Ram Mohan Roy had sounded the theme with his passionate advocacy of social reform; Vivekananda repeated in with a more nationalist timbre, when he declared that the highest form of service of the Great Mother was social service. Other great Indians, chief of whom was Mahatma Gandhi, developed the theme of social service as a religious duty, and the development continues under Gandhi's successors.
Mahatma Gandhi was looked on by many, both Indian and European, as the epitome of Hindu tradition, but this is a false judgement for he was much influenced by Western ideas. Gandhi believed in the fundamentals of his ancient culture,0 but his passionate love of the underdog and his antipathy to caste though not unprecedented in ancient India, were unorthodox in the extreme, and owed more to European 19th century liberalism than to anything Indian. His faith in non-violence was, as we have seen, by no means typical of Hinduism- his predecessor in revolt, the able Maratha Brahman B.G. Tilak, and Gandhi's impatient lieutenant Subhash Chandra Bose, were far more orthodox in this respect. For Gandhi's pacifism we must look to the 'Sermon on the Mount' and to Tolstoy. His championing of women's right is also the result of Western influence. In his social context, he was always rather an innovator than a conservative. Though some of his colleagues thought his programme of limited social reform too slow, he succeeded in shifting the whole emphasis of Hindu though towards a popular and equalitarian social order, in place of the hierarchy of class and caste. Following up the work of many less well-known 19th century reformer, Gandhi and his followers of the Indian National Congress have given new orientation and new life to Hindu culture, after centuries of stagnation.
Today, there are few Indians, whatever their creed, who do not look back with pride on their ancient culture, and there are few intelligent Indians who are not willing to sacrifice some of its effete elements so that India may develop and progress. Politically and economically India faces many problems of great difficulty, and no one can forecast her future with any certainty. But it is safe to predict that, whatever the future may be, the Indians of coming generations will not be unconvincing and self-conscious copies of Europeans, but will be men rooted in their traditions, and aware of the continuity of their culture. Already, after only seven years of Independence, the extremes of national self-denigration and fanatical cultural chauvinism are disappearing. We believe that Hindu civilization is in the act of performing its most spectacular feat of synthesis. In the past, it has received, adapted and digested elements of many different cultures- Indo-European, Mesopotamian, Iranian, Greek, Roman, Scythian, Turkish, Persian and Arab. With each new influence, it has somewhat changed. Now it is well on the way to assimilating the culture of the West.
Hindu civilization will, we believe, retain its continuity. The Bhagwad Gata will not cease to inspire men of action, and the Upanishads, men of thought. The change and graciousness of the Indian way of life will continue, never much affected it may be by the laboure-saving devices of the West. People will still love the tales of the heroes of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and of the loves of Dushyanta and Shakuntala and Pururavas and Urvasi. The quit and gentle happiness which has at all-times pervaded Indian life where oppression, disease and poverty have not overclouded it will surely not vanish before the more hectic ways of the west.
Much that was useless in ancient Indian culture has already perished. The extravagant and barbarous hecatombs of the Vedic age have long since been forgotten, though animal sacrifice continues in some sects. Widows have long ceased to be burnt on their husband's pyres. Girls may not by law be married in childhood. In buses and trains all over India, Brahmans, rub shoulders with the lowest castes without consciousness of grave pollution, and the temples are open to all by law. Caste is vanishing; the process began long ago, but its pace is now so rapid that the more objectionable features of caste may have disappeared within a generation or so. The old family system is adapting itself to present-day conditions. In fact, the whole face of India is altering, but the cultural tradition continues, and it will never be lost.