How to Make Nationalistic Values Inspiring for Students

M. Pramod Kumar


The author is a young exponent of Indian culture and an assistant professor at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Coimbatore. This paper was presented at IFIH’s seminar on Indian Nationalism.


I. Introduction

In the Indian educational context, Nationalism is rarely treated as a distinct subject to be taught to the students. At best, it is considered a subset of history lessons or equated with patriotic fervour which the students are expected to imbibe at home, or through extra-curricular activities. The concept of nationalism is usually introduced to the students only while teaching the history of the Indian Freedom Struggle against the British, glossing over the essential features of Indian Nationalism and focussing disproportionately on the significance of some leaders or events.

The objective of this paper is to present the central role that Indian Nationalism will have to play in the educational system if value-orientation of the students is to be meaningful and complete. An attempt to delineate practical methods of teaching nationalism to students, in an inspiring way, will follow.

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A Neglected Fundamental Duty

It is agonising to note that while the Indian Constitution makes it incumbent on every citizen “to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom,” 1 the teaching of nationalism in schools has become a matter of political partisanship. The Communist group in India has been relentless in its attempts to make nationalism a dirty word. An example of this came to light recently during a debate on the National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE), 2002 in the Supreme Court. During the debate, the West Bengal Government’s question paper, set for the state’s inter-school higher secondary test was read out where students were asked to write an essay on any one of the following topics: 2

  • “National Unity and integrity are false political slogans”

  • “In Hindustan, there is no place for Hindu and Hindi”

  • “Democracy is a conspiracy”

  • “Red Flag in Red Fort is the demand of Hindustan”


While it might be argued that this could be an extreme example, the pronounced indifference to nationalistic values in the educational system is no less criminal in effect. Contrasting this with the repeated assertions by apex constitutional bodies, such as the Supreme Court, stressing the importance of imparting nationalistic values to students, makes it amply clear that a deliberate disregard of the foundations of Indian Nationalism has become an important postulate of political correctness. For instance, consider the counsel of the S. B. Chavan Committee’s report (which was appointed by the Parliament in 1996):


In view of the diverse character of our country, it is essential that certain National Values are also imbibed by our young students. They should be acquainted with the history of India’s freedom struggle, cultural heritage, constitutional obligations and the features comprising our national identity. The Committee feels that some of these national values can be imparted indirectly at the primary stage while at the middle and secondary level, these can be included in the curriculum. 3

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The De-Indianizing Educational System

The cause of the neglect suffered by Indian Nationalism in school curriculum lies in the general de-Indianizing character of the present educational framework. The failure of such anglicised methods in helping Indian students appreciate the depth and diversity of our national heritage was pointed out time and again by thinkers like Sri Aurobindo and Rabindranath Tagore. However, Indians are not yet fully awake to the dangers of such de-Indianization:


The mind of our educated community has been brought up within the enclosure of the modern Indian educational system. It has grown as familiar to us as our own physical body, unconsciously giving rise in our mind to the belief that it can never be changed. Our imagination dare not soar beyond its limits; we are unable to see it and judge it from outside. We neither have the courage nor the heart to say that it has to be replaced by something else.... 4


Thus, the Macaulayan educational framework has become a disguised tool of anti-nationalism which can be countered only through fundamental changes in the educational approach and methodology.

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Nationalism is the Keynote of Value-Oriented Education

The purpose of value-oriented education, all of us will agree, is to nurture young students to develop into mature citizens who will embody the highest ideals that India has stood for on the world stage. Hence, any attempt to impart values to students, bereft of a sense of national history and uprooted from our cultural moorings, will not achieve the desired effect. I have in view, particularly, the subject called “Moral Science” that has been in vogue in many public schools in India, with the notion of introducing values to students, as universal and “secular” doctrines. These are, in fact, characteristically Indian to a large extent, such as doing pranām to parents and elders in the morning, reverence for animal and plant life etc.

