Bharatiya Chitta Manas and Kala
Part 1(Chapter 1, Chapter2)



I


On January 9, 1915 Gandhiji returned to India from his sojourn in South Africa. On his way back he visited Britain for a short while. After that homecoming he went abroad only once, in 1931, when he had to go to Britain to attend the round table conference. During that journey he managed to make brief halts in France, Switzerland, and Italy. The Americans wanted him to extend his visit to the United States of America, too. But, Gandhiji could not go to America, either then or later.

The journey to Britain in 1931 constituted the whole of Gandhiji’s foreign travels after 1915, excepting, of course, his short visits to neighbouring Sri Lanka and Burma. Gandhiji, in fact, felt no need to frequently leave the shores of India. On the other hand, he was of the firm opinion that the struggle for the freedom of India had to be waged mainly in India. The world outside, according to him, could be of little help in this.


The people of India had begun to repose great faith in Gandhiji even before his arrival in 1915, and several national dailies took editorial note of his homecoming. The phrases used and the expectations expressed in these editorial comments suggest that in India he was already being seen as an Avatara, as a manifestation of the divine.

The city of Bombay accorded an unprecedented welcome to Gandhiji and Kasturba. Numerous receptions were hosted in their honour. And the high elite of Bombay turned out enthusiastically to attend these receptions. Even members of the British Governor’s Council of the Bombay Presidency and judges of the Bombay High-Court participated in some of them.

Within three days of their arrival, however, Gandhiji and Kasturba began to feel somewhat out of place in the high society of Bombay. Already on January 12 Gandhiji was giving public expression to his feeling of unease. On that day, at a reception attended by more than 600 guests and presided over by Sir Ferozeshah Mehta, Gandhiji observed that, “He did not know that the right word would come to him to express the feelings that had stirred within him that afternoon. He had felt that he would be more at home in his own motherland than he used to be in South Africa among his own country men. But during the three days that they had passed in Bombay, they had felt - and the thought he was voicing was the feelings of his wife, too - that they were much more at home among those indentured Indians who were the truest heroes of India. They felt that they were indeed in strange company here in Bombay.” (Collected Works, Vol.13, pp. 5-6).

Soon afterwards Gandhiji’s life-style began to change radically. His participation in the festivities of high society declined, and he started moving more and more among the ordinary people of India. And they saw such transparent divinity in him that by the end of January he was being addressed as ‘Mahatma’ in his native Saurashtra. Just three months later, people in as far a place as Gurukul Kangari near Haridwar, more than a thousand miles from Bombay, were also addressing him as ‘Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’.

The arrival of Mahatma Gandhi gave rise to an immediate awakening of the Indian people. They probably felt that the gods had responded to their sufferings and had sent someone from amongst them to lessen their burdens. And, this feeling of having been taken under the protection of the gods, through the divine presence of Mahatma Gandhi, remained with them for the next thirty or more years. Many Indians might have never seen him. A large number of them might have sharply disagreed with his ways. Some might have doubted, till as late as 1945-46, the viability of his methods in achieving the goal of freedom. Yet practically all Indians perceived the presence of the divine in him, and that probably was the source of the self-confidence and the courage that India displayed in such large measure during his days.

Indians have a long-standing belief that the divine incarnates in various forms to lessen the burdens of the earth. This happens oft and again. There are times when the complexity of the world becomes too much to bear, when the sense of right and wrong gets clouded, and when the natural balance of life, the Dharma, is lost. At such times, according to the Indian beliefs, the divine incarnates on the earth, to help restore the balance and the Dharma, and to make life flow smoothly once again.

Indians have held this belief in the repeated incarnations of the divine for a very long time, at least since the time of compilation of the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. The Mahabharata is in fact the story of one such divine intervention. By the end of the Dvapara Yuga the Dharma had got so emaciated that the earth, unable to bear the burdens of the a-Dharmic life on her, went to Vishnu and prayed for his intervention. On the advice of Vishnu the devas worked out an elaborate strategy. Many of them took birth in various forms. Vishnu himself was born as Srikrishna. And, Srikrishna along with the other Devas fought the great war of Mahabharata to rid the earth of her burdens.

