January , 2019
Constructing national consciousness in Gujarati literature
16:06 pm

Padma Shri Professor Dr. Ravindra Kumar

The history of Indian literature is not confined to one thousand years only as has been established in case of Hindi literature by Acharya Ramachandra Shukla in his work entitled, Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas –History of Hindi literature. The history of Indian literature goes to the remote past. It could be found much before the beginning of the Christian era. Much before the emergence and development of the most ancient languages, Indian literature introduced to the world the core spirit of Indianness –the Indian way, which is entirely dedicated to the large scale welfare of humanity and is itself the principal motivator of national consciousness.     

Literature of every country reflects national consciousness. But the manner in which Indian literature has been explicitly emerging as a messenger of Indianness – the Indian way and a foremost source of national consciousness – is a matter of pride for all Indians. India is a multilingual nation. There are so many languages that are being spoken. In the Indian literature in diverse languages, in poetry and prose both, one can not only catch a glimpse of national consciousness, but also can absorb the elevating spirit of nationalism – national consciousness. Gujarati is one such language that holds a unique place among the major languages of India. It has been developed from the Devabhasha Sanskrit and is, thus, a progeny of the greater Indo-Aryan language family. The history of the present developed form of

Gujarati goes back to the twelfth century AD. There is also evidence of excellent literary activities in Gujarati in the eleventh century AD. The history of Gujarati literature, as litterateurs proclaim, is divided in various periods of which the following three are worth mentioning - first period (up to 1450 AD); medieval period (from 1450 to 1850); and modern period (from 1850 to present)

Narsinh Mehta, popularly known as Narsi Mehta (1414-88), one of the great poets of the Bhaktikal (the Bhakti movement), who is recognised as the first poet of Gujarati also, beautifully presented through his works (approximately one dozen in number including Harmala, Suratsangram and Govindagaman) before common people the doctrine of universal unity of the Vaishnava Dharma which is a reflection of humanism. Likewise, many others of the same era through their socio-cultural and spiritual compositions and literatures worked for awakening the masses leading to the national consciousness.  

The above-mentioned truth becomes apparent in the literary works of so many poets-writers of the Navjagrankal –renaissance period, especially Narmadashankar Lalshankar Dave (Narmad, 1833-86), who for the time in the year 1880 AD put forth his views in favour of making Hindi as the Rashtrabhasha –national language of India and who, like Bharatendu Harishchandra in Hindi, is known as the leading initiator of the new spirit in Gujarati in the first phase of the Navjagrankal and is considered to be the founder of modern Gujarati literature. The spirit of nationalism remained the foremost in Narmad’s literature. The era of Narmad is called as the Narmadyug and a renowned literary figure like Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi had called Narmad the Adya of the Arvaacheen of the Gujarati literature. Karan Ghelo, a historical Gujarati novel by Nandshankar Tuljashankar Mehta (1835-1905 AD) was also published in the Navjagrankal in 1866 and it was indeed the first original novel in Gujarati depicting Karan, the last Vaghela ruler of Gujarat (1296–1305 AD) who was defeated by the forces of Allauddin Khilji in 1298. Dalpatram Dahyabhai Travadi (1820-98) was another leading and notable literary figure of Gujarati who as a progressive poet and creative writer (Shrey, Bapani Pinpar and Farbesvilas are among his notable works) raised his voice especially through his poetic works, on issues related to the down-trodden. In Indian literature of the Navjagrankal, prose and poetry both, the spirit of nationalism or national consciousness could be seen categorically, it does not matter if the literature focuses on idealism or reality, spirituality or mystery, or humanism. The same reality becomes apparent in a beautiful manner in Gujarati literature as well. This aspect of national consciousness remained not only intact in Gujarati literature in the modern period –the Gandhian era, but it also propagated the spirit of nationalism in new dimensions as per the demand of time and space. The literary works of leading poets and writers of the era like Umashankar Jethalal Joshi (1911-88), Venibhai Jamnadas Purohit (1916-80), Balmukund Manishankar Dave (1916-93) and Niranjan Narhari Bhagat (1926-2018) bear a testimony to this fact.

