British Enlightenment In 18th Century India

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Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of India, had set the tone of British administration in India. He was a colonialist, conqueror and an administrator; but unlike past conquerors, Hastings belonged to an intellectually vivacious generation. He and some of his colleagues like William Jones and Nathaniel Halhed were part of the British Enlightenment led by men like Samuel Johnson (whom Hastings knew intimately), Benjamin Franklin, Adam Smith, David Hume and others. The ideas of this period of 18th century Britain, the advent of scientific thought, the challenge to religious dogma and the celebration of reason above faith would change not just Europe but ultimately the entire world. It was these men of the British Enlightenment who first came to rule India. They were smug in the notion of their superiority, proud of their achievements and patronising towards others but they were imbued with the spirit of discovery and intellectual achievements. The initial impetus to scholarship, the study of antiquities and intellectual respect for ancient cultures would colour, though not define, the remainder period of British rule in India. The spirit of the English Enlightenment would rub off on Indians with profound consequences. One impact of early British discoveries of the Indian people was the decision to promote traditional learning and ideas, refrain from interfering in religious and social issues and apply local laws in the administration of justice. Halhed’s book on Hindu

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