Culture Education Policy Society

Ghosts of Philosophies Past

"As the Gurukuls vanished, progress in Indian philosophical thought declined. Indian epics, Puranas, Vedas and Upanishads were replaced by Greco-Roman political thought, French philosophy and Russian Revolutionary ideas and so on."
By Vidushi Kala

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“Through Karan, Vyasa reiterated that our knowledge of the world is imperfect, based on perception & false information. We are surrounded by Kuntis who hide the truth, in fear. We are surrounded by Karans, villains who are actually brothers.”

– Devdutta Pattanaik

Contemporary philosophical circles have been predominantly occupied by the ideas of the West. A cult dominated by Kant with his categorical imperative, Bentham with his idea of liberty, Plato’s inherent question of the nature of our reality and, of course, the existential angst of Soren Kierkegaard. Oriental and Hindu philosophies were cast aside without a second glance. It was generally conceded that Indians had an absence of both a sense of history as well as the notion of linear time.

Indian philosophy and thought remained largely dominated by Western thought and, therefore, stagnated. The new wave of ‘Orientalists’ and ‘Indologists’ were unsuccessful in classical Indian philosophy because they insisted on looking at India through a Western perspective. Certain theories propounded during those times ensured the domination of Western thought, consequently leading to an insecure India.


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Lord T. B. Macaulay

Another deterrent to the development of Indian thought and philosophy was the systematic deconstruction of India’s educational system. Lord Macaulay’s educational reforms were didactic and ensured a cultural genocide, through planned substitution by imposition of an alien culture, today fondly known as ‘Macaulayism’. This is typically achieved through the conscious enactment of policy via the education system in order to dilute indigenous culture. His prejudiced ideologies and disdain for non-Western education annihilated the central, organic process of education in India: Gurukuls.

As the Gurukuls vanished, progress in Indian philosophical thought declined. Indian epics, Puranas, Vedas and Upanishads were replaced by Greco-Roman political thought, French philosophy and Russian Revolutionary ideas and so on. And for a while, they seemed to have helped. Leaders and activists were greatly nourished by these ideas, which fueled their struggle for independence. But even after 1947, the Indian education system remained unchanged, and Gurukuls still sidelined.

A true practitioner of Hindu ideology would know that the ideas of culture, religion, and policy were firmly based on the concept of karma and dharma. There was no real distinction between good and evil; everything was ambiguous and contextual. These ancient texts help one understand the nature of self and the world. They help understand our relationship with the world. The Bhagavad Gita, or the Mahabharata, or the Ramayana were stories devised to soothe the existential angst of humans by way of prose and symbolism.


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In a world heavily dominated and influenced by the West, Indians often overlook native culture and homegrown mythos, willingly ignoring the wisdom imparted by our ancestors. Western Philosophy has been instrumental in ushering India to the doorstep of progress. However, progress attained under the tutelage of Western thought feels incomplete. The foundation of this structrue is decaying even as it’s value system fails.

Gurukuls are a great example of an ideal education system. These were residential schools – pupils living with gurus – specifically for the purpose education. Shishya (disciples) live together as equals irrespective of their social standing and help the guru in his day-to-day tasks. The concept of a classroom did not exist as most learning happened in the confines of mother nature. Education was imparted freely without the interference of outside agencies, the sole objective being propagating knowledge and inculcating good values.

To match these standards, the Indian education system needs a structural overhaul. Present book-based and theory-oriented curricula are grossly insufficent. Mechanised and repetitive, they stifle the creativity of students as well as teachers. Educational infrastructure and educational research need a herculean push. The ultimate objective is free education for all willing to learn.


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The author, Vidushi Kala, is a Senior Editor at Indus Dictum. Her work focuses on public policy and legal reform.

Tweet at Vidushi: @kala_masala



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