Chapter 5
The Impact of the British (2) Education

IN THE eighteenth century India was intellectually stagnant. She had not been touched by the new scientific spirit which was so rapidly transforming the West, while in those realms of philosophy and mathematics where she was once pre-eminent the virtue seemed to have gone out of her. Her ablest philosophers had become content to be mere commentators; her people knew nothing of their own history; and even Sanskrit learning was at such a low ebb that in Calcutta there were comparatively few Brahmans who understood the sacred texts. The tradition of learning lingered only in the village tols, where the guru or preceptor would gather round him a group of resident disciples and instruct them in Sanskrit studies. Many of these gurus were true scholars by nature, but they knew nothing of geography, world history or science. Their outlook was necessarily narrow and their curriculum limited.

D. S. Sarma, in his account of the Renaissance of Hinduism, rightly states that for a hundred years from the middle of the eighteenth century nothing of first rate importance was produced in any Indian language. In 1811 Lord Minto wrote of the intellectual backwardness of the time and feared that 'the revival of letters may shortly become hopeless from a want of books or of people capable of explaining them'. Except for the hill schools of painting, the arts were in a similar state of decline and lacked both patronage and appreciation.

Several new factors now combined to produce an awakening. Irl the first place a small band of British scholars began to devote themselves to research in Indian history and philology with spectacular results. Sir William Jones, by his identification of the Emperor Chandragupta with the Sandrokottus of the Greek historians, established the first fixed point in Indian chronology. A generation later, James Prinsep, Mint Master of

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