Buddhist epics like the Lalita Vistara similarly present the story of the birth of Gautama Buddha as another instance of the process of divine incarnation for the restoration of dharma. And Jaina epics tell similar stories about the incarnations of the divine as the Tirthankaras.

To solve the problems of life on this earth, and to restore the balance, the divine incarnates, again and again, at different times in different forms. This is the promise that Srikrishna explicitly makes in the Srimadbhagavadgita. And, the people of India seem to have always believed in this promise of divine compassion. It is therefore not surprising that when Mahatma Gandhi arrived in India in 1915 many Indians suddenly began to see him as another Avatara of Vishnu.

The state of India at that time would have seemed to many as being beyond redress through mere human efforts, and the misery of India unbearable. The time, according to the Indian beliefs, was thus ripe for another divine intervention. And it is true that with the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi the state of hopelessness and mute acceptance of misery was relieved almost at once. India was set free in her mind. The passive acceptance of slavery as the fate of India disappeared overnight, as it were. That sudden transformation of India was indeed a miracle, and it had seemed like a divine feat to many outside India too.

But though Mahatma Gandhi awakened the Indian mind from its state of stupor, he was not able to put this awakening on a permanent footing. He was not able to establish a new equilibrium and a secure basis for the re-awakened Indian civilisation. The search for such a secure basis for the resurgence of Indian civilisation in the modern times would have probably required fresh initiatives and a fresh struggle to be waged following the elimination of political enslavement. Unfortunately, Mahatma Gandhi did not remain with us long enough to lead us in this effort, and the effort consequently never began.

It seems that the spirit that Gandhiji had awakened in the people of India was exhausted with the achievement of Independence. Or perhaps those who came to power in independent India had no use for the spirit and determination of an awakened people, and they found such awakening to be a great nuisance. As a result the people began to revert to their earlier state of stupor, and the leaders of India, now put in control of the state machinery created by the British, began to indulge in a slave-like imitation of their British predecessors.

The self-awakening of India is bound to remain similarly elusive and transient till we find a secure basis for a confident expression of Indian civilisation within the modern world and the modern epoch. We must establish a conceptual framework that makes Indian ways and aspirations seem viable in the present, so that we do not feel compelled or tempted to indulge in demeaning imitations of the modern world, and the people of India do not have to suffer the humiliation of seeing their ways and their seekings being despised in their own country. And, this secure basis for the Indian civilisation, this framework for the Indian self-awakening and self-assertion, has to be sought mainly within the Chitta and Kala of India.

Gandhiji had a natural insight into the mind of the Indian people and their sense of time and destiny. We shall probably have to undertake an elaborate intellectual exercise to gain some comprehension of the Indian Chitta and Indian Kala. But we can hardly proceed without that comprehension. Because, before beginning even to talk about the future of India we must know what the people of this country want to make of her. How do they understand the present times? What is the future that they aspire for? What are their priorities? What are their seekings and desires? And, in any case, who are these people on whose behalf and on the strength of whose efforts and resources we wish to plan for a new India? How do they perceive themselves? And, what is their perception of the modern world? What is their perception of the universe? Do they believe in God? If yes, what is their conception of God? And, if they do not believe in God, what do they believe in? Is it Kala that they trust? Or, is it destiny? Or, is it something else altogether?

We the educated elite of India are wary of any attempt to understand the Indian mind. Many of us had felt uneasy even about Gandhiji’s efforts to delve into the Chitta and Kala of the people of India and voice what he perceived to be their innermost thoughts and feelings. We are somehow afraid of those inner thoughts of the people of India. We want to proceed with the myth that there is nothing at all in the Indian mind, that it is a clean slate on which we have to write a new story that we ourselves have painstakingly learnt from the West.