We are also aware that students do not like moral codes to be imposed on them without being taught the how and why of such disciplines. It is my contention that teaching Indian history and culture to students in an uplifting manner is the best and also the most natural way of imparting values.

We may adopt a working definition of Indian Nationalism, for our purpose, as an assertive spiritual force that motivates Indians to preserve and promote the best that India can offer to world civilizations. The role of teachers and educationists then, must be, to communicate this force to the students and mould their character in the light of nationalistic values. Thus, Indian Nationalism becomes the keynote of value-oriented education.

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Voice of the Students

Dry, uninspiring textbooks written by ideologues of the Old Left with their deep-seated aversion to Indian Nationalism have impoverished several generations of students. There is a palpable feeling of discontent all over the country at the way history in particular, and other subjects in general, are being taught at schools. And yet, there is one voice missing in all the debates on education — the voice of the students themselves.

Students ought to be consulted on such important practical aspects of education, as it is they who will enjoy or suffer the outcome of any changes in the educational system. They have not been sufficiently given, until now, an opportunity to present their feelings and suggestions regarding curriculum content and teaching methods. Hence, reference may be made here to an ongoing survey of students being conducted by the International Forum For India’s Heritage. Having been involved in the design and implementation of this survey, I may say confidently that Indian students are eager to learn more of India’s cultural heritage, provided they are given an opportunity to do so meaningfully and that it does not become part of the routine boredom of classrooms. 5

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II. Practical Nationalism

It is time for us to explore fresh and original methods of educating the students, to make use of our rich literary and artistic heritage in conveying the spirit of Indian Nationalism. At a recent seminar in Chennai on “Writing History,” historians and history teachers presented a thorough summary of the desired changes in the teaching methods: 6

  • History must be based on fact, free from personal prejudices. An objective, non-motivated picture of Indian history was felt to be the need of the hour.

  • Presentation of history in the textbooks should be made interesting, brief and lively. The focus should be on the essence, not on laborious facts and dates which have to be simply memorised.

  • Textbooks should be updated whenever new discoveries alter the understanding of history.

  • Good communication skills are essential for writing and teaching history.

  • Computer simulation methodologies must be utilised in teaching history


All these suggestions are equally relevant to the teaching of Nationalism and also other subjects. Techniques which help in developing a profound and reverential relationship with our land, rivers & forests, our culture, customs and social organisation, our diverse sāmpradāyās — all these can be effective tools in imparting nationalistic values. Presenting various aspects of our heritage in a lively manner through modern technology and media will prove to be a trend-setting theme for educationists and students alike. Some practical methodologies are outlined below:

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Pictorial Textbooks and the Story Tradition

There is a growing awareness among educationists, teachers and students today that classrooms and textbooks alone need not be the source of information and knowledge. “Our real ties are with the Bharatavarsha that lies outside our textbooks,” in the words of Tagore. 7

This awareness is reflected in the growing number of I-schools (Innovative Schools 8) in the metros today which make use of many modern and traditional extra-classroom methods such as outdoor games, on-the-field workshops, live performances etc. And enthusiastic students acknowledge and respond to these methods. However, such I-schools do not yet represent mainstream education in India and a vast majority of our students undergo conventional schooling methods.

Hence, the need for well-printed, quality textbooks, with copious illustrations — which can convey facts and analysis in a simple yet forceful manner — cannot be overemphasised. The focus, as mentioned above, need not be on facts and dates. Instead, the emphasis must be on bringing out, in a striking manner, the character of great Indian personalities or the role and significance of events or ideas. Also, some central themes of Indian history such as its contribution to world civilizations, the extent and influence of Indian thought and culture on other people etc. must be highlighted.

One unforgettable example of a traditional Indian method of innovative teaching is the popular collection of Vikram-Bhetal stories which elucidate subtle ethical implications in an enthralling narrative style. Tagore’s Shantiniketan can also be called the first ever Indian I-school in recent times. A former student of Shantiniketan and a friend of mine told me how they were taught the history of the Rajputs, Rāj Kahāni, through the paintings of Abanindrananth Tagore and through poems which had an irresistible attraction for and made a great impact on the students.

