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Radical Translation: S.R. Rajwade’s Encounter with F.W. Nietzsche

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Part of the Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures book series (SCPT,volume 11)


This essay presents an account of the way F.W. Nietzsche’s ideas were received and interpreted by Shankar Ramachandra Rajwade (1879–1952), a notable Indian philosopher based in Pune. The focus is on the latter’s book which contains a Marathi translation of and commentary on The Antichrist . Rajwade’s intellectual project—informed by his keen desire to bolster the traditional Hindu social order and its philosophical foundation—is presented as an example of ‘radical translation’ in two senses: It goes to the root of Nietzsche’s theoretical argument; and more importantly, it reinvents the German thinker’s ‘aristocratic radicalism ’ in an indigenous context.


  • Dharma
  • Fascism
  • Nietzsche
  • Nirdvandva
  • Rajwade
  • Translation

Arms upraised, I cry out; but no one heeds my cri de coeur!

Why don’t you embrace dharma which alone guarantees artha and kāma? (Ūrdhvabāhurviroumyeṣca na ca kaśchit śhṛuṇoti mām| Dharmādarthaśca kāmaśca sa dharmaḥ kiṁ na sevyate||)

- Attributed to Vidura in The Mahabharata; cited in Tilak (1950: 64)


The work of the German literati consisted solely in bringing the new French ideas into harmony with their ancient philosophical conscience, or rather, in annexing French ideas without deserting their own philosophic point of view.

This annexation took place in the same way in which a foreign language is appropriated, namely by translation.

- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1973: 131)

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  1. 1.

    The sobriquet Ahitāgni means “he who maintains the agnihotra, the perpetual, sacred fire.” As a champion of the Vedic tradition, Rajwade maintained the agnihotra at the Sanātana Vaidika Dharma Kāryalaya.

  2. 2.

    There was a strong element of noblesse oblige in Rajwade’s conception of his vocation, which was not uncommon among the Brahman intellectuals of the time. A similar position is evident in the following remarks of Krishnaji Prabhakar Khadilkar (1872–1948)—Rajwade’s contemporary and fellow alumnus of the Deccan College—who was an outstanding playwright, political commentator, and also a close associate of the renowned nationalist leader and scholar, Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856–1920):

    It is the task of the Brahmans to offer sublime ideas and a lofty mind-set to the people. If the Brahmans themselves give up this noble task and become selfish, the country is bound to degenerate.

    It was because our noble thoughts deserted us, and we came under the sway of a vile mentality that our independence (svarāj) was lost. We have no option but to revive those noble thoughts and that lofty mind-set and disseminate them throughout the nation (quoted in Khadilkar 1949: 34).

    Khadilkar expressed these views in a book review which was published when he was still in his early twenties. Tilak liked the review and invited its author to write for his newspaper, Kesari. I am grateful to Dr. Meera Kosambi for drawing this passage to my attention.

  3. 3.

    An English official who had incurred the wrath of the people on account of the draconian measures he introduced to quell the plague epidemic in Pune.

  4. 4.

    The first of these was Gitābhāshya (1916), a commentary on the first three chapters of the Bhagavad Gitā, published only one year after the publication of B.G. Tilak’s magnum opus on the subject, namely Gitārahasya. This was followed by Nāsadiyasūktabhāshya Part I (1927)—an exegesis of the Nāsadiyasūkta which is a celebrated cosmogonic hymn in the Rig Veda. The three volumes of Part II (of which two deal with sexology) were to appear over the next 22 years. Meanwhile, Rajwade published his only full-length book on Western philosophy, Nietzschechā Khristāntaka āni Khristāntaka Nietzsche (1931)—a translation of Nietzsche’s The Antichrist together with a commentary on the philosopher’s life and work. The subsequent four works dwelt on various aspects of Vedic thought and the six darśanas or systems that are central to classical Indian philosophy: Vaidikadharma āni Shaddarshane athavā Chāra Vidyā va Sahā Shāstre (Ravbahadur Kinkhede Lectures published by the University of Nagpur in 1938), Sanātana Vaidika Dharmapravachana Māla (1947), Ṣadarśanasamanvaya āni Puruṣārthamimamsā (1949), and Ishāvasyopaniṣadbhāshya (1949)—an explication of the Ishāvasyopaniṣad. His autobiography—Ahitāgni Rajwade: Ātmavṛitta—was published posthumously by Shreevidya Prakashan (Pune) in 1980, but several of his writings on sexology, astrology, and Zoroastrianism remain unpublished.

