Chapter 6: OUR PAST PART - VI


History of Education in India


The British also came with the belief that they had a duty to civilize the natives. The White man's burden was an important reason for colonizing India.

The Indian Education journey started with William Jones a judge at the Supreme court of Calcutta. Jones was a linguist who knew Greek, Latin, Arabic and spent hours on studying Sanskrit and other intricacies of the language. He also started exploring other articles on Ancient Indian laws, culture, practices, traditions and philosophy. With like minded Englishmen he started the Asiatic society of Bengal. They group of people who respected both the traditions of east and the West were called Orientalists.

They believed that Indian civilization had reached its epic in the past and then declined. They wanted to study the ancient texts and rules of India to understand the civilization as the felt this could form the basis of future development of India. British wanted to show Indians the grandeur of the past so that the latter would feel new respect for the British. The British by doing this would become guardians of Indian culture and also its masters.

The British influenced by Orientalist thinking believed that Indians ought to be educated in Sanskrit and Persian instead of languages alien to them. Thus the orientalist favored stability over development.

The British needed Indians scholars to teach them Sanskrit and Ancient laws which the British believed would form the basis of British rule in India. Lord Warren Hastings was an Orientalist and opened Calcutta Madrasa, John Duncan formed Sanskrit College in Varanasi.

These institutions were for training Indians for lower level administrative jobs.

Anglicist view on Education

They represented the growing criticism against the Orientalists views. The Orientalist policies hadn't increased trade nor in any way contributed to developing favorable atmosphere for British rule in India.

Anglicist's believed that Eastern education and literature was full of errors. It was light headed, non serious and unscientific. The Anglicists believed that the aim of education isn't appeasement but to teach something useful and practical. They rejected the oriental view on education. They believed that Indian's should be made familiar with scientific and technological enhancements in the West rather than Oriental poetry.

The most influential and outspoken attack was from Thomas Macaulay, member of Lord Bentinck's executive council. He said that a library of English education would surpass all the literature produced by Orient. He felt that by teaching English to Indians they would be able to read the finest literature the world has produced. The language would civilize the people by making them aware of the developments in the West and change their their tastes. He therefore urged the British government to stop spending on promoting oriental education. The English Education Act was passed and English became the medium of instruction at higher levels and vernacular languages were for lower levels.

Work of the Christian Missionaries

The East India Company was against the education provided by Christian missionaries till 1813. The missionaries believed in oriental education as it would improve the moral values of a person. They felt that christian education would civilize the natives. Since the Company refused them to set up schools in British controlled areas they operated outside.

A school, printing press was set up and a college was established. After 1857 revolts Company was apprehensive to the work of missionaries as it felt the natives would be enaged by the attack on local customs, beliefs and practices by the missionaries.

Education in Pre - British period, Reforms by British and Reactions by National Leaders to Education


Indian schools in Pre British period were flexible institutions. Every village had a school. Each would have a teacher and around 20 pupils. The teachings was oral, no attendance was taken, no fixed timings, no exams and no written notes. During harvest season as children had to work in fields schools would be closed.


The British wanted to reform this system and so they appointed government Pandits to inspect schools and enforce rules. The Government also gave grants to all those who followed norms laid by it. The Teachers who didn't accept this were forced to look for other resources and often couldn't compete with government aided schools.


Gandhiji was critical of the Education policy and rejected the English medium schools. He felt they would lead to Indians developing Western tastes, speaking alien languages and worshiping western culture. Such people would have no value for the nation. He wanted education to be more practical oriented and based on vernacular languages.


Rabindranath Tagore also had similar view but key difference was that he wanted to assimilate the best of both cultures in Education. He wanted schools to teach Indian art, culture and western science and philosophy.


Journey of Visual Art in India


European artists introduced painting in India which was based on realism - The artist would faithfully render what he observed into a canvas. The oil painting were introduced to Indian artists. However European artist emphasized the superiority of their culture, traditions in their art. British artist also drew paintings of British territory in India. India was depicted as an ancient grand civilization that was now declining but it could be modernized only by British governance.