Though rooted in Indian history, the teaching of nationalism need not be confined to history textbooks alone. It must rather permeate every textbook and every subject. For instance, highlighting ancient Indian achievements in the fields of science and technology in the respective science or mathematics textbooks, would effectively fulfil the same purpose.

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Visits to Historical Places

The extent to which we can make education a lively experience for students will depend largely on the time, energy and resources that teachers and parents can invest in them. One such rewarding investment is taking students for regular visits to places of historical and national importance. For instance, Bankim Bhavan in Khatalpara village, the house where Bankim Chandra composed the Bande Mataram can be the right place to impress upon Kolkata students the significant role that the National Song played in the freedom struggle; a visit to the penitentiaries where our national leaders were imprisoned by the British can have a profound impression on the minds of the students, bringing alive the sacrifices made by the leaders in the struggle for independence. There are undoubtedly, many such places of importance in every region of the country.

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Living Centres of Nationalism

It is important to make it clear to the rising generation that nationalism is not a subject of the past, it will continue to be relevant as long as the Indian Nation exists and has a mission to fulfil. Nations have a personal destiny to fulfil just as every individual has a specific mission and destiny to carry out. This key concept as propounded by Swami Vivekananda is important to help the students appreciate the living Shakti that is India.

Students need to visit not only historical places but also living centres of nationalism where nation-building activity is being carried out through dedicated individuals. It is heart-warming to note that there is a growing number of such individuals and organisations in the country. The Vivekananda Kendra, Seva Bharati, Aim for Seva and Spicmacay are a few examples.

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Biography and Itihasa

There can be no dispute about the importance of the biographies and teachings of great exponents of Indian Nationalism, such as Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Sister Nivedita. Brief yet lucid accounts of their lives and some important extracts from their teachings must become part of our textbooks.

Sister Nivedita’s life has a special appeal to me, since it demonstrates that Indian Nationalism is not geographically limited to people of Indian origin. An Irish patriot’s transformation into a pioneering exponent of Indian Nationalism reflects the universal ideals that India stands for and underlines the fact that our nationalism is fundamentally different from parochial and aggressive nationalisms of the Western kind.

A related and very important aspect is the role of the two national Epics in national education. Elucidating the role of the Itihasa tradition, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy says:


The two great Indian epics have been the great medium of Indian education, the most evident vehicle of the transmission of the national culture from each generation to the next. The national heroic literature is always and everywhere the true basis of a real education in the formation of character. 9


It has been rightly pointed out that modern historians, in their excessive zeal for authenticity and interpretation, have ignored the historical core of our national Epics thus depriving the children of a great wealth of ideas and values:


Modern Indian historians have, unfortunately, thrown out the baby with the bathwater. While they rightly reject the ‘fable’ element in earlier histories, they have also discarded the historical element in our oral literary traditions, thereby losing an important source of information.

Contemporary Indian historians have neglected to study the process that transmutes fact into myth and, thereby, to separate myth from fact, history from fable. The historical process reveals itself through the haze of myth and legend. ... We need a history of India that is not constantly attacked for its authenticity or interpretation. We have to understand that a different age produced a different type of history, but facts do not change. ... We have a strong literary tradition; if we cannot trust that, what do we have left? We must not end up with textbooks that praise a crook like Robert Clive, yet doubt the existence of Rama, King of Ayodhya. 10


There have been objections from certain quarters that the teaching of the Bande Mataram or the Epics involves religious instruction which is prohibited by the Indian Constitution. Reference may be made here again to the Supreme Court’s judgement on the National Curriculum Framework for School Education, 2002, where a clear distinction has been made between religious instruction and academic study:


To provide for academic study of life & teaching or the philosophy and culture of any great saint of India or relation to or the impact on the Indian and world civilizations cannot be considered as making provision for religious instruction. Religious instruction is that which is imparted for inculcating the tenets, the rituals, the observances, ceremonies and modes of worship of a particular sect or denomination. 11


The two national Epics have been instrumental in infusing Indian cultural values into young minds. They not only reflect the spirit of Indian Nationalism but have also been received universally as great epics of humanism. Regardless of such narrow prejudices, every Indian student should be provided with an opportunity to study their essence.

