Book Review: 'Nationalism in Hindu Culture' by Radhakumud Mookerji

Siddhartha Ghosh

Sanskrit is much more practical than anyone could ever imagine and has much more patriotic/nationalistic intones one can ever perceive it to have.

Name of the Author – Radhakumud Mookerji

Name of the Title – Nationalism in Hindu Culture

Place of Publication - London (1921)

Publisher – Theosophical Publishing House

Page Count - 104

What transpires in the mind when someone discusses about Sanskrit? What exactly one imagines when he/she thinks about the language Sanskrit? Maybe some will picture a religious ceremony or grand philosophical ideas like “Vasudhev Kutumbkam”. But Sanskrit is much more than that. Agreed, that the extraordinary richness of the Sanskrit works in the field of religion and philosophy sometimes overshadows other relevant aspects, but Sanskrit is much more practical than anyone could ever imagine and has much more patriotic/nationalistic intones one can ever perceive it to be. Our readers might not believe me now, but if given a chance to read “Nationalism in Hindu Culture” by Radhakumud Mookerji, they might agree to everything written above.

The book begins by giving some food for thought. As we know and historic proofs exist for the same that India had trade relations with many different kingdoms and empires in the past. And since a bulk of the trade happened then through the sea, why is it that we haven’t heard of the naval expertise of our forefathers? The question, though simple, immediately rings a bell. The writer goes on to quote French writer F.B. Solvyns and Englishman John Malcolm who verified in their works that not only Indian maritime activity was present but Indian maritime genius was way too advanced from any in the world at that time.

Having made that initial thought-provoking jolt, the book proceeds gradually to cover aspects like patriotism in Sanskrit literature and Hindu aspects of patriotism. The writer interestingly notes that Atharvaveda has a remarkable passage of “Prithvi Sukta” which is a string of sixty-three impassioned hymns to the motherland. Also, the writer establishes this by quoting the famous shloka “Janani Janmabhumischa Swargadapi Gariyasi”.

The book in its 4th and 5th chapters takes up the significance of Hindu institutions of pilgrimages and why it was important in the past. The writer gives examples from Garudapurana, Kalikapurana, and other accounts from the Sanskrit literature where important pilgrimage places have been quoted like Varanasi in the North, Kanchi in the South and many more such places throughout the physical boundary of Bharat starting from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin. The writer conveys that such pilgrimages were identified so that people from the entire length and breadth of Bharat will travel to various places to perform religious ceremonies and in order of traveling, can absorb the cultural richness, territorial diversity, and beauty of Bharat. The writer notes that widespread traveling was prevalent back then and it played a great role in the diffusion of various faiths in India. For e.g Buddhism spread throughout India and the same was true for Jainism as well. The writer makes it clear that Sanskrit does not denote just Hindu heritage but is also commonly shared with Buddhism and Jainism which are essentially bifurcations from Hindu religion only.

The subsequent chapters of the books are dedicated to Nationalism in Sanskrit Literature and Hindu sects. The book very interestingly quotes the Rigveda’s River Hymn:

“O ye Ganga, Yamuna, Godaveri, Sarasvati, Narmada, Sindhu, and Cauvery, come ye and enter into this water of my offering”

Here, all the river names are chanted together while offering the water for religious ceremonies to invoke a sense of nationalism. The same pattern can also be observed in Pauranic Couplets giving out names of various destinations:

“Ayodhya, Mathura, Maya, Kasi, Kanchi, Avanti, and Dvaravati – these are the seven places conferring liberation on the pilgrim”

in a single line establishing them as important places of pilgrimage. Here as well, we see the same pattern when distant cities in the territorial boundary of India are considered equal and the visiting pilgrims got a look of the wider spectrum of Bharat. The book also notes that various sects of Hinduism like Shaivaites were referred (by the Hindu texts) places like Somanath, Gaumati, and Ujjain while Shakti worshippers were given places like Varanasi, Kangra, and Kolkata. A sort of “Geographical consciousness” is being observed in all such examples.

The last few chapters of the book talk about Hindu political identity as Sanskrit’s impact on national life. The chapter traces the origin of the name “Bharatvarsha” with “Bharata” – the embodiment of culture. The writer gives out Sanskrit words like “Adhiraja”, “Rajadhiraj”, and “Sarvabhauma” to establish the fact that India’s political system was well defined and a hierarchy was maintained. The act of “Asvamedha Yagya” too was a political event and the writer divulges names of successful asvamedhins. The book also gives an account of the practicality of Sanskrit with the field of studies that was founded in it. Ayurveda, for example, contained fields like chemistry, anatomy, surgery, pharmacy, etc. Chanakya’s ‘Arthshastra’ was much richer in content than Aristotle’s ‘Politics’ or Plato’s ‘Republic’. Brihat-Sanhita has described secular aspects of national welfare.

The book summarises in the end how the Sanskrit language described Bharatvarsha as a land “fit to be lived by the gods” and hence Bharatvarsha is deified and glorified as “Heaven on earth” and hence is far superior to any nationalistic pitch from the Western school of thoughts.

Though the book is very good content-wise and has some unique thoughts to convey, it becomes repetitive at times. This is since the book was developed from the lectures given by the writer at the Mysore University. It’s very natural that the contents of one lecture have found place in another and hence transpired to the book also because we can be repetitive while taking classes.

Another critical aspect of the book is that is trying to legitimize an “Aryan-Dravid divide” or the “Indo Aryan invader” theory which was first given by Max Muller in the 1850s. Such an error from the writer can be attributed to the fact that the book was published in the 1920s and back then Max Muller was a big name and was quoted prominently in many places. With the modern findings, we can safely say that any such divide never existed and that genetic studies have established successfully that no such “invasion” ever took place. Of course, there can be a class struggle in the South as well as in the North but as said by Dr. David Frawley, there is common culture that goes back many centuries and cannot be divided by Aryan versus Dravidian theories. This can be seen as many of the Sanskrit chants used in Hindu rituals throughout India are those of southern teachers, starting with Shankara from Bhaja Govindam to Ganga Stotra.

I will recommend this book to anyone who might want to delve into the historic origins of Indian language, culture, and way of life. The book is absorbing in nature, and though repetitive at times, can give a unique perspective one might not have observed before.

The author is a research scholar in Mahatma Gandhi Central University, Motihari and an intern at Academics4nation.


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