The Renaissance in India and Other Essays on Indian Culture

Formerly The Foundations of Indian Culture

— Sri Aurobindo


Price: Rs 230

Pages: 450
Dimensions (in cms): 14x22
ISBN: 978-81-7058-685-2
Soft Cover
Publisher: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department, Pondicherry

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About The Renaissance in India and Other Essays on Indian Culture

The thirty-two essays that make up this book were first published in the monthly journal Arya between August 1918 and January 1921. They constitute a defence of Indian civilisation and culture, with essays on Indian spirituality, religion, art, literature, and polity.

The first series of four essays appeared in 1918 under the title "The Renaissance in India" and was formulated as an appreciation of James H. Cousins' book of the same title. Sri Aurobindo explains that a renaissance in India means first the recovery of the past spiritual knowledge and experience in all its fullness, then the outpouring of this spirituality into new forms in all aspects of the country's life, and lastly, an original grasp of modern problems from an Indian temperament and intellect. The second essay, "Indian Culture and External Influence", was written in 1919 in answer to a comment published in a Bengali journal on "The Renaissance in India" series.

In the next group of three essays, titled "Is India Civilised", Sri Aurobindo began with an appreciative review of Sir John Woodroffe's book of the same title, followed by a rebuttal of the hostile criticisms made by William Archer in India and the Future, and concluded with his own estimation of India's civilisation and culture. The last series, "A Defence of Indian Culture", was undertaken as a more detailed reply to the work of William Archer, which criticised and attacked Indian culture and civilisation in all it domains. At that time, Archer's views were considered typical of a general attitude of the European mind towards the Indian civilisation. Sri Aurobindo sought to counteract these harsh criticisms and defend Indian culture by explaining the special character of India's civilisation and her past achievements. In his view Indian culture is unique in that its high spiritual aim not only structured the core of its thought but also animated its forms and rhythms of life.

These essays appeared formerly in the volume titled The Foundations of Indian Culture.

A true happiness in this world is the right terrestrial aim of man, and true happiness lies in the finding and maintenance of a natural harmony of spirit, mind and body. A culture is to be valued to the extent to which it has discovered the right key of this harmony and organised its expressive motives and movements. And a civilisation must be judged by the manner in which all its principles, ideas, forms, ways of living work to bring that harmony out, manage its rhythmic play and secure its continuance or the development of its motives. A civilisation in pursuit of this aim may be predominantly material like modern European culture, predominantly mental and intellectual like the old Graeco-Roman or predominantly spiritual like the still persistent culture of India. India's central conception is that of the Eternal, the Spirit here incased in matter, involved and immanent in it and evolving on the material plane by rebirth of the individual up the scale of being till in mental man it enters the world of ideas and realm of conscious morality, dharma. This achievement, this victory over unconscious matter develops its lines, enlarges its scope, elevates its levels until the increasing manifestation of the sattwic or spiritual portion of the vehicle of mind enables the individual mental being in man to identify himself with the pure spiritual consciousness beyond Mind. India's social system is built upon this conception; her philosophy formulates it; her religion is an aspiration to the spiritual consciousness and its fruits; her art and literature have the same upward look; her whole Dharma or law of being is founded upon it. Progress she admits, but this spiritual progress, not the externally self-unfolding process of an always more and more prosperous and efficient material civilisation. It is her founding of life upon this exalted conception and her urge towards the spiritual and the eternal that constitute the distinct value of her civilisation. And it is her fidelity, with whatever human shortcomings, to this highest ideal that has made her people a nation apart in the human world (p.2)


The first thing we see is that the principle, the essential intention of Indian culture was extraordinarily high, ambitious and noble, the highest indeed that the human spirit can conceive. For what can be a greater idea of life than that which makes it a development of the spirit in man to its most vast, secret and high possibilities, – a culture that conceives of life as a movement of the Eternal in time, of the universal in the individual, of the infinite in the finite, of the Divine in man, or holds that man can become not only conscious of the eternal and the infinite, but live in its power and universalise, spiritualise and divinise himself by self-knowledge? What greater aims can be for the life of man than to grow by inner and outer experience till he can live in God, realise his spirit, become divine in knowledge, in will and in the joy of his highest existence? And that is the whole sense of the striving of Indian culture.

It is easy to say that these ideas are fantastic, chimerical and impracticable, hat there is no spirit and no eternal and nothing divine, and man would do much better not to dabble in religion and philosophy, but rather make the best he can of the epemeral littleness of his life and body. That is a negation natural enough to the vital and physical mind, but it rests on the assumption that man can only be what he is at the moment, and there is nothing greater in him which it is his business to evolve; such a negation has no enduring value. The whole aim of a great culture is to lift man upto something which at first he is not, to lead him to knowledge though he starts from an unfathomable ignorance, to teach him to live by his reason, though actually he lives much more by his unreason, by the law of good and unity, though he is now full of evil and discord, by a law of beauty and harmony, though his actual life is a repulsive muddle of ugliness and jarring barbarisms, by some high law of his spirit, though at present he is egoistic, material, unspiritual, engrosed by the needs and desires of his physical being. If a civilisation has not any of these aims, it can hardly at all be said to have a culture and certainly in no sense a great and noble culture. But the last of these aims, as conceived by ancient India, is the highest of all because it includes and surpasses all the others. To have made this attempt is to have ennobled the life of the race; to have failed in it is better than if it had never at all been attempted; to have achieved even a partial success is a great contribution to the future possibilities of the human being.
- Sri Aurobindo