”

He argued a reformist return to the four Vedas, “the sanhita – Mantra portions only”, which he described as “the repository of knowledge and religious truth” and “are the word of God.”

“They are absolutely free from error and are an authority unto themselves” he wrote.

He called for a return to the ’primeval eternal religion’ above the ‘hostility of creeds’ rejecting what was “objectionable and false”. He forcefully attacked idolatry, stating child marriage, untouchability, the subjugation and inequality of women were not sanctioned in the Vedas.

A man’s caste should be determined by his merit and not his birth, he said. Religious knowledge should be available for all, and not just the Brahmin.

Worship should be directed to the supreme spirit Brahma who permeates the entire universe, perfection of existence, consciousness and bliss, holy omniscient, formless, unborn, infinite, almighty, just and merciful.

“Mukti or salvation means deliverance … to get rid of all suffering, and to realize god, to remain happy and free from rebirthhe argued in debate with a Christian and Muslim. This attained by practicing truth, before God and ones conscience, to know and follow the Vedas, associate with men of ‘truth and knowledge’ practicing yoga to eliminate untruth from the mind, reciting and meditating on the qualities of God, and to pray to god ‘to be steadfast in truth(gyana), realization of the reality of dharma, to keep one away from untruth, ignorance and adharma, and to free one from the woes of birth and death and obtain mukti.”

Man suffers because of his own sins and not because of Adam. Christianity limits god to that of as man who is either responsible for evil, or powerless with Satan, or Adam, he said. The Christian and Muslim God is “like a man’ with limited knowledge.

But God is unlimited, argued Saraswati, and is in no need of a prophet.

Still Saraswati could praise Western rejection of child marriage, and marriage by personal choice, the education of both boys and girls, representative assemblies and action following consultation, sacrifice for the nation, and faithfulness to duty, supporting fellow British in trade and keeping to their own fashion rather than being swayed by exotic fashion unlike English copying Indians.

At times extravagant – he claimed electricity was mentioned in the Vedas – and extremely strong, he could be acrimonious and was forced to defend himself from cobras, swordsman and thugs eventually killed when he attacked a Prince’s loose living and the woman in question had his milk laced with ground glass.

His militancy was continued by the Arya Samaj that he founded.

Ramakrishna

Ramakrishna

Perhaps the most saintly was Bengali Shri Ramakrishna (1836 – 1886) who retained his simplicity and devotion to Kali preaching a gentle faith of selfless devotion to god and ultimate ecstatic absorption in the divine. He lived in near constant meditative ecstasy, seeing meaning in the smallest incidents or seeing sita in a seeing a harlot. He experienced his first mystical trance at seven.

After 12 years of discipline at the new Hooghly river temple at Calcutta he experienced God as the Divine mother, Sita, Rama, Krishna, Mohammad and Jesus worshipping each according to their tradition.

He advised to live in the world but to fix your mind on God.

The Vedas claim ‘this world is like a chandelier, and each jiva (individual soul) is like a light in it.’

“Everything is the mind” said Ramakrishna “you can dye the mind with any colour you wish.”

“If you keep your mind in evil company, your thoughts ideas and words will be coloured with evil; but keep in the company of Bakhtas, then your thoughts ideas and words will be on God.”

If you are bitten by a snake and assert with strong conviction you are cured you will be cured.

He criticized a Christian book “in it there as only one them – sin and sin, from beginning to end” claiming the same ‘main topic’ for KeshubSen’sBrahmo-Samaj. ‘He who repeats day and night: “I am a sinner, I am a sinner,” becomes a sinner indeed.’

God dwells in us all, so we should love all mankind, but to the wicked you ‘bow at a distance” remaining calm at all times and “it is necessary … to keep occasionally the company of holy men”.

Ramakrisna used many ‘parables’: He compared our belief that we have dependant power to a child thinking boiling vegetables are alive in a pot, or a marionette. We should nor elevate ourselves because we are god, because god is also in the elephant blocking our way, or the elephant driver.

Holy men are like observers of a game of chess – better able to assess the play than the comp[editors attached to the games outcome.

A man convinced in the power of his gurus name, used it and walked on water. Hearing this the guru thought he was ‘very great and powerful, entered the water and drowned.

“When a wound is perfectly healed, the slough falls off itself; but if the slough be taken off earlier, it bleeds. Similarly, when the perfection of knowledge is reached by a man, the distinction of caste fall off from him, but it is wrong for the ignorant to break such distinctions.”

Swami_Vivekananda_JaipurRamakrisna’s western educated, Calcutta born disciple Narendranath Datta (1863-1902) became Swami Vivekananda. Born to a Kayastha family of lawyers he gave up material pursuits and studied as a sannyasi for 12 years.

In 1893 he spoke at the first world Parliament of Religions in Chicago, then toured Britian and the USA for four years. He returned India a hero setting out to regenerate his fellow Indians, enhance cultural pride and calling on them to become great by living by the highest of Indian values.

The world goes through changes in the material and spiritual planes and Europe had reached a material height and it was time for a spiritual adjustment. “In no distant date” he alleges, Indian oriental spiritual truths will “bring unto mankind once more the memory of his real nature.”

“To the Oriental the world of spirit is as real as to the Occidental is the world of the senses.” Each claims that the other is dreaming.

Man is to conquer nature, wrote Vivekananda to the Maharajah of Mysore in 1894, not just the external, physical nature, as seen by the occident, but also the “ majestic, internal nature of man, higher than the sun, moon and stars”.

“Spirituality must conquer the West” and “everyone must be ready for the conquest of the world by India” aided by ‘heroic workers’ who self sacrificingly ‘disseminate the great truths of Vedanta.’

Spiritual truth of Vedanta must be given to the West so that each nation and individual may work his own salvation.

While “no country in the world has so many laws” as the USA ‘in no country are they so little regarded.’ Rejecting their own traditions, many ‘learned priests’ are now interpreting the Bible in light of the Vedas teaching of ‘the eternity of both soul and creation, and God as our highest and most perfect nature.”

