Dialogue April-June, 2011, Volume 12 No. 4
Integrating India’s Heritage in Indian Education
I. The Problem
Few countries boast such a rich cultural heritage as India, yet the average Indian student is exposed to almost none of it. Such is the painful paradox of “modern” Indian education. The degenerate outcome of colonial policies reinforced rather than reformed after Independence, India’s educational system fails to instil into young Indians a dynamic awareness and understanding of their country’s achievements and civilizing influences in various fields and at various epochs, including today. Slogans such as “unity in diversity” have acquired a hollow ring, especially when what constitutes and nurtures this “unity” is carefully kept out of sight.
The unspoken line of thinking underlying this attitude is that India’s cultural heritage is basically useless to students: in the rat race for jobs, it would only be dead baggage to them. Cultural heritage is fine for political speeches, museums, and to attract foreign tourists, but not for teaching: no one should doubt that all useful knowledge comes from the West. India cannot, therefore, generate knowledge: her ultimate ambition should only be to become an efficient recipient of knowledge generated elsewhere. No longer the land of Knowledge, only a pale colony.
Macaulay would have been delighted to see how faithfully we have followed his dictums. To anyone with a living culture, it should be clear that such an attitude can never foster self-confidence in students. It leaves them at best ignorant of, and at worst inimical to, what India has stood for in world history. It ingrains in them a subservient mindset that sees the West as the ultimate reference point. Not that Indian education should be anti-West, of course, but why should it be so hostile to Indian culture both in theory and in practice?
In reality, to integrate Indian culture and heritage in the curriculum would do students a great service: it would equip them with a more concrete knowledge of their country and the mind of its people, which can only help them in any professional life; it would give them a sense of belonging to a stream of civilization instead of being meaningless individuals drifting in space and time; it would instil in them some of the great values that India stood for at the peak of her creativity, such as truthfulness, courage, and a harmony between individual and collective dharma; it would enrich and refine them, bring them a deeper perspective of things, and ultimately a greater ability to deal with life’s challenges by helping them towards a balanced and harmonized personality. Are such lifelong benefits contemptible? Are they not part of what a meaningful education should provide? And can mugging up a few dry facts about past dynasties, wars and betrayals provide them?
Great Indians on Indian education
India’s pre-Independence thinkers often warned against the evils of the British system of education and called for a free India to design her own educational system. Swami Vivekananda complained long back that English education made the student “a mass of negation, lifeless and boneless ... Education is not the amount of information that is put into your brain and runs riot there, undigested, all your life.”1 Sri Aurobindo wrote in the first decade of the twentieth century:
In India ... we have been cut off by a mercenary and soulless education from all our ancient roots of culture and tradition....2 The spiritual and intellectual divorce from the past which the present schools and universities have effected, has beggared the nation of the originality, high aspiration and forceful energy which can alone make a nation free and great. To reverse the process and recover what we have lost, is undoubtedly the first object to which we ought to devote ourselves....3 Much as we have lost as a nation, we have always preserved our intellectual alertness, quickness and originality; but even this last gift is threatened by our University system, and if it goes, it will be the beginning of irretrievable degradation and final extinction. The very first step in reform must therefore be to revolutionise the whole aim and method of our education.4
Rabindranath Tagore agreed, and remarked, “All over India, there is a vague feeling of discontent in the air about our prevalent system of education”—a statement whose topicality few of us would dare to dispute. He found that Indian students:
never have intellectual courage, because they never see the process and the environment of those thoughts which they are compelled to learn ¾ and thus they lose the historical sense of all ideas, never knowing the perspective of their growth.... They not only borrow a foreign culture, but also a foreign standard of judgement; and thus, not only is the money not theirs, but not even the pocket. Their education is a chariot that does not carry them in it, but drags them behind it. The sight is pitiful and very often comic.5
It would be tempting to continue with more thinkers, for instance the great art critic Ananda Coomaraswamy:
No more crushing blows have ever been struck at the roots of Indian National evolution than those which have been struck, often with other, and the best intentions, in the name of Education.... The most crushing indictment of this Education is the fact that it destroys, in the great majority of those upon whom it is inflicted, all capacity for the appreciation of Indian culture. The ordinary graduate of an Indian University ... is indeed a stranger in his own land.6
Independent India, for reasons we shall not go into here, turned her back on such great minds and decided to perpetuate a system hostile to the foundations of Indian culture. Our aim is clear: not only the Indianization of Indian education, but its modernization—which includes its demoronization. The disease is equally clear, and deep-rooted. Are there any remedies?
