Indian Renaissance

The definition of Renaissance changes with reference to India. While renaissance means revival of classics, in the Indian context it is not just the revival in the strictly speaking terms. It is a new awakening.The advent of the English was the ignition for the renaissance in India. Suddenly Indians were exposed to the scientific thoughts, new discoveries and freethinking. Indian treasure of scholarship was housed in the Vedas, Upanishads, Sutras, the epics and such scriptures. These were translated and revived by the Europeans who came to India for trade

IN the history of modern India, the renaissance is generally marked as the pre-political phase of the anti-colonial struggle, a period when Indians were mainly engaged in social and cultural preparation for participation in the more “progressive” and “radical”, political programme. The social and religious movements, popularly termed as the renaissance, which preceded the political struggles, are considered a necessary precursor to the coming of nationalism. Hence, nationalism is conceptualised as a natural outcome of the renaissance.


When Constantinople fell into the hands of the Turks, the major upheaval for the Europeans was the necessity to find a different route to India so as to continue their trade. Since the land route was cut off by the Turks, they were forced find a different route to India, which resulted in the discovery of the sea route. Thus the Western man entered India. The year 1600 is important in terms of Indian renaissance. For during this year Elizabeth I in England granted permission for the start of the ‘East India Company’ for trading with India. In 1614 permission was granted by Jahangir, to the English merchants to trade in India. In due course they set up ‘factories’ or trading places in Madras, Bombay and Calcutta.

Indian Renaissance

The treasures of Sanskrit such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Sutras, and the epics were translated by the Europeans. While renaissance in Europe took place in the 15th century, in India it occurred only in the 19th century.Indian Renaissance occurred after the emergence of the British forces, when a mass religious and social awakening took place. The foremost reformists had undertaken the task with a lot of eagerness and enthusiasm.Indian renaissance is the rejunevation of Indian cultural life that puts on a new garb without completely being adrift from old moorings 

  • Renaissance stands for rebirth and Indian renaissance refers to that period which was marked by the quest of knowledge and development of science and arts. 
  • Renaissance here is a cultural change. Culture would include everything pertaining to human society at large. It would be literary, social, artistic, religious, scientific as well as changes brought about in thinking and hence changes in reasoning too
  • The incredible effects of Indian Renaissance were reflected in the quality of life and the new frontiers scaled by dance, music and other performing arts. 
  • Behind the famous creeds and ceremonials of the country, stand the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Tantra, the Vedas; these, though referable to receding ages as regards their rise, are living influences at the present era.

Modernity and Renaissance

  • The origin of modernity in India is often attributed to the intellectual and cultural efflorescence associated with the renaissance. The renaissance marked a period of transition in values, transformation in social sensibilities and rebirth in cultural creativity.
  • These ideas inspired an upsurge of creative energy, leading to the works of masters in painting, sculpture, literature, music, and so on. The new aesthetic that emerged was integral to the structural transformation of social organisation and relations of production.
  • A dominant opinion, initially generated by colonial rulers who prided themselves on their civilising mission, was that India was being led to the modern stage by the colonial administration, guided by the principles of liberalism.The changes that were ushered in during the colonial domination—in administrative organisation, transport and communication, commercialisation of agriculture, and so on—are described as modernisation.(“colonial modernity” )
  • The story was slightly different in south India, particularly in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In both these areas, the renaissance was a slow starter, possibly because the emergence of a middle class was relatively late in these regions.Most of the reform movements in this region emerged from the lower castes(such as Narayana Guru and Ayyankali.), unlike the north Indian renaissance, which was mainly an upper-caste preserve.
  • The common feature that they all shared was the urge to transform the existing social and cultural conditions, ranging from irrational religious practices and rituals to the oppressive state of women’s lives. The widespread belief in idolatry, which was ranked by many as the main source of superstitions, received prime attention.
  • Through a liberal critique of the colonial rule during the 19th century, the Indian intelligentsia was able to overcome this delusion, which led to the emergence of nationalism. At the same time, they also realised the importance of combining political and cultural activities. This connection led to the internalisation, although on a limited scale, of renaissance ideas by nationalism.
  • The connection, however, was so tenuous that the “political” gained an upper hand and the “social” was relegated to the background. The rise and decline of the Indian Social Conference is a good example. The social conference, in the beginning, met at the same venue as the Indian National Congress, thereby recognising the symbiotic relationship between the political and the cultural.
  • The rise of the middle class led to a disassociation between the social and the political movements, which had long-term implications. When the national movement gained strength through political struggles like non-cooperation and civil disobedience, the social consciousness was still entrenched in caste and communal feelings.

Three Phases of Indian Renaissance

  • The first phase of the renaissance in India was embodied in the socio-religious movements, which was mainly, though not exclusively, initiated by the burgeoning middle class, which was schooled in British liberalism. But the intellectuals who spearheaded the movement were not Anglophile Indians. A defining feature of the movement was an inquiry into the past and an assessment of the strength of tradition to overcome contemporary problems
  • The second stage was characterised by an attempt to bring together anti-colonial politics and the social quest for modernity. The anti-colonial movement did not follow the renaissance, as is generally assumed
  • The third phase of the renaissance, which begins with the end of colonial rule, was a result of the confluence of Marxism and the renaissance values. In fact, the renaissance values are inherent in Marxism and were part of the agenda of the communist movement, which functioned with the notion of cultural and social equality, among caste and gender. 


Characteristics of Renaissance

  • One of the characteristics aspects of Renaissance was ‘humanism’. Humanism means to take interest in human life, to show respect to human beings to accept the importance of human life and to make creative efforts to improve it.
  • In the period of Renaissance, the ideology which emphasized temporal outlook rather than spiritual was called humanism. It denotes the extinction of the binding force of religion on human thoughts and activities.
  • The other Chief characteristics of Renaissance was adoration of natural beauty. This adoration was free from physical and mental pressure. The impact of humanism on art may be observed in terms of precise and surrealistic expressions.

A process with changing attributes

  • The renaissance was not an event, it was a process and its attributes underwent changes whenever major shifts took place in society and the economy.
  • The violence and intolerance rampant in society today is not so much the failure of the first phase of the renaissance as the inability to transform its values in accordance with the demands of the present.

Raja Rammohan Roy:

  • The central figure of this cultural awakening was Raja Rammohan Roy. Known as the “father of the Indian Renaissance”, 
  • Rammohan Roy was a great patriot, scholar and humanist. He was moved by deep love for the country and worked throughout his life for the social, religious, intellectual and political regeneration of the Indians.
  • In 1814, Rammohan Roy settled in Calcutta and dedicated his life to the cause of social and religious reform. 
  • As a social reformer, Rammohan Roy fought relentlessly against social evils like sati, polygamy, child marriage, female infanticide and caste discrimination. 
  • He organised a movement against the inhuman custom of sati and helped William Bentinck to pass a law banning the practice (1829). 
  • It was the first successful social movement against an age-old social evil.



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