However, the material Westerners “never think beyond their own selfish ends” and could not care if Indians live or die.

His zeal to serve the downtrodden helped breach the divide between other nationalist leaders who were perceived as Western setting a pattern for later leaders like Gandhi.

He calls for independence of the unmanly aping of Western standards with rich and poor embracing pride in their heritage to strengthen their nation. Many Indians idealize the West but have never lived there to experience its problems. Some Indians ashamed of their poverty are like lesser European nations dressing like the British and ignoring their cultural nobility.

India has observed Western science ‘dazzling the yes with brilliance of Western suns’ with ‘rank materialism, plentitude of fortune, accumulation of gigantic power’ is also heard ‘discordant sounds’ in low ‘unmistakable accents, the heart rendering cries of ancient gods, cutting her to the quick.’

The contrast to the ‘shameless freedom’ of Western independence to the Indian goal of Mukti (renunciation) with stern vows , fasting’s, retreat, samadhi and the ‘search after self’ leads to the question “Here, in this world, of death and change, O man, where is thy happiness?’

New India is torn between the right to choose one’s spouse and the old idea that marriage is ‘not for sense enjoyment’, but ‘perpetuation of the race.’ This is responsible for society’s future and so society should be able to dictate marriage choice.

Blindly imitating an others ideas prevents these ideas from becoming India’s own. Western success is like the brilliant success of a short lightening strike. Nor is India perfect, and it must also learn.

Vivekananda illustrates India’s aping of the West with a short of told by Ramakrishna of a man who faulted the Hindu shastras but then suddenly one day praised the Bhagavad Gita. “Me thinks some European pandit has praised the Gita, and so has also followed suit.”

‘What is good or bad is not decided by reason, judgment, discrimination or reference to the shastras” but whether it is praised by ‘a white man’. While religious customs should be discussed, throwing our ‘Gods and Goddesses into the river Ganges’ because of ‘the disapproval of Westerners’ is not.

According to Vivekananda the ‘caste system is good. That is the only natural way of solving life.’ Isis natural that man will form themselves in groups. ‘There will always be caste.’ God is within a both a man who mends shoes or governs a country.”But that does not mean that there should be these privileges. They should be knocked on the head.”

There should be equal chances for all. Vedanta should be taught equally so that ‘everyone will work out his own salvation.’

He refused to condemn idolatry, arguing for religious reform ‘which truly means to be made ready or perfect by necessary cleaning or repairs, not by demolishing the whole thing.’

‘If you are fit to worship God-without-Form discarding any external help, do so, but why do you condemn others who cannot do the same.’

Part 4 will discuss y rise of Indian Middle class nationalism .

Akbar to Independence and beyond: Ram Mohan Roy to Macaulay

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291px-Raja_Ram_Mohan_RoyPart two of my early historic review toward Hindu nationalism, undertaken when I first arrived in India in an effort to understand her.

To large for one post, here is part two, from Ram Mohan Roy to Macaulay, revealing my thinking of the past. Click For Part 1, from Akbar to Derozio With a more retailed review of Ram Mohan Roy’s philosophy and the political debates of the time here.

Ram Mohun Roy (1772- 1833) strongly presented methods for the British too improve government in India.

Ram Mohan Roy offered Indians a way out of the divisive corruptions while retaining Indian self respect by rediscovering Hindu monotheism. He argued that these were an ‘allegoric adoration’ which had over time developed a life of their own and covered the truth of the one supreme being.

He also argued successfully against suttee, or widow burning and in doing so praised women who had been described as contemptible, uneducated and prone to mischievous female passions.

Roy argued it is wrong to criticize women for being uneducated when men denied them the opportunity and points to many educated female elite ‘celebrated for their thorough knowledge of the Shastrus.’ Rather than ‘want of resolution’, a women who would submit to being burned alive while has more resolve than men who would flee from this death.

Women are universally more faithful to their friends and their men, he said. Women ‘virtuously endure’ ‘mental miseries and constant quarrels’ caused when husbands marry many wives – often for financial advantage only to neglect them for the favour of a preferred spouse. Treated severely for the smallest fault, they are forced to eat the insufficient remnants after the men.

He had a high regard for the Christian humanitarian ethic, which he believed was ‘likely’ to improve hearts and minds – but clearly argued that Hinduism was not inferior. He strongly rejected the trinity – even persuading a minister of its falsehood – and carefully studied and even translated the Christian texts into Sanskrit and Bengali.

While recognizing that the early church proselytized its message he criticized Indian missionaries who – unlike the apostles – preached as members of a ruling class who submitted with fear. He points out that the Greeks Romans, Moghuls all criticized the gods of the people they subjugated, as Christians criticized ‘Asiatic effeminacy’.

Christians depreciated the ‘sublime mysteries’ of Hinduism, but Mohummud Roy, notes that Christians equally cannot explain the mystery of the trinity. Roy criticizes Christians who turn a deaf ear to reasonable contrary opinions, the laws of nature, human reason and divine revelation.

Grateful for the ‘useful mechanical arts’ introduced by the West, but to science, literature and religion “I do not acknowledge that we are placed under any obligation.”

He argues that continued Indian loyalty depended on continuing the civil liberties granted under British rule. In particular, he argues for freedom of the press. Indian princes had kept people in darkness and this inspired revolt. Free press helps good government, he argues, by revealing the errors or injustice of leaders because of our imperfect human nature.

In 1828, he supposes ‘one hundred years hence’, discourse with Europeans, will result in the rise of Hindu nationalism, especially on occasions when restrictive regulations are applied by the British.

One of the Britain’s lasting legacies was sponsoring English education. Although he was a highly skilled linguist, Roy, argued for an English, rather than Sanskrit, education system. English is best suited to needed real knowledge, and practical science and ‘Baconian philosophy.’

