hesitantly. It was not, in other words, a revolutionary change, since the
British officials considered themselves “as inheritors rather than innovators,
as the revivers of a decayed system”.
Beginning of Orientalism The initial image of India in the West was that
of past glory, accompanied by an idea of degeneration. There was a desire to
know Indian culture and tradition, as reflected in the attempts of scholars like
Sir William Jones, who studied the Indian languages to restore to the Indians
their own forgotten culture and legal system—monopolised hitherto only by
the learned Hindu pundits and Muslim maulvis. By establishing a linguistic
association between Sanskrit, Greek and Latin—all supposedly belonging to
the same Indo-European family of languages—Jones honored India with an
antiquity equal to that of the classical West. This was the start of the
Orientalist tradition that resulted in the founding of institutions like the
Calcutta Madrassa (1781), the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1784) and the
Sanskrit College in Banaras (1794), all of which were meant to promote the
study of Indian languages and scriptures.
Influence of Orientalism Orientalism manifested itself initially in the
policies of the Company’s government under Warren Hastings. The basic
premise of this tradition was that the conquered people were to be ruled by
their own laws, i.e., British rule had to “legitimise itself in an Indian idiom”.
Consequently, it needed to produce knowledge about Indian society, a
process sometimes referred to as “reverse acculturation”.
It familiarised the European rulers of the customs and laws of the land for the
purposes of assimilating them into the subject society for more efficient
administration. It was this motive that led Lord Wellesley to establish Fort
William College at Calcutta in 1800, to train civil servants in Indian
languages and tradition.
Orientalism also had another political aspect. By establishing the classical
relationship between the British and the Indians, the latter were sought to be
morally bound to colonial rule through a rhetoric of “love”. But if the
Orientalist discourse was initially premised on a respect for ancient Indian
traditions, it eventually produced a knowledge about the subject society,
which prepared the ground for finally, the rejection of Orientalism as a policy
of governance.