Dialogue  April-June, 2011, Volume 12 No. 4

The Centre of Indian Culture

Rabindranath Tagore

India has proved that it has its own mind, which has been deeply concerned to solve according to its light the problems of existence. India’s aim in education is to enable this mind to fulfil its quest in its own individual way.

For this purpose the mind of Indian must become organised and self-aware; then only will it accept education from its teachers in the right spirit, assess it by its own standard of values, and make use of it by its own creative power. The fingers must be held close to take as well as to give. When we bring scattered minds into co-ordinated activity, they will become receptive as well as creative; and the waters of life will cease to slip through the gaps and sodden the ground beneath.

In education the most important factor is an atmosphere of creative activity, in which the work of intellectual exploration may find full scope. The teaching should be like the overflow water of a spring of culture, spontaneous and inevitable. Education becomes natural and wholesome only when it is the fruit of a living and growing knowledge.

Further, our education should be in constant touch with our complete life, economic, intellectual, aesthetic, social and spiritual; and our schools should be at the very heart of our society, connected with it by the living bonds of varied co-operation. For true education is to realize at every step how our training and knowledge have an organic connection with our surroundings.


All over India there is a vague feeling of discontent about our prevalent system of education. There have recently been many signs of a desire for change - there seems to be an urge of life in the subsoil of our national mind, which sends forth new institutions and gives rise to new experiments. But it often happens that, because man’s wish is no immediate and so strong, it becomes difficult  to locate accurately the exciting cause, to make sure of the object towards which it aspires.

The current system of education, in which our mind has been nurtured, is as tangible to us as our physical body, so that we cannot think that it can change. Our imagination dare not soar beyond its limits; we are unable to see it and judge it from outside. We have neither the courage nor the heart to say that it has to be replaced by something else, because our own intellectual life, for which we have a natural bias, is product of this system.

And yet there lurks behind our complacence a thorn which does not let us sleep in comfort. As the secret pricking goes on, we in our fretfulness ascribe the cause of our irritation to some intrusion. We say that the only thing wrong in our education is that it is not in our absolute control; that the boat is sea-worthy, only the helm has to be in our hands to save it from wreckage. Lately, most of our attempts to establish national schools and universities were made with the idea that it was external independence which was needed. We forget that the same weakness in our character or circumstance which inevitably draws us on to the slippery slope of imitation, will pursue us when our independence is merely of the outside. For our freedom will then become the freedom to imitate the foreign institutions, thus bringing our evil fortune under the influence of the conjunction of two malignant planets - those of imitation and the badness of imitation - producting a machine-made university, which is made with a bad machine.

It often happens that the partners in a beaten team ascribe defeat to each other’s incompetence. In our discredited system of education, the two partners - our foreign rulers and ourselves - are following the same course of mutual recrimination. It is very likely that the blame can be justly apportioned between us; yet I always think it is merely academic to wrangle with one another about our respective responsibility for the common failure. What is of practical use is for us to know the extent of our own contribution to the deficiency.

Let us forget the other party in this concern. Let us blame our own weakness in being obsessed with the idea that we must have some artificial wooden legs of an education of foreign make just because we imagine we have no legs of our own. I have heard of a similar case of a man who got drowned in shallow water because he imagined he had gone off his depth.

The trouble is that as soon as we think of a university, the idea of Oxford, Cambridge, and a host of other European universities rushes in and fills our mind. We then imagine that our salvation lies in selecting the best points of each, patched together in an eclectic perfection. We forget that European universities are organic parts of the life of Europe, and each found its natural birth. Grafting a patch of skin from a foreign limb is allowed in modern surgery; but to build up a whole man by that process is beyond the resources of science, not only toady, but let us fervently hope, for all time to come.

The European university rises full grown before our vision today. That is why we cannot think of a university except as a fully developed institution. The sight of my neighbour with a sturdy son to help and support him may naturally make me wish to have a son for myself. But if I am intent on having a full-grown son all at once, then in my hurry I may stumble upon one who is full-grown but is no son to me at all. An impatient craving for results and an unfortunate weakness for imitation have led us to cherish just such an unnatural desire or a National University, full-fledged from its very birth; hence, our endeavours become fruitless, or else the only fruit they produce is an ersatz one. Even if it is like the real thing in size and shape and colour, one has to beware of biting it, still more of swallowing it. These solidly complete universities, over which our country is brooding, are like hard-boiled eggs from which you cannot expect chicks.

