The current year marks the 1200th birth anniversary of Adi Shankara. On this occasion, we publish an article by E.M.S. Namboodiripad which situates Shankara*s philosophy within the development of the Indian society. The struggle between idealism and materialism in the Indian context, the author argues, was an expression in the realm of ideas of the specifically Indian variant of class-struggle, namely between a minority of upper-castes, the dwijas, and the mass of common people. The victory of Shankara's philosophy over the Buddhist materialists* marked simultaneously a victory of the upper castes whose theoreticians had been champions of idealism. This very victory however entailed a set-back for the development of Indian science, and the beginning of the decline of India's civilisation and culture.
The contrast with Europe is striking here. While the Renaissance in Europe resulted in an enhancement of the status of the craftsman, and a bridging of the gap between 'aristocratic theory' and 'plebeian practice', providing the foundation for subsequent momentous advances in science, technology and social development, the decisive victory of the upper castes in India, thanks to the brilliance of Shankara's philosophical contribution backed by the social and political might of such castes, led not only to the dominance of an anti-scientific idealist outlook which remains powerful to this day, but also to an ossified social structure which paved the way for the subjugation of the country by colonial rule.
This contrast is also the theme of the note by Javeed Alam, who argues that the process of 'de-sacralisation' of all aspects of social life, which was a result of the Renaissance epistemology in Europe, never really occurred in India. Philosophy here could never emerge out of the shadow of religion; a conception of man's world as having been created as his own handiwork could never take root; the liberation of the individual from thraldom to a concept of community whose ultimate sanction derived from religion could never be achieved. As a result, the quest for historical roots for an Indian Renaissance ends up in Revivalism rather than in a Renaissance. The author calls therefore for an abandonment of the concern for 'roots', and advocates a 'future-centredness', an emphasis on 'tasks' rather than 'roots', whereby we can