The power of a question
To reform India’s education, we need to address two central issues: that of content, and that of method. The latter is straightforward: it should certainly begin with a considerable lightening of syllabi and examinations, an emphasis on understanding and creativity rather than on mechanical memorizing of dry facts, an encouragement to debate, inquiry and questioning; also constant research by and orientation of the teacher, without which none of the above is possible. A true teacher is not expected to just read out the textbook like a tape player, while the students act as mere tape recorders; unfortunately, this caricature of teaching has become a widespread reality in India.
In 1974, out of the blue, a pupil in a French elementary school asked his maths teacher, “Sir, where do numbers come from?” The teacher was stumped, mumbled some lame explanation, went home and realized that he knew nothing of the origin of numbers. Georges Ifrah resigned his job and started travelling round the world, visiting libraries and museums, consulting experts, and studying all the while the evolution of numbers and mathematics in every civilization. To pay for his expenses, he would take odd jobs while on the move, becoming a taxi driver here or a hotel’s night watchman there. Twenty years later, the result was a monumental Universal History of Numbers7 which covered every epoch and civilization: a 2,000-page reply to his pupil. The book became an unprecedented bestseller when it was released in France in 1994. Incidentally, out of its 2,000 pages, nearly 800 were about India and her contributions to the field, which drew Ifrah’s unreserved admiration. (We will quote him a few times below.)
The child’s question to Ifrah was the result of healthy pedagogy. In India, we can hardly picture a student presenting a teacher with a challenge of this sort—and sending him or her around the world in search of the answer; more often than not, the student would be promptly rebuffed. Indian education has all but killed the spirit of inquiry and the power of original thinking, at a time when India needs them so much.
There would be much more to say on teaching methods and pedagogy, but we will limit ourselves here to the elements outlined above, which form part of the indispensable foundation, and concentrate on the question of content.
Integration in practice
In recent years, a number of schools and colleges, dissatisfied with the cultural desertification that has struck generations of young Indians, have gone for the obvious solution: introduce a course on Indian culture, heritage or ethos. Such courses range from basic to very elaborate ones, and a well-designed course is certainly a boon to the student. Yet, however welcome in the present context, this is not the ideal, long-term solution, for two reasons: First, it risks adding to the student’s already heavy burden, unless it takes the place of pious but ineffectual “moral instruction” periods and is made really enjoyable and living. Second and more important, it sends a subtle message that Indian culture is a “separate” topic, unrelated to the others: you learn mathematics, geography, civics, and also Indian culture. In other words, Indian culture has little to do with the mainstream disciplines.
What is the alternative? Irrespective of whether a school has adopted a culture course or not, and leaving aside the long-term solution of an overhauled syllabus at school and college levels (which is not likely to happen soon in view of the paucity of vision among our policy makers and educationists), I suggest that there are simple ways in which a teacher of goodwill in any discipline can, at the very least, introduce a few concepts or elements from India’s cultural heritage. This hardly takes any time, and moreover, public schools at least have much freedom in the first years, often till class 9.
In a broad view of the issue, any integration of India’s heritage in the regular teaching should aim at three results:
1. Integration of values. This can most effectively be done through the use of stories, of which Indian literature is an endless source. The teacher should keep in mind a clear distinction between universal values (e.g. courage, truthfulness, selflessness) and specifically Indian values, not necessarily found in other cultures (e.g. unity of and respect for all life, harmony with nature and the universe, non-violence coupled with the use of force for dharmic purposes).
