Saturday, February 25, 2006

Vernaculars (des'i) and Sanskrit

Distorting the contributions of Sanskrit and Prakrit (vernacular) languages to the evolution of Bharatiya society and samskriti (February 2006)

The compilation of articles are related to the contributions made by two professors: Sheldon Pollock and Robert Goldman who consider themselves experts in Sanskrit, an alternative perspective proposed by Kapil Kapoor and a rejoinder by Rajiv Malhotra.

  1. Kapil Kapoor, Decolonizing the Indian mind (2001)

  2. Rajiv Malhotra, Geopolitics and Sanskrit Phobia (2005)

  3. Sheldon Pollock, The Death of Sanskrit (2001)

  4. Sumathi Ramaswamyk,  Sanskrit for the Nation (1999)

  5. Sanskrit knowledge systems on the eve of colonialism :National Endowment for the Humanties Proposal (2003) [Sheldon  Pollock is a participant and Rober Goldman is a discussant.]

A note on Prakrits (vernaculars, des’i), Sanskrit and Samskriti of Bharatam Janam is presented in a separate document.
Decolonizing the Indian Mind
Kapil Kapoor
Keynote address delivered on February 18, 2001at the National Seminar on Decolonizing English Education,Department of English, North Gujarat University, Patan (Gujarat, India)
When I talk of the 'Indian Mind' I refer to the mind of the English/University educated Indians.
I am reminded of Ananda Coomaraswamy who uses the expression "educated Indians" and then gives a footnote - "That is how victims of Indian education are described." One of the effects of mainstream education is to marginalize inherited learning which though much restricted is still very much alive. We all know through the letters of Macaulay to his sister (1813) about the history of the purpose of English education, which was to produce people who might appear of look-like Indians but shall be English in spirit and habits of mind and this is too well-known a story. But the mainstream education has certainly had one very clear effect and that is - it has uprooted us in the sense that there is complete disjunction with our tradition of thinking. It infuses in us some kind of a spirit of self-denigration (heenabhavna). Apart from being ignorant that there is something like Indian thought, there is a presumed opinion about that thought ('purana hogaya hai' - it has been superseded by new structures of knowledge etc. etc.). This self-denigration then produces a loss of self-respect (absence of swabhimana) and we become uncritical receivers and applicators of ideas. I must, however, at this juncture add a point. I never argue that one must not study other traditions. Let me quote Bhartrhari (5th c.) who says, "What does he know who knows only his own tradition?" That was a confident India - internally, intellectually rich, with three very powerful sampradaya - Brahman, Bauddha and Jaina - also interacting with the then centers of learning - China, Middle East. But today we have to change that statement a little - "What does he know who does not even know his own tradition?" So, that is the unfortunate effect.
We have, by and large, broadly, entered into a relationship of intellectual subordination. The Indian academy is subordinate to the West - they are the theory and we are the data. So, that is the unfortunate effect and this is self-evident when we make comparisons with what Europe achieved through interaction with Indian studies in the nineteenth century and what we have done with Western studies.
I would now like to come to the point of "what is this colonizing of the mind?" What does it mean? O.K., we do not study our own thought and study only received thought. We are uncritical receivers. So what? What is the decolonization of mind that we are talking about? What is colonizing itself? Colonization is a contact situation and this contact is of two kinds - one motivated by food and the other by profit. By food, I mean settlements, migrations, people in search of livelihood. We had a settlement history of India and we have a settlement history of Indians going outside. Even today, there are large segments of Indian population in the U.S.A., in Europe and so on. This is one kind of contact. The other kind of contact begins with trade and commerce and ends up with political and military subjugation. Generally speaking, we have a Valmiki followed by Rama. We can think of a third type of contact - which is of the Buddhist monks going all over Asia or the Christian missionaries going all over the world. There is, however a difference - incidentally, there is no history that Buddhist monks were followed by the Mauryan armies. There is in effect no such history. But Buddhist monks went all over Asia and this brought about contact between Indian thought, Asian thought and therefore Buddhism has become a thinking language of a large number of Asians and the name of Asoka as H.G. Wells informs us a 'by-word' in the central Asian, Eurasian and other parts of the world - 'from the Volga to the Ganga'. So this is the least problematic contact where there is a purely intellectual influence and India has had the good fortune of being a donor intellectual tradition for centuries.
There is, in such situations, bound to be resistance - resistance to the subjugation of the land and the subjugation of the mind (terra firma and terra cognita). But why is this resistance there? Obviously because there is something about the identity, something about our own self-definition which gets altered or affected by such experience. Further, there is a natural/neural response to retaining the balance - the equilibrium that is there in our self and it does not matter whether it is the individual self or the collective self, cultural self or the social self.* So there is bound to be resistance particularly from strong intellectual cultures with living codes, living systems of ideas of those who have valued for long those living codes and systems. Because I look at culture as a set of codes - set of idea systems - civilization as a set of institutions, which are founded on the bedrock of those codes. For example, you may have a code of grammar, a code of music, a code of society, a code of political system. And then you may have institutions that are founded on them.
So there is resistance and such cultures resist such subjugation. But this subjugation of the mind still needs to be looked into. Is it simply this that we start speaking another language or we start using others' ideas? But does that mean that our mind is subjugated. What is this mind? If you ask in our own context you have to think about our own understanding of our knowing self - the cognizing self and the layered knowing self. You have the outermost layer of the senses, then you have the mind, then you have the intellect - mana-buddhi, then you have the citta (no English equivalent possible) that is the inner location where the experience is stored and judged and valued. So you have this knowing self and when we talk about the subjugation of the mind we have to ask what is it that gets subjugated or affected. To me it appears that this whole system - this whole structure of knowing self is to be looked upon as one whole system. For instance, in one of the seminal texts - Adi Shankara's Vivekachudamani - the mind is called as mana because of sankalpa-vikalpa. I tell my students my eyes are open - I am looking but I am not watching. So I don't really see. When my mind gets attached to something I say I watch this. So that sankalpa-vikalpa is the function of the mind and of the intellect. This is a continuum.
Knowledge begins in the experience at the outermost layer. Annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vigyanmaya, anandamaya - are the five levels/stages through which knowledge is processed, according to Samkhya philosophy. And then it becomes knowledge - jnana. This knowledge then is your constituted self. So we have the mind - sankalpa vikalpa - and the buddhi which is padarta vishayak nirnaya - the region where you constitute the objects - the information - the structure of the whole system of material objects and mental objects. For example, what is a flower? You constitute that and say this is different from a leaf. So that is the intellect. Then there is citta, which is ishta nirnaya - what is desirable or desired by you or what is anukul (anukul vedana sukh; pratikul vedana dukh) that which is in harmony with your own self. We, ultimately, judge when we look at something. We decide to look on a horse or a flower and then we say it is very beautiful. That identification is a function of the citta. Because beauty is not there in the object.
You say it is beautiful for you or it is very pleasant. Ultimately this is involved in all our decisions and actions. What we should and what we should not do - all our actions are controlled by this. This whole operation of our knowing self is performed in terms of a language of the mind - what you call as Kantian concepts - but to me it appears that an analogy can be drawn from computer software where there is a platform language and a programming language. There is something with which the mind operates. There are certain meta-assumptions (mool siddhanta). Those ideas are what we may designate as drivers. They help you to develop certain systems, which are then useful to you in achieving what the drivers seek to achieve. Say my mind is so turned that I am told or I am driven to act in such a way that I above all have to free myself from all this suffering and sorrow - this driving concept is the driver. This concept will lead me to various structured systems such as I have to perform nishkama karma, I have to give charity, I have to forget myself - these are methods for the realization of the goals of the driver. So you have two levels. There is a basic ideational level which is in functional relationship to a whole structured set of mental objects and things which you may call shastras or systems - whatever. So subjugation of the mind would then mean that the basic drivers are affected. The ideas that drive us are either weakened or they are disturbed - affected by a virus. Then the point is not that my mind is subjugated but rather that I have become a fragmented self - in effect, a vikshipta mana - a splintered, fragmented, mind and then all the problems begin that a modern educated man would normally experience or feel. This kind of thing happens - mind splintering/mind subjugation - in various contacts, various situations which I talked about in the beginning - the worst of that being when you are also politically or militarily subjugated.
This kind of thing has happened and has happened repeatedly in India when our own thought has appeared to recede and we have an institution to handle such recession called vyasa parampara. Vyasa parampara is simply a renewal institution. There were thirty Vyasas. What do we mean by Veda Vyasa? It means the last 28th Vyasa who was a contemporary of Janmajaya whose Nagayaya was performed at Nigambodh Ghat in Delhi. The Mahabharata texts, the Vedic texts were all re-constituted there after the great disturbance - the great cataclysmic war in which the scholars were driving chariots and got killed. Texts were lost and then they were reconstituted. So this institution is a loss-and-recovery phenomenon and this has gone on in India a number of times. So it is not something new. It is something new after the 18th-19th century British contact. We are in the process / in the midst of (in the last fifteen, twenty-five years) various modes of recovery in different ways. So this is something that ought not to be really very disturbing. It is a part of the dynamism of Indian culture. It has valued (though we are not a bibliolatrous - book-worshipping people) certain texts as texts of knowledge. You can say anything about them. It doesn't matter. You can express any opinion about the Bhagavadgita, the Vedas. It doesn't matter. But then, they are, nonetheless, texts of knowledge. They have been maintained with unique success. If you compare the history of the maintenance of Indian texts and say Shakespeare's plays which were printed in his own lifetime, we note that five hundred years later a major industry is Shakespeare's authentic texts but over thousands of years Indian texts have come down intact. So we have maintained them, the community has maintained them. Why has it maintained them? It must be because of the great premium put on knowledge. And Arjuna, who in the Mahabharata is told by Krishna he must take to karma, he should take his bow and start, does not worry about knowledge systems as he is advised to choose the path of action. But we are told by Sri Krishna that nothing liberates like knowledge, that there is no greater purifier than knowledge. So ours is a knowledge-centered civilization. This is evidenced by another fact. We know the history of the destruction of manuscripts in India and still, it is remarkable that there are more than a million manuscripts, if not more. Compare it to how many manuscripts elsewhere you may find. The fact that there exist one million manuscripts speaks of a very learned civilization. It is a proof that knowledge has been highly valued. So it has happened again and again - this loss and recovery.
But what is it that happened in the British period? As I have just said, culture is a set of codes, civilization is a set of institutions. To my mind, the British period was more remarkable for its civilizational changes - new institutions, civilizational institutions, judiciary, parliament, democracy etc. They were both the instruments of subordination and also the instruments of liberation. There was a duality as far as the culture and texts are concerned because of what had happened by the 19th century. The other day we had a workshop on Brahmilipi, so I told them "fine, many lipis" - during Asoka's period there were four scripts - but the truth is by the 19th century we could not read any one of them. So we had lost them and it was Princep who taught us how to read Asoka's inscriptions. And you have the much-maligned Lord Curzon. If he had not been there, we would not know about people like the king of Benaras, who told his general that he wanted to build a new palace and therefore the main stupa in Sarnath had to be demolished for bricks in 1794. It was standing with the Dhamekha stupa and was twice its size and it was demolished. This is what was the state. I also recall that when the British resident told the ruler of Bhopal about the magnificent sculptures in Vidisha, he was told to take them away if he liked them to which the resident had rejoined by saying, 'You do not know what you are saying.' That was the state. And therefore there has to be some sort of recovery.
In the 19th century a stark opposition is set up between the characteristically Indian 'All-life-is-one' view and the Western man-centered view. It was this intellectual opposition that was introduced at that stage in the Indian mind. I will share my speculations with you and I know that you will disagree with me. You must have already disagreed with me on a number of issues. But kindly bear with my free-wheeling speculation. The Western civilizational intervention was not really a reinforcement of what Islam had first brought - both, because Islam did not succeed in intervening intellectually in that manner as this 18th-19th century Western influence did. I am referring to the man-centered world-view. The principle of man's centrality in the universe - that man is the center (please go to the Old Testament - Genesis - God said, "I have made you in my own image and I have made all this world for you to enjoy. All these fruits and birds and plants and trees and fish and fowl are for you to enjoy.") Man is the lord and master. He is the chosen creation. He comes at the end of the evolution as the best. So the concept of evolutionism incorporates in it the belief that all this is for man and man is central. Now this was, is and continues to be in sharp opposition to the core driver in our minds that man is just a link in a chain of beings and not the privileged, best one or one who has come at the end of a long claim. But he is just one of them. Being and non-being doesn't matter. So this grand idea has this concrete gross reflex - a shopkeeper refusing to kill a mouse and voluntarily giving him cheese ('the mouse has his rightful share in food'). Or a housewife getting up in the morning, feeding birds, dogs, cows, keeping some food for the incapacitated, then giving food to the elderly, then to the guests, then the children, then the husband and then herself, the last. It is a whole way of life which stems from a core driver. Human beings are a part of the chain. Reality is not separate from human beings. You are a part of it. You are linked to it and somewhere linked to a superior entity. You can call him by whatever name you like - Allah, Brahman, the Almighty God. In effect, there is a superior entity who is there and there are laws also, which are powerful, universal and general to which you are subjected and they are very fair laws. If the law operates adversely for you, you have only yourself to blame, not the law. This is the broad view. I am putting it in very general broad common terms. This is in strong opposition to many sides of the Western meta-assumption.
See. Man is central. Man is the best being that God has created. Everything is for man. It leads to a philosophy of self-indulgence, to producer-consumer society - a philosophy of comfort - search for comfort, a philosophy of individualism, imperialism, everything - because you are the lord and master. You have to pander to your self - not cater only. For example this will lead to a very different relationship with the environment. The belief that you are the best, you are the chosen, you come at the end of a series of evolutionary accidents - you come as a perfect realization. Descartes in On Method says the goal of knowledge is to bend nature to man's purpose. And the Western civilization has been harnessing nature till it has brought about a virtual ecological disaster. So, you bend nature. I often make a very contentious point: Renaissance was a turning point. Till then God was an adversary - God was watching you; and, in turn, God had to be watched when you were acting and living your life. This is the unending tension. Because if you do something wrong, he will punish you. And then, of course, he is merciful - you have to repent, you have to confess, you have to seek redemption. It may come; it may not come. So God was a great opponent, a powerful adversary. God made you a neurotic. Then after Renaissance God was replaced by nature. God was dead. They killed God. Then the opposition is to nature. Nature is very harsh - cold, permafrost. So, nature becomes the adversary. This adversarial relationship has moved on - man against man and to man against woman. So they have progressed through various adversarial relationships. There is this whole philosophy of environment, which is controlled by this view.
Here I need to say - how do we look on Nature - what is our basic system? I am not talking of the victims of education, I am talking of the average small Indian living in a village, in a small town, in these places much more than in, say, Delhi. I remember that in my childhood, in the evening if a child plucked a flower, the grandfather would stop him. He would say, "The flower is also sleeping." There is a whole different relationship with the environment. You worship the tree. You do the tarpan under a mango tree. So many benefits flow. The tree is watered. Your ancestors may not be gratified but you will certainly get good fruit. This affinity with everything (to raise things to the level of a god, to perform worship, to light the lamp), all this which has been dismissed as mere ritual - they are an expression of - a recognition of the need of man to be one with Nature. Just as the self can be your friend as well as your enemy, so too Nature is your friend and can be your enemy. Now with denudation, nature is becoming your enemy with floods and all that. So this philosophy leads to a different thinking about environmental relationship. Also, I have a note that tells us that there was a King Prithu, the Puranas tell us, who was the king of a town near Karnal on our way to Amritsar from Delhi. It is now known as Pehova and was then called Prithudaka. He was an ancient king. Five times he 'milked' (dohna) the earth. This is exploitation of the land. Taking three crops instead of two out of land. I remember in my childhood, in my village, my own uncle, used to tell us, we take two crops, and in between for three months we leave the land fallow to rejuvenate it. Because we must return to the land something we have taken from it. We give it back. That was a cycle - that was the system. Now with pesticides, new seeds, intermediate crops, why are you doing it? Because you have now different economics generated by the new principles. It is an economics of surplus. Not the economy of need but of surplus that you can sell. There was a time when people would not sell milk. It is not far back. It was in practice in all parts of India. They would not sell things. This producer-consumer economics also stems from the desire to eat more than one needs - that's why you 'milk' the land and therefore you will pay for it.
For the first time saline lands are appearing in otherwise fertile Panjab on account of over-exploitation. It leads to a different economics. Freedom from replaced by freedom to as noted by the Venezuelan scholar, Jorge Armand (2000). And I have a word here, we have the concept of sanyama. This sanyama is completely opposed to indulgence. Also in the same way it leads to a different ethics. Once you have that driver that man is the master - man is at the center - then what follows? There is then a different relationship with environment - a different economics and a different value system or ethics. I think the Jaina - Jaina vegetarianism and ahimsa - stems ultimately from the driver that you are a part of a chain of Beings and the purpose of somebody's existence is not to be determined by you. You are not going to determine what is going to be the purpose of a cockroach. Why is a cockroach there? The purpose is there is the very fact of its being. It's there - that is its purpose. So that's the purpose for the rest of life - all life. Vegetarianism is that way the culmination of civilization - that way you don't hurt any living being. It sounds very easy but think of - what centuries of thought and practice must have gone into this - to produce this concept. How easy, how willing we are to harm and how difficult it is to restrain oneself from doing violence of some kind. So the whole value system - a different value system will emerge: everything that exists has a purpose and has consciousness - a mouse or a cat or a cockroach or a bird. And just as I have a thinking-feeling system, birds also have a thinking-feeling system, nay even the stone. Why does the stone glow? It glows as Dr. Kavita Sharma put it because there is someone seeing it. The word here is niyama - a concept from Mimamsa. It means that if there are two ways of doing something, one of them is to be preferred. If I want water I can shout at the girl and demand water - that is one way - the second way is to ask gently if I can have some water - that is the preferred way of asking for it. If you are hungry you can feed your appetite with anything but you are told 'eat this, not this (niyama)'. When in my childhood I used to go out like this, my mother used to say tie this button and even now though I like to keep it open, when I go to the class the first thing I do is to tie this shirt button.Compare this with two kinds of nakedness - one that I saw in Singapore in public and the other of a Jaina Digambara ascetic. One is naked, the other is not naked. The other is naked because you see him naked. He is not naked. But the other ones are naked. In fact they want to be seen as naked. So there is an absence of niyama. In purushartha - in various value systems the controlling word is this, as against indulgence.
The principle leads to a different politics and a different value system. It leads to a system founded on the survival of the fittest. There is no room for an idiot. There is no room for an incapacitated person. There are asylums. In a way of life that is fast changing again I go back to my childhood village, when every village had an idiot, who was looked after by the whole village. If there were an incapacitated man - he too would be looked after by the whole village. And if there were a singer of bhajans who did nothing except sing, he too would be looked after by the whole village. These may sound like very pleasant thoughts but some of them have been seen as real. In fact, some of them are seen as vanishing and some of them are even seen as returning in a cycle where we are often back at the beginning. Eternal progress is the myth of the west. Our myth is the myth of eternal return to use once again the telling expressions of Jorge Armand, the Venezuelan scholar I quoted above. Things come back in the same way. So, it also yields a different political system - one, which is based on the survival of the fittest - a political system which is based on the concept of rights. From that great falsehood of the French Revolution that all men are born equal to the theory of rights - to rights oriented civilizations and institutions. A right is directed towards your own self. Therefore 'rights' is in the conflict mode. Rights are always in the conflict mode, just as the notion of progress is in the conflict mode, because you progress by shedding the 'garbage' - you clean up - let only the best and the clean survive. Against 'rights' our culture's driver is duty - dharma. As the eldest son, I never thought of what I wanted for myself, I always thought of what I have to do for my father who would retire without much money, about my brother and sisters. And I have not become a neurotic by doing that - by not bothering about my own rights. Dharma is duty. What is duty? Duty is directed towards the other - therefore it is in a harmony mode. So the political system, the whole constitution, your fundamental rights are enunciated but duties are only in the directive principles. I wish it was the other way round, which would be more in tune with our drivers. Hence this conflict. We feel this tension between what we can do / are doing and what we ought to be doing.
It also leads to a different aesthetics because in that system where man is the master, the artist is a great crafter - he is a maker and he crafts. But in our system, the artist is not a maker - he is a sadhaka - he is a manifester - he manifests the unmanifested. The paradigm artist in the Western framework is a carpenter (Plato's carpenter). What does he do? He takes his reality, which is wood - measures it, segments it, re-arranges it and makes it. So the reality for the geometrically minded Greeks, and in the subsequent trail in the Western part, is quantifiable, segmentable, measurable, changeable. You can re-arrange it. Man is the one who rearranges it as the master. The paradigm artist in the Indian context is the potter - kumbhakara. What does he do? He has the clay rotating before him. He has his hands on the clay and there is a figure that he sees in his mind. That figure is in the clay. He shuts his eyes and lets the figure in his mind flow through his fingers to the figure in the clay and when the two figures become one he opens his eyes. What has he done? He has not measured it, he has not segmented. He has merely made manifest what was non-manifest - dravya (substance) ko rupa (form). If he is not satisfied, he would make it into a lump and start again, for the figure is there in the mind. So he is not a maker. You are a devotee of the clay and you are a devotee of the figure in the clay. Your mind attaches itself with reverence to the object. Beauty is not therefore something of form, something of appearance but beauty is in the object to which your mind attaches itself with reverence. It may be your old grandmother. She is beautiful because your mind attaches to her with such reverence. It is the quality of reverence, which in the socio-economic framework is opposed to utility. So you had a Lambretta and now you have graduated to Mitsubishi Lancer. But the Lambretta still stands in your courtyard - "we have seen very good days. The Lambretta has made me what I am" - the idea of reverence. We don't dispose of. These are people, not things. As late as 1995 my daughter would not let me sell off my old car. When I said that it would only stand here, and not perform any function, she replied that the grandfather also used to do nothing. He never did anything. Yet he was there. So this car should also be there. Where has this driver come from? It must have come from somewhere. It must have been in the air. But today some people have got alienated from that ethos. And this is the cause of my great dispute with those who say "revive this thought" - I said 'No'. The thought does not need revival. We have to revive ourselves to the thought.
So, I have initiated this distinction of two or three levels of thought. I haven't got a clear understanding of the structure except for this meta-analogy from the computer where you have Windows 98 and you have Excel and Word and which may not be a perfect analogy - there are none, in any case. So you have two languages. There are drivers and utilities. So you have the driver driving the thought and you have the utilities, the applications - the thought, which then codifies itself - which helps you to realize those ideas. So some operational concepts are needed. For example, one operational concept is that of time. You know that time is linear in the West (linearity means succession, linearity implies progress and therefore evolution and future), and future is the great mass hysteria of the West. What would happen in the coming time? Apocalypse or the Messiah? What will come? There are two keywords for an understanding of the drivers in the Western consciousness. One is 'future' - in the concept of time and the second is 'teleology' - purpose - everything must have a purpose. A thing that is there must have some purpose - so teleology and future - two things. You have here on the other hand cyclicity. You have the notion of a cycle. In a cycle there is no future. Past is future - future is past. So there is no anxiety. Neither an apocalypse nor a messiah. We are psychologically a very secure people - if we believe this. We become anxiety-ridden people if we stop believing in this. So first there is this concept of time, which is crucial and this evolutionism - the idea of progress etc. Our second concept is the notion of equilibrium. We are always trying to strike a balance. We do not believe in elimination. Again let me come back to the conflict and harmony mode. The integral synthesis mode versus the exclusivist selective mode - the dichotomous mode, where in binary choices you select this and reject that - or, alternatively when you have thesis and antithesis you try to find where does the synthesis lie. That is where the equilibrium comes in. Equilibrium vis-à-vis conflict. Rta was the word for this equilibrium / poise in the Vedas. This equilibrium / poise - it is there in the individual - our negative and our positive - our bad intentions and the good - anger is balanced by love. The moment the balance is disturbed, the action begins, the narrative begins as it indeed does both in the Mahabharata and in R. K. Narayan's fiction. Once the balance in the individual is disturbed, either you go to the psychiatrist or some place to recover that balance. As against the conflict mode where something has to be excised, eliminated and, only then X can be - we have the harmony mode, self in the other, the other in the self. So this notion of Rta is an operational concept. It is different from the drivers. It is operational.
The third one that I have here, I have already mentioned this - is that where duty is the key. You have to think of others. It is not for nothing that the word dharma is very problematic and has been commented upon and made very metaphysical and confused. So also moksha and Brahma. The more you read about them the more you are confused. But the ideas are simple. Moksha is defined in Samkhya philosophy as dukh nivritti - freedom from dukh and dukh is of three kinds - accidental, physical and spiritual - of the spirit adi bhautik, adi daivik and adi adhyatmik - freedom from this dukh here and now is moksha. Somebody has a term paper to write - till he finishes his term paper he will not attain moksha, for example. The moment he finishes he will experience moksha. It is as simple as that. Now the key question in Indian philosophy (people say Indian philosophy is very metaphysical), the goal of Indian philosophy is dukh nivritti. The answers may be different. The Mimamsa says, do the enjoined duty. The Nyaya says, develop proper judgment. The Vaisesika says, acquire proper knowledge of the material world - the objects - like this they give different answers. One of the later answers is the one that Krishna gives to Arjuna when he asks him to transcend this opposition between the self and the other and to do his allotted duty for the welfare of the people - niyata karma - for loksamgraha - welfare of the people. So you get the answer this way. One of the other answers is Brahman, jnana - Vedanta. Brahman becomes a very complex word - but it is again a very simple word, Brahman. Bhartrhari talking of the philosophy of language uses Brahman - Sabda Brahman. How is Brahman sabda? There must be something to the concept. As we know in the Indian philosophical systems there are increasingly fewer ontological categories as we move from the Mimamsa to the Vedanta. For example in Vaisesika there are 24 ontological categories. In Samkhya they are collapsed into two - purusa and prakriti - Matter and Energy principle. Then in Vedanta the great realization that matter and energy are not separate. They toggle. So that is Brahman. Brahman is energized matter. All this energized matter is Brahman. Once you know this that all this is energized matter - that all of us are all the same, we have had our realization. So Adi Shankaracharya says, brahman atam ekatva bodhena moksha sidhyate nanyatha: once you realize you are one with everyone - one in the large sense, you are one with everyone and everyone is part of one in the larger sense - only then will you be free of suffering, not otherwise - very simple. This transcendence it may be a metaphysical category, but this transcendence requires you to rise above or beyond the oppositions, which are created if you put yourself at the top and others at a distance.
So this leads us to the fifth concept. The terms used by Bhartrhari are nanatva and ekatva - what is the relationship between plurality and singleness - between pluri-theism and monism - between multiplicity and unity - oneness. This is the great question. Though there is not enough time to go into great details, I will briefly touch upon it. The Indian civilization has always been plural-civilization - pluri-cultural - while seeking at the same time some kind of unity. You see it in grammar, where you begin with the phoneticists and you come to sabda Brahman, you see it in rasa theory, where you begin with eight rasas and come to Abhinavgupta's one - shantarasa. But pluri-theism is never rejected. There is some kind of a transcendental materialism in the Indian mind - that all this pulsating matter creates different forms - so this principle Bhartrhari upholds of ekatva buddhi because difference is an overrated category these days - difference thanks to Derrida - bheda. In our system bhedabuddhi is referred to as avidya. Why? Why should we rise from bheda to abheda? Bhartrhari asks us to think about it. Or as Plato tells his disciples in Cratylus - addressing his students he recalls what Heraclitus says, "Everything is in a flux. There is nothing to be known and there is no knowledge. I am too old to investigate this," says Plato to his students and asks them to "go out into the world. Find an answer. If you get come back and tell me." In the same way one posits Bhartrhari's statement, "ekatvabuddhi sarvavadavirodhini." Ekatva is superior because it is opposed to no veda. It is in opposition to no veda, no point of view - grand synthesis or tolerance if you please. Experience it and then confirm its truth.
The next stage is that where organized systems reflect this. These are two levels of thinking languages. The organized systems are your shastras, your philosophical texts and your Dharmashastras - they are the organized systems, which are codified on the basis of both your practice and these thoughts. Then in the fourth stage you can see the intellectual merry-go-round of India. There are no pre-s and post-s - pre-modern-modern-post-modern, pre-structure-structure-post-structure - there is no linearity, there is no sequencing; there is simultaneity instead. In a given home the grandfather is pre-structural, the father structural and the son is post-structural. Everything coexists at the same time not only in the same community but an individual may be all the three at any given moment in his thinking system. So I have things here like sequence vs. simultaneity - the intellectual merry-go-round of India - monism alternating with pluralism, synthesis with antithesis and materialism with idealism, transcendental materialism and scriptal illusion / the reality of the visible script alternating with the validity of sabda-sound.
These foundational assumptions and the systems built upon them have to be customized, activated to decolonize the Indian minds.
http://www.multiworld.org/m_versity/articles/kapil.htm
Geopolitics and Sanskrit Phobia   
 by:   Rajiv Malhotra on Jul 5 2005 12:00AM in Religion

