New Delhi: Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, fondly called Debi da , is one of the most renowned philosopher, humanist and scientific thinkers of modern India. He was a staunch lover of reason and a secularist to the core. He often referred to some of his opponents as drumbeaters, who want to return to antiquity, myth and mythology. Born on 19 November , Chattopadhyaya belonged to an illustrious family of undivided Bengal.
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Current Style: Standard. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya who passed away recently was a towering intellectual who opened the path for Indian Marxists in their endeavors in search of their own philosophy. He can be compared only with another pioneer in the Marxist research into the problems of science and history- the late D.
Though basically a scholar in Mathematics and other exact sciences, Kosambi showed the way for the subsequent generations of Marxist historians in India, Chattopadhyaya for his part was basically a philosopher who used his erudition for such dedicated service to the cause of research that he became the pioneer, and so far the unrivalled proponent, of Marxism in Indian philosophy.
I had the privilege of reviewing some of his valuable works to one of which I refer in the course of this article. I however did not dare make a serious review of the original work which made him famous in India and abroad- Lokayata.
Nor did I have the occasion to go into such other masterly works of his as What is living and what is dead in Indian philosophy , History of Science and Technology in Ancient India , and above all, Global philosophy for Everyman. I therefore propose in this article to deal briefly with these major works. Brought out in in its first edition, it received warm welcome in academic circle in India and abroad.
It is truly extraordinary that we should have approached ancient Chinese and ancient Indian civilizations with such similar results. Of course, I am not competent to criticise your presentation but I can only say that it strikes me as exceedingly convincing. Chattopadhyaya not only reconstructs it but also provides an explanation of the same on the basis of Marxist analysis of social phenomena.
A new effort almost entirely. Like an eminent archeologist, the author has gathered with great care the fragments of debris lying here and there to reconstruct an old monument of the past. Lokayata was a truly path-breaking work. It dissipated the falsehood that, while the West has always been materialist, India has been spiritual- a story spread both by the ideologues of the foreign rulers as well as by the Hindu revivalists in India.
Going through voluminous material, he showed that Lokayata , or the materialist philosophy of the common people, was in existence in the pre-Vedic culture of the Indus Valley civilization. Coming to this conclusion, he explained its significance for the subsequent development of Indian culture and philosophy. He says in the introduction:. My answer is simple enough.
Its value is comparable to the recognition of primitive communism in Marxism. The Marxists emphasise the importance of primitive communism not because they dream of a return to it. The purpose is rather to show that private property and the state machinery are not external adjuncts to human existence. They will fall as inevitably as they arose at an earlier stage.
Yet, it has its value by way of showing that the spiritualistic outlook is not innate in man. It too will be finally washed way as inevitably as it arose at an earlier stage.
If the spiritualistic outlook came into being, it will also, along with the social separation between manual and mental level, pass away. This has some particular relevance for the understanding of the Indian philosophical tradition.
For, we are never tired of listening that spiritualism is an inherent view of Indian thought. Ploughing thorough enormous material and interpreting them, he comes to the conclusion that it is a society where the separation between labour and thought had not been brought about.
Furthermore, the society existing at that time both in the era of Lokayata and of the Vedic tradition was basically tribal, with its collective labour, collective thinking, collective arts and culture. There was however one difference between the Lokayata and the Vedic society. The former was agricultural and matriarchal; the latter was pastoral and patriarchal.
The re-capitulation of the arguments advanced in the first chapter of the book is as follows:. It also means the philosophy which is this-worldliness or instinctive materialism.
The original works of the Lokayatikas being lost beyond any prospect of recovery, we have got to reconstruct them mainly on the basis of the reference to them found in the writings of their opponents…By Lokayata was meant those popular and obscure beliefs and practices that are particularly referred to as Tantrism. Spiritual and other worldly ideas were subsequently superimposed on Tantrism but original Tantrism , like the more philosophical version known as Sankhya , was aesthetic and materialistic.
Those who claimed in the later times to be the champions of the Vedic tradition were full of contempt for Tantrism mainly because of this. Yet these same elements strongly criticized the ancient Vedic outlook itself.
Therefore, the presumption is that these had originally some significance other than what the modern mind is hastily inclined to attribute to them.