Portrait painting - Face and expression of the Person is prominent became popular now. Indian art used to paint miniature portraits but now life sized portraits were made. Some were used to show grandeur, majesty and indicated status and lifestyle of the subject. Englishmen were the center of such portraits and Indians were shown as servants or submissive. Some portraits were made by Princes of India who used to portray themselves as figures of authority although they had lost it to the British.


History paintings too were a form of popular art. The British victories were shown in them. They were appreciation of British valor, courage and victory however they never showed the true story behind the victory which would be the cunning and the treachery.


Effect on Indian Artists


  • Some rulers like Tipu sultan rejected the European art and continued with patronage of Indian artists. Murals of Wars where the English were defeated continued to grace his palace.
  • Indian miniature artists were encouraged by some rulers to absorb European features of art like Perspective painting.
  • Some artists painted by the Company officials who wished to collect information about colonial life. The pictures were local plants, animals, monuments, communities and festivals.
  • A new form of art developed in Calcutta villages which was adopted by local artists. Since Calcutta was becoming a hub of development it attracted many looking for opportunities. The artists saw the changes in society by the British and painted them. These mocked the western babus, corrupt officials and ridiculed the system. The painting made by them were three dimensional with use of shades to give appearance of rounded object. The figures were larger than life i.e. unrealistic depictions.
  • As Nationalism grew paintings got a religious aspects with Bharatmata or Durga personified.
  • English educated artists used European style to make paintings of Indians in front of beautiful scenery. Printing press too was used for large scale printing so paintings could be bought by poor too.

Search for Modern Indian Art


Raja Ravi Verma


A search for modern art that would be national emerged and Raja Ravi Verma became the first to qualify for such a distinction. He had mastered western style of oil painting and realistic paintings. But he used this to paint scenes from Indian mythologies like Ramayan, Mahabharat. The popularity of such paintings was so high that Princes, Nawabs filled their courts with his paintings. He also started a printing press so that color paintings could be mass printed and cheap painting copies could be obtained. Even the poor could afford this.




Fig 1: Painting

Abanindranth Tagore


People rejected Ravi Verma's art in some parts as they felt a truly nationalist art must be obtained from non western forms. They felt the Ravi Verma couldn't capture the essence of Eastern art. Indian art should draw inspiration from the traditional art forms like miniatures and murals paintings like the Ajanta caves.  

Abanindranath Tagore drew art inspired by such forms and drew images of mythologies and old stories. But he too was criticized as some felt that mythology wasn't the center of Indian art and artists should depict real life.



Fig 2: Painting

Journey of Indigo in India


British felt that India could be used to grow crops needed in Britain. The dye of blue was needed for rich blue color in clothes. The tropical indigo plant gave this color. However the indigo that reached Europe was in small quantities and costly. Hence Europeans preferred a temperate plant called woad. The European textile owners asked the government to ban entry of indigo into their countries.


However soon it was realized that woad gave a dull blue unlike the richer variety given by indigo. Hence the indigo trade resumed. Initially Caribbean countries and India were the only sources but revolt in Caribbean nations made India the sole source of indigo.


Plantation system of indigo


  • Nif: Under this system the planter purchased or leased land and cultivated indigo with hired labor. But under this many problems were faced like difficulty to expand land, high cost of labor and investment in ploughs and bullocks. Indigo and ice had the same cycle so labor was difficult to obtain.
  • Ryoti: Under this system the indigo trader gave loan to plant indigo to the farmer. He would reserve 25% of his farm land for indigo and after harvest sell indigo to trader. However here too the farmer was at a loss as the price indigo fetched was very low and cycle of loans never ended. He had to reserve the best soil for indigo and so food crops suffered.


Ryoti system became the reason for peasant oppression. Riots followed in such areas as discontented peasants protested against the European traders. British government wanted to avoid a large scale uprising so soon after 1857 riots and so formed a commission for looking into the matter. The commission recommended an end to this system and so the indigo riots ended.