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Sir Willliam Jones

Orientalist, Sir William Jones (1746 – 1794) praised the rich, melodious and eloquent languages of India, claiming there was a rich demand for their study and a dearth of books. These languages had been neglected, few in the West appreciated their value or ‘some detest the Persians , because they believe in Mohomed.’ Jones hoped ‘languages of Asia, will be studied with uncommon ardour’, however, Roy, claimed these complex languages was a lifelong study of “learning concealed under this most impervious veil’ with insufficient reward for the long hours of labour.

Thomas Babington Macauley, who decided for government funded English studiestook a utilitarian approach.

“We have a fund to be employed as government will direct for the intellectual improvement for the people of this country” he wrote. “The simple question is, what is the most useful way of employing it?”

Macauley sees value in Asiatic poetry, but claims to have never met an Orientalist who equates Arabic or Sanskrit it as good as European verse.

Macauley does not share Roy’s high estimation of science or literature . He had never found one orientalist ‘who could deny that a single shelf on a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.”

While sadly depreciating Asiatic literature and science, his approach simply recognized that education revolutionized Russia and the demand to learn English was far higher than for oriental languages by the Indian peoples themselves.

Funds have limits and it is better to teach English to a class, who will appreciate the works of Hume and Milton, even learn Greek to study Herodotus and Sophocles, and who can translate government directives to the rest, he said. Sanskrit is mostly for religious study and not government funding.

Thomas Babington Macaulay

Thomas Babington Macaulay

Macaulay’s hoped for classically educated elite would renew appreciation for Hinduism and inspire Indian national pride. Just as Kabir and Nanak addressed the 15th and 16th century Muslim idea that all believers are equal before God, a resurgent reform toward Hindu monotheism responded to Western secularism and Christian missionaries.

British rule gave Indians an unprecedented opportunity that many Muslims were slow to accept, resentful of the Moghul decline and suspicious of religious corruption. Edwin Arnolds translation of the Gita and Sanskrit scholar Max Muller glowing estimation of the Indian mind inspired pride. The Theosophy Society spoke of reincarnation and Karma. It would move to Adyar, Madras.

Eventually, as we will see in part 3, the most sincere simple devotees would inspire Hindu belief more than the West or skilled Indian orators.

Akbar to Independence and beyond: Akbar to Derozio

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India is a land of hurt substance and of antique opulence but her full time arrived and now she seeks serenity through the reinvention of her past.

I wrote those words when I first arrived in India, and to understand her, summarized her changes in thought. My opinion have moderated through my Indian experience.

To large for one post, here is part one, from Akbar to Derozio, revealing my thinking of the past.

Dynasties rather than nations had ruled ancient India, although Ashoka, Samudragupa and Harsha held the loyalty of vast areas.

Emperor akbar
The Moghul emperor Akbar (1542- 1605) established a durable administrative system, and seventy five years after Vasco de Gama landed on the Malabar Coast, Akhbar enquired of the wonders, manners and customs of Europe. A font of spiritual and physical knowledge claims his biographer, AbulFazl,he “wished that these inquiries might be the means of civilizing (istinis, familiarity or sociability) this savage [unsocial] race”. He met with missionaries from Goa but was happier with his 300 wives that Christian monogamy.

The degenerating Mughul empire collapsed internally and following the passing of Aurangzeb was subject to Persian and Afghan attack. Each Hindu and Muslim prince sought a piece of the former empire but the British would emerge a dominant European ruler after supplanting the French.

There is an old false stereotype that a dynamic Christian world conquered a near vacuum of pagan illiterates with no history worth mentioning[1].

Rather, “Western European peoples struggled to emerge from feudalism, the merchants and manufacturers won the support of the state as a way of making the various nations stronger” claimed Gilberto Freyre[2].

Resulting technological innovation led to “European ships with their square-rigged mainmast sailed closer to the wind,” whereas ““Muslim and indigenous ships on the Indian Ocean sailed only with the monsoons” wrote Lucille Brockway.

“Muslim ships could not carry guns and still relied on boarding parties in naval battles. After centuries of borrowing from the East, European science was being translated into superior technology—better charts, navigational instruments, ships, and cannon.”

“Exchanging oarsmen for sails and warriors for guns meant essentially the exchange of human energy for inanimate power. By turning wholeheartedly to the gun-carrying sailing ship the Atlantic peoples broke down a bottleneck in­herent in the use of human energy and harnessed, to their advantage, far larger quantities of power. It was then that European sails appeared aggressively on the most distant seas [Cipolla 1965:81].

Europe had no luxury items to trade with the East, except firearms, resulting in a drain of gold and silver throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth cen­turies. Of India, Braudel (1966:569) quotes a Venetian merchant: “Silver goes where the pepper is.”

Nevertheless, “Hindu princes who were resisting Moslem invaders were eager to buy European guns and Arabian horses transported to India on Portuguese ships” wrote Brockway.

A_Ranga_PillaiOne of the supporters of the French was the Hindu agent Ananda Rangi Pillai (1709 – 1761) who shows a total absence of national consciousness. Rather he identifies with French interests. Although he strongly rejects the impropriety of a feast where each religious group and caste was represented together simultaneously as a corruption although each groups requirements and beliefs were respected. The Muslim trader, Mirza Abu Taleb Khan (1752- ?) recognizes errors that have kept into many Muslims life and criticized the pride and indolence of the British. Blind faith causes the British to wait until misfortune strikes rather than prepare and prevent it.

Mirza Abu Taleb Khan

Mirza Abu Taleb Khan

He criticizes the worldliness, irreligion and love of luxury of the British but admits that since land ownership is so well protected in Britain it encourages people to work hard to live later years off the fruits of their labour.

In particularly he notes the ‘peculiar idea’ of the British that perfection is ‘merely an ideal quality, and depends entirely on comparison.’ In future ages the ‘exalted dignity’ of Newton will be looked back ‘as we now do on the rude arts of savages.’

