Rajiv Malhotra has written a path defining book called ‘The Battle for Sanskrit.’ The book is important and disturbing at the same time, but is a must read for the Indian youth in search of their identities. The attempts of Western academia to separate the secular aspects from Sanskrit from the embedded spiritual aspects is plain wrong and unjustified. It is a very important book with regards to Hinduism. Almost all his books are like that. I feel that the Indian students need to study the books of Rajiv Malhotra, Swami Vivekananda, Arun Shourie, Ramana Maharishi to truly equip themselves with information to fight the inimical forces trying to undermine the integrity and strength of the country. He gives a very lucid response from the Hindu side with regards to Varna or the caste system, the single point of criticism of our great religion by everyone.
• Varna is a non-translatable term and attempts to translate it and put it in some rigid frameworks has caused confusion.
• It is a dynamic term and has been constantly negotiated and renegotiated in Indian history.
• A similar analogy is the concept of ‘rights’ in Western history with civil, economic and moral dimensions to that word, and has been repeatedly undergone changes in its meaning.
• Varna cannot be translated into caste, race, or privilege in simple terms.
• There are six levels of differences in the way Varna has been seen by tradition: 1. Historical changes have seen differing interpretations 2. Different texts have differed on the varna view 3. In the same text, varna definition has changed as per the context 4. In the same text, different people have interpreted varna differently as per the context 5. There have been gaps in actual theory and practice 6. There have been many social challenges and reformations throughout history.
• Varna is not a static classification system
• Shudras have built temples in which Hindus of all categories have worshipped.
• Shudras have been rulers and leaders of armies.
• Varna has been repeatedly redefined well within the Indian systems and today does not require foreign intervention to solve its social problems related to the caste system.
• The characterization of Western Indologists and Orientalists of Varna as something rigid, static, canonical, and homogenous is done using inappropriate theories because of their need to digest our civilization.
• MANUSMRITI is the text that has been over quoted and much maligned to make the case of support for discrimination.
• The above text places more emphasis on the duties of various varna rather than their rights and privileges. Duties or professions are used to classify the professions. A Brahmin was required to live simply, receive gifts from worthy donors only, had to be learned enough to receive those gifts, and was supposed to be a non-drinker of alcohol. He was also not supposed to rule. The Brahmins were not supposed to collect taxes on behalf of the ruler much in contrast to the practices in other religions where a priestly and a divine sanction was given to rulers to own the conquered far off lands . Shudras were assigned very distinct benefits. They could pursue any profession except those of Brahmins and Kshatriyas. He was not compelled on any specific rituals, food, and wine consumption. There was no requirement of penances for lapses in following the rules of Shastra.
• Furthermore, one can learn paradharma or the highest dharma even from a Shudra and hence, a Shudra can be a guru too. Adi Shankara in fact learns some highest wisdom from a Chandala. The punishments as per the text were not actually carried out. The punishment of the lapses in fact increases with the varna of the person, with the Brahmins getting the maximum punishment. The higher status was supposed to shoulder greater responsibility. Finally, the text advocates flexibility in its implementation. It allowed giving up dharma if it is denounced by the public. This implies that if the public denounce caste discrimination as is being done today, it should be given up. This implies a fluidity and context importance in the application of varna.
• Mahabharata dissociated itself from birth based varna. Yudhishtra says in the Mahabharata that there is always a confusion of ‘varna by birth’ because of birth from mixing of all Varnas. So, varna can only be from the view of profession and occupation rather than birth.
• There is evidence which shows that the shudras did have access to the Vedas and that the restrictions were contested and not absolute.
Panini did not create the rules of Sanskrit grammar, but only formulated the way Sanskrit was being spoken. There is now a very important and a powerful American Indologist who goes by the name of Sheldon Pollock, who is training an army of people both Indian and foreigners to capture the discourse on Sanskrit language. By posing as an insider and spending more three decades in the study of Sanskrit, he has been able to impress the Indian governments and various funding agencies to get huge grants. But, beneath the surface of superficial praise, there is a strong message undermining the entire culture and tradition of the country. He is using the language interpretations in a bizarre manner to create a sense of negativity amongst us.
Pollock says that Sanskrit grammar was oppressive. The oppression to Dalits, women, and Muslims is embedded in the language structures, he says. He also makes a theory which places Sanskrit as a dead language fit only to be studied. Sanskrit was spoken only by a few royals with the Brahmin followers and was not the language of the common people. Pollock’s theories are speculative and dangerous. He puts forward a theory that Sanskrit was used as a tool of oppression of the Dalits, women, and the lower classes by the kings and the priests. The expansion of Hinduism to far East countries was this strategy using Sanskrit as a major tool. Sanskrit ideology also was supposed to have given rise to Nazism because the roots of Sanskrit is exploitation and racism.
Hitler was influenced by a guy who had no clue about Sanskrit. All these are highly speculative coming from an American Leftist who probably hates the country, does not believe God, but loves the language itself. The love for the language is only for study purposes but is not accepted as a carrier of cultural tradition and spirituality for thousands of years. Ramayana and other poems are seen through his interpretation as a tool of exploitation by the kings and the priests and to rouse the people against the Muslims. The theories are so bizarre, but I am sure, would be loved by our own Left who do not seem to show any love for the country the country and do not know Sanskrit. They now have an English speaking elite American who provides them with all the ammunition to fire at the country. Intolerance seems to have suddenly make a mark in the country in a reverse manner strangely in the minorities and the leftists too. Pollock hates the BJP, RSS, and VHP combine, and in this regard, he makes his stand amply clear. No wonder, he is a darling of the Left in the country.
