Examine the linkages between the nineteenth century’s ‘Indian Renaissance’ and the emergence of national identity. (10 Marks)

In the historiography of modern India, the renaissance is generally marked as the pre-political phase of the anti-colonial struggle, a period when Indians were mainly engaged in social and cultural preparation for participation in the more “progressive” and “radical”, political programme. The social and religious movements, popularly termed as the renaissance, which preceded the political struggles, are considered a necessary precursor to the coming of nationalism. Hence, nationalism is conceptualised as a natural outcome of the renaissance.


  • The beginning of modernity was heralded by the onset of the social and religious reforms, which is popularly called the renaissance, following the European experience. 
  • Its beginning is traced to the efforts of Raja Ram Mohan Roy in Bengal to ameliorate the conditions of the life of women and to reform religious practices. 
  • In north India, it took root in the activities of Dayananda Saraswati and in Maharashtra in the Prarthana Samaj founded by M.G. Ranade and in Andhra Pradesh the movement initiated by Viresalingam.
  • A defining feature of all these movements was that they were all upper caste–class phenomena and catered to meet the social and spiritual demands of the newly emerging middle class.

Indian Renaissance and National Identity:

  • With the starting of fight against “oppressive caste system”, the Dalit section of society emerged to the forefront as the citizen of the country first and then belonging to some other community.
  • The infrastructural development that the British undertook, like railways, the system of communication and secular educational facilities enabled the Extremists and the Moderates later to make an appeal to the mass for an uprising.
  • Starting with Ram Mohan Roy, who championed the abolition of Sati, almost all reformers advocated the urgent need to free women from the shackles of moribund custom. This led to the women participation in the National freedom struggle initiated by Gandhiji.
  • The Indian intelligentsia realised the importance of combining political and cultural activities. Thus it brought into frame different sections of society above any religion, caste or gender. It enhanced the identity of every individual as a human first and hence coming to the stage of national identity from every direction.
  • Not only in the social sphere but even in art, culture and scientific field, the Renaissance brought a great deal of nationalistic feeling. In the field of painting, Abanindranath Tagore broke the domination of Victorian naturalism over Indian art and took inspiration from Mughal, Ajanta and Rajput paintings.

The evolution of an alternative cultural-ideological system and the regeneration of traditional institutions emerged as twin concerns of the socio-religious reform movements. It got expressed in a variety of ways like- attempts to reconstruct traditional knowledge, cultivation of vernacular languages, creation of an alternative system of education, defence of religion, efforts to regenerate Indian art and literature, emphasis on Indian food and dress, attempts to revitalise the Indian system of medicine and to probe the potentialities of pre-colonial technologies.   

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