How the Sciences Faded From India
(An excerpt from: “Advancements of Ancient India’s Vedic Culture”)
By Stephen Knapp
This does not mean that the advancements that had been developed in ancient Vedic India simply vanished or were merely neglected, but this refers to how India lost the recognition from both within and outside for the great accomplishments it gave to the world, for which it was once well known.
Some people may naturally wonder why, if ancient India had developed so many of the early forms of sciences, knowledge or skills that we use today, did they seem to fade away in further development and research in India. Why did they not continue to be on the cutting edge of scientific, mathematical, medical, engineering, or philosophical advancement? Some of the reasons are explained by Dr. Kshetraprasad Sensharma in his contribution to Science and Technology in Ancient India: “Maintenance of secrecy, foreign invasions, easy availability of the means of subsistence, lack of royal patronage, and the apathy of the Indian people due to general introverted tendencies–all these gradually stemmed the flow of scientific research in ancient India, and in time reduced it to an antique. Even then, we must certainly remember with pride that the scientific research of ancient India is indeed an essential chapter of Indian culture in the evolution of national pedigree.” 1
However, there have been not only causes from inside India, but some strong opposing outside forces as well. For example, during the colonization of India, a trend was set by the British in a systematic manner to discard all traditional systems of knowledge in India and to look at traditional practices with contempt. Unfortunately, this trend continued further after independence, and can still be detected even today. This resulted in the neglect of all the traditional knowledge systems, practices and indigenous science and technology systems of India. This was manifested in various policies and programs of government including monetary allocation, as well as the attitude of the people.2
Furthermore, one of the bands of scholars whose primary interest was the converting of Hindus to the one “true faith” by any means necessary were those at the University of Oxford who started the Boden Professorship of Sanskrit. The special objective of this foundation, as described by Sir Monier Williams, was stated like so: “I must draw attention to the fact that I am only the second occupant of the Boden Chair, and that its founder, Colonel Boden, stated most explicitly in his will (dated August 15, 1811) that the special object of his munificent bequest was to promote the translation of scriptures into Sanskrit; so as to enable his countrymen to proceed in the conversion of the natives of India to the Christian Religion…” 3
Another such agenda that started long ago and continues in various ways to this day is through the educational system that was initiated by the British. This was the brainchild of T. B. Macaulay. Macaulay came from a deeply religious Protestant family, so his motivation was to convert numerous Hindus to Christianity, which he thought would also help the administrative problems that the English were facing. His plan was to create an educational system that would make an educated elite that would naturally be English by their own choice, and thus give up their own Hindu traditions. Then they would also work and cooperate more efficiently with the English administration. This conversion would then also facilitate the British colonialism by making Indians, especially the Brahmanas, collaborators loyal to their new masters. This may have been an ambitious goal at the time, but this English education has remained a factor in the Indian educational system ever since. In recognition of this goal, Macauley wrote to his father in 1836 while serving as chairman of the Education Board in India:
“Our English schools are flourishing wonderfully. The effect of this education on the Hindus is prodigious… It is my belief that if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolater among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence. And this will be effected without any efforts to proselytize, without the smallest interference with religious liberty, by natural operation of knowledge and reflection. I heartily rejoice in the project.” 4
T. B. Macaulay was quite specific on his design for the educational system in India. He had written a few articles on it, namely T. B. Macaulay on India 2-2-1834, and another T. B. Macaulay on India 9-3-1843, which we can find in Shri Dharampal’s book Despoliation and Defaming of India–The Early Nineteenth Century, British Crusade. There in the first article, Macaulay describes his utter contempt for Sanskrit literature:
“It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say, that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgements used at preparatory schools in England. In every branch of physical or moral philosophy, the relative position of the two nations is nearly the same.” 5
He went on to make his thoughts on the matter even more clear: “To sum up what I have said, I think it clear that we are not fettered by the Act of Parliament of 1813, that we are not fettered by any pledge expressed or implied; that we are free to employ our funds as we choose; that we ought to employ them in teaching what is best worth knowing; that English is better worth knowing than Sanskrit or Arabic; that the natives are desirous to be taught English, and not desirous to be taught Sanskrit or Arabic; that neither as the languages of law; nor as the languages of religion have the Sanskrit and Arabic any peculiar claim to our engagement; that it is possible to make natives of this country thoroughly good English scholars, and that to this end our efforts ought to be directed.
“In one point I fully agree with the gentlemen to whose general views I am opposed. I feel with them, that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.” 6
This is in reference that Macaulay figured that the British would not be able to educate all Indians in the ways of the British, but could indeed create a class of them who would be English in taste, opinions, morals and intellect, and then engage them in influencing the rest of India, thus helping the English in their job of overseeing the rest of India, and, of course, converting them.