But we are also probably aware that the Indian mind is not such a clean slate. In reality it is imbued with ideas on practically all subjects. Those ideas are not new. They belong to long-standing traditions, some of which may be as old as the Rig Veda. Some other aspects of these traditions may have emerged with Gautama Buddha, or with Mahavira, or with some other leader of Indian thought of another Indian epoch. But from whatever source and at whatever epoch the various ideas that dominate the minds of the Indian people may have arisen, those ideas are indeed etched very deep. Deep within, we, the elite of India, are also acutely conscious of this highly elaborate structure of the Indian mind. We, however, want to deny this history of Indian consciousness, close our eyes to the long acquired attributes of the Indian mind, and wish to re-construct a new world for ourselves in accordance with what we perceive to be the modern consciousness.

Therefore, all efforts to understand the Chitta and Kala of India seem meaningless to us. The study of the history of the eighteenth and nineteenth century India, which I undertook in the nineteen sixties and the seventies, was in a way an exploration into the Indian Chitta and Kala, and to many educated Indians that exploration too had seemed a futile exercise. That study, of course, was not the most effective way of learning about the Indian mind. It did help in forming a picture of the physical organisations and technologies through which the Indians prefer to manage the ordinary routines of daily life. It also provided some grasp of the relationships between various constituents of society and polity within the Indian context. But it was not enough to provide an insight into the inner attitudes and attributes of the Indian mind. The mind of a civilisation can probably never be grasped through a study of its physical attributes alone.

However, many who came to know of this work were disturbed even by this limited study of the Indian ways. When in 1965-66 I began to look into the eighteenth and nineteenth century documents relating to the Indian society, a close friend in Delhi wanted to know why I had started digging up the dead. He suggested, with great solicitude, that I should spend my time more usefully in some other pursuit.

Later, many others said that what I had discovered about the state of Indian society in the eighteenth century might have been true then. Indian society of that time might have practiced highly developed agriculture, produced excellent steel, discovered the process of inoculation against small-pox and the art of plastic surgery. That society might have also evolved highly competent structures of locality-centered social and political organisation. All this, they said, was fine. It felt good to talk and hear about such things. This knowledge may also help, they conceded, in awakening a feeling of self-respect and self-confidence amongst the Indian people. But all such arts, techniques and organisational skills of the Indian civilisation, they were convinced, were of hardly any relevance in the present context. What could be gained by delving into this irrelevant past of India and learning about her lost genius?

I was asked this question repeatedly then, and many keep asking the same question now. Some time ago, I had an opportunity to meet the then Prime Minister of India, Sri Chandra Sekhar. He too wanted to know why I was so caught up with the eighteenth century. We should be thinking, he felt, of the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries, since the India of the eighteenth century was anyway long past and dead. My close friends express the same sentiment even more strongly. It seems that all of us are so immersed in the thoughts of the twenty-first century that we have no patience left for even a preliminary study of our own Chitta and Kala.

But, whose twentieth and twenty-first centuries are we so anxious about? The epoch represented by these terms has little to do with our Chitta and Kala. The people of India, in any case, have little connection with the twentieth or the twenty-first century. If Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is to be believed, they are perhaps still living in the seventeenth or the eighteenth century. Pandit Nehru often used to say this about his fellow Indians, and he was very worried that the Indians obstinately continue to persist within the eighteenth century and refuse to acknowledge the arrival of the twentieth.

The people of India, in fact, may not be living even in the eighteenth century of the West. They may still be reckoning time in terms of their Pauranic conceptions. They may be living in one of the Pauranic Yugas, and looking at the present from the perspective of that yuga. It is possible, for we know next to nothing about the Chitta and Kala of the Indian people, that they are living in what they call the Kali Yuga, and are waiting for the arrival of an Avatara Purusha to free them from the bondage of Kali. After all, they did perceive in Mahatma Gandhi an Avatara Purusha who had arrived amongst them even during this twentieth century of the West. Perhaps they are now waiting for the arrival of another Avatara, and are busy thinking about that future Avatara and preparing for his arrival. If so, the twentieth century of the West can have little meaning for them.

