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  • Philosophy in Colonial India ed. by Sharad Deshpande
  • Swami Narasimhananda (bio)
Philosophy in Colonial India. Edited by Sharad Deshpande. Delhi: Springer, 2015. Pp. xiv + 272. Hardcover 89,99 €, ISBN 978-81-322-2222-4.

India has been the seat of deep philosophical engagements since the Vedic period. However, Indian philosophical wisdom, albeit different from Western philosophy in many respects, was not widely known to the rest of the world before colonial thinkers started their dialogue with Indian philosophy through their translations and academic exegeses. Western scholars, primarily the Indologists, analyzed Indian thought through the lens of Western thought in spite of the traditional insular approach of Indian pandits. Amidst this tension between traditional Indian scholars and Western scholars who encountered Indian philosophy, was born a unique breed of Indian scholars, thanks to the colonial milieu of education and thought, who developed their thought in the intersection of traditional Indian thought and Western thought. Some of these scholars looked down at Indian thought, some held Indian thought to be greater than that of the rest of the world, and some tried to develop syncretic approaches to philosophy with an in-depth understanding of both Indian and Western philosophies. Thus, cross-cultural philosophy began in India.

Philosophy in Colonial India traces this development of cross-cultural philosophy in India and documents the tensions between interpretations of Indian and Western philosophical systems. This is a daunting task, particularly when it is that of "tracing … [the] evolutionary trajectory" of "hesitant transactions between unmistakably divergent world-views" (p. vii). In his Foreword to this book, Chetan Singh writes that while Indian philosophy adapted to the challenges presented by Western philosophy, "its foundational principles remained rooted in older indigenous traditions" (ibid.). However, he says that "an entire world of traditional Sanskrit scholarship chose to turn its back to the altered realities being forcefully fashioned by colonial rule" (p. viii). This tension between the attitudes of traditional Sanskrit scholars and modern Indian philosophers is presented throughout this book.

This volume is the result of a study week held in October 2009 in the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, and is a welcome step to fill the near-vacuum of scholarship on Indian philosophers in English, mainly in the colonial period.1 The editor of this volume, Sharad Deshpande, traces the beginnings of interculturality in India in his Introduction. He clarifies the difference between the [End Page 657] nomenclatures of "Indian philosophy" and "modern Indian philosophy." He shows how the word "philosophy" is generally considered Eurocentric, which makes it necessary to have special identifiers for philosophies developed in the rest of the world. He also does an etymological analysis of the Sanskrit words "darśana" and "ānvīkṣikī" and compares them with the word "philosophy" to delineate the differences in the approaches of these two world views. He also shows how Western scholars do not agree about the equivalence of Indian thought and Western philosophy. Instead, he suggests a kind of fluidity in either philosophy as "there is no fixed concept of philosophy on either side" (p. 8).

Many Indian scholars starting with Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar insisted that the study of Indian philosophy in Sanskrit become "historical, comparative, and philological" (p. 5), with the result that the traditional scholarship declined while Indological scholarship was on the rise. Indian philosophical thought-traditions were conflated with religious practices. Deshpande's Introduction sets the stage for the arguments in the book by examining key concepts like modernity, tradition, and transformation, and giving an overview of the other twelve chapters in the book. Deshpande shares interesting information with the readers such as the fact that the pandits of Varanasi knew Descartes's thought or that many English treatises were translated into Sanskrit in the colonial era. He also explores answers to the question, "what is Indian about Indian Philosophy?" (p. 11). The entire book is, in many ways, an attempt to find answers to this question.

Deshpande is quite candid in describing the effects of Western hegemony in philosophy and shows how this affects the visibility of the work done by Indian philosophers even today. He laments that while "modern Indian philosophers belonging to the university system of...


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