The Battle For Sanskrit
There is a new awakening that is challenging the ongoing westernization of the discourse about India. The Battle for Sanskrit seeks to alert traditional scholars of Sanskrit and sanskriti ‑ Indian civilization ‑ concerning an important school of thought that has its base in the US and that has started to dominate the discourse on the cultural, social and political aspects of India. This academic field is called Indology or Sanskrit studies. From their analysis of Sanskrit texts, the scholars of this field are intervening in modern Indian society with the explicitly stated purpose of removing ‘poisons’ allegedly built into these texts. They hold that many Sanskrit texts are socially oppressive and serve as a political weapon of the ruling elite; that the sacred aspects need to be refuted or side lined; and that Sanskrit has long been dead. The traditional Indian experts would outright reject or at least question these positions.
The start of Rajiv Malhotra’s feisty exploration of where the new thrust in Western Indology goes wrong, and his defence of what he considers the traditional, Indian approach, began with a project related to the Sringeri Sharada Peetham, one of the most sacred institutions for Hindus. There was, as he saw it, a serious risk of distortion of the teachings of the peetham, and of sanatana dharma more broadly.
Whichever side of the fence one may be, The Battle for Sanskrit, offers a spirited debate marshalling new insights and research. It is a valuable addition to an important subject, and in a larger context, on two ways of looking. Is each view exclusive of the other, or can there be a bridge between them? The reader can judge for himself.
It is fashionable among many intellectuals to parrot that dharma traditions lacked any semblance of unity before the British period, and that the contours of contemporary Hinduism were bequeathed to us by our colonial masters.
Such intellectuals often target Swami Vivekananda, accusing him of camouflaging various alleged ‘contradictions’ among the systems of dharma. He gets charged with appropriating ideas from Western religion and science to ‘manufacture’ a coherent worldview and set of practices known as Hinduism. This slanderous thesis is feeding the view that Hinduism is an illegitimate façade with oppressive motives.
This book offers a detailed, systematic rejoinder to such views, and articulates Hindu dharma’s multi-dimensional, holographic understanding of reality. Originating in the Atharva Veda, the concept of Indra’s Net is a powerful metaphor for this inter-relatedness. It was transmitted via Buddhism’s Avatamsaka Sutra into Western thought, where it now resides at the heart of post-modern discourse. This book invokes Indra’s Net to articulate the open architecture, unity and continuity of Hinduism.
Seen from this perspective, Hinduism defies being pigeon-holed into the traditional, modern and post-modern categories by which the West defines itself; rather, it becomes evident that Hinduism has always spanned all three categories simultaneously and without contradiction.
Taking the debate further, Rajiv Malhotra argues that Vivekananda’s creative interpretations of Hindu dharma informed and influenced many Western intellectual movements of the post-modern era. Indeed, appropriations from Hinduism have provided a foundation for cutting-edge discoveries in several fields including cognitive science and neuroscience. Not only self-help gurus and lifestyle coaches but also scientists and philosophers increasingly draw on Hindu cosmology in framing their work.
An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism, thinker and philosopher Rajiv Malhotra addresses the challenge of a direct and honest engagement on differences, by reversing the gaze, repositioning India from being the observed to the observer and looking at the West from the dharmic point of view. In doing so, he challenges many hitherto unexamined beliefs that both sides hold about themselves and each other. He highlights that while unique historical revelations are the basis for Western religions, dharma emphasizes self-realization in the body here and now. He also points out the integral unity that underpins dharma s metaphysics and contrasts this with Western thought and history as a synthetic unity.
This book focuses on the role of U.S. and European churches, academics, think-tanks, foundations, government and human rights groups in fostering separation of the identities of Dravidian and Dalit communities from the rest of India.
The book is the result of five years of research, and uses information obtained in the West about foreign funding of these Indian-based activities. The research tracked the money trails that start out claiming to be for education,human rights, empowerment training, and leadership training, but end up in programs designed to produce angry youths who feel disenfranchised from Indian identity.
The book reveals how outdated racial theories continue to provide academic frameworks and fuel the rhetoric that can trigger civil wars and genocides in developing countries. The Dravidian movement’s 200-year history has such origins. Its latest manifestation is the Dravidian Christianity movement that fabricates a political and cultural history to exploit old faultlines. The book explicitly names individuals and institutions, including prominent Western ones and their Indian affiliates. Its goal is to spark an honest debate on the extent to which human rights and other empowerment projects are cover-ups for these nefarious activities.
Invading the Sacred
India, once a major civilizational and economic power that suffered centuries of decline, is now newly resurgent in business, geopolitics and culture. However, a powerful counterforce within the American Academy is systematically undermining core icons and ideals of Indic Culture and thought. For instance, scholars of this counterforce have disparaged the Bhagavad Gita as “a dishonest book”; declared Ganesha’s trunk a “limp phallus”; classified Devi as the “mother with a penis” and Shiva as “a notorious womanizer” who incites violence in India; pronounced Sri Ramakrishna a pedophile who sexually molested the young Swami Vivekananda; condemned Indian mothers as being less loving of their children than white women; and interpreted the bindi as a drop of menstrual fluid and the “ha” in sacred mantras as a woman’s sound during orgasm.
Are these isolated instances of ignorance or links in an institutionalized pattern of bias driven by certain civilizational worldviews?
Are these academic pronouncements based on evidence, and how carefully is this evidence cross-examined? How do these images of India and Indians created in the American Academy influence public perceptions through the media, the education system, policymakers and popular culture?
Adopting a politically impartial stance, this book, the product of an intensive multi-year research project, uncovers the invisible networks behind this Hinduphobia, narrates the Indian Diaspora’s challenges to such scholarship, and documents how those who dared to speak up have been branded as “dangerous”. The book hopes to provoke serious debate. For example:
- How do Hinduphobic works resemble earlier American literature depicting non-whites as dangerous savages needing to be civilized by the West?
- Are India’s internal social problems going to be managed by foreign interventions in the name of human rights?
- How do power imbalances and systemic biases affect the objectivity and quality of scholarship?
- What are the rights of practitioner-experts in “talking back” to academicians?
- What is the role of India’s intellectuals, policymakers and universities in fashioning an authentic and enduring response?