Not only ourselves, but our European schoolmaster himself seems to have forgotten that his university has grown with the nation to which it belongs, and that its material magnificence does not relate to its early stages. He can well afford to forget that it was the indigent monks who were the early providers of his education and that most of the students at one time were poor. But when he affects to ignore the fact that in a poor country like India the material aspects of a university must not have more importance than is warranted, when he callously forgets that our inadequate schools and colleges must not be made still narrower in scope by cutting down facilities and increasing furniture, then it becomes disastrous for our people.

I quite understand that man needs both food and the utensils out of which to eat. But when there is a shortage of food itself, economy in regard to utensils becomes even more necessary. To make the parapherinalia of education so expensive that education itself becomes difficult to attain would be like squandering all one’s money to buy money-bags.

We in the East have had to arrive at our own solution of the problems of life. We have, as far as possible, made our food and clothing unburdensome; our climate has taught us to do so. We require the openings in walls more than the walls themselves. Light and air have more to do with our clothes than the weaver’s loom. The sun produces in us the energy which elsewhere is gained from food. All these natural advantages have moulded our life to a particular shape, which I cannot believe it will be profitable to ignore in the case of our education.

I do not seek to glorify poverty. But simplicity is of greater value than the appendages of luxury. The simplicity of which I speak is not the effect of a lack of superfluity; it is one of the signs of perfection. When this dawns on mankind, the unhealthy fog which now besmirches civilization will be lifted. It is for lack of this simplicity that the necessaries of life have become so rare and costly.

Most things in the civilized world, such as eating and merry-making, education and culture, administration and litigation, occupy more than their legitimate space. Much of their burden is needless; and in bearing it civilized man may be showing great strength, but little skill. To the gods, viewing this from on high, it must seem like the floundering of a giant who has gone out of his depth and does not know how to swim; who, as he keeps muddying the whole pool by his futile thrashings, cannot be rid of the idea that there must be some virtue in this display of strength.


All organic beings live like a flame, a long way beyond themselves. They have thus a smaller and a larger body. The former is visible to the eye; it can be touched, captured and bound. The latter is indefinite; it has no fixed boundaries, but is widespread both in space and time. When we see a foreign university, we see only its smaller body - its buildings, its furniture, its regulations, its syllabus; its larger body is not visible to us. But as the kernel of the coconut is in the whole coconut, so the university, in the case of European, is in their society, in their parliament, in their literature, in the numerous activities of their corporate life. Their thoughts have their being in books, as well as in the living men who think those thoughts and criticize and disseminate them. One common medium of mind connects their teachers and students in a relationship which is living and luminous. In short, their education has its permanent vehicle in their minds, its permanent source in their spring of culture, and its permanent field for irrigation in their social life. This organic unity of mind and life and culture has enabled them to absorb truth from all lands and from all times, making it an essential element in their own culture.

On the other hand, those who, like Indian students to-day, have to rely on books, not for their mental sustenance but for some external advantage, are sure to become anaemic in intellect, like babies fed solely with artificial food. They do not have intellectual courage because they never see in the right perspective the environment and the process of growth of those thoughts which they are compelled to learn. They are hypnotized by the sharp black and white of the printed words but forget their human genesis. They not only borrow a foreign culture but also a foreign standard of judgment. Their education is a chariot that does not carry them in it but drags them behind it. The sight is pitiful and often comic. Modern European culture, whose truth and strength lie in its mobility, comes to us rigidly fixed, almost like our own Shastras, about which our minds have to be passive and uncritical because of their supposed divine origin.

So we have missed the dynamic character of living truth. The English mind, from the early Victorian to the post-Victorian period of its growth, has been passing through different moods and standards. But we, who take our lesson from the English, can only accept some one or other of these moods and standards as fixed; we cannot naturally move with the moving mind of our teacher, but only hop from point to point and miss the modulations of life. We securely confine all our intellectual faith, either within the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, or the spiritualism of Carlyle and Ruskin, or the paradoxicalism, startling lazy minds into truth, in which Chesteron and Bernard Shaw excel; and we fail to notice their inevitable action and reaction. We boast of the up-to-dateness of our education. We forget that the mission of all education is to lead us beyond the present.


Communication of life is possible only through a living agency. And culture, which is the life of the mind, can be imparted only through man to man. Book-learning simply turns us into pedants. It is static and quantitative; it accumulates and is hoarded under strict guard. Culture grows and moves and multiplies itself in life.

