On 9 November, Carnatic musician TM Krishna penned a critical piece in ‘The Hindu’ which seemed to be his take on the condition of Indian culture in the present time. The relevant extract is produced below:

If we were to look at India over the last century, we have had some very interesting swings. I will be making some generalisations, while acknowledging the presence of counter movements at all times. From around the mid 19{+t}{+h}century until the time of independence we had a resurgence in nationalism. This was accompanied by a re-assertion of Hindu thought, practice, religion, philosophy and art, bringing together the ‘majority’ and instilling in it cultural pride. This was not just digging into the past; it was a modern movement, flawed in many ways yet an act of its own time by a certain class of people. The movement, though predominantly upper-class did re-create ‘Hindu culture’ as the Indian way that critiqued the ‘rest’ but embraced them in a common purpose — independence.

But very soon in the ‘Nehruvian era’, politics moved this new social identity into the realms of secularism, plurality and equality. Now ‘the Indian’ became an embodiment of tolerance and ‘brotherhood’ — gender equality changing figures of speech was to come a little later! Re-working that very same Hindu religion to fit this narrative further emphasised these ideas. In most fascinating ways the specifics within the Hindu fabric metamorphosed into generalities of everyone irrespective of their own belief systems…..

….Today we live in another phase, a reactionary one and another bout of Hindu nationalism. But the nature of this one seems different from its previous ‘avatar’. The previous manifestation engaged with the ‘rest’ in the common interest of independence, but today there seems no such imperative and hence no need to embrace. And, this is working to the advantage of the party now in power — the BJP.

This Hindu culture — 2.0 — is born from the ‘atheistic appearance’ of our immediate socio-political past but may also be a result of the over generalisation of the ‘Hindu’ leading to a loss of propriety for the Hindus over the Hindu-Indian identity. This loss of propriety is sub-conscious, creating an urgent need to say that the Hindu way of life is superior to everything else, an umbrella under which everything else exists. The discourse of the day is about attacking those who do not succumb.

[pullquote]Mr. Krishna like all ardent secularists overestimates the Nehruvian era. [/pullquote]

Although Mr. Krishna has every right to interpret Indian culture as it appears now or as it was in the past, I couldn’t help but notice there is a certain misreading of facts which I felt the need to point out. Thus I have decided to give my take on Mr. Krishna’s views by making the following points:

a. The nineteenth century movements:  Let me present the following excerpt from the Constituent Assembly speech by Dr B.R. Ambedkar on Friday, 25 November, 1949 before the passing of the Constitution:

….On 26th January 1950, India will be an independent country. What would happen to her independence? Will she maintain her independence or will she lose it again? This is the first thought that comes to my mind. It is not that India was never an independent country. The point is that she once lost the independence she had. Will she lose it a second time? It is this thought which makes me most anxious for the future. What perturbs me greatly is the fact that not only India has once before lost her independence, but she lost it by the infidelity and treachery of some of her own people. In the invasion of Sind by Mahommed-Bin-Kasim, the military commanders of King Dahar accepted bribes from the agents of Mahommed-Bin-Kasim and refused to fight on the side of their King. It was Jaichand who invited Mahommed Gohri to invade India and fight against Prithvi Raj and promised him the help of himself and the Solanki Kings. ……

As can be understood from the excerpt, a time came when India lost its socio-political sovereignty to invading forces and history teaches us that when a nation loses its socio-political sovereignty it is not long before the degeneration of culture sets in.

We can see the examples of how the once glorious Greco-Roman civilisation faced decay, first by getting trampled by the Visgoth forces, then by coming under the tyrannical hold of the all powerful church. But the essence of the Hellenic civilization was not completely obliterated.

This essence was rediscovered in the late fifteenth century, a time period we call the ‘Renaissance.’ Mr. Krishna will know that “Renaissance” is a French word meaning “rebirth”. The period is called by this name because at that time, people started taking an interest in the learning of ancient times, in particular the teachings of ancient Greco- Roman savants.

Similarly India was losing its cultural essence after being ravaged by the invading prowlers. But one of Indian culture that is Hindu culture’s strong suit has always been its capacity for regeneration, or if you may please ‘Renaissance.’ And that is what the nineteenth century reformers set out to do.

In the 19th century, when the British took control of India, the colonial officials often employed missionaries to engage with the colonised people in order to ‘Anglicize’ them. The policy of religious conversions was endorsed by the British imperialists in a very delicate manner. To quote Thomas Babbington Macaulay:

.. I feel with them that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern,  –a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population…

Many colonial officials believed that conversions to Christianity were also a part of the process. In the beginning the targets were the then Indian elites and significant numbers of “upper caste” Hindus converted.

It was at that period that groups like the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj tried to protect the essence of Hindu culture against the threat from missionary Christianity by reinterpreting certain aspects of Hindu tradition. To quote Dr. Koenraad Elst:

…Whereas the Arya Samaj embraced a Christian-like religious theism, the Brahmo Samaj tended more towards a modern Enlightenment-inspired deism, i.e. the philosophical acceptance of a distant cosmic intelligence rather than a personal God biddable by human imprecations….

Both groups in their own way restarted and revived the learning of ancient Indian thought in various disciplines.

samaj 1 samaj

It was during that time Swami Vivekananda reawakened the colonised Indians to their own magnificent past through his activities. He was followed by erudite scholars like Ananda Coomarswamy and Jadunath Sarkar who began investigating different aspects of ancient India and publicized their findings to the world.

