Inspiring Thoughts, Powerful Words|Jun 14, 2009 2:09 PM| by:

Patriotism in Samskrit Literature

(Radha Kumud Mukherji, the noted historian and politician, avers in his speech that Samskrit literature is not all religion and philosophy. From the Vedas onwards there is a streak of nationalism running through it which has inspired millions of Indians to love their motherland and sacrifice their all at the altar of the mother. The lectures, while utilizing well-known sources and materials, claim originality as regards the particular use made of them and the standpoint from which they have been viewed. Bande Matram has its origin in the pages of Samskrit literature which contains the deification of the motherland, according to Mukherji. Following is his lecture delivered at the Mysore University in 1921.)

The harmonious development of ancient India in the manifold domains of national life is proved not merely by the testimony of history but also by that of its national literature. A close examination of Samskrit literature will easily reveal the truth that it contains within itself all the elements that are needed to develop the different interests of national life, mental or moral, spiritual and practical. Just as this material mother-country of ours, this vast Indian continent stretching from Kashmir to Cape Comorin, is endowed by nature with magnificent physical potentialities and resources which, if properly developed, are calculated to make her economically self-sufficient and independent, similarly this vast Samskrit literature is extraordinarily rich in all those mental and moral, religious and spiritual elements and resources which are necessary for the cultural life and independence of a nation, and were once found adequate enough to build up the culture and civilisation of ancient India. It is too often assumed that, like Hindu civilisation, Samskrit literature represents only a one-sided development, being composed exclusively of only one type of literature and characterised by only one type of thought, viz. the religious and spiritual. It is too often assumed that Samskrit literature is always and exclusively preoccupied with the things of the other world, the interests of the hereafter and not with those of this world or the practical interests of the present time and the life on earth. It is, therefore, assumed that Samskrit literature is potentially and actually incapable of ministering in any way and in the slightest degree to the manifold and novel requirements of modern life under the conditions of present-day progress.

A critical study of Samskrit literature will be able to discover many passages bearing on the widespread consciousness of a keen sense of patriotism. Indeed, an intense passion for the fatherland utters itself throughout Samskrit literature. The very first factor of nation-building being an absorbing passion for the place of one’s birth, it is no wonder that Samskrit literature should contribute towards its growth, as it had contributed towards the growth of the other interests of a healthy national life. Throughout the vast range of Samskrit literature one can gather various references to this particular feeling, and we may in this connection refer to the more typical of them. For instance, in the Vedic literature we have a most remarkable passage in the ‘Atharvaveda’ called the Prithivi Sukta, which is a string of about sixty-three impassioned hymns to the motherland. Praises are sung of the mother-country as the land girt by the sea and fertilised by the rivers that pour down their bounty in streams of plenty, the land of hills and snowy mountains and forests giving protection to her sons ‘unharassed, unsmitten, and unwounded’; The land ‘bearing in many places people of different speech, of diverse customs according to their homes, yet yielding a thousand streams of property like a steady, unresisting milch ­cow.’ The last passage is indeed highly significant for the unique note it strikes—remarkable for the age—showing a seer’s grasp of the fundamental conditions of nation-building in this land of ‘many peoples of different speech and diverse customs.’ And yet this very diversity is recognised in a supremely patriotic spirit as a source of national strength, of that richer and fuller unity in which all diversities lose themselves with their several contributions towards the development of a common life, even as ‘a thousand streams’ merge themselves in the sea.

Another refers to the political growth of the time in these appreciative words:

‘What villages, what forests, what assemblies are upon thee; what hosts, gatherings in them we may speak what is pleasant to thee’—a reference to the ‘sabhas’ and ‘samitis’ of Vedic India in which the gift of eloquence in debates was regarded as a precious possession.

But this expression of an intense feeling for the fatherland is not the solitary peculiarity of the Vedic literature alone, for later Samskrit literature abounds in expressions of the same feeling. Who does not know the most familiar passage of Manu in which he defines the motherland in his grateful appreciation of the untold blessings and benefits derived from her as the country fashioned by the very hands of the Gods. The same sentiment receives a culminating expression in a famous passage in the ‘Vishnupurana’, where Bharatvarsha is extolled ‘as the best of all countries’, where ‘it is only after many thousand births, and the aggregation of much merit that living beings are sometimes born as men,”—about which the Gods themselves explained: ‘Happy are those who are born even from the condition of Gods as men in Bharatvarsha, as that is the way to the pleasures of Paradise, or the greater blessing of final liberation. There cannot be found in any other literature, expressions of a more fervent patriotism than that which utters itself in these passages in which the country is applauded as being the creation of divine architects, as being a habitation worthy of the Gods themselves, as a veritable heaven on earth. This deification of the motherland and attribution to her of a divine making, is as characteristic of Samskrit literature as it is unusual to the spirit of the literature of other countries. We may finally recall in this connection the great utterance: ‘Janani janmabhumishca swargadapi gariyasi—The mother and motherland are higher than heaven itself.’

Radha Kumud Mukherji

(Mukherji, Radha Kumud. Nationalism in Hindu Culture. London, Theosophical Society, 1921. p.9-16.)