Maravanpulavu K. Sachithananthan
Vasgoda Gama landed in Kozikode (Calicut) on 20th May 1498. That landing marked the beginning of the next 450 years of direct western imperialism in Asia and the subsequent continuation of the covert and indirect western hold on the ‘liberated’ nations of Asia.
However 300 years later, Asian nations woke up. An overt resistance to the western imperialism through armed and other means was overtaking the subjugate approach and the suppressed attitude in the Asian minds.
In 1842 Wei Yuan (1794-1856), a scholar and adviser to the government advocated self-strengthening of China; its principle goal was to maintain the strong essence of Chinese civilization while adding superior technology from abroad. Li Hongzhang (1823-1901) Kang Youwei (1858-1927), Liang Qichao (1873-1929), and Tan Sitong (1865-1898) were some of the other vocalists who encouraged Chinese to resist western imperialism.
For Japan, the first contact with the imperialist west was in 1542 when a Portuguese ship arrived there. However Japan kept its society out of reach to the western world. Later it created the Institute for the Investigation of Barbarian Books (meaning western literature) in 1811 which was an office in charge of translating Western texts. Ultimately Japan opened its trade with the west, by negotiating with Commodore Perry from the United States of America in 1853. The ruling Shoguns did not allow westerners inside Japan all along their history.
British , conscious of the disadvantages of unnecessarily antagonizing its Indian subjects, excluded all missionary activity from its territories in South Asia. However evangelical Christian interests in the United Kingdom pressurised the British parliament to eliminate these restrictions by the East India Company during charter renewals of 1813 and 1833, towards opening South Asia to missionary endeavour.
Charles Grant, the evangelist, believed that South Asia was a backward place. Hindu beliefs and practices were directly responsible for the stagnation of its growth and development. Grant conceived that Hinduism was the ultimate source of South Asia's many social evils. As early as the 1830's Christian intruders were visiting towns in the remote corners of the countryside of South Asia.
As these aggressive endeavours became increasingly visible and vigorous, the indigenous popular antipathy and antagonism became vocal and verbose. Many Hindu revivalists were at the forefront of meeting the challenge from these barbarians (as the Japanese termed them).
Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833) was born in a small village in Bengal. He was known as the “father of the Indian Renaissance”.
Raja Rammohan Roy was a staunch believer in the philosophy of Vedanta (Upanishads) and vigorously defended the Hindu religion and Hindu philosophy from the attack of the missionaries. He only wanted to mould Hinduism into a new cast to suit the requirements of the age.
From 1819, Ram Mohan increasingly worked against the activities of William Carey, a Baptist missionary settled in Serampore. He also targeted Serampore missionaries to halt their evangelical work. He attacked Baptist "Trinitarian" Christianity. He entered into theological debates with the Unitarian faction of Christianity.
Raja Rammohan Roy founded a new religious society known as Brahmo Samaj based on the twin pillars of rationalism and the philosophy of the Vedas. The Brahmo Samaj emphasised human dignity, criticised idolatry and denounced social evils like sati. Raja Rammohan Roy represented the first glimmerings of the rise of national consciousness in India.
Dayanand Saraswati (1824-1883) was an aggressive Hindu reformer, who directed his efforts against the missionary faiths, Islam and Christianity. He founded the Arya Samaj. He was born in Gujarat. He sought spiritual emancipation and became a Sannyasi. In Punjab he saw with his the threat from Christianity to the other three co-existing religions, Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism. He stressed the importance of pristine purity in Vedic Hinduism.
He condemned idol worship. He spoke against caste distinctions to launch a crusade against untouchability. He advocated equality for women. He was described as human dynamo towards Hindu renaissance and reformation.
Vishnu Bhikaji Gokhale (1825-1871) was a Marathi polemicist against the Christian missionaries. He was the first to launch a widely recognized defense of Hindu dharma. His counterattack on Christian doctrines in fluent Marathi made him a popular orator.
He felt that Hindus were ignorant of their own religion. So he wrote a treatise entitled the Light of Vedic Religion or Vedoktadharmaprakasha. This work opens with a simple question: "Dharma Mhange kay?" "What does dharma mean?"
Through this book and similar publications he became a popular writer. Through appealing orations and verbose writings he was a defending warrior of the Hindus.
Arumuga Navalar (1822-1879) belonged to this period of human history. It was a period which was to set the ball rolling towards the end of the direct western imperialism in Asia. He was staunch defender of Saivaism. He worked relentlessly against evangelical Christian missionaries. He bore with pleasure their attacks and remained unscathed. He attempted to reinvent meanings for Saiva texts. He also attempted to reform Saivism itself. Hence he was called their Champion Reformer.
Asian renaissance movements were spearheaded not by laymen. Scholarly thoughts were followed with deeds. Whether it was China, Japan, Maratha, Punjab or Bengal, scholars were behind the anti-imperialistic provocations to prevent intruding western civilization.
Arumuga Navalar like his contemporaries elsewhere in Asia, viz. Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833), Wei Yuan (1794-1856), Japanese Institute for the Investigation of Barbarian Books (meaning western literature) of 1811, Li Hongzhang (1823-1901), Dayanand Saraswati (1824-1883), Vishnu Bhikaji Gokhale (1825-1871), Kang Youwei (1858-1927), Tan Sitong (1865-1898) and Liang Qichao (1873-1929) was a scholar par excellence. Tamils are proud of his historical contribution to their political, linguistic, cultural and spiritual emancipation.
History of human civilization is an eventful record of such foresighted contributors. Arumuga Navalar remains recorded in history for his imaginative constructive, relentless, structured contribution, not only to Saiva and Tamil emancipation, but also to human emancipation, like his globalized contemporary field-loving fellow scholars.
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