Years later, in 1843, Macaulay never deviated from his disdain of Vedic culture and his desire to bring all Hindus to Christianity in whatever way it would take. This becomes clear in his article T. B. Macaulay on India 9-3-1843:
“Through the whole Hindoo Pantheon you will look in vain for anything resembling those beautiful and majestic forms which stood in the shrines of ancient Greece. All is hideous, and grotesque, and ignoble. As this superstition is of all superstitions the most inelegant, so is it of all superstitions the most immoral. Emblems of vice are objects of public worship. Acts of vice are acts of public worship. The courtesans are as much a part of the establishment of the temple, as much ministers of the god, as the priests. Crimes against life, crimes against property, are not only permitted but enjoined by this odious theology.” 7
In this way, we can clearly see the basis which was Macaulay’s whole motivation on India. By his use and development of the British educational system, his plan was to exterminate India’s Vedic culture, and make the people of India forget all its advancements, sciences, and contributions to world progress, and make them but slaves to the Western straightjacket of conformity to its materialistic values and ways of thinking. How could there be anything else from someone who had so little understanding of India’s tradition, and who had such an egoistic and proud view of his own superiority?
For me, it has always been my perception that the lack of understanding of the real philosophy, the actual traditions and purpose of the Vedic culture, or the distancing from it, or the misinterpretation of it, as the primary reason for any misconception and any misuse of the Vedic way of life. Everything within the tradition has a purpose and intention and expected result for why something is done. But if that is not understood properly, nor taught in the correct way to others, it is like anything else that can be misperceived and then misdirected in the actions that follow. And the British system of education was a great means of making Indians forget their culture and all that they once were, and how India was once the wealthiest area in the world and a center for great learning. Moreover, it was also a means to make the Indian people feel backwards and unworthy, and that only by accepting the Western values could they again become truly progressive and part of the civilized world. Of course, the question of what was truly civilized could lead to a whole conversation by itself. And this was only one of a number of obstacles that India had to encounter.
In this way, we can see that there had been an ongoing endeavor to stifle India’s means of continued advancements, of its ingenuity, of its inventiveness and freedom of thought, and make it but a puppet, a slave, a servant to the desires of those who wanted to continue its exploitation of all its resources. This is why India was not able to regain its position and high standards of development as it once had in the past.
Nonetheless, we should also understand that the status of India does not lie only in the accomplishments of the past, though they should not be forgotten, but also in the achievements of the present and future. There have been numerous Indians who have been highly accomplished with inventions and developments that raised the status of India and its civilization throughout the ages, recently as well. Even today the students of India are some of the brightest in the world, when given a chance to become fully educated. And I have seen even here in America that most of the top performing students in any given class are Indians, or are the champions of spelling contests, and so on.
So with the freedom from the pressure of invaders that has been given to India at the time of Independence, we can see how the people of Indian descent can truly reach their real potential when given the opportunity. But now they must also help develop and guide India into the future so that it is a country that can overcome the obstacles of the past, and show others by example of how to arrange and manage themselves and their resources so that everyone can benefit and reach the epitome of civilized culture. That may not be so easy with the problems of increased population, or increased pollution that destroys many of the rivers and water supply, or the lack of infrastructure that decreases the means for proper harvest and distribution of produce and food, and the corruption that has become widespread, and so on. But if India has been able to overcome so many of the problems of the past, by using the natural ingenuity of the younger generations, and the continued respect for its ancient traditions that lead to the right mindset and consciousness that paved the way for the early advancements that lead the world, they should be able to pave their way into the future.
In this way, the developments that originated in India, Bharatvarsha, never left India, but the credit for them was no longer given, and such achievements were no longer recognized as the heritage of ancient India or its Vedic culture. So it is time that the world give its rightful recognition and acknowledgment of what ancient India has given to the world. However, we can only guess at how much more advanced the world could have been, and how many more developments may have originated out of Vedic culture if it had been allowed to continue, uninterrupted by the invaders over the past 1000 years or so, whether they be the Muslims, Moghuls, the British, the Portuguese, or so on. They cared little for the culture and even preferred to destroy it, and had even less concern for the people. And if you do not know what I am talking about, then read my book Crimes Against India. Is that civilized? Is that progressive when they could have gained much more if they had worked in cooperation with the people of India? Nonetheless, there are still many scholars and researchers that are again reviving this insight, and serious spiritual organizations that are working to keep the Vedic spiritual traditions very much alive. After all, it still has much more to offer humanity, as anyone can see if they investigate it.
1. Dr. Bijoya Goswami, Science and Technology in Ancient India, edited by Dr. Manabendu Banerjee, Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, Calcutta, 1994, p. 94.
2. Dr. Shamasundar, Preface to Medicine and Surgery in Ancient India, A Yugayatri Publication, Bangalore.
3. Kailash Chandra Varma, Some Western Indologistss and Indian Civilization, in India’s Contribution to World Thought and Culture, Published by Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan, Chennai, 1970, p. 167.
4. Rajaram and Frawley, Vedic Aryans and the Origins of Civilization, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1995, p. 31.
5. Shri Dharampal, Despoliation and Defaming of India–The Early Nineteenth Century, British Crusade, p. 194.
6. Ibid., pp. 201-2.
7. Ibid., p. 204.