In any case the twentieth century is not the century of India. It is the century of the West. To some extent the Japanese may take this to be their century too. But basically it represents the epoch of Europe and America. Since we cannot completely severe our ties with Europe, America and Japan, we perhaps have to understand this century of theirs. But this attempt at understanding their epoch does not mean that we start deluding ourselves of being among its active participants. In fact our understanding of the twentieth century, for it to be of any use to us or to the West, shall have to be from the perspective of our own Kala. If according to the reckoning of the people of India the present is the Kala of the Kali Yuga, then we shall have to look at the present of the West through the categories of Kali Yuga. One understands others only from one’s own perspective. Attempts to live and think like the others, to transport oneself into the Chitta and Kala of others, lead merely to delusion.

It is possible that some amongst us believe that they have rid themselves completely of the constraints of their Indian consciousness and the Indian sense of time. They perhaps are convinced that having transcended their Indian identity they have fully integrated themselves with Western modernity, or perhaps with some kind of ideal humanity. If there happen to be any such transcendent Indians, then for them it is indeed possible to understand the Indian kali yuga from the perspective of Western modernity. Such Indians can perhaps meaningfully meditate on the ways of forcing the Indian present into the mould of the twentieth century.

But such transcendence is not granted to ordinary human beings. Even extra-ordinary souls find it impossible to fully transcend the limits of their own time and consciousness, their Chitta and Kala, and enter into the Kala of another people. Even a man like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru found it difficult to perform this feat successfully. Even he was not able to rid himself completely of his innate Indian-ness. Even he was not able to go beyond the strange irrationality, the irreducible nonsense, which as Mahatma Gandhi observed in his address to the Christian missionaries in 1917 at Madras, pervades India. India, Gandhiji said then, is a country of “nonsense”. And even Pandit Nehru could not fully erase that “nonsense” from his mind. What he could not do in this regard, other Indians have even less chance of accomplishing.

The elite of India have indeed adopted the external forms of the modern West. They may have also imbibed some of the Western attitudes and attributes. But it seems unlikely that at the level of the Chitta they would have been able to distance themselves much from the Indian ways. Given the long history of our contacts with the Western civilisation, it is probable that some fifty thousand Indians might have in fact fully de-Indianised themselves. But these fifty thousand or even a somewhat larger number matter little in a country of eighty crores.

The few Indians, who have transcended the boundaries of Indian Chitta and Kala, may also wish to quit the physical boundaries of India. But when India begins to live according to her own ways, in consonance with the Chitta and Kala of the vast majority of her people, then many of such lost sons and daughters of India will in all probability return to their innate Indian-ness. Those who cannot do so shall find a living elsewhere. Having become part of an international consciousness they can probably live almost anywhere in the world. They may go to Japan; or, to Germany, if Germany wants them; or, perhaps to Russia, if they find a pleasurable place there. To America, they keep going even now. Some four lakhs of Indians have settled in the United States of America. And, many of them are engineers, doctors, philosophers, scientists, scholars and other members of the literati.

Their desertion of India is no major tragedy. The problem of India is not of those who have transcended their Indian-ness and have left the shores of India. The problem is of the overwhelming majority who are living in India within the constraints of Indian Chitta and Kala. If India is to be built with their efforts and cooperation, then we must try to have an insight into their mind and their sense of time, and understand the modern times from their perspective. Knowing ourselves, and our Chitta and Kala, it shall also be possible to work out modes of healthy and equal interaction with the twentieth century of the West. But the questions regarding interactions with others can be addressed only after having achieved some level of clarity about ourselves.



