Book Review: Renaissance and the 1857 Rebellion in the Hindi region




By Vir Bharat Talwar

2023, New Delhi, Vani Prakashan, Pp. 152, Rs. 399/-


Dr. Vir Bharat Talwar is a scholar of renaissance in the Hindi and North West India region. He retired as head of the department, Hindi, JNU. He has written several books on Hindi literature as related to social movements – in Jharkhand, and Western U. P. This book discusses some issues of the 19th century renaissance and the 1857 revolt, in Western U. P. and Punjab around a few personalities of that region.

There are 6 longish articles. The first three deal with renaissance. They are about personalities who are seen in a negative light by mainstream Hindi literature people. Talwar throws some light on the importance of studying them and their contribution to social causes. The remaining 3 articles deal with the meaning and assessment of the 1857 revolt. Here also he deals with controversial personalities like Sir Saiyyad Ahmed.


BAGAAWAT AUR WAFAADAARI NAVJAGRAN KE IRD GIRDShraddharam Phillouri: The character and importance of counter renaissance. He represents the Anti Renaissance as opposed to the renaissance led by Dayanand Saraswati of Arya Samaj, Brhamo Samaj and Prarthana Samaj. Renaissance in India in the 19th century was chiefly reforming Hinduism in the face of severe criticism by Christianity and resisted the spread of Christianity. The renaissance people were in favour of dropping out some of the religious texts and social practices of Hindu tradition. The anti-renaissance forces were against dropping out the texts and religious practices but supported some social reforms such as widow remarriage and increasing the age of marriage of girls. Socially the renaissance represented the new rising middle class, in Punjab the trading casts of the Khatris whereas the anti renaissance represented the Brahmin community whose livelihood depended upon these religious practices.

Shraddharam (1837-1881) lived only 43 years. He was born and died in Phillour town of Jalandhar district. He was a Joshi Saraswat Brahmin. He was an unusually talented and scholarly person. As a child he could write poems in Punjabi, was a very good swimmer, singer and he learnt magic and sleight of hand. He was a formidable scholar of Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu and Persian. He read voraciously and wrote thousands of pages. He was a good speaker and gave popular lectures on religion based on Indian scriptures. In Hindi he wrote a novel ‘Bhagyawati’ the most important book on social consciousness in the 19th century and the Punjab Education department included it in its books for girls’ education.

In his battles against renaissance he chased Dayanand Saraswati of Arya Samaj all over and gave parallel lectures. He showed that Dayanand Saraswati misquoted and distorted the Vedas according to his convenience and challenged him for theological debates which the latter refused!  Ultimately Shraddhanand’s movement died after his death and Arya Samaj flourished. The main reason was that his movement had a social basis of Brahmins whose income was limited to performing rituals and people were spending less on them. On the other hand Arya Samaj represented the new emerging trading castes of Khatris (bourgeoisie) who had regular income and could contribute money.

However renaissance and anti renaissance are born again and again. Witness recent attempts to remove Darwin’s teachings from schools in India!

Raja Shivaprasad ‘Sitarehind’ and Hindi Renaissance

He was the most important prose writer in Hindi in the 19th century and yet in Hindi literature he is known as villain. This was mainly because of the rivalry between him and Bharatendu Harishchandra’s group. Talwar underlines his contribution to Hindi literature and to the renaissance.

The heart of renaissance in the Hindi region was the Nagari Script, Hindi language and cow protection! Raja Shivaprasad was the first who demanded that the official script of North West Provinces be changed to Nagari and he gave a memorandum to the government. Since then the movement against Urdu script has been going on.  After 38 years it first tasted victory when the Nagari script was allowed along with Urdu. However the movement went on till 1947. This movement from its birth was related to Hindutva and was anti Muslim. Its communal character was evident from the memorandum mentioned above and scores of memorials given to the Hunter commission. Thus communalism in India was born with this renaissance!

Raja Shivaprasad belonged to a small sect of educated Hindus and they were all loyal servants of the company. The company also gave them jobs and honours like Sitarehind or Raja. Raja Shivaprasad was also a government servant in charge of the education department. He made Hindi a medium of education and took up the historic work of creating textbooks for school in all subjects – science, mathematics, history, geography and literature. His other great contribution was that he considered Hindi and Urdu as one language and even created a common grammar for them!