Henry Derozio (1809- 1831) argued that if it is wrong to discuss the existence of God it is wrong to debate against the non existence of God. The theistic Derozio was dismissed from a Hindu school for presenting arguments for and against God – and criticized the Hindu ‘clamour’ over logical debate.derozio

Yet in his poetry he portrays a romantic picture if Indian former glories, while lamenting its then present state calling for an Indian nationalism – as in his poem The Harp of India– and calling for the day when educated youth will overcome the forces of orthodoxy.

The Harp Of India

 
Why hang’st thou lonely on yon withered bough?
Unstrung for ever, must thou there remain;
Thy music once was sweet — who hears it now?
Why doth the breeze sigh over thee in vain?
Silence hath bound thee with her fatal chain;
Neglected, mute, and desolate art thou,
Like ruined monument on desert plain:
O! many a hand more worthy far than mine
Once thy harmonious chords to sweetness gave,
And many a wreath for them did Fame entwine
Of flowers still blooming on the minstrel’s grave:
Those hands are cold — but if thy notes divine
May be by mortal wakened once again,
Harp of my country, let me strike the strain!
.

[1]2002 (1979) Brockway, Lucille H., ‘Science and Colonial Expansion – The Role of the British Royal Botanical Gardens’ Yale University Press. London

[2]Reprinted from “The rise and future demise of the world capitalist system: Concepts of comparative analysis,” by Immanuel Wallerstein, Cambridge University Press. 1974.

Moreau’s Europe and the Indian other

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Le Triomphe d’Alexandre le Grand Gustav Moreau

Le Triomphe d’Alexandre le Grand Gustav Moreau

At the Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris hangs a mysterious incomplete painting The Triumph of Alexander the Great (“Le Triomphe d’Alexandre le Grand’). Begun by Gustav Moreau in 1880 and left unfinished, it’s incompleteness adds to its dreamlike character and how Europe saw itself in relation to India.

All the features which Freud attributed to dreams are to be found at work here. The ‘temple’ in the background, with it’s ‘idols’, is itself a condensation of all the religious building and images of ancient India (Hindu, Buddhist and Jain), combined together (from drawings of monuments at Elephanta, Sanchi, Ajanta, Mount Abu, Bhubaneshwar, and elsewhere) in a single structure. At the same time, these religions of mysticism and dread are all summed up in the giant, dark statue that stands menacingly in the centre of the picture – he seems almost to levitate – separating the foreground scene of homage, from the temple behind it “ muses Ronald Inden[1] Alexander himself, whose white clad figure dominates the foreground, at right, is the only one seated. His throne, apparently assembled out of available materials, on top of a small Buddhist chaitya, (congregational hall) and surrounded by a Winged victory, must be one of the most undetermined chairs ever painted! The whole ensemble completely dwarfs the figure of the defeated King Porus, who stands, arms upraised in salute, in his chariot before the youthful, new overlord.

The Indian idol can be seen as displaying from within itself the lower, lower emotional depths of the human mind, the imagination that, Indology tells us, dominates in India. The figure of Alexander, can be taken to exemplify the world-ordering rationality of the West. We see in this canvas, the triumph of the latter over the former, There is however, something disturbing about this dream, of the West (as there is in many of his works) that Moreau has depicted. The Kings of India, the instruments of her mind, have clearly submitted; the women of India, the embodiment of her sensuous beauty and riches, have laid themselves to the feet of the triumphant West. Yet the immense monolith hat embodies the mentality of the East, broad-shouldered and standing erect, faces serenely and over this passing moment of conquest, seemingly unaffected by it. We can also see how in Moreau’s notebook and on his easel the metaphor of Indian thought as dream collapses back on itself. Is it his dream image of India that we see or does he simply mirror what is there?

India differs because she survived repeated invasion mostly unchanged.

It is useful to compare how Sinologists describe neighbouring China.

China, say Siniologists reached its fundamental shape under 3rd century BCE Han dynasty and continued to unfold. Until the Sung period of the 13th century then survived attempts of the Moghuls to govern it after conquest. Then remained static and slipped behind the west.

India, say Indologists, begins with the Aryan invasion in 2nd millennium BCE, flowers under the Mauryas 4th century BCE then began to decline exacerbated by invasions of Hellenes, Scythians, and Turks in 1st 2nd cent BCE to 1st cent AD renascence under the Guptas of the 4th and 5th century declined again with the Hun invasion in the 6th and never reversed.

In other words, China fended off but India succumbed[2]. The myth of Aryan speaking conquest of India, Persia and the Mediterranean essential for the myth of an Aryan pure Greek civilization, so inspiring to Europeans. Nor did European mind did not seem to account the glories of Medieval India, such as Khajuraho.

Yet the conquest of India remained incomplete, like the incomplete outlines of captives and elephants centred in the foreground, of Moreau’s work.

Arabs replaced the previous cultures of the Levant, Africa and Persia, Indian civilisation , or an idea of India, remained!

Islam “introduced new forms into some of the principle departments of state” but, said Mill(Mill,1858: II, 165), “it had not greatly altered the texture of native society,”

Nehru agreed with similar observation by Arthur Anthony MacDonnell:

“And in spite of successive waves of invasion and conquest by Persians, Greeks, Scythians, Muhummadans, the national development of the life and literature of the Indo-Aryan race remained practically unchecked and unmodified from without down to the era of the British occupation. No other branch of the Indo-European stock has experienced an isolated evolution like this.[3]

India differs because she survived repeated invasion mostly unchanged. The conquerors come and go, and like Alexander in Gustav Moreau’s painting, they leave a legacy that pays homage to India.

[1] Ronald Inden, Imaginative India, Basil Blackwell, Oxford.

[2] P54, ibid.

[3] Jawaharhal Nehru, 1951, p. 71, The discovery of India, London, Mridan books.

Reflections on the Dhammapada

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Knowledge is not knowledge but the appearance of knowledge. Knowledge is only information. It does not transform you, but burdens you down.