II



There are probably many paths to an understanding of the Chitta and Kala of a civilisation. In studying the eighteenth century Indian society and polity I traversed one such path. But that path led only to a sketchy comprehension of merely the physical manifestations of the Indian mind. It gave some understanding of the way Indians preferred to organise their social, political and economic life, when they were free to do so according to their own genius and priorities. And, their modes of organisation probably had something to do with the Chitta and Kala of India.

To learn about the people of India, to try to understand the way they live, the way they think, the way they talk, the way they cope with the varied problems of day-to-day living, the way they behave in various situations, and thus to know in detail about the ways of the Indians is perhaps another path to a comprehension of the Indian Chitta and Kala. But this is a difficult path. We are probably too far removed from the reality of Indian life to be able to perceive intelligently the ways in which the people of India live within this reality.


It may be relatively easier to comprehend the Indian mind through the ancient literature of Indian civilisation. In fact, the process of understanding the Indian Chitta and Kala cannot possibly begin without some understanding of the vast corpus of literature that has formed the basis of Indian civilisation and regulated the actions and thoughts of the people of India for millennia. We have to come to some understanding of what this literature - beginning with the Rig Veda, and running through the Upanishads, the Puranas, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Bauddha and the Jaina canons - says about the Indian ways and preferences. Indian texts dealing with the problems of mundane living, like those of the Ayurveda, the Silpasastra, and the Jyotishasastra, etc., also have to be similarly understood.

We should probably begin by forming a quick overview of the totality of this literature. Such an overview should provide us with a preliminary picture of the Indian mind, and its various manifestations in the political, social, economic, and technological domains. This initial picture of Indian-ness shall get more and more refined, as we continue our explorations into the corpus of Indian literature, and supplement it with observations on the present and investigations into the historical past. In the process of this refinement we may find that the preliminary picture that we had formed was inadequate and perhaps even erroneous in many respects. But by then that preliminary picture would have served its purpose of setting us on our course in the search for a comprehension of the Indian Chitta and Kala.


We have so far not been able to form such a preliminary picture of the Indian Chitta and Kala. It is not that no work is being done in India on Indian literature. We have a large number of institutes founded with the specific mandate of studying the various texts of Indian literature. Many high scholars have spent long years investigating various parts of the Indian corpus. But, these institutes and the scholars, it seems, have been looking at Indian literature from the perspective of modernity.

Indology, by its very definition, is the science of comprehending India from a non-Indian perspective, and practically all Indian scholars and Indian institutions engaged in the study of Indian literature fall within the discipline of Indology. They have thus been trying to make India comprehensible to the world. But what we need to learn from Indian literature is how to make modernity comprehensible to us, in terms of our Chitta and Kala. We need to form a picture of the Indian Chitta and Kala, and to place the modern consciousness and modern times within that picture. Instead, our scholars have so far only been trying to place India, the Indian mind and Indian consciousness, within the world-picture of modernity.

This exercise of exploring India from the perspective of Western modernity has been going on for a long time. The West has been studying various aspects of India for the last four to five centuries. Western scholars have tried to comprehend our polity, our customs, our religious and philosophical texts, and our sciences, arts and techniques, etc. Their attempts have obviously been guided by the interests and concerns of the West at various times. They read into Indian literature what suited and concerned them at any particular time.

Following the scholars of the West, and more or less under their inspiration, some modern Indian scholars also started getting interested in the study of Indian literature. Consequently, specialized institutions for such study began to be founded in India. A number of these institutions opened up in Maharashtra. Many similar institutions came up in Bengal. And, some so-called Universities for Sanskrit learning began to function in various parts of India.

All these institutions, colleges and universities of Indian learning were conceived along the lines laid down by Western scholarship. Their organisation had no relation to the traditional organisation of learning in India. They were in fact structured on the pattern of the corresponding Western institutions, especially those in London. And, their main objective was to find a place for Indian learning within the various streams of modern Western scholarship.

