Empire and its Shadow: Myth of the Discovery of Indian Religion
Dr. Jitendra Kumar Suman
"The philosophical traveler, sailing to the end of the earth is in fact travelling in time he is exploring the past, every step he makes is the passage of an age". J.M. Degérando; Consideration on the diverse methods to follow in the observation of the Savage People (1800) "The people of India are rapidly emerging out of the darkness of ages into the light of present day civilization and the missionaries of India ask nothing more than simply to let the light of the world break through all obscure hindrances and shine freely upon the people of empire".James Mills Thoburn, The Christian Conquest of India, 1906 On 19 October, 1800 under the seal of approval by Napoleon Bonaparte, French explorer Thomas Baudin started for his expedition to New Holland (Australia). With two ships and nine Zoologist/Botanists, he was carrying a recently written work by Joseph Marie Degérando, Consideration on the diverse methods to follow in the observation of the savage people. Degérando’s work was laden with the new sentiment of eighteenth century Europe in which geographical discovery was intimately attached with exegetical discovery of biological (racial) and social man in other parts of world. Degérando in his work prescribed a definitional order for the study of the savage; first learn their language, second study their beliefs and values and finally individual studies should progress towards the holistic interpretation of the savage society. Eighteenth century Europe in its self-imagined newness was desperate to carve out a new order for nature and humanity in which the idea of time melded with the notion of progress and decadence, foisted upon the non-European world. Work like Degérando has written, throws light on the basic framework for the classification of world human population both racially as well as socially through the ethnological study of the non-European societies. The 18th century intellectual environment in Europe was signified by various changes in different parts of European existence. Emergence of new polity in the form of nation states and novel tendencies of reorganization of human knowledge like positivism/ Encyclopaedism stands as important changes, which initiated the process of rearrangement of mental geography of the human world. And as quoted above, modern European man appeared on the shores of the non-European world not merely as a traveler of geography but as nescient prophet of a new age, reorienting geographical distance as distance in time and difference as a sign of an age lost in time. But this reorientation was not based upon objective reality accessed by an unbiased mind as proposed in its new logico-rational diagrams. Gradually it emerged that like the deceptive Geocentric theory of the universe, close to Christian heart for a millennia, this new image of a non-European world is rooted in Euro-centric Judo-Christian tradition in which truth is not derived by an unbiased mind but rather it is more a process of legitimization under the garb of new knowledge with universal application. ‘Others’, the savages, were not merely observed but they were redefined to categorize in the larger scheme a European knowledge map, in which the land of “Others” is realigned as a European orbit, revolving around post-Renaissance western civilization.