The fool is at least innocent in his ignorance. Knowledge is ignorance to protect oneself. You must know what you do not know, else you knowledge is borrowed. You are a parrot. You think you now and go on repeating experts. You have to make knowledge you own and give it your own face. Once you know from within knowledge is not the se when experienced from without.

It is spoken from a personal authority and not from a teacher. Hence the Gospels say Jesus spoke his sermon on the mount with authority and not as the rabbi’s.

My message is transferred in silence said the Buddha: a love affair between guru and disciple.

Knowledge satisfies the ego, but wisdom destroys it: If you know you have an immortal soul you will weep tears of fear as death knocks on your door, in the wasted emptiness of ego.

But wisdom is experienced. Wisdom is not about anything. It is to be tasted. When you experience your past life in the touch of a tree that helps you see.

It is not belief, for belief is the profession of priests.

Wisdom is within you. It is laid down, hidden in the Bible, the Gita, the Dhammapada: if only you are open and ready to inquire, to plunge innocently into your heart.

Every day children experience the meaning of the Fall from innocence: that the fruit of the tree of knowledge corrupts and keeps us from wisdom.

Knowledge in and of itself, knowledge as such, is false: Jesus is right, Christianity is false; Mahavira is right, Jainism is false. Their knowledge is a commodity. You can read it in the Bible, or search the internet, just as you can read Das Kapital, or the writing Mao Zedung.

Drop your knowledge so you can re-enter Eden in innocence.

Be a light unto yourself and then you can be a light to the world. If you seek to light the world, but not yourself, your light is darkness.

Dhammapada_32

When a Guru asks come be my disciple he does not ask you to be a clone. Look at the saints of the past: so many were excommunicated, ostracized and even crucified. A true master teaches you to be a master to yourself.

So drop your knowledge and then meditate and look within.

When the Buddha was to leave the earth, Gautama asked his chief disciple, Ananda, why he was crying “”Because you are leaving, because our light is leaving. We see, we feel darkness descending upon us.”

Buddha said, “You are crying because you have not heard me yet. I have been telling you again and again: Don’t believe in me — but you have not listened. Because you have believed in me, and now I am dying, your whole structure is falling apart. Had you listened to me, had you created a light into your being rather than becoming knowledgeable through me, if you had experienced your own self there would have been no need to cry.

“”Look at Manjushree! Go and ask him why he is not crying.” he said. The disciple Manjushree was sitting under a tree just close by, with closed eyes, so serene, so quiet, so utterly blissful.

So the disciples asked Manjushree and he laughed.

“What reason is there to cry? Buddha has helped me to know my own light” he said. “I am thankful, I am grateful, but there is no darkness descending. And how can Buddha die? I know I cannot die — how can Buddha die? He will be here. Just as a river disappears in the ocean he will disappear into the cosmos. But he will be here! He will be spread all over the cosmos. It is going to be something tremendously beautiful. Buddha was confined to a small body; now his fragrance will be released, he will permeate the whole of existence. I am tremendously happy that now Buddha will be spread all over space. I will be able to see him rising in the sun and I will be able to see him flying in a bird and I will be able to see him in the waves of the ocean… and I will be able to see him everywhere.

“He is simply leaving his body. It was a confinement. And how do I know it? I know it because I have known my own soul. I listened to him and you have not listened to him — that’s why you are crying.”

The Buddha then said, “Let me repeat again: APPA DIPO BHAVA — be a light unto yourself.”

What is Real India?

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No thanks to Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade I am in India.

“Disgusting” spat a bigots description of Sultan Shahryār’s polygamy. “OK disagree if you wish”, I said defensively. “But why such hate? It’s only music.” His fury extended to a culture he knew nothing about.

I was determined to journey with an open heart. Perhaps I defended what I didn’t know to freely. I came with no opinions.

So what is India? An impossible question, but here goes:

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“Arey dost!” India is thirty rickshaw wallahs demanding your attention in your first hour off the train… and after the 15th time one morning I finally snapped “Ex –Er – Cise!” with exaggerated gestures. I had enough.

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Real India is the mothers cutting subze. The delicious taste chai elaichi or the disgusting sugar tea bag swill served on trains that somehow is called tea. India is the politicians wife who wants prestige and accuses your landlord of renting to “foreigners whoring around.” (I suppose she didn’t know I’m celibate).

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Yes, India confronts you: An outback loving Aussie my nations population sits at Mumbai airports doorstep! Yet half Mumbai is homeless.

Yet in every shock you find a beauty to balance it. Diverse India is a macrocosm of what I now believe is a universal truth: for every good there is an equal challenge. My own life reflected this macrocosmic Indian expression.

The gut wrenching grab of stereotypes is not the real India: of starving beggars child hung limp, women washing at dawn, or children at school 6 days a week.

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The Real India is in the smiles in the side streets. A times at times India is the annoying hunt for foreign cash. But I remember most down by Moti Talab the husband who called me from the street, insisting on chai, with wife and kids, and refusing any offer I pay for it; the soldier who, finding m hopelessly lost in dead end lanes on the Igdah hills, puts me on his bike to a central road; the man who drives me to a bank, or the family who see me, a total stranger, safe from a concert.

Hospitality, that is the real India.

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Empire was an idea, not a geography

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British India 1893

British India 1893

The power of an idea split the USA from a culture similar to its own. and Pakistan from India. Empire was also an idea of the Enlightenment and Christendom.

Experiments on James Cooks Endeavour voyage of 1769-70 demonstrated the life saving power of hygiene and the science of Enlightenment. At first there was grudging respect for Mughal power, but as British men “went native” to marry Hindu and Muslim girls, Britain fought back and hardened its attitude. Sati and child marriage had been campaigned against by the Hindu reformer Ram Mohan Roy as against true Hinduism.
Science and the Enlightenment also challenged religion and tradition.

