India passed through conflict, crisis, misfortune and factional trouble in eighteenth century. Political uncertainty obstructed the progressive evolution of Indian culture.
The Britishers took advantages of the situation and exercised deep influence on nation's life and culture. India's response to British challenge constitutes an important feature of nineteenth century modern Indian history. It was a transition from medievalism to modern age. There was a mental awakening in India as a result of its contact with the forces of the west and no wonder the nation witnessed a remarkable socio-cultural upsurge.
The Renaissance of the 19th century awakened the people of the India from the slumber of lethargy and infused them with a spirit of search for liberation from bondage of slavery. Bipan Chandra observes, "Thoughtful Indians began to look for the strength and weakness of their society and for ways and means of removing the weaknesses.
While a large number of Indians refused to come to terms with the west and still put their faith in traditional Indian ideas and institutions, others gradually came to hold the elements of modern western thought that had to be imbedded for the regeneration of their society. They were impressed in particular by modern science and doctrines of reason and humanism. While differing on the nature and extent of reforms, nearly all the 19th century intellectuals shared the conviction that social and religious reforms were urgently needed."
Causes of Socio-Cultural Awakening
The most important factor which contributed to the socio-cultural awakening of the 19th century was impact of British rule on Indian economy and society. British imperialism brought political and administrative unification of the country.
They introduced uniform system of law and introduced methods of communication. British rule marked the collapse of traditional economic structure. The economic life and lot of the Indian people got interlinked. The exploitative character of the colonial economy contributed a lot to rise of national spirit .The highly centralized character of the British rule in India promoted the growth of nationalism.
The socio-cultural impact of British rule was tremendous and indeed it made a revolution in India.
The emergence of a new middle class, by product of western contact, played the role of creative minority and aimed at destroying all traditions which helped the emergence of awakened India. Infused by the spirit of nationalism and rationalism the powerful middle class made serious introspection and tried their best to purge the Indian society of its vices.
Another factor which helped the awakening was the coming of the Christian missionaries in India from the beginning of nineteenth century. These Christian missionaries spread education in different part of the country and undertook many welfare activities. Some section of Indian people became attracted to their creed.
The activities of missionaries and their satire and condemnation of Hindu religion resulted in strong conservative and rationalist reaction. While the orthodox and conservatives opposed Christianity doggedly, the liberals made introspection and tried to purge the inner weakness of their own religion.
The spread of Western education provided stimuli to socio-culture awakening. According to K.M. Panikar the introduction of English language helped the cause of unity in the country without which India would have been spilt into as many different units as there are languages in India. According to Naoroji, "The introduction of English education with its great, noble, elevating and civilizing literature and advanced science will for ever remain a monument of good work done in India." A.R. Desai points out that "the study of the English language unfolded the treasures of the democratic and nationalistic thought crystallized in precious scientific works."
The English educated young men criticized all Hindu traditions and customs and even drank intoxicant drinks to show that they were modern. But they tried to examine every aspect of life rationally and thus helped the process of modernization. The reformative zeal of the British Government reflected in removing caste disabilities and injustice done to the women in Indian society.
It made progressive forces inside the country to make a serious introspection. Press, newspapers and literature also contributed to the development of national awakening. The vitality of Indian culture also helped the advent and growth of Renaissance. Response of India to the crisis of the time had always been positive.
When India got the western impact modern Indian gladly accepted the positive features of the west and adapted them to the changing condition. Thus due to the combination of forces 19th century saw a new mental awakening that led to Renaissance in Indian thought. The rational spirit of Renaissance developed a desire for reform.