The problem of the ancient Lokayata thus becomes largely the problem of finding out the original significance. The exceedingly interesting story of how the original Lokayata was supplanted by the early Vedas the latter by the subsequent Vedas which in turn were supplanted by the Upanishads , and how there was resistance to every such change from the preceding philosophical outlook, is narrated in the subsequent chapters.
These historical developments in the field of philosophy had their basis and origin in the history of social development- the disintegration of the originally tribal socio-economic system, the emergence of the new system of Dwija-Sudra Varnas , the further development of this system into the new complex system of castes and sub-castes dominated by the Dwijas , leading to the emergence of the Brahmin-dominated caste system against which there was furious resistance as shown by the widespread movement led by the Budhist and Jaina philosophy as well as by the less widespread Carvaka philosophy, is told in the book.
The Nastika philosophers who refused to recognize the authority of the Vedas including the Lokayatikas had thus to fight a continuous struggle against the Astikas who recognized the authority of the Vedas. These two trends of philosophical thinking fighting among themselves was the specific Indian form in which classes and class struggle emerged in ancient India and continued in the medieval and even modern times.
The ideological struggle between the present-day spiritualism and materialism is thus theoretical manifestation of the social struggle, i. This means that the struggle waged by Indian materialism against Indian spiritualism and idealism had not only many shades of differences in ancient days, but there are conflicts between modern materialism Marxism and modern idealism and spiritualism.
We the representatives of modern materialism Marxism are not enamoured of the ancient and medieval forms of materialism as is seen in the Lokayata , the early Vedas , the Buddhist , the Jain , the Carvaka and the Sankhya philosophies. They all have their deficiencies from the point of view of modern materialism Marxism.
Nevertheless, we recognized the importance of the struggle between the proto-materialism of the Lokayatikas and the early Vedas as well as the subsequent trends of materialist philosophy seen in the Buddhist , the Jain , the Carvaka , the Sankhya and other ancient and medieval materialist philosophies in India. While we value them all, we want to integrate their valuable teachings with the tenets and theoretical principles of modern materialism Marxism.
I felt the same in when there was the proposal for its second edition. But then I did nottry this for I could see that the new material I wanted to add and the way in which I wanted to reformulate my arguments called for so much change that it was preferably done in the form of a separate book altogether. In the preface to the second edition I actually promised such a book to the readers suggesting for it the title: Further studies in Indian Materialism.
However, when he started writing the new book, he realised how very wrong he was. Firstly, it needs also the work of clearing up a huge heap of intellectual interpretation of the Indian philosophical tradition…..
Secondly, the more I tried to work out the materialist tradition in Indian philosophy, the more clearly did I see that this could not be done without some account of its anti-thesis in Indian philosophy, or more specifically of the tradition of the world-denying idealism.
If the history of Indian philosophy meant the history of a more or less continuous philosophical activity stretched over a period of about two thousand five hundred years i. Besides, with this basic struggle was related a number of collateral philosophical positions. Thus, just as the materialist trend was always committed to secularism, rationalism and science-orientation, the idealistic trend had for its correspondence mysticism, obscurantism and scripture-orientation. From the point of view of this basic struggle the picture that seems to emerge by the Indian philosophical tradition has a great significance for the understanding of the basic ideological struggle still going on.
It was out of these new insights into the problems of and situations in Indian philosophy that he decided to change the title from Further Studies in Indian Materialism to What is Living and What is Dead in Indian Philosophy. While thus being a continuation of the earlier Lokayata, the new book, What is Living and What is Dead in Indian Philosophy , is entirely new.
Covering the same ground as in the earlier work, the latter work systematically expounds the theories of idealism and materialism. It is in Part-IV under the title allied problems, together with Part-I dealing with methodology that the author deals systematically with the existence of dialectics in Indian philosophy. For all that we know, however, in the Upanishadic period itself, there developed a strong trend at least among a section of philosophers to disparage Vako Vakya as something of more dominant value.
But such an attitude does not stifle the art of debate and eventual development of Indian logic from it, thanks mainly to the ancient Indian science and scientific methods.
Their earliest available work- the huge Caraka Samhita compiled not later than A. The work on ancient Indian medicine raises and answers these questions and thus builds up the original core of Indian logic or proto-logic. This is the beginning of dialectics in Indian philosophy. But unlike the Greek dialago, the Indian logic does not have the tripod of thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis. Its place is taken by Poorva Paksha and Sidhanta Paksha. The difference between Greek dialagos and Indian Logic is this: in Greek dialogo, out of the clash between thesis and anti-thesis a synthesis emerges which in its turn, becomes a new thesis which creates its own anti-thesis.