Rousseau in The Social Contract contrasted civil society and natural existence: instinctual, amoral justice versus justice and morality; .appetite and natural liberty versus civil liberty and Possession based on personal power with secure proprietorship based on respect for the law; and individual strength versus general will.

Order and law defined civilized society. “The mere impulse to appetite is slavery, while obedience to a law, which we prescribe to ourselves, is liberty “wrote Rousseau whose ideas shaped how Europe viewed indigenous peoples: India’s Adivasi and Australia’s Aboriginee.

The British lost more men to disease in India than anywhere else in the Empire: order and science must defeat Indian Chaos.

Beardmore_Inflexible

But any idea taken to extremes becomes a dinosaur.

Ilya Prigogine demonstrated systems move toward entropy until they either break down or recreate a new system of order[1].

Lutyen’s architectural ambitions intended to surpass Versailles and outlast Rome. Britain’s imperial resolve mirrored a scientific idea that drove a civilisation, but entropy caught up with Britain, and Lutyen’s eternal symbol of empire was handed back to India.

Meanwhile, there was a simultaneous a scientific conquest that created order from chaos.

The first planes were wood, at times flying albatrosses, light and flyable, but wood has its vagaries, Wood was unpredictable and error prone. Wood may hide a treacherous knot, explains Francesa Hughes[2], who contrasts Imperial struggle of order against chaos with science.

Metal could be moulded and was predictable and true. Metal was a pure form and wood its anathema.

The rejection of the organic, remains. We look to predictions as symbols of truth, and not at the natural laws themselves. It is too easy to assume a theoretical cause that does not exist.

“The rejection of organic materials that marked the material tolerance crisis central to modernity didn’t just produce the steel and glass architecture we know so well, but also a generation of newly metalized aircraft that were so heavy they could not fly. These engineered dodos, which resulted directly from architecture’s ideological reconfigurations around predictability and precision, ask of us difficult questions about the role of inference and approximation in instrumental rationalism, and about the exemption from cultural and sociological explanation we reserve for the technological artefact: what if it doesn’t work?”
–          Franscesca Hughes

Until technology caught up, metal aircraft were stuck on the tarmac, uUnable, or when they could fly, so heavy with fuel there was little hope for passengers.

But technology caught up and metal planes now fly. Aircraft became the symbol of metallic rationality and utilitarianism.

Now, technological determinism and instrumentalism, like British need for authoritarian law over “chaotic” India, now controls our lives. We plug the data in the computer ‘black box’ and out comes a decision to guide our moral imperatives.

Like metal plans being better than wood, but cannot fly, being better than wood planes that could, and forced technology o grow.

That is the power of an idea.

roberthookes needle

Lets back track a few centuries

When 17th century Robert Hookes peered at a needle under his microscope he discovered sharp is not sharp at all. The precise edges he expected did not exist.

We now know that precision is not what it seems. The pursuit of the absolute has scientific, as well as artistic and ethical considerations. A small error can evolve into greater crimes say the theologians.

Now nano-science can pursue the microscopic, or Widen our perspective and a spot disappears from our view, but it remains. Return to the microscope and we discover a delirious void and an exaggerated gap between ideal and reality.

Modernity has a heightened fetishing of precision. Out television screens saturate our eyes with slippery resolution; our new metal sculptures are moulded to curves once not possible.

But precision is, as Hookes showed, imprecise.

Two millennia ago Aristotle[3] preached precision is subject to a pure form but matter is subject to error. A concept I find echoed in the archetypal forms taught in mysticism, and the debates of Hindu Vedanta.

Science requires precise specifications lest it slip into sloppiness and ‘bad science’. Its ideology colonised the vacuum of ignorance.

But as we learned more our logical assumptions were found not to be precise. Even scientific institutions like to hold onto models even if discoveries find their exactitude is redundant.

Who drives the need to be so precise? Why the masculine conquest of line, when nature curves in feminine curvaceousness? What we call precise now will be challenged by newly discovered errors.

In the early 20th century the liquid intelligence of concrete allowed us new forms. Before the concrete truck, saw concrete made on site, and without regulations and standards, easily became a hard messy mass.

There was need to control error: regulations and automation followed. The labour force disappeared but the concrete remained. The more we cornered error, the more we feared it.

When once we poured in the slurry and out came concrete forms, we now input data and our computer offers us new design. The linearity of mass production, and the illusion of precision has fear as it’s by product.

Scientific models can be blind. It is people who make cities work, and not mathematic models. Scientific precision need be more intelligent and interactive, democratic, to balance human behaviour versus law, the power of the privileged versus the people.

It requires an artists sensitivity to, as sculpture Barbara Hepworth suggests, hear through the chisel, the shape of stone.

Native Princes Arriving in Camp for the Imperial Assemblage at Delhi, 1877

Native Princes Arriving in Camp for the Imperial Assemblage at Delhi, 1877

Science is shaped by and shapes societies worldview.

Europe had undergone its own shift with nature: Darwin challenged mans aloofness from nature, Charles Lyell, whose book Darwin was reading on the Beagle, aged the rocks eons before Adam was said to walk the earth. On the one hand, Darwin was misused to exploit tribes, on the other people sought to help them.

Historically, how colonists constructed the primitive in reality mirrored their own social problems.

It is appropriate Francesca Hughes examined precision of the micro. Schrödinger’s “What is Life” as an example of life finding order from the error, she said. Schrödinger argued the chromosome was architect and builder of the craft in one: a code that can code itself.

A code unlike a physical form is not subject to matter, and the 2nd law of thermodynamics degeneration of order into chaos[4]. Before Francis Cricks discovery of DNA, the chromosome was a black box of an unexplained mechanism.

Crick went on to claim genetic determinism was the “dogma” of modern biology. We ignored the cytoplasmic evidence to follow a doctrine of causal linearity. We dismissed the ‘white noise’ of genetic error, when even i In the 1960’s the same DNA material could grow a different organ in a Petri dish.

