The thirty-two essays that make up this book were first published in the monthly journal Arya between August 1918 and January 1921. They constitute a defence of Indian civilisation and culture, with essays on Indian spirituality, religion, art, literature, and polity.
The first series of four essays appeared in 1918 under the title “The Renaissance in India” and was formulated as an appreciation of James H. Cousins’ book of the same title. Sri Aurobindo explains that a renaissance in India means first the recovery of the past spiritual knowledge and experience in all its fullness, then the outpouring of this spirituality into new forms in all aspects of the country’s life, and lastly, an original grasp of modern problems from an Indian temperament and intellect. The second essay, “Indian Culture and External Influence”, was written in 1919 in answer to a comment published in a Bengali journal on “The Renaissance in India” series.
In the next group of three essays, titled “Is India Civilised”, Sri Aurobindo began with an appreciative review of Sir John Woodroffe’s book of the same title, followed by a rebuttal of the hostile criticisms made by William Archer in India and the Future, and concluded with his own estimation of India’s civilisation and culture. The last series, “A Defence of Indian Culture”, was undertaken as a more detailed reply to the work of William Archer, which criticised and attacked Indian culture and civilisation in all it domains. At that time, Archer’s views were considered typical of a general attitude of the European mind towards the Indian civilisation. Sri Aurobindo sought to counteract these harsh criticisms and defend Indian culture by explaining the special character of India’s civilisation and her past achievements. In his view Indian culture is unique in that its high spiritual aim not only structured the core of its thought but also animated its forms and rhythms of life.