The Sanskrit University at Varanasi is one example of the institutions of Indian learning that came up in India. An institution known as the Queen’s College had been functioning in Varanasi from the times of Warren Hastings. Later the same College was named the Sampurnananda Sanskrit University. Today this University is counted amongst the most important institutions of Indian learning in the country. Most of the other Indian institutions engaged in the study of Indian literature have similar antecedents and inspirations behind them. And more of the same type are being established even today.

These institutions, created in the image of their Western counterparts, are burdened from their very inception with all the prejudices of the West and the complete theoretical apparatus of Western scholarship on India. Like the Western scholars, the Indian indologists have been merely searching for occasional scraps of contemporary relevance from the remains of a civilisation that for them is perhaps as dead and as alien as it is for the West.


The work of the indologists is in fact akin to anthropology. Anthropology, as recognised by its practitioners, is a peculiar science of the West. The defeated, subjugated and fragmented societies of the non-Western world form the subject of this science. Anthropology thus is the science of the study of the conquered by the conquerors. Claude Levi Strauss, an authentic spokesman and a major scholar of anthropology, defines his discipline more or less in these terms.1 Indian indologists, anthropologists, and other academics may wish to disagree with such a definition, but within the community of practitioners of anthropology there is hardly any dispute on the issue.

It is true that not many scholars would like to state the objectives of anthropology quite as bluntly as Claude Levi Strauss does. But then Levi Strauss is an incisive philosopher who does not care to hide the facts behind unnecessary verbiage. It is obvious, therefore, that anthropological tools cannot be used for studying one’s own society and civilisation. Nor is it possible for the scholars of the non-Western world to invert the logic of this science, and study the conquerors through the methods evolved for the study of the conquered. But Indian indologists are in fact trying to study India through anthropological categories. If Claude Levi Strauss is to be trusted, they can achieve no comprehension of their own society through these efforts. They can at best collect data for the Western anthropologists to comprehend us.


It is not that this supplementary anthropological work requires no great effort or scholarship. Indian indological scholars have in fact invested enormous labour and stupendous scholarship in the work they have been doing. A few years ago a critical edition of the Mahabharata was brought out in India. This edition must have involved hard slogging effort of some forty or fifty years. Similar editions of the Ramayana, the Vedas and many other Indian texts have been produced in India.

There has also been a great deal of translation activity. Many texts, originally in Sanskrit, Pali, Tamil, and other Indian languages, have been translated into English, German and French. There have also been occasional translations into some other European languages. And, of course, there have been translations of the ancient texts into modern Indian languages. The Gita Press of Gorakhpur has translated a large body of classical Indian literature into simple Hindi, and has managed to bring these translated texts within the reach of the ordinary Hindi-speaking Indian. A number of texts have been translated into Gujarati also. And, perhaps there have been similar translations into many other Indian languages. All this amounts to a fairly large body of work. And this work has indeed been accomplished with great labour and painstaking scholarship.

These scholarly redactions, translations and commentaries have, however, all been carried out from a modern perspective and according to the rules of the game of indology laid down by the Western scholars. When the Indian scholars have managed to avoid Western biases and Western methodologies, as those associated with the Gita Press of Gorakhpur have done to a large extent, they have been carried away by a sense of uncomprehending devotion. This great effort has therefore contributed little towards a comprehension of the Indian Chitta and Kala. If any thing, it has only helped in reading modern Western prejudices and concepts into Indian literature, and perhaps also in attributing these to the essential Indian consciousness. In fact, what has emerged from the efforts of Indian indologists, when it is not entirely inane, reads like a queer commentary, a deviant Bhashya, by someone who has been completely swept off his feet by the currents of modernity.