The students of European universities not only have, in society, their human environment of culture, but they also make gains by their close contact with their teachers. They have their sun to give them light; it is the human relationship between teachers and students. We have our hard flints which give us disconnected sparks after they have been struck hard. The noise is a great deal more than the light. These flints are the abstractions of learning; they are solid methods, inflexible and cold.

To our misfortune we have in our country all the furniture of the European university¯except the living teacher. We have instead purveyors of book-lore in whom the paper god of the bookshop seems to have made himself vocal. As a natural result we find our students to be “untouchables” even to our own professors. These teachers distribute doles of mental food, gingerly and from a dignified distance, with walls of notebooks between themselves and their students. This kind of food is not palatable, nor does it give nourishment. It is a famine ration, strictly regulated, and saves us, not from emaciation but only from death. It holds out no hope of that culture which is far in excess of man’s mere necessity; it is certainly less than enough, and far less than a feast.

Until we are in a position to prove that the world has need of us and cannot afford to do without us, that we are not merely hangers-on-beggars who cannot repay-so long must our sole hope lie in gaining other’s favours. And these we must get by lamentation. flattery, and constitutional methods of wagging tails. No one will feel any concern about us if we can offer nothing that is worthy of being reverently accepted. But whom are we to blame? Where is space enough, lying fallow on this earth, for men who merely live and do not produce? How can they build an infirmary as big as the country itself? The hard fact must be grasped that we cannot make a thing our own only because it is given to us. It is only the lake, and not the desert, which can accept and retain a contribution from heaven’s clouds because, in its depth, the receiving and the giving have become one. Only to him who hath is given; otherwise the gift is insulted and he, also, who receives it.


Let me give an illustration of a university which was born and grew on national soil, and of how it failed with the turn in its history. In that age of Europe which is called dark, when the lamp of Rome was extinguished by the attack of barbarians, Ireland, almost alone among the countries of the West, kept up its heritage of culture. Students from many parts of Europe came there for education. They had their board, lodging and books free, as in our own Sanskrit pathasalas. The Irish monks revived all over Europe the bedimmed light of Christian religion and culture. Charlemagne took the help of Clemens, a learned Irish- man, in founding the University of Paris. There are many other instances of the glory which Irish culture of the time attained. Though its origin was in Rome, in course of a long period of segregation it became imbued with the life and mind of the people and acquired a genius which was characteristically Irish. And this culture had for its medium the Irish language. When the Danes and the English invaded Ireland, they set fire to Irish colleges, destroyed libraries, and killed or scattered the monks and students. Nevertheless, in those parts of the country which still remained independent and free from outrage, the work of education was carried on in the mother-tongue, until in the time of Queen Elizabeth, Ireland was wholly conquered and its indigenous universities were lost. Deprived of the atmosphere of culture and study, the Irish language fell into contempt and was regarded as fit only for the lower classes. Then, in the nineteenth century, the National School movement was set afoot, and the Irish, with their ingrained love of learning, welcomed it with uncritical enthusiasm.

The idea of the so-called national school was to mould the Irish on the Anglo-Saxon pattern. But, whether for good or for evil, Providence has fashioned each race on a different pattern, and to put one into the coat of another results in a misfit. When the National School movement was started, eighty per cent of Irishmen were using their own language. But the Irish boys, under threats of punishment, were forced to give up their own language and the ban was also extended to the study of their history.                          

The result was just what could be expected. Mental numbness spread all over the country. Irish-speaking boys, who entered the schools with their intelligence and curiosity alive, left them as mental cripples, with a distaste for all study. The reason was that the method was machine- like and the result had to be parrot-like.


