chapter  7
16 Pages

“We must create a history of India in living terms”

Patrick Geddes and aspects of Sister Nivedita’s writings on Indian history 1
WithArpita Mitra

A little-known aspect of Sister Nivedita’s (1867–1911) work in and for India was her efforts toward the cause of (re-)writing Indian history. She conceptualized new theoretical frameworks for writing a history of India that would capture the diversity of Indian histories and cultures. In re-conceptualizing Indian history, she was influenced by the sociological methods of the Scottish sociologist, biologist, and town-planner, Sir Patrick Geddes (1854–1932). The primacy of place in determining history, the concept of synthesis and of sequence, the idea of the evolution of the city as “a sort of lotus, divided into numbered whorls” – are key Geddesian concept-tools that Nivedita adopted. She developed an understanding of the Indian past–present–future through the prism of synthesis; and in so doing, she produced a history of India that differed both from the British imperialist idea of India as congeries of many nations, as well as the idea of India as a predominantly Hindu nation. She argued that it would be erroneous to read Indian history as a record of the struggle between Hindus and Muslims. Place and synthesis also came together to produce the idea of Indian nationality in her works.