One might recall the pronounced effect of the two teleserials based on the Ramayana & Mahabharata on the Indian polity during the last decade. Would it be an exaggeration to say that these programmes aroused the national consciousness of the Indian people more than all our academic tools put together could achieve in the post-independence era?

This is also a standing proof of the power of the media. Do we not notice often that students remember movies and songs for many years while they struggle hard to digest their textbooks for a single examination day? I believe that channelling this media power to create entertaining yet educative material for students will not only be effective but a profitable venture too.

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Sanskrit is the language of Indian Nationalism

Attempts to teach Sanskrit have been resisted continuously by the Nehruvian intelligentsia, notwithstanding again, clear mandates from the Sanskrit Commission and the Supreme Court:


This Court has (earlier) emphasised the importance of Sanskrit study and declared the omission of Sanskrit from CBSE syllabus as unjustified.

The making of Sanskrit alone as an elective subject, while not conceding this status to Arabic and / or Persian would not in any way militate against the basic tenet of secularism. 12


The role and significance of Sanskrit as a vehicle of nationalistic fervour is best understood from the fact that many of the revolutionary freedom fighters drew their inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita, one of the greatest Indian texts in Sanskrit. Swami Vivekananda while emphasising the role of Sanskrit describes also the difficulty in taking this language to the masses:


The great difficulty in the way is the Sanskrit language — the glorious language of ours; and this difficulty cannot be removed until — if it is possible — the whole of our nation are good Sanskrit scholars. You will understand the difficulty when I tell you that I have been studying this language all my life, and yet every book is new to me. How much more difficult would it then be for people who never had time to study the language thoroughly! Therefore the ideas must be taught in the language of the people; at the same time, Sanskrit education must go on along with it, because the very sound of Sanskrit words gives prestige and a power and a strength to the race. 13


A simplified form of Sanskrit can be evolved with the help of Sanskrit scholars, as advised by Sri Aurobindo and Mother:


Everybody should learn Sanskrit. Specially all those who work here should learn it.... Each and everyone, whatever his place of birth.

Not Sanskrit on a scholarly level, but a Sanskrit ... (how should I put it?) which opens the door to all languages of India. I think it’s indispensable. The ideal would be to have in a few years a modernized Sanskrit, that is to say, a spoken Sanskrit, like the Sanskrit you find behind all languages of India. That was an idea of Sri Aurobindo, we spoke about it. Because now, of course, English is the language of the country as a whole, but that’s abnormal. It’s very good to facilitate relations with the rest of the world, but just as every country has its own language, India should ... But then here, the minute one wants to have a language for the whole country, everybody starts quarrelling. Everybody wants his own language to be the one, which is stupid. But Sanskrit, no one would object to it, and it’s a language more ancient than the others, in which you find the sounds, the “root-sounds” of many words…

There are even those roots that are found in all languages of the world, root-sounds that are in all languages. Well, that is what should be learned, what should be the country’s language. Every child born in India must know that, just as every child born in France must know French... 14


Sanskrit can thus become a part of the child’s education from the primary level itself. Such attempts are already in progress and efforts are being made to teach ‘Spoken Sanskrit’ in a very effective and entertaining way through the use of simple rhymes, songs, slokās and multimedia.