The Movement for Khadi Boli and Ayodhyaprasad Khatri

In the 19th century we come across a curious situation in Hindi. The prose was written in Khadi Boli (which is the local language spoken in the region of Meerut district in Western U. P.) and poetry in Braj (which is the local language spoken in the region of Agra-Mathura in Western U. P.) The poets believed that Khadi Boli does not have that kind sweetness or lyricism that Braj has. They often quote: the mother-in-law asks the daughter-in-law to move fast who is carrying water on her head. The daughter-in-law replies:

Mai ree! sar gagri (Mother, there is a pot on my head)

mag sankri, (the path is narrow)

pag kankri gadat hai! (small stones are hurting my feet).

What is modern Hindi?

Modern Hindi is the literary form of a language known as ‘Khadi Boli’.  Linguistically it shares a grammatical structure with Urdu and Dakhni. The latter exists in various forms throughout Western India, including Gujarat, Maharashtra, Northern Karnataka and Telangana. Hereinafter we will use the word Hindi to mean the literary form of Khadi Boli. This Hindi is called a daughter of Urdu and Urdu itself is called a daughter of Dakhni. This needs some explanation. When Wali Dakhni (also known as Wali Aurangabadi and Wali Gujarati), a famous Dakhni poet, visited Delhi in 1700, he astonished the poets of Delhi with his ghazals. He drew wide applause from the Persian-speaking poets, some of whom, after listening to Wali, also adopted the language of the people, Urdu, as the medium of their poetic expressions. Prominent poets—Shah Hatem, Shah Abro and Mir Taqi Mir—were among his admirers. At that time in Delhi, the court poets were composing in Persian and Arabic. The Hindus were using Braj for their poetry.1

So actually poetry was written in Khadi Boli for more than 100 years, only it was known as Urdu! So why did the Hindi author oppose writing poems in Khadi Boli/Hindi? It was a religio-political issue. By then Urdu got established as the language of Muslims and a separate language. The movement to fill up Hindi with Sanskrit words and remove Arabic and Persian words had begun. At the same time filling up Urdu with Arabic and Persian words and removing Sanskrit words also had begun.

However this was mainly in the North West Provinces. Ayodhyaprasad Khatri was in Bihar. Here the situation was different. Khatri himself believed that Urdu and Hindi were one language. In Bihar there was one Keshav Ram Bhatt. He was inspector of schools and brought out a journal called ‘Bihar Bandhu’ and he appointed Munshi Hasan Ali as its editor. Throughout the Hindi region no magazine came out so regularly and so long – 50 years – as this one did! He brought out another Urdu journal and made Babu Govind Charan as its editor. On the whole the kind of communalism that grew in the wake of ‘renaissance’ was only in the North West Provinces and Bihar escaped it.


Pradeep Saxena: 1857 and Renaissance

Pradeep Saxena has published a voluminous (476 pages) book on 1857 and renaissance. It has a huge compilation of information and sources on 1857 from East and West. Pradeep himself admits that under the pressure of material, the analysis has often been brief. Unfortunately it has also been a futile exercise in establishing a relation between the 19th century renaissance and the 1857 rebellion – a relation that does not exist! In the Hindi literature thanks to Ram Vilas Sharma there is an idea that renaissance was part of a democratic revolution against feudalism and imperialism and that the 1857 rebellion was a culmination of this democratic revolution! Nothing can be further from the truth. The so-called 19th century renaissance in the Hindi region was a movement for religious and social reform to prepare the society for the new situation created by British rule and Christianity. None of the protagonists of this renaissance were against the British. On the other hand the rebellion of 1857 was a culmination of local rebellions going against the East India Company for more than 100 year and it failed like all earlier rebellions did against the British. The events had different class bases. The renaissance people were Hindu and Muslim western educated youths who were trying to define a new cultural identity in the new socio-economic situation. All of them opposed the rebellion of 1857 except that they were horrified by the cruelty of British retaliation.