2. Integration of elements of India’s heritage in every discipline.
3. The ultimate objective is to convey something of the Indian worldview and show how it is growing more and more relevant in today’s world. The inspirational potential of this worldview should be conveyed.
The rest of this paper deals with the last two points, generally the most neglected, and the most difficult.
II. Integrating India’s Heritage
Rather than deal with theoretical principles, let us give a few simple examples, keeping in mind that at this stage, the teacher’s task is no more than to provide the student with a glimpse of India’s advances in various fields. In the present state of our educational syllabus, that is all we can hope for, but it is enough to paint a very different—and fairer—perspective of Indian civilization.
This is probably the field in which striking facts can most easily be introduced.
Ø Every child starts with numbers. Today, no one disputes that the so-called “Arabic” numerals as well as the place-value decimal system of numeral notation originated in India, so why not begin by explaining this to the children? Just one attempt to add or multiply Roman figures will be enough to impress a child on the greatness of the decimal system, one of India’s most remarkable gifts to science, without which mathematics could not have developed. (Indeed Ifrah devotes many pages to this discovery, which persistently eluded the Mesopotamian and the Chinese.)
Ø When coming to the Pythagorean theorem, why not mention that we first find it in Baudhayana’s Shulba-Sutras, probably several centuries before it appears in Greece?
Ø Or that Aryabhata’s value for (Pi = 3.1416) is among the best approximations of those times?8
Ø Or that his concise table of sine values from 0 to 90° is always correct to three or four significant figures, which means a high degree of precision?
Ø India’s love affair with huge numbers, which Ifrah again documents so well, deserves a mention when we reach the notation of powers and exponents: multiples of 10 up to the power of 145 had specific Sanskrit names! The teacher could explain that by contrast, the ancient Greeks only went up to the “myriad,” i.e. 10,000; numbers beyond were nameless.
Ø Infinity appears very late in European mathematics. But we have a good definition of it by Brahmagupta in his Brahmasphutasiddhanta (628 CE): khachheda means “divided by kha” (space), that is, by zero. (Khahara, with a similar meaning, was used by Bhaskaracharya.) It is therefore not surprising to find Ifrah stating, “A thousand years ahead of Europeans, Indian savants knew that the zero and infinity were mutually inverse notions.…”9
Ø At higher levels, it would be enough to explain that Brahmagupta’s work on quadratic equations, computation of square roots or negative numbers was centuries ahead of European mathematics. More advances in the fields infinite series, power expansions of trigonometric functions, integral and differential calculus, etc., represent pioneering advances in India and provide useful landmarks in the history of mathematics.10
Ø In designing exercises at lower levels, any teacher could take a leaf out of Bhaskaracharya’s Lilavati,11 in which algebraic problems are put in poetical form involving swans, pearls, lotuses and bees. In fact, students would find some of Bhaskaracharya’s brain-teasers quite entertaining—and would soon master the basics of algebra through them.
Physics & Chemistry
Ø Atomism, gravitation, relativity of time and space and other “modern” notions are anticipated by early Indian scientists and philosophers, as in the Vaishesika Sutras, Yoga Vasishtha, etc. A word of caution here: this does not mean that such advanced notions were first discovered by ancient Indians, as some overenthusiastic scholars are sometimes tempted to claim; it only means that Indians were capable of visualizing the concepts behind them (they did not work out the mathematical apparatus required to translate those concepts into “science”). This in itself is no mean achievement and enough to show the daring of the Indian mind, if left free to tune in to the universe rather than being compelled to parrot someone else’s work.