Overview
This paper discusses the historical and contemporary relationship between geopolitics and Sanskrit, and consists of the following sections:
I. Sanskrit is more than a language. Like all languages, its structures and categories contain a built-in framework for representing specific worldviews. Sanskriti is the name of the culture and civilization that embodies this framework. One may say that Sanskriti is the term for what has recently become known as Indic Civilization, a civilization that goes well beyond the borders of modern India to encompass South Asia and much of Southeast Asia. At one time, it included much of Asia.
II. Interactions among different regions of Asia helped to develop and exchange this pan-Asian Sanskriti. Numerous examples involving India, Southeast Asia and China are given.
III. Sanskrit started to decline after the West Asian invasions of the Indian subcontinent. This had a devastating impact on Sanskriti, as many world-famous centers of learning were destroyed, and no single major university was built for many centuries by the conquerors.
IV. Besides Asia, Sanskrit and Sanskriti influenced Europe's modernity, and Sanskrit Studies became a large-scale formal activity in most European universities. These influences shaped many intellectual disciplines that are (falsely) classified as “Western”. But the “discovery” of Sanskrit by Europe also had the negative influence of fueling European racism since the 19th century.
V. Meanwhile, in colonial India, the education system was de-Sanskritized and replaced by an English based education. This served to train clerks and low level employees to administer the Empire, and to start the process of self-denigration among Indians, a trend that continues today. Many prominent Indians achieved fame and success as middlemen serving the Empire, and Gandhi's famous 1908 monograph, “Hind Swaraj,” discusses this phenomenon.
VI. After India's independence, there was a broad based Nehruvian love affair with Sanskrit as an important nation-building vehicle. However, successive generations of Indian intellectuals have replaced this with what this paper terms “Sanskrit Phobia,” i.e. a body of beliefs now widely disseminated according to which Sanskrit and Sanskriti are blamed for all sorts of social, economic and political problems facing India's underprivileged classes. This section illustrates such phobia among prominent Western Indologists and among trendy Indians involved in South Asian Studies who learn about Sanskrit and Sanskriti according to Western frameworks and biases.
VII. The clash of civilizations among the West, China and Islam is used as a lens to discuss the future of Sanskriti across South and Southeast Asia.
VIII. Some concrete suggestions are made for further consideration to revitalize Sanskrit as a living language that has potential for future knowledge development and empowerment of humanity.
I. Sanskrit and the Multicultural Sanskriti (Indic Civilization)
In modern Westernized universities, Sanskrit is taught primarily as a language only and that too in connection with Indo-European philology. On the other hand, other major languages such as English, Arabic and Mandarin are treated as containers of their respective unique civilizational worldviews; the same approach is not accorded to Sanskrit. In fact, the word itself has a wider, more general meaning in the sense of civilization. Etymologically, Sanskrit means "elaborated," "refined," "cultured," or "civilized," implying wholeness of expression. Employed by the refined and educated as a language and a means of communication, Sanskrit has also been a vehicle of civilizational transmission and evolution.
The role of Sanskrit was not merely as a language but also as a distinct cultural system and way of experiencing the world. Thus, to the wider population, Sanskrit is experienced through the civilization named Sanskriti, which is built on it.
Sanskriti is the repository of human sciences, art, architecture, music, theatre, literature, pilgrimage, rituals and spirituality, which embody pan-Indic cultural traits. Sanskriti incorporates all branches of science and technology - medical, veterinary, plant sciences, mathematics, engineering, architecture, dietetics, etc. Pannini's grammar, a meta-language with such clarity, flexibility and logic that certain pioneers in computer science are turning to it for ideas is one of the stunning achievements of the human mind and is a part of this Sanskriti.
From at least the beginning of the common era until about the thirteenth century, Sanskrit was the paramount linguistic and cultural medium for the ruling and administrative circles, from Purushapura (Peshawar) in Gandhara (Afghanistan) to as far east as Pandurang in Annam (South Vietnam) and Prambanam in Central Java. Sanskrit facilitated a cosmopolis of cultural and aesthetic expressions that encompassed much of Asia for over a thousand years, and this was not constituted by imperial power nor sustained by any organized church. Sanskriti, thus, has been both the result and cause of a cultural consciousness shared by most South and Southeast Asians regardless of their religion, class or gender and expressed in essential similarities of mental and spiritual outlook and ethos.
Even after Sanskrit as a language faded explicitly in most of Asia, the Sanskriti based on it persists and underpins the civilizations of South and Southeast Asia today. What Monier-Williams wrote of India applies equally to Southeast Asia as well: “India's national character is cast in a Sanskrit mould and in Sanskrit language. Its literature is a key to its vast religious system. Sanskrit is one medium of approach to the hearts of the Indians, however unlearned, or however disunited by the various circumstances of country, caste, and creed” (Gombrich 1978, 16).
Sanskrit unites the great and little traditions:
A bi-directional process facilitated the spread of Sanskriti in South and Southeast Asia. The top-down meta-structure of Sanskrit was transmitted into common spoken languages; simultaneously, there was a bottom-up assimilation of local culture and language into Sanskrit's open architecture. This is analogous to Microsoft (top down) and Linux (bottom up) rolled into one. Such a culture grows without breaking down, as it can evolve from within to remain continually contemporaneous and advanced.
Pan-Indic civilization emerged in its present composite form through the intercourse between these two cultural streams, which have been called the "great" and "little" traditions, respectively. The streams and flows between them were interconnected by various processes, such as festivals and rituals, and scholars have used these “tracers” to understand the reciprocal influences between Sanskrit and local languages.
Marriott has delineated the twin processes: (i) the “downward” spread of cultural elements that are contained in Sanskrit into localized cultural units represented by local languages, and (ii), the “upward” spread from local cultural elements into Sanskrit. Therefore, Sanskrit served as a meta-language and framework for the vast range of languages across Asia. While the high culture of the sophisticated urbane population (known as "great tradition" in anthropology) provides Sanskriti with refinement and comprehensiveness, cultural input produced by the rural masses ("little tradition") gives it popularity, vitality and pan-Indian outlook.
Once information about local or regional cultural traits is recorded and encoded in Sanskrit, they become part of Sanskriti. On the other hand, when elements of Sanskriti are localized and given local flavour, they acquire a distinct regional cultural identity and colour. Just as local cultural elements become incorporated into Sanskriti, elements of Sanskriti are similarly assimilated and multiply into a plurality of regional cultural units.
Sanskriti includes the lore and repository of popular song, dance, play, sculpture, painting, and religious narratives. Dimock (1963, 1-5) has suggested that the diversity to be found in the Indic region (i.e. South and Southeast Asia) is permeated by patterns that recur throughout the country, so that each region, despite its differences from other regions, expresses the patterns - the structural paradigmatic aspects - of the whole. Each regional culture is therefore to be seen as a structural microcosm of the full system.
Sanskrit served two purposes: (1) spiritual, artistic, scientific and ritual lingua franca across vast regions of Asia, and (2) a useful vehicle of communication among speakers of local languages, much as English is employed today.
Early Buddhist scriptures were composed and preserved in Pali and other Prakrit (local) languages, but later started to also be composed in what is known as "hybrid Sanskrit." There was a trend using elegant, Paninian Sanskrit for both verbal and written communication. Tibetan was developed based on Sanskrit and is virtually a mirror image of it.
By the time of Kalidasa (600 C.E.) Sanskrit was mastered diligently by the literati and was, therefore, never a dead language. It is living, as Michael Coulson points out, because people chose it to formulate their ideas in preference to some other language. It flourished as a living language of inter-regional communication and understanding before becoming eclipsed first by Persian and then by English after the military and political conquest of India.
Refuting the habit of dividing the Prakrit languages of India into two structurally separate “North” and “South” independent families, Stephen Tyler explains that “[M]odern Indo-Aryan languages are more similar to Dravidian languages than they are to other Indo-European languages" (Tyler 1973: 18-20).
There is synergy between Sanskrit and Prakrit: A tinge of Prakrit added to Sanskrit brought Sanskrit closer to the language of the home, while a judicious Sanskritization made Prakrit into a language of a higher cultural status. Both of these processes were simultaneous and worked at conscious as well as subconscious levels (Deshpande 1993, 35). As an example of this symbiosis, one may point to various Sanskrit texts in medieval India which were instruction manuals for spoken or conversational Sanskrit by the general public (Deshpande 1993; Salomon 1982; Wezler 1996).
Understanding this leads us to a vital insight about Sanskriti: Given this relationship between Sanskrit and local languages, and that Sanskriti is the common cultural container, it is not necessary for everyone to know Sanskrit in order to absorb and develop an inner experience of the embedded values and categories of meaning it carries. Similarly, a knower of the local languages would have access to the ideas, values and categories embodied in Sanskriti.
Unlike the cultural genocides of natives by Arabic, Mandarin and English speaking conquerors and colonizers, Sanskrit had a mutually symbiotic relationship with the popular local languages, and this remained one of reciprocal reinforcement rather than forced adoption through coercion or conquest.
This deeply embedded cultural dynamism could be the real key to a phenomenon that is often superficially misattributed to the British English: how modern India despite its vast economic disadvantages is able to produce adaptive and world-class individuals in virtually all fields of endeavour. This dynamism makes the assimilation of "modern" and "progressive" ideologies and thought patterns easier in India than in many other developing countries. In fact, it facilitates incorporating "modern" innovations into the tradition. It allows India to achieve its own kind of “modernity” in which it would also remain "Indian," just as Western modernity is built on distinctly European structures despite their claim of universality. This is why Indians are adaptive and able to compete globally compared to other non-Western traditions today.
II. Pan-Asian Sanskriti
India is the central link in a chain of regional civilizations that extend from Japan in the far north-east to Ireland in the far north-west. Between these two extremities the chain sags down southwards in a festoon that dips below the Equator in Indonesia.” (A.J. Toynbee)
Centuries prior to the trend of Westernization of the globe, the entire arc from Central Asia through Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam and all the way to Indonesia was a crucible of a sophisticated pan-Asian civilization. In A.L. Basham's “A Cultural History of India,” it is said that:
By the fifth century CE, Indianized states, that is to say states organized along the traditional lines of Indian political theory and following the Buddhist or Hindu religions, had established themselves in many regions of Burma, Thailand, Indo-China, Malaysia, and Indonesia. (Basham 1975, 442-3)
However, unlike the violent spread of Europeanism in recent centuries, this Sanskritisation of Asia was entirely peaceful, never resorting to physical force or coercion to subvert local cultures or identities, or to engage in economic or political exploitation of the host cultures and societies. Its worldviews were based on compassion and mutual exchange, and not on the principle of conquest and domination. This is not to say that political disputes and wars of conquest never occurred, but that in most instances, neither the motive nor the result was the imposition of cultural or religious homogeneity.
The following passage from Arun Bhattacharjee's “Greater India” elaborates this point clearly:
The unique feature of India's contacts and relationship with other countries and peoples of the world is that the cultural expansion was never confused with colonial domination and commercial dynamism far less economic exploitation. That culture can advance without political motives, that trade can proceed without imperialist designs, settlements can take place without colonial excesses and that literature, religion and language can be transported without xenophobia, jingoism and race complexes are amply evidenced from the history of India's contact with her neighbors...Thus although a considerable part of central and south-eastern Asia became flourishing centers of Indian culture, they were seldom subjects to the regime of any Indian king or conquerors and hardly witnessed the horrors and havocs of any Indian military campaign. They were perfectly free, politically and economically and their people representing an integration of Indian and indigenous elements had no links with any Indian state and looked upon India as a holy land rather than a motherland – a land of pilgrimage and not an area of jurisdiction. (Bhattacharjee 1981, 1-3)
This Sanskritisation in Asia provided an adaptive and flexible unity to those regions it influenced. For example, in Thailand you can find the city of Ayodhya and Thai versions of the Ramayana. In Java, a local forest inhabited by monkeys is thought to have been the home of Hanuman at some point and the current residences his descendents. Every polity influenced by this Sanskritization was able to incorporate the vast Sanskriti culture into its own. This malleability provided a non-invasive and unimposing diffusion.
Sanskriti and Southeast Asia:
The establishment of trade (of goods and mutual material benefit) between India and Southeast Asia was the mechanism of this culture and knowledge trade:
Contacts between India and South-East Asia along the trade-routes, once established, persisted; and cultural changes in the Indian subcontinent had their effect across the Bay of Bengal. During the late Gupta and the Pala-Sena periods many Southeast Asian regions were greatly influenced by developments in Indian religious ideas, especially in the Buddhist field. (Basham 1975, 449)
This Sanskrit based civilization was not centrally developed in what is present day India, but was rather the collaborative effort of Indians with many Asian peoples, especially the Southeast Asians. For example, there were regular scholarly exchanges between thinkers from many diverse parts of Asia.
Many Asian kings sent their best students to centers of learning in India, such as Taksasila and Nalanda, which were ancient equivalents of today's Ivy Leagues in America where the third world now sends its brightest youth for higher education. King Baladeva of Indonesia was so supportive of the university in Nalanda that in A.D. 860 he made a donation to it (Basham 1975, 449). The support given to the university from a foreign king thousands of miles away in Southeast Asian demonstrates how important scholarly exchange was for those regions under the influence of Pan-Asian Sanskriti.
Interestingly, the geographies mentioned in the Puranas, such as Ramayana and Mahabharata, include many countries, especially of Southeast Asia, as a part and parcel of the Indic region. This indicates an ancient link between South and Southeast Asian even before the relatively modern Sanskritization that is being discussed here.
Sanskriti and Thailand:
Sanskriti has an established and obvious influence in Thailand, dating from 1500 years ago to the present day. Sanskrit was used for public social, cultural, and administrative purposes in Thailand and other regions of Southeast Asia.
The Thais, once established in the Menam basin, underwent a process of Indianization which, because it is well documented, provides an invaluable example of the mechanics of cultural fusion in South-East Asia... On the other hand, the Thais absorbed much from their Khmer and Mon subjects; and the influence of Angkor and Dvaravati is obvious in Thai art. Thai kings embraced the Indian religions, and they based their principles of government upon Hindu practice as it had been understood by their Khmer predecessors (Basham, 1975, 450).
In Thailand, Sanskrit is highly respected today as the medium of validating, legitimating, and transmitting royal succession and instituting formal rituals.
The Thai monarchy, though following Hinayana Buddhism of the Sinhalese type, still requires the presence of Court brahmans... for the proper performance of its ceremonials. (Basham 1975, 442-3)
Furthermore, India and Sanskriti directly influenced aspects of Thai aesthetics such as architecture and art.
Thai rulers...sent, for example, agents to Bengal, at that time suffering from the disruption of Islamic conquest, to bring back models upon which to base an official sculpture and architecture. Hence Thai architects began to build replicas of the Bodh-Gaya stupa (Wat Chet Yot in Chiengmai is a good example) and Thai artists made Buddha images according to the Pala canon as they saw it. (Basham: 450).
Dance and theatre also continue to reflect the underlying influence of Sanskriti.
The traditional dance and shadow-puppet theatres in many South-East Asian regions, in Thailand, Malaya, and Java for example, continue to fascinate their audiences with the adventures of Rama and Sita and Hanuman. (Basham 1975, 442-3)
In linguistic terms, Sanskrit had the same cultural influence on Thai as Latin had on English. In other cases, Pali influenced more than Sanskrit - for instance, a person who knows Pali can often guess the meaning of present day Cambodian, Burmese, Thai and Lao, and this Pali impact was largely from Sri Lanka. Basham points out:
Many South-East languages contain an important proportion of words of Sanskrit or Dravidian origin. Some of these languages, like Thai, are still written in scripts which are clearly derived from Indian models. (Basham 1975, 442-3).
Sanskriti and China:
China and India had a unique and mutually respected exchange. Buddhist thought is the most notable and obvious import into China from Sanskriti influence. The Tang dynasty provided an opening for the Chinese civilization to welcome Sanskriti coming from South and Southeast Asia.
The Tang dynasty ruled in China from 618 to 907 AD. This is one of the most glorious periods in the history of China. The whole of China came under one political power that extended over Central Asia. It was in this period that the influence of India over China reached the highest peak. A large number of missionaries and merchants crowded the main cities of China. Similarly, more Chinese monks and royal embassies came to India in the seventh century AD than during any other period. The Nalanda University which was at its height attracted large number of Buddhist monks from all over Asia. The Chinese scholars at Nalanda not only studied Buddhism but Brahmanical philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and medicine also. The Chinese emperor gave liberal support to the Chinese scholars studying at Nalanda” (Bhattacharjee 1981, 131-2).
The characteristic of the recipient “pulling” knowledge is typical in the transmission of Sanskriti and is to be contrasted with the “pushing” model of the spread of Christianity and Islam by divine fiat. Unlike Christian evangelists “pushing”, Hiuen Tsang and I-Tsing came from China to “pull” knowledge by learning Buddhism and other disciplines in India and taking them back.
Foremost among such scholars was Hiuen Tsang who played the most distinguished part in establishing Buddhism on a solid footing in China and improving the cultural relations between these two countries. He learnt the Yogachara system at Nalanda from the famous monk Silabhadra. On his return to China he translated Buddhist texts and trained his pupils. He founded a new school of Buddhist philosophy in China, which carried on his work after his death. His noble example induced other Chinese monks to visit India. We find that during the later half of the seventh century AD as many as sixty Chinese monks visited India. (Bhattacharjee 1981, 131-2)
An outstanding scholar who dipped into India's prestigious centers of learning to transfer know-how to China was I-Tsing:
I-Tsing...left China by the sea route in 671 AD and having spent several years in Sri-vijaya, an important centre of Buddhist learning in Sumatra reached the port of Tamralipti in Bengal in 673 AD. He stayed at Nalanda for ten years (675-685 AD) and studied and copied Buddhist texts. He came back to China with a collection of four hundred Sanskrit manuscripts containing more than fifty thousand slokas. He translated several texts and compiled a Chinese-Sanskrit dictionary. In his book A Record of the Buddhist Religion as practiced in India and the Malay Archipelago, he has recorded in details the rules of monastic life as practiced in India, which was a subject of his special interest. He also wrote a biography of sixty Buddhist monks who visited India. Most of such monks were Chinese, though some of them belonged to Korea, Samarkand and Tushdra (Turk countries). This book shows the international position of Buddhism in Asia and at the same time indicates its influence in outlying countries like Korea (Bhattacharjee 1981, 138).
Chinese pilgrims were officially sent to Indian holy sites to pay homage on behalf of the Chinese emperorship. The presence of Chinese pilgrims was a practice of close interaction between the Sanskriti superstructure and the Chinese civilization.
Between 950 and 1033 AD a large number of Chinese pilgrims visited India. In 964 AD 300 Chinese monks left China to pay imperial homages (as desired by the Chinese emperor) to the holy places of India. Five of the pilgrims left short inscriptions at the sacred site of Bodh-Gaya. It records the construction of a stupa in honour of emperor T'ai-tsong by the emperor and the dowager empress of the great Song dynasty...The last Chinese monk to visit India was after 1036 AD which marks the close of the long and intimate cultural intercourse between India and China (Bhattacharjee 1981, 125-8).
The exchange was by no means unidirectional. Indian gurus and pandits also went to China and were received with honor by the Chinese. These holy men went to China not just to exchange ideas but also for the practical task of translating Sanskrit texts into Chinese.
In 972 AD as many as forty-four Indian monks went to China. In 973 AD Dharmadeva, a monk of Nalanda was received by the Chinese emperor with great honours. He is credited with translating a large number of Sanskrit texts. Between 970 and 1036 AD a number of other Indian monarchs including a prince of western India named Manjusri stayed at China between 970 and 1036 AD. We know from the Chinese records that there were never so many Indian monks in the Chinese court as at the close of the tenth and the beginning of the eleventh century AD. These Indian monks and Chinese pilgrims carried with them a large number of Sanskrit manuscripts into China. The Chinese emperor appointed a Board of Translators with three Indian scholars at the head. This board succeeded in translating more than 200 volumes between 982 and 1011 AD. (Bhattacharjee 1981, 125-8).
Buddhism's spread across Asia is well acknowledged, but beyond mere religion, this pan-Asian civilization also become a fountain of knowledge in fields as diverse as arts, language, linguistics, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, botany, martial arts and philosophy. For instance, in China:
Indian astronomy, mathematics and medicine earned great popularity... On the official boards were Indian astronomers to prepare the calendars. In the seventh century AD in the capital city flourished three astronomical schools known as Gautama, Kasyapa and Kumara. China had already adopted the Indian theory of nine planets. The Sanskrit astronomical work – Navagraha-Siddhanta was translated into Chinese in the T'ang period. A large number of mathematical and astronomical works were translated into Chinese...Indian medicinal treatise found great favour in China. A large number of medical texts are found in the Chinese Buddhist collection. Rdvana-Kumara Charita, a Sanskrit treatise on the method of treatment of children's diseases was translated into Chinese in the eleventh century AD (Bhattarcharjee 1981, 134-5).
The arts were also centers of confluence of Chinese culture and Sanskriti. Motifs and styles as well as actual artists were exported to China.
Along with Buddhism art of India traveled to China. In fact, the art of India exerted a great influence on the native traditions and gave rise to a new school of art known as Sino-Indian art. The Wei period witnessed a great development in this art. A number of rock-cut caves at Thunwang, Yun-kang and Longmen, colossal images of Buddha 60 to 70 feet high and fresco paintings on the walls of the caves illustrate this art. The inspiration came not only from the images and pictures that were imported from India to China but also from the Indian artists who visited China. Three Indian painters of the names of Sakyabuddha, Buddhakirti and Kumarabodhi worked in China during the Wei period. Gandhara, Mathura and Gupta – the three different schools of sculpture in India were well represented in Chinese art. The best image of Buddha of Wei period was definitely made after the Buddha images of Ajanta and Sarnath. (Bhattarcharjee 1981, 134-5)
Indian musicians also traveled to China and even Japan to share their talent.
Indian music also traveled to China. An Indian musician settled in Kuchi was its sponsor in China. In 581 AD a musical party went from India to China. Although emperor Kaotsu (581-595 AD) vainly tried to ban it by an Imperial order, his successor gave encouragement to the lndian music in China. From a Japanese tradition we come to understand that two principal types of music called Bodhisattva and Bhairo were taken from China to Japan by an Indian brahmana called Bodhi in the T'ang period. (Bhattarcharjee 1981, 134-5)
It is little wonder that Hu Shih, former Chinese ambassador to USA is said to have remarked that India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border.
Implications:
While today's globalization is largely the Westernization of the globe, the earlier civilizational expansion was a mutually nourishing form of Sanskritisation that made huge impacts on the intellectual and cultural development of India, China, Japan, Mongolia, Southeast Asia, present-day Afghanistan and Central Asia.
As will be discussed later, beyond Asia, Indic civilization profoundly influenced Europe's modernity and the enlightenment movements. While Sanskrit's positive role in world history is well documented, awareness of this is primarily confined to a few narrowly specialized scholars. The current teaching of world history tends to be Eurocentric and ignores the contributions of other civilizations and traditions.
Sanskrit can help generate the necessary knowledge systems in order to explore the objectives, methods, and institutional dynamics of intellectual life in contemporary Asia. Also, the history of Sanskrit and Sanskriti can provide the modern world a model of how cultural diffusion can lead to a harmonious and synergetic flowering of humanity rather than forced assimilation through oppression and subjugation. The colonial and neo-colonial necessity of a master/slave relationship in the spread of influence is neatly refuted by the legacy of Sanskriti.
III. Decline of Sanskrit
Since 12th CE, Sanskrit slowly declined in India under political duress and, while remaining an important influence, gradually lost its vitality as the cornerstone for a pan-Asian culture.
While many universities in India were destroyed by invaders from West Asia, it is telling that there was no new major university founded during the entire 500 year Mughal rule over India.
India's valuable lead as knowledge producer and exporter was lost, and India became an importer of know-how from and dependent upon Europeans, a fate shared by much of Southeast Asia.
IV. Sanskrit Influence on Modern Europe
Europe's “discovery” of Sanskrit:
The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is a wonderful structure; more perfect than Greek, more copious than Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either...” (Sir William Jones, Supreme Court Judge of the British East India Company, 1786, Singer 1972, 29).
The European colonial mindset was one of discovery with the goal of appropriating the “discovery.” One need not look hard to find vivid examples of this in the conquest of the Americas, Africa, and Asia. The “discovery” of Sanskrit and Sanskriti by European scholars followed this model quite well. European scholarship saw potential in the Sanskrit language not only for exploration on its own terms, but also to take back to Europe and use for imperial purposes.
Arindam Chakrabarti, Professor of Philosophy, University of Hawaii, brought to my attention a colonial wall carving in Oxford which blatantly boasts of the intellectual conquest of Sanskrit by the British. Chakrabarti wrote as follows:
There is a monument to Sir William Jones, the great eighteenth-century British Orientalist, in the chapel of University College, Oxford. This marble frieze shows Sir William sitting on a chair writing something down on a desk while three Indian traditional scholars squatting in front of him are either interpreting a text or contemplating or reflecting on some problem.
It is well known that for years Jones sat at the feet of learned pandits in India to take lessons in Sanskrit grammar, poetics, logic, jurisprudence, and metaphysics. He wrote letters home about how fascinating and yet how complex and demanding was his new learning of these old materials. But this sculpture shows – quite realistically – the Brahmins sitting down below on the floor, slightly crouching and bare-bodied – with no writing implements in their hands (for they knew by heart most of what they were teaching and did not need notes or printed texts!) while the overdressed Jones sits imperiously on a chair writing something at a table. The inscription below hails Jones as the “Justinian of India” because he “formed” a digest of Hindu and Mohammedan laws. The truth is that he translated and interpreted into English a tiny tip of the massive iceberg of ancient Indian Dharmashastra literature along with some Islamic law books. Yet the monument says and shows Jones to be the “law-giver,” and the “native informer” to be the “receiver of knowledge.”
What this amply illustrates is that the semiotics of colonial encounters have – perhaps indelibly – inscribed a profound asymmetry of epistemic prestige upon any future East-West exchange of knowledge. (Arindam Chakrabarti, “Introduction,” Philosophy East & West Volume 51, Number 4 October 2001 449-451.)
It took me nearly two years to locate the carving in Oxford, which I had to personally visit to see and then to go through a bureaucratic quagmire to get the following picture of it.
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The picture symbolizes how academic Indians today often remain under the glass ceiling as “native informants” of the Westerners. Yet in 19th century Europe, Sanskrit was held in great awe and respect, even while the natives of India were held in contempt or at best in a patronizing manner as children to be raised into their master's advanced “civilization.”
In 1794 the first chair of Sanskrit in Europe was established in Copenhagen. In 1808, Schlegel's university had replaced Hebrew and Arabic with Sanskrit. Sanskrit was introduced into every major European university between 1800 and 1850 and overshadowed other classical languages which were often downsized to make way for Sanskrit positions. This frenzy may be compared with today's spread of computer science in higher education. The focus on Sanskrit replaced the earlier focus on Arabic/Persian as the source of intellectual thought.
As a part of this frenzy among Europe's leading thinkers, Sanskrit replaced Hebrew as the language deemed to belong to the ancestors of Europeans – eventually leading to the Aryanization of European identity, which, in turn, led to the cataclysmic events of the following century.
Most of the famous European minds of the 19th century, by their own testimony, were either Sanskritists, or were greatly shaped by Sanskrit literature and thought by their own testimony. Professor Kapil Kapoor describes how Europeans have benefited from Sanskrit:
[T]hose who believe that this [Sanskrit] knowledge is now archaic would do well to recall that the contemporary western theories, though essentially interpretive, have evolved from Europe's 19th century interaction with Sanskrit philosophy, grammar and poetics; they would care to remember that Roman Jakobson, Trubetzkoy and de Saussure were Sanskritists, that Saussure was in fact a professor of Sanskrit at Geneva and that his published papers include work on Sanskrit poetics. The structural, formalist thinking and the linguistic turn of contemporary theory have their pedigree in Sanskrit thought. In this, Europe's highly fruitful interaction with the Indian thought over practically the same time-span contrasts sharply with 150 years of sterile Indian interaction with the western thought. After the founding of Sanskrit chairs in the first decade of the nineteenth century, Europe interacted with the Indian thought, particularly in philosophy, grammar, literary theory and literature, in a big way without abandoning its own powerful tradition. In the process, it created, as we have said a new discipline, Historical-Comparative Linguistics, produced a galaxy of thinkers - Schiller, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Jakobson, Trubetzkoy and above all Saussure - and founded a revolutionary conceptual framework which was to influence the European thought for the next century, Structuralism. (From “Eleven Objections to Sanskrit Literary Theory: A Rejoinder,” by Kapil Kapoor, the expanded version of the lecture delivered at Dhvanyaloka on June 11, 2000. See the complete essay on-line at: http://www.indianscience.org/essays/st_es_kapoo_eleven.shtml)
To this list of “revolutionary” European thinkers who benefited from Sanskrit, one may add many more, such as Bopp, von Humboldt, Grassman, Schlegel, Max Muller, Voltaire and J. S. Mill. Max Mueller's very influential book, “What India can teach us,” gave a strong push for the European assimilation of Sanskrit thought. The French, ranging from Voltaire to Renoir, and the British also learnt a great deal via the Germans. In the 19th century, there was also a shift away from the Enlightenment Project of “reason” as the pinnacle of man, and this was influenced by Sanskrit studies in Europe and eventually led to a departure from Aristotelian thought to structuralism. Many disciplines in Europe got a boost from the study of Sanskrit texts, including philosophy, linguistics, literature and mathematics.
Sanskrit used to boost White Christian Supremacy:
European “discovery” of Sanskrit brought the opportunity to appropriate its rich tradition for the sake of the Europeans' obsession to reimagine their own history. Many rival theories emerged, each claiming a new historiography. The new European preoccupation among scholars was to reinvent identities of various European peoples by suitably locating Sanskrit amidst other selective facts of history to create Grand Narratives of European supremacy. Exploiting India's status as a colony, Europeans were successful in capturing Sanskrit and Sanskriti from India in order to fulfill their own ideological imperatives of reconciling theology (specifically 'Semitic' monotheism, from which Christianity sprouted) with their self-imposed role of world ruler.
One of the leading promoters of Aryan theories, Friedrich Max Muller (1823-1900) described the inception of his discipline as the starting point for a new science of human origins:
Thanks to the discovery of the ancient language of India, Sanskrit as it is called . . . and thanks to the discovery of the close kinship between this language and the idioms of the principal races of Europe, which was established by the genius of Schlegel, Humboldt, Bopp, and many others, a complete revolution has taken place in the method of studying the world's primitive history (Olender, 7)
The central theme to this reinvention of European (read “Christian”) narrative was of origins and, thus, implied destinies. Determining what language was spoken in the Garden of Eden was considered central to this. The newly discovered language of Sanskrit and its literature proved to be vast and erudite and the uncovered links between European language and Sanskrit excited the scholars and encouraged an assimilation of this most ancient and profound linguistic culture. At the same time, the perceived spiritual providence that the Abrahamic God had bestowed on Europeans in the form of Christianity had to be incorporated and synthesized into the narrative. The “scientific” and empirical evidence of linguistic survey had to coincide with theological laws.
The comparative study of languages was inspired by Renaissance debates over what language was spoken in the Garden of Eden. By the eighteenth century scholars were persuaded that European languages shared a common ancestor. With the adoption of positivist, "scientific" methods in the nineteenth century, the hunt for the language of Eden and the search for a European Ursprache diverged. Yet the desire to reconcile historical causality with divine purpose remained... ” (Olender, jacket)
The formation of two mutually exclusive and diametrically opposed groups of peoples was the device constructed to achieve this need – these were the Semitic 'race' and the mythical 'Aryans'. The Semitics, synonymous with the Hebrews, were portrayed as a sedentary, passive, inclusive, and trapped in time. However, they were a people who were in communication with the one true God and thus held the seed of religion.
Faithful guardians of pure monotheism, the Hebrews had a magnificent part in the divine plan, but one wonders where the world would be today if they had remained the sole leaders of mankind. The fact is, while they religiously preserved the principle of truth from which a higher light would one day emanate…(Olender: 99-102).
The rightful rulers of the world had to have been intelligent, moral, active, and industrious - a people willing to explore and expand, conquer and dominate. The concocted Aryan race was assigned this role. Scholars coined various ethno-linguistic terms such as “Indo-European”, “Indo-Germanic”, and “Aryan” to refer to this newly discovered people, and used these interchangeably to refer to the linguistic family as well as a race.
As scholars established the disciplines of Semitic and Indo-European studies, they also invented the mythical figures of the Hebrew and the Aryan, a providential pair which, by revealing to the people of the Christianized West the secret of their identity, also bestowed upon them the patent of nobility that justified their Spiritual, religious, and political domination of the world. The balance was not maintained, however, between the two components of this couple. The Hebrew undeniably had the privilege of monotheism in his favor, but he was self-centered, static, and refractory both to Christian values and to progress in culture and science. The Aryan, on the other hand, was invested with all the noble virtues that direct the dynamic of history: imagination, reason, science, arts, politics. The Hebrew was troublesome, disturbing, problematic: he stood at the very foundation of the religious tradition with which the scholars in question identified, but he was also alien to that tradition. Wherever he lived, under the name of Jew, in a specific place among a specific people, he remained an outsider, aloof, different (Olender: Foreword x-xi).
The key players in the scholastic juggling act who attempted to reconcile the Semitic and the Aryan included several famous European scholars, namely: Renan, Pictet, Max Muller, and Grau. Christian supremacy and Christian manifest destiny was central to the works of these Orientalists.
In the works of Renan, Pictet, Max Muller, and Grau, Christ remained a central figure in the conceptualization of Indo-European civilization. The new religious sciences attempted to treat all religions in the same way and yet to impose a Christian providential meaning on the new comparative order. The very organization of religious data was affected by older hierarchical classifications. The cataloging of peoples and faiths reflected the belief that history was moving in a Christian direction (Olender: 136-7).
These scholars' main objective was to use scientific reason to substantiate theological necessities no matter how far the hard facts had to be bent. Max Muller, in reference to comparative philology, explicitly stated the orientation of his research:
We are entering into a new sphere of knowledge, in which the individual is subordinate to the general and facts are subordinate to law. We find thought, order, and design scattered throughout nature, and we see a dark chaos of matter illuminated by the reflection of the divine spirit.” (Olender, 90-92)
Since the paradigmatic expectations of the scholar are exposed as foregone conclusions of his analysis, the bias and subjectivity in the writer's scholarship becomes obvious. Furthermore, the Christian supremacist agenda behind his work is obvious:
The Science of Religion will for the first time assign to Christianity its right place among the religions of the world; it will show for the first time what was meant by the fullness of time; it will restore to the whole history of the world, in its unconscious progress towards Christianity, its true and sacred character." A good disciple of Augustine, Max Muller was fond of citing his remark that Christianity was simply the name of "the true religion," a religion that was already known to the ancients and indeed had been around "since the beginning of the human race (Olender: 90-92).
He deplored the tactlessness that many Christian missionaries exhibited in their dealings with pagans, and advocated subtlety in asserting superiority:
The man who is born blind is to be pitied, not berated. . . . To prove that our religion is the only true one it surely is not necessary to maintain that all other forms of belief are a fabric of errors. (Olender: 90-92).
One large problem about the synthesis was that the Vedic religion had to be shown as barbaric and primitive in order to legitimize the need to colonize Indians. Therefore, it could not have been the beliefs of the ancestors of Christian Europe with its perceived religious supremacy. The scholars were forced to reconcile with the paradox of how the intellectually superior Aryans believed in such a low form of religion. Pictet was forced to ask himself:
Everything known about them [Aryans] suggests that they were "an eminently intelligent and moral race". Is it possible to believe that people who ultimately brought such intensity to intellectual and religious life started from the lowly estate of either having no religion or wallowing in the abyss of an obscure polytheism? (Olender: 93-98).
The result of such groping in the dark was pathetic and childish. The theories proclaimed with great aplomb fit into a general framework of Aryan people being superior in every way except the spiritual impetus to be world rulers. Therefore, the early Indo-Europeans were said to posses the seed of monotheism which did not sprout until the providence of the Abrahamic God through Christ. Pictet justifies this 'primordial monotheism' as follows:
Pictet then attempts to provide philological justification for the notion of "primitive monotheism" by examining Indo- European words for the divine. The Sanskrit word deva attracts his attention. Can a word exist without a prior meaning? If deva is attested, then so is the implicit sense of "superior Being".
Shrouded in mystery, the Aryas' idea of God remained "in an embryonic state," and their rudimentary monotheism lacked rigor. Pictet readily concedes all this, all the more readily as it is hard to explain why, having once known the truth, the Aryas should have abandoned it for error. Weak and vacillating as their monotheistic vocation no doubt was, it was nevertheless providential; it would fall to Christianity to nurture the seed first planted by the Aryas. (Olender: 93-98)
Christianity was thus deemed to be the destiny for the Aryans to adopt and eventually transmit to the whole world. Grau, a German Christian evangelist, took this idea to a new level by purporting that though the Aryans were “endlessly adaptable”, without Christianity the Aryans were hopeless and lost. In other words, they “suffered a congenital lack of backbone provided by monotheistic Christianity” (Olender, 106). The preservation of Christian dominance was Grau's primary directive.
Grau's views were in some ways "reactionary," in the sense that they ran counter to the praising of Aryan values that was all too often to the detriment of the Christian church. For Grau, the danger was that Christ would be forgotten: the Cross had to be planted firmly at the center of any venture of cultural understanding. Grau's writings give a surprising new twist to the fortunes of the Aryan-Semitic pair. (Olender: 106).
Parallels with the Self-Appropriation of Judaism by Europe:
An interesting parallel is to examine the colonial mindset of self-appropriation of knowledge in the case of the Jews for the creation of the European identity. Though history-centric monotheism was appropriated by Europe from the Jews to be implemented in the colonial scheme, the Jews were excluded as “others” and even denigrated. For example, Grau is explicit in his distancing Christian Europeans from the Jews.
The monotheism with which Grau credits the Semites has little to do with the Jews. When he does speak of Jews, it is to recall the wretchedness of a people that has contributed nothing to history other than perhaps its religious potential- and in that case he generally refers to "Hebrews" rather than "Jews”… (Olender: 109-110).
The theme of feminizing the colonized by the masculine conqueror is also applied to the Hebrew people.
Semites, Grau argues, are like women in that they lack the Indo-German capacity for philosophy, art, science, warfare, and politics. They nevertheless have a monopoly on one sublime quality: religion, or love of God. This Semitic monism goes hand in hand with a deep commitment to female monogamy. The masculine behavior of the Indo-German, who masters the arts and sciences in order to dominate the natural world, is met with the Semite's feminine response of passivity and receptivity. As the wife is subject to her husband, so the Semites are absolutely permeable to the God who chose them (Olender: 109-110).
In one fell swoop of the ideological axe, European scholars were able to take ownership of the 'backbone' of monotheism through Christ and the masculine traits of world domination.
Indian Influence on European Linguistics and Postmodernism:
In the early 19th century, Sanskrit grammar, philology, and linguistics were being studied intensely in Europe. One of the basic concepts of Sanskrit grammar is how domains of knowledge, music, language, society, etc. hang together. Every such domain, as per this principle, is constructed such that no unit has meaning by itself, but meaning exists only in a two-dimensional system. Such a system is a network of opposites in two dimensions: paradigmatic (vertical) and syntagmatic (horizontal). Saussure later used this central concept from Pannini's “Astadyhayi” to formulate his Structuralism model. By contrast, Aristotle's morphology is mere taxonomy, i.e. a mere system of enumeration. His system does not show unity via relations, and his world is not a cohesive unified system. Over the following fifty years, there came about a revolution in European thought in the use of this “structuralist” mode of thinking, even though it was much later that Saussure formalized the system and then Europeans gave it the name “Structuralism.”
Around the 1860s, Sir Charles Lyall worked in geology in morphological studies of fossils, which is a special case of what became later known as structuralism. This was a major discontinuity in European thought, and is believed to be the influence of Sanskrit structure of knowledge. Charles Darwin's work in the 1880s was also morphological in method. In the 1890s, Germany developed morphological schools, and Russian formalist schools also came up. Morphological schools came up in Europe in geology, botany, literary theory and linguistics.
A key figure in this East-West influence was Saussure, a Professor of Sanskrit in Geneva, and an ardent scholar of Panini. He later moved to Sorbonne, where he taught the famous lecture series on linguistics. The notes from this series were compiled later by his students into the published work that is still regarded as the “origin” of Structuralism. But it is amazing that this published work by his students did not even mention Panini or Sanskrit or any Indic works at all! What a blackout!(1)
Saussure's own PhD dissertation was on “Genitive case in Sanskrit,” a fact overlooked in today's historiography of European linguistics. It is unclear if Saussure himself suffered any embarrassment about learning from Sanskrit. He published a paper titled, “Concept of Kavi,” for instance. Unfortunately, he did not publish very much himself, and relied on students to do that after him. Saussure's works became the foundation for all linguistics studies throughout Europe.
What gets labeled as "difference" in French postmodern thought via Derrida is actually the Indian Buddhist theory of apohavada which Saussure had researched and taught in France in his Sanskrit seminars.(2)
It is important to note that Pictet mentored and influenced Saussure's understanding of linguistics and philology. Saussure was fifteen when he first began correspondence with Pictet whose work Saussure claimed “took the reader 'to the threshold' of the origin of language and 'of the human races themselves'” (Olender 99-102). It is more than likely that the presuppositions and biases in Pictet's work flowed through the mentor/student relationship down to Saussure's work.
One of the consequences of Saussure's work was that it reduced the need for Europeans to study Sanskrit sources, because Saussure's formulation into French, repackaged by his students without any reference to Sanskrit, meant that subsequent scholars of linguistics could divorce their work from the Sanskrit foundations and origins of the principles of Structuralism.
Structuralism, once formulated and codified by Saussure's students, became the watershed event and gateway through which many developments were precipitated in European thought. For example, Levi Strauss applied Structuralism in the 1930s/40s to the study of societies.
Trubetzkoy, who belonged to the famous Praha (modern Prague) school of Sanskrit, is now called the “Father of Structural Phenology.” Yet today's books on the subject rarely mention his debt to Sanskrit for his ideas. (His PhD dissertation from Moscow University in 1916 was on the Rig Veda.)
Later in the 20th century, Post-Structuralism was developed in response to Marxist critiques of Western society. There was loss of faith in Enlightenment reason after World War I, because going beyond religion into reason had resulted in such massive calamities. TS Eliot and WB Yeats started the inwards movement in literature and history, respectively, going away from exclusive belief in 'reason.' They reinterpreted the classical Eurocentric Grand Meta-Narratives. The new thinking was that a structure is not just an absolute or abstract entity, but is in N number of manifestations.
After World War II, there was a general dislike for Grand Narratives and linear progression theories of all sorts. Post-Modernism became a rejection of all tendencies of Grand Narratives. Hence, the focus is on small stories of small people and centers on the literature of Subaltern peoples, the marginalized sectors of society. Monism/Modernity is replaced by Plurality. However, the relationship between Marxism and Indic frameworks has been too simplistically based on the Marxist critiques of European societies. What has not been adequately examined is that many Post-Modernist principles are deeply embedded in classical Indian thought, i.e. many truths, many ways of telling the truth, and many paths being valid.
V. Colonial De-Sanskritisation of India
European colonizers embarked on ambitious campaigns to assert their cultural and religious superiority. They systematically bred many generations of Indians under their tutelage, making them embarrassed of their own “backward” heritage and pressurizing them to sycophantically mimic the “modern” West for their ideal “civilization.” An example is the famous Macaulay's Minute which became the blueprint to remove Sanskrit from India's education system and replace it with English:
Macaulay's Minute (2nd Feb. 1835)
[A] single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India...
It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgements used at preparatory schools in England...
We have to educate a people who cannot at present be educated by means of their mother tongue. We must teach them some foreign language...
Even more shocking than this is that some19th century Bengali apologists of Hindu renaissance internalized this contempt and became anti-Sanskritists. Ram Mohan Roy's intellectual legacy continues unabated in that science and Sanskrit are still held to be incompatible and mutually exclusive. Sanskrit was dismissed as a dead language of ancient liturgy without a future, its advocates declared a sentimental, nostalgic miserable lot brooding over its lost, past glory. Modern, Westernizing Indians are afraid that Sanskrit learning will undermine the secular and scientific spirit and ideal of independent India. To learn Sanskrit is to oppose progress, evolution, and to reinforce elite, Brahmanical hegemony on the masses. Roy, who is sometimes described as a champion of modern India, strongly protested against the decision of the committee of Public Instruction set up by the colonial authorities to start a Sanskrit college in Calcutta. In a letter written in 1823 he argued,
The pupils will there acquire what was known two thousand years ago with the addition of vain and empty subtleties since then produced by speculative man (Bhate 1996: 387).
The long term result of this trend has been to de-intellectualize the Indians, as explained by Prof. Kapoor:
The 'educated' Indian has been de-intellectualized. His vocabulary has been forced into hibernation by the vocabulary of the west. For him, West is the theory and India is the data. The Indian academy has willingly entered into a receiver-donor relationship with the western academy, a relationship of intellectual subordination. This 'de-intellectualization' needs to be countered and corrected by re-locating the Indian mind in the Indian thought.
Kapoor contrasts this with the attitude of “the self-respecting voice of an intellectually confident India” as represented by the 5th century philosopher of language, Bhartrhari, who emphasized the importance of understanding others' traditions but without abandoning one's own: "The intellect acquires critical acumen by familiarity with different traditions. How much does one really understand by merely following one's own reasoning only?”
VI. Post Independence Indian assault on Sanskrit
Sanskrit enthusiasm after independence:
Independent India started out with great enthusiasm to preserve and recover its indigenous civilization, including the central place of Sanskrit in it.
Dr Ambedkar zealously worked to promote the composite civilization (Sanskriti) of India characterized by linguistic and religious plurality. A dispatch of the Press Trust of India (PTI) dated September 10, 1949 states that Dr Ambedkar was among those who sponsored an amendment making Sanskrit as the official language of the Indian Union in place of Hindi. Most newspapers carried the news on September 11, 1949 (see the Sanskrit monthly Sambhashan Sandeshah issue of June 2003: 4-6). Other dignitaries who supported Dr Ambedkar's initiative included Dr B.V. Keskar, India's Deputy Minister for External Affairs and Professor Naziruddin Ahmed. The amendment dealt with Article 310 and read:
1. The official language of the Union shall be Sanskrit. 2. Notwithstanding anything contained in Clause 1 of this article, for a period of fifteen years from the commencement of this constitution, the English language shall continue to be used for the official purposes of the union for which it was being used at such commencement: provided that the President may, during the said period, by order authorise for any of the official purposes of the union the use of Sanskrit in addition to the English language.
But the amendment to make Sanskrit the national language of India was defeated in the Constituent Assembly. By way of consolation, (1) Sanskrit was granted a place in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, (2) Sanskritized Hindi to be written in Devanagari script was declared the national language of India, and (3) the slogans appearing on various federal ministry buildings and on the letter heads of different federal organizations would be in Sanskrit, and (4) a citizen of India would be able to make representations to the Government in Sanskrit.
In Discovery of India, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote that the ancient past of India belonged to all of the Indian people, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and others, because their forefathers had helped to build it. Subsequent conversion to another religion could not deprive them of this heritage; any more than the Greeks, after their conversion to Christianity, could have ceased to feel proud of their achievements of their ancestors (Nehru 1946: 343). Considered the pioneer of Indian secularism, Nehru wrote:
If I was asked what was the greatest treasure that India possesses and what is her finest heritage, I would answer unhesitatingly - it is the Sanskrit language. This is a magnificent inheritance, and so long as it endures and influences the life of our people, so long the basic genius of the people of India will continue...India built up a magnificent language, Sanskrit, and through this language, and its art and architecture, it sent its vibrant message to far away countries.
Such thinking survives in many segments of India's intelligentsia today. In a verdict by the Supreme Court of India on the offering of Sanskrit as an option in the schools operated by Central Board of Secondary Education, the Honorable Judges quoted Nehru, and also drew attention to the "New policy directives on National Education" proposed in 1986 which included the following provision:
Considering the special importance of Sanskrit to the growth and development of Indian languages and its unique contribution to the cultural unity of the country, facilities for its teaching at the school and university stages should be offered on a more liberal scale.
The Honourable Judges accordingly instructed the Board to amend its constitution and offer Sanskrit as an option forthwith after concluding:
Victories are gained, peace is preserved, progress is achieved, civilization is built and history is made not only in the battlefields but also in educational institutions which are seed beds of cultures.
In 1969, a delegation of members of parliament led by Dr. Karan Singh, met Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and impressed upon her the need and the importance of promoting Sanskrit as the cultural lingua franca of India and proclaiming a Sanskrit Day to promote the cultural unity of India. Mrs. Gandhi supported the project. Since then Sanskriti is being promoted through a number of symbolic projects: Sanskrit Day is celebrated every year. A daily news bulletin in Sanskrit is broadcast on the All India Radio. The staging of plays in Sanskrit and production of films and documentaries in Sanskrit is encouraged.
Sanskrit Phobia:
Unfortunately, after a few years of honeymoon with Indian traditions, the marginalization of Sanskrit began in full force in independent India. Kapil Kapoor gives a good introduction to this:
A debate has been on in this country for quite some time now about the role of its inherited learning that at present finds no place in the mainstream education. It has been restricted either to the traditional institutes or special institutes, 'sanctuaries'. It is assumed, and argued by its opponents, that this inherited learning is now obsolete and no longer relevant to the living realities. This is however counter-factual - the inherited learning not only endures in the traditional institutes but also vibrates in the popular modes of performances and in the mechanisms of transmitting the tradition, such as katha, pravacana and other popular cultural and social practices. And what is more to the point, the vocabulary of this thought is now the ordinary language vocabulary of the ordinary speakers of modern Indian languages. The thought permeates the mind and language.
This trend started with the mimicry of the 19th century Orientalist critique of Sanskrit as the language of hegemony and domination, which was based on the normative Western European experience being projected upon others. Not surprisingly, the title of an unpublished paper of Robert Goldman is "The Communalization of Sanskrit and Sanskritisation of Communalism." Lele similarly advises jettisoning of Sanskrit from its position of power, prestige and profit in favour of vernacular languages. The critical, subaltern school champions the local, the indigenous, and the autochthonous seeking the continuity and specificity of 'native' culture. The emphasis is on recuperating cultural authenticity of the subaltern from Sanskritic hegemony.
These attacks against Sanskrit are grounded in the following beliefs:
  1. There has been no connection between Sanskrit and Prakrit (and/or other vernacular languages of South Asia. This is because Sanskrit was entirely elitist and was never a spoken language and there were never any native speakers of it.

  2. Sanskrit has been an effective instrument of creating a civilization (Sanskriti) built on Brahmanical hegemony and domination of the subaltern classes.

  3. Sanskrit is a language of rites and rituals that are devoid of philosophical merit.

  4. Sanskrit does not have the expressive spirit and temper of science and technology. Hence, to make Indians modern they must abandon it.

  5. Sanskrit has no value to non-Hindu traditions. It would compromise secularism.

  6. As a dead language, Sanskrit has no future in the world culture.
While it is true that Sanskrit privileged a small percentage of the population - drawn from many castes and communities - as being learned, the same bias has also existed in every other learned tradition, such as Latin, Persian, Arabic and Mandarin, and is now true of the elitist role of English (Ironically the very scholars who are anti-Sanskrit, use and thrive on the hegemony of English.) Yet these other languages are not subject to the same political attacks as Sanskrit. European classics are respected in modern secular education, even though Socrates kept slaves and many famous European thinkers violated human rights. Likewise, classical scholarship in Persian, Arabic and Mandarin also accepted or even advocated social oppression of the under classes, such as women or non-believers, and yet these classical languages and their respective cultures are respected in the modern academy. This is accomplished by focusing on their positive aspects and downplaying their negative aspects, but the same treatment is not accorded to Sanskrit.
Kapoor explains this prejudice against Sanskrit as compared to other classical languages:
The charge [that Sanskrit frameworks are Brahmanical and hence elitist]...stems from a deep ignorance of things Indian. Only a person who has not read the primary texts and has only read about the texts can make this kind of statement...I am afraid the criticism ceases to be honest and becomes merely a political gesture treading the familiar paradigm of 'caste - elephant - snake charmer - rope trick ' India. Just as we cannot characterize Plato's ontological categories as 'pagan', just as we cannot characterize Derrida's epistemic categories as 'Jewish', we cannot characterize any of the Indian literary theoretic categories as 'Brahminical'.
An important equality between Sanskrit and Western classics would also be achieved if we were to decouple the study of Sanskrit from the history of religious privileges and focus on its many positive qualities. In fact, the vast majority of known Sanskrit texts are in disciplines that are nowadays considered secular and not in Hinduism per se. Kapoor continues his comparison with Greek classics as follows:
Europe's 13th century onwards successful venture of relocating the European mind in its classical Greek roots is lauded and expounded in the Indian universities as 'revival of learning' and as 'Renaissance'. But when it comes to India, the political intellectuals dismiss exactly the same venture as 'revivalism' or 'obscurantism'. The words such as 'revivalism' are, what I call, 'trap words'. And there are more, for example 'traditional' and 'ancient' - the person working in Indian studies is put on the defensive by these nomenclatures. 'Tradition' is falsely opposed to 'modern' and the word 'traditional' is equated with oral and given an illegitimate pejorative value. And the adjective 'ancient' as pre-fixed - 'Panini, the ancient grammarian', 'ancient Indian poetics / philosophical thought'- makes the classical Indian thinkers and thought look antiquated. No western writer ever refers to Plato, for example, as 'ancient' or Greek thought as 'ancient'. This psychic jugglery is directed at the continuity of Indian intellectual traditions suggesting as it does a break or a disjunction in the intellectual history. There is no such disjunction in India's intellectual history but then the Indian intellectual brought up on alien food must set up a disjunction in Indian history if there is one in the western history! If at all there is a disjunction it happens with the foundation of the English education and then too it is a horizontal disjunction between the mainstream education system and the traditional institutes of learning and not a vertical temporal disjunction.
Nevertheless, the negation of Sanskrit and its replacement by Eurocentric civilizational structures plagues the modern Indian education for several reasons. Orientalist discourse in Indology is based largely on a politics of emphasizing difference and irreconcilable dichotomies with reference to the civilization, religion, society and identity of the people of India – the old divide-and-rule strategy to control people of colour. One such major dichotomy that has been imposed as an intellectual lens is Sanskrit versus Prakrit and the related Sanskritic versus "subaltern" civilization. In its analysis of Sanskrit as an instrument of oppression and domination, Orientalist discourse (e.g. van der Veer 1993: 21) has a two-pronged strategy: (i) the fabrication of a phobia of Sanskrit based on selective analysis of “Brahmanical” ideas, values, and discourse, and the generation of a counter-image of non-Brahmin and non-Hindu groups and their alleged oppression. The result is the charge of Sanskrit as an instrument for creating and sustaining “Hindu Hegemony.”
Western Indologists, such as Sheldon Pollock and Robert Goldman, and their Indian counterparts have embarked on the task to exhume, isolate, analyze, and theorize about the modalities of domination rooted in Sanskrit as the basis of Brahmanical ideology of power and domination. They assume that Sanskrit and the classical culture based on it have radically silenced and screened out of history entire groups and communities of disadvantaged persons. They therefore seek to construct new perspectives that accords priority to what has hitherto been "marginal, invisible, and unheard" people and their (non-Sanskrit) languages.
This construction of Sanskritic (equated by them as Brahmanical) domination is coupled with a hermeneutic for understanding the continuity of specific past forms of violent sediments in contemporary India. In fact, the subaltern “others” are often held together as a category by a single principle, namely, having a common enemy who is deemed to be the cause of all their problems. This common enemy is Sanskriti. Such a task, they feel, entails solidarity with its contemporary victims: subalterns, women, religious and cultural minorities. Here is one such example:
The exclusive use of Sanskrit higher learning was in many ways instrumental in consolidating the hegemony of the Brahmins over Hindu society. If the teaching method can be said to have served the exclusive design of the Brahmanical education, the teacher-student relationship replicated the hierarchical model of Hindu society (Acharya 1996: 103).
For example, Prof. Vijay Prashad is among those who have championed a massive Western funded program to create solidarity between Indian Dalits and African-Americans under the umbrella of a newly engineered identity known as Afro-Dalits. The thesis they proclaim says that Dalits are “the blacks of India” and non-Dalits, i.e. upper castes, are “the whites of India.” Using this framing, the history of American slavery gets transferred over to reinterpret Indian history, and to locate the cause of all Dalit socioeconomic problems on Indian civilization. Many Christian evangelists have jumped on this bandwagon as a great way to earn the trust of India's downtrodden, by projecting their fellow Indian countrymen and countrywomen as the culprits. The project includes reinventing the history of various Indian jatis to make them feel un-Indian and eventually anti-Indian. Once a certain threshold is reached, i.e. once the ground has been prepared, a given local activist “cell” can get appropriated by other more blatantly political forces. Many foreign funded activities are going on that create a separatist identity especially among the youth of these jatis. The intellectual cover for this anti-India work is under slick terms like “empowerment”, “leadership training” and, of course, “human rights”.
One may say that certain portions of the Indian left have been appropriated by the very same “imperialistic” forces which in their day jobs they attack. In fact, it is precisely such leftists who make excellent candidates to be recruited as they seem more authentic in their stands on India. This has created a career market for young Indians seeking to step into the shoes of such sepoys in order to enjoy the good life promised and delivered by the well funded foreign nexuses of South Asian Studies and related institutions of Church, government related think tanks and even the supposedly liberal media.
There is a major untold story in the way many Indian intellectuals play both sides, some more intentionally than others: On the one hand, they project images of being patriotic Indians winning recognition abroad and are being idolized back in India. On the other hand, they are deeply committed in often deliberately ambiguous work which can be made to appear in multiple ways, but which ultimately feed various separatist forces. Meanwhile, ambiguity serves as great cover because many Indians tend to be naïve about geopolitical implications of such work, are trusting of the good intentions of others or feel uncomfortable confronting problems they cannot deal with.
It is against this backdrop that much of the anti-Hindutva scholarship and lobbying works. Of course, most Hindus I know are against any form of religious bigotry, especially violence, for respect for every person's own sva-dharma (personal dharma) is a core Hindu value, and being Christian, Muslim, etc. falls under sva-dharma. But what most broadminded Hindus fail to realize is that underneath this attack on Hindutva there lies a broader attack on Indian Sanskriti, and this, in turn, feeds the pipeline of separatist tendencies. Naturally, many foreign nexuses have invested in such human and institutional assets while maintaining a “human rights” demeanour as part of their strategy of managed ambiguity.
Sheldon Pollock, one of the foremost Sanskritists of today, appears to agree with Edward Said in the need to reclaim "traditions, histories, and cultures from imperialism" (Said 1989: 219). He nevertheless insists that we must not forget that most of the traditions and cultures in question [India is obviously included in this] have been empires of oppression in their own right - against women and also against other domestic communities (Pollock 1993: 116). The Western Sanskritist, he says, feels this most acutely, given that Sanskrit was the principal discursive instrument of domination in premodern India. Thus Pollock deftly turns Said's attack on imperialism into nonsense by insisting that the subjugated Indians are themselves imperialists, as much as the conquering Europeans. In Pollock's view, the trend continues today, and Sanskrit is being continuously reappropriated by many of the most reactionary and communalist sectors of the population (Pollock 1993: 116). Needless to say, this line of imagining invites many Indian mimics who make their careers as India-bashers in order to prove their usefulness to the Western institutions they serve.
Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal (1997) have no hesitation in declaring that the main purpose of the learned traditions preserved in Sanskrit is to underpin a static social and religious structure, while they spare similar criticism against the elitist Arabic and Persian based cultures. Additionally, they continue to make use of the loaded term "Brahmanical" in the formulating the following expressions: "Brahmanical orthodoxy," "Brahmanical social orthodoxy," neo-Brahmanical orthodoxy," "the high Brahmanical tradition," or "Brahmanical ruling ideology." Yet they fail to define and establish their premises of tyranny vested in whatever they mean by "Brahmanical," nor do they use similar rhetoric against “Mullah orthodoxy”, “Imam ruling ideology” and so forth when discussing Islam.
One of the pillars on which Sanskrit Phobia is sustained is the linearization of Indian civilization into arbitrary historical stages just to map India on to European historical stages. Kapoor criticizes this:
[There] is a questionable assumption, the assumption of a break or a rupture in the Indian cultural / intellectual tradition between the 'Sanskrit' period and the 'vernacular' period, something that actually does not exist but is postulated on the false analogy of the western history of ideas. From Vedic Sanskrit to Classical Sanskrit to Pali to Prakrit to Apabhramshas to the modern Indian languages, it is one story of linguistic-cultural-intellectual continuity.
Contemporary Indologists and South Asianists (a term used by the US State Department to refer to scholars it depends upon for research on South Asia) emphasize a class conflict between Sanskrit and Prakrit. The use of the Marathi language by Jnanesvara, who was the son of an excommunicated Brahmin, according to Jayant Lele, initiated a revolt by the subaltern and the oppressed against the Brahmanical hegemony and the force of reaction symbolized by Sanskrit, a dead, fossilized language that had lost the ability to generate live, new meanings. Being monopolized by the ruling classes, Sanskrit held no meaning for Jnanesvara's community of the oppressed. Marathi, on the other hand, was the language of the living tradition of that community (Lele 1981: 109).
According to Lele, Sanskrit traditionally has been limited to the Brahmins and other higher castes. It was manipulated by the wily Brahmin leadership on behalf of landed or dominant castes to serve their own agenda and vested interests. The thesis may be stated as follows: Elitist Brahminism = (1) hegemonic Sanskrit + (2) homogenizing Hindutva + (3) subjection of the masses to forced Sanskritisation.
Hardened and rigid languages (like Sanskrit, at this stage) simultaneously threaten individual and social identity. A living language is, therefore, in itself a critique of domination. It is a rejection of the language of oppression. Ideology critique uses a language of protest but at the same time, launches a quest for a hermeneutic understanding, for establishing a new community. In this sense Varkari sampradaya was a discourse of the oppressed(Lele, 1995: 70).
Varkaris (devotees of Vitthala) offered an all-encompassing blue print for transcending the context-bound interpretations of tradition while containing its essential ones. As per Lele, their use of Marathi language, a living language, in itself was a critique of domination and of Sanskrit, a language of oppression (Lele 1995: 70). By remaining fully involved in social life Varkaris subverted a significant hegemonic appropriative strategy. They explicitly denied the priestly role of a mediator relying on self-experience gained through the daily involvement in normal social life. They united spirituality with daily life experience and thereby opened up the possibilities for reflection on life that has inherent in it a transformative potential (Lele 1995: 71).
According to Lele, the Varkari critique involved rejection of external (Brahmanical) authority, magic and miracles, severe criticism of mindless rituals, secrecy, exclusivism and esoteric practices, insistence on full involvement in productive life, emphasis on the unity of the male-female principle in identifying both god and guru as mauli (mother manifestation), equal and authoritative status of the female poet-saints and a conscious and yet fully living use of the language and idiom of the oppressed classes indicate an attempt to widen discourse and to involve those who experienced the falsehood of a hierarchical social order in their daily life (Lele 1995: 72).
Lele's logic appears to be that simply by using Marathi, the Varkaris were “obviously” engaged in a “critique”; hence, their practices and themes must necessarily be a criticism of Sanskriti which was threatening to their individual and social identity. There are several flaws in such logic: (1) Many of these themes are not discontinuities but part and parcel of traditional Hinduism - uniting spirituality with daily life experience is, for instance, one of the main themes of the Bhagavad Gita, and worship of God as mother (and women poet-sages) is present in the Veda. (2) Initiation into profound and esoteric disciplines and the occurrences of miracles in the lives of the saints are all part of the Varkari tradition, as much as of “Brahminical” or traditional Hinduism. (3) Tremendous social, cultural and political disruptions in the form of Islamic invasions and iconoclasm may have also been a little threatening to individual and social identity of the Marathi-speakers. Indeed, it can be argued that the Varkari tradition blossomed at a time when traditional Hinduism was under tremendous stress from Islamic invasions and acted to shore up core local symbols, beliefs and ritual practices - such as pilgrimage - exactly as a culture symbiotic with Sanskritic learning would.
Apart from works such as the above that dubiously pit Sanskrit in a historical fight with the vernaculars, Sanskrit phobia is also being spread by a second line of attack, which uses contemporary Indian politics as the starting point. A research project (in partial fulfilment of a Ph D degree) submitted in 1994 to the Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago would serve as an illustration of that trend. The proposal by Adi Hastings (a cultural anthropology student at the University of Chicago) was provisionally entitled," The 'Revival' Of Spoken Sanskrit In Modern India: An Ethnographic And Linguistic Study." (This project has since been completed.)
Hastings described in detail his goal to examine recent attempts in India to promote and broaden the use of spoken "simple" Sanskrit. While the classical Sanskrit language has been supported by authorities as a medium of scholarly and literary discourse, it recently has been promoted by political groups as a future lingua franca and emblem of a specifically Hindu nation. Hastings's project sought to problematize the privately-funded movements to promote conversational “simple Sanskrit” as the emblem of a specifically Hindu nation.
He proposed the following working hypothesis: the movements under investigation have fashioned Sanskrit, India's classical literary language, into a sign which both represents and points to membership in an imagined Hindu national community. In promoting explicitly conversational Sanskrit, these organizations are trying to recapture elements of a perceived Hindu heritage, and in doing so to reinstate or revive what they see as the most important element or unifying thread of ancient Indian civilization.
Thus, Sanskrit, once symbolically identified as the exclusive property of certain restricted communities (entailing access to and mastery over certain forms of privileged knowledge), is now used to invoke a generalized and popular level Hindu cultural heritage. In this context, argued Hastings, Sanskrit would no longer function as a classical language (if indeed it ever was; cf. Kelly 1996), but would become a superordinated language of politico-religious unification.
Refuting the Sanskrit Phobics:
A dominant assumption common among Sanskrit phobic scholars, both Western and their Indian accomplices, is Gramsci's theory that the "vernaculars are written down when the people regain importance" (1991: 168). This is, unfortunately, untrue for both Europe itself and India. The history of the relationship between Sanskrit and the non-Hindu, non-elite populace suggests many positive interrelationships which Sanskrit phobics simply ignore. For example:
  1. Lele shares in the widely held belief that the emergence of regional languages in India was due to bhaktas who mostly came from the marginalized castes. But this is simply untrue. In Karnataka, for example, old Kannada literature was courtly, was suffused with Sanskrit, and was unintelligible to those ignorant of Sanskrit. Similarly many Tamil kings, poets and scholars of all castes, Jains and Hindus, appear to have been fluent in Sanskrit as well as Tamil, and this does not seem to have inhibited the development of Tamil in the least, but benefited both.