So synthesis at one stage becoming the thesis in the next stage is the process through which the unending process of development of ideas takes place in Greek dialectics. India on the other hand has a simple logic in which the Poorva Paksha is fought against and defeated by the Sidhanta Paksha. This reflects the actual process of the idealism, which became consolidated towards the end of the Vedic period, into the Vedanta system defeating materialism.
Materialism which is the anti-thesis of idealism, having been defeated, there is no further progress in philosophical thinking.
This is how stagnation starts both in Indian society and in the philosophical thinking of India. The objective basis of this defeat of materialsim at the hands of idealism lies in the fact that the class struggle in the form of Dwijas-Sudras has come to an end with the consolidation of the power of Dwijas and the defeat of the Sudras - a point which is further explained by Chattopadhyaya in some of his subsequent writings.
But this does not mean that in Indian philosophy they are its only representatives nor that they- throughout the long history of Buddhism as religion and philosophy-invariably represented the view with the same enthusiasm. Outside the strict circle of the Buddhists there are distinct tendencies to look at everything as perpetually changing- ceaselessly coming into being and passing away. But such tendencies do not have an impact on Indian thought comparable to that of the Buddhist theory of universal flux.
Again, among the Buddhists, the theory has a complex history. There are even tendencies to disown it altogether. Nevertheless, even those among the Buddhists who want in fact to flout it are obliged to pretend that they are working out some novel interpretations of it, as it were. An outright formal rejection of the view proved practically impossible consistent with the claim of basic evolution of the teachings of the Buddha- so vital is the relevance of the view for Buddhism.
While thus the Lokayatas were the most consistent representatives of the materialist trend in philosophy, the Buddhists were more consistent in thier dialectical world outlook. The Lokayatikas in their materialism and the Buddhists in thier dialectics plus materialism were the most developed among Indian philosophers, showing that ancient Indian philosophy had the potential of developing into the philosophy of modern dialectical materialism, provided the socio-economic and political conditions were mature.
In fact, however, these conditions were not only not mature but their further evolution was positively hampered by the development of the Indian version of class struggle- the domination of the Dwijas over the Sudras -which, in its turn, prepared the soil on which whatever was materialistic and dialectical in ancient Indian philosophy was destroyed.
This was the beginning of the socio-political stagnation that took India away from the natural historical development that took place in European countries following the development of the Greek dialectics and Greek materialism. The third major work produced by Chattopadhyaya to which we desire to draw the attention of the readers is Science and Society in Ancient India. Although the title makes it appears as if he is making a survey of all the sciences in ancient India and the social background against which they arose, the book in fact concerns itself only with the science of medicine.
Extensively quoting from the two major works of ancient medicine, Caraka Samhita and Susruta Samhita Chattopadhyaya shows how the ancient doctors based themselves on the material world, rather than any divine knowledge. We would like to give a quotation from Caraka Samhita to illustrate the point:. This tendency towards discordance of the body elements again is brought about by their hypertrophy or atrophy, whether partial or complete.
Therefore, medicine is that which, when rightly administered, becomes at the same time a harmonizing of the increased or decreased body elements. What interests us however is to see how the theoreticians of medical science did pioneering work not only in formulating the problem but also in developing some conceptual tools for solving it. Such a materialist outlook and the scientific conclusions drawn from the empirical study of the overcoming of nature including the human body, explained by Chattopadhyaya, had prerequisites for developing into modern science provided it was allowed to develop.
Such a development was not allowed.
Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, the Marxist who explained philosophy by linking it with science
He subsequently went on to pursue the study of the beginnings of scientific thought in ancient India between the period of what historians call the two urbanizations. On his birth centenary, this essay explores the issues discussed in his work, the reception of his ideas amongst historians of science, and their contemporary salience. Keywords : Ancient India; materialism, idealism, urbanization, scientific thought. More than two decades have gone by, and yet it appears not too long ago that my colleague S.
He made contributions to the exploration of the materialist current in ancient Indian philosophy. He is also known for work on history of science and scientific method in ancient India , especially his book Science and Society in Ancient India on the ancient physicians Charaka and Sushruta. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan , India's third highest civilian honour, posthumously, in Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya was born on 19 November in Calcutta.