For the proper irrigation of learning, a foreign language cannot be the right medium. This is a truism which would bore men to sleep everywhere, except in our country, where it would sound as dangerous heresy. Rousing us into active hostility, it would indeed act on us like a tonic! Platitudes have an even better effect, and so I repeat that when we are compelled to learn through the medium of English, the knocking at the gate and the turning of the key take away the best part of our life. The feast may be waiting for us inside the room, but the difficulty and delay of admission spoils our appetite and the long privation permanently injures our stomach. The ideas come late and the tedious grinding over grammar, and a system of spelling which is devoid of all rationale, take away our relish for the food when it does come at last. If we want to grow a tree on the sandy soil of a rainless desert, we must not only borrow the seed from some distant land, but also the soil itself and the water. Yet, after the immense trouble we have taken, the tree remains stunted. Even if it does bear fruit, the seeds do not mature. The education which we receive from our universities takes it for granted that it is for filling the arid land, and that not only the mental outlook and the knowledge, but also the whole language must bodily be imported from across the sea. And this makes our education so nebulous, distant and unreal, so detached from all association of life, so terribly costly to us in time, health and means, and yet so meagre in results. So far as my own experience of teaching goes, a good proportion of the pupils are naturally deficient in the power of learning languages. They find it barely possible to matriculate with an insufficient understanding of the English language, while in the higher stages disaster is inevitable. There are, moreover, other reasons why English cannot be mastered by a large majority of Indian boys. First of all, to accommodate this language in their minds, whose imagined habit has been to think in an eastern tongue, is as much a feat as fitting an English sword into the scabbard of a scimitar. Then again, very few boys have the means of getting anything like a proper grounding in English at the hands of a competent teacher. The sons of the poor certainly have not. I know what the counter-argument will be. “You want to give higher education through Indian languages, but where are the text-books?” I am aware that there are none. But unless higher education is given in our own languages, how are text-books to come into existence? We cannot expect a mint to go on working if the coins are refused circulation.


Another lesson to be learnt from-the Irish example is that, in the natural course of things, the water comes first and then the fish. It is the presence of the learned men which draws the students around them. In an age of great mental vitality, when there were men whose minds overflowed with thought and learning, the culture centres of Nalanda and Taxila were naturally formed in India. But, accustomed as we have been merely to branding institutions, even in our attempts to found’ national universities we begin from the wrong end. The students come first, and then we cast about for the teachers. It is like the vagary of an absent-minded Creator who takes great pains in making a tail and then suddenly finds that the head is missing. We seat our guests at the table, and afterwards discover that the cooking has not been started. For the sanity of our mind and reasonableness of our purpose, let us for once throw to the winds all anxiety as to syllabuses and students. Let us drive out of our thoughts the fixed images of our existing educational institutions. And then let us pray that those who have successfully passed through the discipline of cultivating their minds, who are ready to produce and therefore to import, may come together and take up their seats of studious striving, doing intently their own work of exploration and discovery in the region of knowledge. In this way will be concentrated the power which shall be adequate for the spontaneous creation of a university, from within ourselves, in all the truth of life. We must know that this concentration of intellectual forces in the country is the most important mission of a university, for it is like the nucleus of a living cell, the centre of the creative life of the national mind.


To bring about an intellectual unity in India is, I am told, difficult and almost impossible, because of the fact that India has so many different languages.

But every nation in the world must solve its own problems or else accept defeat and degradation. All true civilizations have been built upon the bedrock of difficulties. Men who have rivers for their water supply are to be envied, but those who have not must dig wells and find water in the depths of the soil. But let us never imagine that dust can be made to do the duty of water only because it is more easily available. We must bravely accept the inconvenient fact of the diversity of our languages, and at the same time admit that a foreign language, like foreign soil, may be good for hothouse culture, but not for that cultivation which is necessary for the maintenance of life.

Let us admit also that India is not like anyone of the great countries of Europe, which has its one language, but like the whole of Europe with her different peoples and languages. And yet Europe has a common civilization with an intellectual unity which is not based upon linguistic uniformity. In the earlier stage of her culture all Europe had Latin for her language of learning. It was her intellectual bud-time, when all her petals of self-expression closed into one point. But the perfection of her mental unfolding was not represented by the oneness of her literary vehicle. When the great European countries found their individual languages, then only the true federation of cultures became possible in the West. The very differences of the channels made the commerce of ideas in Europe so richly copious and so variedly active. In fact, when natural differences find their harmony, then it is true unity; but artificial uniformity leads to lifelessness. ‘We can well imagine what the loss to European civilization would be, if France, Italy, Germany and England, through their separate agencies did not contribute to the common coffer their individual earnings. And we know why, when German culture tried to assert its dominance, it was repelled by all Europe as a calamity.

There was a time when India also had her common language of culture in Sanskrit. But, for the completeness of her commerce of thought, all her languages must attain their full power through which each of her peoples will manifest its distinctive genius. This can never be done through a language which is foreign, containing its own peculiar associations which are sure to hamper our freedom of thought and creation. The use of English inevitably tends to turn our mind for its source of inspiration towards the West, with which we can never be in intimate contact; and therefore our education will remain sterile, or produce incongruities. The diversity of our languages should not frighten us; but we should beware of the futility of borrowing the language of our culture from a far-away land, and making the moving stream we have stagnant and shallow.