  2. In the north, some of the earliest regional-language texts were composed by courtly (elitist) Muslims (e.g. verses of Mas'ud Sa'd Salman, ca. 1100, of the Yamini Kingdom of Lahore). The relationships between language, literature, and social power cannot be analyzed by any simple formula transferred from Europe, as Lele does in order to interpret Indian contemporary politics using Sanskrit as the whipping boy (Pollock 1996: 244-245).

  3. Francis Buchanan-Hamilton, writing in the first decade of the nineteenth century about Bengal, observed, "The first rudiments of education are usually given...under the tuition of teachers called Gurus, who may be of any caste or religion."

  4. According to William Adam, there were more than 100,000 vernacular indigenous schools for the "indigent" classes in Bengal and Bihar in 1835. This averaged a school for every sixty-three children of school-going age (cited in Acharya 1996: 105, 99). In fact, colonial scholars sent to study India's education system remarked that native education was often more widespread than in England and that it included lower caste students.

  5. While the genealogical account found in many inscriptions is in Sanskrit, the “business” portion (i.e. details of the land grant etc) are in the regional language. This is an interesting indicator of bilingualism.
The importance of Sanskrit given in Jainism and Buddhism – which have always been against caste hierarchies – undermines the claim that Sanskrit was a Hindu/Brahmin hegemonic instrument. For example:
  1. Paul Dundas observes that Jains of Western India produced, from about thirteenth century onwards, an extensive literature of the types of narratives, chronicles, and biographies in a style that has been called "Jain Sanskrit" (Dundas 1996: 137). As the lingua franca of shastra, and general literary culture, Jains could enthusiastically utilize Sanskrit without any danger of compromising their sectarian identity and socio-religious values.

  2. In the days of Buddhists studies in China, when Indian Sanskrit scholars were translating Buddhist texts into Chinese with the help of boards of local scholars, there existed a school of Sanskrit studies in China. Clearly, this was not intended for the purposes of any Brahmin hegemony in China.

  3. Jan Houben draws our attention to the fact that testimonies of Chinese Buddhist pilgrims show that Sanskrit was widely used, not only in a great number of texts but apparently also in discussions. However, he laments that the background and precise circumstances of the shift of the Buddhist and Jain to Sanskrit and its importance for the development of Sanskrit as a "lingua franca" at least in the sphere of intellectual and religious discussion have not yet received sufficient attention (Houben 1996: 176).
At the meetings of the Constituent Assembly (1946-1949) members who were not Sanskritists, nor Brahmins, nor Hindus, moved an amendment to make Sanskrit the national language of India. Sponsors included Dr Ambedkar and Professor Naziruddin Ahmad. Standing up in the Constituent Assembly, Professor Ahmad declared:
I offer you a language which is the grandest and the greatest, and it is impartially difficult, equally difficult for all to learn.
This stance certainly unsettles the presumption that Sanskrit is a language of the wily Brahmins and other ruling elites who have been using it for centuries to dominate the masses.
Pollock feels the need to rethink received accounts that imagine a "resurgence of Brahmanism" leading to a "re-assertion of Sanskrit" as the language of literature and administration after the Maurya period (Norman 1988, 17-18; Kulke & Rothermund 1990, 85). Pollock instead suggests the possibility that a new cultural formation, a Sanskrit cosmopolis, was created and which continued until 1300 (Pollock 1996, 207).
Pollock persuasively argues that the prominence of Prakrit in inscriptional discourse does not represent ignorance or rejection of Sanskrit. Such a claim is based on the assumption that there was some type of invariable co-relation between Prakrit and Buddhism/Jainism and Sanskrit and Brahmanism. The available epigraphic evidence suggests, as Pollock affirms, that trans-regional use of Sanskrit for public political texts was instituted in South India by no specific event of political or religious revolution. A uniform idiom and aesthetics of politics, homogenous in diction, form, and theme characterizes all of India (Pollock 1996, 216-217). When vernacular languages were becoming popular among the masses, Sanskrit became the language of communication among them.
Sanskrit was appreciated by some of the Muslim rulers of India who patronized it, and, in some cases (as in Bengal and Gujarat), had their epigraphic records inscribed in Sanskrit. It was the scientific and secular aspect of Sanskrit that made the Arabs welcome Indian scholars to Baghdad to discourse on sciences and to translate books in these subjects into Arabic.
A large mass of literature in Sanskrit was not produced by any particular community. Several instances can be quoted of non-Brahmin and non-Hindu authors who have made significant contribution to Sanskrit literature. In Karnataka, 300 Sanskrit schools are nowadays being run by non-Brahmins.
Kapil Kapoor explains the non sectarian importance of Sanskrit as a major container of Indian civilization and national identity:
By abandoning...Sanskrit tradition, we have become passive, uncritical recipients of Western theories and models...Had the classical thought enshrined in Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit texts and some of it preserved as adaptation in Old Tamil texts been made a part of the mainstream education it would have enabled the educated Indian to interact with the west on a level ground. This tradition has attested texts and thinkers in a wide range of disciplines - philosophy, grammar, poetics, prosody, astronomy, architecture, mathematics, medicine, atmospheric sciences, sociology / ethics (dharmasastra), chemistry, physics, agriculture, economics and commerce, music, botany and zoology, weaponry and art of warfare, logic, education, metallurgy. The texts of these disciplines not only make statements about the respective domains of knowledge but also enshrine the empirical wisdom gathered by our society over centuries in these spheres. All this knowledge has been marginalized by and excluded from the mainstream education system. Efforts to incorporate it or teach it have been politically opposed and condemned as 'revivalism'.
The table below summaries the main Sanskrit Phobic arguments and rejoinders to them:
Sanskrit Phobic Arguments
Responses
There has been no connection between Sanskrit and Prakrit (and/or other South Asian vernacular languages).
Linguistic evidence suggests that Sanskrit is related to Prakrit languages and that exchanges occurred in both directions.
Sanskrit has been the instrument of creating a civilization built on Brahmanical hegemony and domination of the subaltern.
This is missionary/colonial lens imposing Western social models to a very different Indian social structure and denies the vital role of Sanskrit in shaping and fulfilling, thriving and vibrant culture that benefited many.
Sanskrit is only a language of rites and rituals that are devoid of philosophical merit.
The depth and breadth of Sanskrit literature covers many non-religious disciplines. Besides, the rites and rituals are often deeply poetic and reflect a plurality of philosophies of life.
Sanskrit does not have the expressive spirit and temper of science and technology.
The depth and breadth of Sanskrit thought encompasses many scientific and technical fields such as mathematics and metallurgy. Abstract thought, open inquiry and logic are key hallmarks of Sanskrit learning.
Sanskrit has no value to non-Hindu traditions. It would compromise secularism.
Numerous Jain and Buddhist scriptures are composed in Sanskrit. Sikh scholars went to Benares to learn Sanskrit.
As a dead language, Sanskrit has no use to world culture.
Sanskrit, just as it contributed to Western thought, has the potential to contribute towards a renaissance of thought in Southeast Asia and India.
Sanskrit studies have been pursued (whether within or outside India) in isolation from the true spirit of Sanskrit and Indians. Arvind Sharma has a provocative question: "What would have Sanskrit studies abroad looked like if they had originated in India and gone abroad, instead of originating abroad and then being adopted by the Indians?"
The House Indians:
To interpret the contemporary Indian intellectual fashion of selling out to the West, let us examine the framework established by Malcolm X in his analysis of a segment of African-Americans whom he labeled, “house Negro.” Malcolm X said:
There were two kinds of slaves. There was the house Negro and the field Negro. The house Negroes - they lived in the house with master, they dressed pretty good, they ate good 'cause they ate his food -- what he left. They lived in the attic or the basement, but still they lived near the master; and they loved their master more than the master loved himself. They would give their life to save the master's house quicker than the master would. The house Negro, if the master said, "We got a good house here," the house Negro would say, "Yeah, we got a good house here." Whenever the master said "we," he said "we." That's how you can tell a house Negro.
If the master's house caught on fire, the house Negro would fight harder to put the blaze out than the master would. If the master got sick, the house Negro would say, "What's the matter, boss, we sick?" We sick! He identified himself with his master more than his master identified with himself. And if you came to the house Negro and said, "Let's run away, let's escape, let's separate," the house Negro would look at you and say, "Man, you crazy. What you mean, separate? Where is there a better house than this? Where can I wear better clothes than this? Where can I eat better food than this?" That was that house Negro. In those days he was called a "house nigger." And that's what we call him today, because we've still got some house niggers running around here.
This modern house Negro loves his master. He wants to live near him. He'll pay three times as much as the house is worth just to live near his master, and then brag about "I'm the only Negro out here." "I'm the only one on my job." "I'm the only one in this school." You're nothing but a house Negro. And if someone comes to you right now and says, "Let's separate," you say the same thing that the house Negro said on the plantation. "What you mean, separate? From America? This good white man? Where you going to get a better job than you get here?"
...Just as the slavemaster of that day used Tom, the house Negro, to keep the field Negroes in check, the same old slavemaster today has Negroes who are nothing but modern Uncle Toms, 20th century Uncle Toms, to keep you and me in check, keep us under control, keep us passive...To keep you from fighting back, he [the white man] gets these old religious Uncle Toms to teach you and me...
(http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/malcolmxgrassroots.htm)
In an analogous fashion, and entirely independently of Malcolm X, Kapil Kapoor analyzes the Anglicized and now Americanized Indian intellectuals' internalization of Western categories to form what they call Indian literary criticism. He writes:
The Indian literary criticism has in fact been marked by severe limitations. It has, all in all, been derivative and backward. Before PL-480, it was Anglo- and after PL 480 it is a footnote to the Anglo-American school - even the European frameworks filter through English translations, commentaries and Anglo-American practices. Besides, it has always been backward - there is always a time lag between its enunciation in the west and its emulation here. Hence, the derisive comment about Indian literary criticism quoted by Prof. Narasimhaiah ji - "You mean those carbon copies of Mathiessen, Blackmur and Leavis?"
And [Indian literary criticism]...has been seasonal. Every successive passing fashion in the Anglo-American school has been dutifully applied to the Indian literary reality - Leavisian Moral, New Criticism, Structuralism, Post-structuralism, Semiotics and Deconstruction, Postmodernism, Psychoanalytic, Feminist, Marxist, New Historicism, Cultural Materialism, Stylistics. Each successive framework has been found to be a perfect fit for the malleable Indian reality, without any modification or adaptation!... This is expressive of what we said above - the mental subordination of the Indian critical mind to the western academy, the uncritical reception of western theory, the data - theory / the recipient-donor relationship into which the post-1947 mind has so willingly contracted. As a result of this, all the modern Indian languages, including Indian English have become recipient language - Sanskrit is the only donor language, has always been and continues to be. The displacement from what has been and is a donor tradition amounts to promoted de-intellectualization (de-culturization, if you please).
...The body of literature it addresses is Metro. There is metro literature written under the influence of, and often imitating, both the western (Anglo-American) societal problematic as themes and there is the metro theory that both explains it and is validated by this body of literature. Its audience is urban (English) educated elite. There are no western readers for this as the West is not interested in Indian language literatures or in the Indian paraphrase or redaction of their theories. (Whatever limited but profitable western audience is there is of readers interested in being told by India's 'colonized' minds about India's colonized mind!)
As in the case of house Negroes, these house Indians enjoy great privilege from Western institutions either directly or indirectly. Kapoor continues his description of these self-hating Indians:
[T]he educated Indian, particularly the Hindu, suffers from such a deep loss of self respect that he is unwilling to be recognized as such. He feels, in fact, deeply threatened by any surfacing or manifestation of the identity that he has worked so hard to, and has been trained to reject. But it lies somewhere in his psyche as 'an unhappy tale', as something that is best forgotten. It is these people wearing various garbs - liberal, left, secular, modern - who oppose, more often than not from sheer ignorance, any attempt to introduce Indian traditions of thought in the mainstream education system - a classic case of self-hate taking the form of mother-hate!
I regularly come across such house Indians in the US academic study of India. When the masters say, “jump,” the house Indian asks, “how high sir?”
VII. Sanskriti and the Clash of Civilizations
Contrary to the wishful thinking of postmodernist literary theories and trends in pop culture, the competition among major civilizations is intensifying. Sanskrit phobia must be examined in the broader context of geopolitics today and not in the narrower context of local Indian sociopolitics only. Each of the main three contenders in the clash of civilizations – USA, China and Islam – deploys its own culture as a form of social and political capital, and each has a unique language in which its civilization is rooted.
There are pragmatic reasons behind the intensifying clash of civilizations, and ideology may often be a weapon rather than the underlying cause: Only one billion out of the six billion people in the world today live at Western levels of consumption, but by mid century most of the ten billion people (projected population level by mid century) will mimic Western consumerist lifestyles, and this will further pressure the environment, resources, capital and labor markets.
This global competition is deploying collective assets, such as identities, cultural capital and soft power. France, USA, UK, China, Arabia, Japan, etc. each wear their respective civilizations with great pride, and use it as a vehicle in international diplomacy, foreign soft power and cultural capital.
Every ancient civilization has had its social abuses, but the proud cultures named above do not throw out the baby with the bathwater, i.e. they each insist on reforming their tradition internally rather than demonizing it in world forums to gain legitimacy in foreign eyes or abandoning it in the name of “progress.”
The West (especially America), China and Pan-Islam are, therefore, each asserting themselves in this inter-civilizational competition for intellectual market share, projecting with pride their respective rich heritages which include languages. For instance, the rapid globalization of English language culture has privileged Western paradigms that are implicitly embedded in its literature and thought:
  1. Despite the numerical expansion of English speaking people in non-Western countries, the certification and legitimization of English and of its modern thought are controlled by standards established by Western institutions.

  2. These control mechanisms are diverse: prestigious awards, elitist institutional affiliations, jobs, financial grants, foreign travel, access to media channels, etc.

  3. The intellectual capital includes Eurocentric historiography, literature, philosophy, sociology, human rights theories, art history, and school curricula.

  4. The institutional backbone of the West that propagates this superiority includes government agencies, multinational religious institutions, academic establishments and private funding agencies.

  5. In this new inter-civilizational competition, everyone is equally invited to play; however, the rules, referees and rewards are often controlled by a few.

  6. In some instances, the dominant culture also selects and props up proxies to represent the third world in a fashion acceptable to the dominant religious and secular ideologies of the West.
(image placeholder)
The above figure shows how Sanskrit Phobia and the denigration of the Indic Civilization are often interrelated, how these might feed the subversion of sovereignty of Asian nation-states through the various levels of foreign intervention made possible by this.
If one were to apply this to a hypothetical scenario of Western intervention in China, the components might be as follows (not necessarily in this sequence):
  1. Attack on China's human rights

  2. Demands for internal reforms

  3. Critiques of Mandarin as hegemonic

  4. Denigration of Chinese culture and the hierarchies embedded in Confucianism as the basis of China's human rights abuses.

  5. Social re-engineering of minority groups to promote separatism
That this trajectory is not currently in vogue in the Western academy is an indicator of China's strength as a geopolitical force. But let us not forget that the linking of China's traditional culture with backwardness and the scapegoating of Confucianism as anti-progress and promoting inequality, led Chinese patriots using imported Western Marxism to the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and the murder of millions of innocents. There are many ways for Asian cultures to be taught to hate themselves, but the consequences are always the same - genocide and cultural devastation.
Unfortunately, India's domestic relationship with its Sanskrit-based heritage is mixed up in petty short sighted politics:
  1. Sanskrit phobia has become a weapon for identity based vote banking, often under the guise of imported ideologies and funding for “human rights.”

  2. India's social schisms, cleavages and centrifugal forces have been exacerbated by interventions from the three global civilizational powers – the West, Pan-Islam and China – each of which has made heavy investments in India's intellectuals, media, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) and other mechanisms of influence.

  3. While powerful top down economic forces (such as foreign capital in business, infrastructure development and export growth) are integrating India, simultaneously, other sociopolitical forces are potentially trying to downgrade India's geopolitical influence by breaking apart its social fabric and identity at the grass roots.

  4. Such fragmentation has energized the anti-Sanskrit movement.
VIII. Leveling the Civilizational Playing Field
Kapil Kapoor explains that literary theories embed culture-specific thinking and experience and that the trendy Indian intellectual application of Western theories to Indian culture is dangerous:
Theories are culture specific - they are codes of a community's expectations from the art form / forms and therefore more adequately account for that community's response to the artifacts. Cultural specificity of theories can therefore be problematic if the theories of one culture are applied uncritically to the empirical reality of another culture. There are the Indian habits of mind and there are the western habits of mind nurtured over time by the specificity of the community's experience and these may differ crucially. It is these habits of mind that are imbricated deeply in the respective conceptual frameworks. The western linearity of time and thought with its in-built evolutionary imperative that is implicit in such structures as 'pre-X-post A' (pre-colonial, colonial, post-colonial) contrasts sharply with the Indian schema of cyclic and simultaneity. Similarly, the western binarism and the search for certainty differs from the either-or/both schema and the uncertainty schema of the Indian mind. The list is long - the teleological anxiety, the apocalyptic vision, the wait for the millennium, the redeemer expectation, the anthropological centrism, the conception of man as a sinner, a vengeful God, an ethics contingent on a personal God - all these western constructs offer conceptual opposition to the Indian habits of mind, at least to the non-Hebraic habits of mind...The world-view / philosophy of a culture cannot be ignored in any discussion of an appropriate aesthetic. The Indian world-view therefore has to be taken into account. The critics of an Indian aesthetics rooted in Indian philosophy reduce Indian philosophy to simple 'idealism' and ignore the tremendous inner differentiation and range of Indian philosophical thinking...
As global competition becomes increasingly knowledge based, it becomes important for each civilization to excavate its intellectual assets that lie embedded within its non-translatable categories, frameworks and literature.
What will be the future of the Sanskrit-based Indic and pan-Asian civilization in this emerging global theater?
This issue has great relevance to many Asian nations, including Thailand, which regard Sanskrit with the same respect with which Westerners regard Latin and Greek.
India and Southeast Asia share this magnificent ancient, yet modern and postmodern, civilization. It deserves to be nurtured and presented to the world on par with the other civilizations competing for global market share, i.e. civilizations that are based on European thought, Chinese thought, and Arabic-Persian thought.
India and other countries with Sanskrit based cultures should form joint projects to reinvigorate this discipline. Some principles to consider are the following:

  • European Christians created a great Renaissance from heathen Greek and Latin texts which led them eventually to establish cultural equations with many other ancient languages and develop modern philology. South and Southeast Asians must also look at their own classical heritage for creative solutions while at the same time assimilating Western thought.

  • There must be parity between the positioning of Sanskrit and other major classical languages: India and Southeast Asia should give Sanskrit a status comparable to the status given to Latin by the West, Arabic by the Arabs, Persian by Iran, and Mandarin by China.

  • Objective, multi-disciplinary scholarly efforts must be funded and undertaken to engage and challenge biased scholarship based on trendy theories of suppression of vernaculars and oppression of “marginalized” people by Sanskrit.

  • Dalits and other under privileged Indic peoples should be encouraged to study Sanskrit as a possible path to self re-discovery, and should be promoted as leaders of learning.

  • Asian countries should sponsor the study and teaching of the history of Asia that would be less tainted by Eurocentrism than is the case today.

  • Freudian and other trendy “theories” to analyze Sanskrit texts should not get privileged over indigenous interpretations, to restore balance and respect for the tradition as is the norm for other classical languages.

  • Over 25 million Westerners (including almost 18 million Americans) are yoga enthusiasts. Sanskrit inhabits their bodies as a result of practices such as mantra, asanas, chakras, prana, kundalini etc. -- all terms that cannot be translated into other languages because they are discoveries of embodied states unknown to most other cultures. This latest Sanskritization of the inner world could expand to over 100 million Westerners in the next ten years. Indian authorities should see this as a form of cultural capital, and Indians should reclaim this heritage rather than allowing others to appropriate and remap it into “Christian Yoga,” “Kabala Yoga,” “Islamic Yoga,” “Western science,” etc.

  • There should be a fresh challenge the colonial divide-and-rule scholarship that has created tensions between Buddhism and Hinduism. For instance,

  • Challenge the Orientalist theory that Buddhism was “eradicated” in India by Hinduism

  • Challenge the exaggeration of disconnects between Hinduism and Buddhism

  • The recent archeological findings in Raipur show once again that Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Buddhism and Jainism thrived peacefully together, under Hindu rulers. (See: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1050621/asp/frontpage/story_4896126.asp)
Endnotes
1 Panini's thought flowed over to Structuralism via Saussure's students. This is discussed in the following. (1) Singh, Prem. 1992. “Rethinking history of linguistics: Saussure and the India Connection.” In “Language and Text: A Kelkar Festschrift.” Ed. by R. N. Srivastava. Delhi: Kalinga Publishers. Pages 43-51. Also, (2) Ivanov, Vyacheslav V. 1974. “Growth of the Theoretical Framework of Modern Poetics.” In “Current Trends in Linguistics” edited by T. A. Sebeok. Vol. 12. The Hague: Mouton. Pages 835 – 61.
2 Also see Kunjunni Raja, Indian Theories of Meaning (Adyar, Madras). He is the topmost scholar in this.
Acknowledgments
Many scholars have contributed to this paper, most notably Dr. Shrinivas Tilak, Jay Patel and Aditi Banerjee.
An earlier version of this paper was presented as the opening plenary at the International Conference on Sanskrit in Asia: Unity in Diversity, held in Bangkok in June, 2005, sponsored by The Infinity Foundation and organized by Silpakorn University, Thailand, with Her Royal Highness the Crown Princess of Thailand as its chief patron. The earlier paper is published in the Sanskrit Centre Journal, Silpakorn University, Volume 1, 2005. Feedback received at that event has further helped to shape the final version.
References
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Alastair Lamb, Chapter XXXI: Indian Influence in Ancient South-East Asia. In A Cultural History of India, Edited by A.L. Basham. Oxford University Press 1975.
J. Leroy Davidson, Chapter XXXII, Indian Influences on China. In A Cultural History of India, Edited by A.L. Basham, 1975, Oxford University Press, Delhi
Arun Bhattacharjee, Greater India. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Private Limited, 1981, New Delhi
Acharya, Poromesh. 1996. Indigenous education and Brahminical hegemony in Bengal. In The Transmission of Knowledge in South Asia: Essays on Education, Religion, History, and Politics edited by Nigel Crook, 98-118, Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Bhate, Saroja. 1996. Position of Sanskrit in public education and scientific research in Modern India. In Ideology and Status of Sanskrit: Contributions to the History of the Sanskrit Language edited by Jan E. M. Houben, 383-400, Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Bose, Sugata and Ayesha Jalal. 1997. Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
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Pollock, Sheldon. 1993. Deep Orientalism? Notes on Sanskrit and Power Beyond the Raj. In Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia edited by Carol A. Beckenridge and Peter van der Veer, Sheldon, 76-133, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Pollock, Sheldon. 1996. The Sanskrit cosmopolis, 300-1300: Transculturation, vernacularization, and the question of ideology. In Ideology and Status of Sanskrit: Contributions to the History of the Sanskrit Language edited by Jan E. M. Houben, 197-247, Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Sharma, Arvind,. 1995. Sanskrit Studies Abroad. In Glimpses of Sanskrit Literature edited by A.N.D. Haksar, 187-195, New Delhi: Indian Council for Cultural Relations.
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http://www.sulekha.com/blogs/blogdisplay.aspx?cid=4798

The Death of Sanskrit*
SHELDON POLLOCK
University of Chicago
“Toutes les civilisations sont mortelles” (Paul Valéry)
In the age of Hindu identity politics (Hindutva) inaugurated in the 1990s by the
ascendancy of the Indian People’s Party (Bharatiya Janata Party) and its ideological
auxiliary, the World Hindu Council (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), Indian
cultural and religious nationalism has been promulgating ever more distorted
images of India’s past. Few things are as central to this revisionism as Sanskrit,
the dominant culture language of precolonial southern Asia outside the Persianate
order. Hindutva propagandists have sought to show, for example, that
Sanskrit was indigenous to India, and they purport to decipher Indus Valley
seals to prove its presence two millennia before it actually came into existence.
In a farcical repetition of Romantic myths of primevality, Sanskrit is considered—
according to the characteristic hyperbole of the VHP—the source and
sole preserver of world culture. The state’s anxiety both about Sanskrit’s role
in shaping the historical identity of the Hindu nation and about its contemporary
vitality has manifested itself in substantial new funding for Sanskrit education,
and in the declaration of 1999–2000 as the “Year of Sanskrit,” with
plans for conversation camps, debate and essay competitions, drama festivals,
and the like.1
This anxiety has a longer and rather melancholy history in independent India,
far antedating the rise of the BJP. Sanskrit was introduced into the Eighth
Schedule of the Constitution of India (1949) as a recognized language of the
new State of India, ensuring it all the benefits accorded the other fourteen (now
seventeen) spoken languages listed. This status largely meant funding for Sanskrit
colleges and universities, and for a national organization to stimulate the
study of the language. With few exceptions, however, the Sanskrit pedagogy
and scholarship at these institutions have shown a precipitous decline from pre-
Independence quality and standards, almost in inverse proportion to the amount
of funding they receive. Sanskrit literature has fared no better. From the time
of its founding in 1955, the Sahitya Akademi (National Academy of Letters)
has awarded prizes in Sanskrit literature as one of the twenty-two officially acknowledged
literary languages. But the first five of these awards were given for
392
0010-4175/01/392–426 $9.50 © 2001 Society for Comparative Study of Society and History
*I am grateful to Allison Busch and Lawrence McCrea, both of the University of Chicago, for their
critical reading of this essay.
works in English or Hindi on Sanskrit culture, while the first literary text honored
was a book of pattern poems (citraka¯vya), an almost metaliterary genre
entirely unintelligible without specialized training.
Such disparities between political inputs and cultural outcomes could be detailed
across the board. What it all demonstrates—the Sanskrit periodicals and
journals, feature films and daily newscasts on All-India Radio, school plays,
prize poems, and the rest—may be too obvious to mention: that Sanskrit as a
communicative medium in contemporary India is completely denaturalized. Its
cultivation constitutes largely an exercise in nostalgia for those directly involved,
and, for outsiders, a source of bemusement that such communication
takes place at all. Government feeding tubes and oxygen tanks may try to preserve
the language in a state of quasi-animation, but most observers would
agree that, in some crucial way, Sanskrit is dead.
Although we often speak of languages as being dead, the metaphor is misleading,
suggesting biologistic or evolutionary beliefs about cultural change
that are deeply flawed.2 The misconception carries a number of additional liabilities.
Some might argue that as a learned language of intellectual discourse
and belles lettres, Sanskrit had never been exactly alive in the first place. But
the usual distinction in play here between living and dead languages is more
than a little naive. It cannot accommodate the fact that all written languages are
learned and learnèd, and therefore in some sense frozen in time (“dead”); or,
conversely, that such languages often are as supple and dynamically changing
(“alive”) as so-called natural ones. Yet the assumption that Sanskrit was never
alive has discouraged the attempt to grasp its later history; after all, what is born
dead has no later history. As a result, there exist no good accounts or theorizations
of the end of the cultural order that for two millennia exerted a transregional
influence across Asia—South, Southeast, Inner, and even East Asia—
that was unparalleled until the rise of Americanism and global English. We have
no clear understanding of whether, and if so, when, Sanskrit culture ceased to
make history; whether, and if so, why, it proved incapable of preserving into
the present the creative vitality it displayed in earlier epochs, and what this loss
of effectivity might reveal about those factors within the wider world of society
and polity that had kept it vital.
If better theories or histories or metaphors are unavailable for grasping the
broad Wirkungsgeschichte of a cultural form like Sanskrit, this is all the more
the case in trying to distinguish among its constituent parts, and their effects
and histories. Consider the history of the Sanskrit knowledge-systems. The two
centuries before European colonialism decisively established itself in the subcontinent
around 1750 constitute one of the most innovative epochs of Sanskrit
systematic thought (in language analysis, logic, hermeneutics, moral-legal philosophy,
and the rest). Thinkers produced new formulations of old problems, in
entirely new discursive idioms, in what were often new scholarly genres employing
often a new historicist framework; some even called themselves (or,
the death of sanskrit 393
more often, their enemies) “the new” scholars (navya). Concurrently with the
spread of European power, however, this dynamism diminished so much that by
1800, the capacity of Sanskrit thought to make history had vanished. The production
of moral-legal texts, for example, which was so extensive throughout
the seventeenth century, ceased entirely, and in core disciplines like hermeneutics
or literary theory no significant scholarship—that is, significant in the eyes
of the tradition itself—was again to be written. How to account for this momentous
rupture is a complex question, and one of great importance for history—
the history of science, colonialism, modernity—and for social theory.3
The world of Sanskrit is broad and deep, and it would be unsurprising to find
different domains following different historical rhythms and requiring different
measures of vitality. Nor are these other domains less significant than the
knowledge-systems. The communication of new imagination, for example, is
hardly less valuable in itself than the communication of new information. In
fact, a language’s capacity to function as a vehicle for such imagination is one
crucial measure of its social energy. This is so in part because the text-genre
that above all others embodies imagination and its associated expressivity—
called ka¯vya in Sanskrit or “literature” in modern English (a coherent cultural
phenomenon in precolonial South Asia, however much disrupted in western
modernity)—is itself often an argument about how language is to be used, indeed,
about how life is to be lived. If ka¯vya was important to the imaginative
life of society and even the self-understanding of polity, as it demonstrably was,
then its history must tell us something important about the life of the larger cultural
formation it indexed.4
In the memorable year of 1857, a Gujarati poet, Dalpatra¯m Dahyabhai, was
the first to speak of the death of Sanskrit:
All the feasts and great donations
King Bhoja gave the Brahmans
were obsequies he made on finding
the language of the gods had died.
Seated in state Bajirao performed
its after-death rite with great pomp.
And today, the best of kings across the land
observe its yearly memorial.5
The poet sensed that some important transformation had occurred at the beginning
of the second millennium, which made the great literary courts of the age,
such as Bhoja’s, the stuff of legend (which last things often become); that the
cultivation of Sanskrit by eighteenth-century rulers like the Peshwas of Maharashtra
was too little too late; that the Sanskrit cultural order of his own time
was sheer nostalgic ceremony. This is a remarkable intuition of part of the story,
but it is only part, and only intuition.
What follows here is a first attempt to understand something of the death of
Sanskrit literary culture as a historical process. Four cases are especially instruc-
394 sheldon pollock
tive: The disappearance of Sanskrit literature in Kashmir, a premier center of
literary creativity, after the thirteenth century; its diminished power in sixteenthcentury
Vijayanagara, the last great imperial formation of southern India; its
short-lived moment of modernity at the Mughal court in mid-seventeenthcentury
Delhi; and its ghostly existence in Bengal on the eve of colonialism.
Each case raises a different question: first, about the kind of political institutions
and civic ethos required to sustain Sanskrit literary culture; second,
whether and to what degree competition with vernacular cultures eventually affected
it; third, what factors besides newness of style or even subjectivity would
have been necessary for consolidating a Sanskrit modernity, and last, whether
the social and spiritual nutrients that once gave life to this literary culture could
have mutated into the toxins that killed it.
1. the lady vanishes
One evening in about the year 1140, a literary gathering took place in a private
home in Pravarapura (present-day Srinagar), in the Vale of Kashmir. The host
was Alan˙ ka¯ra (also called Lan˙ kaka), an official of the Kashmir royal court and
the older brother of the poet and lexicographer Man˙ kha, in whose honor the
event was arranged. Man˙ kha was to give a reading of his recently completed
courtly epic on the god S´ iva, the S´ r¯ıkan½t½hacarita (The Deeds of S´ iva). It is in
fact from the autobiographical narrative in the last chapter of this work that we
learn about the literary evening. As the poet makes his way through the audience
hall, he greets the various guests and briefly describes their accomplishments
in the world of Sanskrit culture. And an extraordinary assembly it was.
Foremost among the scholars present was Ruyyaka, Man˙ kha’s teacher, whose
Alan˙ ka¯rasarvasva (Compendium of Rhetorical Figures) had secured him a
reputation as the greatest authority on tropology in the century since Mammat
½a wrote his famous textbook Ka¯vyapraka¯s´a (Light on Literature [ca. 1050]).
Kalhan½a was there—Man˙ kha calls him by his formal Sanskrit name Kalya¯n½a—
in the course of writing the Ra¯jataran˙ gin½¯ı (River of Kings), the most remarkable
historical poem ever composed in the Sanskrit language. There were other
men in the audience whose works have almost wholly been lost to history,
but whose attainments as described by Man˙ kha encapsulate the literary values
of the age: men like Trailokya, “who was as accomplished in the dry complexities
of systematic thought as he was bold in the craft of literature, and thus
seemed the very reincarnation of S´ r¯ı Tuta¯tita; Jinduka, who “bathed in the two
streams of hermeneutical thought, and thereby washed off the pollution of the
Kali age,” and who at the same time wrote “goodly verses” that would find a
place in the poetic anthologies, as would those of Jalhan½a, “a poet to rival
Mura¯ri and Ra¯jas´ekhara,” two great poets of the tenth century. And of course
there was Alan˙ ka¯ra himself, whose own literary works “circulated widely in
manuscript form” and made him the peer of Ba¯n½a, the literary prose master of
the seventh century.6
the death of sanskrit 395
Altogether more than thirty guests were in attendance: philosophers, theologians,
architects, physicians, ambassadors, including one from the court of the
Ga¯had½ava¯las of Kanauj, then at their zenith, and another from the S´ ila¯ha¯ra court
on the southwest coast. In short, this was an assembly that embodied all the intellectual
force and expressive power and refined cosmopolitanism of Sanskrit
literary culture at its most brilliant, a group of men who could look back ten
centuries and more and see themselves as equals of the greatest literati of the
past. It was, to be sure, a brilliance of the sort Kashmir had produced repeatedly
for more than half a millennium, at least from the time of the celebrated poet
Bhartr½men½t½ha in the sixth century. What makes this particular generation of
Sanskrit poets so noteworthy is that it turned out to be Kashmir’s last.
Within fifty years the creative Sanskrit literary culture of Kashmir had disappeared.
The production of literature in all of the major genres (courtly epic,
drama, and the rest) ceased entirely, and the vast repertory of Sanskrit literary
forms was reduced to the stotra (hymn). The generation of poets immediately
following Man˙ kha’s is almost a complete blank, and we know of only one work
from the entire following century and a half.7 As for new literary theory, which
had been produced in almost every generation from 800 on—theory so innovative
and powerful that it swept down from the mountains and took hold of all
India by the end of the eleventh century, transforming the way everyone thought
about literary meaning and readerly response—this was over. The last work to
circulate outside of Kashmir was the Alan˙ ka¯raratna¯kara (Mine of Tropes) of

obha¯karmitra, probably from the end of the twelfth century. When in the fifteenth
century Sanskrit literary culture again manifested itself, it was a radically-
altered formation, in respect to both what people wrote and how, historically,
they regarded their work.
This recommencement occurred at the court of the Sultan Zain-ul-*a¯bid¯ın (r.
1420–70), who established civic peace after decades of anarchy and violence,
while at the same time reinstituting courtly patronage of Sanskrit learning. This
represents a fascinating experiment in cross-cultural communication, which has
yet to receive the scholarly attention it merits. Here I can only sketch what I believe
to be new about the Sanskrit side of this experiment, and suggest how little
it had in common with the kind of culture represented by the literati attending
Alan˙ ka¯ra’s soirée. The differences will become evident from a glance at the
work of two representative figures from that court.
The first substantial literary production since the generation of the 1140s was
the work of Jonara¯ja, the principal Sanskrit scholar at Zain’s court. The fact that
Jonara¯ja was commissioned by the Sultan’s “minister of customary affairs” to
produce a continuation of Kalhan½a’s Ra¯jataran˙ gin½¯ı (from the point where
Kalhan½a left off, with King Jayasim½ ha, ca. 1150) is as much an indication of the
three-centuries-long literary vacuum as of the character of the new cultural order.
About the writing of poetic history, or any history, between Kalhan½a’s time
and his own, Jonara¯ja tells us, “From [Kalhan½a’s] day to this no poet sought to
396 sheldon pollock
bring back to life the kings of the past with the elixir of his discourse. Perhaps
it was because of the troubles in the land, or because, perhaps, of the evil fate
of the kings themselves.” Jonara¯ja understood that a vast gulf—not just a historical
gulf but a cultural one—separated him from Kalhan½a. Although like its
model this second Ra¯jataran˙ gin½¯ı calls itself a literary work (“a tree of poetry in
whose shade those travelers who are kings can cool the heat of the prideful ways
of their forebears”), it is a bland chronicle, and has nothing of the aesthetic objectives
of its prototype. Here for once the self-deprecation with which Sanskrit
literary works conventionally begin, from Ka¯lida¯sa to Ba¯n½a and onward, finds
some purchase: “What have these two in common, this shallow well of my literary
talent and the wave-crested ocean of [Kalhan½a’s] poem? . . . My work can
succeed only by attaching itself to Kalhan½a’s text. If it flows into a river even
ditch water is eventually drunk.”8 The other works Jonara¯ja has left behind—
commentaries on courtly epics and a few gnomic verses (n¯ıti) preserved in a
later anthology—serve only to substantiate the grounds for his humility, and,
again, to measure the distance Sanskrit culture has traveled from its peak.9
The anthology just mentioned was in part the work of our second author,