Sanskrit has been seen as a tool of exploitation by Pollock and blames the forward castes in hastening its demise. He also goes to claim that the British and the Muslim rulers actually helped to revive the Sanskrit language but was firmly opposed by the forward castes. Then, he makes the extraordinary statement that the language is dead and is fit for being studied as a classical language, something like Latin and Greek. Any language develops in the scheme of listening, speaking, reading, and then writing and in that particular order. The grammar comes last. One does not start to learn a language by first learning to write it. It then becomes a burden and cumbersome. By focussing on the grammar first, the natural spoken component of the language with the spontaneity simply collapses in the society. That is what was done by the British colonial rule and the Mughals in the process of ‘helping’ Sanskrit. That was the strategy of the post-Independence education policy thoroughly controlled by the Left wing forces of the country. In such a situation, Sanskrit became more and more separated from mainstream and became relegated to specialised studies. It could not become a language of popular conversation. The people were scared off the language as they were boggled with grammar rules and constructions of sentences. In such a situation, an artificiality creeps in and we have lost five decades in the process. Now, it is an uphill task of the country to get Sanskrit back into circulation and I am certainly glad that the students are eager to learn the language as a direct consequence of the book.
Sheldon Pollock seems to be a hate filled Leftist as seen in the analysis of Rajiv Malhotra. Rajiv Malhotra is like Arun Shourie while taking on the left wing forces. Most of his statements are backed by some real and hard core evidence.
The book is shocking beyond beyond belief and it is indeed a wake-up call to our intelligentsia and the students of the country. The Western forces in the garb of Indology are systematically undermining the cultural and the spiritual traditions of Sanskrit, which should be fought back in no uncertain terms. Buddhism was supposed to have galvanised the beginning of written Sanskrit and the its literature. Before Buddhism, Sanskrit consisted of only mindless rituals and mantras recited orally as per Pollock’s construction of a dim past. The entire evidence of written inscriptions associated with the Harappan and Mohenjo-Daro excavations, and the Saraswati archaeological evidence makes his claims about written Sanskrit as after the Buddhist era completely hollow and baseless. But, Pollock apparently ignores all such evidence.
The Jataka tales are attempted to be placed before the Ramayana, and in fact, the latter was inspired by the former. The rejection of Sanskrit by Buddha in favour of Pali; and by Jains in favour of Magadhi is constructed as being rejection of the Vedas. Buddhist teaching of the four and eight- fold path say nothing against the Vedas, and it is in fact, very Upanishidic in nature. A Ramana Maharishi never taught in Sanskrit, but he is a master. The language undertaken by a holy person is no proof of a rejection of previous systems. But, that is what is the suggestion of Sheldon Pollock and his ilk. Buddhism is constructed to be in stress with the Hindu thought, traditions and the Vedas.
Later on, the Kushana and the Saka kings, supposed to have migrated from Central Asia, were more open to Sanskrit despite being Buddhists, and hence there was a blooming of Sanskrit literature in the early part of the common era. The theories are fantastic and weird to say the least but happen to be mainstream academic thoughts and opinions. These kind of ideas which also posits Ramayana as an example of atrocity literature against women and the lower castes, and later as a galvanizing force against the Muslims are exceptionally detrimental and brutal to the ethos of the country and its culture. The same idea when repeated by the influential coterie in various papers, literature, and academic meets become embedded as a truth in the minds of people. That is what is happening as the secular left liberals are gleefully accepting what is being churned out by such academicians.
Rajiv Malhotra’s book finished with the mind wanting more. Most of the book has been underlined, so now I am seeing prominently the pen and pencil marks, which is a bit unfortunate for future readings. The only criticism I can offer that it is centred only around Sheldon Pollock. The other anti-Sanskrit forces are hardly spoken off. A single man is probably not relevant in the scheme of things, but if indeed he is the main troublemaker preparing hundreds of people like him, then he becomes so. Rajiv is preparing hundreds of Indian and NRI youth in a similar way and hence, the battle lines are drawn.
Nobody has caused more damage to the Indian culture, tradition, and heritage than the Left liberal ideology. It is an ideology which has allowed our generation to grow with a sense of shame regarding ourselves. The Britishers and the Americans and for that matter, the Russians too grow up with a strong sense of pride despite the atrocities and the blunders in their landscape of human dealings. But, Indian history makers peculiarly concentrated only on the warts and always in the process of giving an extremely negative image of our culture, our traditions, language, literature, religion, scriptures, holy books. At every point, the Indians grow with a negative perception about all the above things despite we being the strongest in all of the above. The youth of the country are being led astray by such pernicious attempts. It is thankfully in such a scenario that some authors are coming up, who are taking up the cause of undoing the damage in a balanced manner without losing their cool. Every culture has its flaws and we are the oldest living civilization running continuously for 5000 years. Most of the older cultures have simply wound up. It is important for the present generation to aim for the future rooted in the present with the correct idea about our past and its richness without going into jingoism.
It is a remarkable book which would allow a person to grow proud of his culture and tradition bereft of jingoismand more importantly, without wanting to hate any opposing ideas or cultures This is the book’s most wonderful achievement.
By: Pingali Gopal