The primacy of the genes shaped science as the primacy of metal shaped fight. We now have flight suits made of polymerised fabrics. We now know genes do change.

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“If yes then A. “If no then B” Are we doomed to live life like a flow chart?

Will the allegory of syntactic connections dodging syntactic secretaries leads us up to our Sisyphusian doom down the corridors of anxiety. The question is mapped out by Georges Perec, in his 1968 novel The Art and Craft of Approaching Your Head of Department to Submit a Request for a Raise. Written in a breathless, punctuation free monologue, is anendlessly ludicrous IFTTT loop”” its precision is its undoing. It is an wherein the if-this-then-that logic has completely unravelled, as embodied in t[a] flowchart”.

Are we to be caught in a loop of repetition, or is our humanness found in the error of redundancy? Or are we headed to scientific conditioned control of Aldrous Huxley’s Brave New World, conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to like our social place and dislike what the government decides is bad.

“Is counting safe?” Lichtenstein asks, answering “only if the pieces don’t change.” After all, scientific models are ingenious approximations. They are maps, and the map is not the territory.

Data is like money. Money offers you freedom and slavery, It offers the means of personal agenda and the fear it can be lost.

The symbolic DNA of Britain’s ethical claim to authority was the right to rule. A belief held right up to Churchills time, that Christendom was a political expression of the Kingdom of God on Earth. But politics is prone to the entropy of economics and populous opinion. Life – like prophecy – is not linear and Luyten’s eternal city would be handed back to India.

I am reminded of Alain de Botton’s words in The Architecture of Happiness

“A development which spoils ten square miles of countryside will be the work of a few people neither particularly sinful nor malevolent. They may be called Derek or Malcolm, Hubert or Shigeru, they may love golf and animals, and yet, in a few weeks, they can put in motion plans which will substantially ruin a landscape for 300 years or more.

The same kind of banal thinking which in literature produces nothing worse than incoherent books and tedious plays can, when applied to architecture, leave wounds which will be visible from outer space. Bad architecture is a frozen mistake writ large. But it is only a mistake, and, despite the impressive amounts of scaffolding, concrete, noise, money and bluster which tend to accompany its appearance, it is no more deserving of our deference than a blunder in any other area of life. We should be as unintimidated by architectural mediocrity as we are by unjust laws or nonsensical arguments.”

It is also true of Colonial architecture, even when grand and beautiful. Empire, like its architecture, was inspired by an idea. So is modernity. Will it inspiregreatness or mediocrity?

[1] Prigogine, Ilya (1997). The End of Certainty. New York: The Free Press.
[2] Francesca Hughes, The Architecture of Error: Matter, Measure, and the Misadventures of Precision, MIT Press, 2014
[3] Aristotle Metaphysics
[4] I question this assumption. It is behind the idea that mass less information could theoretically tracel faster than light and time- trave. But code requires energy and E=MC2 means energy is a form of matter.

imperial idea?

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A trip to Delhi is incomplete without viewing the Government Precinct at Raisina Hill. Past the Martyrs Wall, you look across to Parliament, the Lok Sarbha. There stands, the Viceroy’s House, designed by Edwin Landseer Lutyens (1869-1944), a landmark of “Imperial resolve” that has been “redeemed” as the Rashtrapati Bhavan, or President’s House.

“In 20,000 years” boasted Edward Baker, “there will be an imperial Lutyens tradition in Indian architecture as there now clings a memory of Alexander.”

Lutyen’s set out to create the greatest city the world had ever known.; a symbol of the precise running of empire against the chaos of India. But like the sinking Titanic, lost the same year Lutyens began his two decades of construction, the Empire would be lost. The Titanic’s claim of unsinkability matched the realities of history. Societies boast in pomp as they begin to decline. The USA economy had already surpassed Britain’s.

Lutyens resolve mirrored a scientific idea that drove a civilisation. So grand was the original scheme, that Lutyens was forced by Lord Harding to reduce the building from 370,000m3 to 240,000 m3.

Yet it remains “the grandest of all the residences that the British built in India, for a brand new capital had 340 rooms, covered four and a half acres and included twelve separate internal courtyards, making it probably the last of the great royal palaces of history” [1].

Perspective View of the South Elevation of the Viceroy's House ( ByWilliam Walcot, 1914

Perspective View of the South Elevation of the Viceroy’s House ( ByWilliam Walcot, 1914

Located for the “road system based on two great roads”, claimed colleague Herbert Baker [2](1862-1946), Satish Sharma[3]  more cynically describes it “an act of imperial cartography”.

“Whether accidentally or by design, Lutyens created the new capital in the exact shape of the traditional Vastu Purusha [the god of construction, whose supine form determines the best metaphysical plan of a building site], whose head is on Raisina Hill and whose feet rest at the Purana Quila [the oldest fort in Delhi][4]

Imperial order sits above the chaotic mass of the Old City.

Meanwhile, delicate India designs hide an Imperial skeleton.

Built of “the same red sandstone that the Moghuls had used at Fatehpur Sikr [the ancient fortified city close to Agra] interspersed with cream stone from Dholpur, Bharatpur and Agra, in brilliant horizontal bands of colour accentuating the horizontal emphasis of the whole edifice” wrote Davies[5]. But the sandstone was reinforced by the fruits of British iron, steel and concrete which Scriver[6] describes as “the utlimate ossification of the provisional ‘scaffolding’ with which the colonial polity had been assembled.”

He adds: “What remained of the aborted project of colonial social engineering was only the hollow facade of imperial authority and system, propped up by the skeletal cage of its own technical superstructure.”

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From Alexander onwards, India has always mollified her conquerors.

The capitals look like Corinthian, but closer they are carved with acanthus leaves and small hanging Indian bells, like temple bells.

Lutyens who never liked Oriental Classicism never admitted that the Byzantine raised copper-clad central dome, with its octagonal turrets encircling a pierced stone drum , had an Indian motif. But look again and see the 3rd century BCE Buddhist stupa of Sanchi that Britain restored from1912 to 1919.