r¯ıvara, the most interesting intellectual at the court of Zain-ul-*a¯bid¯ın. S´ r¯ıvara
was in fact Jonara¯ja’s student, and when “the Creator took him,” writes S´ r¯ıvara
of his teacher, “as if in anger that the poet immortalized those whom He had
made to be mortal” (vss. 5–7), the student continued the Ra¯jataran˙ gin½¯ı, his narrative
covering the period from 1459, the year of Jonara¯ja’s death, to 1486, presumably
the year of his own. Even more than Jonara¯ja, S´ r¯ıvara eschews the label
of poet: “Expect no literary excellence here, but read because of interest in
the king’s deeds. The book is meant to memorialize him—let others write sweet
poems. . . . The style here is that of a mere clerk. . . . Other men, more learned,
may someday use it to make beautiful verse.” And in fact, it is an even barer
chronicle than its predecessor.10
Even if unable to create serious original work himself, S´ r¯ıvara was seriously
interested in literature. His anthology, the Subha¯s½ita¯vali, was likely a reworking
of an older composition dating to the mid-twelfth century. We do not
know the full extent of this earlier version, but S´ r¯ıvara’s recension testifies to a
reasonably accomplished curatorial study of Sanskrit at the Sultan’s court, and,
if the work is in fact wholly his labor, to the presence of a very substantial library:
more than thirty-five hundred poems are included from all periods, with
attributions to more than 350 poets. Although a number of poets are represented
of whom we know nothing but the name given them here, and who therefore
could have written during the three-hundred-year interval, the anthology
offers nothing to prove that any literature of significance in Sanskrit was produced
between the time of Man˙ kha and the fifteenth century—or indeed, in the
fifteenth century itself.11
The possibility exists that this picture of literary collapse is an artifact of our
data: important creative texts may have disappeared, perhaps in one of the fires
the death of sanskrit 397
that periodically engulfed the capital of Kashmir, or in the Mongol invasion of
1320, which, according to a sixteenth-century Persian chronicle, left the country
in ruins. Texts may simply have eluded the notice of modern editors however
carefully they may have combed the manuscript collections of Kashmir.
But none of these possibilities seems very likely. Important Sanskrit literature,
and especially literary theory, was always widely disseminated out of Kashmir,
and nothing of this kind circulated after the twelfth century. Many important
manuscripts did indeed survive into the late medieval period and beyond
through recopying, but with the exceptions noted above, all of this literature
dates from the twelfth century or earlier. Despite Kalhan½a’s own preoccupation
with literary history, neither sequel to the Ra¯jataran˙ gin½¯ı mentions any Sanskrit
works for the three-hundred-year interval or for their own periods.12
Akind of Sanskrit literary culture remained alive in Kashmir, but it conforms
to the pattern we find increasingly often elsewhere: it is culture reduced to reinscription
and restatement. In terms of new literary works, the great experiments
in moral and aesthetic imagination that marked the previous fifteen hundred
years of Sanskrit literature have entirely disappeared, and instead, creativity
was confined within the narrow limits of hymnic verse. Indeed, Sanskrit literary
writing of any sort from the period after Zain-ul-*a¯bid¯ın is rare.13 “Reinscription,”
that is, ancillary literary production—copying of manuscripts, composition
of commentaries, and the like—was carried on without apparent break
or decline, and testifies at every turn to the fact that the study of literary science
had weakened to no discernible extent.14 What was lost was something more
elusive but more central to the life of a culture: the ability to create new literature.
How was it possible that one of the most creative sites of Sanskrit literary
culture anywhere in twelfth-century Asia simply collapsed within a generation
or two, never to be revived in anything remotely approaching its former
grandeur? It is probably imprudent even to consider a singular explanation for
so dramatic a change, but a large part of any explanation is almost certain to lie
in the transformation that occurred in the social-political sphere. What we might
identify as the courtly-civic ethos of Kashmir came undone with accelerating
intensity during the first centuries of the second millennium, and this ethos, it
becomes clear, was crucial to sustaining the vitality of Sanskrit literary culture.
The events of the twelfth century are themselves to some degree prefigured
a few centuries earlier. With the accession of the degenerate king S´ an˙ karavarman
in the late ninth century, followed in the mid-tenth century by Didda¯, a deranged
Khas´a princess, Sanskrit literary production appears to have been arrested
for a generation. Scholarly work, however, continued to some degree,
and the following three generations were a period of intense creativity, especially
in literary theory, as seen in the work of such writers as Bhat½t½ana¯yaka,
Abhinavagupta, Kuntaka, and Mahimabhat½t½a. In the twelfth century, by contrast,
a decline set in from which there was to be no recovery, contingent on new
398 sheldon pollock
extremes of royal dissolution and criminality for which it is hard to find precedents.
One cannot read the account in the Ra¯jataran˙ gin½¯ı without feeling
numbed by the stories of impiety, violence, and treachery. It was a century that
began with the atrocities of King Hars½a, who, as Kalhan½a tells it in a striking
passage, “plundered from all temples the wonderful treasures which former
kings had bestowed there. . . In order to defile the statues of gods he had excrements
and urine poured over their faces by naked mendicants whose noses,
feet, and hands had rotted away.”15 And things were only to get worse.
In such a world, shaken by unprecedented acts of royal depravity and irreligiosity,
by the madness and suicide of kings, it would hardly be surprising if
the court had ceased to command the sympathies of its subjects. It is as a direct
consequence of this, one has to assume, that for poets like Man˙ kha political
power had not only become irrelevant to their lives life as creative artists and
to the themes of their poetry, but an impediment. In the prologue to the poem
he recited that evening in 1140, he writes: “All other poets have debased
their language, that priceless treasure, by shamelessly putting it up for sale in
those cheap shops—the royal courts. I, Man˙ kha, however, am eulogist of the
King whose court is Mount Kaila¯s´a [i.e., S´ iva].” And before he begins his reading,
an emissary from the Konkan says to him: “Your remarkable poetry, and
yours alone, is free from stain: your verse is untouched by the evil of singing
the praises of the unworthy [i.e., kings]; all poets, you excepted, have served
only to teach men how to beg.” Royal power had become irrelevant not just to
literature but to the literary culture of the time as well. Alan˙ ka¯ra’s group, meeting
at his home, amounts to a kind of inchoate literary public sphere, made up
of scholars, literati, and local and foreign men of affairs—but no king.16
The primary historical data available for studying the three centuries between
the time of Kalhan½a and Jonara¯ja amount to little more than Jonara¯ja’s chronicle
itself, and he covers this period in about 140 verses.17 Yet this suffices to
give us a picture of the near-total dissolution of orderly life in urban Kashmir.
Transitions in power were more often than not marked by usurpation, insurrection,
or civil war (the one exception perhaps being the reign of Ra¯madeva,
1252–73). Each successive ruler is described as more imbecilic than his predecessor,
and though most were able to maintain power for a decade or two, it
is power alone that seems to have interested them. Jonara¯ja not only mentions
no poets, but only rarely alludes to the kinds of civic initiatives (the construction
of seminaries, for example) that crowd Kalhan½a’s history of kings. This
stunning disintegration of civic and cultural order in Kashmir was no doubt tied
to longer-term tensions within the social order, including the resistance to central
incorporation of warlords (known as d½a¯maras), but linked with what larger
material processes we do not know. Social calm was restored only by Zainul-*
a¯bid¯ın, who came to power a century after the establishment of Turkic rule
in Kashmir, around 1320. In the preceding two centuries, during which “Hinduka”
rule, to use Jonara¯ja’s idiom, continued and the presence of Turks in the
the death of sanskrit 399
Valley was insignificant, the social-political sphere imploded, and took the creative
Sanskrit literary culture with it.
In a passage that came to be attached (no later than 1588 and probably much
earlier) to Jonara¯ja’s continuation of the Ra¯jataran˙ gin½¯ı, the story is told of Zainul-*
a¯bid¯ın’s visit to the shrine of S´ a¯rada¯, the venerated goddess of learning in
Kashmir. For centuries this temple had represented the very omphalos of Sanskrit
knowledge, but in the evil days of the Kali age, we are told, the goddess
had hidden herself. No longer did the face of the image sweat, the arms shake,
or the feet burn to the touch as in times past. And though the goddess’s power
had weakened, the Sultan, who had heard about her miraculous presence in the
temple, had hopes of witnessing an epiphany. He came as the pious devotee he
was, and begged to have some vision of the goddess in his sleep—not in her
full form, of course, which the gods themselves cannot behold, but in the form
she assumes out of compassion for her devotees. S´ a¯rada¯, however, gave no sign
of presence; indeed, far from granting the Sultan dars´an, the goddess “made
him smash to pieces her very own image.” “This no doubt occurred,” the text
reads, “because of the presence of the barbarians (mlecchas). Aking is held responsible
for the transgressions of his underlings” and those of the Sultan had
denigrated the image, though he himself, a man of compassion, truth, and wisdom,
“had nothing to do with the Goddess’s failure to appear.”18 The author of
this passage might be uncertain about the larger context of cultural dissolution,
citing the general evils of the Kali age; he might show himself ambivalent in
ascribing blame to the new ruling lineage. But one thing he knew for certain:
the Goddess of Sanskrit literature had long since left Kashmir.
2. sanskrit in the city of victory and knowledge
Between the years 1340 and 1565, and in a variety of incarnations, a transregional
political formation known as Vijayanagara held sway over much of India
below the Vindhya mountains, from the Arabian sea to the borders of Orissa.
Sanskrit culture in Vijayanagara, where literary production was continuous
and abundant, stands in stark contrast to the contemporaneous world of Kashmir,
and its fate was contingent on a far more complicated politics of literary
language and far sharper competition among literary cultures. And although
there is no better place to study this complex of issues in the state in which it
existed before European modernity changed the rules of the game of language
and power, it is one dimension of Vijayanagara that remains all but unstudied.19
Vijayanagara was a complexly multilingual empire, and the differential functions
of both languages of state and languages of literature await careful analysis.
Inscriptions were issued in Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, and Sanskrit, according
to a new pattern of distribution (the crystallizing vernacular language
regions) and an old division of labor between Sanskrit and local language.20
Literary production at the court during these three and one-half centuries was
largely restricted to Telugu, Tamil, and Sanskrit. It is a striking fact that, though
400 sheldon pollock
ruled by men who belonged to Tulu- or Kannada-speaking lineages for much
of this period, the Vijayanagara state seems to have done little to promote the
production of courtly Kannada literature. Kr½s½n½adevara¯ya (r. 1509–29), the
“Karn½a¯t½a” king as he is consistently called (Karn½a¯t½a being a Sanskritized form
of Kannada), may have had at court a Kannada poet, Timman½n½akavi, but Timman
½n½a’s one accomplishment was to complete Kuma¯ravya¯sa’s enormously
popular Kannada Bha¯rata of the preceding century (and ineffectively at that, in
the eyes of Kannada literary historians). The emperor himself used Telugu for
his most important literary-political work, the A¯ muktama¯lyada¯. This is not to
say that Kannada literary culture outside the court did not show considerable
vitality during this period, at least when we consider the production of the poetsingers
of the Ma¯dhva religious order, such as Pu¯randarada¯sa and Kanakada¯sa,
and S´ r¯ıvais½n½ava poets like Laks½mı¯s´a, author of one of the most popular Kannada
literary works before the modern period, the Jaimini Bha¯rat. It is in fact
the very vitality of that culture that makes the penury of courtly production so
manifest.
The Sanskrit culture of Vijayanagara shows other paradoxes. Although much
material remains unpublished, a preliminary analysis indicates an unmistakable
and remarkable contrast between the exhaustion of Sanskrit literary creativity
and the vitality of Sanskrit scholarship. The latter attained an almost industrialized
magnitude and attained renown across India.21 And to the end, the cultivation
of Sanskrit continued to be taken very seriously, especially as a state
enterprise. Many of the governors responsible for the functioning of the empire
had a cultural literacy far exceeding the mere scribal and accountancy skills ascribed
to them by some modern scholars; they were men of considerable learning,
if only reproductive and not original learning.22
In the domain of literature, however, the Vijayanagara cultural world seems
to have produced few if any Sanskrit works that continued to be read beyond
the moment of their composition, that circulated to any extent beyond the place
of their immediate creation and performance, that attracted a commentator,
were excerpted in an anthology, or entered onto a school syllabus. Here, too,
much may have been lost when the city was sacked in 1565, but the works of
major court poets and personalities do survive.23 And one question these works
raise is how and why they survived at all. The truly vital literary energies of the
time were clearly channeled into regional languages, especially Telugu and
Kannada, whether cultivated at the court or the temple. Just contrast the reception
history of Kuma¯ravya¯sa’s non-courtly Kannada Bha¯rata with the Sanskrit
Bha¯rata of Diva¯kara at Kr½s½n½adevara¯ya’s court. The former not only circulated
widely in manuscript form (over 150 manuscripts from the mid-sixteenth century
onward exist) but came to be recited all over the Kannada-speaking world;
the latter lay unread and unrecopied in the palace library from the moment the
ink on the palm leaves was dry.24
A look at the early sixteenth-century court of Kr½s½n½adevara¯ya brings out an
the death of sanskrit 401
important feature of the character of Sanskrit literary production in Vijayanagara.
The titles of the king as attested in inscriptions indicate the kind of cultural
image he cultivated: He is “Master Judge of [Sanskrit] Drama and Poetry,”
“Cosmic Serpent of Literary Expertise,” and (with allusion to the Parama¯ra
poet-king of 1000) “King Bhoja of All Art.”25 The king’s officials evinced the
same kind and degree of sophisticated learning found in the earlier period—almost
invariably the second-order activity of reproduction.26 New literary production,
like the work of Diva¯kara already mentioned, appears to have been not
only less common but less significant.
Characteristic of Sanskrit literary production at Kr½s½n½adevara¯ya’s court is a
drama written by the king himself, the “Marriage of Ja¯mbavat¯ı (Ja¯mbavat¯ıparin
½aya).27 Performed before an audience praised for its literary sophistication
(1.7) on the occasion of the spring festival of the god Viru¯pa¯ks½a, “the protective
jewel of the Karn½a¯t½a empire” (1.61), and composed in a high style of courtly
poetry that shows no sign of decay, the play deals with a brief episode from
the Bha¯gavatapura¯n½a (10.56). Amagic gem, which “daily produced eight loads
of gold” and warded off plague and pestilence, was given by the Sun to a kinsman
of the divine Kr½s½n½a, who himself falls under suspicion when the jewel later
disappears. To clear his name, Kr½s½n½a goes in quest of the stone, now in the
possession of the Bear king Ja¯mbava¯n, who, on being defeated in battle, presents
Kr½s½n½a with both the jewel and his daughter, Ja¯mbavat¯ı.
There is nothing new, literarily, in the dramatic adaptation of this tale. The
theme itself had been treated earlier (in the lost Ja¯mbavat¯ıvijaya, by a poet
whom the tradition honored with the name of the great grammarian Pa¯n½ini). The
narrative recalls the entire history of Sanskrit drama from Abhijña¯nas´a¯kuntala
onward from the very first act (where the king, out hunting, watches at a distance
as the country girl Ja¯mbavat¯ı is picking flowers), and like so many other
examples is concerned almost exclusively with overcoming the obstacles to the
lovers’union—here, a divinely-sanctioned union of the earthly avatars of Vis½n½u
and Laks½mi¯. The idiom is one that a thousand years of poetry have made thoroughly
predictable. Yet the work holds considerable interest both because of its
association with the king and because of what it tells us about the social ontology
of Sanskrit literature during this period. The fact that the play is written in
Sanskrit (and as usual in Prakrit for the female roles) is not, as we might assume,
because it deals with a religio-mythic motif, but on the contrary because
it deals with the political narrative of the Vijayanagara empire. This may seem
a paradoxical judgment, but both intrinsic and extrinsic considerations make it
probable. The sacrality now commonly and often erroneously associated with
Sanskrit had been neutralized centuries before Kr½s½n½adevara¯ya wrote his play.
By the sixteenth century the regional languages were actually far more intrinsically
marked as vehicles for religious expression. But there are also considerations
specific to the world of Kr½s½n½adevara¯ya in support of this argument.
The Marriage of Ja¯mbavat¯ı no doubt had a range of meanings for the royal
402 sheldon pollock
author and his audience, meanings to which we no longer have access. What we
can recapture is the political moment of the 1510s, the period of the king’s Orissa
campaign. Soon after taking the throne the emperor commenced what is now
regarded as one of the most brilliant military victories of sixteenth-century India,
the defeat of the Gajapati kingdom that had been occupying rich domains in
eastern India—forts commanding the important trade routes through Kondavidu
and Penukonda that had been under Vijayanagara control since the time of Devara
¯ya in the preceding century. In the aftermath of the campaign, a Vijayanagara
court musician reported that as a result of his victory Kr½s½n½adevara¯ya acquired,
along with the Gajapati’s royal power, his daughter. The sobriquet “Fever
to the Elephants of Gajapati” in addition to his main coronation title, “Incarnation
of Kr½s½n½a,” was engraved in the walls of the Viru¯pa¯ks½a temple.28
No doubt some resonance of all this contemporary activity would have been
audible in the Ja¯mbavat¯ı narrative (especially considering that ruling overlords
were typically depicted as the heroes of the spring-festival plays performed at
their courts).29 Here the god Kr½s½n½a journeys in quest of a fabled gem, enters the
domain of the Bear King “that no non-mortal could ever enter,” and is engaged
in combat by the King, who thereafter, wishing to make amends for what he
called his transgression of fighting with Kr½s½n½a, is advised to present the god
with the gem, his inexhaustible source of riches, and his daughter.30
In its mytho-political representation of the king’s person and its celebration
of his historic conquest, the Ja¯mbavat¯ıparin½aya is typical of almost all the rest
of Sanskrit literary production in the Vijayanagara world, for the hallmark of
this literature is the prominence of the project of empire. The percentage of literary
texts that can be classed as imperial documents is astonishing. Virtually
all the plays left to us are state plays; all the long poems are poetic chronicles,
accounts of royal victory or success (caritas, vijayas, or abhyudayas), detailing
this campaign and that military victory. All these genres have a long history,
to be sure, but in comparison with the previous thousand years of Sanskrit
poetry, where historical referentiality was typically attenuated, the Vijayanagara
aesthetic is profoundly historicist-political—and tied to the politics of its
time.31 And perhaps this itself is the reason why none of these works, over the
entire history of the existence of the empire, was able to reach, or perhaps even
cared to reach, a readership beyond its immediate audience of participants in
the historical moment. Such at least is the inference one may draw from the
manuscript history of the works, the absence of commentators, the neglect from
anthologists, the indifference of literary analysts.
In Vijayanagara it was not as a mode of elite expression that Sanskrit was dying.
The bivalent interpretation of the very name of the city—it often appears
as Vidya¯nagara (City of Knowledge) in Kannada inscriptions—directs our attention
toward the cultivation of Sanskrit studies, which continued with undiminished
vigor during the long existence of the empire. It was in some other
dimension that Sanskrit was moribund: as a mode of personal expression, a vethe
death of sanskrit 403
hicle of human experience away from the imperial stage, a characteristic that
had marked Sanskrit throughout its long history and from its very inception The
sphere of human experience that Sanskrit was now able or allowed to articulate
had shrunk so palpably by the end of the Vijayanagara period that the only
themes left were the concerns of empire, and then, when empire disappeared,
only the concerns of heaven.32
3. the last sanskrit poet
In his work and in the course his life followed, Jaganna¯tha Pan½d½itara¯ja (Jaganna
¯tha king of scholars) (d. ca. 1670) marks a point of historic break in the history
of Sanskrit literary culture, though it is no straightforward matter to grasp
precisely what this break consists of or to explain its historical importance. Relative
to most of the other Sanskrit poets who have attained something of canonical
status, Jaganna¯tha is very close to us in time, and yet we have almost as little
concrete evidence about him as we have about the fourth-century master
Ka¯lida¯sa. What we do know—about his actual movements through the subcontinent
as a professional writer, for example—shows that the cosmopolitan
space occupied by Sanskrit literature for much of the two preceding millennia
persisted well into the seventeenth century, despite what are often represented
as fundamental changes in the political environment with the coming of the
Mughals in the previous century.33 In the same way, Jaganna¯tha’s life as a court
poet, and much of the work that he produced in that capacity, were no different
from the lives and works of poets centuries earlier. His great literary treatise,
Rasagan˙ ga¯dhara (The Gan® ga¯-Bearer [S´ iva] of Aesthetic Emotion), participates
as a full and equal interlocutor in a millennium-long theoretical debate in Sanskrit
on the nature of the literary, and shares virtually all the same assumptions,
procedures, and goals.
At the same time, however, Jaganna¯tha marks a palpable historical endpoint
in a number of important ways. If, like countless Sanskrit poets before him in
quest of patronage, Jaganna¯tha moved with ease across India, from region to
region and court to court—from Andhra to Jaipur to Delhi and from Udaipur
to Assam, in a kind of vast “circumambulation of the quarters”—he was the last
to do so. No later Sanskrit literary works achieved the transregional spread of
his collection of lyrics, the Bha¯min¯ıvila¯sa (Ways of a Lovely Lady) and of his
Rasagan˙ ga¯dhara. His literary criticism is usually and rightly regarded as the
last significant contribution to the long conversation; thereafter (with the exception
of a new theological aesthetic that was crystallizing in Bengal, and
which Jaganna¯tha—in this the classicist—impatiently rejects), all is more or
less sheer reproduction.34 His panegyrics to the kings of Udaipur and Delhi and
Assam may be largely indistinguishable from centuries of such productions; indeed,
the three texts really constitute a single work with interchangeable parts,
in the best Sanskrit tradition of the universalizability of the qualities of overlordship.
35 Yet one senses in his lyrics and even in his scholarly works some
404 sheldon pollock
very new sensibility, which, without stretching for the fashionable phrase,
might fairly be called a modern subjectivity. And finally, in the stories that have
gathered around his life, he was made the representative of the profound historical
change that marked the new social realities of India and made the latemedieval
period late: for he is described as a Brahman belonging to a family
hailing from a bastion of Vedic orthodoxy and tradition (Ven˙ gina¯d½u in Andhra
Pradesh), who fell in love with a Muslim woman, and met his death—in despair
or repentance or defiance we do not know, but a kind of romantic agony
seems present in any case—by drowning in the holy Gan˙ ga¯ at Varanasi.
Something very old died when Jaganna¯tha died, and also something very
new.
Part of what was new, and that to a degree actually did outlive Jaganna¯tha’s
epoch, has to do with developments internal to the intellectual history of Sanskrit.
By the seventeenth century at the latest literati had begun to identify and
distinguish themselves or others as “new” intellectuals (navya, nav¯ına, arva¯c,
etc.) in a broad range of fields, including the classical trivium of language philosophy,
hermeneutics, and logic.36 The “new logicians” or “new grammarians”
demonstrated discursive innovations that were substantial—the terminology,
style, and modes of analysis underwent a radical transformation across
these and other disciplines—though their conceptual breaks remain to be clearly
spelled out, and at first view seem for the most part modest or subtle or questions
of detail rather than structure. At the same time, new and largely unprecedented
intellectual projects were undertaken or first achieved wide success.
Bhat½t½oj¯ı D¯ıks½ita (fl. 1620), for example, building on the mid-sixteenthcentury
Prakriya¯kaumud¯ı, completely restructured the foundational grammar
of Pa¯n½ini and thereby effectively ended its primacy for many lower-level pedagogical
purposes. Another Maharashtrian Brahman living in Varanasi in the
last quarter of the seventeenth century, N¯ılakan½t½ha Caturdhara, edited a new and
influential version of the Maha¯bha¯rata, producing at the same time an innovative
commentary on the work. The rise of Maratha (and later Peshwa) power
certainly underwrote some of this activity. The relationship between S´ iva¯j¯ı, the
“neo-Hindu” king of Maharashtra, and the “new” scholar Ga¯ga¯ Bhat½t½a, who
performed a re-invented coronation ritual for the king in 1674, is well known.37
The world had thus changed in terms of intellectual orientation no less than
in sociality and polity, though it may not always be easy for us to demonstrate
the quality of the transformations in Sanskrit scholarship with any real precision,
for as I have said, they are often subtle. No overt “Quarrel of the Ancients
and Moderns” separated the navyas and the pra¯cyas. And yet some kind of line
was being drawn that separated the present from the past. Something of the
character of the new socio-political milieu of traditional Sanskrit intellectuals,
as well as a sharper sense of their intellectual orientation, is suggested by the
careers of two literati—Siddhicandra, a Jain monk-scholar at the courts of Akbar
and Jahangi¯r, and Kav¯ındra¯ca¯rya Sarasvat¯ı, the leading pandit of Varanasi
the death of sanskrit 405
in the mid-seventeenth century. We shall be able to measure, too, with respect
to both milieu and orientation, just how different from both was Jaganna¯tha.
The Jain scholar Siddhicandra (ca. 1587–1666) belonged to the first generation
of Sanskrit literati to enjoy the patronage of the Mughal court. His quite
distinctive character emerges from an autobiography he has left us, a text that
is included—this itself discloses something of the man’s sense of self—as the
last chapter in the biography of Bha¯nucandra, his teacher.38 Although having
taken Jain renunciation as a youngster, Siddhicandra likewise became, through
the offices of his teacher, his own intellectual accomplishments, and—by his
own admission—his arresting physical beauty, an intimate of two of the most
powerful men of the early modern world for more than almost three decades.
In the intellectual environment in which Siddhi came of age the ruling elites
themselves were the first to challenge traditionalism. Abu-l Fazl, the leading intellectual
of the day and an intimate of Siddhicandra’s teacher, wrote against
restrictions on “the exercise of inquiry”; he denounced the tradition that came
“as a deposit under Divine sanction” and that reproached with impiety anyone
who dared contest it. For Akbar himself, man was in the first instance the disciple
of his own reason.39 This was clearly, thus, a milieu open to the reception
of new ideas. Alarge amount of Sanskrit learning was being translated into Persian,
and Mughal courtiers themselves occasionally learned something of Sanskrit
literature: Kha¯n-i-Kha¯na¯n Abdur Rah¯ım (1557–1630), Akbar’s vaki¯l and
thus the highest official in the Mughal administration, experimented not only
with poetry in the local vernacular but even, if modestly, in Sanskrit.40 A reverse
flow is observable, too; a whole new world of literature and culture was
made available to those Sanskrit intellectuals who learned Persian.
This was the world of Siddhicandra, from a very early age. At Akbar’s request
he learned Persian as a young man, and often read aloud before the illiterate
emperor, and combined this new knowledge with an impressive command
of traditional Sanskrit learning. Yet it is astonishing how narrow Siddhi’s
vision remained. His scholarly work—commentaries on Sanskrit literature and
s´a¯stra, anthologies of Sanskrit and of Prakrit verse, a textbook on letter-writing
styles—could easily have been written in the year 1100 instead of 1600. Suggestive
here is his Ka¯vyapraka¯s´akhan½d½ana, a critique of Mammat½a’s eleventhcentury
treatise on literature. Here Siddhi clearly numbers himself among the
new scholars, a term he repeatedly invokes, yet in intellectual content it is a
newness long familiar. His critique at the very start of the book challenges every
point in Mammat½a’s understanding of poetry, but only by re-asserting old positions,
not establishing new ones.41
What was it then that scholars like Siddhi thought made them new intellectuals?
They certainly strove for ever greater precision and sophistication of definition
and analysis (in imitation, in fact, of the New Logic), but these matters
of style were far more striking than any substantive innovation. On the question
of the definition of poetry, Siddhi tells us, for the navya scholar what is de-
406 sheldon pollock
cisive is not “faultless” or “affectively-charged” usage, or language “whose animating
factor is aesthetic pleasure”—all the older definitions—but something
more abstract, “an indivisible property, further unanalyzable,” of beauty.42 Beyond
such innovations in analytic idiom, however, what may be most importantly
new here is the self-proclaimed newness itself, and its intimation that the
past is somehow passed, even if it will not go completely away.
A similar, paradoxical combination of something very new in style subserving
something very old in substance is found in the one work that makes Siddhicandra
worth remembering, his autobiography. Whereas the literary presentation
of self here is new and striking (not least in its conflicted psychosexual
character), the self is explicitly celebrated for the traditionality of the moral vision
it steadfastly maintains. Nowhere does this come into sharper focus than
in the dramatic core of the text, Siddhi’s debate with Jahangi¯r and Nu¯r Mahal,
where the Mughal emperor and empresses dispute his commitment to sexual
abstinence and try to convince him to marry. It is something rare if not unprecedented
in Sanskrit literature for a writer to fashion a self so vividly present
in its self-possession and self-confidence as Siddhicandra does here. The
author puts himself in debate with the king and queen of Al-Hind, and on the
matter of his own sexuality, of all things (which he has taken care throughout
the text to render especially potent). When they repeatedly demand he renounce
celibacy and marry, he remains “immovably resolute in his own dharma,” even
as the courtiers bewail the “mad obstinacy” that will lead to his exile (4.306–
14). It seems especially suggestive of the nature of Sanskrit literary culture at
this moment that all the innovation—the narrative and literary and discursive
novelty—should be in service of the oldest of Jain monastic ideals.
That a radical alteration in social environment can fail to produce a commensurate
transformation of cultural vision is even more patent in the life of
Kav¯ındra¯ca¯rya Sarasvat¯ı (ca. 1600–75). When François Bernier traveled through
north India in the 1650s and 1660s, he came into the employ of a Mughal
courtier, Da¯nishmand Kha¯n, whom he served not only as physician but as translator
into Persian of the most recent French scientific and philosophical work,
including the writings of Descartes, which the courtier is said to have read “with
avidity.” Da¯nishmand Kha¯n, sharing the ecumenical vision of the Emperor
Sha¯h Jaha¯n’s son, Da¯ra¯ Shikoh, likewise “took into his service” Da¯ra¯’s chief
Sanskrit scholar, “one of the most celebrated pandits in all the Indies,” who later
was to be Bernier’s constant companion over a period of three years. This Indian
intellectual was Kav¯ındra, a Maharashtrian renunciant who thirty years
earlier had won celebrity by persuading Sha¯h Jaha¯n to rescind the jizya tax on
pilgrims traveling to Varanasi and Prayag.43 The success of the petition elicited
poems of praise from leading Sanskrit intellectuals and poets, which were
subsequently collected—probably the first festschrift in Sanskrit—under the
title Kav¯ındracandrodayah½ (The Moonrise of Kav¯ındra).44
Kav¯ındra’s own literary production, however, like the very conventional
the death of sanskrit 407
praise-poems in his honor, shows little of the intellectual ferment that the place
(the “Athens of India,” as Bernier called it) or the person (the “Chief of the
pandits” for Bernier, “Treasury of All Knowledge” according to his Mughal title)
or the times and conversations (on Descartes) might lead us to expect. His
Sanskrit work was entirely glossarial and hymnal; his more significant literaryhistorical
contribution was rather to Hindi. Kav¯ındra remains best known today
for the library he was able to assemble, no doubt thanks to a pension from
the Mughal emperor. This was the most celebrated of its time and place (Bernier
himself remarks on it) and eventually numbered more than two thousand manuscripts,
most of which seem to have been copied specifically for Kav¯ındra’s
collection.45
What Sanskrit learning in the seventeenth century prepared one best to do,
one might infer from the lives and works of Siddhicandra and Kav¯ındra, was
to resist all other learning.
Yet Jaganna¯tha also participated in the new world of intellectual and social
experiment and ecumenicism in which both Kav¯ındra¯ca¯rya and Siddhicandra
moved, and with far different results. He brought a newness to both his literary
oeuvre and personal relationships of a sort that neither Siddhi nor Kav¯ındra
evinced in their life or work. Jaganna¯tha also attended the court of Sha¯h Jaha¯n;
like Kav¯ındra he was a client of Da¯ra¯ Shikoh, but also of the courtier A¯ saf Kha¯n
(for whom he wrote the A¯ safvila¯sa, fragmentarily preserved). But his response
to this new social-cultural milieu was far different from theirs. Indeed, something
in this time and place marked Jaganna¯tha as no one else in the Sanskrit
world was marked. For one thing, there are intimations in his poetry of a new
interaction between Sanskrit and vernacular-language writing. Some of his poetry,
such as the following verse in the Rasagan˙ ga¯dhara,
Her eyes are not just white and black but made of nectar and poison.
Why else, when they fall on a man, would he feel so strong and so weak?
is probably indebted to earlier texts in Old Hindi; one poem in the Bha¯min
¯ıvila¯sa is almost certainly derived from a text of Biha¯ri¯la¯l, a celebrated poet
of the previous generation.46 What such parallels above all indicate, unfortunately,
is how very little information we have, even for a period as relatively
late as the end of the seventeenth century, about the real interactions between
cosmopolitan and vernacular courtly poets. Little is known about their familiarity
with each others’ works; about what it signified (to them or their audiences)
to adapt vernacular verse into Sanskrit, or Sanskrit verse into the vernacular—
an activity of which there is substantial evidence, but perhaps none
more interesting than the Hindi adaptations of Rah¯ım—and above all, what it
was that conditioned a poet’s choice to write in one of these languages as opposed
to the other.47
The Mughal court is likely also to have conditioned Jaganna¯tha’s social
modernity, but in a way far different from Siddhicandra’s, whose autobiogra-
408 sheldon pollock
phy could almost be seen an indirect comment on the poet’s life. It has long
been the subject of scholarly debate whether or not the poet had a relationship
with a Muslim woman. Aseventeenth-century history of the Pus½t½ima¯rga lineage
(the Vais½n½ava religious community into which Jaganna¯tha was born) introduced
into evidence some twenty-five years ago but ignored since, would, if authentic,
certainly corroborate the story of his marriage “to the daughter of a Muslim
lord” and his subsequent “liberation” by grace of the Gan® ga¯.48 But in truth,
it is in cases such as these that the naive dichotomy that some scholars draw between
poetic image and historical fact needs to be undone; poetic images are,
in a non-trivial sense, historical facts. Our interest is thus not so much in the
life-truth of Jaganna¯tha but, if it may be put this way, in the far more important
life-truth of Sanskrit culture in the seventeenth century. And part of this truth is
the historical fact of a literary representation linking the greatest Sanskrit poet
of the age with a Muslim woman. There is, in actuality, nothing to show that
the verses about her that are attached to the oeuvre of Jaganna¯tha are not the
poet’s own.49 But the crucial point is that they were attached to his oeuvre in
the first place, and to no one else’s—and that they are verses of a sort written
by no one before or after him:
Dressed in a dress as red as a rose,
Lavan® g¯ı with those breasts that rise
as she places the water-jug on her head,
goes off and takes along in the jug
all the feeling in all the men’s hearts.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
That Muslim girl has a body soft as butter
and if I could get her to lie by my side
the hard floor would be good enough for me
and all the comforts of paradise redundant.50
What is new in Jaganna¯tha’s poetry may in some degree have resulted from a
new conversation with Indo-Persian poets made possible by his social location,
a conversation to which he responded in ways far different from Siddhicandra
(Jaganna¯tha is also popularly credited with knowledge of Persian). Our knowledge
of the social interactions of Sanskrit and Persian poets is even more rudimentary
than in the case of Sanskrit and vernacular poets; most di¯va¯ns of Indo-
Persian poets working at the time of Jaganna¯tha lie unpublished and unread. It
seems very likely, however, that the Lavan˙ g¯ı verses appropriate, and cleverly
invert, the Persian lyric motif of the mahbu¯b, the ever-unattainable beloved
whose unattainability is typically exaggerated by ethnic difference, Christian,
Greek, Armenian, or, in Indo-Persian poetry, Hindu.51
In addition to a new willingness to draw on other literary traditions in order
to reanimate Sanskrit poetry, a new personal tone may be heard everywhere in
Jaganna¯tha’s work. This is as true of his scholarship as of his poetry. It is found,
for example, in his denunciation of a grammatical treatise, which enraged him
the death of sanskrit 409
by the criticisms it leveled against his teacher; or in his critique of a literary theorist,
whose sandals he vowed to carry on his head if his refutation failed52; or
in his own literary theory. Although the evidentiary approach of literary analysis
since at least the eighth century had required the citation of existing literature
to illustrate one’s argument and not (as formerly) of poems created ad hoc,
Jaganna¯tha insists on composing his own examples in the Rasagan˙ ga¯dhara: “I
have used for illustrations in this book new poems that I composed myself. I
have taken nothing from anyone else. Does the musk deer, who has the power
to create rare fragrance, even think of bothering with the scent of flowers?”53
The most important of Jaganna¯tha’s literary works to have survived, the Bha¯min
¯ıvila¯sa, appears to be a compendium of the verses written as illustrations for
the Rasagan˙ ga¯dhara, but collected by Jaganna¯tha in a separate volume in order
to preserve them as his own work. This is how he ends the book:
Compared to the verse of Pan½d½itara¯ja
how sweet are grapes or sugarcane,
milk or honey or the drink
of immortality itself?
He mastered the holy books, and honored the rules of Brahman conduct.
As young man he lived under the care of the emperor of Delhi.
Later he renounced his home and now serves god in Madhupur.
Everything Pan½d½itara¯ja did he did like no one else in the world.
Afraid some whoreson bastard
would steal them if he could
I made this little jewel-box
for these, my jewels of poetry.54
Sanskrit poets in the past had of course recorded their names, projected distinctive
selves, and spoken in individual voices. But, aside from stretches of admittedly
conventional poetry, there is still something new in what Jaganna¯tha
is doing. No one had ever before made literature out of the death of his child:
You didn’t care how much your parents would worry,
you betrayed the affection of your family. My little son,
you were always so good, why did you run away
to the other world?55
No one had ever written, as in one of the sections of Jaganna¯tha’s “Little Jewel
Box,” a verse-sequence on the death of his wife (Karun½avila¯sa, The Ways of
Pity). Again, much is conventional here; most of the tropes are time-tested. But
Jaganna¯tha speaks in propria persona, with a personal sorrow to which no poet
in Sanskrit had ever before given voice:
All pleasures have forgotten me
even the learning I acquired
with so much grief
has turned its back.
The only thing that won’t leave my mind,
410 sheldon pollock
like an immanent god,
is that large-eyed woman.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Your beauty was like the food of gods to me
and in my mind transformed into poetry.
Without it now, most perfect of women,
what kind of poet can I ever be?56
Yet, literature is no less complicated than life, and there are complications to
the naive picture of Jaganna¯tha looking into his heart and writing. For one thing,
these verses may also be appropriating Indo-Persian convention, this time from
the marsiyah tradition of lament (though it is true, the first secular Persian marsiya
in India comes with Ghalib in the nineteenth century). Less speculative,
and far more perplexing, is the fact that what in the pages of the Bha¯min¯ıvila¯sa
seem to be direct expressions of a husband’s grief—indeed, grief for the woman
he must have sacrificed much to marry, his Lavan˙ gı¯—are sometimes analyzed
in the Rasagan˙ ga¯dhara in an attitude of clinical detachment or, more oddly still,
uncertainty, thus undermining the autobiographical inference and sometimes
our very grasp of the poem’s meaning. When discussing the first poem cited
above, for example, Jaganna¯tha offers two possible dramatic subtexts: “This
may be spoken by someone absent from home, perhaps a young man who has
fallen in love with the beautiful daughter of his teacher while in school, or someone
else thinking back on an illicit sexual relationship he has had.” Has he forgotten
the terrible death of his beloved that prompted him to write the verse in
the first place? On another poem found in the Karun½avila¯sa Jaganna¯tha leaves
open whether “it is the aesthetic emotion of frustrated love or that of grief. . .
that is suggested in the last instance.” But the latter, he says, is unlikely: “Poets
generally do not depict death as a dominant theme, since it is considered to
be inauspicious.”57
It is not quite clear what we are to make of such discontinuities between Jaganna
¯tha’s poetry and theory. Are we to assume that he has committed the very
inauspicious act of writing not just a few verses but a whole sequence—the central
section of his one collection of lyrics—on the death of his wife; or that he
is asking us not to think of these poems as expressions of his true self; or that
he has actually forgotten that the verses on the death of his wife are verses on
the death of his wife? None of these solutions is attractive, and we are left with
something of a puzzle. One way out might be brute philology. The Bha¯min
¯ıvila¯sa, like the vast majority of Sanskrit literary texts, has never been critically
edited; we might know better what Jaganna¯tha meant if we knew just what
he had written. But although it is true that the number of verses in most of the
chapters fluctuates wildly, this is not the case for the Karun½avila¯sa, whose stability
suggests something of its special character.58 Are we therefore to imagine
a different species of “whoreson bastard”—a stupid editor sometime after
Jaganna¯tha’s death—who abused the poet’s work, not by taking verses away but by putting them in, without bothering to read what the poet had written
about them in the Rasagan˙ ga¯dhara, and acting therefore in the mistaken belief
that they shared certain themes?59
Yet, for an account of the fate of Sanskrit literary culture the overriding concern
here seems to me this: that in the middle of the seventeenth century, it was
perfectly reasonable, in the eyes of the culture that copied and recopied and circulated
Jaganna¯tha’s texts, for the greatest Sanskrit literary critic and poet of
the age to have composed a sequence of moving verses on the death of his wife,
and for this wife to have been a Muslim. Whether he married her or not, the age
demanded that he should have done so; whether he wrote the verses or not,
someone did, and for the first time in Sanskrit. And from all this, a certain kind
of newness was born—and died. There was to be no second Jaganna¯tha.
4. under the shadow of the raj
When the British began to assemble the instruments of colonial control in
earnest, in the early decades of the nineteenth century, education was among
the first areas to which they turned their attention. Important surveys of indigenous
institutions were conducted in the Bengal and Madras Presidencies,
the former by William Adam in the 1830s (following up on an earlier, preliminary
survey by William Ward), the latter by Sir Thomas Munro in 1822.60 In
themselves these are quite remarkable documents of colonial inquiry and scrutiny,
but for the historian of Sanskrit culture they have the added value of providing
some measure of the heartbeat of Sanskrit literary learning, at the very
point when a modernity of a very different kind from that represented by Jaganna
¯tha was about to work its transformations in South Asian culture.
Sanskrit learning was very much alive, in a sense to be made more precise
below, when Adam conducted his census in Bengal. In his “Third Report,” for
example, which contains figures for five districts in the Bengal Presidency, we
find 353 Sanskrit schools (one teacher per school) enrolling 2555 students. Almost
without exception these students were Brahmans. By contrast, of the 899
students studying Persian at Muslim schools in Burdwan district, for example,
half were non-Muslim and about a third of these were Brahmans. (Vernacularmedium
schools, in Bengal at least, appear to have focused on the study of accountancy.)
The vast majority of Sanskrit students were engaged in the study
of grammar, logic, or law. Other subjects, among them literature, figure far less
prominently.61 The literature curriculum, if we may combine syllabi from the
different schools, was fully classical, containing works from the fourth through
the twelfth centuries, and only one work from more or less contemporary Bengal.
62
This is not to imply that no Sanskrit literature was being written in Bengal in
the 1830s, far from it. Adam provides information on numerous new works. Yet
one is hard-pressed to find a single text (judging from the descriptions given
by Adam but no doubt supplied by the authors themselves) that situated itself
412 sheldon pollock
anywhere close to the world of early colonialism and its radically-transforming
cultural sphere, or marked any kind of departure whatever from the style and
substance of the works taught in the schools. We may contrast this literary atrophy
with the continuing vitality of the tradition of logic, for example, where
a work like Vis´vana¯tha Tarkapañca¯nana’s Siddha¯ntamukta¯val¯ı (Compendium
of Principles) from the mid-seventeenth century could undertake to reorganize
received wisdom (though not overturn it) and quickly find a place in the philosophical
syllabus over much of the subcontinent. The distribution of scholarly
works demonstrates unequivocally that as late as the early eighteenth century,
in the disciplines where Sanskrit intellectuals continued to maintain control, old
networks of vast circulation and readership were as yet intact.63 That literary
texts were no longer inserted into this distributive network—and they were
not—must be due to the fact they did not merit insertion in the eyes of Sanskrit
readers themselves.64
The state of literary culture that may be observed in the syllabi of schools
and in the output of writers in nineteenth-century rural Bengal is no mere function
of changes in the material base of Sanskrit learning, such as occurred with
the dissolution of the great zami¯nda¯ri¯ estates and the interruption of traditional
patronage to pandits, though that certainly played some role.65 It is something
repeated everywhere throughout the Sanskrit cultural world, in courtly
environments as well as in the countryside. Consider the Maratha court of Tanjore
in the early eighteenth century. This was an extraordinarily interesting literary-
cultural site, with respect to its growing convergence with a new world
economy and world culture (traders and missionaries from Europe were common),
its vernacular-language literary production (including a new genre of
multilingual operetta, one example of which made its way to Europe and became
the “Magic Flute”), and indeed, Sanskrit scholarly accomplishments (it
was here that D½ hund½i Vya¯sa, for example, composed his remarkable treatise on
the moral problems of the Va¯lm¯ıki Ra¯ma¯yan½a as well as a valuable commentary
on the great Sanskrit drama, the Mudra¯ra¯ks½asa). But how did the Sanskrit literary
imagination react to all this? It simply did not.66
What has been said of the state of Sanskrit literary vitality found at Tanjore
could be said of the Sanskritizing courts—almost of a revivalist sort—of Jai
Singh II in early-eighteenth-century Jaipur, or of Krishnaraja Wodeyar of
Mysore at the beginning of the nineteenth.67 In Mysore, Sanskrit literary production
was voluminous, but, so far as can be determined by such criteria as
circulation or influence, not a single work escaped the confines of the palace.
In Jaipur, no Sanskrit work achieved anything like the success of the vernacular
poetry of Biha¯ri¯la¯l, chief poet at the court of Jai Singh’s father. In the south
as in the north, at dates that vary according to different regions and cultural formations,
Sanskrit writers had ceased to make literature that made history.
In terms of both the subjects considered acceptable and the audience it was
prepared to address, Sanskrit had chosen to make itself irrelevant to the new
the death of sanskrit 413
world. This was true even in the extra-literary domain. The struggles against
Christian missionizing, for example, that preoccupied pamphleteers in earlynineteenth-
century Calcutta, took place almost exclusively in Bengali. Sanskrit
intellectuals seemed able to respond, or were interested in responding, only to
a challenge made on their own terrain—that is, in Sanskrit. The case of the professor
of Sanskrit at the recently-founded Calcutta Sanskrit College (1825), Ishwarachandra
Vidyasagar, is emblematic: When he had something satirical, contemporary,
critical to say, as in his anti-colonial pamphlets, he said it, not in
Sanskrit, but in Bengali.68
Sanskrit literature could hardly be said to be alive if it had ceased to function
as the vehicle for living thought, thought that supplemented and not simply duplicated
reality. Perhaps those who are not inheritors of a two-thousand-yearlong
tradition cannot possibly know its weight—the weight of all the generations
of the dead who remain contemporary and exigent, as they no doubt were
to the nineteenth-century Burdwan schoolmasters surveyed by Adam, who aspired
to create a literary-cultural realm in which the fourth-century master
Ka¯lida¯sa would have found himself perfectly at home. Certainly there is no
point in criticizing such men, as Adam did, for “wasting their learning and their
powers in weaving complicated alliterations, recompounding absurd and vicious
fictions, and revolving in perpetual circles of metaphysical abstractions
never ending still beginning.” The love and care of language (“complicated alliterations”),
the vast and enchanting Borgesian library of narratives (“absurd
fictions”), the profound reflections on human destiny (“metaphysical abstractions”)
are central values marking Sanskrit literature from its beginning, and a
source of incomparable pleasure and sustenance to those with the cultural training
to appreciate them. The point is to try to understand when and why this
repertory became a practice of repetition and not renewal; when and why what
had always been another absolutely central value of the tradition—the ability
to make literary newness, or as a tenth-century writer put it, “the capacity continually
to reimagine the world”—was lost to Sanskrit forever.69
5. conclusions
It is no straightforward matter to configure these four moments of Sanskrit literary
culture into a single, plausible historical narrative; the entire process is
too diverse and complex to be reduced to a unitary plot. There can be no doubt
about the fact that profoundly debilitating changes did take place: in Kashmir
after the thirteen century, Sanskrit literature ceased almost entirely to be produced;
in Vijayanagara, not a single Sanskrit literary work entered into transregional
circulation, an achievement that signaled excellence in earlier periods;
in seventeenth-century Delhi, remarkable innovations found no continuation,
leaving nineteenth-century Sanskrit literary culture utterly unable to perpetuate
itself into modernity. If no single storyline can accommodate this diversity of
phenomena, we may still try to think in more general terms about how a great
414 sheldon pollock
tradition can die. It may be useful to consider briefly how other comparable literary
cultures came to an end, for if all of such cultures are mortal, as Paul
Valéry perceived, there are different ways of dying.70
The culture of Old Greek literature, it has been argued, was terminated by a
single political act, the closing of the Academy by Justinian in 529; what followed
in the Byzantine period was an entirely different cultural formation, one
that in any case was itself destroyed with the fall of Constantinople in 1453.71
The history of Latin literary culture presents an entirely different case, although
how we are to understand this history remains a very open question. No systematic
and theoretically interesting account exists of Latin’s transregional
demise, and the consequences of this demise for literary and political culture of
the early-modern period. When this period begins, let us say around the second
half of the fifteenth century, Latin literature was actually at its apogee in much
of Humanist Europe, despite some three to four centuries of vernacularization.
Over the next three centuries, while important vernacular poets from Petrarch
to Ronsard to Samuel Johnson continued to write poetry in Latin, they did so
with a dramatically diminishing and ever more nostalgic commitment to the
language.72 The cultural status of this literature remains still insufficiently conceptualized
by intellectual and cultural historians, and its actual history has not
been sufficiently differentiated from that of scientific discourse. Among scholars,
Latin commanded almost total allegiance well into the modern period
(Gauss’s Disquisitiones Arithmeticae appeared in 1801), though again, its status
over against the emergent vernaculars would be increasingly challenged: in
England, for example, first by Bacon’s Advancement (1605), and in France by
Descartes’ Discours (1637).
The later history of Latin shows striking commonalities with Sanskrit. Both
died slowly, and earliest as a vehicle of literary expression, while much longer
retaining significance for learned discourse with its universalist claims. Both
were subject to periodic renewals or forced rebirths, sometimes in connection
with a politics of translocal aspiration (Carolingian, Ottonian, Humanist;
fifteenth-century Kashmir under Zain-ul-*a¯bid¯ın, eighteenth-century Maharashtra
under the Peshwas; the Wodeyar court of early-nineteenth-century
Mysore).73 At the same time, paradoxically (this is certainly true for India, at
least), both came to be ever more exclusively associated with narrow forms of
religion and priestcraft, despite centuries of a secular aesthetic. Yet the differences
between the two are equally instructive.
For one thing, Sanskrit literary culture was never affected by communicative
incompetence, which began to enfeeble Latin from at least the ninth century.
The process of vernacularization in India, in so many ways comparable to the
European case, was nowhere a consequence of growing Sanskrit ignorance; the
intellectuals who promoted the transformation, certainly in its most consequential
phases, were themselves learned in Sanskrit. The demographics and
sociology of the new literacy that promoted vernacularization in Europe (a new
the death of sanskrit 415
middle class ignorant of Latin and demanding a demotic literature) have no parallel
in India, where those who could read vernacular poetry could always read
Sanskrit. More important, although there was in fact a politics to the process in
India, too, nowhere do we find, as in early modern France, an overt state project
to make the vernacular national.74
The specific conditions for the death of Sanskrit have therefore to be located
in South Asian historical experience, and they are certain to be multifarious
and sometimes elusive. One causal account, however, for all the currency it enjoys
in the contemporary climate, can be dismissed at once: that which traces
the decline of Sanskrit culture to the coming of Muslim power. The evidence
adduced here shows this to be historically untenable. It was not “alien rule unsympathetic
to ka¯vya” and a “desperate struggle with barbarous invaders” that
sapped the strength of Sanskrit literature. In fact, it was often the barbarous invader
who sought to revive Sanskrit.75 As the Gujarati poet Dalpatra¯m perceived
in 1857, what destroyed Sanskrit literary culture was a set of much
longer-term cultural, social, and political changes.
One of these was the internal debilitation of the political institutions that had
previously underwritten Sanskrit, pre-eminently the court. Another was heightened
competition among a new range of languages seeking literary-cultural dignity.
These factors did not work everywhere with the same force. Aprecipitous
decline in Sanskrit creativity occurred in Kashmir, where vernacular literary
production in Kashmiri—the popularity of mystical poets like Lalla¯dev¯ı (fl.
1400) notwithstanding—never produced the intense competition with the literary
vernacular that Sanskrit encountered elsewhere (in Kannada country, for
instance, and later, in the Hindi heartland). Instead, what had eroded dramatically
was what I called the civic ethos embodied in the court. This ethos, while
periodically assaulted in earlier periods (with concomitant interruptions in literary
production), had more or less fully succumbed by the thirteenth century,
long before the consolidation of Turkish power in the Valley. In Vijayanagara,
by contrast, while the courtly structure of Sanskrit literary culture remained fully
intact, its content became increasingly subservient to imperial projects, and
so predictable and hollow. Those at court who had anything literarily important
to say said it in Telugu or (outside the court) in Kannada or Tamil; those who
did not, continued to write in Sanskrit, and remain unread.
In the north, too, where political change had been most pronounced, competence
in Sanskrit remained undiminished during the late-medieval/early modern
period. There, scholarly families reproduced themselves without discontinuity—
until, that is, writers made the decision to abandon Sanskrit in favor of
the increasingly attractive vernacular. Among the latter were writers such as
Kes¯avda¯s, who, unlike his father and brother, self-consciously chose to become
a vernacular poet. And it is Kes´avda¯s, Biha¯ri¯la¯l, and others like them whom we
recall from this place and time, and not a single Sanskrit writer. For reasons that
in each case demand careful historical analysis, it had everywhere become more
416 sheldon pollock
important—aesthetically, socially, and even politically more urgent—to speak
locally rather than globally. During the course of this vernacular millennium,
as I have called it, Sanskrit, the idiom of a cosmopolitan literature, gradually
died, in part because cosmopolitan talk made less and less sense in an increasingly
regionalized world.76
In addition to the weakening of the political framework that had traditionally
sustained Sanskrit, and the growing dominance of vernacular cultural consciousness,
the failure of what appear to be new forms of sociality to achieve
institutional embodiment or to attain clear conceptualization may have played
a role.77 Whether the institutions necessary to sustain a potentially modern Sanskrit
culture did not exist, or whether such a culture failed to arise and consolidate
the social forms available is a question needing far more systematic research;
no doubt the two are dialectically related phenomena. Certain modest
gestures toward collective action may be significant. The production of the
commemoration volume for Kav¯ındra¯ca¯rya around 1650 points toward networks
among traditional literati across north India and their apparently growing
recognition of shared interests. The same holds true, a century later, of the
collective Sanskrit petitions to Warren Hastings protesting abuses of pilgrims
by the pan½ d½ a¯s of Varanasi, and two generations later, the petitions on the part
of eight hundred pandits in the Bombay Presidency to colonial officials administering
the patronage fund continued from the Peshwas.78 The structures
for collective action these initiatives presuppose, however, were never institutionalized,
and they prompted the enunciation of no larger cultural or intellectual
enterprise. They were activated, it seems, only for narrow and transitory
goals.
The project and significance of the self-described “new intellectuals” in the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also await detailed analysis, but some first
impressions are likely to be sustained by further research.79 What these scholars
produced was a newness of style without a newness of substance. The former
is not meaningless and needs careful assessment and appreciation. But, remarkably,
the new and widespread sense of discontinuity never stimulated its
own self-analysis. No idiom was developed in which to articulate a new relationship
to the past, let alone a critique; no new forms of knowledge—no new
theory of religious identity, for example, let alone of the political—were produced
in which the changed conditions of political and religious life could be
conceptualized. And with very few exceptions (which suggest what was in fact
possible), there was no sustained creation of new literature—no Sanskrit novels,
personal poetry, essays—giving voice to the new subjectivity. Instead, what
the data from early nineteenth-century Bengal—which are paralleled everywhere—
demonstrate is that the mental and social spheres of Sanskrit literary
production grew ever more constricted, and the personal and this-worldly, and
eventually even the presentist-political, evaporated, until only the dry sediment
of religious hymnology remained.
the death of sanskrit 417
No doubt, additional factors conditioned this profound transformation,
something more difficult to characterize having to do with the peculiar status
of Sanskrit intellectuals in a world growing increasingly unfamiliar to them. As
I have argued elsewhere, they may have been led to reaffirm the old cosmopolitanism,
by way of ever more sophisticated refinements in ever smaller
domains of knowledge, in a much-changed cultural order where no other option
made sense: neither that of the vernacular intellectual, which was a possible
choice (as Kabir and others had earlier shown), nor that of the national intellectual,
which as of yet was not. At all events, the fact remains that well
before the consolidation of colonialism, before even the establishment of the
Islamicate political order, the mastery of tradition had become an end in itself
for Sanskrit literary culture, and reproduction, rather than revitalization, the
overriding concern. As the realm of the literary narrowed to the smallest compass
of life-concerns, so Sanskrit literature seemed to seek the smallest possible
audience. However complex the social processes at work may have been,
the field of Sanskrit literary production increasingly seemed to belong to those
who had an “interest in disinterestedness,” as Bourdieu might put it; the moves
they made seem the familiar moves in the game of elite distinction that inverts
the normal principles of cultural economies and social orders: the game where
to lose is to win. In the field of power of the time, the production of Sanskrit
literature had become a paradoxical form of life where prestige and exclusivity
were both vital and terminal.
notes
1. The VHPassessment is cited in Bhattacharji 1990; see also Goldman 1996 and Ramaswamy
1999. Arecent review of Hindutva fantasy (and fraud) about indigenous Sanskrit
is found in Witzel and Farmer 2000. The “Year of Sanskrit” runs for “Yuga¯bda
5101,” the year of the Kaliyuga dating system now apparently in use by the Ministry of
Human Resource Development (“Times of India,” Bombay ed., December 10, 1999).
2. Fracchia and Lewontin 1999.
3. See Pollock 2000 and 2001. These questions form the substance of an international
research project now being organized at the University of Chicago.
4. I explore the relationship between literary culture and polity both in the Sanskrit
and vernacular worlds in Pollock 1996 and 1998b, and in my book in progress, The Language
of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit and Power, 300–1500.
5. From “Farbas Vila¯sa” (recounting a literary gathering organized by Alexander
Kinlok-Forbes in 1852), published in Buddhipraka¯s´ (1857). I thank Sitanshu Yashaschandra
for bringing this poem to my attention.
6. S ´ r¯ıkan½t½hacarita 25.26–30; 78–80; 65; 71–72; 73–75; 46. “Tuta¯tita” is Kuma¯rila,
the seventh-century philosopher, to whom literary works (not extant) are ascribed. His
system of thought is one of the “two streams”; the other is that of Prabha¯kara.
7. The generation after Man˙ kha produced the last two courtly epics: Jaya¯naka’s
Pr½ thv¯ıra¯javijaya (on Pr½thv¯ıra¯ja III; cf. Pollock 1993), written probably in Ajmer ca.
1190; and the Haracaritacinta¯mani of Jayaratha (ca. 1200), which more closely resembles
a ma¯ha¯tmya. The one work in the next 150 years is the Stutikusuma¯ñjali of Jagaddhara
(principally known as a grammarian, Stutikusumañjali p. 34); it dates to 1350–
1400.
418 sheldon pollock
8. The citations are, in order, vss. 11, 6, 8 (cf. 12–26), 13, 26.
9. Jonara¯ja’s glosses include those on the S ´ r¯ıkan½t½hacarita and the Pr½ thv¯ıra¯javijaya
(published) and on the Kira¯ta¯rjun¯ıya (unpublished).
10. S´ r¯ıvara Ra¯jataran˙ gin½ ¯ı 1.1.9–12; 3.6. S´ r¯ıvara’s second work is the Katha¯kautukam
(Curious Tales), a translation/adaptation (“in the deathless language of Sanskrit,”
by a “master of the language of the Yavanas,” as he styles himself ) of Abd-ur-Rahman
Ja¯m¯ı’s Yu¯suf o Zulekha¯ (Herat, 1484). Here again we hear his cri de coeur of cultural
rupture: “Not a single great poet is left to teach the men of today, who have so little talent
for poetry themselves” (1.12). The work has remained unstudied since Schmidt
1893, 1898.
11. Adate before 1160 has been proposed for the original (De 1927). S´ r¯ıvara includes
verses composed by Jonara¯ja, and several dozen hymns from Jagaddhara. Living contemporaries
are represented as well, such as S´ r¯ıbaka, mentioned in S´ r¯ıvara’s Ra¯jataran
˙ gin½ ¯ı 1.7.37–38 as a eulogist of the Sultan’s. His poems in the anthology suggest a
courtier writing ephemera.
12. When S´ r¯ıvara speaks of literary production among his contemporaries, it is
“des´a” (regional) literature, which refers to Persian, not Kashmiri (cf. 1.4.37–39). On
the Baha¯rista¯n-i Sha¯h¯ı, see Habib and Nizami 1993 [1970]:737.
13. Only two texts are known to me: the I¯s´varas´ataka (One Hundred Hymns to God)
of Avata¯ra (fl. 1600), a s´les½a or punning poem entirely lacking the argument or aesthetic
of the best older examples (cf. Bronner 1999); and the unpublished A ¯ nandaka¯vya of

