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Cultural self-recovery

The renewed consecration of Kashi Vishwanath Dham among others, expresses the resolve of PM to restore symbols of India’s rich cultural self

As I joined millions in seeing and listening to Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation and the world from the precincts of iconic Kashi Vishwanath, among the many thoughts and emotions that came crowding to my mind, was the thought of Ananda Coomaraswamy, philosopher and pre-eminent interpreter of India’s cultural soul. It must have been the same for countless others, with each trying to associate, interpret, absorb, recollect and situate this once in a century moment with the various dimensions and layers of India’s continuous urge and aspiration for the recovery of her cultural self. It was a moment which reflected, among others in the last few years, the rise of a cultural and civilisational India and the effects of it naturally led to a past reconnect for all those who have aspired for such a moment.

In the first half of the last century, Coomaraswamy had aspired to build a centre of Indian culture in Varanasi, housing his formidable culture of Indian artefacts, and to spend his years in Kashi in interpreting the fundamentals of Indian culture and in disseminating its deeper ideals. That, according to Coomaraswamy, ought to have been an essential dimension for an India seeking selfhood and freedom. But his past active association with the Swadeshi movement, his vocal articulation against India’s cultural soul being smothered by alien rule, his forceful and inspiring advocacy of rejecting alien impositions and the need to recover our cultural and religious symbols, led him to come under observation from the colonial administration, preventing those he had approached for help from extending their support. Eventually, not finding the requisite support, unable to make ends meet, Coomaraswamy left India for Boston, where the Museum of Fine Arts engaged him for the next four decades and absorbed his formidable collection. For him the location did not matter, as he once said, “I am much too Indian in my ways of thinking, and my love for India is my destiny.” He continued to be as prolific and as profound in India, for the remaining four decades of his life

On the 75th year of India’s independence, the consecration by Prime Minister Modi of a transformed Kashi Vishwanath Dham, expresses the realisation of the hope, often expressed by the likes of Coomaraswamy, that India would rise conscious of her cultural self and soul. It was a hope that countless thought leaders and seers, such as him, had expressed, making it one of the upholding essences of the political demand for freedom. They could clearly see that the ‘colonial mindset’, recently referred to again by PM Modi, could only be challenged and dissipated through a comprehensive rejuvenation and restoration of our cultural symbols. They had articulated and spoken for these in a state of subjection with the hope that free India would listen to them and undertake a wide and comprehensive effort to restore, re-situate and rejuvenate these. National regeneration or nation building for these astute and inspiring thought-leaders could not be a lasting effort if this dimension was ignored or left unattended.

Nehru’s India ignored this essence, while promoting the ‘temples of modern India’. Despite claiming that he had discovered India, Nehru ignored the temples of ancient India which had upheld and sustained our civilisational essence. The entire Nehruvian generations that grew and survived off the Nehruvian establishment and in whose hands and control free India’s destiny was shaped for decades, was largely ignorant of and repulsed towards this need. In line with their idol, they sneered at any attempt to rejuvenate India’s cultural and religious symbols on the line of what was done at Somnath, they stymied any debate on the need for such a cultural effort and reintegration in free India, they castigated and pilloried anyone or institution working towards realising such a goal nationally. It was one such representative of the colonial mindset, product of a deracinated Nehruvian generation, who, on a recent visit to Kashi, failed to hear the chisel and hammer of Vishwakarma clanging at work in the deep depths of Shiva’s perennial city and instead saw ‘a vast construction’ site.

This generation of leaders and bureaucrats remained aloof from the stark need of recovering and repatriating India’s sacred symbols, stolen and smuggled out of India for decades. It did not strike them or perhaps they just did not possess the caliber and strength to locate, reclaim and repatriate murtis such as that of Maa Annapurna, stolen a century back and smuggled away from a subject India. It did not strike them that the return of these too ought to have been one of the priorities of free India. They could not or were unwilling to accept that such a recovery would awaken and galvanise a civilisational sense, they could not comprehend that, to use the words of legendary polish thinker and journalist, Ryszard Kapuściński, that “protection of the symbol[s] is an act of patriotism.” In recovering India’s sacred artefacts and symbols in large numbers and on a regular basis, Prime Minister Modi is doing what all his predecessors should have done. But the burden of a vicious and suppressive secularism ensured that did not happen.

This neglect of India’s symbols, the non-realisation of the truth that nation building is to be dynamised and driven by the quest for material self-sufficiency and self-reliance as well as a sustained and undeterred effort for the recovery and rejuvenation of our cultural and spiritual symbols made the left-dominated and -driven Nehruvian power structure to divorce this complementarity, not that it succeeded in ensuring material self-reliance, in fact the word self-reliance was abandoned within the first decade after independence or, at the most, stuck to being a mere slogan for public consumption.

The transformation and renewed consecration of the Kashi Vishwanath Dham, the restoration of Kedar Nath Dham of Pujya Adi Shankara’s Samadhi Sthal, the ongoing Char Dham connecting all weather road, his work in further expanding and adding to the precincts of the Somnath Temples, his indefatigable and successful effort in recovering India’s sacred symbols from across the world, his repeated insistence on the need to rediscover, research, record and disseminate the forgotten and suppressed episodes in the struggle for India’s freedom are all part of that essential and inescapable need for a comprehensive cultural self-recovery. It was left to Narendra Modi, of all Prime Ministers who came after independence, to irreversibly launch this quest. After over seven decades of political independence, the movement for India’s cultural freedom and self-expression, has truly and surely begun.

(The writer is a member of National Executive Committee (NEC), BJP, and the Honorary Director of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. Views expressed are personal.)