The seat of our Indian learning must accordingly be quite apart from the existing university-controlled schools and colleges. Let these lumbering machines be allotted a place among our law courts, our offices, our prisons, asylums, and other paraphernalia of civilization. If our country wants fruit and shade, let it abandon brick-and-mortar erections. Why do we not boldly avow that we shall tend our life-force as naturally as the pupils who used to gather around the teachers in the forest retreats of the Vedic age; or at Nalanda and Taxila during the Buddhist era; or, as they gather even now, in our day of decadence, at the tols and chatuspathis? We must beware even of calling it a university. For the name itself is bound to create an irrepressible tendency to comparison and feeble imitation. My suggestion is that we should generate somewhere a centripetal force which will attract and group together from different parts of our land and from different ages all our own materials of learning, and thus create a complete and moving orb of Indian culture.


A pupil at an Anglo-Vernacular school in Allahabad was asked to define a river. The clever little fellow gave a correct definition. But when he was asked what river he had seen, this boy, living at the confluence of the Ganges and the Jumna, replied that he’ had not seen any. He had a dim idea that his familiar world (which so easily came to him through the medium of his own direct consciousness) could never be the great learned world of geography. In later life he must have learnt that even his own country had its place in geography and actually had its rivers. Suppose this news did not reach him until some foreign traveller told him one day that his was a big country, that the Himalayas were big mountains, that the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra were great rivers. The shock of it could not but upset his mental balance, and by way of reaction against the self-contempt he had nursed so long, he, would lose no time in making himself hoarse by shouting that other countries were merely countries while his was heaven itself! His earlier understanding of the world was wrong, due to his ignorance: His subsequent understanding was worse-its falsehood all the more ridiculous because of sophisticated stupidity.

The same thing happens with our Indian culture. Because of gaps in our course of study we take it for granted that India had no culture, or next to none. Then, as we hear some foreign scholar laud Indian culture, we can no longer contain ourselves; we rend the sky with the shout that all other cultures are merely human, but ours is divine!

We should remember that the doctrine of special creation is out of date, and the idea of a favoured race belongs to a barbaric age. We have come to understand in modern times that any special culture, which is wholly dissociated from the universal, cannot be true. Only the prisoner condemned to a solitary cell is isolated from the world. He who declares that India has been condemned by Providence to intellectual solitary confinement does not glorify her.  

It can be easily pointed out that our culture has its superstitions and its shortcomings. So, too, has European culture its politics and science are full of them. But, then, those do not become fatal because they move and change-just like Europe’s caste distinctions, which are not so oppressive because they are in a constant state of flux.

Only a few years ago, Europe began to see the whole world through the mist of one scientific shibboleth, “the struggle for existence”. This coloured her vision and decided her point of view. We, also, like an obedient pupil, took the phrase from her and not to believe in it became to us a sign of deficient education. But there is already an indication of change in this view; it is being proved that the positive force which works at the basis of natural selection is the power of sympathy, the power to combine.

In the nineteenth century, the message of Political economy was unrestrained competition; in the twentieth, it is beginning to change into co-operation.

There was a time when we in India worked at the problem of life; we freely made experiments; the solutions we arrived at cannot be ignored just because they are different from those of Europe. But they must not be static; they have to join the procession of man’s discoveries and march to the drum-beat of life.


Far too long have we kept our culture outcast in the confines of Our indigenous Sanskrit pathasalas undue respect creates untouchability no less undue contempt.

There was a time when the excess of dignity of the Mikado of Japan kept him a’ prisoner in his palace, with the result that not he, but the Shogun, was the real ruler. When it became necessary for him to reign in fact, he had to be brought forth from his seclusion into the public view. So was the culture of our Sanskrit pathasala confined within itself, disdainfully ignoring all other cultures. It was belauded, as having come straight from Brahma’s mouth, or Shiva’s matted locks, so that it was unlike anything else in the world, and had to be kept apart and guarded, lest it be contaminated by the touch of the common people. Thus it became the Mikado of our country, while foreign culture, gaining strength from its perfect freedom of movement growth and its humaneness, dominated the situation like the Shogun. Our reverence is reserved for the one, but all our taxes are paid to the other. We may hurl invectives at the latter in private, we may lament over our subjection to it; all the same, we sell our wife’s ornaments and mortgage our ancestral homes to send our sons to its durbar.