nanda (ca. 1650), a pratilomaka¯vya, or text readable both left to right and right to left.
14. Representative is Ra¯ja¯naka Ratnakan½t½ha of the mid-seventeenth century (grandson
of the Avata¯ra just mentioned). His careful transcriptions preserved a number of
works for posterity, especially from the generation of the 1140s (including the Ra¯jataran
˙ gin½ ¯ı, see Stein 1900:45ff., with corrections required by Kölver 1971:13ff.). His
considerable learning is manifest in his commentary on the ninth-century Yudhis½t½hiravijaya
of the Kerala poet Va¯sudeva.
15. See Ra¯jataran˙gin½ ¯ı 7.1090–92 (trans. Stein). On the earlier interruption, which
produced only the poetry of Abhinanda, son of the logician Jayanta, see Ingalls et al.
1990:28ff.; on the scholarship of the epoch, especially the important work of Mukulabhat
½t½a, McCrea 1998:306–66.
16. See S ´ r¯ıkan½t½hacarita 1.56; 25.5, 8, 9, 112 (this despite the fact that Man˙ kha was
a court official under King Jayasim½ ha; see 3.66 and Ra¯jataran˙ gin½ ¯ı 8.3354). Such sentiments
were not unprecedented; cf. Vikrama¯n˙ kadevacarita 18.92 (ca. 1075).
17. He claims only to offer a sketch for greater writers to fill in (vs. 17), but this has
not happened. Modern historiography is thin and tendentious. Modest exceptions are
Habib and Nizami 1993 [1970] and Khan 1994.
18. Pp. 147–48, and vs. 1070–71. The passage does not appear in the S´ a¯rada¯ recension,
but probably derives from contemporaneous historical materials (ed. Kaul 1967:16).
See also p. 146 on the “ascendancy given to the Hindukas” under the Sultan. On the earlier
period of unrest under Su¯habat½t½a and Sultan Sikandar (r. 1389–1413), cf. Khan
1994, esp. p. 8.
19. The exhaustive bibliography of Rajasekhara (1985b:2:9–65) lists not a single entry
relevant to these questions.
20. On these two phenomena, see Pollock 1998a and 1996:209 ff.
21. The brothers Sa¯yan½a and Ma¯dhava, ministers of Harihara I (1336–56) and Bukka
(r. 1356–77), are best known for their vast commentary on all four Vedas, the first
such totalizing exegesis in Indian history. But Sa¯yan½a also wrote on literary criticism
(the Alan˙ ka¯rasudha¯nidhi, cf. Sarasvati 1968); his poetry anthology, Subha¯s½itasudha¯nidhi,
was published by Krishnamoorthy in 1968.
the death of sanskrit 419
22. Typical is Salu¯va Goppa Tippa Bhu¯pa¯la, governor under Devara¯ya II, who commented
on the literary treatise of Va¯mana, and wrote serious works on music and dance
(contrast Stein 1989:124).
23. From the court of Devara¯ya II (r. 1424–46). Arun½agirina¯tha D½ in½d½ima’s Ra¯ma¯-
bhyudaya; from that of Kr½s½n½adevara¯ya, the Bha¯rata¯mr½ta of Diva¯kara (the Na¯ra¯-
yan½as´ataka of Diva¯kara’s brother, Vidya¯kara, was no courtly production, despite the editor’s
claim); from that of Acyutadevara¯ya (r. 1530–42) the Acyutara¯ya¯bhyudaya of
Ra¯jana¯tha D½ in½d½ima, and poems from the royal women, starting with Gan˙ ga¯dev¯ı’s Madhura
¯vijaya at the court of Bukka. (On the D½ in½d½ima family, see Aiyangar 1941, 1942.)
24. Madras R no. 3717 (chapters 1–20); R no. 3002 (21–39), and a portion preserved
in Calcutta (RASB Sanskrit Catalogue vol. 7, no. 5181) are all modern transcripts from
a single palm leaf ms. On Diva¯kara, see Raghavan 1947.
25. Ka¯vyana¯t½akamarmajña (cf. Epigraphia Indica 1:365.15), kavita¯pra¯vi¯n½ yaphan½ -
ı¯s´a, and sakalakala¯bhoja (all found in the Ja¯mbavat¯ıparin½aya discussed below).
26. His chief minister, Sa¯luva Timmappa, is known for a commentary on the Campu¯
Bha¯rata of Ananta. The literary activities of one of his foremost court literati, Lolla
Laksm¯ıdharades´ika (like Diva¯kara an immigrant from Orissa), consists almost exclusively
of commentaries.
27. Some works attributed to the king are those of his court poets (the Rasamañjar¯ı,
for example, is Diva¯kara’s, as per the colophon of Bha¯rata¯mr½tam 21). But he is called
the author in the play itself (1.9), and there seems no reason to doubt it.
28. See Nilakanta Sastri and Venkataramanayya 1946:II:143 vs. 6 on the acquisition
of the princess; Rajasekhara 1985a:110 on the king’s new birud½a. The Ra¯yava¯cakamu
(ca. 1600) further corroborates the mytho-historical parallel (Wagoner 1993:146, 156;
Ayyangar 1919:116).
29. Earlier examples include the Karn½asundar¯ı of Bilhan½a (ca. 1080), the Lalitavigrahara
¯ja of Somadeva (1153), and the Pa¯rija¯tamañjar¯ı of Madana (1215).
30. Ja¯mbavat¯ıparin½aya Act 5, prologue [109], vs. 8ff., and vs. 42.
31. Compare, for example, the growth of historicist referentiality in the genre of the
spring-festival play, from Ka¯lida¯sa’s Ma¯lvika¯gnimitra (fourth century) to King Harsa’s
Ratna¯val¯ı (seventh century) to the plays mentioned above, n. 29.
32. Ashort love poem (six verses) unique among the works of Kr½s½n½adevara¯ya’s reign
is attributed to the wife he acquired by conquest and later forsook, Tukka¯, daughter of
Gajapati Prata¯parudra of Orissa (see Ayyangar 1919:143–44; Vijayanagara Sexcentenary
Volume, p. 18). The fact that it is in Sanskrit is its most interesting feature.
33. A celebrated teacher in Varanasi in the early 1600s had students from Dravid½a,
Gurjara, Ka¯nyakubja, Pas´cimades´a, Ma¯lava, Braja, Mithila¯, Himalaya foothills, Karn½a¯-
t½a, Utkala, Konkana, Gaud½a, Andhra, Mathura¯, Ka¯marupa (Ga¯d½hivam½ s´a¯nucarita of

ankara Bhat½t½a, ca. 1650, cited in Shastri 1912:9).
34. De 1960:2.252; Gerow 1977:287. Jaganna¯tha cleaves to the past in rejecting one
great innovation of the age, the theorization of bhaktirasa, the aesthetic sentiment of devotion
(Alan˙ ka¯rakaustuba of Kavikarn½apu¯ra, fl. 1575), see Rasagan˙ga¯dhara pp. 55–56.
35. Jagada¯bharan½a, Pra¯n½a¯bharan½a, and verses in Rasagan˙ga¯dhara in praise of Sha¯h
Jaha¯n (cf. see Sharma 1958:v).
36. For a detailed account, see Pollock 2001.
37. On N¯ılakan½t½ha see Gode 1942, and Minkowski, forthcoming. For Ga¯ga¯bhat½t½a’s
role in S´ iva¯j¯ı’s coronation see Bendrey 1960. Ga¯ga¯’s place in seventeenth-century intellectual
history is discussed in Pollock 2001.
38. Bha¯nucandracarita 4.69ff. Bha¯nucandra himself received honors from Akbar
(cf. Ka¯vyapraka¯s´akhan½d½ana vs. 2), and taught Abu-l Fazl the S½ad½d½ars´anasamuccaya and
420 sheldon pollock
other works for his review of Hindu culture in the Ain (Desai’s ed. of Bha¯nucandracarita,
p. 28). Siddhicandra himself is mentioned nowhere either in Akbar’s memoirs
or Jahangi¯r’s.
39. Abu-l Fazl is cited in Vanina 1995:223, Akbar (from the Ain) in Desai’s ed. of
Bha¯nucandracarita, p. 2.
40. We find both pure Sanskrit (the Rah¯ımka¯vya) and hybrid (the Sanskrit-Hindi
Madana¯s½t½aka); see Naik 1966. Persian translations are discussed in Ernst, forthcoming.
41. His arguments against Mammat½a go back at least to the mid-twelfth-century (cf.
Na¯t½yadarpan˙a [ed. Baroda], pp. 159–60). See Bha¯nucandracarita 4.87–90, 102–4 for
Siddhi’s Sanskrit education.
42. The last term (akhan½d½opa¯dhih½) echoes, or is echoed by, Jaganna¯tha (Rasagan
˙ ga¯dhara p. 8, as Parikh also notes, p. 9), though Jaganna¯tha employs the term in reference
to insight (pratibha¯), the cause, not the definition, of literature. That Siddhicandra
saw himself as a new intellectual is clear from his discussion of rasa, pp. 16 ff. (see
also pp. 59 ff.).
43. Gode was first to identify Kav¯ındra with Bernier’s pandit (Gode 1954; cf. also
1945:xlvii–lvii).
44. Of the sixty-nine names mentioned, only a few are known. A second collection
was made of poems in Brajbha¯s½a¯ (Divakar 1966).
45. His commentaries on Das´akuma¯racarita and S ´ atapathabra¯hman½a have both
been printed; for his still-unpublished Kav¯ındrakalpadruma see IOL Sanskrit Ms.
5:1499. Also probably his is Jagadvijayachandas, a sequence of rhyming epithets in
praise of Jahanghi¯r (ed. Kunhan Raja 1945:xxix–xxxiii). His Hindi works are Jña¯nasa
¯ra (cf. Gode 1945:xlviii and references; ed. Rahurkar 1969), and the Kav¯ındrakalpalat[
ik]a¯, “bha¯s½a¯kavita¯ni” in honor of Sha¯h Jaha¯n and Da¯ra¯ Shikoh (ed. 1958; cf.
Raghavan 1953). For his library, see Ananta Krishna Sastry 1921; note that Jaganna¯tha’s
works, some adorned with canonizing commentary, are included (Bha¯min¯ıvila¯sasat½ı¯ka¯,
no. 1908, Ganga¯lahar¯ı 1912, Rasagan˙ ga¯dhara, 1950).
46. Compare Rasagan˙ ga¯dhara, p. 365 (5 Sharma 1958:vs. 76) and Biha¯ri¯-ratna¯kar
Appendix 2, vs. 123; Rasagan˙ ga¯dhara p. 258 (5 Sharma 1958:62 vs. 127), and Satsai¯
no. 490. Cf. also Mathuranath Shastri, Rasagan˙ ga¯dhara, p. 28.
47. On Rah¯ım’s adaptations see Chaudhuri 1954:12–18.
48. The Samprada¯yakalpadruma (sam½ vat 1729 5 AD 1673) was composed by the
self-described grandnephew of Jaganna¯tha (the ms. has been removed from Kankroli to
Baroda, and is now inaccessible to me). The passage (reproduced in Athavale 1968:418)
reads: sa¯hasuta¯ gahi gan˙ ga¯som½ mukti la¯ı jhat½apat½ [“he married the daughter of a Sa¯ha
(Shah, Muslim), and found release in the Gan˙ ga¯ straightway”].
49. So Sharma (1958:viii). The traditional view holds the poems to be “the production
of his enemies” (Ramaswamy Sastri 1942:21).
50. Ed. Sharma 1958:190, vss. 584, 585.
51. Compare the verse on a Hindu boy by Khusrau (1253–1325): “My face becomes
yellow because of a Hindu beloved / O pain! He is unaware of my condition. / I said,
‘Remove the weariness of my desire with your lips.’ / He smiled and said, ‘na¯h¯ı, na¯h¯ı’”
(trans. Sunil Sharma). I owe the suggestion of a mahbu¯b parallel to Muzaffar Alam and
Shamsur Rahman Faruqi.
52. The former is the attack on Bhat½t½oj¯ı D¯ıks½ita’s Praud½hamanorama¯ (“The Sophisticated
and Charming [Commentary]”), which he titled, vulgarly, Praud½hamanorama¯kucamardana,
“Fondling the Tits of the ‘Sophisticated and Charming [Commentary]’.”
The latter is found in his Citram¯ıma¯m½ sa¯khan½d½ana (prologue vs. 3).
the death of sanskrit 421
53. Rasagan˙ ga¯dhara intro. vs. 6. There are admittedly precedents in work no doubt
known to Jaganna¯tha (the Prata¯parudrayas´obhu¯s½an½a, for example, or the Ujjvalan¯ılaman
½i).
54. Bha¯min¯ıvila¯sa: S´a¯ntivila¯sa vss. 27, 31, 33.
55. Rasagan˙ ga¯dhara p. 42.
56. Ed. Sharma 1958:69–70, vss. 3, 10.
57. The poem is Dayitasya gun½ a¯n anusmarat¯ı (ed. Sharma 1958:71, vs. 18); see the
discussion in Rasagan˙ ga¯dhara p. 109.
58. For Part 1, mss. offer anywhere between 100 and 130 vss.; Part 2, 101–184; Part
4, 31–46. Those for the Karun½avila¯sa show no significant variation (Sternbach 1974:57
n. 292, Sastri 1942:66).
59. The Bha¯min¯ıvila¯sa goes unmentioned in the Rasagan˙ ga¯dhara (Sastri 1942:26,
64–5) and thus was probably the poet’s last (contra Na¯ges¯a on Rasagan˙ga¯dhara vs. 6).
60. Munro’s report was never published in full; Arbuthnot 1855 gives a precis.
61. In the hierarchy of social esteem s´a¯bdikas, “philologers or teachers of general literature,”
as Adam calls them, were at the bottom, naiya¯yikas or logicians at the top (Basu
1941:173).
62. See Basu 1941:257, 260, 266, 272; 183 and 177. The exception is the Pada¯n˙ -
kadu¯ta of Kr½s½n½ana¯tha Sa¯rvabhauma (court of Raghuna¯tha Ra¯ya of Nadia, 1723). Asimilar
situation prevailed in the Panjab in the 1870s (Leitner 1971 [1882]:79–86; the most
recent text is the twelfth-century Nais½ad¯ıyacarita).
63. This is true even of texts on rhetoric as late as the eighteenth century. Manuscripts
of Cirañj¯ıva’s Ka¯vyavila¯sa (written in Dhaka in 1703), for example, are found across
north India.
64. Consider Adam’s catalogue of literary works of the most prolific Sanskrit writer
in Bengal, Raghunandana Goswami (Basu 1941:264–65).
65. For Maharashtra, see also Parulekar 1953, vol. 1:3–88, esp. 71, for pandits’ anxieties
about the continuation of emoluments from the time of the Peshwas.
66. On the new dance-drama (kuruvañci), see Peterson 1998. Among Sanskrit literary
works (cf. Raghavan 1952:41 ff.), only Ra¯mabhadra D¯ıks½ita’s Patañjalicaritam and
S ´
r½n˙ ga¯ratilakabha¯na stand out, but constitute no historic break.
67. Jai Singh II (r. 1700–43), if modernizing in astronomy and city planning, adhered
to an archaic Brahmanical culture in his personal and political life (cf. Horstmann
1994:87, 91).
68. The anti-Hindu Sanskrit tract, Matapar¯ıks½(Examination of Views), written by
the missionary John Muir in 1839, is examined in Young 1981. On Vidyasagar, see
Hatcher 1996.
69. The verse is attributed to Bhat½t½a Tauta (fl. 950; cited by Ruyyaka on Ka¯vyapraka
¯s´a 1.1); cf. also Yas´astilakacampu¯ vs. 25.
70. Not everyone agrees with Valéry, to be sure. Braudel believed it is more often a
question of “sinking into sleep” than dying; that civilizational roots “survive many a rupture”
(1980:209–10). This requires a definition of “civilization,” however, that renders
the concept useless for history.
71. Fuhrmann 1983, and Dagron 1969.
72. See, generally, Longosch 1990, and more specifically, Ijsewijn and Sacré 1993.
73. Even the utopian proposals to make Latin the language of Europe (being no one’s
mother tongue, it would disadvantage no one, Ijsewijn and Sacré 1993:54) are paralleled
in post-Independence debates on the national language (Ramaswamy 1999).
74. Pollock 1998a. A superb brief account of the French case is Fumaroli 1992.
75. Warder 1972:8, 217, where he adds, “In the darkest days [ka¯vya] kept the Indian
422 sheldon pollock
tradition alive. It handed on the best ideals and inspired the struggle to expel tyrannical
invaders.”
76. Pollock 1998a. On Kes´avda¯s (at the court of Indrajit of Orccha, fl. 1600), see Mc-
Gregor, forthcoming. I have learned much about Kes´avda¯s from reading Allison Busch’s
University of Chicago dissertation in progress, “The Courtly Vernacular: The Transformation
of Braj Literary Culture, 1590–1675.”
77. That modernity is as much a function of institutions as of sensibilities is an insight
I owe to conversations with Sudipta Kaviraj.
78. Sen and Mishra 1951; Parulekar 1953:1:25–8 (I thank Veena Naregal for the latter
reference).
79. See further in Pollock 2001.
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http://dsal.uchicago.edu/sanskrit/papers/death_of_sanskrit.pdf Pollock, Sheldon (2001b). 'The death of Sanskrit.' Comparative Studies in History and Society, 43(2), 392-426.

Modern Asian Studies 33, 2 (1999), pp. 339±381. Ó 1999 Cambridge University Press
Printed in the United Kingdom
Sanskrit for the Nation
SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
University of Pennsylvania
. . . the people of India love and venerate Sanskrit with a feeling which is
next only to that of patriotism towards Mother India.
Report of the Sanskrit Commission, 1956±57
Language in the Regimes of the Nation
This essay raises the language question in its relationship to the
wider problematic of the nationalization of pasts by focusing on the
curious and puzzling status accorded to Sanskrit in the nationalization
of the Indian past in this century. I use the words `curious' and
`puzzling' deliberately, for the Sanskrit issue unsettles many wellentrenched
assumptions about language and nationalism that circulate
in scholarly circles and popular imagination. Just as crucially,
Sanskrit's (mis)adventures in the past century or so, draw our attention
to the troubling linguistic turns taken by the nationalization
process in India with its disquieting complicity with colonial categories
and certitudes. The concerns of this paper have thus been shaped
by three related issues pertaining to language, nationalism, and
modernity.
First, since at least the 1950s, the Government of India has
invested an unusual amount of energy and time, not to speak of
money, in regulating Sanskrit through creating supervisory agencies,
inaugurating new centers of Sanskritic learning, and reopening old
ones. It has also ®nanced publications, cultural events, and radio
(and more recently, television) broadcasts for nation-wide consumption,
all centered around the promotion of the language. The state's
I am very grateful to a number of Sanskrit scholars who so graciously shared with
me their thoughts on the subject of this essay: George Cardona, Robert Goldman,
Wilhelm Halbfass, Hans Hock, Sheldon Pollock, Ludo Rocher and Rosane Rocher.
I also thank Dipesh Chakrabarty and Rich Freeman for their suggestive critiques.
This essay was originally intended for a volume on nationalizing the Indian past. I
wish to thank the editors for their programmatic statement on this subject which
inspired me to write this.
0026±749X/99/$7.50+$0.10
339
340 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
Sanskrit policy (if we may call it that) was forged by the Sanskrit
Commission which was set up in 1956, and which in turn derived its
authority from the Constitution of India. While much of this essay
examines the remarkable report issued by this Commission, and considers
some of its implications for independent India's linguistic politics,
this examination itself is provoked by the following question:
what can we say about the modernity of the Indian nation that it
needs the crutches of an ancient language, a language that many
argue is known to few of its citizens and spoken by a mere handful?
Existing theories of language and nationalism, themselves largely
based on the normative western European experience, would have
us think that the very emergence of the nation-state leads to a jettisoning
of archaic `classical' languages from positions of prestige,
pro®t and power, and to the empowering of the modern `vernacular'
that is deemed to be spoken by a majority of its citizensÐtheir
`mother tongue'Ðas the `national' language. Yet in India, the
demand which has periodically surfaced over the past century for
instituting Sanskrit as the national language has been couched in
exactly the opposite terms. Sanskrit deserves this status in the view
of its advocates precisely because it is the most ancient language of
the nation, and precisely because it is nobody's `mother tongue'. Does
this demand therefore amount to a rejection of a `western' model of
the nation imagined around a modern spoken language, or is it a
re¯ection of the Orientalist and colonial in¯ections of the Indian
nation? Or does it suggest an alternate imagination about the place
of language in nation and modernity?
Second, and following from this ®rst set of questions, what is
the fate of ancient languages which get entangled in the regimes
of the modern nation-state? To date, some of the more interesting
work on this subject has been done on Hebrew whose relationship
to Israeli and Jewish nationalism shows some fascinating parallels
with the place of Sanskrit in Indian and Hindu nationalism. Robert
Alter has argued that the `normalization' of Hebrew in modern
Israel under the `ideological impulse' of Israeli nationalism necessitated
the secularization of what had hitherto been the `holy
tongue' of Jews and its transformation from a `dead' liturgical and
literary language into a spoken medium. This process also fostered
a `ruthlessness' towards non-Hebraic, especially Yiddish, manifestations
in Israeli national culture.1 His work reminds us that the
1 Robert Alter, Hebrew and Modernity (Bloomington, 1994).
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 341
nationalization of a language, ancient or otherwise, does not
merely involve the standardization of its linguistic forms, vocabularies
and meanings; just as signi®cantly, or perhaps more so, it
also calls for a standardization (and sanitization) of cultural
notions about the language that have gathered through time. In
other words, the nationalization of language is never just a linguistic
or grammatical project, but is always an ideological one in
which old assumptions have to be rethought or discarded, and new
meanings assigned to enable the national project at hand. As we
shall see, Sanskrit is made to take on new meaningsÐand abandon
some old onesÐin relationship not just to its own past, but to
the past(s) of the nation, its languages and their speakers. To
anticipate one of the fundamental contentions of this paper, I will
suggest that the nationalization of Sanskrit transforms it into a
metonym of the nation, as voiced in the formulation `Sanskrit is
India'.2 Here, a putative whole that is `India' is reduced metonymically
to one of its constitutive parts, namely, Sanskrit. The part
comes to stand for the whole through erasure or absorption of
other parts that make up the whole. So, the pasts associated with
other languages which have arguably played comparable roles
(Pali, Tamil, Persian, etc.) are excluded or subordinated to a past
constituted around Sanskrit that is renamed as the nation's past.
Yet, the phrase `Sanskrit is India' may also be read as a synecdoche
in which Sanskrit is assigned the capacity to represent all
of India. Indeed, the nationalizers of Sanskrit would like us to
believe that the language is not just one part of a whole that is
`India', or even its most important part, but that it is constitutive
of every part that makes up the whole. As we shall see, the Sanskrit
Commission took on that much-touted nationalist slogan `unity in
diversity', and insisted that it is Sanskrit that brought a `remarkable
unity' to India's `bewildering diversity'. In the words of the
Commission, `we can never insist too strongly on this signal fact
that Sanskrit has been the Great Unifying Force of India, and
that India with its nearly 400 millions of people [sic] is One
Country, and not half or dozen or more countries, only because of
Sanskrit'.3 In this view, Sanskrit transforms the many into One: it
gives lie to the apparent heterogeneity of the nation by reminding
2 Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, India: A Polyglot Nation and its Linguistic Problems vis-avis
National Integration (Bombay, 1974), p. 32.
3 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, 1956±57 (Delhi, 1958), pp. 80±1 (emphasis
mine).
342 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
modern Indians, and the world at large, that underneath all that
`bewildering diversity', India is really One.
Third and ®nally, this paper takes its cue from Sheldon Pollock's
stimulating essay, `The language of the gods in the world of men',
in which he rightly underscores the urgent need for a social history
of Sanskrit. Such a social history, Pollock writes, ought to consider
`the ideological constraints that from an early period shaped its discourse';
chart `the changing domains of usage and learning to hear
the new speakers who ®nd a voice in Sanskrit'; and above all, critically
detail `what it has meant in history to appropriate Sanskrit'.4 My paper
considers only a very thin slice of the much larger discourse of power
that has gathered around the language over the centuries, even while
suggesting that a social history of Sanskrit along the lines proposed
by Pollock has necessarily to bring in the present, and the efforts to
nationalize the language in this century. This nationalization, I propose,
has shaped our understanding of not just the pre-national history
of the language, but of India's many pasts as well, in ways which
we are just beginning to appreciate.5 Further, recent attempts by
Hindu nationalist groups to re-empower the language at the very
least underscore the importance of learning more about what is
going on with Sanskrit in independent India.6 Yet, because the language
has come to be so indelibly identi®ed with India's antiquity
and distant past, there are few serious studies of Sanskrit's intense,
albeit troubled, participation in its modernity.7 And so, this essay
sets out to make a beginning in this direction.
4 Sheldon Pollock, `The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Re¯ections
on Sanskrit in History' (unpublished manuscript, Inaugural Lecture, University of
Chicago, 1990, emphasis mine). See also Sheldon Pollock, `The Sanskrit Cosmopolis,
300±1300: Transculturation, Vernacularization, and the Question of Ideology',
in Jan E. M. Houben (ed.), The Ideology and Status of Sanskrit: Contributions to the
History of the Sanskrit Language (Leiden, 1996), pp. 197±247.
5 Carol Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer (eds), Orientalism and the Post-colonial
Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia (Philadelphia, 1993).
6 Sukumari Bhattacharji, `New Education Policy and Sanskrit', Economic and Political
Weekly, 1990, 25(48±49): 2641±2; Robert Goldman, `The Communalization of
Sanskrit and the Sanskritization of Communalism' (unpublished paper, 1993). Corstiaan
J. G. van der Burg, `The Place of Sanskrit in Neo-Hindu Ideology: From
Religious Reform to National Awakening', in Houben (ed.), The Ideology and Status
of Sanskrit, pp. 375±8.
7 For some recent attempts to consider this issue, see especially essays by Victor
van Bijlert, Corstiaan van der Burg, and Saroj Bhate in Houben (ed.), The Ideology
and Status of Sanskrit.

SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 343
Sanskrit and Modernity
In October 1956, amidst the turmoil of the States Reorganization
debates and the creation of linguistic states, the Government of
India decided to appoint a commission to evaluate the state of Sanskrit
in the nation. The ostensible reason for creating the Sanskrit
Commission was pedagogical. Over the past decade, a number of
government commissions investigating education and language
issuesÐthe University Education Commission (1948±49) chaired by
S. Radhakrishnan, the Secondary School Education Commission
(1952±53) under A. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar, and the Of®cial
Language Commission (1955±56) chaired by B. G. KherÐhad proclaimed
their faith in the value of Sanskrit education for the Indian
citizenry.8 Sanskrit and its literature, it was pointed out, `have served
throughout these centuries not only as the reservoir of ideas, sentiments,
and parables to be drawn upon freely by all for the embellishment
of their literary output, but also as benchmarks of literary
excellence, as standards for social conduct, as exemplars of morality,
and in short, as the repository of wit and wisdom of all the Indian
peoples throughout the ages'.9 Understandably, therefore, much concern
was voiced by these Commissions over a perceived deterioration
in Sanskritic learning which, it was feared, would eventually lead to
the extinction of the language, if the government did not step in and
prevent a national disaster.
The Government's response was to set up the Sanskrit Commission
under the chairmanship of the renowned linguist, Suniti Kumar
Chatterjee, who was to be aided in his task by seven established
Sanskritists who included V. Raghavan of the University of Madras,
R. N. Dandekar from the University of Poona, and S. K. De of
Jadavpur University in Calcutta.10 The of®cial mandate of the San-
8 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, pp. 3±4.
9 Report of the Of®cial Language Commission (New Delhi, 1957), p. 249.
10 Suniti Kumar Chatterjee (1890±1977), best known for his numerous publications
in comparative philology and historical linguistics of Indian languages, was
Professor of Indian Linguistics and Phonetics in the University of Calcutta (1922±
52). He was elected to the West Bengal Legislative Council in which he served until
1964 when he resigned to take up his appointment as the National Professor of
India in the Humanities. In addition to serving as chair of the Sanskrit Commission
in 1956±57, he was also a member of the Of®cial Language Commission appointed
by the Government of India in 1955±56. His position on the of®cial language question
varied over time. In 1943, he conceded that `Hindi (Hindustani) alone has the
greatest claim to be [the] national language', although he also did not fail to insist
344 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
skrit Commission was `to undertake a survey of the existing facilities
for Sanskrit education . . .; to make proposals for promoting the study
of Sanskrit; [and] to examine the traditional system of Sanskrit Education
in order to ®nd out what features from it could be usefully
incorporated into the modern system'.11 It is clear, however, from
the report submitted by the Commission a year later in November
1957, that it saw its task as being more than just pedagogical, for at
stake was the very survival of the emergent nation. The Commission
was ®ercely anxious about `the growing ®ssiparous tendencies and
linguistic parochialism which are jeopardising the political unity of
the country and are rocking the very foundations of our freedom'.12
A decade of linguistic jealousy and bitterness had marred the joys of
independence; there had been much squabbling within the nation
over state boundaries and territories; and Hindi, the proposed of®cial
language of India, had been found unacceptable by large numbers of
its people. Everywhere, `regionalism' and `linguism' were on the rise.
The Commission's solution to these problems was clear-cut: to put
Indians on a good and steady diet of Sanskrit by making its study
compulsory in schools, and by instituting it as the of®cial language
of the nation. Sanskrit was ideally suited for this role, for it was the
`Supreme Uni®er' (p. 201) and the `Great Unifying Force' (p. 81).
`The Indian people and the Indian civilization were born . . . in the
that if there were only Hindus in India, Sanskrit would continue to play its role as
link language as it had for thirty centuries (Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, Languages and
the Linguistic Problem (London, 1943), p. 23). By 1956, he had become less enthusiastic
about Hindi, and even appended `a note of dissent' to the Report of the Of®cial
Language Commission in which he expressed concern over what he characterized
as `Hindi imperialism'; called for a retention of English; and suggested that if there
was need to have an Indian language as a symbol of Indian unity, `we should not
forget the overwhelming claims of Sanskrit in this matter' (Report of the Of®cial Language
Commission, pp. 271±314). In 1974, in a `rethinking' of the language question,
he proposed that Sanskrit, English and Hindi be all recognized as `union languages'
(Chatterjee, India, pp. 62±6). V. Raghavan (1908±79) has been much more consistent
and open, at least in print, in his support of Sanskrit as the of®cial language,
reluctantly conceding that if this could not come to pass, only a Sanskritized Hindi
would be acceptable (V. Raghavan, Sanskrit: Essays on the Value of the Language and the
Literature (Madras, 1972), pp. 15±23). Raghavan, a widely-published Sanskrit
scholar, joined the Sanskrit faculty of the University of Madras in 1935, and became
professor and head of its Sanskrit department in 1955. In addition to serving in the
Sanskrit Commission, he went on to become member of the Central Sanskrit Board,
and was Chairman of the Central Sanskrit Institute, Tirupati. For biographical
details on De and Dandekar, see N. R. Ray (ed.), Dictionary of National Biography
(Calcutta, 1986), pp. 274±6, 320±1.
11 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 284.
12 Ibid., p. 201.
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 345
lap of Sanskrit' (p. 85). It is `in our blood' (p. 81). It is `the breath
of our nostrils and the light of our eyes' (p. 87). Mixing its metaphors,
the Commission also variously described Sanskrit as `the bedrock'
of Indian existence, the `main thread which runs through the
entire fabric of the cultural life of an Indian' (p. 102), and the anchor
that keeps the youth of India from losing their `cultural moorings'
(p. 51). `If the binding force of Sanskrit [is] taken away, the people
of India would cease to feel that they were parts of a single culture
and a single nation' (p. 70). So, by restoring Sanskrit back to its
citizens, the nation, too, would be restored, and its troubled waters
calmed. For Sanskrit, it was declared, brings a `symphony to our life'
(p. 84).
The Sanskrit Commission was not the ®rst to propose the candidacy
of the language for the troubled role of independent India's
lingua franca, or to offer it as panacea for the nation's many teething
problems. The Sanskritization of culture that is such a hallmark of
India's modernity in the nineteenth and ®rst half of the twentieth
century, inevitably also meant the (re)Sanskritization of its languages.
In the production of grammars, the standardization of dialects,
the creation of new and `modern' vocabularies for use in
schools, courts and of®ces, and in the attempts to write the histories
of these languages, Sanskrit and its literature invariably provided
the model (although, as has been demonstrated for many regions,
not without contention from alternate standards offered by Persian,
Tamil and even English). Given the importance that Sanskrit had
already assumed in the revamping of so many Indian languages, it
is perhaps not surprising that in the later decades of the nineteenth
century and sporadically in the early decades of the twentieth as
well, it came to be also seen as a solution to what was increasingly
being envisioned as a `problem'. If India had to function as a nation,
it had to have a `national' language, for is this not what the historical
experience of Europe suggested? In the writings of several leading
intellectuals, and in the pages of literary journals and newsmagazines
such as The Calcutta Review, Indian Mirror, and The Theosophist,
Sanskrit was a popular candidate, although it did have powerful
rivals in Hindi-Hindustani and English.13 Repeatedly identi®ed as
13 Bruce McCully, English Education and Origins of Indian Nationalism (New York,
1940), pp. 254±57; Victor A. van Biljert, `Sanskrit and Hindu National Identity in
Nineteenth Century Bengal', in Houben (ed.), The Ideology and Status of Sanskrit, pp.
347±66; van der Burg, `The Place of Sanskrit in Neo-Hindu Ideology'; K. Nambi
Arooran, Tamil Renaissance and Dravidian Nationalism, 1905±1944 (Madurai, 1980),
346 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
the `Aryan language', Sanskrit held the key to the `national regeneration'
of (Hindu Aryan) India. So, in an 1879-essay entitled `Should
we call ourselves Aryas?', A. Mittra wrote:
Resolve solemnly to devote at least a couple of hours daily to the study of
Sanskrit. Unite and strive for the general diffusion of Sanskrit learning. Let
Aryan words and Aryan thoughts be far more familiar to your tongue and
heart than English is at present . . . can we who have not even a smattering
of the Aryan tongue honestly claim the denomination of Arya? Is it not a
painful, a shameful necessity that compels me, at the present moment to
advocate the cause of Aryan learning in a foreign tongue? Should not the
Sanskrit rather than the English be the universal medium of communication
in the Aryan land?14
In turn, this identi®cation of Sanskrit as `the universal medium
of communication' echoed pronouncements in numerous colonial
narratives from almost the beginning of British rule in India. For
those colonials who supported the cause of Oriental learning and
the opening of Sanskrit colleges, `[t]he acquisition of Sanskrit is
indispensable not only for the study of the classical books composed
in that language but principally as the mother-language of a great
number of Indian dialects . . . It is true and obvious that a true and
radical reform of a nation in learning and morality (which is the
object of a good Government) will begin and proceed with the
improvement of their own national language'. Sanskrit was routinely
declared to be the `root' of all other Indian languages, and `the grand
reservoir of [their] strength and beauty'.15 Some, like Charles Wilkins
and Monier Monier-Williams, even advised colonial administrators
and missionaries that the absence of knowledge of any of
the spoken languages of India could be compensated for by learning
Sanskrit.16 With it, they `will be at home in every corner of our vast
pp. 186, 201. The dramatic increase in Sanskrit and Sanskritized Hindi books in
many parts of north India offers further proof of this renewed interest in Sanskrit
in the late colonial period (on this, see Christopher King, One Language, Two Scripts:
The Hindi Movement in Nineteenth Century North India (Bombay, 1994), pp. 37±47).
14 Quoted in McCully, English Education, p.257.
15 Quoted in Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 18. For Europe's discovery of
Sanskrit and enchantment with it, see Raymond Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance:
Europe's Discovery of India and the East, 1680±1880 (New York, 1974); Rosane Rocher,
`Sanskrit: Discovery by Europeans', in R. A. Asher, et al. (eds), Encyclopedia of Language
and Linguistics (New York, 1994), pp. 3651±4.
16 For the linguistic training of colonial of®cials and study of Sanskrit at the
College at Fort William and in Haileybury, see Bernard S. Cohn, `Recruitment and
Training of British Civil Servants in India, 1600±1860', in Ralph Briabanti (ed.),
Asian Bureaucratic Systems Emergent from the British Imperial Tradition (Durham, 1966),
pp. 111±28. Sanskrit was the only `Oriental' language that students at Haileybury
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 347
Indian territories . . .' It was `the best general language . . . for those
destined for an Indian life', and would stand them in good stead
even if they `were ignorant of the particular locality in which their
lot may be cast . . .'17
Not surprisingly, the Sanskrit Commission quoted with approval
such references from the colonial archive which substantiated its own
contention that Sanskrit was the only genuinely `all-India' language
that was known in every nook and corner of the nation. Additionally,
it offered a list of famous nationalists (many of whom we would today
identify as ideologically neo-Hindu) who had supported the cause of
Sanskrit, and had even learnt the language, Dayananda Saraswati,
Vivekananda, Aurobindo Ghosh, and Annie Besant being prominent
among those enumerated.18 It had a more dif®cult time with Gandhi
were required to pass, notwithstanding the increasing realization that it was as
useful for anyone actually serving in India `as a knowledge of ancient German would
be to an English Commissioner of Police' (quoted in Cohn, `Recruitment and Training',
p. 124).
17 Monier Monier-Williams, The Study of Sanskrit in Relation to Missionary Work in
India (Oxford, 1861), pp. 41±6. In his later years, `even Monier-Williams . . .
doubted its value as a compulsory subject' (Cohn, `Recruitment and Training', p.
124). Nevertheless, nearly a century later, the Sanskrit Commission revived the
recommendations of Monier-Williams and other colonial advocates of Sanskrit. It
proposed that of®cers of the prestigious Indian Administrative Service should be
taught Sanskrit, for a knowledge of the language `would enable them to appreciate
the deeper vein in the life and culture of the people under their charge, and at the
same time bring in a touch of a great humanistic tradition in their mental make-up'
(Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 203).
18 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 21. The Commission was careful to point
out that these nationalists had contributed to the `cultural revival of the country
and the growth of interest in Sanskrit classics with which such reawakening was
intimately connected'. And yet it is important to remember that the admiration for
Sanskrit thus expressed clearly produced a `Hindi', `Aryan', even a `Brahmanical',
revival, masquerading as `Indian' regeneration. Dayananda abandoned his early
dependence on Sanskrit in favor of Hindi for preaching and proselytizing by the
early 1870s, but it continued to be crucial to the Arya Samaj's vision of Hindu/
Aryan society in the 1880s and 1890s. In spite of some early controversy over its
inclusion in the curriculum, Sanskrit continued to be an important part of Arya
Samaj pedagogy well into this century, and from the outset, it was cast in opposition
to Urdu/Arabic/Islam (Kenneth Jones, Arya Dharm: Hindu Consciousness in 19th-century
Punjab (Berkeley, 1976), pp. 69±70, 90±1, 226). In the Madras Presidency, under
the auspices of the Theosophical Society (whose clientele was mostly Brahman and
upper caste), Sanskrit schools were opened in many big cities as well as smaller
towns in the 1880s, and many local Theosophists sent their children to these before
sending them on to the English-medium schools. Henry Olcott even had plans for
a grand `national Sanskrit movement' that would assist in the teaching of the `®rst
principles of [the] national religion' (R. Suntharalingam, Politics and Nationalist
Awakening in South India, 1852±1891 (Tucson, 1974), p. 303). For Vivekananda, as
well, it was Sanskrit that gave `prestige' and `power' to the Hindu `race'. While he
348 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
and Nehru, both of whom had passed over Sanskrit in favor of Hindustani
as the national language. But even here, the Commission
reminded its interlocutors that Gandhi had declared that, if only to
read the Bhagavad Gita, one ought to learn Sanskrit.19 And Nehru, it
was recalled, had confessed:
If I was asked what is the greatest treasure which India possesses and what
is her ®nest heritage, I would answer unhesitatinglyÐit is the Sanskrit language
and literature, and all that it contains. This is a magni®cent inheritance,
and so long as this endures and in¯uences the life of our people, so
long the basic genius of India will continue.20
conceded that the `vernaculars' should be used for the general education of the
masses, it was through Sanskrit that they would learn `culture'. Without this, the
masses would remain `like savages'. He called upon the lower castes to stop ®ghting
the higher castes in vain; instead, they could bring about a leveling of the caste
system through learning the culture of the upper castes and `raising [their] condition
through a study of Sanskrit'. They could all become Brahman and Arya through
appropriating Sanskrit, he suggested (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol.
3 (Calcutta, 1973), pp. 290±3). Of course, much more systematic work needs to be
done on the revival of Sanskrit within the context of Indian nationalism, but for
some recent beginnings in this direction, see van Biljert, `Sanskrit and Hindu
National Identity'; and van der Burg, `The Place of Sanskrit in Neo-Hindu Ideology'.
19 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 22. Gandhi's position on Sanskrit was not
without its share of contradictions. While in the North, he vehemently opposed the
increased Sanskritization of Hindi which distanced it from Hindustani/Urdu, and
alienated Muslims, in the South, he backed the cause of `Hindi' as the national
language precisely because, in his opinion, it contained a large number of Sanskrit
words which would already be familiar to the speakers of South Indian languages.
`It is a matter of history that contact in the old days between the South and the
North used to be maintained by means of Sanskrit' (Mohandas Gandhi, Our Language
Problem (Karachi, 1942), pp. 18±19, 33±4). Elsewhere, he declared that the southern
languages were `daughters of Sanskrit': `. . . they have a large number of Sanskrit
words in their vocabulary and when they are in dif®culty, they go to Sanskrit as to
a motherÐthey seek her help and receive from her in the form of new words their
requisite nourishment' (Mohandas Gandhi, Evil Wrought by the English Medium
(Ahmedabad, 1958), p. 47). So much so that he claimed that he found it possible
to understand the gist of what was being said in all four south Indian languages
because of a shared Sanskrit vocabulary, and wrote that because of this, even though
he was 67 years old he felt that he could learn Kannada, for instance, in eight days
(Our Language Problem, p. 18). Although he would have liked all Indians to know both
the Urdu and Nagari scripts, in the end, he was in favor of the latter, for all Indian
languages were in one capacity or another `daughters of Sanskrit, by birth and adoption'.
He even suggested that the Nagari script ought to be made compulsory for
all Hindus (Our Language Problem, pp. 2±3, 46). In his autobiography, Gandhi recalls
the dif®culties he had in studying Sanskrit in high school, but nevertheless insists,
`every Hindu boy and girl should possess sound Sanskrit learning' (The Story of My
Experiments with Truth (Boston, 1957), pp. 17±18).
20 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 72. That Nehru's enthusiasm for Sanskrit
was shot through with skepticism about its capacity to function as national language
is apparent from the following statement in his re¯ections on the history of India:
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 349
Nehru, it was reported, had also said that he would `personally
like as many Indians as possible to know Sanskrit which is the very
basis of our culture . . .'21
Given that so many distinguished nationalists had expressed their
faith in Sanskrit, it was disappointing to the Sanskrit Commission
that in 1949, the Constituent Assembly had considered, and
rejected, proposals which would have instituted Sanskrit, rather than
Hindi, as the of®cial language of India. In 1956, the Of®cial Language
Commission rejected a renewed plea on behalf of Sanskrit.
Even if it was the pre-eminent language of Indian national culture,
it was noted by that Commission that Sanskrit was spoken by so few
and any suggestion to make it the national medium of communication
was mere `escapism'. `This escapism does not commend itself
to us'.22 Undeterred, a year later, the Sanskrit Commission offered
Sanskrit, again, to the nation, this time as an `additional of®cial
language':
While for all administrative and ordinary day-to-day purposes, some pan-
Indian form of Hindi may be used, it appears inevitable that, in course
of time, the prospective All-India LanguageÐBharati BhasaÐat least in its
written norm, which would be acceptable to all regions of India, especially
in the higher reaches of education and literary activity, will be a form of
simple and modernised Sanskrit.23
The Commission's belief in the `inevitability' of Sanskrit was premised
on a speci®c reading of India's history. It insisted that in the
distant past, when Sanskrit had been on the lips of every Indian, the
`Speaking at the Oriental Conference held in 1937 at Trivandrum, over which he
presided, Dr. F. F. Thomas pointed out what a great unifying force Sanskrit had
been in India and how widespread its use still was. He actually suggested that a
simple form of Sanskrit, a kind of basic Sanskrit, should be encouraged as a common
all-India language today!' (The Discovery of India (Delhi, 1993), p. 167).
21 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 99; see also Nehru, Discovery of India, pp.
164±170. R. N. Dandekar, a member of the Sanskrit Commission, elsewhere recalls
that in 1961 Nehru declared in a speech at the University of Poona (where he was
awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters, and the citation was read out in
Sanskrit) that `One of my regrets in my life has been that I have had no occasion
to learn Sanskrit . . . I must confess that I was greatly moved and thrilled by the
melli¯uous rhythm of the Sanskrit language. Even the mere sound of that language
gently touched and stirred the inner cord of my heart. I believe that history itself
has established a kind of innate af®nity between Sanskrit and the Indian soul'
(quoted by Saroj Bhate, `Position of Sanskrit in Public Education and Scienti®c
Research in Modern India', in Houben (ed.), The Ideology and Status of Sanskrit, p.
400).
22 Report of the Of®cial Language Commission, p. 39.
23 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 202.
350 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
`nation' had been triumphant. If the nation had to rise from its ashes
again, it had to be reintegrated with its Sanskritic soul and spirit
from which it had been sundered under centuries of `alien rule' by
Persian, English, and the like, when `the rolling current of Sanskrit
had gradually thinned into a trickle or become cut up into stagnant
pools'.24 To enable the nation's regeneration, Sanskrit had to once
again become part of the everyday life of the citizen.
With such an agenda, the Sanskrit Commission went on to make
a series of recommendations to the Government of India. If these
recommendations were implemented, nothing less than a full-scale
Sanskritization of the nation and its citizenry would ensue. From the
Commission's point of view, operating as it did on the unshaken
premise that there was no India outside and beyond the realm of
Sanskrit, it was only restoring to the language what had been its to
start with. However, not the least of the consequences of this project
would be the dramatic, even revolutionary, transformation that Sanskrit
itself would undergo. For, notwithstanding the claims made on
its behalf by its modern advocates, Sanskrit had never played the
kind of role in the nation's past that was now being envisaged for its
present and future. For much of its long, complicated, and checkered
career in the subcontinent, it had essentially functioned as a prestige
language of high ritual, scholasticism, and elite culture. It was, as
Sheldon Pollock has described it, a `mandarin' language, a paradigmatic
example of what he characterizes as a `theodicy of privilege'.
Through its nationalization, however, it stood to lose this aura of
privilege and exclusivity that had been such a key to its power and
mystique in pre-nationalist times. Formerly limited in provenance if
not normatively, at least in everyday practice, to twice-born upper
caste men (and to a lesser extent, women) of speci®c social and ritual
backgrounds, it was now enjoined that Sanskrit should be on the lips
of every Indian, regardless of caste, class, religion, gender, occupation
or age. The vast underclasses of India were now invited to conduct
all their activities through a language that had been largely
denied to them in the past. Finally, this `language of perfection'
which had prided itself for so long in being samskrta (`re®ned'), was
now to be dragged down into the mire of the everyday mundane
world of prakrta (`natural') from which it had taken such pains to
insulate itself over time. Where formerly much of its power stemmed
24 Ibid., pp. 143±4.
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 351
from its restricted and contingent use in speci®c ritual, literary, and
political tasks, it was now proposed that Sanskrit ought to be an
essential part of the everyday life of the citizen.25 Not surprisingly,
the Sanskrit Commission confessed in its report that resistance to
its proposed plans had been voiced not just by modernists who were
skeptical about the ability of the language to express scienti®c and
technological knowledge, but also by conservatives. These latter
would rather that Sanskrit continue to play its traditional role in the
national life of India, and remain on its `high pedestal' and `altar
of honour'. Nevertheless, as far as the Commission and others who
supported Sanskrit's cause were concerned, it was too vital a `living
force' to be con®ned to `its own ivory tower of isolation'.26
To a certain extent, the nationalization of Sanskrit proposed by
the Commission was already anticipated by the Orientalization of
education under colonial rule. Anglicist and Vernacularist protests
notwithstanding, through the nineteenth century, Sanskrit became
increasingly available to all those who were interested in studying
it, as it was introduced into the curricula of numerous high schools,
colleges and universities, sometimes even as a compulsory requirement.
For a majority of students taking the entrance examinations
to Bombay and Calcutta Universities, for instance, Sanskrit (in its
guise as a `classical language') was a mandatory second language,
and in other institutions, it was allowed to be studied in lieu of the
mother tongue. `. . . these Universities threw the portals of Sanskrit
learning wide open to all pupils. In a sense, these Universities were
primarily responsible for popularising the study of Sanskrit', the
Commission noted, in defending its own agenda.27 Through the
numerous `national education' schemes proposed by the turn of this
century, the `portals of Sanskrit learning' continued to be widened
to all those outside the circle of a privileged few. Indeed, the recurring
concern for ensuring that the language was available to all those
who sought it may be inferred from the various Sanskrit `reorganiza-
25 Pollock, `The Language of the Gods', and `The Sanskrit Cosmopolis'; see also
Madhav Deshpande, Sociolinguistic Attitudes in India: An Historical Reconstruction (Ann
Arbor, 1979); George Cardona, `On Attitudes towards Language in Ancient India',
Sino-Platonic Papers, 1990, 15: 1±19.
26 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 219.
27 Ibid., p. 20. There are no detailed studies of the spread of Sanskrit education
in the various provinces of colonial India, but for the Madras Presidency, see Nambi
Arooran, Tamil Renaissance, pp. 70±110.
352 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
tion' committees set up by numerous provincial governments as well
as princely states in the 1930s and 1940s.28 From this perspective,
the Commission's recommendations in 1956 only continued a trend
of democratization and demoticization of Sanskrit that had gained
momentum over the past century or so.
All the same, by insisting, in the name of national `regeneration',
that Sanskrit ought to be foundational to every Indian citizen's linguistic
repertoire, the Commission sought inextricably to link membership
in the nation with the mandatory learning of the language:
It is said that one of the fundamental aims of education should be `to give
a knowledge of the best and the noblest things that were said or done in
the past'. If that be so, no system of education in India can afford to deny
Sanskrit its rightful place without being untrue to itself. As a matter of
fact, so far as Indian education is concerned, Sanskrit may not be counted
merely as one of the numerous subjects of study; it must rather be regarded
as constituting the foundation . . .29
The real burden of the Commission lay in making a case against
all those who denied precisely this formulation, that Sanskrit was
the foundation of the nation, and hence had to be made a mandatory
subject of study in schools. It reluctantly exempted from the principle
of compulsion those categories of citizens who were `not within
the atmosphere of Sanskrit'.30 Yet, there is little doubt that its advocates
hoped that the Commission's report would convince all those
Urdu-speaking Muslims, Tamil-speaking Dravidians, and Englishspeaking
Anglo-Indians who had declared themselves to be `outside
the atmosphere of Sanskrit' that the language belonged to them as
well. For, after all, were they not Indian? To be Indian, in the view
of the Commission, was to not deny Sanskrit's foundational value
for the nation.
That the Sanskrit Commission would make this assertion is perhaps
to be expected, given that a majority of its members were Sanskritists
by profession, and Brahman by birth. Yet, this is not the only
arena in which the call for Sanskrit as national language surfaced. A
decade earlier, we can hear it in another context, at the meetings
of the Constituent Assembly of India (1946±49), by men who were
not necessarily Sanskritists or Brahman. And it is in this Assembly
28 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, pp. 285±6. See also Bhate, `Position of Sanskrit
in Public Education', pp. 383±91.
29 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 95. For the Commission's reasons why Sanskrit
should be made compulsory in schools, see pp. 93±107.
30 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 98±9.
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 353
that Sanskrit's place in the future of the nation was ®rst
consolidated.
Constituting Sanskrit
In September 1949, at the height of the Constituent Assembly's
fraught debate over the future of®cial language of India, one of its
members from Assam, Kuladhar Chaliha, a former tea planter and
lawyer, declared: `We will become better Indians by adopting Sanskrit
[as the national language], because Sanskrit and India are coextensive'.
31 He was not alone in thus expressing his faith in the
language. Twenty-seven other members made a similar proposal,
among them B. R. Ambedkar, T. T. Krishnamachari, G. Durgabai
[Deshmukh], Pandit Lakshmikanta Maitra and Naziruddin Ahmad.32
A large number of those who supported the cause of Sanskrit were
from Madras and West Bengal, for it was a useful weapon with which
to counter the growing threat of `Hindi imperialism'. At least one of
its backers, Naziruddin Ahmad, was a member of the Muslim League
from Bengal, and another, Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting
Committee, was the leading spokesman for Dalit interests in the
Assembly. Even for these maverick advocates, the raising of the
standard of Sanskrit appears clearly to have been a last-ditch effort
to salvage the linguistic mess in which the Constituent Assembly
found itself after almost three years of deliberation over the future
of India's languages. From the very beginning, chaos attended the
Assembly's deliberations over the language provisions of the Constitution.
As Granville Austin notes, almost every linguistic issue facing
the AssemblyÐthe language to be used in the conduct of its proceedings,
the language in which the Constitution was to be framed, the
script(s) for the of®cial language(s) of the nation, the system of
numerals to be adopted, and so onÐwas heavily contested, and bode
ill for any reasonable consensus emerging in the short run. The
Assembly's proceedings periodically broke down over several members'
insistence that they would only speak in their `mother tongue',
much to the dismay of the majority who had no way of understanding
what was being said. Members, especially from the South, frequently
31 Constituent Assembly Debates: Of®cial Report, Vol. 9 (New Delhi, 1949), p. 1402.
32 Granville Austin, `Language and the ConstitutionÐThe Half-hearted Compromise',
in The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation (Oxford, 1966), p. 301.
354 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
complained of non-comprehension when chaste Hindi speakers took
the ¯oor. And every now and then, we read about members engaging
each other in heated debate even while pleading mutual
incomprehension.33
Problems of communication and comprehension only exacerbated
fundamental disagreements on the most important linguistic issue
facing the Assembly, namely, the language to be named as the future
of®cial language of India. An early favorite, Hindustani, especially
popular because it had Gandhi's backing, became one of the numerous
victims of the Partition of India, an event that transpired even
as the Assembly was in session. After August 1947, even those who
had supported Hindustani hesitated to use that name, preferring the
term `broad Hindi'.34 By early 1948, the Assembly was increasingly
divided between all those who favored a highly-Sanskritized Hindi,
and those who did not. And amongst the latter, we hear some really
passionate speeches on the value and worth of English which may
well have been the language of colonialism, but was also, these members
insisted, the language in which the Indian nation had been ®rst
wrought.35 We also hear occasional voices from the fringes which
declared that if antiquity, sophistication, and depth of literature
were the criteria for choice of the of®cial language, perhaps Bengali,
Marathi or Tamil, rather than the `upstart' and `rudimentary' Hindi,
had a greater claim.36
In this Babeldom, it is perhaps not surprising that the cause of
SanskritÐunusual though it may appear at ®rst sightÐfound a
space. There were three, somewhat contrary, grounds on which its
supporters built their case pragmatically, ideologically, and sentimentally.
Pragmatically, as Naziruddin Ahmad shrewdly realized,
the advantage Sanskrit had as the putative of®cial language was that
it would be equally disadvantageous for all citizens. `I offer you a
language which is the grandest and the greatest, and it is impartially
33 Granville Austin, `Language and the Constitution', pp. 265±307. See also P.
Kodanda Rao, Language Issue in the Indian Constituent Assembly, 1946±50: Rational Support
for English and Non-Rational Support for Hindi (Bombay, 1969). Similar problems
continued to plague the Indian Parliament's activities in the next decade as well.
On this, see Mahadev L. Apte, `Language Controversies in the Indian Parliament
(Lok Sabha): 1952±1960', in W. O'Barr and Jean O'Barr (eds), Language and Politics
(Mouton, 1976), pp. 213±34.
34 Austin, `Language and the Constitution', pp. 277±8.
35 Constituent Assembly Debates, pp. 1331, 1358±9.
36 Ibid., pp. 1333, 1375±6; see also Ludo Rocher, Le Probleme Linguistique en Inde
(Brusells, 1967), pp. 9±35.
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 355
dif®cult, equally dif®cult for all to learn'.37 Since it was nobody's
spoken language or `mother tongue', no single community would
have an unfair start in the race for jobs and privileges, as would be
the case with Hindi.38 At the same time, since so many of India's
languages were already so infused with Sanskritic words, it was suggested
that it would be easy for their speakers readily to learn Sanskrit.
Further, in contrast to Hindi which was a mere `provincial'
language that could not be readily transformed into a `national' language
without a good deal of effort, it was argued that Sanskrit was
already an all-India language. `Wherever I have travelled, if I have
not been able to make myself understood in any other language, I
have been able to make myself understood in Sanskrit', one member
recalled. Another pointed out that `[o]ur whole life is so interwoven
with Sanskrit that you cannot get away from [it] . . .'. In that case,
why not make it the of®cial langauge for everyone, he asked?39
Sanskrit's advocates were also quick to seize upon the comparable
example of Israel and its recent efforts to revive Hebrew and install
it as the of®cial language of the Jewish state. In doing so, the Assembly
was told, Jews were sending a signal to the world about the
respect they had for their language, culture, civilization, and heritage.
We Indians ought to do the same, for are not all our ancient
glories contained in Sanskrit? `Let the world know that we also know
to respect the rich heritage of our spiritual culture.'40 Like Bankimchandra
and Vivekananda before him (and Max Mueller and others
before them), Pandit Lakshmikanta Maitra, the chief spokesman for
the Sanskrit cause in the Assembly and a Brahman member from
West Bengal, insisted:
We should give our message to the West. The West is steeped in materialistic
civilisation. The Message of the Gita, the Vedas, the Upanishads and
the Tantras, the Charaka and Susrutha etc., will have to be disseminated
to the West. It is thus and thus alone that we may be able to command
the respect of the world; not by our political debates, nor by our scienti®c
37 Constituent Assembly Debates, p. 1334.
38 So, B. Das, a non-Brahman member from Orissa, observed, `This morning
when Pandit Lakshmi Kanta Maitra was speaking, I was almost persuaded to accept
Sanskrit as the of®cial language of the State, so that everybody will start with an
even keel in that mother of all languages. There will then be no rivalry between the
sons and daughters of the leaders of U[nited] P[rovinces] and C[entral] P[rovinces]
that are present here and the sons and daughters of leaders of Orissa or Madras.
They will all learn Sanskrit.' Constituent Assembly Debates, p. 1396.
39 Constituent Assembly Debates, pp. 1354, 1402.
40 Ibid., p. 1360.
356 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
discoveries which, compared with their achievements, are nothing. The
West looks to you to give them guidance in this war-torn world where
morals are shattered and religious and spiritual life have gone to
shambles . . .41
Here, Maitra echoes what Partha Chatterjee has identi®ed as the
`problematic' and `thematic' of nationalist thought in India which
asserted the autonomy of the nation from colonial domination even
while continuing to use the knowledge procedures and modes of
reasoning of post-Enlightenment thought based on timeless
Manichean distinctions between `West' and `East'.42 Especially in its
`moment of departure', nationalist discourse conceded that the West
was indeed superior, but only in the realms of material culture and
science; in the domain of spirituality, however, it was India that held
the winning hand, and would indeed teach the West. So, true modernity
for India `would lie in combining the superior material culture
of Western cultures with the spiritual greatness of the East'.43 For
its advocates in the Constituent Assembly, Sanskrit would guarantee
such a modernity in which the nation's uniqueness would not be
sacri®ced in the rush towards material progress. Indeed, for Maitra,
Sanskrit was to be the panacea for not just the nation's problems,
but the world's as well. On the national front, `I honestly believe
that if we accept Sanskrit, all [our] troubles, all [our] jealousies, all
[our] bitterness will vanish with all the psychological complex that
has been created'. The Indian nation, thus spiritually rehabilitated
through Sanskrit, would then be ready to guide the `materialistic'
West out of its moral and spiritual bankruptcy. Maitra's reasoning
here is clearly couched in the vocabulary of patriarchal Orientalism.
Indians ought to embrace Sanskrit because it was the language `of
their forefathers' and of `their great rishis [sages]'. It was also the
language `in which our culture is enshrined'. In his reading of the
past, all of India's worth is reduced to its great spiritual truths, and
these spiritual truths in turn are identi®ed with Sanskrit. In the
words of Kuladhar Chaliha, a fellow advocate, `all that is good and
all that is valuable and all that we ®ght for and we hold precious
have come from Sanskrit literature'. So much so that if Indians did
not embrace Sanskrit, Maitra continued, he could not fathom what
other contribution they could make to the world. So, `in the name
41 Ibid., p. 1359.
42 Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse?
(London, 1986), pp. 38±9.
43 Ibid., p. 51.
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 357
of the great rishis' who gave Sanskrit to us, and `in the name of that
great culture and civilisation of which we are all proud', he called
upon his fellow Indians `to bury [their] hatchets' and `cheerfully
accept Sanskrit as the National and of®cial language of free India'.44
The case for Sanskrit was built on sentimental grounds as well,
and here, its advocates pulled out all the stops. They quoted profusely
from the colonial and European archiveÐfrom William Jones
and Franz Bopp and Max MuellerÐand waxed eloquently about its
melli¯uousness, its sweetness, and its grandeur. Sanskrit is the
`mother' of all the languages of the world, even their `revered grand
mother'. `When I am pleading for Sanskrit, let there be no derisive
merriment anywhere in the House', warned Maitra. `Let me ask
every honorable Member of this House, irrespective of the province
he comes from, ``Does he disown his grandmother?'' ' To those who
argued that Sanskrit was a `dead' language, Maitra retorted: `If Sanskrit
is dead, may I say that Sanskrit is ruling us from her grave?'45
Indeed, even those not in favor of Sanskrit agreed that it was the
language par excellence, that its alphabet was `the most perfect and
scienti®c in the World'; that it was impossible to turn their backs
on it for `it is in our blood; it is the fountainhead of our mother
tongues and the storehouse of our culture'. So, Purushottam Das
Tandon, one of the more passionate advocates for Hindi as the of®-
cial language declared, `I bow to those who love Sanskrit. I am one
of them. I love Sanskrit. I think every Indian born in this country
should learn Sanskrit. Sanskrit preserves our ancient heritage for
us . . .'46
Even in their wildest dreams, the most enthusiastic of Sanskrit's
supporters could not have believed that their project had any chance
of succeeding, taking on, as they had to, the powerful Hindi lobby
in the Assembly, as well as numerous modernists and populists who
accused the language of being `dif®cult', `archaic', inaccessible to the
populace, and so on. However, even if they did not manage to institute
Sanskrit as the of®cial language, there were other ways in which
they succeeded in bringing it through the back door into the nation's
Constitution, and into its future.
First, and most crucially, the Constitution, even while identifying
Hindi as the of®cial language of India, clearly names Sanskrit as the
44 Constituent Assembly Debates, pp. 1359±60, 1402.
45 Ibid., pp. 1354±5.
46 Ibid., 1408, 1450.
358 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
primary source from which it should draw upon to enrich itself and
develop its vocabulary.47 Such a linking of Sanskrit to the of®cial
language is perhaps not surprising, for at least since the late eighteenth
century, it had been identi®ed by numerous colonial administrators
and missionaries as the `fountainhead' and `reservoir' of not
just Hindi, but all the languages of `Hindu' India.48 Further, from
the 1880s on, the supporters of Hindi had launched a sustained program
of Sanskritizing Hindi, in their attempts to distance the language
from its Persian±Urdu (read: `Muslim') past.49 By October
1948, the Hindi lobby in the Assembly had abandoned any pretence
of working with a composite Hindustani, and singled out Sanskrit as
the only language to which Hindi should turn for its improvement.
In its view, `the linguistic unity of India' as well as the `highest dictates
of nationalism' demanded that Sanskrit be made the sole
source of new vocabulary for the new of®cial language.50 Indeed,
Hindi enthusiasts shrewdly made a case for their language by
insisting that Hindi had all the advantages of associating with Sanskrit,
without the disadvantages of being Sanskrit. So, Hindi, it was
declared, `had descended from Vedic Sanskrit [which] contains our
ancient culture . . .'; it had the privilege of being `the eldest and
seniormost daughter' of the `mother' of all Indian languages; and in
its Sanskritized form, it could be readily understood in the North as
well as the South. In contrast to Sanskrit, however, it was spoken by
a large majority of Indians, was easy to learn, comprehend, and
write.51 So, it was the language most appropriate for a democratic
and modern, yet ancient and classical, nation.
Sanskrit also triumphed in the battle over scripts that was fought
out on the ¯oor of the Assembly. In the early days of the Assembly,
there was some discussion of retaining both the `Persian' and `Devanagari'
scripts for the of®cial language. But by the time the Draft
Constitution and its revised ®nal version were produced in 1949, it
47 Ibid., p. 1489. See also Article 351 of the Constitution of India.
48 Schwab, Oriental Renaissance.
49 Christopher King, One Language, Two Scripts; Krishna Kumar, `Quest for Self-
Identity: Cultural Consciousness and Education in the Hindi Region, 1880±1950',
Economic and Political Weekly, 1990, 25(25), pp. 1247±55; David Lelyveld, `The Fate
of Hindustani: Colonial Knowledge and the Project of a National Language', in
Breckenridge and van der Veer (eds), Orientalism and the Post-colonial Predicament, pp.
189±214.
50 Austin, `Language and the Constitution', p. 283.
51 Constituent Assembly Debates, pp. 1379, 1408. See also Raghu Vira, India's National
Language (New Delhi, 1965).
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 359
was Devanagari that was clearly named as the sole script in which
Hindi would be written and developed.52 The triumph of
(Deva)Nagari in this fashion had already been anticipated by the
outcome of the various `script wars' that had been fought in many
parts of northern India since at least the last decades of the nineteenth
century, between Urdu/Arabic/Persian `characters', and
Nagari or Hindi `characters'.53 The horrors of Partition only con-
®rmed the reigning sentiment that the Arabic script, like its users,
was `alien' and `foreign' to India. But above all, the selection of
`Devanagari' as the of®cial script was ensured because it had been,
in the view of many of its supporters, Sanskrit's script for centuries.
As Alagu Rai Shastri unequivocally insisted: `Our national language
shall be Hindi and our script shall be Devanagari which we have got
from the ``Rigveda'' and whose words have been borrowed from that
great ocean of learning . . .'54
52 Austin, `Language and the Constitution', p. 296. Article 343 (1) of the Constitution
of India states clearly, `The of®cial language of the Union shall be Hindi in
Devanagari script'. There is more than a touch of (Orientalist) irony in the Constitution's
naming of the script so unequivocally as `Devanagari', for it is a term that
appears to have gained in currency, over the more popular (and more ancient)
`Nagari', only in the colonial period, its earliest attestation possibly being 1776
(Walter Maurer, `On the Name DevanaÅgarõÅ', Journal of American Orientalist Society,
1976, 96(1), p. 103). Note especially Maurer's observation, `Though ``DevanaÅgarõÅ''
is but an extension of the much older name ``NaÅgarõÅ'' and is therefore synonymous
with it, the two are not interchangeable. Thus what is DevanaÅgarõÅ may be called
NaÅgarõÅ, but not all that is NaÅgarõÅ may be termed ``DevanaÅgarõÅ'' ' (p. 104). Yet, it is
the latter that has come to prevail. For a nationalist reading of the antiquity and
widespread use of Devanagari, see V. S. Agarwala, `The DevanaÅgarõÅ Script', in Indian
Systems of Writing (Delhi, 1966), pp. 12±16. Here, it may also be noted that supporters
of Devanagari lost, by a narrow margin, the battle over numerals. The Constitution
retains the use of international numerals, although the President does
have the right to authorize the of®cial use of Devanagari numerals as well, as per
Article 343(2) (Austin, `Language and the Constitution', pp. 294±5).
53 King, One Language, Two Scripts. King has noted that supporters of Devanagari
had to also contend with eliminating the popularity of numerous other versions of
Nagari, especially Kaithi, a cursive variant of the script that had wide currency in
many parts of eastern India, but which was deemed to be tainted because of its
links with Hindustani or Urdu (ibid., pp. 65±9).
54 Constituent Assembly Debates, pp. 1388±9; see also p. 1385. For the historical
roots of such an identi®cation, see King, One Language, Two Scripts. And yet, as the
Sanskrit Commission noted a few years later, Devanagari had never been the only
script of Sanskrit (which was typically written in a wide number of local scripts),
and its identi®cation as the authentic and sole script of Sanskrit came to be made
by Europeans in the colonial period. The Commission offered a number of very good
reasons for this identi®cation: the use of Devanagari by scholars in Banaras, a city
that was seen as the authentic home of Sanskrit by Europeans; the educational
practices of the three principal Universities whose Sanskrit books and examinations
360 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
Finally, although Sanskrit was named in the Draft Constitution
as the primary language from which Hindi would draw to develop,
surprisingly, it was not, at ®rst, included in Schedule VIIA. This
schedule identi®ed the thirteen other languages from which Hindi
could borrow for its improvement, so that `it may serve as a medium
of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India'.55
Its advocates in the Assembly protested this oversight, and ensured
that in the ®nal version of the Constitution, Sanskrit was included in
the Eight Schedule.56 Since this Schedule names the principal spoken
languages of India that matter politically, economically, and demographically,
by making it to this list, Sanskrit was assured, at the
very least, a status similar to theirs. Of course, ironically, Sanskrit
was now compelled to be on par with languages over which, in its
own past, it had claimed superiority and lordship. Nevertheless its
presence in the Eight Schedule, even as it thus democratized and
demoticized the language, rescued Sanskrit from the vaults of India's
past and ensured a role for it in the nation's future.
Nationalizing Sanskrit
Not least of the consequences of the empowerment of Sanskrit thus
by the Constitution is that a space was opened up for the creation
of government agencies such as the Sanskrit Commission and the
Central Sanskrit Board, formed to ensure that the language would
have a continuing signi®cance in the lives and livelihood of modern
Indians. In turn, the agendas of these agencies with regard to the
were published in Devanagari; and above all, the printing of most Sanskrit works in
the nineteenth century, in Europe as well as India, in Devanagari, especially Max
Mueller's edition of the Rig Veda. Beautifully anticipating Benedict Anderson's
thesis on print-capitalism, the Commission noted: `Printing and the world-wide use
of the printed book may, indeed, be said to have brought in the standardization of
script for Sanskrit works during the ®rst half of the last century, and to have thereby
bestowed upon Devanagari the status of the accepted all-India script for Sanskrit,
and, to a large extent, even the national script of India'. The Commission recommended
to the Government that `while the knowledge of the Devanagari script
should be made universal as the pan-Indian script, the employment of the local
scripts as a potent aid in the dissemination of Sanskrit should be continued'. It was
the Commission's opinion that Sanskrit written in the same script as the mother
tongue, rather than in Devanagari, could be learnt more easily, and would touch
the heart of the speaker more quickly (Report of the Sanskrit Commission, pp. 194±7).
55 Article 351 of the Constitution of India.
56 Constituent Assembly Debates, pp. 1323, 1489.
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 361
place of Sanskrit in the nation's future derived from their imagination
of its role in India's past. Here, there is little doubt that its
advocates faced an uphill task in establishing their claim that Sanskrit
had always been the one and truly `national' language of India
from time immemorial. For, in the colonial archive, if the language
had picked up several new (and in¯uential) admirers, it had also
received its share of brickbats. For every Jones who declared Sanskrit
to be `more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin,
and more exquisitely re®ned than either . . .', there was a Macaulay
or a Gilchrist who had characterized it as `priestly', `dead', `mysterious',
`arcane', the select privilege of an exclusive few. By the middle
decades of this century, many of these colonial charges found a
renewed life in powerful arguments against the language launched
from various quarters. So, the Dravidian movement identi®ed Sanskrit
as the weapon with which the Aryan Brahmanical North had
conquered the Dravidian non-Brahman South; regionalists and populists
declared that the `mother tongues' had been marginalized by
an enchantment with its classicism; modernists insisted that its
baroqueness was an impediment to progress and scientization; and
secularists were wary of its association with Hindu revivalism. So,
the Commission had to perforce rescue Sanskrit from the stigma of
exclusivity, privilege, and arcaneness with which it had come to be
burdened, and demonstrate that it was truly a language of and for
all Indians, regardless of caste, class, religious, ethnic, regional, or
linguistic af®liation. In other words, the language had to be discursively
nationalized before it could be of®cially inserted into the mundane
everyday world of the nation.
Not unexpectedly, the Commission went about making its case
through a selective (re)interpretation of India's textual, linguistic,
and cultural history which had been put at its disposal by colonial
and nationalist historiography. But the real innovation, of which it
was justly proud, was that it supplemented its textual and historical
survey with a detailed analysis of a questionnaire consisting of over
ninety questions which was distributed to hundreds of individuals
and institutions all over the country. The questionnaire (note its very
®rst query: `what special role has the Sanskritist to play in the
national life of India today?') was in Sanskrit and English, and the
Commission was pleased to report that some 40% of the replies were
returned in Sanskrit.57 In addition, members of the Commission
57 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. ii.
362 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
toured the country between January and May 1957, and interviewed
`1,100 persons representing various shades of opinion', including
leading Sanskrit scholars and pandits, political leaders, bureaucrats,
educationalists, and even scientists. Highlights of the tour included
visits to famous temples, listening to Vedic recitations, and watching
an `entertainment programme in Sanskrit' in Madras. The questionnaire
with the list of questions in English and Sanskrit (but not the
answers), the `log book' of the tour undertaken by its members, the
list of individuals and institutions who sent replies, the list of institutions
visited, the list of all those who gave oral testimony, all these
were carefully appended to the published Report for everyone to
read.58 In other words, the Commission was anxious to establish that
its ®ndings had been arrived at not in a willy-nilly fashion, but by
deploying the technologies of knowledge and methodologies of science
available to the modern state. What better way to demonstrate
the value and worth of Sanskrit to contemporary India than by showing
that modern and scienti®c modes of survey and analysis substantiated
such claims? Although a detailed socio-economic, professional,
and ideological pro®le of the men and women interviewed may well
reveal otherwise, the Commission was particularly keen to stress the
`all-India' quality of its endeavours. No stone had been left unturned,
no person worth asking had been left un-asked. And the result? In
his letter to the Minister of Education, Suniti Kumar Chatterjee
wrote con®dently: `About the enthusiasm of the people of India as a
whole for Sanskrit, we have received, in the course of our tour and
our work, the most convincing evidence.'59
How convincing is the evidence presented about the nation-wide
popularity of the language? Given that it was set up in a decade
marked by linguistic, regional and ethnic tensions all over the nation,
the Commission was quick to characterize as `untenable' the `unfortunate
propaganda' that Sanskrit was the language of a particular
community:
That Sanskrit does not belong to any particular community is proved by
Andhra and Kerala where the entire non-Brahman classes are imbued with
Sanskrit . . . In Kerala, even Izhavas, Thiyas, Moplas and Christians read
Sanskrit. In Madhya Pradesh, we are told, a paper in Sanskrit was compulsory
at the School Final Examination and even Muslims took it. In a Lucknow
Intermediate College, there are Muslim girls studying Sanskrit; in
Gujarat, Parsis study it; in Punjab, there are several Sikhs among Sanskrit
58 Ibid., pp. 285±439.
59 Ibid., p. ii.
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 363
students and teachers, and Sastris and research scholars in Sanskrit. The
Director of Public Instruction of Madhya Pradesh, who is a Christian, told
us that he advised the Anglo-Indian students also to read Sanskrit. It was
necessary that, as future citizens of India, they gained an insight into the
mind and the culture of the bulk of the Indian people. And this, he added,
was possible only through the study of Sanskrit.60
This statement is typical of the sampler approach adopted by the
Commission to prove the universality of Sanskrit among all of India's
religious communities, be they Christians in Kerala, Muslims in
Lucknow, Parsis in Gujarat, or Sikhs in Punjab. Elsewhere, Buddhists
and Jains are added to this list.61 Indeed, the one community left
unnamed are Hindus, for the Commission labored hard, at one level,
to distance the language from the religion with which it had become
exclusively identi®ed over at least the past two centuries of Orientalist
scholarship. `It is de®nitely wrong to assume that Sanskrit represents
only the religious literature of the Hindus', it was stated unequivocally.
62 Since Hinduism could not be of®cially privileged in the
emergent national culture, and since Sanskrit had to function as
the common medium of that national culture, it followed that the
reputation of Sanskrit as the hegemonic scriptural language of Hinduism
had to be disavowed.63
And yet, as in so much else in modern, `secular' India, the
undertow of unmarked Hinduism is visible in every other page of
the Commission's report, even as (Hindu) `religion' is resigni®ed
as `morality' or `culture'. Texts and authors most frequently
quoted to document Sanskrit's signi®cance for modern IndiansÐ
the Upanishads, Valmiki, the Gita, KalidasaÐare invariably those
that an Indian readership has learnt to associate with a Hindu
sensibility. Statements like, `educated Indians, whatever their chief
60 Ibid., pp. 65±6.
61 Ibid., p. 79.
62 Ibid.
63 Correspondingly, the Commission was careful not to overtly blame Muslim
rule for the decline of Sanskrit. Indeed, there is only one instance in its entire
report in which Muslims, or some of their leaders at any rate, are represented as
anti-Sanskrit: `It is because some leaders among the Muslims of India, not attuned
to the spirit of Sanskrit, or deliberately ignoring it, tried (partly through the inspiration
of British imperialism) to channel the masses of Indian citizens professing
Islam along a different line, seeking to throw off the inheritance of Sanskrit, that
India had to suffer the pangs of a living amputation, bringing untold misery on
millions of people . . .' (Report of the Sanskrit Commission, pp. 81±2). These lines are
particularly remarkable for the suggestion that the Partition of India was a consequence
of the neglect of Sanskrit.
364 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
vocation in life, are invariably drawn to the study of the Gita and
the Upanishads and of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana . . .',
betray the working assumption of the Commission that the
`Indian' is by de®nition `Hindu'.64 Indeed, it is telling that the
only religious institutions that members of the Commission visited
on their all-India tour were Hindu temples and centers of Vedic
and Vedantic learning. Their visits to these places convinced them
that the Government ought to regulate these institutions so that
their funds may be properly directed toward the encouragement
of Sanskrit studies. Even though the Commission conceded that a
`secular' state could not promote religious education, this did not
mean that Vedic studies should not receive government support,
for `the Vedas form the bedrock of Sanskrit literature and Indian
culture'.65 It is worth noting that neither `religion' nor `Hinduism'
are mentioned in this characterization of the Vedas. Because the
Vedas are deemed to be the `bedrock' of `Indian culture', the
Government had to take steps `to preserve the oral tradition of
Vedic recitals; young students should be encouraged to learn Vedic
hymns by rote with correct intonation and accents according to
the different schools; . . . and special attention should be paid to
the resuscitation and propagation of the traditions of the Samaveda
and the Atharvaveda'. It was also recommended that the Government's
Five-Year Plans should make provisions for the support of
`gifted exponents of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata', for `epic
and Puranic expositions could be effectively utilised for the purpose
of cultural propaganda and the moral toning up of the
masses'. All-India Radio should be encouraged to supplement its
weekly Sanskrit broadcasts with daily recitations of moral sayings
from the Gita and other classics, as well as celebrate special events
such as Kalidasa Day. The government-run Films Division ought
to produce documentary ®lms based on the Sanskrit epics, clearly
anticipating in this regard by at least three decades the broadcast
of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata on national television.66 So,
the Commission's disavowal of the exclusive association of Sanskrit
with Hinduism notwithstanding, its own proposals for Sanskritizing
the nation only con®rmed the Hindu-ness of Sanskrit, and of the
64 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 102.
65 Ibid., p. 209.
66 Ibid., pp. 211±13; 225±6.
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 365
nation. The other religious communities of India, let alone their
texts (even those reportedly in Sanskrit), receive no attention
whatsoever in this scheme of things.
Its advocates were also at pains to prove the truly national character
of Sanskrit by denying its exclusive association with Brahmanical
privilege and priestly orthodoxy. `It has wrongly been averred that
the study of Sanskrit is only sacerdotal . . .'67 To document their case
in this regard, they turned to Tamilnadu where over the past few
decades, the Dravidian movement had tried to convince
(`non-Brahman') Tamilians of Sanskrit's predatory role in their past,
and of its irrelevance for their present and future.68 But even here,
the Commission was able to interview `several non-Brahmans in high
position [sic] and active in public life, business etc, and . . . found
them all favorable to Sanskrit . . . In Chidambaram, we were able to
®nd a group of non-Brahman merchants of the town who appeared
before us for interview as staunch supporters of Sanskrit education
and culture'. Here, once again, as in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and
other places, the Commission noted with satisfaction that in a Chidambaram
high school, a Muslim student topped the Sanskrit class;
that in Tanjavur, Christians, too, studied Sanskrit; and that in
Madras, there were `Harijans' who learnt the language.69 `As we
moved among the people, in the temples and the streets, in public
and private meetings, we found that, in Tamilnad[u], the antipathy
towards Sanskrit was con®ned to a section trying to make political
67 Ibid., p. 79.
68 Nambi Arooran, Tamil Renaissance, pp. 70±110; Sumathi Ramaswamy, Passions
of the Tongue: Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891±1970 (Berkeley, 1997).
69 For a revealing ®rst-person impression of what it means for lower castes and
`Harijans' to study Sanskrit in independent India, the Sanskrit Commission's proud
claims notwithstanding, see Kumud Pawde's poignant `The Story of My Sanskrit',
in A Corpse in the Well: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Autobiographies, ed. Arjun
Dangle (Bombay, 1992), pp. 24±34. Pawde writes movingly about the many trials
she faced in her attempts to learn Sanskrit, overcoming which she became the ®rst
woman of a scheduled caste to secure a distinction in her Master's examinations in
the language. Her caste status, however, prevented her from getting a job as a
Sanskrit teacher for a long time in a nation that still linked Sanskritic learning with
Brahmans and upper castes, although that same nation did not fail to appropriate
her as an icon of its own progressive modernity. So she tells us she was introduced
thus at a public meeting of Sanskrit scholars: `Whereas our traditional books have
forbidden the study of Sanskrit by women and Shudras, a woman from those very
Shudras, from the lowest caste among them, will today, in Sanskrit, introduce these
scholars. This is the beginning of a progressive way of thinking in independent
India' (p. 26). I thank Robert Goldman for this reference.
366 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
capital out of it . . .'. The Report noted that so anxious were Tamilians
about the fate of Sanskrit that Madras returned the largest
number of replies to the Commission's questionnaire.70
In turn, the Commission was anxious to demonstrate that Sanskrit
was not just a language of the Aryan North, but of the Dravidian
South as well, the Dravidian movement's claims to the contrary
notwithstanding:
Our Modern Indian languages, both Aryan and Dravidian, are in the same
boat. They have been, all of them, under the aegis of Sanskrit. The Modern
Aryan languages were all born in the lap of Sanskrit; and as for the Dravidian
languages, ever since their earliest literary usage, they have been nurtured
by Sanskrit . . .71
The opening page of the Report strategically quotes verses by two
`southerners', the Sanskrit playwright Dandin at the Pallava court,
who had declared Sanskrit to be `the Divine Speech set forth by the
Great Sages'; and Senavaraiyar, the medieval commentator to the
Tamil grammar, the Tolkappiyam, who wrote in Tamil that `. . . Sanskrit
is common to all parts of the country'. Elsewhere, it quotes
another Tamil savant, Sivagnana Munivar, who had declared `the
nature of Tamil will not be clear to those who have not learnt Sanskrit'.
When the great intellects of the South had wanted to express
high and serious thoughts, they invariably turned to Sanskrit rather
than to their own mother tongues, it was noted.72 But it was not just
with the great intellects of the South that Sanskrit mattered. `For
all common day-to-day activities, numerous Sanskrit words . . . are
freely used in South India in all strata of society', V. Raghavan
declared in his inaugural speech to the 1948 All-India Oriental Conference.
In another context, Chatterjee dismissed the efforts of the
`Pure Tamil' movement, and declared that `at this late date, it would
be impossible to make Tamil expressive of modern thoughts and
ideas without borrowing from Sanskrit.'73
Indeed, its advocates argued that rather than being the language
of Brahmanical exclusivity in the South, Sanskrit had allowed southerners
of all classes to communicate with other Indians. Without
70 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 66. For the Madras government's less-thanenthusiastic
reception of the Sanskrit Commission's proposals, see Government of
Madras Order No. 1535 (Education), dated August 6, 1958.
71 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 85.
72 Ibid.
73 Raghavan, Sanskrit, p. 16; Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, Samskrta Dig-Vijaya
(Calcutta, 1985), pp. 13±14.
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 367
Sanskrit, south Indians would truly be cut off from the rest of India
and not be able to participate in the nation. In turn, the South had
for long been the `veritable asylum' for `Indian' culture and Sanskritic
learning. The unspeci®ed reason for this, of course, was the
assumption that the North had been de-Sanskritized (and hence
de-Indianized) under Muslim rule.74 So, when north Indians visited
the South, it was Sanskrit that allowed them to communicate with
their fellow Indians. So, Raghavan wrote con®dently that `if we take
all the derived North Indian languages and the South Indian languages
together into consideration, we ®nd that the linguistic GCM
[Greatest Common Measure] of India is Sanskrit'.75
Thus, the appropriateness of Sanskrit as national language lay in
that it belonged to no one single region, caste, or religion, even while
belonging to all of them. Like the mighty Ganga, the `national' river of
India, Sanskrit, too, was `ageless, ever-¯owing . . . [absorbing] during
its long space-time elements of value from all the regional cultures,
[growing] into the greater, the larger, and the national tradition that
it is'. Similarly, like the great banyan tree, Sanskrit, too, `has also put
forth its own shoots in the form of the earlier Prakrits and the later
Apabhramsa which in course of time gave rise to the modern vernaculars'.
Indeed, the very land `from the snow-covered abode of Siva down
to the wave-washed feet of Kumari' reverberates with the sounds of
Sanskrit. Sanskrit's geography provided the template for the nation's
geography, and the blueprint for its territorial unity.
Sanskrit has always projected a pan-Indian image, an image of India as one
country . . . Through its cosmology and the geographical account of the
country and its boundaries, the seven great rivers, the seven great cities,
the expression `aÄ-setuhimaÄcalam'Ð`from the Cape to the Himalayas'Ðand
through the building up of a network of holy spots, holy waters and shrines
and the institution of pilgrimage . . . Sanskrit consolidated the territorial
unity . . . It developed the concept of one country, BhaÄratavars.a, and love
and veneration for the same as expressed in the saying, `Mother and Motherland
are greater than heaven'.76
So, Sanskrit was by de®nition the true national language of India,
for the nation had always been its domain.
Yet, for all their concern with nationalizing Sanskrit by rooting it
®rmly within the nation's present territorial boundaries, its advocates
also proudly pointed to its many extra-national af®liations, here
74 Raghavan, Sanskrit, p. 16; Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 66.
75 Raghavan, Sanskrit, p. 16; see also Chatterjee, Samskrta Dig-Vijaya, pp. 11±12.
76 Raghavan, Sanskrit, pp. 20, 32±41, 50±1.
368 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
echoing the claims of nationalist historiography of the previous decades
about the existence of a `Greater India' incorporating the Hindu
`colonies' of south-east and central Asia:
The Middle East, Central Asia, China and Japan, and the whole of South-
East Asia came under a sort of cultural empire inspired by Sanskrit language,
its sciences and epics, its religion and philosophy and arts. Mathematics,
Medicine and the Fables in Sanskrit were translated by Arabia to pass
them on to Europe and to the modern scienti®c world. To Tibet, Central
Asia, China and Japan, Sanskrit gave Buddhism in its Sanskrit schools. To
Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma and Indonesia and Ceylon, Hinduism
and Buddhism, alphabet, script, literature, Ramayana and Mahabharata in
sculpture and dance, temples and festivals were given by this language and
its derivative the Pali. It is out of Pali and Sanskrit that Thailand is today
building up its new technical and administrative vocabulary. Thus Sanskrit
consolidated not only India but played an integrating role in the whole
Orient . . .77
This is not the only instance in which we encounter the vocabulary
of imperialism in relation to the spread of Sanskrit. A collection of
essays by Suniti Kumar Chatterjee was posthumously published
under the title, Samskrita Dig-Vijaya [The Universal Conquest of Sanskrit],
and documented the progressive establishment of the `empire
of Sanskrit' ®rst within India, and then elsewhere. Long before
English underwrote Britain's `civilizing' mission in its colonies, Sanskrit
had `civilized' many parts of the worldÐgiven them their literatures,
their philosophy, their arts, and their scripts. Unlike the
later-day colonial empires, however, Sanskrit's `empire' was concerned
with peace, happiness, and the quest for the Ultimate Reality.
78 It was asserted that `Sanskrit has been, from the most ancient
times, a symbol and means of unity among the peoples of the world'.
From Ireland to India, Sanskrit and its `family' of Indo-European
languages had `embraced the vast stretch of the earth'. Indeed, it
was the `discovery' of this fact by William Jones that gave to Sanskrit
`a new importance and prestige in the world-context', and spurred
`a new awakening of national consciousness' amongst the Indian
intelligentsia.79
Here, it is quite clear that for its `nationalist' admirers, the recognition
that the West accorded to Sanskrit con®rmed their own recog-
77 Ibid., pp. 32±3.
78 Chatterjee, Samskrta Dig-Vijaya, pp. 8±9.
79 Raghavan, Sanskrit, p. 143; Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 69.
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 369
nition of its greatness and prestige, and usefulness. Indeed, so
enthusastic was the Commission about the admiration in the West
for the language that it recommended to the Government that Sanskrit
should ®nd a place, not only in the Indian passport, but also
in the credentials that Indian ambassadors presented abroad to
heads of states. For even if it was not as readily understood abroad
as it is in India, it enjoys great prestige among Westerners who in
any case think of India as `Sanskrit India', the Report noted. Some
members of the Commission even observed that it had been their
experience that when Indians spoke in Sanskrit at international
gatherings, their ideas `had a much more respectful acceptance than
would be accorded to a speech in any other Indian language'.80 So,
through Sanskrit, the emergent nation would secure the respect of
the West, even while preserving its own authenticity and uniqueness.
However, if the admiration of the West for Sanskrit may ensure
India's prestige and primacy in the hierarchy of modern nations, its
advocates had to wrestle with the speci®c way in which that admiration
had come packaged. For European scholars had domesticated
Sanskrit by analogizing the language to `classical' Greek and Latin.
In the late nineteenth century, the analogy had proved useful to
numerous Indian nationalists in asserting a parity between Indians
and Europeans, even as they insisted that India was the `parent' of
the modern West. In the 1940s and 1950s, however, the same analogy
was a source of embarrassment for supporters of Sanskrit, for
these languages, especially Latin, were widely regarded as elite, literary
tongues not spoken by the people. Recognizing that its comparability
to classical Greek and Latin may be important for establishing
linguistic prestige, antiquity and venerability, but was a liability in
making a case for its everyday viability for the nation's populace,
advocates of Sanskrit now dismissed the analogy as `absurd'. So, it
was argued that unlike Greek and Latin, Sanskrit was `more than a
mere classical language in India':
Greek and Latin did not and do not have the same sort of deep and allinclusive
in¯uence which Sanskrit still has in Indian life. They are at the
best academic, the concern of scholars. But Sanskrit is something more
profound and more vital than that. Not only is it academic in the true sense
of the term, but it is popular also . . .81
80 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 89.
81 Ibid., p. 88.
370 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
The extent to which Sanskrit had been a popular spoken language
in the past has for long been a matter of scholarly debate.82 Both
the Constituent Assembly and the Of®cial Language Commission
had rejected the language on precisely these grounds, the latter even
noting that `only 500 odd persons returned themselves with Sanskrit
as their mother tongue in the 1951 census'.83 The Sanskrit Commission,
however, operated on the principle that Sanskrit had once been
the spoken language of the people of India, and indeed continues to
be widely understood today. So Raghavan wrote: `Thousands in every
village, town and city sit to this day and listen to Valmiki and wipe
off their tears as the exponent reads ``RaÄmo RaÄmo RaÄma iti prajaÄnaÄm
abhavan kathaÄh''. Is Homer expounded thus in the streets of Europe'?84
Its advocates also argued that it was especially scandalous to
declare, following the Greek and Latin analogy, that Sanskrit was
`dead', a characterization which had picked up momentum by the
middle of the nineteenth century in the course of the acrimonious
debates between the Orientalists, Anglicists and Vernacularists over
the direction that colonial educational policy ought to take. The Sanskrit
Commission instead declared that Sanskrit `is as much a live
language as any mother tongue going about':
Even at the present day, Sanskrit is very very living [sic], because a large
number of people use Sanskrit in their conversation, when they come from
different parts of the country, and composition in Sanskrit, in both prose
and verse, goes on almost unabated. . . . When Sanskrit is now being used
even to express modern scienti®c or political ideas in essays or discourses
on various modern subjects, it cannot be said to have closed the door to
further developmentÐit has still life in it. All these things would go to
establish that Sanskrit is still a living force in Indian life.85
Given this conclusion that Sanskrit was still `a living force in
Indian life', the Commission dismissed as absurd those detractors
who claimed that `Sanskrit can only help to make people reactionary
82 Hans H. Hock, `Spoken Sanskrit in Uttar Pradesh: Pro®le of a Dying Prestige
Language', in Dimensions of Sociolinguistics in South Asia, eds Edward C. Dimock and
Braj B. Kachru (New Delhi, 1992), pp. 247±60; A. Wezler, `Do You Speak Sanskrit:
On a Class of Sanskrit Texts composed in the Late Middle Ages', in Houben (ed.),
The Ideology and Status of Sanskrit, pp. 327±46.
83 Report of the Of®cial Language Commission, p. 39. From 1881 onwards, census
reports show that several hundreds declared Sanskrit as the language of their home
or as their `parent tongue'. Colonial of®cials were invariably skeptical of such claims
(see, for example, Census of India, 1891: General Report (London, 1893), p. 144).
84 Raghavan, Sanskrit, p. 14.
85 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, pp. 88±9; see also Raghavan, Sanskrit, p. 14.
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 371
in their attitude to lifeÐmake them shut their eyes to the actual
conditions of life and merely hark back to an ideal past age'. On the
contrary, the wealth of words in its repertoire would allow Indians to
modernize and scientize without losing their nationality, and without
giving up their pride in being Indian, for when Sanskrit is used to
create new scienti®c and technological terminology, `there is not the
slightest feeling that the word is foreign or borrowed'.86 And for those
who doubted that Sanskrit contained words that would be adequate
for modern science, Raghavan assured them that `some of the sciences,
in their origins in the West, had their roots in or were intimately
connected with Sanskrit . . .' So, why then, he asked, `should
there be any antagonism between science and Sanskrit?' On the contrary,
Sanskrit would enable India to be authentically modern and
scienti®c, to be like the West without becoming the West. The West
had hitherto only recognized India's greatness in the spiritual and
literary realms. But Sanskritic texts had made fundamental contributions
towards the development of the physical sciences and mathematics
as well. It was necessary to take stock of these `for the history
of Chemistry or of Mathematics can be fully appreciated only by
making a thorough study of the Indian contribution to these subjects
[as embodied in Sanskrit] . . .'.87
The impossibility of incompatibility between Sanskrit and science
also ®nds frequent expression in the formulation that was widely
circulated among many proponents of `Hindu science', namely, that
Sanskrit is the world's most `scienti®c' language.88 So, Raja Ramanna,
one of India's leading nuclear physicists and chairman at one
time of its Atomic Energy Commission, has published a short pamphlet
entitled Sanskrit and Science in which he proposed that in its structure,
Sanskrit mirrors the structures of mathematics, geometry, and
logic. In the same vein, it is proposed that Panini's grammar `is the
®rst attempt in the history of the human mind to make a sort of
``chemical analysis'' of a language on scienti®c lines'; Baudhayana's
sutras from the sixth century BCE already contain the formula that
the world later associated with Pythagoras; and Brahmagupta had
discovered in seventh century CE what a thousand years later would
86 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, pp. 79, 197.
87 Raghavan, Sanskrit, p. 12; Report of the Sanskrit Commission, pp. 86±7.
88 For an important analysis of `Hindu science' as a means through which Hindu/
nationalist intellectuals used the authority of science to revalidate their ancient
scriptures, and recon®gured Hinduism as `scienti®c', see Gyan Prakash, `The
Modern Nation's Return in the Archaic', Critical Inquiry, 1997, 23(3), pp. 536±56.
372 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
be rediscovered as the Pellian equation in Europe.89 So, at this level,
Sanskrit enthusiasts appear to be subverting the old Orientalist
thematic that runs through nationalist thought as well, namely, that
the West was the realm of science, and the East, the abode of the
spirit. They argued instead that India, too, had contributed to the
sciences, far before the West had, and that a renewed study of Sanskrit
would allow both the West and modern Indians to become cognizant
of this fact. Sanskrit thus con®rmed the authenticity and
antiquity of `Indian' science, even as it provided the linguistic vehicle
through which this science could be revived and receive respectability
in the modern world.
All the same, the Commission did note that `every nation has some
contribution to make to the sum-total of human civilisation', and
that India's unique contribution lay in its special purchase on the
meaning of Ultimate Reality which was made available through Sanskrit.
`Sanskrit is a language which through its sonority and melli-
¯uousness has the power to lift us above ourselves . . .'. Because of
this power, Sanskrit was a `potent aid to the formation of character
and sense of exaltation'. So, in addition to the role that Sanskrit
would play in ensuring pan-Indian cultural and political unity, the
language would contribute to the moral, spiritual, and emotional
(re)integration of the citizenry into a uni®ed and harmonious whole.
Like the ideal Sanskrit scholar, every citizen exposed to Sanskrit
would be
actuated by the Principles of Dharma, and his actions towards all men,
towards all living beings as a matter of fact, [would] take a colouring from
the principles of Ahimsa or non-injury, of Karuna or Compassion, and of
Maitri or Friendly Service. A certain amount of Gentleness of Spirit, of
Humility, particularly in the matter of Unseen Forces of Life, of a desire to
give to the others their proper due, and an attitude of Tolerance with
regard to other people's faith and belief, and above all a certain moral
approach and earnestness [would] be noticeable . . .90
In the view of the Commission, the Sanskrit pandit was the paradigmatic
Indian, the model that every citizen ought to emulate.
So impressed was the Commission with the `dignity' and `solemnity'
that Sanskrit inevitably bestowed upon all that it touched
that it recommended to the Government that the language be
89 Raja Ramanna, Sanskrit and Science (Bombay, 1984).
90 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, pp. 83±4.
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 373
used widely for all formal state functions. Sanskrit ought to be
used for oath-taking by members of Parliament and state legislatures,
of electoral colleges as well as other of®cial bodies; the
swearing-in ceremonies of the President, governors, ministers,
judges, and so on should be conducted in Sanskrit; the sessions of
states legislatures and the Parliament, as well as governmentsponsored
national and international conferences, ought to begin
with the recitation of the Rig Vedic humn (X. 191.2±4) which
celebrates concord and unanimity, and should conclude with the
recitation of another Vedic hymn.91 Here, it is hard not to conclude
that the Commission's statements about the `dignity' and
`stateliness' of the language were a throwback to older notions
about the magical power of Sanskrit words, even as they represent
a secular adaptation to the needs of the modern state.
Since the language was ®lled with so much prestige and dignity,
when Indians imbibed its spirit, they, too, would acquire the selfrespect,
intellectual self-assurance, and self-con®dence that they so
badly needed to function in today's world:
Time and often, it has been seen that Indian youth abroad seem to be
carried away by the rushing stream of modern life, whether in England or
France or Germany or America, and they seem to accept everything on its
face-value, if they do not have the sense of balance and the ballast which
are furnished by an acquaintance with their own cultural moorings which
can be supplied only by Sanskrit and its literature . . .92
The Commission therefore recommended that from early childhood,
every Indian ought to be taught essential lessons of morality
and social conduct through Sanskrit, for the `importance of Sanskrit
as a great stabilizing force in lifeÐas a moral anchorÐcannot be
emphasized too strongly . . .' Its verses
breathe a high moral tone and display a precious note of what might be
called High and Serious Enlightenment. Persons who are attuned to this
spirit through an acquaintance from early childhood with verses of this type,
these Subhasitas . . . and who have been nurtured in the atmosphere of the
Ramayana and the Mahabharata, including the Gita, and also of the Upanishads,
have a balanced and cultured outlook upon life both of their own country
and of other countries which would be rare to ®nd in those who have
been denied all this . . . the message of Sanskrit read or chanted is that of
sursum corda, `lift up your hearts'.93
91 Ibid., pp. 191±2.
92 Ibid., p. 90.
93 Ibid., p. 84.
374 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
Given this, it is not surprising, Raghavan declared, that even `from
the sÂmasÂaÄna [graveyard] of destroyed values in the West, thinking
men are casting their hope-seeking looks eastward, and stretching
their hands into Sanskrit's granary for grains of sustaining wisdom
. . .'.94 Like Lakshmikanta Maitra and his colleagues in the Constituent
Assembly, Raghavan and his colleagues in the Sanskrit Commission
proposed that with the help of Sanskrit, the nation would ®rst
regenerate itself, politically, spiritually, and morally. Thus regenerated,
India would then rescue and revive all those other unfortunate
nations and cultures of the world that had lost their spiritual mooring
and their moral anchor.
The Sanskrit Commission's agenda thus was an old nationalist
agenda, with an important post-colonial twist. Much of what we hear
from its advocates about Sanskrit in the 1950s echoes what many a
(Hindu) nationalist had claimed for Hinduism in late colonial India.
In what Partha Chatterjee has identi®ed as its `moment of departure',
the national project picked up Hinduism as the means through
which to de®ne a distinctive and sovereign cultural identity for the
emergent nation, as well as to assert the superiority of India over
the materialist West. A revitalized Hinduism would ensure that its
citizens would continue to remain Indian even while learning the
ways of the West. In what we may characterize as the `moment of
departure' for nationalist thought in independent India, the project
remains the same, more or less, but the means of implementing it
undergo a radical transformation, on the surface at any rate, as language
primarily, and culture and morality, secondarily, are favored
over religion. This is not surprising, for the Commission functioned
under the mantle of a Constitution that had only recently declared
the nation to be `secular', and submitted its Report in a political
climate in which memories of Partition were still vivid, and the anti-
Hindu polemics of the Dravidian movement gathering momentum.
The spiritual, cultural and moral work of regeneration with which
Hinduism had been entrusted in an earlier period, was now thrust
upon language, and upon one language in particular, Sanskrit. In
that process, the overt connections of the language with Hinduism
were severed, even as the content and message of that religion were
selectively dredged up to provide the moral and emotional moorings
for a nation that was adrift but could hopefully be anchored down
by Sanskrit.
94 Raghavan, Sanskrit, p. 13.
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 375
Sanskritizing the Nation
In 1974, twenty or so years after he had chaired the Sanskrit Commission,
Suniti Kumar Chatterjee quoted with approval two Russian
scholars who had recently declared that it was hard, even impossible,
to imagine India without Sanskrit, and went on to remind Indians,
once again, that `Sanskrit is India. The progressive Uni®cation of the
Indian Peoples into a single Nation can correctly be described as the
Sanskritization of India'.95 So the question remains: to what extent
have advocates of Sanskrit succeeded, in the name of national `regeneration'
and `uni®cation', in Sanskritizing India? Important enough
as this question is, it has drawn little scholarly scrutiny, even as the
recent extension of support to Sanskrit by Hindu nationalism only
reminds us of the urgency of attending to this issue.96
As the Sanskrit Commission itself noted with satisfaction, there
are many signs of the symbolic importance accorded to Sanskrit in
independent India. The Constitution recognizes the nation by its
Sanskrit name, Bharata, and the Upanishadic saying, Satyam eva
jayate, `truth alone triumphs', has been adopted as the national
motto. The national anthem of India, we are told, is 90% Sanskrit
and 10% Sanskritic and `hence is understood all over India'. The
Government of India has of®cially adopted Sri and Srimati replacing
the English Mr and Mrs as honori®c forms of address. Various state
bodies and agenciesÐParliament, All India Radio, the Life Insurance
Corporation, and so onÐhave all adopted mottoes drawn from Sanskrit
literature, and even the Indian Navy has taken as its guiding
principle the Vedic prayer, sam no varunah.97
At the institutional level, in 1959, the Government of India
appointed the Central Sanskrit Board, made up of Sanskritists and
educationalists, as an advisory body that would coordinate state
efforts in the development and promotion of Sanskrit. In 1970, this
Board was replaced by the more high-powered Kendriya Sanskrit
95 Chatterjee, India, p. 32 (emphasis in original).
96 In terms that eerily resonate the assertions of the Sanskrit Commission, the
Vishva Hindu Parishad declared in a pamphlet published in 1991 that `to treat the
glorious Sanskrit language at par with Arabic, Persian or Urdu is madness' for `our
spirituality is our life-blood, it is the life of our national life. And Sanskrit is the
sole reservoir which conserves for us this spirituality, because at the very sound of
Sanskrit, the nation receives a kind of glory, power and right'. Accordingly, `the
preservation of Sanskrit' is enjoined to be `a divine task' (quoted in Bhattacharji,
`New Education Policy', pp. 2641±2).
97 Report of the Sanskrit Commission, p. 71.
376 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
Parishad consisting of representatives from various state governments,
central government agencies and ministries, as well as universities.
In addition to these agencies, a special branch of the Ministry
of Education and Social Welfare, called the Sanskrit Division,
also deals with government policy on Sanskrit. These agencies have
taken as their mandate the implementation of the proposals made
by the Sanskrit Commission in 1956, hence the centrality I have
accorded in this essay to its report. The schemes undertaken over
the next few decades have included cataloguing of rare manuscripts
and publishing of numerous text-books and journals in Sanskrit;
offering grants-in-aid to voluntary organizations as well as traditional
centers of Sanskritic learning; and the improvement of Sanskrit
pedagogy in schools and universities. Following the recommendations
of the Sanskrit Commission and the central government,
numerous state governments as well as the Union Territory of Delhi
did make the study of Sanskrit mandatory in schools, and in some
universities as well. Additionally, various All-India seminars, Sanskrit
elocution contests, Vedic conventions, and so on have been periodically
held under government sponsorship. Pension schemes have also
been instituted for indigent Sanskrit scholars and scholarships
awarded to students. The funds for these ventures have been provided
through the various Five-Year Plans which allocated Rs 5 lakhs
in 1956, Rs 75 lakhs in 1961 and Rs 2.75 crores in 1969. Not surprisingly,
given that the government promised ®nancial remuneration
to those institutions undertaking the spread of the language, a
dramatic increase in voluntary Sanskrit organizations (from 5 in
1958±59 to 500 in 1970±71) has been noted. These associations
conduct private examinations, publish manuals and guides for quick
and easy learning of the language, commemorate the birth and death
anniversaries of important Sanskrit literary ®gures, and arrange
public lectures. Older centers of Sanskritic learning have also been
revamped, and new institutions such as Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha
at Tirupati and the Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Kendriya Sanskrit
Vidyapeetha in New Delhi, were opened in the 1960s, with plans to
open other state-supported centers over the next few years.98
So, the lamentations of its supporters over the decline in state
patronage for Sanskrit during the past few centuries appear therefore
to have been answered at last, with the central government itself
98 Ibid., pp. 221±4; Sanskrit in India (New Delhi, 1972); Hock, `Spoken Sanskrit';
Bhate, `Position of Sanskrit in Public Education', pp. 391±400.
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 377
stepping in as a new and powerful patron. Indeed, as the Sanskrit
Commission noted, Sanskrit reaped an important dividend with the
reorganization of states on linguistic principles in the 1950s. From
then on, the development of India's regional languages became the
responsibility of various state governments, whereas Sanskrit,
because it was `state-less' and because it was declared to be key to
the maintenance of the nation's integrity, came directly under the
patronage of the Center, and stood therefore to bene®t from this,
materially as well as ideologically. Its supporters still continue to
complain that government patronage notwithstanding, the language
continues to decline for want of support; that efforts to transform it
into an everyday spoken language have all but failed; and that even
centers of Sanskritic learning frequently fall back on English, Hindi,
or the regional languages to teach Sanskrit.99 Nonetheless, not least
because of the intervention of the Sanskrit Commission and other
such organizations, Sanskrit has been assured a visibility in modern
India that has been denied to other languages, such as Persian, that
have played analogous roles in India's past.
But if Sanskrit has arguably pro®ted from being appropriated by
the nation, what gains has the nation made by associating itself with
the language? Why indeed have India's nationalizers, or at least
some of them, found Sanskrit to be so useful in imagining the nation?
As I have suggested, Sanskrit (re)emerges as the `great uni®er' at a
time that I have characterized, following Partha Chatterjee, as the
moment of departure for the nation on its post-colonial journey. It
inherits the task that had been assigned to Hinduism three-quarters
of a century ago, a task that had only rendered that religion suspect
and illegitimate for any kind of unifying role in independent India.
Sanskrit steps intoÐor is made to occupyÐthe breach vacated by
Hinduism, for like the latter, it too had been identi®ed by more than
two centuries of colonial-Orientalist scholarship as the `essence' of
India; it, too, could enable the emergent nation in being like the
West without becoming the West. But unlike Hinduism, it had not
become directly implicated in the divisive communal politics of the
pre-Partition years. The Sanskrit Commission indeed made sure, as
we have seen, to disavow all intimacies between Sanskrit and religiosity,
and between Sanskrit and Hinduism, instead offering the language
to the nation as the repository of its `culture' and `morality'.
99 Hock, `Spoken Sanskrit'; Bhate, `Position of Sanskrit in Public Education', pp.
394±5.
378 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
On another level, it is clear that as long as the troubled question
of an acceptable of®cial language of the union stands unresolved,
Sanskrit will continue to surface as a candidate, if only because, as
members of the Constituent Assembly were quick to point out, it is
nobody's `mother tongue', and every Indian is equally disadvantaged
with respect to it. So, ironically, this language of high privilege and
exclusivity can be put to work as the great leveler of the nation, to
ensure that all citizens had an equal start in the race for jobs and
bene®ts. Such a reasoning certainly unsettles the assumption that
the nation is about the forging of a `deep horizontal comradeship',
and the subordination of particular interests to the general, the individual
to the collective. India's linguistic crisis which turns around
the resistance to Hindi as the common link language, reminds us
that nationalism is not just about every member of the nation agreeing
to put their best foot forward and working towards a common
goal, as it is also about ensuring that no one citizen, or group of
citizens, has a head start. So, Naziruddin Ahmad was able to stand
up in the Constituent Assembly and declare: `I offer you a language
which is the grandest and the greatest, and it is impartially dif®cult,
equally dif®cult for all to learn'. Sanskrit, on the face of it, the most
hierarchical of all languages, would potentially guarantee, in its new
incarnation as `national language', the (linguistic) equality of the
nation's citizens.
And yet, as the ®rst part of Ahmad's statement also clearly reveals,
Sanskrit's hold on the collective imagination of so many Indians
cannot be satisfactorily explained by resorting to this kind of pragmatic,
even cynical, reasoning alone. The Sanskrit standard continues
to be raised, again and again, because it allows the nation to
mask its modernity, its `astonishing youth', its newness. As Sudipta
Kaviraj rightly points out:
The nation, India . . . is a thing without a past. It is radically modern. It
can only look for subterfuges of antiquity. It fears to face and admit its own
terrible modernity, because to admit modernity is to make itself vulnerable.
As a proposal for modern living, on a scale quite unprecedented . . ., in a
society still knowing only one legitimizing criterionÐtraditionÐit must
seek to ®nd past disguises for these wholly modern proposals.100
By attaching itself to Sanskrit, the nation can make up for an
absence of antiquity by borrowing from Sanskrit's antiquity; it can
100 Sudipta Kaviraj, `The Imaginary Institution of India', in Subaltern Studies VII:
Writings on South Asian History and Society (Delhi, 1993), p. 13.
SANSKRIT FOR THE NATION 379
gloss over its lack of continuity by hiding behind Sanskrit's apparent
depth; it can reaf®rm its own unity and authenticity by pointing to
Sanskrit's claims to unity and authenticity. But, as this essay has
sought to demonstrate, the nation's attempt to create an aura of
antiquity, autonomy and authenticity for itself by appropriating Sanskrit
involves, at the very least, a dramatic recasting of Sanskrit, and
its re-presentation to the nation, no longer as the sacred language
of one of its communities, but as the language of `culture' and `morality'
for all its constituents; as not just the repository of ancient
`wit' and `wisdom', but as the very guarantor of an authentic modern
science; and above all, as not just a mandarin language of high privilege
and learning, but as an everyday language of even the humblest
of its citizens. Such a recasting and re-presentation which underpins
what I have referred to as the `nationalization' of Sanskrit, has not
been without its share of contradictions and ironies. Not the least
of these, and here I paraphrase Sheldon Pollock, is that this language
of the gods and of pristine perfection can assure itself of a place in
the modern nation only by mixing it up, so to speak, in the mundane
world of mere humans.
Postscript
Quaint, even absurd, though the claims of the Sanskrit Commission
may appear, in its own Report and no doubt in my rendering of
these, they clearly are but re¯ections of the troubling dilemmas of
imagining the nation in colonial and post-colonial contexts. The
advocates of Sanskrit in the Constituent Assembly and in the Sanskrit
Commission, as indeed most Indian nationalists, functioned
with the Herderian assumption, inherited from their colonial masters
and predecessors, that to be a nation meant the possession of a
`national' langauge that would serve one and all, and that would be
the repository of the national essence even as it knitted the community
into a uni®ed whole. In forging language policies around such
an assumption, nations like India with linguistic pasts that did not
approximate those of the West, nevertheless committed themselves
to a linguistic trajectory that would bring them in line with Europe's
modernity. From this point of view, the Sanskrit Commission's advocacy
of Sanskrit seems both subversive and tragic. Subversive because
in seeking to revamp an ancient mandarin language that was
nobody's `mother tongue' and institute it as the of®cial language of
380 SUMATHI RAMASWAMY
a modern nation, the Commission at least dared to pursue an alternate
imagination which did not replicate the historical experience of
the West. Tragic because in the end, its advocates made their case
by deploying the logic of (western) nationalism and modernity, and
by recasting Sanskrit in the image of other national tongues. In the
nationalization of Sanskrit, as with so much else in the colonial and
post-colonial world, difference struggles with and ultimately loses out
to sameness.
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Rocher, Ludo. 1967. Le probleÁme linguistique en Inde. Brusells.
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Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. New York, pp. 3651±4.
Sanskrit in India. 1972. New Delhi.
Schwab, Raymond. 1974. The Oriental Renaissance: Europe's Discovery of India and the
East, 1680±1880. New York.
http://econ.tu.ac.th/class/archan/somboon/on%20thai%20economic%20history/ramaswamy.pdf
Notes:
Robert Goldman is a Professor of Sanskrit in South and Southeast Asian Studies Department, University of California, Berkeley. His orientation in studyding Ramayana may be seen from the abstract of a paper he presented in a workshop on 19-24 June 2000 |held in Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies University of British Columbia:
[quote] Robert Goldman, University of California at Berkley  "Resisting Rama: Ethical and other Debates in Valmiki's Ramayana."
One strand of recent scholarship has focussed on the important and neglected topic of folk and vernacular versions of the Rama story in which the hegemonic discourse of patriarchy and social hierarchy that lies close to the heart of Valmiki's Ramayana is contested by a representatives of a variety of subaltern groups. The present paper will, however, examine some episodes in Valmiki's poem itself in which characters representing varying degrees of "subalternity" question or contest the dominant ideology of the poet and his central hero. This examination will, it is hoped, serve to shed some additional light on the ideological underpinnings of the great epic and its role in the formation of the culture and society of South Asia. [unquote]
http://www.iar.ubc.ca/ramayana/update1.html#Robert%20Goldman
His profile can be seen to be consistent with the Wendy Doniger school of psychoanalysis of ancient texts of Bharata (not unlike the psychoanalysis work of Paul Courtwright about Ganes’a):
[quote] Robert P. Goldman (South & Southeast Asian Studies)Professor Robert P. Goldman is Professor of Sanskrit. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania (Oriental Studies) in 1971. His areas of scholarly interest include Sanskrit literature and literary theory, Indian Epic Studies, and psychoanalytically oriented cultural studies. He has published widely in these areas, authoring several books and dozens of scholarly articles. He is perhaps best known for his work as the Director, General Editor, and a principal translator of a massive and fully annotated translation of the critical edition of the Valmiki Ramayana. His work has been recognized by several awards and fellowships including election as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. [unquote]
http://buddhiststudies.berkeley.edu/people/faculty_profiles.html#goldman
Sanskrit knowledge systems on the eve of colonialism :National Endowment for the Humanties Proposal (2003)
Overview of project