As Thomas Metcalf suggests ,this symbolically “provided a way of evading the communal tangle of Hindu and Muslim[7]

It’s endless arched corridors “seemed to run through the house like sumptuous warrens” wrote Jan Morris . I remember the Mughal designed chuja inlayed in red, that shades a colonnade from sun and monsoon, loggias and jail shade the north east wing.

But the basement floor plan, projected onto a screen as I listened to Francesca Hughes during a visit to Brisbane, that inspired this article. The floor plan revealed precise planning for all culinary contingencies. Ms Hughes was promoting her book, The Architecture of Error[8], to illustrate how the pursuit of precision drove Western science.

Viceroys Floorplan

“Architecture’s already precocious tools “ Hughes said, were used “for managing its unique fear of physical error would redefine precisions relations to the truthfulness.” “These tools, and the fears they barely conceal, intersect in the seminal technological and cultural crises that mark architecture’s twentieth-century and the exponential rise in redundant precision that it witnessed. “

I was immediately reminded that Britain’s imperialism was driven by the Enlightenment. The technology of the sailing ship released men from oars to guns when Muslim ad Chinese ships still rowed.

The question of precision and error has colonised our pursuit of knowledge as a science helped colonise a world periphery to Europe. Joseph Banks, the botanist on Cooks voyage that charted the transit of Venus across the sun, had returned to Britain with unique plant specimens. He would go on to lead the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, and Britain’s pursuit of new resources like rubber, and Indigo. He suggested New Holland be colonised and the Aboriginal natives would welcome Britain’s ways to improve their life. He also took Indigo from the Americas because it would be cheaper to produce in India.

As we discuss in the next article, Empire was an idea, not a geography.

[1] Morris, Jan, with Simon Winchester. Stones of Empire: The buildings of the Raj. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.
[2] Baker, Herbert. “The New Delhi.” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts. Vol. 74, No. 3841 (2 July 1926): 773-793
[3] Sharma, Satish. “Imperial Delhi: Imagined, Imaged, Iconized.” Indian International Centre Quarterly. Vol. 33, No. 2 (Autumn 2006): 27-32.
[4] Buch, M. N. “Lutyen’s New Delhi: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” Indian International centre Quarterly. Vol. 30, No. 2 (Monsoon 2003).29-40
[5] Davies, Philip. Splendours of the Raj: British Architecture in India 1660-1947. London: Penguin, 1987.
[6] Scriver, Peter. “Empire-Building and Thinking in the Public Works Department of British India.” In Colonial Modernities: Building , Dwelling and Architecture in British India and Ceylon. Eds. Peter Scriver and Vikramaditya Prakash. Abingdon, Oxon.: Routledge, 2007. 69-92.

[7] Metcalf, Thomas R. An Imperial Vision: India’s Architecture and Britain’s Raj. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

[8] Francesca Hughes, The Architecture of Error: Matter, Measure, and the Misadventures of Precision, MIT Press, 2014.

Imagine the power to wake the sun

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SarusDawn

… or ponderings at waking at dawn

Imagine if instead of being woken by the dawn, you have the power to wake up the sun. I do not mean that birds wake up the dawn. But to wake from the night of doubt in preparation for the dawn.

Prayer IS meaningful. Prayer is not empty. Prayer can anchor us to sublime feelings and take us from the doubt that conflicts us with our body.

In NLP we anchor change to powerful intense passions. Prayer is more subtle and sublime.

In sin we are torn from our mother and judged by our father. So follow your heart and expect miracles.

We cannot serve the commandments of the Upper One if we do not know what the creator needs. Inversely, a man cannot serve his wife if she hasn’t told him her desires.

“The dawn does not awaken me, I awaken the dawn” say the kabbalists. It does not mean birds wake up the sun, but in the night of our deeper doubts we prepare for the dawn of a new life.

“We should fight” with Gandhian new age intentions not fight elsewhere in blame of “it’s your fault” with masculine combativeness alone but feminine nurture together, as lovers.

Joined in the middle to find peace within.

We must have a conviction beyond our life. Like Churchill who was convinced he would not die until he finished his World War II mission. I do not encourage the ecstatic religious fervour that leads to violence. Rather the honourable belief that you are here for a reason.

It may seem that life is a smashed vase or an urn. To contain all our possibilities we have to piece it back together. It is like Persephone living with the Lord of death, so she can return and blossom in spring.

For true prayer is not words. Of course, there is great power in personal and communal prayer. The scientist Herbert Benson who described the relaxation response, also discovered its effect is amplified using the chants and prayers of faith over meaningless syllables.

Yes, prayer can offer physical and communal change, but prayer is like incense. Its scent has upper, middle and lower “notes” sensed differently by each individual.

In the Chassidic text Tanya I am reminded of an intrinsic link between spiritual and physical, between the religious world and the body. This not need magic in the sense of controlling the spirits, but alchemy a religion that is socially unifying whereas magic is personally self centred, it is often apart from organised culture.

In Inani Tibb healing may accompany reading averse from the Quran, or even the drinking of water that has washed a Quranic text.

Similarly some Jews recite the Zohar. Chassidism links the spiritual body to the positive and negative commands of Torah, using them to heal.

As above, so below is repeated in the psychosocial healings of Marsilio Ficini, Pico Delqua, Miandola, Paracelsus and John Dee labelled in an arbitrary doctrine of signatures.

Then the Reformation separated the spiritual and physical.

I suggest the breach will be healed more scientifically and by the meanings we give to symbols in our new world. They work by shifting our world view or the messaging triggers of symbolic categories in our unconscious. They trigger child birth ritual ink symbolically to even the Sharman’s chant. Trigger a cultural meaning.
Where earth and land is the “kingdom of heaven”; the emblem of the creator

Then we like the prodigal son who returns, (“return when we find ourselves”, as the Sufi’s say), and discover that darkness was our opportunity to realise our deeper truth.

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