  5. 5.

    Even the relevant volume of the most comprehensive Marathi encyclopedia has no entry on S.R. Rajwade. It does, however, contain an entry on Vishwanath Kashinath Rajwade (1864–1926)—a great historian and polymath scholar (Athavale 1989: 717–718). Incidentally, S.R. Rajwade held the latter in great esteem as a like-minded intellectual and dedicated the Marathi translation of The Antichrist to his memory—“the only scholar worth his salt in Maharashtra, who personified the spirit of Nietzsche,” reads the dedication. For an overview of V.K. Rajwade’s intellectual achievements, see Kantak (1990).

  6. 6.

    A comprehensive history of the intellectual encounter is yet to be written. One way of pursuing such a project would be to focus on specific instances of the larger phenomenon. The present essay may be seen as a modest effort of this kind.

  7. 7.

    Francis William Bain (1863–1940) was a fellow of the All Souls College at Oxford. He served as a Professor of History and then as Principal at the Deccan College (Pune) until his retirement in 1919. His publications included notable theoretical works such as Body and Soul or the Method of Political Economy (London: James Parker & Co., 1894) and On the Realisation of the Possible and the Spirit of Aristotle (London: James Parker & Co., 1899).

  8. 8.

    The references to Nietzsche in Tilak (1950) are as follows. In a footnote, Tilak argues that the doctrine of rebirth was not confined to Hinduism, but was also found among the Buddhists; even the atheist Nietzsche had affirmed the doctrine through his theory of eternal recurrence (252–253). Subsequently, he invokes Nietzsche as a champion of karma (action) contra advocates of akarma (renunciation) such as Schopenhauer (288). The next reference is to Nietzsche’s notion of the Übermensch who is beyond good and evil; Tilak likens the Übermensch to the man who performs his ordained karma in a selfless spirit (356). He then approvingly cites Nietzsche’s critique (in The Antichrist) of the Christian spirit of non-antagonism (nirvairatva) as a mark of a slave morality (375). Finally, he contends that Nietzsche’s cult of action had triumphed over Schopenhauer’s counsel of quietism in contemporary Germany (476).

  9. 9.

    Lederle (1976) points out that Rajwade possessed The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche edited by Oscar Levy (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1909–1913). He observes that pencil marks in the books indicated “that they were read with some animation” (301). In Lederle’s opinion, “Rajwade fully understood the spirit of Nietzsche’s philosophy” (306).

  10. 10.

    It is obvious that these views stemmed as much from Bain’s philosophical proclivity as from his patriotic pride. It may be noted that he also respected the patriotism of others, hence his sympathy for the nationalist youth in India. This is clearly evident in Rajwade’s autobiography.

  11. 11.

    “Liberals think, by reason of their profound ignorance of the nature of things, to make homogeneous the essentially unhomogeneous members of the State, to identify parts that are complementary, polar opposites, and confound distinctions rooted in the nature of things. They might just as well try to make a horse walk with his mouth and eat with his hoof” (Bain 1899: 220).

  12. 12.

    Ironically, Bain seems to have held Hindu thought in low esteem. Here is a particularly mordant comment: “No two things could be more opposed to each other than Aristotelian and Hindoo philosophy. The Hindoos are the victims of abstraction: it is the root alike of their religion, their ethics, their theory and practice: abstraction from the world, abstraction from others, and abstraction from self: it is their ideal, their core, and their curse” (Bain 1899: 265). Nietzsche offered a more complex account of the brahmānical creed; but in the ultimate analysis, he characterized it as a nihilistic religion offering solace to the afflicted (Hulin 1996: 66).

  13. 13.

    In Ishāvāsyopanishadbhāshya, Rajwade (1949: 609) himself uses the phrase, ‘the law of polarity’ to explain the concept of ‘dvandva.’ For a brief exposition of this law and of the allied notion of the Absolute, see Lederle (1976: 303–304).