To gauge how deeply modernity has insinuated itself into the work of Indian scholars, it is enough to have a look at Sri Sripad Damodar Satawalekar’s translation of Purusha Sukta, and his commentary on it. Sri Satawalekar reads the Purusha Sukta to mean that from the sacred effort, Tapas, of Brahma there arose, at the beginning of the Universe, a modern government with its varied departments. And, he goes on to name some twenty departments which the Purusha Sukta supposedly defines. From Sri Satawalekar’s commentary it seems as if the content of the Purusha Sukta is merely a concise prescription for the establishment of a government on the pattern of modern departmental bureaucracy.

Sri Satawalekar was a great scholar. He is recognised and respected as a modern rishi of India. His intellect, his commitment to the Indian thought, and the intensity of his effort were indeed very high. But even he got so carried away by the unrelenting sweep of modernity that he began to see a prescience of the modern governmental organisation in the Purusha Sukta. Much of the work done by the Indian scholars on Indian literature is similarly tainted by the touch of modernity. In essence what these scholars assert is that the peculiar attributes and specific comprehensions of the world that the West displays today had been arrived at long ago in the Indian literature. Ancient Indian literature, according to their understanding, records in its somewhat quaint language and phraseology essentially the same thoughts and apprehensions, and even the same organisational principles and techniques, that the West has arrived at only recently.

During the last twenty or thirty years there has been a fresh spurt in this kind of indological activity. But what use is all this scholarship? If we are concerned only about others’ understanding of the world, and carry out our discourse on their terms and in their categories, then that can well be done without bringing the ancient Indian literature into the picture. Why demean this ancient literature by imputing it with modernistic presentiments? Why drag in our ancient Rishis to stand witness to our blind validation of Western modernity? We may call upon our ancestors and their literature in testimony of a resurgence of the Indian spirit. But modernity hardly needs their testimony to assert itself.


Let us look at another example of the type of scholarly work on the Indian literature being carried out in India. For a long time, perhaps for more than a hundred years, the scholars of indology have been trying to make a compilation of the available catalogues and lists of known Indian manuscripts in various languages. After their long and tedious search, they have recently come to the conclusion that there exist probably two thousand catalogues of Indian manuscripts in Sanskrit, Pali, Tamil, Prakrit, etc. These two thousand catalogues are from perhaps seven or eight hundred different locations, and about one third of these locations may be outside India. Each of these catalogues lists a hundred or two hundred manuscripts. The scholars thus have a listing of two to four lakh Indian manuscripts.

This compilation of all available catalogues is indeed a task of great labour and scholarship. It could not have been easy to collect catalogues from seven to eight hundred different locations and compile them into a single comprehensive catalogue. But what purpose of ours will be served by this comprehensive catalogue compiled with so much labour and scholarship? It has taken more than a hundred years to complete this compilation. Numerous foreign and Indian scholars have contributed to this task. But, we do not even have an idea of the state of the manuscripts listed in this grand compilation. We do not know how many of the manuscripts listed actually survive today, and of those which survive, how many are in a condition fit enough to be opened and read, or even microfilmed.

In a somewhat similar exercise of scholarly thoroughness, some eminent scholars of India keep mentioning that there are some fifty crore Indian manuscripts in various Indian languages which have survived till today. Again, nobody has any idea where and how these crores of manuscripts are to be found, and what is to be done with them. It is in a way astonishing that we are occupied with exploring and establishing the possible existence of lakhs and crores of manuscripts that will almost certainly remain unavailable and unreadable, while we are making no efforts to understand and comprehend the literature that happens to be easily available to us.

It is true that in all ages there are scholars who prefer to engage themselves in esoteric exercises the results of which are unlikely to be of any earthly use to anybody. The grand compilation of Indian manuscripts and the speculation about there being crores of manuscripts to be located and catalogued, probably belong to a similar genre of scholarship. In functioning societies much of the scholarship is directed to specific social purposes, though some amount of this kind of esoteric activity also often takes place. When a society is moving on a well-defined course of its own, and the majority of the scholars are purposefully engaged, then the few who are so inclined are allowed to indulge in their explorations into the unusable and the futile. And, functioning societies, sooner or later, are able to put the results of their esoteric investigations also to some use somewhere.