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Spiritual Leaders Must Ignite Young Indians

The bond between nationalism, culture and spirituality in the Indian context has been amply demonstrated by other scholars at this seminar. Pioneering Indian Nationalists like Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda and Sister Nivedita were rishis foremost and their love for India was rooted in the love for the spirituality of this land. The Sannyasin Rebellion against the British (based on which Bankim Chandra created his novel Ananda Math)is another instance of spiritual nationalism. After all, we love this land not just for the sake of it but because we cherish its deep spiritual foundations.

The role of spiritual leaders assumes a greater significance in this context. There is no dearth of stories and legends in Indian history of many lives being transformed at a young age by the touch of a realised soul. Gadadhar’s close acquaintance with the parivrājakās in his childhood days at Kamarpukur that began the making of a Ramakrishna Paramahamsa or Narendranath’s dialogue with Ramakrishna are but recent examples.

The practice of chāturmāsya and deśasanchāra was designed not only to benefit the sannyasins who undertook these vows, it facilitated the dissemination of ideas and culture to the nook and corner of this land. Unfortunately, this responsibility has been forgotten today, many sadhus are instead observing chāturmāsya throughout the year in their own ashrams!

This practise needs to be revived, albeit with a new adaptation — let interaction with students be the focus of this modern deśasanchāra. Genuine sādhakās and spiritual gurus must once again become repositories and carriers of nationalistic fervour.

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III. Conclusion

The above discussed methodologies need to be activated in order to make the Indian educational soil fertile, if we are to witness the reappearance of gigantic minds and great nationalists of the likes of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo. These, of course, do not represent the totality of the educational reform that is needed today. There are also many innovative techniques that the West has developed based on modern psychology and behavioural studies. A careful synthesis is the need of the hour, summed up beautifully in the following words of Sri Aurobindo:


National Education cannot be defined briefly in one or two sentences, but we may describe it tentatively as the education which starting with the past and making full use of the present builds up a great nation. Whoever wishes to cut off the nation from its past is no friend of our national growth. Whoever fails to take advantage of the present is losing us the battle of life. We must therefore save for India all that she has stored up of knowledge, character and noble thought in her immemorial past. We must acquire for her the best knowledge that Europe can give her and assimilate it to her own peculiar type of national temperament. We must introduce the best methods of teaching humanity has developed, whether modern or ancient. And all these we must harmonise into a system which will be impregnated with the spirit of self-reliance so as to build up men and not machines. 15

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Notes & References

1. Article 51A, Chapter IVA, Fundamental Duties of Citizens, Constitution of India. (Back to text)

2. “Centre Turns Education Gun on Bengal,” The Telegraph, August 2, 2002. (Back to text)

3. Justice M. B. Shah, Supreme Court judgement on the National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE), 2002. Italics in the original. Extracts from this judgement are available online at (Back to text)

4. Rabindranath Tagore, as quoted in the charter of the International Forum for India’s Heritage. See (Back to text)

5. Details regarding this survey and the questionnaire are available on IFIH’s website at (Back to text)

6. As quoted by Nanditha Krishna in her column, “The Itihasa Tradition,” The New Indian Express, February 2, 2003. (Back to text)

7. Rabindranath Tagore, “The History of Bharatavarsha,” dt. August 1903, translated from Bengali by Sumita Bhattacharya and Sibesh Bhattacharya, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. This text is available online at (Back to text)

8. “I-School, My School,” The Week, February 9, 2003. (Back to text)

9. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Essays in National Idealism. See (Back to text)

10. Nanditha Krishna, “The Itihasa Tradition,” The New Indian Express, February 2, 2003 (Back to text)

11. Justice D. M. Dharmadhikari, Supreme Court judgement on the National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE), 2002. (Back to text)

12. See 3 above. (Back to text)

13. Lectures from Colombo to Almora, p. 219, Advaita Ashrama publication, Kolkata, Fourteenth edition, 1995. (Back to text)

14. India the Mother, p. 168, Mira Aditi Centre, Mysore, First Edition, 1998. (Back to text)

15. As quoted in the appendix to the charter of the International Forum for India’s Heritage. See (Back to text)

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