Rebellion and Faithfulness: 1857 and Sir Saiyyad Ahmed

Sir Saiyyad Ahmed Khan was a very faithful employee of the British Raj – first of the East India Company and later of the British Empire. During the 1857 rebellion he saved the Englishmen and women risking his own life. The British also awarded him with the honour of ‘Sir’.

Sir Saiyyad belonged to an aristocracy of Muslims in Delhi and was a good historian. He wrote his first book at the age of 20 about old buildings, forts, palaces and people of Delhi and later he created a list of 203 Kings of Delhi from Yudhishtar to the present. He was made an honorary member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Britain.

Within a year of the 1857 rebellion he wrote a book on it and he sent its copies to the Queen of England and a copy to the Viceroy Lord Canning. It gave a detailed analysis of the rebellion and gave a series of advices to the British. The government took it seriously and got it translated into English. It was a good critic of British rule but he also mentioned the good points of British rule.

The other great achievement of Sir Saiyyad was to serve his community of Muslims. After the rebellion the retaliation by the British was so horrendous that it shook the whole community. It was particularly directed against the Muslims. Saiyyad went into a great depression. However after his wife died he resolved to serve his community to face the modern world. He started three societies: 1. Scientific Society (1864), 2. British Indian Association (1866) and 3.The Aligarh Mohammedan Oriental College (1877). It later became the Aligarh Muslim University. Thus the rebellion gave rise to a genuine renaissance among the Muslim community!

Changes in Hindi-Urdu Region after 1857

Several important changes occurred after 1857, mainly to correct some glaring mistakes of the Company Raj and some social changes. The first changes were in the army where Dalits were given preference instead of upper castes. Then there were changes in land revenue systems and the policy of appeasement of Muslims was also started. The two important social changes that came were: a genuine social reform and renaissance in learning science and modern knowledge. And finally 50 years later 1857 became a symbol of India’s struggle for independence with the 20th century national movement. And lastly, we have inherited the problem of Hindu-Muslim communalism!

Concluding Remarks

This is a review in English about a book in Hindi about the Hindi region of 19th century. The book is primarily of interest to people from Hindi literature and those Hindi intellectuals who have some interest in the 19th century history. What use is it for the English reader? To begin with, most Indian intellectuals today are bilingual, including Hindi intellectuals. They often talk and write in English also. Then there are many non Hindi intellectuals who live in the Hindi region, particularly in Delhi but also in other cities in central government services or institutes or industry. There is often heated discussion about North – South among these two groups. It is hoped that an informed discussion will shed some light on these discussions and lead to better understanding.


  1. T. Vijayendra, Hindi has arrived!


About the Author

T Vijayendra (1943 – ) was born in Mysore, grew up in Indore and went to IIT Kharagpur to get a B. Tech. in Electronics (1966). After a year’s stint at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kolkata, he got drawn into the whirlwind times of the late 60s.

Since then, he has always been some kind of political-social activist. His brief for himself is the education of Left wing cadres and so he almost exclusively publishes in the Left wing journal Frontier, published from Kolkata. For the last ten years, he has been active in the field of ‘Peak Oil’ and is a founder member of Peak Oil India and Ecologise. Since 2015 he has been involved in Ecologise! Camps and in 2016 he initiated Ecologise Hyderabad. In 2017 he spent a year celebrating the Bicentenary of the Bicycle. Vijayendra has been a ‘dedicated’ cyclist all his life, meaning, he neither took a driving license nor did he ever drive a fossil fuel-based vehicle.

He divides his time between organic farms at several places in India, watching birds, writing fiction and Hyderabad. He has published a book dealing with resource depletion, three books of essays, two collections of short stories, a novella, an autobiography, a children’s science fiction about the history of the bicycle and several booklets. His booklet, Kabira Khada Bazar Mein: Call for Local Action in the Wake of Global Emergency (2019, has been translated into Kannada, Bengali and Marathi and is the basic text for the emerging Transition Networks in these language regions. His last book ‘Vijutopias’, which has 12 short stories, is an entertaining book full of hope and energy in these dismal times.

Email: [email protected]

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