Panel presentation

Overview
The Sanskrit Knowledge-Systems Project investigates the structure and social context of Sanskrit science and knowledge from 1550 to 1750. The period witnessed a flowering of scholarship lasting until the coming of colonialism, when a decline set in that ended the age-old power of Sanskrit thought to shape Indian intellectual history. Ten scholars will inventory, collect, and analyze this scholarship in selected disciplines from four regional complexes (the disciplines include: language philosophy, logic-epistemology, law, astral science, medicine). Social-historical data on the intellectuals will be collected in a prosopographical archive. The outcome will be a volume of essays, the first of its kind, on forms of knowledge in India on the threshold of colonialism, examining at once the discourse of scholar-ship, its social life, and regional character. The bio-bibliographical archive, along with manuscripts of important unpublished works, will also be made available on a website. The project will contribute to future comparative histories of Indo-Persian and vernacular science of the period and, more broadly, of early-modern Indian and European thought.
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Published Articles
  1. Bronner, Yigal. 'Back to the Future: Appayya Diksita's Kuvalayananda and the Rewriting of Sanskrit Poetics.' Wiener Zeitschrift f? Kunde S?ns, forthcoming.

  2. Bronner, Yigal. 'What is New and What is Navya: Sanskrit Poetics on the Eve of Colonialism.' Journal of Indian Philosophy 30(5), 2002, pp. 441-62.

  3. Ganeri, Jonardon. 'Traditions of truth: Gangesa on svatah-pramanya.' Journal of Indian Philosophy , forthcoming.

  4. Ganeri, Jonardon. 'On the logic of public reason: Jaina logic and the philosophical basis of pluralism.' History and Philosophy of Logic 23 (2002), pp. 267-281.

  5. Houben, Jan. 'The Brahmin Intellectual: History, Ritual and "Time Out of Time".' Journal of Indian Philosophy 30(5), 2002, pp. 463-79.

  6. Houben, Jan. '"Verschriftlung" and the relation between the pramanas in the History of Samkhya.' Etudes des Lettres 2001,3: La Rationalite in Asie/Rationality in Asia, edited by Johannes Bronkhorst, pp. 165-94(*with minor additions*).

  7. Houben, Jan. '"Semantics" in the Sanskrit Tradition on the Eve of Colonialism'(ms.).

  8. McCrea, Lawrence. 'Novelty of Form and Novelty of Substance in Seventeenth Century Mimamsa.' Journal of Indian Philosophy 30 (5), 2002, pp. 481-94.

  9. Minkowski, Christopher. 'Nilakantha's Instruments of War: Modern, Vernacular, Barbarous.'Indian Economic and Social History Review, forthcoming.

  10. Minkowski, Christopher. 'A Nineteenth Century Sanskrit Treatise on the Revolution of the Earth: Govinda Deva's Bhumibhramana.' SCIAMUS, forthcoming.

  11. Minkowski, Christopher. 'Nilakantha and His Historical Context.' Orient (Moscow Academy of Sciences), forthcoming.

  12. Minkowski, Christopher. 'On Suryadasa and the Invention of Bi-directional Poetry (vilomakavya).' Journal of the American Oriental Society, forthcoming.

  13. Minkowski, Christopher. 'Nilakantha's Vedic Readings in the Harivamsa Commentary.' In ed. Petteri Koskikallio, Proceedings of the Third Dubrovnik Conference on the Sanskrit Epics and Puranas, forthcoming.

  14. Minkowski, Christopher. 'The Vedastuti and Vedic Studies: Nilakantha on Bhagavata Purana X.87.' In eds. J.E.M. Houben and A. Griffiths, Proceedings of the Third International Vedic Studies Workshop, forthcoming.

  15. Minkowski, Christopher. 'Meanings Numerous and Numerical: Nilakantha and Magic Squares in the Rgveda.' Festschrift Elizarenkova, forthcoming.

  16. Minkowski, Christopher. 'Competing Cosmologies in Early Modern Indian Astronomy.' In eds. Charles Burnett, Jan Hogendijk, and Kim Plofker, Ketuprakasa: studies in the history of the exact sciences in honor of David Pingree , (Leiden: Brill, 2004) 349-85.

  17. Minkowski, Chritopher Z. 'Astr onomers and Their Reasons: Working Paper on Jyotihsastra.' Journal of Indian Philosophy 30 (5), 2002, pp. 495-514.

  18. Minkowski, Christopher Z. 'The Pandit as Public Intellectual: the Controversy of Virodha or Inconsistency in the Astronomical Sciences.' In Axel Michaels (ed.), The pandit. Proceedings of the conference in honour of Dr. K. P. Aithal. Heidelberg: Sudasien Institute, 2001. pp. 79-96.

  19. Minkowski, Christopher Z. (forthcoming). 'Nilakantha Caturdhara and the Genre of Mantrarahasyaprakasika.' In Y. Ikari (ed.), Proceedings of the Second International Vedic Workshop. Kyoto.

  20. Pollock, Sheldon, ed. Theory and Method in Indian Intellectual History (papers of the EPHE seminar, Paris, June 2004), Journal of Indian Philosophy, forthcoming.

  21. Pollock, Sheldon, ed. Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern South Asia. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East vol. 24.2 (2004).

  22. Pollock, Sheldon. 'The Bhattadinakara of Dinakara Bhatta (1.3), a Seventeenth-century Treatise on Mimamsa. Edited for the first time, with an Introduction.' Wiener Zeitschrift f? Kunde S?ns, forthcoming.

  23. Pollock, Sheldon. 'Literary Culture and Manuscript Culture in Precolonial India.' In Simon Eliot, Andrew Nash, Ian Willison, eds. History of the Book and Literary Cultures. British Library, forthcoming.

  24. Pollock, Sheldon.>'Introduction.' In Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern South Asia. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, vol. 24.2 (2004), pp. 19-21.

  25. Pollock, Sheldon. 'The Meaning of dharma and the Relationship of the Two Mimamsas: Appayya Diksita?s "Discourse on the Refutation of a Unified Knowledge-System of Purvamimamsa and Uttaramimamsa".' In Patrick Olivelle, ed. Dharma (Journal of Indian Philosophy 32.5, December 2004), pp. 769-811.

  26. Pollock, Sheldon.'The Languages of Science in Early-Modern India.' In K. Preisendanz, ed. Halbfass Commemoration Volume Vienna: Akademie der Wissenschaften, in press .

  27. Pollock, Sheldon. 'Introduction: Working Papers on Sanskrit Knowledge Systems on the Eve of Colonialism.' Journal of Indian Philosophy 30 (5), 2002, pp. 431-9.

  28. Pollock, Sheldon (2001a). 'New intellectuals in seventeenth-century India.' In Nita Kumar (ed.), The dilemma of the Indian intellectual, vol. 38.1 of Indian Economic and Social History Review, special issue, pp. 3-31. New Delhi and London: Sage.

  29. Pollock, Sheldon (2001b). 'The death of Sanskrit.' Comparative Studies in History and Society, 43(2), 392-426.

  30. Pollock, Sheldon. 'Indian Knowledge Systems on the Eve of Colonialism.'Intellectual History Newsletter 22 (2000): 1-16.

  31. Preisendanz, Karin.'Indische Philosophen in vorkolonialer Zeit.' In Karin Preisendanz und Dietmar Rothermund, eds., S?n in der Neuzeit. 1500-2000.Wien: Edition Weltregionen 2003, pp. 47-71.

  32. Wujastyk, Dominik. 'Change and Creativity in Early Modern {Indian}Medical Thought.' Journal of Indian Philosophy forthcoming.

  33. Wujastyk, Dominik. 'An Argument with Medicine and a Search for Manuscripts.' Friends of the Wellcome Library & Centre for the History of Medicine: Newsletter Vol. 32, Spring 2004, pp. 6-9.

  34. Wujastyk, Dominik. 'The Evolution of Government Policy on Ayurveda in the Twentieth Century.' In Pluralism and Paradigms in Modern and Global Ayurveda, ed. Dagmar Benner and Fred Smith, SUNY Press (in preparation).

  35. Wujastyk, Dominik. Forward to Catalogue of Jyotisa Manuscripts in the Wellcome Library. Sanskrit Astral and Mathematical Literature. Wellcome Library & Centre for the History of Medicine, 2004.

  36. Wujastyk, Dominik. 'The Rogarogavada of Viresvara: A Critical Edition and Translation.' Indian Journal of History of Science, forthcoming.

  37. Wujastyk, Dominik. 'Medicine and Dharma.' Journal of Indian Philosophy, forthcoming.

  38. Wujastyk, Dominik. 'Indian medicine on the eve of Colonialism.' International Institute for Asian Studies Newsletter, Vol. 31 (July 2003), p. 21.
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Panel at the Association for Asian Studies, Annual Meeting
Sanskrit Knowledge-Systems on the Eve of Colonialism
Chicago, March 2001
Organizer and Chair
Sheldon Pollock, University of Chicago   s-pollock@uchicago.edu
Presenters
   Madhav Deshpande, University of Michigan  mmdesh@umich.edu    Christopher Minkowski, Cornell University  czm1@cornell.edu    Gary Tubb, Columbia University   gat4@columbia.edu    Sheldon Pollock
Discussant
Robert Goldman, U. of California, Berkeley  sseas@socrates.Berkeley.EDU
This panel explores problems concerning the conceptual structure and social context of Sanskrit knowledge from roughly 1550 to 1750. This period witnessed a flowering of scholarship that continued until the coming of colonialism, when a precipitous decline set in that eroded the millennia-old power of Sanskrit thought to shape Indian intellectual history. Little research has been devoted to the scholarship, intellectuals, and sociality of knowledge in this epoch. Accordingly, we understand little of what it was about the Sanskrit knowledge then produced that made it so vulnerable to colonial modernity. The seventeenth-century was a period of remarkable innovation in many ways, innovation now sometimes anachronistically misinterpreted as traditionalism. Minkowski shows how a commentator on the great Indian epic deployed a new style of interpretation to read the entire Mahabharata as a Vedic allegory, and seeks to find contextual grounds for this new mode of reading. Tubb examines the remarkable confrontation with European knowledge in the exact sciences at the Jaipur court in the early eighteenth-century, when orthodox beliefs were consciously abandoned in the face of new paradigms. Deshpande explores the role of Sanskrit studies in the polity of the Peshwas, the successors of the Marathas, who attempted to arrest the erosion of Sanskrit scholarship seen in many other parts of the subcontinent. Finally, Pollock examines the languages of scholarship in early-modern South Asia, and tries to understand why the process of vernacularization so powerfully evidenced in the literary sphere was resisted in the domain of science.
"On the Success of Nilakantha's Commentary" Christopher Minkowski Cornell University
Nilakantha Caturdhara, who flourished in Banaras in the second half of the 17th Century, produced the only commentary on the Mahabharata that is widely used in Sanskrit studies today. Yet, when attention turns to the content of his commentary Nilakantha is.often found by modern scholars to be a disappointment or an annoyance, on account of his "fanciful interpretations," and his "Vedantic allegorizing." Why then has his commentary appeared regularly with the Mahabharata since the early days of its publication? Is it safe to suppose that Nilakantha represents the "traditional" understanding of the text?
It is an achronism to expect Nilakantha to share our particular type of historical consciousness of texts. And yet it is anachronism of another kind to find in his commentary the expression of an "orthodox Hindu consciousness." Nilakantha tells us that he proposes to read the Mahabharata in a way that no previous commentator has done, in order to reveal its hidden sense. Perhaps it is exactly this "mystical allegorizing" that distinguished Nilakantha's work, found favor in his own day, and accounted for the wide dissemination of his work. On this view, his commentary attained prominence exactly for the features that Indologists have most deplored, features that were his innovations by design, though they appear commonplace to us today. Can we further suppose that the times in which Nilakantha lived called this new commentary forth, and that the revelation of a previously undiscovered inner sense formed the terms in which innovation was valued in early-modern Banaras?
"Sanskrit Traditions during the Rule of the Peshwas: Maintenance and Transition" Madhav M. Deshpande University of Michigan
The rule of the Peshwas, the Brahmin prime-ministers of Shivaji's descendants, represents one of the most important example of pre-colonial Indian governance. Its beginning in 1690s connects it with the older medieval patterns, while its end at the hand of the British armies in 1818 marks an important transition to colonialism. Since the British captured Pune, the capital of the Peshwas, without destroying it, they came to possess the entire official records of the Peshwas, and it is through these massive collections of documents dealing with almost every dimension of official and private life of the Peshwas, that one can reconstruct a detailed picture of the period. The Sanskrit traditions of learning form an important part of the life of this epoch, and the present paper offers glimpses of the circumstances under which the Sanskrit traditions found themselves during this period. The Peshwas not only supported the Sanskrit traditions through official donations of large sums each year to thousands of Sanskrit scholars, the Sanskrit traditions were at the very core of the Peshwa mentality and their cultural and political framework. This is seen in the decisive role played by these traditions in legal decision-making at the Peshwa court, their military time-tables, and the perceived needs reflected in their correspondence. At the same time, the Europeans are appearing on the scene and their ways are beginning to make an impact. The present paper offers insights into these transitions.
"Competing Systems of Knowledge in the Court of Jayasimha" Gary Tubb Columbia University
The court of Savai Jayasimha of Jaipur is a remarkable site for studying the sociality of Sanskrit knowledge in early eighteenth-century India. Although scholars working in the Persianate order typically drew inspiration from sources different from those of Sanskrit, this was not true in the exact sciences, in part because Persianate and Sanskrit scholars both relied on shared Greek sources, in part because they worked side by side. Jayasimha gave financial aid to at least a dozen Muslim scholars. In the introduction to his great Zij-i- Muhammad Shahi, prepared for presentation to the Mughal emperor, the king himself remarks on the history of Islamic astronomical tables. Jayasimha's court also provides extensive examples of direct engagement with European thought. Jayasimha writes of the discrepancy between his own observations and his calculations based on the European tables procured from Lisbon. This constitutes one instance in which we know precisely why a Sanskrit knowledge system was replaced by a European one: as Jayasimha patiently demonstrated to himself through a series of practical experiments, the European system gave more accurate results.
Jayasimha was a man at the center of some vigorous disputes on sources of knowledge, and one who, despite very strong sentimentally orthodox leanings, ended up abandoning a traditional system because of the greater empirical success of a new European one (in this case, Copernican astronomy with heliocentric elliptical orbits)---a factor that may have operated fairly widely in the larger demise of Sanskrit knowledge systems.
"The Languages of Science in Early-modern India" Sheldon Pollock University of Chicago
One of the key factors in the modernization of knowledge production in seventeenth-century Europe was the transformation of the vernaculars into languages of science (as for example in the work of Bacon, Descartes, or Galileo). Although South Asia shared a comparable history of vernacularization in the area of literary production, Sanskrit persisted as the exclusive code for most areas of science, and scholarship more generally, outside the Persianate cultural sphere. This paper examines the relationship between language and knowledge during the period 1550-1750. It seeks first to delineate the boundaries of this relationship in terms of disciplines and regions, and then to lay out the presuppositions in Sanskrit language philosophy that militated against the vernacularization of scientific discourse. A useful orientation to the latter problem, which summarizes the dominant position of Sanskrit intellectuals on the eve of colonialism, is.the work of the great scholar Khandadeva on scriptural hermeneutics from mid-seventeenth- century Banaras.
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Panel at the Association for Asian Studies, Annual Meeting
Sanskrit Knowledge-Systems on the Eve of Colonialism II
Washington, April 2002
Organizer
Lawrence McCrea, University of Chicago   ljmccrea@midway.uchicago.edu
Chair
Sheldon Pollock, University of Chicago   s-pollock@uchicago.edu
Presenters
    Yigal Bronner, Tel-Aviv University  ybronner@post.tau.ac.il     Jan E. M. Houben, Leiden University  J.E.M.Houben@let.leidenuniv.nl     Lawrence McCrea, University of Chicago  ljmccrea@midway.uchicago.edu     Christopher Minkowski, Cornell University  czm1@cornell.edu
This panel continues to present the ongoing work of the NEH funded collaborative research project "Sanskrit Knowledge Systems on the Eve of Colonialism," exploring the objectives, methods, and institutional dynamics of Sanskrit intellectual life in the period from roughly 1550 to 1750. This period saw a tremendous explosion of intellectual production in a variety of disciplines, producing new genres, discursive modes, and lines of affiliation and conflict both within and across disciplines. As the project enters its data-gathering phase, the participants are able to work toward a more historically nuanced and sociologically grounded understanding of the practices of Sanskrit intellectuals in this period.
McCrea considers the guarded and selective deployment of the precise formal techniques which characterize "New Logic" by the key figure in 17th century "new" scriptural hermeneutics. Bronner explores the special character of the dialectic between innovative and traditional currents in the work of three major "new" poetic theorists. Minkowski's paper examines the attempt of one 16th century astronomer to reconcile in a new way the tension between empirical observation and scriptural accounts of cosmology, and the controversy that ensued from this restructuring of exisiting astronomical models. Houben's exploration of the role of Vedic ritual in the pre-colonial period in relation to larger cultural practices, such as the continuing vitality of Sanskrit, prompts a more general reconsideration of ritual theory as such.
"Novelty of Form and Novelty of Substance in Seventeenth Century Mimamsa" Lawrence McCrea University of Chicago
The late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries saw the rise in several fields-- grammar, poetics, and scriptural hermeneutics (Mimamsa)-- of intellectual movements styling themselves "new" (navya). This idea of "newness" was certainly modelled on that of the already well-established school of "New Logic" (Navya Nyaya) which had existed at least since the thirteenth century, and was in part founded on the application in new areas of the precise formal and definitional techniques devised by the new logicians.
Yet the relationship between these "new" movements and Navya Nyaya was never one of simple imitation. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the field of Mimamsa. Khandadeva, the scholar generally recognized as the founder of "New Mimamsa", avoids the wholesale incorporation of the formal tools of new logic found in other fields in this period. He makes extensive use of them when arguing with the logicians themselves, but only rarely and very selectively applies them in confronting the key "internal" problems of Mimamsa in this period. Treating Khandadeva as a case study, the paper will consider the impact of these formal techniques in 17th century Sanskrit intellectual life. Does the rigorously formal discourse of the new logicians in some sense force itself on the intellectuals of this period? Can one respond to the arguments of the new logicians only by in some measure adopting their terms, making it difficult to resist assimilation to their formal discursive method?
"What is New and What is Navya: Sanskrit Poetics on the Eve of Colonialism" Yigal Bronner Tel-Aviv University
Remarkable new trends characterize Sanskrit Poetics (alamkarasastra) in the late pre-colonial era. Authors adopt a discursive pattern compatible with that of the logicians, compose in new genres such as the hostile commentary (khandana), show a fresh interest in the history of their tradition and work across disciplines at a rate hitherto unknown. Yet the relationship between such tendencies, rightly seen as the trademarks of a New (navya) Poetics, and actual theoretical innovation is far from simple.
This is partly the result of features that set poetics aside from other new schools of the day. Alamkarasastra never possessed a core-text to provide it with universally accepted foundations and, at the same time, it had to come to terms with an ever evolving textual tradition-- poetry. The discipline was thus highly susceptible to radical innovations, yet it also strove to preserve or even manufacture a tradition for itself. Both these tendencies became manifest through the highly novel idiom of the period, sometimes even within the works of a single author.
The paper sets out to explore this paradox of the New Poetics by briefly examining the lives and works of three of its key figures: The South-Indian polymath Appayya Diksita (c. 1550), who in many ways founded the movement, winning immense reputation but also many rivals; Benares's Jagannatha Panditaraja (c. 1625), Appayya's most vehement opponent and a poet and scholar in his own right, and the Almora based Visvesvara (c. 1730), a highly innovative traditionalist and a critic of both.
"Turtles All the Way Down? Tradition and Experiment in Cosmological Reasoning" Christopher Minkowski Cornell University
In 1503 the astronomer Jnanaraja completed the Siddhantasundara, the first general treatise on astronomy to appear in Sanskrit in three and a half centuries. In one chapter of the work, Jnanaraja re-opened a cosmological problem: how to reconcile the spherical, geocentric model of the astronomers with the flat-earth cosmology of the sacred literature, the Puranas. Jnanaraja sought to reconsider the position of accommodation reached by earlier astronomers, especially Bhaskara (11th Ct.). Jnanaraja argued against Bhaskara concerning the support of the earth, its power to attract objects, and the 'down-ness of down.' These proposals and others touched off a new round of cosmological debate in Sanskrit that continued into the 18th Century.
The history of Jnanaraja's ideas opens into a larger historical problem - how to place the Siddhantic astronomers in the wider intellectual history of Sanskrit authors. A way into the problem lies in asking an underlying question - in what would a satisfying "reconciliation" of Puranas and Siddhantas consist? One finds a growing interest among the astronomers of this period in integrating the method of astronomy with the Pramana system of proof that was developed in the principal sastras, especially logic. In discussing cosmology, astronomers were willing to put into play their three forms of gaining certainty and their mutual relations: evidence from observed phenomena, mathematical calculation, and textual authority.
"Ritual as Medium in Pre-colonial South Asia" Jan E. M. Houben University of Leiden
The strong presence of ritual, especially Vedic ritual, could be part of the explanation of a number of remarkable features of the South Asian cultural area, to begin with the persistence over millennia of Sanskrit as widely used cultured language. For a better understanding of the capacities and limitations of ritual as medium next to a number of other media, the pre-colonial period is of special interest, as (a) relatively detailed sources - though so far insufficiently explored and studied - are available, (b) developments in India were still largely having their own momentum, with only limited influence from Europe, and (c) an important alternative medium which would become of major significance in transforming South Asian culture both at the hands of colonizers (the British) and colonized (e.g. in Bengal, Maharashtra), viz. the printing press (technologically advanced form of writing with quite special features), was still largely marginal in South Asia.
In order to come to grips with "Ritual as Medium" a suitable theoretical model is to be developed. Staal's theory of "meaningless ritual" is the most recent attempt at rigorous theorizing of the oldest ritual system of which we have elaborate sources, viz. Vedic ritual. At first sight it seems unsuitable as theoretical basis for dealing with Ritual as Medium. Nevertheless, it provides a startingpoint from which a useful theory may be developed when some recent contributions by other scholars on ritual are taken into account. The theory will be illustrated with references to a few cases in pre-colonial South Asia.
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Panel at the Association for Asian Studies, Annual Meeting
Sanskrit Knowledge-Systems on the Eve of Colonialism III
New York, March 2003
Organizer
      Dominik Wujastyk, Wellcome Institute   d.wujastyk@ucl.ac.uk
Chair       Sheldon Pollock, University of Chicago  s-pollock@uchicago.edu Discussant
      Sudipta Kaviraj, School of Oriental and African Studies
Presenters
      Dominik Wujastyk, Wellcome Institute   d.wujastyk@ucl.ac.uk       Karin Preisendanz, University of Vienna   Karin.Preisendanz@univie.ac.at       Johannes Bronkhorst, University of Lausanne  Johannes.Bronkhorst@orient.unil.ch       Jonardon Ganeri, University of Liverpool  jonardon@liverpool.ac.uk  
Panel Abstract  
"Change and Creativity in Early Modern Indian Medical Thought"
Dominik Wujastyk
Wellcome Institute
"The Production of Philosophical Literautre in South Asia during the Pre-colonial Period (15th to 18th Centuries): The Case of the Nyayasutra Commentarial Tradition"
Karin Preisendanz
Institute of South Asian, Tibetan, and Buddhist Studies
"Bhattoji Diksita on Sphota"
Johannes Bronkhorst
University of Lausanne
"The New and Old in Seventeenth Century Indian Logic: The Case of Gokulanatha Upadhyaya"
Jonardon Ganeri
University of Liverpool
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Conference in Association with ɣole Pratique des Hautes ɴudes, Sciences historiques et philologiques (Paris), and International Institute for Asian Studies (Leiden, Pays-Bas)
Colloque Thie et Mode dans l?histoire intellectuel de l?Inde ? Seminar Theory and Method in Indian Intellectual History
Date: 28-29 juin/June 2004 Lieux: ɣole Pratique des Hautes ɴudes, Sciences religieuses (SR) et Sciences historiques et philologiques (SHP)
Organizers
      Jan Houben, ɣole Pratique des Hautes ɴudes   J_E_M_Houben@yahoo.com
      Sheldon Pollock, University of Chicago  s-pollock@uchicago.edu Discussants
      Sudipta Kaviraj, School of Oriental and African Studies      Christian Jakob, Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique         Francis Zimmerman, ɣole Pratique des Hautes ɴudes       Peter van der Veer, Utrecht University  
Presenters
      Karin Preisendanz, University of Vienna   Karin.Preisendanz@univie.ac.at       Jonardon Ganeri, University of Liverpool   jonardon@liverpool.ac.uk       Dominik Wujastyk, Wellcome Institute   d.wujastyk@ucl.ac.uk      Christopher Minkowski, Cornell University   czm1@cornell.edu       Madhav Deshpande, University of Michigan   mmdesh@umich.edu       Yigal Bronner, Tel Aviv University   ybronner@post.tau.ac.il      Gary Tubb, Columbia University   gat4@columbia.edu      Lawrence McCrea, Harvard University   ljmccrea@fas.harvard.edu      Johannes Bronkhorst, University of Lausanne Johannes.Bronkhorst@orient.unil.ch       Jan Houben, ɣole Pratique des Hautes ɴudes   J_E_M_Houben@yahoo.com
      Sheldon Pollock, University of Chicago  s-pollock@uchicago.edu
Programme et titres, Programme and titles, 28-29 June 2004