It will not do to keep our culture so reverently shackled with chains of gold. The age has come when all artificial fences are breaking down. Only that will survive which is basically consistent with the universal. That which seeks safety in the out-of-the-way hole of the special will perish. The nursery of the infant should be secluded, its cradle safe. But the same seclusion, if continued after the infant has grown up, makes it weak in body and mind.

There was a time when China, Persia, Egypt, Greece and Rome had, each of them, to nurture its civilization in comparative seclusion. Each had its measure of the universal and grew strong within its protective sheath of individuality. Now has come the age for co-ordination and co-operation. The seedlings that were reared within their enclosures must now be transplanted in open fields. They must pass the test of the world-market, if their maximum value is to be obtained.

So we prepare the grand field for the co-ordination of the cultures of the world, the field of give-and-take. This adjustment of knowledge through comparative study, this progress in intellectual co-operation, is to be the key-note of the coming age. We may seek to shield our holy aloof-ness in the imagined security of a sheltered corner, but the world will prove stronger than our refuge.

But before we are in a position to face other world cultures, or co-operate with them, we must build up our own by the synthesis of the diverse elements that have come to India. When we take our stand at such a centre and turn towards the West, our gaze shall no longer be timid and dazed, our heads shall remain erect. For, we shall then be able to look at truth from our own vantage ground and open out a new vista of thought before the grateful world.


All great countries have their vital centres for intellectual life. There a high standard of learning is maintained, the minds of the people find a genial atmosphere and prove their worth. They contribute to the country’s culture, and kindle a sacrificial fire of intellect which radiates the sacred light in all’ directions.

Athens was such a centre, so was Rome, and so is Paris today. Banaras has been and still continues to be the centre of our Sanskrit culture. But Sanskrit learning does not exhaust all the elements of culture that exist in India.

If we take for granted what some people maintain, that European culture is the only one worth the name in our modern age, then the question comes to our mind: Has it any natural centre in India? Has it any vital, ever-flowing connection with her life? The answer is that not only has it none, but it never can have any; for the perennial centre of European culture is sure to be in Europe. If we must accept it as the only source of life today it would be like depending not on our Sun but upon some alien star for our daybreak. Such a star may give us light, but not the day; it may give us direction in our voyage of exploration, but it can never open the full view of truth before us. In fact, we can never use this starlight for stirring sap in our invisible depths and giving colour and bloom to our life.

This is why European education has become for India mere school learning and not culture, a box of matches good for various uses, but not the morning light in which utility and grace and the subtle mystery of life have blended in one.

And this is why the inner spirit of India is calling to us to establish in this land centres where all her intellectual forces will gather for the purpose of creation, and all resources of knowledge and thought. Eastern and Western, will unite in perfect harmony. She is seeking her modern. Brahmavarta, her Mithila of Janaka’s time, her Ujjaini of the. time of Vikramaditya. She is seeking the glorious opportunity when she will know her mind and give freely to the world, when she will be released from the chaos of scattered power and the inertness of borrowed acquisition.


Let me state clearly that I have no distrust of any culture because of its foreign character. On the contrary, I believe that the shock of outside forces is necessary for maintaining the vitality of our intellect. It is admitted that much of the spirit of Christianity runs counter, not only to the classical culture of Europe, but to the European temperament. And yet: this alien movement, constantly running against the natural tendencies of Europe, has been the most important factor in strengthening and enriching her civilization. In fact, the very antagonism of its direction has made it the more effective. The European languages first woke to life and fruitful vigour under the impact of this foreign thought with all its oriental forms and feelings. The same thing is happening in India. European culture has come to us not only with its knowledge but with its speed. Even when our assimilation is imperfect and aberrations follow, it is rousing our intellectual life from the inertia of formal habits. The contradiction it offers to our traditions makes our consciousness glow.

What I object to is the artificial arrangement by which this foreign education tends to occupy all the space of our national mind and thus kills, or hampers, the great opportunity for the creation of new thought by a new combination of truths. It is this which makes me urge that all the elements in our own culture have to be strengthened; not to resist the culture of the West, but to accept and assimilate it. It must become for us nourishment and not a burden. We must gain mastery over it and not live on sufferance as hewers of texts and drawers of book-learning.


