Gently reminding us of who we are: Dharampal

I think that someday all Indians will know about Dharampalji, one of the great scholars of modern India. His collected writings that runs into five volumes has the potential to shift our entrenched perspectives about who we are, to change our self-image built on colonial lies. However, this week I am going to focus on his long essay, Bharatiya Chitta, Manas and Kala, that is part of volume 5 of his collected writings. The full essay is also available for download at the Centre For Policy Studies website here.

Excerpt from the essay:

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?

About Dharampal: (Written for this blog post by Pawan Kumar Gupta, December 10, 2020)

Dharampal jee dropped out of college in 1942 soon after Mahatma Gandhi’s call for “Quit India”. He never went back to formal education after that. But he was a keen observer and in the words of the great Buddhist scholar, philosopher and intellectual in the traditional manner, Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, an “original thinker”. So his education continued – he was socially and politically active. He worked closely with Mira Behen, and Jaiprakash Narayan. He wrote a scathing letter, addressed to all Members of Parliament after the debacle of the 1962 war with China, calling Pandit Nehru a traitor. He was arrested and finally had to leave the country.
While living in London he started delving deep into the British archives in the India Office Library, a huge section in the British library. His research was inspired by something Gandhi jee said in London in 1931, when he referred to the amazing educational system that existed in India – covering a large part of the country, completely autonomous and managed by the local community – just before India was colonized and how it got uprooted under the British occupation. Very few in India had any idea about this or believed that any system of education for the common ordinary people even existed in the country before the arrival of the British. But Dharampal jee decided to explore the British records of those times (late 18th and early 19th century), believing Gandhi jee’s words. His painstaking research spread over several years, yielded rich dividends, and revealed to him various facets of our past – from indigenous Science and technology to the agricultural practices to the thriving economy of the country and, of course, the education system. Not just these, but he got a deep understanding of the British ways of doing things, their perspective and the manner in which Indians behaved and looked at life. We need to appreciate the fact that when Dharampal jee was doing his research there were no computers or photocopying machines. He had to read, take extensive hand written notes and then painstakingly type them out. My guess is not even 20% of his research has been published till now and many of the books are out of print.
Many of us believe that “Bhartiya, Chitta, Manas and Kala” came out of his years of tapas – research, observation and trying to understand the Indian mind and swabhava. Indian mind, swabhava, ways of doing things, organizing the world around and perception has been very different from the western mind and now the modern Indian mind. What made India a vibrant society and what has happened to us now? Perhaps this essay gives us a direction in which to ponder and find answers.

Links for further study:
Pawan Gupta talking about Dharampal on YouTube in 3 parts. Part 1 . Part 2 . Part 3 .
Centre of Policy studies Dharampal archival collection (with over 15000 pages)

Leave a Reply