BOOKS OF THE DAY
India's Cultural Heritage (Mulk Raj Anand) 956 Mr. Clynes the Courtier (Vyvyan Adams, M.P.).. 957 The Problem of the Distressed Areas (Honor Croome) 958 Mr. A. P. Herbert as Legislator (E. S. P. Haynes) 958 John Wesley (C. E. Vulliamy) 960
The Country Scene (Adrian Bell) .. .. ..
The Song of Roland (Prof. T. B. Rudmose-Brown)
Black Hamlet ..
Fiction (Forrest Reid)
Current Literature ..
. . 968
INDIA'S CULTURAL HERITAGE
By MULK RAJ ANAND
THE history of India as written by English historians has been widening its scope of late, so as to recognise and appreciate India's cultural heritage. The resentment and bitterness caused by the shock of the mutiny, which made even Ruskin recoil baCk in horror from the exuberance of Indian sculpture and dub --the whole of Indian art as a sort of glorified suet- pudding lasted right into the twentieth century. Then the challenge of an aggressive Indian nationalism, inflamed passions which found vent in such vituperation and abuse as occasionally disfigure . the monumental Cambridge History of India. And it is only recently, since the necessity of social and economic changes in India began to seem inevitable, that Clio has become a conciliatory muse dedicating herself to epic revalua- tions of India's past. It is a token of growing sanity and goodwill in Indo-British relationships that India's cultural heritage should come to be studied thus seriously and with the object of giving the British public a more intimate picture of Indian developments.
But what exactly do we mean by our cultural heritage ? And is it worth our while to resurrect from our past the memories of what are only the ideas of a reality that has changed and become the complex social existence of today ?
Some years ago M. Paul Valery declared roundly that the past of civilisation was a dead weight, suitably entombed in the sepulchres of history, and that it was better for the world to throw the weight of tradition aside. And there is a seeming confirmation of this view in the fact which, like most other English historians, Mr. Rawlinson adduces, without any serious reflection on the why and how of it, that the Hindus never wrote history. Also there is a passage in the Timaeus in which Plato speaks of the enviable lot of the Greeks, who came to live on virgin soil, created their own gods at the same time as they created their cities, and remained unburdened by a past, free of all confusion, unweighted by memory.
It would seem at first sight that M. Valery and the Hindus, as well as Plato, stand for a simplification that, by rejecting the past, may yield the leisure to luxuriate in a timeless present. But, I suspect, the very contrary of this is true.
The writing of history presupposes the sense of time, but since time is more susceptible to change than space, it becomes quite easy for the superficial to think of facts as fixed ideas without going into the ramifications of those dynamic move- ments which are the true history, to regard the inert museum- piece as one form of cultural heritage and the traditional values and conventions as another. Whereas our cultural heritage, if it means anything at all, can only be looked at biologically, in so far as we are heirs to life, and in so far as we are the product of a multitude of forces acting and reacting on each other through the amalgamation not only of the fundamental economic and political values but of all the superstructure of belief and reason which are summed up in religious and aesthetic values and in the values of individuals. And even in looking at our cultural heritage thus, we are not merely accepting these values, notions and concepts, but in full view of the needs of the moment we seek to assimilate, to realise, to transform what we accept into the pattern of our existence.
It is precisely because none of the historians of India have so far attempted to see history from this positive, objective, critical point of view as a series of facts rather than ideas that we get the hash and rehash of long familiar sentiments passing for appreciations of Indian culture.
Mr. Rawlinson's approach, which wafts a little incense before the idols of the past, is, of course, mostly unconscious. And I have no doubt that it is inspired by a genuine humani-
India. A Short Cultural History. By H. G. Rawlinson. (The Cresset Press. 3os.)
tarianism. But nevertheless it becomes a negation of civilisa: don as "much as the method of some Governments in the East which encourage and stimulate the most antiquated forms of native cultures but will not sanction free primary education to give the living cultural heritage of the people a new life.
The past in India is certainly ours. But how are we to save it, to make it ours ?
Mr. Rawlinson quotes Max Muller who, after a lifetime devoted to the study of Sanskrit, said : " If I were to ask myself from what literature we here in Europe, who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of the Greeks and Romans, and one Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more universal—in fact, more human, I should point to India." And he proceeds to write the history of the Indian peoples, avoiding detail and only incidentally touching upon the British period.
Now, as I have tried to show above, any survey of our past heritage which does not study it in relation to our own time, but aims to borrow a theory or an ideal of life from history, is doomed to failure, especially as in this cue the ideal is wrapped up in the religious philosophy of Hinduism which the majority of men in India neither accept nor reject, but believe in as a formula, which in praCtice they seek most of the time to evade in view of the constant encroachments on its taboos by modern industrial civilisation: Mr. Rawlinson's schema is the usual one, familiar by now even to the proverbial intelligent man for whom guide-books are written. There were the original inhabitants of India followed by conquerors who wrote the Vedas, composed the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, evolved the caste system ; and there were other waves of conquerors who did their bit— specially the Moguls. In justice to the author it must be said that he has assimilated such scraps of information as have become available through the researches of the German Baron E. von Eickstedt, who considers that the early settlers in India were neither Dravidians nor Aryans, but Dravidian and Aryan-speaking peoples of a dark, negroid stock and a brown, broad-nosed race, respectively. But one looks in vain for any new synthesis of these periods even in a book designed for popular consumption.
For however indeterminate these early periods may be, there is enough in the hymns of 'those first books of the world, the four Vedas, there is enough in the vast mass of stories and ballads and folk songs in the epics and in the survivals of early art forms, for us to make the basis of a survey of the societies from which these documents of human culture sprang up century by century for two thousand years. That the character of early Indian society was not static over long periods, and that the later feudalism went through many phases is shown by the time which the caste system took to develop ; by the revolt of the Buddha against Bralunanism, which was sympto- matic of a social ferment whose cultural impulses arose from the urge for a new humanism. And how, otherwise, did the Indian sensibility flower out again after the develop- ment of great schools of philosophical thought, in the drama of the golden age in the foUrth century A.D., in Ajanta and in the tender lyricism of those intimate carvings of Sanchi and Borobodur that stand coldly neglected on the staircase of the British Museum ? And why the exuberant vitality of mediaeval Indian sculpture ? And how the contemporary decadence ?
All these changes relate back to slow changes in the social life of India which will have to be studied in detail if the past of India is to be ours. Meanwhile, although it may seem ungrateful to Mr. Rawlinson and others who have the interest of India at heart, we feel the real history of India has not yet begun to be written.