Ø Some acquaintance with a few important advances of ancient astronomy would hurt no one. It is good to remember Aryabhata’s striking view of the earth as a “rotating sphere” (and his precise value for its diameter), his correct interpretation of solar and lunar eclipses, or his remarkably precise estimates for the sidereal day and year. Otherwise we are giving students the false notion that all astronomy came from Ptolemy, Copernicus or Galileo, and India was never in the picture. Another example is the appearance of heliocentrism with Parameswara and his disciple Nilakantan Somayaji, a few decades before Copernicus came up with his system. It is also relevant to point out that current cosmological scales are in tune with Indian time scales, such as a day of Brahma (8.4 billion years), as pointed out by Carl Sagan in his famous book, Cosmos.
Ø India’s scientific advances are by no means confined to ancient times. The work—and preferably brief life sketches—of modern Indian scientists such as S. Ramanujan, C.V. Raman, Satyendranath Bose, S. Chandrasekhar and a host of others certainly deserves mention. A striking case is that of J.C. Bose, the real inventor of wireless transmission, as now acknowledged in the West—but not yet in India. In 1895, two years before Marconi (who in fact copied much of his work), “Bose gave his first public demonstration of electromagnetic waves, using them to ring a bell remotely and to explode some gunpowder.”12 D.T. Emerson in The Work of Jagadis Chandra Bose: 100 Years of MM-Wave Research at:
Ø Chemistry is another rich field, since we have well-documented early achievements in iron technology, extraction of zinc, and a complex science of processes of distillation, extraction etc., often interconnected with the preparation of medical products and alchemical practices.
Ø Many textbooks remain stuck with the separation between “living” things (plants and animals) and “non-living” things (the sun, water, mountains ...). There is no need to teach such outdated notions; rather, the Indian view of the whole universe being permeated with consciousness and life is much closer to current scientific theories (which will not prevent the teacher from explaining that some things reproduce and grow or move about, while others do not).
Ø When the concept of evolution comes up, the striking progression expressed in the Dashavatar series, could be invoked—again, not as a prior discovery, but as an intuition of the phenomenon behind evolution.
Ø Ayurveda and other Indian systems of medicine, including Sushruta’s impressive knowledge of surgery, have a rightful place in this discipline too; there are several references to invisible corpuscles in the ancient texts, and as late as the eighteenth century, Bengal at least had a smallpox inoculation programme in operation. Even basic highlights of India’s achievements in the field of health would help reduce excessive dependence on “modern” medicine.
We present physical, political etc. maps of India, but why not also a “heritage map” where the high places of Indian culture, from Mohenjo-daro to Ajanta, Sanchi to Mahabalipuram, Sarnath to Hampi, are well marked? As things are, few students would be able to pinpoint even one of them on India’s map.
l Geography should also include local explorations (most students know Antarctica and Africa better than their own districts). Visits to sites of historical, archaeological, cultural or even geological importance would certainly be stimulating.
The field of humanities is crying for more Indian inputs. Literature, in particular, gives far more place to English and American writers than to Indian authors from various regions and epochs. It does not matter in the least if Indian students are ignorant of Shakespeare or Shelley, but should they know next to nothing of Kalidasa, Bhartrihari, Valluvar, Bankim or Tagore? Should they have no glimpse of the Tamil epics or the poems of great saints? Most M.A. courses of English literature, for example, keep out Sri Aurobindo whose contributions to English poetry and drama were outstanding.
Leaving classical literature aside, how many contemporary Malayalam writers can a Tamil or Bengali student name offhand? We have been talking of “national integration” since Independence, but the average Indian student does not have the faintest notion of the regional literatures beyond (or even in!) his or her state.
Again, the problem lies clearly with the syllabus. But teachers can use some care in selecting short inspirational pieces from various epochs and Indian regions; they can prepare research projects or make use of various extra-curricular activities (including staging plays) to partly fill this lacuna.
