Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Some little bit more about Rammohun Roy

After reading Makarand Paranjpe, you might get to thinking about Rammohun Roy, "he's a total rejectionist of the Indian traditions". 
At that "first," even "originary" moment of contact between "modern" India and Europe, Rammohun Roy, in his address to Lord Amherst, pleaded for "a more liberal and enlightened system of instruction, embracing mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry and anatomy, with other useful sciences," (Tradition Modernity & Svaraj 98). But in the process, Rammohun also denigrated "Byakjurun," "Vedant," "Meemangsa," and "Nyaya Shastra." Whether such self-ridicule was tactical or serious is not clear. To all appearances, Indians wished to welcome modernity, even as they wished not to give up their traditions entirely. The earliest case of this attempted synthesis is Rammohun himself, with his Brahmo Samaj, a sort of modernized version of Vedanta.
Yet, when Thomas Babington Macaulay wrote his Minute of 2 February 1835 in favour of English education, he made ample use of Rammohun's address to Lord Amherst: "I am quite ready to take the Oriental learning at the valuation of the Orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia" (ibid 101). In places, his text echoes the very words of Rammohun, as when he cites the procedures laid down for expiating the sin of killing a goat (106), as an example of the uselessness of traditional Indian knowledge.
However, perusing "The Life and Letters of Raja Rammohun Roy" (edited by Sophia Dobson Collet, Calcutta, 1914", one finds otherwise. 

Rammohun Roy translated Sanskrit works into Bengali, making them much more accessible (and this, along with his journalism, books on grammar, geography, and articles on social issues essentially began modern Bengali literature.)

There is this

"Equally important was the Raja's contributions to the revival of Sanskrit study in Bengal.  In his time Sanskrit was at a very low ebb in the province.   Sankrit learning was mainly confined to a mechanical cramming in grammar and the Smritis; the Vedas, the Upanishads and Vedanat were almost forgotten.  Though an earnest advocate of modern scientific culture,  Rammohun Roy was no less ardent in his admiration for and insistent on the revival of the ancient Aryan culture.  At the discussions of the Atmiya Sabha  {which is where the first public institution teaching English in India  was conceived of) ....Rammohun Roy seriously contended at first that "they should establish an assembly or convocation in which what are called the higher or purer dogmas of Vedantism or ancient Hinduism might be taught."   But later when he came to stand in favour of western scientific education, he did not altogether abandon his pleas for the revival of ancient Hindu learning, but persevered single-handed in his scheme and at last in 1826 succeeded in establishing a Vedanta college.  He appears to have built a house and spent every month a considerable sum of money for it.{He left for England in 1830, and died there in 1833.}

William Adam, July 27, 1826 : Rammohun Roy has lately built a small but very neat and handsome college, which he calls the Vedant College, in which a few youths are at present instructed by a very eminent Pandit, in Sanskrit literature, with a view to the propagation and defence of Hindu Unitarianism.  With this institution he is also willing to connect instructions in European science conveyed in the Bengali or Sanskrit language.

His Vedant College and his translations from the Vedanta served alike as witness to his continuity with the historic past of India and as the implement enabling him to connect her to a progressive future.  But of his equal readiness to avail himself of the powerful solvents of English influence we are reminded by his publication in 1826 of a Bengali Grammar in English".

"....Pandit Kalibar Vedantabagish observed at a public meeting in commemoration of the 63rd anniversary of the Raja's death he himself was indebted to the Raja for having been first led to the study of the Vedanta by the Raja's writings on the subject in the Tattwabodhini Patrika."

There is a mention of Rammohun Roy's "love for Hafiz and Saadi" - hardly one rejecting Oriental literature as Macaulay did.

Col. Young to Jeremy Bentham, Sept 30, 1928 :  It is strange that such a man should be looked upon coldly, not to say disliked by the mass of Europeans -- for he is greatly attached to us and our regime. Not that he loves our churches, or priests, or lawyers, or politicians, but because he considers the contact of our superior race with his degraded and inferior countrymen as the only means and chance they have of improving themselves in knowledge and energy....

Raja Rammohun Roy wore his "sacred thread" to the end.  Other writers note he clung on to his caste customs as well.

BTW, regarding what his religious profession was - another such "slippery character" was the Mughal Emperor, Akbar. 

Rammohun Roy's 1823 note to Amherst says - if you want to teach Sanskrit,  support the existing Sanskrit schools, and that enhanced teaching of Sanskrit will not benefit the Hindu mind. He says twice, he wants "mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy and other useful sciences".  Nowhere does he mention English or English or European literature.  (Read it for yourself here (PDF))
There is one item (Remarks on Settlement in India by Europeans) where he argues that a large body of Europeans and their descendants, "speaking English in common with the bulk of the people" would be good for British interests, even if India was independent.  I wonder if Chandrabhan Prasad and his Dalit followers would celebrate the Anglicization of India with a lot of European settlers.

PS: I note that Rammohun Roy repeats frequently in his remarks that the only way his scheme would work is if only educated Europeans of character and capital, the respectable intelligent class are the people who settle in India.  I wonder if he is being at least a little tongue-in-cheek about the type of Europeans who were actually to be encountered in India.

Therefore, though there is much advance publicity for Masani's book, but for the one item,  I don't think there is much of a case for him.  No doubt the backers of Niall Ferguson will herald Masani's book as well - so what?

I think actually CIP had a glimpse of the truth - Raja Rammohun Roy was the Indian culture's first attempt at syncretism with the now intimately encountered European culture.