Third Part of Keynote address presented at the Vivekananda Jayanthi Lecture for Youth organized by the Bharateeya Vichara Kendram at Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) on 12 January 2000 by Michel Danino

The Tree of Indian Civilization

Now, let me ask you a simple question : If you have in your garden a huge old tree with some dead branches, overgrown with creepers and thorns, its foot hidden by weeds of all kinds, will you decide to fell it, even though it is still giving you shade, cool air and fruits ? Or won’t you rather set to work, clear the weeds and creepers, chop off the deadwood, prune a few branches here and there, and give the tree a new youth ?

The tree is Indian civilization. It needs to be cleared and pruned, not felled. “But is it needed at all ,” you still ask, “isn’t it unsuited to our modern age ?” I will answer with a truism : “modern” has no meaning—today is always modern, and yesterday always behind the times ! When Indians living in Harappan cities invented the decimal system, they were modern ; when, about the same time, they measured the periods of rotation of the planets, they were modern ; when later they cast the Iron Pillar which still stands in South Delhi and challenges today’s metallurgists with its non-rusting properties, they were modern ; when they pioneered discoveries in mathematics, astronomy, surgery, construction and agricultural techniques, they were modern. Now what is so special today that suddenly Indians can’t be modern anymore ? Aren’t our bright students who migrate to the West quite successful there, even more so than the average Westerner ? Withdraw overnight all Indians from the U.S.A., and that country will be paralyzed. So Indians can still be modern, efficient, hard-working—but abroad, not in India !

Our second serious question must therefore be : Why this terrible stagnation here in India ? There is no time to detail here the historical causes up to Independence, so let me just say, rather sketchily, that from the time of the Indus-Saraswati civilization up to the Gupta period at least, that is three to four millennia, we find the Indian subcontinent bursting with vitality and creativity in every field, constantly adapting and renewing itself ; the decline clearly began with the repeated waves of Muslim invasions, which increasingly exhausted that vitality, though without succeeding in killing it altogether. That made the British conquest ridiculously easy, and India’s torpor was to the best advantage of the new rulers, who were shrewd enough to encourage it, slowly and systematically destroying the remaining life in the country, its native industries, crafts, and educational system :

“English rule,” wrote Sri Aurobindo, “. . . undermined and deprived of living strength all the pre-existing centres and instruments of Indian social life and by a sort of unperceived rodent process left it only a rotting shell without expansive power or any better defensive force than the force of inertia.”

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