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The book is widely regarded as a classic in India since its first publication in 1946, and provides a broad view of Indian history, philosophy and culture, as viewed from the eyes of a liberal Indian fighting for the independence of his country. In The Discovery of India, Nehru argued that India was a historic nation with a right to sovereignty. (Calhoun, Craig, Nations Matter: Culture, History and the Cosmopolitan Dream, Routledge.
In this book, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru tries to study the history of India starting from the Indus Valley Civilization, and then covers the country’s history from the arrival of the Aryans to government under the British Empire.
He says that India in the past was country which lived in harmony and peace, but the entry of society evils had a very bad effect on people. The effect of these various people on Indian culture and their incorporation into Indian society is examined.
This book also analyses in depth the philosophy of Indian life.
This book was dedicated to the Prisoners of Ahmednagar jail. The book became the basis of the 53-episode Indian television series Bharat Ki Khoj, first broadcast in 1988. PREFACE OF THE BOOK BY JAWAHARLAL NEHRU:- This book was written by Jawaharlal Nehru in Ahmadnagar Fort prison during the five months, April to September 1944. Some of his colleagues in prison were good enough to read the manuscript and make a number of valuable suggestions.
On revising the book in prison he took advantage of these suggestions and made some additions.
No one, he need hardly add, is responsible for what he has written or necessarily agrees with it. But he expresses my deep gratitude to his fellow-prisoners in Ahmadnagar Fort for the innumerable talks and discussions they had, which helped him greatly to clear his own mind about various aspects of Indian history and culture. Prison is not a pleasant place to live in even for a short period, much less for long years.
But it was a privilege for me to live in close contact with men of outstanding ability and culture and a wide human outlook which even the passions of the moment did not obscure. His eleven companions in Ahmadnagar Fort were an interesting cross-section of India and represented in their several ways not only politics but Indian scholarship, old and new, and various aspects of present-day India. Nearly all the principal living Indian languages, as well as the classical languages which have powerfully influenced India in the past and present, were represented and the standard was often that of high scholarship.
Among the classical languages were Sanskrit and Pali, Arabic and Persian; the modern languages were Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Sindhi and Oriya. Jawaharlal Nehru had all this wealth to draw upon and the only limitation was his own capacity to profit by it. Though he was grateful to all his companions, he specially mentioned a few names;Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, whose vast erudition invariably delighted me but sometimes also rather overwhelmed me, Govind Ballabh Pant, Narendra Deva and M. Asaf Ali.
The book remains as written in prison with no additions or changes, except for the postscript at the end. He does’nt know how other authors feel about their writings, but always he had a strange sensation when he read something that he had written some time previously. That sensation is heightened when the writing had been done in the close and abnormal atmosphere of prison and the subsequent reading has taken place outside. He could recognize it of course, but not wholly; it seems almost that he was reading some familiar piece written by another, who was near to him and yet who was different.
Perhaps that is the measure of the change that had taken place in Jawaharlal Nehru So he has felt about this book also. It is his and not wholly his, as he is constituted today; it represents rather some past self of his which has already joined that long succession of other selves that existed for a while and faded away, leaving only a memory behind . Life in the Jail During his stay in the jail as a prisoner, he talked about the ruins that were there but were covered up by soil or have collapsed.
He talks about a courageous, beautiful lady, named Chandbibi, who fought against akbar to protect the fort(where he was staying as prisoner). But at the end she was killed by her own army man. He asks himself that what is his ancestral gift? he discovers that, India is his ancestral gift. It is in his blood. he is the ancesteor of victories and defeats of the past kings, brave works of human from the earliest past to now. He is the heir of all these. A few of his chapters which tell about Jawaharlal Nehru’s life in prison and the various changes in India…
Time in Prison : The Urge to Action Time seems to change its nature in prison. The present hardly exists, for there is an absence of feeling and sensation which might separate it from the dead past. Even news of the active, living and dying world outside has a certain dream-like un-reality, an immobility and an unchangeableness as of the past. The outer objective time ceases to be, the inner and subjective sense remains, but at a lower level, except when thought pulls it out of the present and experiences a kind of reality in the past or in the future.
We live, as Auguste Comte said, dead men’s lives, encased in our pasts, but this is especially so in prison where we try to find some sustenance for our starved and locked-up emotions in memory of the past or fancies of the future. There is a stillness and everlastingness about the past; it changes not and has a touch of eternity, like a painted picture or a statue in bronze or marble. Unaffected by the storms and upheavals of the present, it maintains its dignity and repose and tempts the troubled spirit and the tortured mind to seek shelter in its vaulted catacombs.