The main river of Indian culture has flowed in four streams-the Vedic, the Puranic, the Buddhist, and the Jain. It had its source in the heights of the Indian consciousness.

But a river belonging to a country is not fed by its own waters alone. The Tibetan Brahmaputra mingles its water with the Indian Ganges. Contributions have similarly found their way to India’s original culture. The Muslim, for example, has repeatedly come into India from outside, laden with his own stores of knowledge and feeling and his wonderful religious democracy, bringing freshet after freshet to swell the current. In our music, our architecture, our pictorial art, our literature, the Muslims have made their permanent and precious contribution. Those who have studied the lives and writings of our medieval saints, and all the great religious movements that sprang up in the time of Muslim rule, know how deep is our debt to this foreign current that has so intimately mingled with our life.

And then has descended upon us the later flood of western culture, which bids fair to break through all banks and bounds, covering all the other. streams in its impetuous rush. If only we can provide a channel through which it may flow, we shall be saved from a deluge which otherwise may overwhelm us.

At our centre of Indian learning we must provide for the co-ordinated study of all these different cultures-the Vedic, the Puranic, the Buddhist, the Jain, the Islamic, the Sikh, and the Zoroastrian. And side by side with them the European-for only then shall we be able to assimilate it. A river flowing within banks is truly our own, but our relations with a flood are fraught with disaster.

It is needless to add that, along with the languages in which lies stored our ancestral wealth of wisdom, we must make room for the study of all the languages which carry the living stream of the mind / of modern India. Along with this study of our living languages, we must include our folk literature in order truly to know the psychology of our people and the direction towards which our underground current of life is moving.

There are some who are insularly modern, who believe that the past is bankrupt, that it has left .no assets for us but only a legacy of debts. They refuse to believe that the army that is marching forward can be fed from the rear. It is well to remind them that the great ages of renaissance in history were those when men suddenly discovered the seeds of thought in the granary of the past.

The unfortunate people who have lost the harvest of their past have lost their present age. They have missed their seeds for cultivation, and go begging for their bare livelihood. We must not imagine that we are one of those disinherited peoples of the world. The time has come for us to break open the treasure-trove of our ancestors and use it for our commerce of life. Let us, with its help, make our future secure, and cease to live as the eternal rag-picker at other peoples’ dustbins.


So far I have dwelt only on the intellectual aspect of education. That is because, like the moon, we in modern India present to the sun of world-culture only one side of our life, which is the intellectual side. We do not yet fully realize that our other sides also require the same light for their illumination. From the educational point of view, we know Europe where it is scientific, or at best literary. So our notion of modern culture is limited within the boundary lines of grammar and the laboratory. We almost completely ignore the aesthetic life of man and leave it uncultivated, allowing weeds to grow there.

So, again, I have to repeat a truism and say that music and the fine arts are among the highest means of national self-expression, that without them the people remain inarticulate.

Our conscious mind occupies only a superficial layer of our life; the sub-conscious mind is almost fathomless in its depth. There the wisdom of countless ages grows up beyond our ken. Our conscious mind finds its expression in activities which pass and repass before our view. Our sub-conscious, where dwells our soul, must also have its adequate media of expression. These media are poetry and music and the arts; here the complete personality of man finds its expression.

The timber merchant may think that flowers and foliage are only frivolous decorations for a tree, but he will know to his cost that if these are eliminated, the timber follows them.

During the Mughal period, music and art in India found a great impetus from the rulers. This was because their whole life was in this land, not merely their official life. It is the wholeness of a man from which Art originates. Our English. teachers are birds of passage; they cackle to us but do not sing; their true heart is not in this land of their exile. The natural place for their art and music is in Europe. There they are so deep in the soil that they can-not be transferred to a distant land, unless the soil itself is removed.

    We in India see the European, where he is learned, where he is masterful, where he is busily constructive in-his trade and politics, but not where he is artistically creative. That is why modern Europe has not been revealed to us in her complete personality, but .onlv in her intellectual power and utilitarian activities;’ and, therefore, she has only touched our intellect and evoked our utilitarian ambitions.

    The mutilation of life owing to this narrowness of culture must no longer be encouraged. In the proposed centre of our culture, music and art must have prominent seats of honour, and not merely a tolerant nod of recognition.

      A real standard of aesthetic taste will thus develop; and with its help our own art win grow in strength and riches, enabling us to judge all foreign arts with soberness and appropriate from them ideas and forms without incurring the charge of plagiarism.