  14. 14.

    It would be interesting to contrast Rajwade’s position with a different but arguably analogous perception articulated by contemporary cultural critics such as S.N. Balagangadhara and Vivek Dhareshwar. The latter emphasize the centrality of Christianity to the constitution of the modern West as also to the epistemic and sociopolitical (re)fashioning of the colonized societies in the era of Western hegemony. Thus, drawing on Balagangadhara (1994), Dhareshwar offers the following formulations:

    Everybody knows that Christianity played a central role in the evolution of this [western] culture; that modernity as a specifically western phenomenon introduced radical changes in the world. But in what way does Christianity constitute the identity of the West? How are the secular/liberal self-descriptions of the West related to Christianity? The otherness of western culture consists precisely in its compulsion to transform the culture it studies into [a] variation of itself. So, Balagangadhara is able to explain not only why the western theories look for religion in other cultures but also why their attempt to explain culture as a ‘world-view’ is essentially secularization of a religious framework (Dhareshwar 1996: 21).

    This is not to suggest that Balagangadhara and Dhareshwar necessarily share Rajwade’s revivalist agenda. These two scholars were both initially influenced by Marxism and subsequently seemed to operate in a theoretical space opened up by the later writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Edward Said’s critique of Orientalism.

  15. 15.

    The translation finds a mention in the comprehensive Nietzsche bibliography at (accessed on 18th January 2009).

  16. 16.

    The two remaining volumes of commentary never appeared.

  17. 17.

    The phrase can be literally translated as follows: “My endeavour is not for them.” Bhavabhūti’s allusion is to those who may not be capable of appreciating the niceties of his work. He was a great Sanskrit playwright of the 8th century. Nietzsche’s relevant statement is as follows: “These alone are my readers, my rightful readers, my predestined readers: what do the rest matter?—The rest are merely mankind” (Nietzsche 1977: 114).

  18. 18.

    The Marathi phrase literally denotes ‘the transmutation of all arthas.’ The tatsama term ‘artha’ has a wide range of connotations including ‘end’ (as in Puruṣārthas or the ends of human life), ‘means,’ ‘meaning,’ and ‘subject-matter’ (See Devasthali et al. (1993: 97)).

  19. 19.

    NKN is one of the examples adduced by Jaaware to support his larger argument concerning translation.

  20. 20.

    For a detailed account of Brandes’s interpretation, see Behler (1996: 289–291).

  21. 21.

    The Hindu Mahāsabhā was a Hindu nationalist political party founded in 1915 as a reaction to the decision of the British government in India to grant separate electorates to the Muslims. It sought to safeguard and promote the Hindu race, culture, civilization, and nation. Under the leadership of Savarkar, who became President of the party in 1937, it cooperated with the British rulers and opposed both the Muslim League and the democratic secularism of the Congress. Savarkar considered India to be primarily a nation of the Hindus. He defined a true ‘Hindu’ as one who treated the country as the land of his forefathers (pitrabhu) and his holy land (punyabhu). This definition excluded significant religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims as their holy lands were not located in the country. However, Savarkar was willing to accord juridical and political equality to these communities. What he opposed was granting them preferential treatment. Therefore, as Prabha Dixit rightly points out, in spite of “chauvinistic elements in Savarkar’s ideology, it cannot be termed Fascist” (Dixit 1986: 134). Cf. Raghuramaraju (2007: 80–81).

  22. 22.

    For an overview of Savarkar’s philosophical ideas, see Lederle (1976: 278–295).

  23. 23.

    Rajwade’s interest in Islamic thought is exemplified by his comparative exegesis of the Agni Mantra in the Ishāvasyopaniṣad and the first sūra (chapter) of the Koran (Rajwade 1949: 671–678). He also expatiated upon certain key ideas drawn from modern Physics and Astronomy (Rajwade 1949: 440–544).


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Kulkarni, M. (2015). Radical Translation: S.R. Rajwade’s Encounter with F.W. Nietzsche . In: Deshpande, S. (eds) Philosophy in Colonial India. Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures, vol 11. Springer, New Delhi.

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