There is something sadly wrong in our present teaching of history, which is little more than a colonial relic. It fails to document India’s cultural continuity, integration and evolution; it fails to show how India’s great ideas and advances developed and found themselves reflected in the lives of the people. It is symptomatic that in recent years, a few State Boards of education have gone so far as to toy with the idea of removing history altogether from the curriculum—an admission of the complete irrelevance of the present line of history teaching. But which country can afford to ignore its history? And which country has more history than India?
A living teaching of history should, in fact, deal with developments such as these:
Ø How many of us know that republicanism was one of India’s experiments with governance a few centuries before classical Greece?13 Or that democratic institutions and standards under the Cholas were more exacting and effective than our own of today, as many inscriptions have established (for instance at Uttaramerur)?
Ø Recent archaeological excavations in Egypt have confirmed the intensity of India’s trade with the Roman Empire. The famous Roman navy, for instance, was built with Indian teakwood, just as the so-called Damascus steel in the Near East, famed for its hardness, was forged in South India.
Ø Why not point out how Arab scholars intently studied India’s scientific texts, serving as conduits to the West. We know that astronomers from India helped set up observatories in 803 CE at Baghdad and Damascus, and India’s knowledge of astronomy and geography aided the Arabs’ progress in navigation and maritime trade. Baghdad also boasted a “translation bureau” where scholars from all parts of Europe and Asia were employed for translating scientific books into Arabic (and were paid the weight of the books in gold); two Indian scholars worked on the highly prized Indian manuscripts from various branches of knowledge. Among those translated were some by Brahmagupta. A few centuries later, Alberuni borrowed from Aryabhata and translated Varahamihira’s Suryasiddhanta. Many more such facts—kept out of our textbooks—eloquently illustrate India’s outreach and impact.
Ø More examples should include Central, South-East and Far-Eastern Asia, where India’s presence was considerable in the form of religion, philosophy, literature, scripts, architecture and other art forms. Indeed, India’s contributions to world culture in every field, to almost every region of the world, and over millennia, are massive and well-illustrated.14 She also left considerable imprints on Western thought and literature during the nineteenth century, and today’s fast spread of yoga and meditation in the West shows that her gentle streams have not dried up.
All of this is accepted by scholars worldwide, so why such timidity at home in making the Indian child rightly proud of India as a most prolific and generous civilization? This perspective should naturally emerge from any history course, but since our minds remain colonized, sincere teachers will have to do some homework to bring out important facts relevant to their discipline.
Again, creative methods should be used in the teaching of history: audiovisual material, historical plays, visits to museums and local sites — and why not begin history with them, instead of dealing with the national level at once?
Civics should lay less stress on the Constitution, the laws, human rights etc., and more on the Indian approach to duty—in other words, dharma. This is not religion in the Western sense, but the Indian cultural, spiritual, ethical notion, which was seen as the foundation for a well-ordered, functional society. Dharma, one’s duty to family, society and country, should be the natural foundation for Indian civics, whatever else we wish to add to it. And dharmic values can easily be illustrated, not only through a few well-chosen stories from the Epics or various collections like the Hitopadesha, but also from actual historical developments.
Moreover, while teaching Indian democracy, many textbooks err in projecting democracy in India as born in 1947. As we mentioned earlier, democracy is an old Indian tradition, dating back possibly to Harappan times, and in any case to the Mahajanapadas of early historical times; this Indian trait remains one of the foundations of village life in rural India. In the same vein, it is easy to show that education is much more an Indian than a Western tradition, and was regarded as a sacred mission in India till colonial times.15
It is important to make students aware of these traditions, which are really undercurrents in the Indian mind, so they may not be hypnotized into thinking that India owes them to a “benevolent” British Raj.
Indian art is much admired around the world. A creative teacher (again, one who is not a mere machine) should have no difficulty in arousing a sense of wonder in the student while describing Ellora’s Kailashnath temple and the extraordinary feat of architecture that carved it out of a hill.
Here, the use of multimedia can convey the meaning of Indian painting, architecture, music and dance far better than a few dry paragraphs. As elsewhere, all will depend on the teacher’s own competence, passion, and eagerness to innovate. But at least, the availability of quality material should make this field easier to handle through extra-curricular activities.