We are faced with two stupendous problems; one is our poverty of intellectual life; the - other, the poverty of our material life.

The first I have discussed in some detail in this paper. I have come to the conclusion that for the perfection of our mental life the co-ordination of all our cultural resources is necessary. I have found that our recent education is, for our minds, a kind of food which contains only one particular ingredient needed for our sustenance, and even that not fresh but dried and packed in tins. For a balanced meal, we must have co-ordination of different ingredients-and most of these, not as laboratory products, or in a dehydrated condition, but as organic things, similar to our own living tissues.

Our material poverty, likewise, can be removed only by the co-operation of our individual powers. And our institution should be based on this economic co-operation. It must not only instruct, but live; not only think, but produce. Our tapovanas, which were our natural universities, were not isolated from life. There the masters and students lived their full life; they gathered fruit and fuel; they took their cattle to graze; and the spiritual education, which the students had, was a part· of the spiritual life itself which comprehended all life. Our centre of culture should not only be the centre of the intellectual life of India, but the centre of her economic life as well. It must cultivate land, breed cattle, to feed itself and its students it must produce all necessaries, devising the best means and using the best materials, calling science to its aid. Its very existence would depend on the success of its industrial ventures carried out on the co-operative principle, which will unite the teachers and students in a living and active bond of necessity. This will also give us a practical, industrial training whose motive force is not profit.

Such an institution must group around it all the neighbouring villages and unite them with itself in all its economic endeavours. The improvement of their housing and sanitation, besides their moral and intellectual life should be the object of the social side of its activity. In a word, it should never be like a meteor a stray fragment of a world-but a complete world, self-sustaining, rich with ever-renewing life, radiating light across space and time, attracting and maintaining round it a planetary system of dependent bodies, and imparting life-breath to the complete man, who is intellectual as well as economic, bound by social bonds and aspiring towards spiritual freedom.




Before I conclude, a delicate question has to be considered. What must be the religious teaching to be given at our centre of Indian culture which I may name Visva-Bharati? The question has been generally shirked in the case of the schools which we call national. A National University, in our minds, has been only another name for a Hindu UniversIty. Whenever we think over the question, we think of the Hindu religion .alone. Unable to rise to the conception of the Great India, we divide it, in culture, as in religious rites and social customs. In other words, the idea of such unity as we are capable of achieving for ourselves not only fails to stir enthusiasm in all hearts, but gives rise to antipathy in some.

Be that as it may, it has to be admitted that the world is full of different religious sects and will probably always remain so. It is no use lamenting over, or quarrelling, with this fact. There is a private corner for me in my house with a little table, which has its special fittings of pen and ink-stand and paper, and here I can best do my writing and other work. There is no reason to run down, or run away from, this corner of mine, because in it I cannot invite and provide seats for all my friends and guests. It may be that this corner is too narrow, or too close, or too untidy, so that my doctor may object, my friends remonstrate, my enemies sneer; but all that has nothing to do with the present case. My point is that if all the rooms in my house be likewise solely for my own special convenience, if there be no reception room for my friends or accommodation for my guests, then indeed I may be blamed. Then with bowed head I must confess that in my house no great meeting of friends can ever take place.

     Religious sects are formed in every country and every age owing to historical causes. There will always be many who, by tradition and temperament, find solace in belonging to a particular sect. Also, there will be others who think that such solace can only be allowed as legitimate within the pale of their own. Between such, there must be quarrels. Allowing for the possibility of squabbles, can there be no wide meeting place, where all sects gather together and forget their differences? Has India, in her religious ideals, no space for the common light of day and open air for all humanity? The vigour with which the sectarian fanatic will shake his head, makes one doubt it; the bloodshed which so frequently occurs for trivial causes makes one doubt it; the cruel and insulting distinctions between man and man which are kept alive under the sanction of religion make one doubt it. Even so, when I look back to India’s culture in those ages when it flourished in its truth I am emboldened to assert that it is there. Our forefathers did spread a single carpet on which all the world was cordially invited to take its seat in amity and. good fellowship. No quarrel could have arisen there; for He, in whose name the invitation went forth, for all time to come, was Santam, Sivam, Advaitam- the Peaceful, in the heart of all conflicts; the God, who is revealed through all losses and sufferings; the One, in all diversities of creation. And in His name was this eternal truth declared in ancient India:

                  He alone sees, who sees all beings as himself.

                                                                                              - 1919  


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

                                               Astha Bharati