Indian scholar, author, and speaker, Vishal Mangalwadi is one of DNA’s Idea Shapers. With his permission we are reprinting here a recent message he sent to his mailing list.
One hundred years ago, Rabindra Nath Tagore became the first Indian to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his poems, Gitanjali – Song Offering (to the Creator). In his Award Ceremony Speech on Dec 10, 1913, Harald Hjarne, the chairman of the Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy remarked,
“The true inwardness of this work is . . . revealed in the efforts exerted in the Christian mission-field throughout the world. In times to come, historical inquirers will know better how to appraise its [Christian missions’] importance and influence, even in what is at present hidden from our gaze and where no or only grudging recognition is accorded. . . Thanks to this [missionary] movement, fresh, bubbling springs of living water have been tapped, from which poetry in particular may draw inspiration, . . . More especially, the preaching of the Christian religion has provided in many places the first definite impulse toward a revival and regeneration of the vernacular language, i.e., its liberation from the bondage of an artificial tradition, and consequently also toward a development of its capacity for nurturing and sustaining a vein of living and natural poetry.
The Christian mission has exercised its influence as a rejuvenating force in India . . . the influence of the Christian mission has extended far beyond the range of the actually registered proselytizing work. The struggle that the last century witnessed between the living vernaculars and the sacred language of ancient times for control over the new literatures springing into life would have had a very different course and outcome, had not the former found able support in the fostering care bestowed upon them by the self-sacrificing missionaries.
It was in Bengal, the oldest Anglo-Indian province and the scene many years before of the indefatigable labours of that missionary pioneer, Carey, to promote the Christian religion and to improve the vernacular language, that Rabindranath Tagore was born in 1861. . . [The Bible has so transformed India’s educated mind that] . . . If he seeks the divinity in nature, he finds there a living personality with the features of omnipotence, the all-embracing lord of nature, whose preternatural spiritual power nevertheless likewise reveals its presence in all temporal life, small as well as great, but especially in the soul of man predestined for eternity. Praise, prayer, and fervent devotion pervade the song offerings that he lays at the feet of this nameless divinity of his . . .”
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. (Gitanjali 35)
Before and After Tagore
Contrary to the Chairman’s expectations, neither secular, nor Hindu, nor even Christian historians have taken serious interest in studying India’s providential history – God’s wonderful works of grace in transforming India. Tagore’s 1913 triumph, for example, was the flowering not only of Carey’s work but also of the battle Charles Grant and William Wilberforce won in 1813. They got British Parliament to require the British East India Company to allow missionaries to come to educate India. (For that history, please visit www.RevelationMovement.com and read my essay, “Two Centuries of Modern Education in India: 1813-2013.)
Much changed during the century that followed Tagore. Politically, India awoke into freedom, but spiritually the old demons have captured the institutions built by God’s word. The degeneration of western theology and missiology led to the loss of Christian universities. That enabled the devil to reclaim India’s cultural elite. Hindu elites’ power, however, threatens those oppressed by Hinduism. The downtrodden are anxious to find a Shepherd. Millions are turning to Christ. I have explored the rationale for this socio-spiritual movement in books such as,
“The Quest for Freedom and Dignity: Caste, Conversion, and Cultural Transformation” (2001) and,
“Why Are We Backward: Exploring the Roots; Exploding the Myths; and Embracing True Hope.” (2012)
- Vishal Mangalwadi