But it was not only the upper-caste who in Mr. Krishna’s words re-created ‘Hindu culture’ as the Indian way. Mahatma Ayyankali and Sree Narayana Guru, both great apostles of social advancement in Kerala drew from the ancient teachings of Hinduism to reform the then caste-obsessed Keralite society–just to name two people.

Like the fifteenth century Europe, nineteenth century India saw a rebirth of India’s cultural essence which miraculously survived despite multiple attacks  by the medieval marauders and the prolonged Mughal rule.

b. Nehruvian Era: Mr. Krishna like all ardent secularists overestimates the Nehruvian era. While many prefer to call it an era of scientific temper (already debunked here) Mr. Krishna sees in it a time of cultural diversity and tolerance.

Mr. Krishna, to be blunt you would see the flaws in your claim if you just take the effort of glancing through our historical texts. India’s maxim of ‘unity in diversity’ is in reality a furtherance of an old civilizational brilliance that chose not to give monopoly to any single creed, giving every individual a right to choose his/her way of thought.

The introductory texts of the much derided Hindu Dharma, the Vedas which were noted down more than a millennium ago, provide ample space for critical examination. Consider the Nasadiya Sukta in the Rig Veda (10:129) :

“…who knows, and who can say

Whence it all came, and how creation happened?

The gods themselves are later than creation,

so who knows truly whence it has arisen?

Whence all creation had its origin,

he, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not,

he, who surveys it all from highest heaven,

he knows – or maybe even he does not know.”

Speaking of gender equality, I will again quote Dr. Ambedkar:

The stories of women entering into public discussions with men on most abstruse subjects of religion, philosophy and metaphysics are by no means few. The story of public disputation between Janaka and Sulbha, between Yajnavalkya and Gargi, between Yajnavalkya and Maitrei and between Shankaracharya and Vidyadhari shows that Indian women in pre-Manu’s time could rise to the highest pinnacle of learning and education…….That at one time women were highly respected cannot be disputed.

Countless Hindu social reformers lamented the social stagnation that crept into Hindu society during the medieval era, and took every initiative to amend those anomalies:

For any student of social science, studying the women empowerment in a society that is in transition from pre-modernity to modernity, one of the vital indicators would be the marriage age of the girls. Legal prohibition of marrying off the girl children in the name of custom and tradition plays an important role in making women achieve education and get empowerment in the society….…Towards this ,social reformers in India fought a very tough battle. Important pioneers who paved the way for stopping the child marriage were among them were Hari Singh Gour  who through his repeated appeals to recognize the  standards of modern clinical psychology was able to pass the law that raised the age of consent for girl children from 12 to 14.  That war for raising the marriage age of women and prohibition of child marriage was further taken up by HarbilasSarda…….Hari Singh Gour was member of the Legal Advisory Committee of the Hindu Mahasabha. HarbilasSarda was a proponent of pan-Hindutva.

Pandit Nehru was the recipient of all these efforts, so it wasn’t his special achievement that “created” a tolerant society. I believe Mr. Krishna seems to be unaware of Panditji’s arrogant claims like ‘By education I am an Englishman…’ and ‘I am the last Englishman to rule India.’


Indeed it is safe to say that Panditji’s era saw attempts to ‘Anglicise’ India and complete what the British started. To quote from this splendid piece of Swapan Dasgupta:

Among Nehru’s ‘prejudices’ were ”maharajas, Portugal, moneylenders, certain American ways, Hinduism, the whites in Africa…” The list explains why Nehru was so offensive at the opening of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute in Calcutta, 1961.

There he spoke of ”bogus spirituality”, the absurdity of ”running away from the daily problems of life in the spirituality” — the profundities of undergrad radicalism — and then stalked off. ….Nehru, it was said, ”could be emphatic on a basis of insufficient knowledge”.…..he probably believed that the India of ”cow worshippers and devotees of Ayurvedic medicine and astrology” should be banished from public life……

In the decades that followed Nehru’s premiership the Nehruvians gave their spin on every facet of Indian society and history. Often, facts were treated as ingredients which got dissolved in the brew of their propaganda. All their activities resulted in making the word ‘Hindu’ identical with inactivity and disappointment, what else can explain an economist terming India’s economic stagnation as the ‘Hindu rate of growth?’

[pullquote]India’s maxim of ‘unity in diversity’ is in reality a furtherance of an old civilizational brilliance that chose not to give monopoly to any single creed, giving every individual a right to choose his/her way of thought.[/pullquote]

I suggest Mr. Krishna to go through Arun Shouie’s Eminent Historians:Their Techniques, Their Line, Their Fraud to know how tolerant Nehruvian India was with dissenting views.

arun shourie

With the coming of the internet and economic liberalization people were getting access to sources backed by solid evidence, an opulence they were denied before. And this led to a collapse of the Nehruvian idea of India. So what you are seeing now Mr. Krishna is renovation of history, not an intolerant phase.

To conclude on a lighter note since you are associated with music, I cannot help but share this favourite song of mine from the ‘Golden Age Era’ of ‘English Rock’ which coincided with Nehru’s reign over India. If you must know, the music from that era drew a lot of inspiration from what Pandit Nehru called India’s bogus spirituality” instead of any ‘atheistic appearance.’