There is peace there and security, and one may even sense a spiritual quality. But it is not life, unless we can find the vital links between it and the present with all its conflicts and problems. It is a kind of art for art’s sake, without the passion and the urge to action which are the very stuff of life. Without that passion and urge, there is a gradual oozing out of hope and vitality, a settling down on lower levels of existence, a slow merging into non-existence. We become prisoners of the past and some part of its immobility sticks to us.
This passage of the mind is all the easier in prison where action is denied and we become slaves to the routine of jail-life. Yet the past is ever with us and all that we are and that we have comes from the past. We are its products and we live im-mersed in it. Not to understand it and feel it as something living within us is not to understand the present. To combine it with the present and extend it to the future, to break from it where it cannot be so united, to make of all this the pulsating and vibrat-ing material for thought and action—that is life. Any vital action springs from the depths of the being.
All the long past of the individual and even of the race has prepared the background for that psychological moment of action. All the racial memories, influences of heredity and environment and training, subconscious urges, thoughts and dreams and actions from infancy and childhood onwards, in their curious and tremendous mix-up, inevitably drive to that new action, which again becomes yet another factor influencing the future. Influencing the future, partly determining it, possibly even largely determining it, and yet, surely, it is not all determinism.
Whether there is any such thing as human freedom in the philosophic sense or whether there is only an automatic deter-minism, I do not know. A very great deal appears certainly to be determined by the past complex of events which bear down and often overwhelm the individual. Possibly even the inner urge that he experiences, that apparent exercise of free will, is itself conditioned. As Schopenhauer says, ‘a man can do what he will, but not will as he will. ‘ A belief in an absolute deter-minism seems to me to lead inevitably to complete inaction, to death in life.
All my sense of life rebels against it, though of course that very rebellion may itself have been conditioned by previous events Life’s Philosophy:- The ideals and objectives of yesterday were still the ideals of to-day, but they had lost some of their lustre and, even as one seemed to go towards them, they lost the shining beauty which had warmed the heart and vitalized the body. Evil triumphed often enough, but what was far worse was the coarsening and distortion of what had seemed so right.
Was human nature so essentially bad that it would take ages of training, through suffering and misfortune, before it could behave reasonably and raise man above that creature of lust and violence and deceit that he now was? And, meanwhile, was every effort to change it radically in the present or the near future doomed to failure? Ends and means: were they tied up inseparably, acting and reacting on each other, the wrong means distorting and some-times even destroying the end in view? But the right means might well be beyond the capacity of infirm and selfish human nature.
What then was one to do? Not to act was a complete con-fession of failure and a submission to evil; to act meant often enough a compromise with some form of that evil, with all the untoward consequences that such compromises result in. Science does not tell us much, or for the matter of that any-thing about the purpose of life. It is now widening its boun-daries and it may invade the so-called invisible world before long and help us to understand this purpose of life in its widest sense, or at least give us some glimpses which illumine the pro-blem of human existence.
The old controversy between science and religion takes a new form—the application of the scientific method to emotional and religious experiences. Some vague or more precise philosophy of life we all have, though most of us accept unthinkingly the general attitude which is characteristic of our generation and environment. Most of us accept also certain metaphysical conceptions as part of the faith in which we have grown up. How amazing is this spirit of man! In spite of innumerable failings, man, throughout the ages, has sacrificed his life and all he held dear for an ideal, for truth, for faith, for country and honour.
That ideal may change, but that capacity for self-sacrifice continues, and, because of that, much may be forgiven to man, and it is impossible to lose hope for him. In the midst of disaster, he has not lost his dignity or his faith in the values he cherished. Plaything of nature’s mighty forces, less than a speck of dust in this vast universe, he has hurled defiance at the elemental powers, and with his mind, cradle of revolution, sought to master them. Whatever gods there be, there is something godlike in man, as there is also something of the devil in him.
The future is dark, uncertain. But we can see part of the way leading to it and can tread it with firm steps, remembering that nothing that can happen is likely to overcome the spirit of man which has survived so many perils; remembering also that life, for all its ills, has joy and beauty, and that we can always wander; if we know how to, in the enchanted woods of nature. India’s Strength and Weaknesses:- The search for the sources of India’s strength and for her deterioration and decay is long and intricate.