Ecology is increasingly introduced at school, partly in geography and partly in life sciences. This is a welcome development, but one that needlessly omits India’s concept of Mother Earth as a cow to be milked, not destroyed; that is the very basis of “modern” ecology and sustainable development, and the Indian attitude of harmony with Nature rather than exploitation will prove to be more durable.
To illustrate India’s ecological mind and traditions, use may be made of the following, to start with:
Ø Extracts from various texts such as the Bhumi Sukta in the Atharva Veda.
Ø Historical examples based on Ashoka’s edicts or the Arthashastra.
Ø A few striking examples on the treatment of plants as expounded in the Vrikshayurveda or documented in the field.16
Ø Examples of effective, nation-wide Nature conservation through the use of sacred groves, sacred tanks etc.
Ø Water harvesting is in vogue—but has been practiced for at least 4,600 years, since the Indus-Sarasvati civilization (as can be seen at Dholavira, for instance) and again in the Ganges valley (Sringaverapura) or under the Cholas.17
Physical development is terribly neglected in Indian schools and colleges. While the infatuation with a game like cricket is often hard to understand, what is even worse is the utter neglect of Indian games and martial arts, which could be integrated with great benefit. Be it kusti, kalaripayattu, silambam, kabaddi, all these not only deserve to be preserved, but have great potential for self-control and discipline in addition to physical accomplishment.
Of late, we hear more and more of the need to teach Yoga, by which is generally meant asanas and a bit of pranayama. While this is an excellent development (probably a by-product of the respectability acquired by Yoga in the West), we should keep in mind that Yoga is much more: a science of inner and outer health, a system of self-exploration and self-fulfilment. Physical practices can serve as an introduction to these deeper dimensions of Yoga.
III. Conveying India’s World-view
If the above suggestions were to be faithfully implemented, the student would certainly acquire a degree of awareness of India. But presenting India’s heritage in snippets remains a makeshift method, which may stimulate many students, but will not fully convey the Indian worldview.
Only research projects, specific courses or extra-curricular activities can take us farther, until the educational messiah many have been praying for finally comes and overhauls the system. As guidelines, I suggest that specific themes should be taken and treated in depth, rather than through a mere passing mention.
For instance, a dedicated instructor could take any of the following great concepts or achievements of India:
1. The Indus-Sarasvati civilization as a peaceful, prosperous society, with a remarkable civic discipline despite the invisibility of rulers.
2. Democracy (early Republicanism in the Mahajanapadas, under the Cholas, etc.) and Dharma-based governance resulting in social stability and relative prosperity.
3. Peaceful cultural expansion within India, resulting in cultural unity and integration. In other words, diversity in oneness, which is a much better phrase than the hackneyed “unity in diversity.”
4. Peaceful cultural diffusion outside India. Harmonious and non-military interaction with other cultures in Asia and other parts of the world.
5. Milking, not “conquering” Nature. Respect of all life forms. The art of doing much with little. Simplicity of living and sustainability of traditional Indian lifestyles and techniques.
6. Interconnectedness and oneness of all life.
7. Svabhava and svadharma: spiritual freedom and pluralism. Respect of the other, therefore of other cultures.
8. Spiritualization and sacralization of art and literature—ultimately of all life.
9. Advanced concepts and pioneering developments in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, technologies.
10. Yoga: integral development of our personality.
11. A spirituality wholly compatible with modern science (unlike Semitic credal systems).
12. Survival of Indian civilization in the face of multiple aggressions.
The above twelve points may be called achievements of “classical India.” But it is important to highlight more recent achievements so as to show that Indian civilization is not dead and continues to create and radiate. A few examples:
1. India’s nineteenth-century renaissance in spirituality, art and science.
2. The throwing up of revolutionary spiritual figures such as Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo.
3. The revival of regional literatures (e.g. Tagore in Bengal, Subramania Bharati in Tamil Nadu, K.M. Munshi in Gujarat).