But we have neither the resources nor the time for such indulgence. If we are to comprehend our Chitta and Kala, and thus prepare a conceptual ground on which we may firmly stand and have a look at the world, then this directionless scholarship can be of little help. We need to form a picture of the Indian view of the world based on a quick overview of the totality of literature available to us, so that we have a framework within which the mainstream of Indian scholarship may operate. Once that mainstream is established and starts running strong and deep, there will also be time and opportunity for various scholarly deviations and indulgences.


Whenever I speak of the need to arrive at some such rough and ready outline of the Indian view of the world through a study of the ancient Indian literature, my friends advise me to keep out of this business. I am told that ordinary mortals like us can hardly understand this literature. As most of these texts are in Sanskrit, they insist that one must be a serious scholar of Sanskrit in order to have any comprehension of these texts of India. Approaching these texts through Hindi or English, it is said, can only lead to error and confusion. Therefore, if one was bent upon reading this literature, then one must first immerse oneself in a study of the Sanskrit language.

But how many in India today have any fluency in Sanskrit? Now-a-days, one can even get a doctorate in Sanskrit without seriously learning the language. One can write a thesis in English and obtain a Ph.D. degree for Sanskrit literature from most Indian universities. It seems that scholars who are seriously interested in learning Sanskrit are now found only in Germany. Or, perhaps, some Japanese scholars may be learning this great Indian language. There may also be some fluent Sanskritists in Russia and America. But there are hardly any serious students of Sanskrit amongst the modern scholars of India. There may be a thousand or so of the traditional Pundits who still retain a certain level of competence in the language. And, among the families traditionally associated with Indian learning, there may still be four or five lakh individuals who can read and understand Sanskrit, though few would be fluent enough to converse in it. That is about all the talent we have in the language.

The All India Radio, Akashvani, has been broadcasting an early morning news-bulletin in Sanskrit for many years. But there are probably not many who listen to this bulletin. I once asked Sri Ranganatha Ramachandra Divakar whether there would be ten lakh listeners of the Sanskrit news-bulletin. Sri Divakar had spent many decades in the public life, and he was a venerable scholar in his own right. His understanding was that in India the number of listeners of the Sanskrit news-bulletin could not be that large.

South India has had a long tradition of Sanskrit learning. Some time ago, I happened to meet Sri Sivaraman, the scholarly former editor of the Tamil daily, Dinamani. I asked him about his estimate of the number of people in South India who might still be fluent in the language, and who might feel comfortable reading, writing and speaking in Sanskrit. His answer was that there was probably not a single such individual in South India. There might be, he later said, about a thousand scholars, definitely not any more, who would have some level of competence in Sanskrit, but even they were unlikely to be fluent in the language.

If this is the state of Sanskrit learning in the country, if there are hardly any people left who can read, write and speak Sanskrit fluently, then there is no point in insisting that all Indian literature must be approached through Sanskrit. We have to accept the condition to which we have been reduced, and we must start building up from there. If for the time being Sanskrit has become inaccessible to us, then we must do without Sanskrit, and work with the languages that we are familiar with.

It is of course true that no high scholarly work on Indian literature can be done without knowing the language of that literature. But what is urgently needed is not high scholarship, but a rough and ready comprehension of ourselves and the world. We need a direction, a vision, a conceptual basis, that is in consonance with the Indian Chitta and Kala, and through which we can proceed to understand the modern world and the modern times. Once such a way is found, there will be time enough to learn Sanskrit, or any other language that we may need, and to undertake detailed high scholarship in our own way, on not only the Indian literature but also perhaps on the literature of other civilisations of the world.

But the detailed scholarship can wait. What cannot wait is the task of finding our direction and our way, of forming a quick vision of the Indian Chitta and Kala. This task has to be performed quickly, with whatever competence we have on hand, and with whatever languages we presently know.