Mahatma Gandhi himself emerged as a forerunner of national consciousness through his literature –writings in Gujarati in the modern era. His two world famous books namely, Hind Swaraj and An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth and so many articles especially in Navajivan on socio-cultural, political, educational-intellectual and economic issues played a revolutionary role in the mass awakening. Not a single issue related to human life remained untouched from his three decades’ (1918-48) continuous writings, which eventually worked as a Sanjivani towards the national awakening –consciousness for the freedom of the country. His works are the source of great inspiration even today for those concerning nationalism –national awakening, consciousness and unity. In very short, along with others Mahatma Gandhi himself remained in the forefront for the mass awakening –national consciousness in the emerging era through the Gujarati literature.

In his public writings Gandhiji repeatedly called on the compatriots to have valour and courage for their self-respect. Fearlessness is the true identity of a man. Never bending before injustice and maintaining unity with fellow beings is the basic message of Indian philosophy –Indianness (Bharatiyata) and the Indian way. Despite different faiths of people, unity –firm belief in one nation, Bharat, is the way of inculcating national consciousness. To quote just one paragraph from Hind Swaraj, “Hindustan was an (inclusive) nation and it is so even today. (All) are native brothers here. (All of them) have to live for one-another.” To quote from one of his writings reflecting his proud love and dedication for Hindustan and its reconstruction on the strength of mass awakening, “My patriotism is subservient to my Dharma. I cling to India like a child to its mother’s breast, because I feel that she gives me the...nourishment I need. She has the environment that responds to my highest aspirations.”

Along with Mahatma Gandhi, the name of Kanaiyalal Maniklak Munshi (1887-1971), who besides being a veteran freedom fighter, statesman and educationist was a renowned Gujarati writer of the modern era is also worth mentioning. Munshi was also a leading Hindi scholar and thinker, and the founder of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan with the sole purpose of getting Indians familiar with the basics of Indian culture, Indology and literature eventually to pave the way to develop nationalism in countrymen –to fill people with the spirit of national consciousness. Through his more than one hundred works, historical novels and other writings (especially Bhagavan Parasurama, Gujaratno Nath, Gujaratni Kirtigatha, Jay Somanth, Krishnavatara, Lomaharshini, Lopamudra, Patanni Prabhuta, Prithivivallabh etc.), Munshi added to the treasures of Indian history, national culture and social literature keeping therein the spirit of nationalism as the nucleus. In this regard he also contributed unique and ever inspiring write ups one after the other. Mentioning the contribution of Swami Vivekananda in developing the spirit of nationalism in people he called on Indians to learn from Swamiji’s views on culture, human-equality and unity, national values and responsibility for all progressive causes and spiritualism, and to work for the nation accordingly. Munshi said that Swami Vivekananda took us back to the fundamental values of our culture and brought (Paramasatya) God into our life. Munshi further said, “We could pay a true homage that could be paid to Swamiji if we follow his message of protecting cultural values of India and work with commitment accordingly for rebuilding the nation.”   

Along with Gujarati, Munshi also worked for popularising Hindi. The present generation may not be aware that by extending his invaluable support to Munshi Premchand for the Hans magazine he in the long run contributed to the cause of national unity. He also played a decisive role in provision of establishing Hindi as the Rajbhasha in the Constitution. Through their literary contribution in Gujarati, Gandhiji and Munshiji, both, worked in consonance towards reinventing the basic spirit of Indian philosophical tradition. In place of ‘status quo’, ‘perpetuity’ or ‘as it is’, they, through their literature, worked for mass awakening –to strengthen nationalism and national consciousness according to the demand of prevailing situation of space. More especially, through their writings on social, political and cultural issues they adopted a broad and progressive outlook and, thus, followed the true spirit of Indianness –the Indian way. Their approach and strategy are, therefore, still relevant and worth adopting.

Thoughts-views are the subject of refinement and modifi-cation as per the demand of time and space. It is a continuous process. Without following the system of the West blindly, not to discard the good even in the external, protecting indigenous values, cultural heritage and national interest through literature remained intact in writings of the both, Gandhiji and Munshiji. For strengthening the cause of the nation – mass awakening for national consciousness, their efforts especially through Gujarati literature remained extraordinary and exemplary. We, Indians, can take pride in their works and can still learn from them while re-exploring ways of strengthening the nation.

  Dr. Ravindra Kumar is a Former Vice Chancellor of Meerut University, he is also the Editor of Global Peace International Journal.

[The view expressed here are personal and don’t reflect those of the government]


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