4. A generation of outstanding Indian scientists, such as those named earlier. (Note that all of them had their education prior to Independence; Independent India has failed to produce a single scientist of that level, once again because the Indian student’s cognitive skills are repressed and crippled by the existing system.)
5. The rejuvenating of nineteenth-century Western literature, thought and humanism through the discovery of Sanskrit literature.
6. The stimulation of modern science (e.g. Tesla, Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Oppenheimer) and others scientists who have drawn some of their inspiration from Indian (especially Vedantic) concepts.
7. Fuelling the New Age movement (late twentieth century) by spreading yoga, meditation, concepts of rebirth and karma.
8. Showing the path of culturally rooted social reform: examples include Narayana Guru, Pandit Shastri Athawale’s Swadhyaya movement, the recent Aim for Seva movement and many others.
9. Staying together as a nation.
Teachers, and students for that matter, should be free to add to such lists, provided they steer clear of the “achievements” conventionally listed in textbooks, such as India’s industrialization, parliamentary democracy, composite culture, etc., which too often conceal the prodigious failures of Nehruvianism.
The above cursory examples illustrate what innovative teachers, at school or college, could introduce to their students—right now, today, without waiting for any change from the top. So why did I call this approach the most difficult? Because it asks a double effort of the teachers :
Ø An effort in familiarizing themselves with India’s achievements, of which they are unaware (being themselves “the product of the system,” as a teacher once gently reminded me after a lecture of mine on this topic). This involves a good deal of training, research and self-education. Although much material is now available, it is not often presented in a readily assimilated form, and spurious material is mingled in it at times.18
Ø An effort in selecting and putting across some of the material to the students in a way that they feel struck, inspired by, filled with admiration for this ancient and yet living civilization.
Few teachers, lecturers or even professors today are capable of this, or willing to take the trouble. That is the crux of the whole problem. Unless they are properly trained, and unless the parents and managements are prepared to support this line, the old system will persist. Parents especially must decide whether they want their children to be successful at today’s exams perhaps, but unable to cope with the wider problems that life will put before them, because they have remained ignorant, uncultured and unable to think despite gruelling years of schooling.
In today’s India, more and more experiments are groping for a way out of this absurd cultural alienation. We need to encourage them, to stop bringing up political controversies of various hues, which only expose our ignorance of India’s heritage. We must make sure that Indian education comes of age: after more than six decades of independence, there is no excuse for not decolonizing it. Let it be done intelligently, with the best material, and keeping the students’ future in sight.
No great nation was ever built by petty minds with no vision, no knowledge of their roots and no self-confidence. Give India’s heritage its due place in education, and India’s still living strengths will take care of the rest.
1. Swami Vivekananda, “The Future of India,” Complete Works (1948 edition), vol. III, p. 302.
2. Sri Aurobindo, “The National Value of Art,” Karmayogin November 20, 1909 in The Hour of God (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1972), p. 231.
3. Sri Aurobindo, Karmayogin, September 25, 1909, in Karmayogin (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1972), p. 210.4 Sri Aurobindo, The Harmony of Virtue (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1972), p. 127.
5. Both quotations are from Tagore’s Centre of Indian Culture (Visva Bharati, 1988 reprint).
6. Ananda Coomaraswamy, Essays in National Idealism (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1981), p. 96-97.
7. Georges Ifrah, Histoire Universelle des Chiffres (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1994). English translation, The Universal History of Numbers (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2005, 3 vols).
8. For advances by Aryabhata, see K.S. Shukla and K.V. Sarma, Aryabhatiya of Aryabhata (New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, 1976).