Yet the recent causes of that decay are obvious enough. She fell behind in the march of technique, and Europe, which had long been backward in many matters, took the lead in technical progress. Behind this technical progress was the spirit of science and a bubling life and spirit which displayed itself in many activities and in ad-venturous voyages of discovery. New techniques gave military strength to the countries of western Europe, and it was easy for them to spread out and dominate the East. That is the story not only of India, but of almost the whole of Asia.
Why this should have happened so is more difficult to unravel, for India was not lacking in mental alertness and technical skill in earlier times. One senses a progressive deterioration during centuries. The urge to life and endeavour becomes less, the crea-tive spirit fades away and gives place to the imitative. Where triumphant and rebellious thought had tried to pierce the my-steries of nature and the universe, the wordy commentator comes with his glosses and long explanations. Magnificent art and sculpture give way to meticulous carving of intricate detail without nobility of conception or design.
The vigour and rich-ness of language, powerful yet simple, are followed by highly ornate and complex literary forms. The urge to adventure and the overflowing life which led to vast schemes of distant coloni-zation and the transplantation of Indian culture in far lands: all these fade away and a narrow orthodoxy taboos even the crossing of the high seas. A rational spirit of inquiry, so evident in earlier times, which might well have led to the further growth of science, is replaced by irrationalism and a blind idolatory of the past.
Indian life becomes a sluggish stream, living in the past, moving slowly through the accumulations of dead centuries. The heavy burden of the past crushes it and a kind of coma seizes it. It is not surprising that in this condition of mental stupor and physical weariness India should have deteriorated and remained rigid and immobile, while other parts of the world marched ahead. Every people and every nation has some such belief or myth of national destiny and perhaps it is partly true in each case.
Being an Indian I am myself influenced by this reality or myth about India, and I feel that anything that had the power to mould hundreds of generations, without a break, must have drawn its enduring vitality from some deep well of strength, and have had the capacity to renew that vitality from age to age. No people, no races remain unchanged. Continually they are mixing with others and slowly changing; they may appear to die almost and then rise again as a new people or just a variation of the old. There may be a definite break between the old people and the new, or vital links of thought and ideals may join them.
History has numerous instances of old and well-established civilizations fading away or being ended suddenly, and vigor-ous new cultures taking their place. Is it some vital energy, sonic inner source of strength that gives life to a civilization or a people, without which all effort is ineffective, like the vain attempt of an aged person to plav the part of a youth? Behind the past quarter of a century’s struggle for India’s independence and all our conflicts with British authority, lay in my mind, and that of many others, the desire to revitalize India.
We felt that through action and self-imposed suffering and sacri-fice, through voluntarily facing risk and danger, through refusal to submit to what we considered evil and wrong, would we re-charge the battery of India’s spirit and waken her from her long slumber. Though we came into conflict continually with the British Government in India, our eyes were always turned towards our own people. Political advantage had value only in so far as it helped in that fundamental purpose of ours.
Because of this govern-ing motive, frequently we acted as no politician, moving in the narrow sphere of politics only, would have done, and foreign and Indian critics expressed surprise at the folly and intransigence of our ways. Whether we were foolish or not, the historians of the future will judge. We aimed high and looked far. Probably we were often foolish, from the point of view of opportunist politics, but at no time did we forget that our main purpose was to raise the whole level of the Indian people, psychologically and spiritually and also, of course, politically and economically.
It was the building up of that real inner strength of the people that we were after, knowing that the rest would inevitably follow. We had to wipe out some generations of shameful subservience and timid submission to an arrogant alien authority. Epilogue of the book:- Jawaharlal Nehru has covered a thousand hand-written pages with a jumble of ideas in his mind. He travelled in the past and peeped into the future and sometimes tried to balance himself on that ‘point of intersection of the timeless with time. His life has been full of happenings in the world and the war has advanced rapidly towards a triumphant conclusion,so far as military victories go. In his own country also much has happened of which he could be only a distant spectator, and waves of unhappiness have sometimes temporarily swept over me and passed on. Because of this business of thinking and trying to give some expression to his thoughts, he has drawn myself away from the piercing edge of the present and moved along the wider expanses of the past and the future. The discovery of India—what had he discovered?
It was presumptuous of him to imagine that he could unveil India and find out what India is to-day and what it was in the long past. To-day India is four hundred million separate individual men and women, each differing from the other, each living in a private universe of though and feeling. If this is so in the present, how much more difficult is it to grasp that multitudinous past of innumerable successions of human beings. Yet something has bound them together and binds them still. India is a geographical and economic entity, a cultural unity amidst diversity, a bundle of contradictions held together by strong but invisible threads.
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