9. Histoire Universelle des Chiffres, vol. 2, p. 3.
10. Many excellent studies on early Indian science are available. We may mention just a few here: A Concise History of Science in India, ed. D.M. Bose, S.N. Sen & B.V. Subbarayappa (Hyderabad: Universities Press, 2nd ed., 2000); History of Science and Technology in Ancient India, by Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (Calcutta: Firma KLM, 3 vols., 1986, 1991, 1996); History of Indian Science, Technology and Culture AD 1000-1800 (New Delhi: Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture, & Oxford University Press, vol. III, part 1, 1998); History of Technology in India, ed. A.K. Bag (New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, 1997); Indian Mathematics and Astronomy: Some Landmarks, by S. Balachandra Rao (Bangalore: Jnana Deep Publications, 1998); Indian Science and Technology in the Eighteenth Century, Dharampal (Hyderabad: Academy of Gandhian Studies, 1971, republished by Other India Bookstore, Goa, as part of Dharampal’s complete works); The Crest of the Peacock, George Gheverghese Joseph (London: Penguin Books, 2000); The Golden Age of Indian Mathematics, S. Parameswaran (Swadeshi Science Movement, Kerala, 1998); A Modern Introduction on Ancient Indian Mathematics, T.S. Bhanu Murthy (New Delhi: Wiley Eastern Ltd., 1992); Geometry in Ancient and Medieval India, T.A. Sarasvati Amma (New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999); Computing Science in Ancient India, eds. T.R.N. Rao & Subhash Kak (Louisiana: Center for Advanced Computer Studies, 1998); History of Astronomy in India, ed. S.N. Sen & K.S. Shukla (New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy); Indian Astronomy: An Introduction, by S. Balachandra Rao (Hyderabad: Universities Press, 2000); A History of Hindu Chemistry, Acharya Prafullachandra Ray (Kolkata: Shaibya Prakashan Bibhag, centenary edition 2002); Chemistry and Chemical Techniques in India, ed. B.V. Subbarayappa (New Delhi: Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture, & Centre for Studies in Civilizations, vol. IV, part 1, 1999). An important Internet resource from the School of Mathematics and Statistics of University of St. Andrews, Scotland offers constitutes an excellent introduction to the topic: www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/history/Indexes/Indians.html. A thousand pities that no Indian University offers such an Internet resource on this important aspect of India’s heritage.
11. See Lilavati of Bhaskaracarya, translators K.S. Patwardhan, S.A. Naimpally & S.L. Singh (New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2001). www.tuc.nrao.edu/~demerson/bose/bose.html. See also http://earlyradiohistory.us/1897tele.htm.
13. See the following stimulating paper: Steve Muhlberger, “Democracy in Ancient India”: www.unipissing.ca./department/history/histdem/.
14. See for instance India’s Contribution to World Thought and Culture (Madras: Vivekananda Rock Memorial Committee, 1970, reprinted 2003), and D.P. Singhal’s India and World Civilization (Michigan State University Press, 1969).
15. See Ancient Indian Education: Brahminical and Buddhist by Radha Kumud Mookerji (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1989); The History of Education in Ancient India - c. 3000 BC to AD 1192 by Suresh Chandra Ghosh (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2001); Education in Ancient India by Mitali Chatterjee (New Delhi: DK Printworld, 1999); The Beautiful Tree by Dharampal (2nd ed., Coimbatore: Keerthi Publishing House with AVP Printers & Publishers, 1995; also Mapusa: Other India Press); One Teacher One School: the Adam Reports on Indigenous Education in 19th Century India, ed. Joseph Dibona (New Delhi: Biblia Impex, 1983).
16. See for instance the excellent resource www.ciks.org.
17. See many more examples in Dying Wisdom: Rise, Fall and Potential of India’s Traditional Water Harvesting Systems edited by Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain (New Delhi: Centre of Science and Environment, 1997).
18. The International Forum for India’s Heritage (www.ifih.org) has initiated a project to prepare and present to the educational world authentic material in various fields, first in the form of multimedia educational DVDs. In the meantime, the author has started posting a number of educational modules at www.docstoc.com/profile/MichelD