Jour 1 (Lundi 28 juin 2004):

Session 1 (EPHE-SR, Salle Marcel Mauss):
9:00-9:15 Introduction to the seminar, J. Houben and S. Pollock9:15-9:45 Confnce d?ouverture : P.-S. Filliozat, La place de Nagesa dans la grammaire indienne9:45-10:15 Contribuant 1 K. Preisendanz (Text, Commentary, Annotation: Some Reflections on the Philosophical Genre)10:15-10:45 Contribuant 2 J. Ganeri (The situated interpreter: questions of method in the study of Indian intellectual history)   Pause 10:45-11:1511:15-12:00 Rnse A ? S. Kaviraj + F. Zimmermann + discussion grale? Pause de midi : 12:00 - 14:00
Session 2 (EPHE-SR, Salle Marcel Mauss):
14:00-14:30? Contribuant 3 D. Wujastyk (Problems in the History of Indian Medicine)14:30-15:00? Contribuant 4 C. Minkowski (Jyotihsastra: the uses of the history and philosophy of science)15:00-15:30? Contribuant 5 M. Deshpande (Localizing the Universal Dharma: puranas, nibandhas and nirnayapatras in medieval Maharashtra)   Pause : 15:30-16:0016:00-16:45? Rnse B ? F. Zimmermann + C. Jacob + discussion grale
Jour 2 (Mardi 29 juin 2004):

Session 3 (EPHE-SHP, Salle Gaston Paris):
9:15-10:15 Contribuants 6 et 7: Y. Bronner and G. Tubb (Vastutas tu: Methodology and the New school of Sanskrit poetics)10:15-10:45 Contribuant 8 L. McCrea (Playing with the System: Fragmentation and Individualization in Late Pre-colonial Mimamsa)   Pause : 10:45-11:1511:15-12:00 Rnse C ? S. Kaviraj + C. Jacob + discussion grale? Pause de midi : 12:00 - 14:00
Session 4 (EPHE-SR, Salle Marcel Mauss):
14:00-14:30? Contribuant 9 J. Bronkhorst (Innovation in seventeenth century grammatical philosophy: appearance or reality?)14:30-15:00? Contribuant 10 J. Houben (Bhattoji Diksita's "small step" for a grammarian and "giant leap" for Sanskrit grammar)15:00-15:30 Contribuant 11 S. Pollock (Four problems in the history of Indian political thought)   Pause : 15:30-16:0016:00-16:45 Rnse D ? P. van der Veer + S. Kaviraj + discussion grale
http://dsal.uchicago.edu/sanskrit/papers/index.html

Substance and context
Methods and objectives
Work plan

History and duration
Data collection
Product and dissemination

Project staff
Prosopography
References


Text Analysis


Substance and Context
The two centuries before European colonialism established itself decisively in the Indian subcontinent (ca. 1550-1750) constitute one of the most innovative eras in Sanskrit intellectual history. Thinkers began to work across disciplines far more intensively than ever before, to produce new formulations of old problems, to employ a strikingly new discursive idiom and present their ideas in what were often new genres of scholarly writing. Concurrent with the spread of European power in the mid-eighteenth century, however, this dynamism began to diminish. By the end of the century, the tradition of Sanskrit systematic thought-which for two millennia or more constituted one of the most remarkable cultural formations in world history-had more or less vanished as a force in shaping Indian intellectual life, to be replaced by other kinds of knowledge based on different principles of knowing and acting in the world.
In these two phases of history lie the core issues of this research project: the nature of the "knowledge systems" or scholarly disciplines in India on the eve of colonial rule, and the fact of their decline in the face of the new epistemological and social regime of European modernity. In order to understand these developments, contributors to the Knowledge Systems Project will undertake four linked tasks: inventory the intellectual production in seven disciplines during this period; collect unpublished manuscripts and documents from archives in South Asia; create a bibliographical and prosopographical database derived from printed and manuscript sources; study selected Sanskrit works according to a uniform analytical matrix. The results will be collected in a book that will be the first to offer an account of the Sanskrit disciplines and the intellectuals who produced them at the moment both were about to be transformed utterly.
Modern scholarship is silent on just about everything concerning the two central problematics of this project. We do not understand how to account for what appears to have been an explosion of intellectual production in Sanskrit in the seventeenth century. We have no acceptable account of the salient scholarly thematics of the period for individual disciplines, let alone across them; or of the key contributions of the major thinkers, the dominant modes of argument, the criteria of judgment. We know little of the conversations and controversies within and across fields. We have no clear understanding of the personal, educational, or social histories of the intellectuals, particularly of the "groups, networks, and rivalries" that appear to function as structuring principles in the history of intellectual change viewed macroscopically (Collins 1998); or of patronage structures, institutional bases, or circuits of intellectual exchange across the subcontinent.
What is an equally serious lack, we have no useful analysis of the boundaries of scholarship in early-modern India. Language, sometimes correlating with social status, clearly marked one limit. Sanskrit continued to be used exclusively in such major disciplines as language analysis (vyakarana), hermeneutics (mimamsa), logic-epistemology (nyaya ), moral-legal-political discourse (dharmasastra).The emerging regional languages were largely restricted to religious poetry, sometimes theology, and practical arts such as medicine. Persian (Urdu would not become a language of scholarship until the mid-nineteenth century) inhabited a separate knowledge sphere, where inspiration for ways of making sense of and inscribing the world derived from sources altogether different from those of Sanskrit (some exact sciences excepted, where both groups relied in part on Greek sources). Although Sanskrit and Persianate thinkers probably interacted more frequently than we now can demonstrate, few had a foot squarely planted in both domains. But, in fact, like the division of labor between the Sanskrit and the "vernacular intellectuals," or those who used regional languages, the history of the communication between Sanskrit and Persian scholarship largely remains to be written.
As poorly understood as the internal and external history of the late-precolonial Sanskrit knowledge systems themselves are the reasons for their demise in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Although political-economic changes of the sort found in Bengal at the time are sometimes identified as the critical factor, the decline in the quantity and quality of Sanskrit scholarly production in some places seems to have begun even before then, and elsewhere does not set in until later. Counter-tendencies, such as the attempt by the Peshwas in mid-eighteenth-century Maharashtra to revivify Sanskrit scholarship, need careful assessment (see for now Deshpande Forthcoming b). Other causal factors of a social nature, such as the diminishing salience of courtly society, or the loss of vitality of the Sanskrit educational system, are more difficult to evaluate, since so little sound scholarship is available. The transformed political landscape-in south India, Thanjavur was taken by Wellesley in 1799; in the north, Varanasi was ceded to the British in 1803; in the west, the Peshwas of Maharashtra were defeated in the course of the following decade-clearly needs to be taken into consideration, though again, the historiography of non-Mughal polities prior to the consolidation of the colonial order is thin.
Most pertinent is the intellectual sphere itself, and the kinds of exchanges that took place within and across the knowledge systems. But here, too, we are pretty much in the dark. Direct confrontation between Indian and European learning was as rare as that between Sanskrit and Persianate scholarship during the previous three centuries. Or better put, the confrontation was one-sided: As modernizing Europe attacked vociferously, Sanskrit India retreated in silence; no shastri ever bothered to answer the critique, made so painfully explicit by Macaulay and his compatriots in the century following our epoch. And when later thinkers such as Ram Mohan Roy did respond, it was from an already colonized, even westernized perspective. Forms of Sanskrit science without close analogy in the West, such as hermeneutics or language analysis, disappeared as creative modes of thought in the face of what were vaguely comparable European forms (in this case, historical textual criticism, on the one hand, and descriptive grammar on the other). 1  Other types of knowledge sharing a common ground for discourse with Europe, such as astral science (jyotisa)or life-science (ayurveda), briefly contended with western technical and conceptual difference before ceding authority to what was openly acknowledged to demonstrate greater empirical success (Minkowski Forthcoming; Tubb Ms.; Wujastyk 1998, chapter 7). Elsewhere, the engagement with European thought on the part of Sanskrit intellectuals simply did not occur-or not, at least, before they had ceased to be Sanskrit intellectuals. 2
It is no easy matter, then, to grasp the reasons at the level of the individual philosophical or scientific concept why Sanskrit knowledge at the end of the eighteenth century lost the vitality and confidence that had marked it in the preceding two centuries. Archival research may offer new documentary evidence on some of these questions. But the most important materials, which we possess in large quantities, and which form the primary data of this project, are the Sanskrit texts themselves in philosophy, literary theory, astral science, and the like. It is in the scholarly contributions to the Sanskrit disciplines-each of which has in fact a distinctive history of change of its own-that the most important clues must be sought. And these can be found only if the texts are systematically inventoried, historically ordered, and studied in a spirit attentive at once to the projects of the Sanskrit intellectuals, and the nascent order of European knowledge by which their own was about to be eclipsed.
Stressing the historical fact of the victory of western learning indicates the importance this project gives to a comparative intellectual history of Europe and India. Though this cannot be something the project directly addresses, it forms essential background. In these two worlds, systematic thought had run along a largely parallel course for some two millennia, until the seventeenth century. Even into the eighteenth, points of comparability can be found. Despite their innovations, European thinkers typically saw themselves "not as bringing about totally new states of affairs but as restoring or purifying old ones" (Shapin 1996: 3). Many forms of archaic thought continued to assert themselves not only in the few well-known instances (astronomy-astrology, chemistry-alchemy) but across the disciplines. Such production of the new coupled with a persistence of the old is common to seventeenth-century India, too. A renewal of the Sanskrit disciplines is attested to not only by the sheer quantity of works produced (itself perhaps something of an artifact of preservation) but by such things as a new historicality that came to shape the very exposition of knowledge, and occasionally-in a sort of Indian version of the Querelle des anciens et des modernes-even its evaluation (so that knowledge was now sometimes held to be better because it was new). At the same time, archaic postulates and procedures continued to inform scholarly discussion; the authority of past masters also continued largely unchallenged, however much their ideas may have been re-evaluated or reformulated, as had long been the case. Novelty and predictability both are illustrated in a new genre, the kaustubha (so called after a mythic jewel retrieved from the heavenly ocean), which in its name as well as in its discursive procedures represents true knowledge as something to be recovered through the revaluation of tradition, not its abandonment (Pollock 2000a).
Yet, it was at this historical juncture that a great divergence between the two traditions occurred, as a set of important changes in the production and dissemination of knowledge began to manifest themselves in late-Renaissance and early-Enlightenment Europe. This is a long familiar list, which includes new procedures in method (empiricism), new kinds of conceptualization (quantification), new attitudes toward the past (critical rationalism), new communicative codes (the intellectualized vernacular), new forms of sociality in a new public sphere, new institutional sites such as the royal academy and the increasingly autonomous university, new public intellectuals such as les philosophes, new publication formats such as the scholarly journal, and, last and not least, a pedagogical revolution. 3  Little that is comparable appears to have occurred in the world of the Sanskrit intellectuals. Consider again only the fundamental question of language. Outside the Persian sphere, as we have noted, Sanskrit remained the sole idiom for most major forms of systematic thought. No Bengali Descartes or Gujarati Bacon was concerned to teach the vernacular to speak philosophically. And like the language of learning, the material and social composition of the Sanskrit intellectual sphere remained largely unchanged. 4  
Although we may as yet be unable to specify exactly when or where or how, it is likely to have been such innovations in the European knowledge systems that, once colonialism made them the systems of India, more than anything else spelled defeat for the Indian forms. 5   However that may be, the very framing of a research question about the end of Sanskrit creative scholarship would not even be possible if European modernity had not in some way ended it. Accordingly, understanding the fate of Sanskrit knowledge requires, in some measure, understanding the character of its European counterpart.
That said, the focal point of this project remains Sanskrit disciplinary thought itself. For one thing, this was dominant in the intellectual world of seventeenth-century South Asia outside the Persianate order. For another, any actual intellectual historiography, whether comparative or connective, with European or any other systems, can only be undertaken on the basis of a secure understanding of what Sanskrit intellectuals were attempting to do and from within what kinds of institutional and social sites. Interpretations dominant in Western historical sociology and intellectual history, little changed from the time of their strongest formulation in Max Weber nearly a century ago, are based more on assumptions than actual assessment of the data. It is unsurprising that a magisterial new synthesis of global philosophical history ignores Sanskrit thought entirely after 1500-at the very moment of its new efflorescence (Collins 1998). Similarly, just what it was about this thought that made it so vulnerable to colonial modernity remains largely a matter of conjecture. The rise of new forms of Indian knowledge in the nineteenth century (typically in reaction to colonialism) has been a fertile question for scholarship during the past decade; in fact, it is hardly possible to imagine the present proposal in the absence of this influential work.6   But scholars of coloniality would be the first to admit that understanding how western knowledge won presupposes a far more deeply grounded historical and textual understanding of how Indian knowledge lost-which in turn requires a better understanding of what Indian knowledge was.
The present project is neither a lament for the absence of an Indian Renaissance or Enlightenment, nor the discovery of one that has been lying there all along unnoticed. It is instead an attempt to grasp at once the remarkable strengths of the Sanskrit disciplines and their remarkable weaknesses in the face of European colonial modernity. This is something we can only do by a systematic account and analysis of specific disciplines and thinkers, informed by a comparative consciousness of their historical fate.
History and Duration of the Project
The origins of this project are to be found in a new concern for early-modern intellectual history that members of the research group simultaneously and independently developed over the past few years.7   In order to explore this convergence and develop a more coherent approach to what is obviously a complex set of problems, a workshop was held in Chicago in late May, 2000. In attendance were M. Deshpande, L. McCrea, C. Minkowski, J. Nye, K. Preisendanz, G. Tubb, D. Wujastyk (all are further identified under "Project Staff"). Three scholars were unable to attend because of scheduling conflicts: Y. Bronner, G. Gerschheimer, M. Yano.
The key conceptual and methodological problems of the research topic were discussed at the May workshop, and on many of the questions sufficient agreement was reached to encourage the group to seek major outside funding to support further research . Given the magnitude of the historical period and the complexity of the materials, the project we have designed, as described in the section on "Methods and Research Objectives" below, is modest in its scope. The number of scholars capable of working with the texts in question is limited, and the constraints on financial resources available in the near term are considerable. If the current proposal and research activities prove successful, the group intends to continue the project after the three-year period either with additional NEH funding, or with new monies from alternative sources, such as the European Science Foundation (Strasbourg), the Society for South Asian Studies (London), or the Fund for the Reconstitution of Classical Studies (Kyoto). The objectives of the project in its later stages include in the first instance exploring the relationship among Sanskrit, vernacular, and Persianate knowledge systems with the assistance of an enlarged body of participants.
In addition to the actual research activities, the group plans to gather periodically for consultation. These meetings will not be funded through the grant, except for a mid-term gathering eighteen months into the project. We expect to locate funding for such consultations in the universities and research institutes to which project members are affiliated. The first such gathering will be held in Chicago March 22-25, 2001 at the time of the annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, where a panel on the theme of the grant application will likely be held.
The Knowledge Systems Project aims gradually to establish linkages with other ongoing initiatives on early-modern knowledge beyond its specific area of concentration. Muzaffar Alam (Jawahar Lal Nehru U.), McCrea, and Pollock intend to inaugurate a seventeenth-century seminar and Workshop at the U. of Chicago in AY 2001-02, and at the same time to seek funding for expanding the research project to include networks of exchange among Persianate, vernacular, and Sanskrit intellectuals. Other related activities in which members are involved include Karin Preisendanz's project, "'Debate' in the Context of the History of Indian Medicine" (Austrian Academy of Sciences, 2001 ff.), which concerns the transmission and intellectual reception of medical texts in the colonial period; and Gary Tubb's Working Group on the Exact Sciences and Indic Traditions at Columbia, which has extensively studied the history of astronomy in early eighteenth-century Jaipur. These initiative have already substantially influenced the conceptualization and design of the present project.
Project Staff
The project director is Sheldon Pollock, George V. Bobrinskoy Professor of Sanskrit and Indic Studies, U. of Chicago. He recently concluded an NEH-sponsored collaborative research project, "Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia" (1995-2000), which assembled seventeen scholars in three countries to analyze the histories of medieval and early-modern South Asian literature within the context of the larger cultural and social systems of which they formed part. The findings are now being published by the U. of California Press. Pollock is responsible for the overall design and execution of the Knowledge Systems Project, and he will edit the book of essays that results. He will identify relevant manuscript materials from the private collection of the Maharaja of Benaras (see below) for use by members of the project, and will contribute a chapter on legal-moral-political discourse (dharmasastra). In addition to periodic academic-year visits to India and ongoing consultation with contributors, he will devote two summer months in the years 2001-3 to work on the project.
The associate director of the project is Lawrence McCrea, postdoctoral fellow and lecturer in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, U. of Chicago. He will be responsible for setting up and maintaining the project's website and listserve. Although McCrea is relatively inexperienced in this area, he will be guided by two experts, Dominik Wujastyk, a member of the project team and founder of "Indology," the field's premier website, and James Nye, a consultant on the project, and a leading authority on information technology and the humanities. McCrea will also design and implement the prosopographical database and the "metadata envelopes" for the manuscript materials, and enter these data as materials are collected. He will assist Pollock in organizing the mid-term meeting, and in identifying additional sources of funding and preparing appropriate grant proposals. He will also collect and analyze materials concerning traditional hermeneutics, and will write a chapter on the subject for the book. McCrea will work 1/2 time (20 hrs./week) for 11.5 months during each year of the grant.
Additional members of the project team, with their areas of specialization, are:
Johannes Bronkhorst, Section de langues et civilisations orientales, Universite Lausanne; language analysisYigal Bronner, Dept. of Asian Studies, Tel-Aviv U., Israel; literary theoryMadhav Deshpande, Dept. of Asian Studies, U. of Michigan; language analysisJonardon Ganeri, Department of Philosophy, University of Nottingham; logic-epistemologyJan Houben, Kern Institute, Faculty of Letters, Leiden U.; prayogaChristopher Minkowski, Dept. of Asian Studies, Cornell U.; exact sciences; prayogaKarin Preisendanz, Institute of South Asian, Tibetan, and Buddhist Studies, U. of Vienna, Austria; logic-epistemologyGary Tubb, Dept. of Religion, Columbia U.; literary theory; exact sciencesDominik Wujastyk, Wellcome Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London; medicineMichio Yano, Dept. of Cultural Studies, Kyoto Sangyo U.; exact sciences
Each of these scholars will collect manuscript materials in South Asia with support from the grant, provide analyses of published and unpublished Sanskrit texts, contribute to the prosopographical database, and draft or collaborate on drafting a chapter in the book. It is expected that project members will contribute 25% of their research time in each of the three years of the grant.
Other scholars who are familiar with the project will be able to contribute in a more limited fashion as consultants, being periodically requested to review the progress of the project, or to suggest additional lines of inquiry or additional sources for the acquisition of manuscripts. Foremost of these is James Nye, bibliographer for Southern Asia and Director of the South Asia Language and Area Center, U. of Chicago. Nye is familiar with a wide range of issues on information technology, and has worked closely in the past with colleagues at Adyar Library and Research Centre, Madras, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, and other repositories of materials important for this project. Others include Professor Gerdi Gerschheimer, ɣole pratique des hautes des, Paris; and Professor Michio Yano, International Institute for Linguistic Sciences, Kyoto Sangyo U.
Methods and Research Objectives
The principal goal of this project is the reconstruction of the history of selected Sanskrit scholarly disciplines at four regional complexes in early-modern South Asia over a two-hundred year period. Such a reconstruction will require:
  1. the systematic survey of works in both printed and manuscript form (and including relevant documentary sources) pertaining to these disciplines, and, where possible, an account of their "publication" history and circulation

  2. the creation of a prosopographical database, which will provide the means for the reconstruction of the linkages among intellectuals and other aspects of their social existence

  3. the critical analysis of key texts in the different disciplines
The end product will be a book of individually authored (or, in some cases, co-authored) studies exploring the knowledge systems separately and in interaction. The wider perspective required for perceiving interactions will be made possible by frequent exchanges of work among participants via a project listserve, by periodic meetings at professional conventions, and most important, by a mid-term conference meant specifically to review findings to date and to refine methods. The precise nature of our research framework will necessarily evolve through empirical engagement with the materials; the general working model from which participants will start is offered below.
The almost total absence of organized knowledge about early-modern Indian knowledge systems noted earlier should not be taken to imply that the questions we are raising are unanswerable. It is true that the density of data enabling us to give an account of the structure of knowledge and its social organization in seventeenth-century Varanasi or Thanjavur comparable to the accounts given for seventeenth-century London or Paris (e.g., Darnton 1995, Chartier 1996) simply do not exist, and probably never did. The cultural archives of a documentary state did not vanish in India; they were never produced in the first place, in large part because, in contrast to the absolutist kingdoms of contemporaneous Europe, the Indian polity was unconcerned with the regulation of culture; indeed, the exchange of ideas was unimpeded. Other factors such (especially a climate inimical to preservation) account for the absence of personal records: Private letters or documents are of the utmost rarity even in the case of the greatest of seventeenth- or early eighteenth-century scholars (royal intellectuals like Jai Singh II of Jaipur being an exception that proves a rule)
Yet, evidence collected to date, unsystematic as such collection has been, suggests that many areas of obscurity can be illuminated. Personal linkages among the intellectuals as well as their educational histories can be reconstructed with considerable accuracy. The same holds true for many aspects of their social and institutional lives, especially for intellectuals associated with the Mughal court. As for circuits of communication, important scholarly texts appear to have circulated quickly across India as late as the mid-eighteenth century. Something of the "publication" history of works--their dissemination through manuscript copies-can be reconstructed by determining when and where they were copied (a recent demonstration of the method is offered in Cardona Forthcoming). Most important, the intellectual content of the works, their problematics, positions, and controversies, is wholly available to us for analysis in the large numbers of treatises that have been preserved.
It is crucial to develop methodologies appropriate to the kinds of materials we do in fact possess that can enhance our understanding of the internal and external world of the Sanskrit intellectuals of the period. Census, prosopography, and analysis do this, as further elucidation will show.
(1) Data Collection
The foremost requirement is a systematic census of published and unpublished texts to determine what was written from 1550-1750. These chronological boundaries, it should be stated at once, are themselves subject to revision as the appropriate temporal framework. As noted, each Sanskrit discipline has a history of change specific to it, and while large overall trends may be noticed, no one periodization will easily accommodate all the knowledge systems under analysis. A starting point of 1550 is chosen in recognition of the activities, in north India, of the logician Raghunatha Siromani (Navadvip),the leading new (navya ) scholar in the eyes of many seventeenth- and eighteenth-century intellectuals; and, in south India, of Appayya Diksita (Madurai), who profoundly influenced later scholarship in a variety of disciplines. An endpoint in 1750 is suggested by the approximate death-date of Nagesa Bhatta (Avadh),the last scholar to produce major new works on grammar, poetics, and law.
Again, the endpoint and the grounds for its selection require even more justification than the starting point. Thus the word "major" in the above sentence is intended to index two possible criteria in determining what constitutes the demise of Sanskrit knowledge systems. One is the falloff in the production of new and influential independent texts. It is, for example, difficult to point to any treatise on language analysis after 1750 that had an impact comparable to Nagesa Bhatta's work; in the case of law, the production of new works actually ceased altogether .The second criterion is implicit in the first, namely, the growing inability of works to find distribution through the subcontinental scholarly network, as had earlier been possible. Since this can be as much a function of the vitality of that network as of the quality of the intellectual contribution, we need to remain alert to the possibility of other historical factors at work, which may in turn invite us to reconsider the outer limit of the project. There is a complex dialectic at work in our temporal limits. We must establish boundaries around the project to begin work, yet at the same time we want to discover the actual history of Indian knowledge systems, and not predetermine it by the very methods of our research.
In addition to time-period, there are two other kinds of limits the project must impose on its survey of intellectual production if we are to achieve anything approaching real systematicity. We must select from among the various disciplines those that are central and that we can effectively and exhaustively examine, and we must narrow our geographical boundaries.
The census cannot inventory every text of every scholarly discipline. It is altogether unrealistic to think of undertaking such immense labor with the resources available to the project through the Endowment (in some cases this would duplicate work already done; see for example Pingree 1970- for the exact sciences). Instead, we will concentrate on the six disciplines that were foundational in early-modern intellectual history: language analysis, hermeneutics, logic-epistemology, literary theory, moral-political discourse, and astral science. Two additional areas of interest recommend themselves, medicine and Vedic ritualism (the latter in the form of descriptive manuals, prayogasastra). These occupy polar positions on the spectrum of comparability with European knowledge; early-modern readers of Vesalius's De humani corporis fabrica would have found the Astangahrdaya familiar, but little would have prepared them for an account of a soma sacrifice. They will accordingly have particular salience for our implicit comparative project. Moreover, both disciplines but especially prayoga show a marked increase in production during this period.
The geographical limits will enable us to develop a sense of the local organization of knowledge production. Although the intellectuals themselves, like their works, in many cases did circulate transregionally, they typically followed localized patterns in such things as training and teaching. This may help account for the untheorized but unmistakable fact of regional specialization in the different disciplines (language analysis was cultivated especially in Maharashtra, logic-epistemology in Bengal). In addition, regional formations show diverse modes of political organization and hence of patronage structures. Courtly Thanjavur, for example, differed markedly from Varanasi with its apparently freelance intellectuals.
Four different regional complexes have accordingly been chosen to enable us to develop a deeper understanding of these patterns: Delhi/Varanasi; Mithila/Navadvip; Thanjavur/Madurai; Maharashtra (Rajgarh, Satara, Wai, Paithan). It is important to stress that the function of these sites is to provide frameworks of analysis in intellectual history: We are concerned, not with places as such, but with how intellectual production may have differed in different places. The prosopographical and metadata materials relating to the spatial ordering of the knowledge systems will be synthesized by Pollock and McCrea, and included as part of the introduction to the book. It is possible that geographical information systems can enable us to process these materials in new ways, and provide us with graphical representation of the regionalization of intellectual life. James Nye has offered his expertise for this component of the project.
In the most practical terms, the census will proceed first by intensive examination of manuscript catalogues specific to the various regional complexes (supplemented by whatever specialized accounts are available, e.g., Bhattacharya 1958). While some of the collections in question are of recent date and geographically eclectic, many had originally been shaped by regional realities such as script varieties, and some originated in older collections of local notables. The Sarasvati Mahal in Thanjavur and the manuscript repositories of Bengal (Rajshahi, for example) are cases in point. A census for each of the selected disciplines will be done for each regional complex by the project members responsible for the discipline in question.
In order to understand the publication history of individual works and develop a quantitatively grounded assessment of their popularity (something important for determining whether our current sense of what was historically important is historically accurate), and to enable the synchronic historiography of the project more generally, access to the unpublished materials of the New Catalogus Catalogorum is required. As the title announces, the NCC is a catalogue of several hundred South Asian and European Sanskrit manuscript catalogues (supplements are offered by Janert 1965 and Biswas 1998); at the same time it often provides important ancillary information on authors. Begun in 1949, publication of the NCC reached the half-way point in 1991, when it was suspended. The Knowledge Systems group has already proposed to the NEH-funded South Asia Microform Project that it consider undertaking the microfilming the 70,000 slips that remain unpublished. The new director of the NCC, Prof. Sinirudha Dash, is very much open to the idea, and SAMP has in principle agreed to do the work at the earliest possible date (see attached letter). In addition to making the materials available to our project, these measures will ensure the preservation of important and endangered research materials. The Indological Series Database, another NEH-funded project located at the U. of Chicago, will also be available for use in the near future. This will allow for efficient searching of published editions of texts in a database of some 25,000 records.
Important unpublished texts as revealed by the census will be collected, and funds for archival visits to South Asia for participants are built into the project budget. Although all members will be concentrating on particular regional collections and specific disciplines, they will procure materials for the team members working on other disciplines and at other regional complexes. This will maximize the efficiency of the archival visits. Well-established working relationships already exist between the University of Chicago and such major repositories as the Adyar Library and the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library (Madras), and the Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Institute of.18 Indology (Ahmedabad). Other members of the Knowledge Systems group have established similar kinds of contacts with other libraries, which will benefit the project as a whole; Preisendanz, for example, has worked with the Nepal-German Manuscripts Preservation Project, Kathmandu, which has relevant holdings. Of potentially considerable importance is the private, hitherto uncataloged collection of Sanskrit texts and documents in the possession of the Maharaja of Varanasi. The U. of Chicago Library is soon to prepare a reciprocity agreement that would allow project members from the University to microfilm holdings in Varanasi (see attached letter).
We intend to make a selection of the unpublished works we collect on microfilm available on a project website, assuming permission to do so has been granted by the owner. A microfilm scanner purchased by the Digital South Asia Library project has been installed at Roja Muthiah Research Library in Madras as of January, 2000. This state-of-the-art machine converts film images to electronic images at a fast rate and with very sophisticated contrast adjustment to enhance legibility of images. It will be available for use in our project as time allows beyond the needs of the DSAL.
(2) Prosopography
The results of the census of manuscripts and printed editions should allow for a far more detailed prosopography of early-modern intellectuals than is currently available, and this will be essential for the reconstruction of personal and group histories, educational lineages, patronage linkages, and institutional and political affiliations. The design of our database will take account of such models as Philobiblon, the bio-bibliographical database of early texts produced in the Iberian Peninsula that has been developed at the U. of California, Berkeley. Thus we will include rubrics for place and date of birth and death (where known); father and other relatives; teachers and teacher's-teacher; works; patrons; travels; residences; authors and texts quoted, and related fields.
A systematic prosopographical analysis of this sort, which will be derived in the first instance from introductory or concluding authorial eulogies and colophons,has never been undertaken (one exception is for astral literature,Pingree 1981:123-130).Earlier scholarship on regional intellectual formations (Upadhyay 1983 for Varanasi;Raghavan 1952 or even Rao et al.1992 for Thanjavur)is inadequate for the level of detail and completeness required here. Carefully sifted,works devoted to regional traditions over the long term,such as Kunjunni Raja 1980,or detailed studies such as Gode 1953,can be of value.Other pertinent material outside of scholarly texts will also be collected.Judgments of Brahmanical assemblies on questions of dharma (vyavasthapatra)are especially valuable; many are available in vernacular-language histories of caste-ranking disputes,especially in Maharashtra (Deshpande Forthcoming a). Other materials include inscriptions recording endowments (particularly common in the south), and family histories such as the panji in eastern India (like the Vidvanmodatarangi by Ciranjiva Bhattacarya, Kaviraj 1982:88)or Sankara Bhatta's poem on his scholarly family of seventeenth-century Varanasi (Gadhivamsanuvarnanam).
(3) Text Analysis
Simultaneous with undertaking the survey of texts and the collection of prosopographical data, we will begin to examine and compare the structures of discourse in major works of the period. This analytic component will naturally feed back into data-collection, especially in terms of decisions about manuscripts to acquire. We must to some degree make an apriori choice about which scholars to concentrate on, since we cannot do everything. But by the same token, we must ensure that we remain open to learning what we do not already know by making a thoughtful selection for intensive study among the new writers or new texts that our manuscript census and search are likely to reveal.8  
Some division of disciplinary labor will be required for the text analysis. Team members specializing in the different knowledge areas (language analysis and so on) would work through the texts they consider important. But it may be anticipated that some crossover between disciplines and even within particular texts will be necessary; team members have a variety of interests and can contribute to more than one disciplinary analysis. At all events, we anticipate that working through many of these texts will require real collaborative effort. Some are massive in scope, and most are uncommonly difficult to understand because of the tangled history of scholarship out of which they emerge (a familiarity with which they presuppose), the complexity of the arguments they present, and the convoluted style in which many are written (imagine Heidegger to the second power).
Each text will be examined accordingly to the following analytical matrix:
  1. key problematics

  2. principal disciplinary positions (pakas)

  3. major representatives of these positions

  4. tenets (siddhantas)of the author or school in question

  5. lines of affiliation within each field (e.g., "adherent of the old school " [pracinanuyayin] and other comparable categories that come increasingly to be used during the period)

  6. dominant modes of argument,evidence,and method
The last two components of this analytical procedure merit particular comment. We are concerned not only with the surface of the text, so to speak (the arena of the first four components listed above), but with the evolving sociology of Indian knowledge and with the discursive structure of intellectual argument as such. We want to understand-to cite Randall Collins once more-the formation of "intellectual groups, master-pupil chains, contemporaneous rivalries," and any other sociological structures to which we can gain access through our sources, since we view these as basic conditions of interpretive validity. And we want to understand not only what intellectuals argued but how they argued, marshaled evidence, and evolved (as they appear to have done) ever more precise methods. For the sociality of the intellectuals, and the nature of the knowledge they produced, constitute the twin domain within which any eventual comparison with the vernacular, Persianate, or European knowledge order would be undertaken.
Two important outcomes of this overall analytical process are envisioned. First, contributors will be able to produce chapters on the major Sanskrit disciplines of the early-modern period that, while individually authored, will share a common goal of striving to identify the basic structure of knowledge for the period in question. Commitment to this shared model will produce a far more coherent account than is otherwise likely to be attained. Communication among contributors should also allow for a more precise and nuanced account of the particular thematics-many of which were of intense interest across disciplines in the period-than would be possible for any one scholar working in isolation. What is equally important, the collaboration will enable a higher-order survey of the intellectual field as a whole, both as a system of knowledge and a social formation. To develop this perspective we expect our mid-term conference of the group as a whole to be especially helpful.
Work Plan
Year 1
July - December, 2001
  1. Design of prosopographical database and project website (McCrea, with assitance from Wujastyk and Nye) o Beginning of the systematic survey of mss. and published works

  2. Refinement of text-analytical matrix (Pollock,McCrea).

  3. First round of research trips to South Asia (Pollock to Varanasi,Wujastyk to Thanjavur )

  4. Microfilming of NCC files (non-project but complementary)
January - June, 2002
  1. Work continues on prosopographical data input

  2. Research trips to South Asia (Bronner to Madras and Thanjavur; Preisendanz to Kathmandu, Darbhanga, Calcutta, Varanasi; Tubb to Pune)

  3. Gathering of project members at the Association for Asian Studies meeting (April 4-7, Washington, D.C.)

  4. First-year Performance Report
Year 2
July - December, 2002
  1. Work continues on prosopographical data input o Research trips to South Asia (McCrea to Varanasi; Minkowski to Pune/Jodhpur)

  2. Rough outlines of chapters under preparation.

  3. Midterm Meeting in Chicago in early December to discuss findings to date and preliminary chapter drafts
January - June, 2003
  1. Work continues on data input on prosopography

  2. Final research trip to South Asia (Deshpande to Pune)

  3. Continuing work on chapter drafts

  4. Second-year Performance Report
Year 3
July - December, 2003
  1. Continuing work on chapters and circulation of drafts among project members.
January - June, 2004
  1. Submission and editing of final drafts of book chapters

  2. Drafting of book introduction o Final Performance Report
Final Product and Dissemination
We expect to submit the manuscript of Sanskrit Knowledge Systems on the Eve of Colonialism to a publisher in the fall of 2004. The U. of California Press has already expressed great enthusiasm for the project (see attached letter). Information collected in the course of archival visits, along with scanned copies of important manuscript materials, the prosopographical database, and, where appropriate, bibliographies and working papers of the project, will be made available on the Sanskrit Knowledge Systems website. As we construct the website we will explore the possibility of operating a listserve not just for project members but for any legitimate scholar who wishes to contribute to our ongoing discussions and deliberations. We view the creation of such a website making our materials available to the worldwide scholarly community and inviting their cooperation and suggestions, to be an important outcome of the project. Finally, the Knowledge Systems Project will contributive to a future connective history of vernacular -and Persian-language scholarship of the period, and to a comparative history of Indian and European modernity. It will also offer scholars of other non-Western areas a potential model for studying regional worlds of knowledge that colonialism transformed forever.
List of References for "Narrative Description"
Books and Articles
  1. Acharya, Poromesh. 1996. "Indigenous Education and Brahminical Hegemony in Bengal." In Crook, ed.

  2. Alam, Muzaffar. In Press. "The Culture and Politics of Persian in Precolonial Hindustan." In Sheldon Pollock, ed. Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia, U. of California Press.

  3. _____________. 2000. "Akhlaqi Norms and Mughal Governance." In Muzaffar Alam et al., eds. The Making of Indo-Persian Culture: Indian and French Studies. Delhi and Paris: Musee de l'Homme.

  4. Appadurai, Arjun. 1991. "Number in the Colonial Imagination." In Breckenridge and van der Veer.

  5. Arnold, David, ed. 1996. Warm Climates and Western Medicine: The Emergence of Tropical Medicine, 1500-1900. Amsterdam, Atlanta, GA: Rodopi. Wellcome Institute Series in the History of Medicine.

  6. Baber, Zaheer. 1996. The Science of Empire: Scientific Knowledge, Civilization, and Colonial Rule in India. Albany: State University of New York Press.

  7. Bayly, C. A. 1988. Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  8. Bhattacharya, Dineshchandra. 1958. History of Navya Nyaya in Mithila. Darbhanga: Mithila Institute of Post-Graduate Studies and Research in Sanskrit Learning.

  9. Biswas, Subhas C., ed. 1998. Bibliographic Survey of Indian Manuscript Catalogues : Being a Union List of Manuscript Catalogues. Delhi : Eastern Book Linkers.

  10. Blair, Ann. 1996. "La persistance du latin comme language de science." In Chartier and Corsi.

  11. Bose, Sugata, ed. 1990. South Asia and World Capitalism. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

  12. Braudel, F. 1984. Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, vol. 3: The Perspective of the World.

  13. Breckenridge, Carol, and Peter van der Veer. 1991. Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

  14. Cardona, George. Forthcoming. "Presidential Address" Journal of the American Oriental Society.

  15. Chartier, Roger. 1996. Culture ite et soci: l'ordre des livres XIVe-XVIIIe sie. Paris: Albin Michel

  16. _____________ and Pietro Corsi. 1996. Sciences et langues en Europe. Paris: Ecole des hautes des en sciences sociales.

  17. Chatterjee, Partha. 1995. Texts of Power: Emerging Disciplines in Colonial Bengal. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  18. Collins, Randall. 1998. The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

  19. Cohn, Bernard. 1996. Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  20. Crook, Nigel, ed. 1996. The Transmission of Knowledge in South Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

  21. Darnton, Robert. 1995. The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-revolutionary France. New York: W. W. Norton.

  22. Deshpande, Madhav. Forthcoming a. "Panca Gauda and Panca Dravida: Contested Borders of a Traditional Classification." In Proceedings of the Conference on Aryans and Dravidians, Halle, 1999.

  23. _____________. Forthcoming b. ""Pandits and Professors: Transformations in 19th Century Maharashtra"." In Michaels, ed.

  24. Febvre, Lucien, and Henri-Jean Martin. 1990 (1958). The Coming of the Book. The Impact of Printing, 1450-1800. London: Verso.

  25. Gerschheimer, Gerdi. 1996. La thie de la signification chez Gad.dhara . Paris: Collde France.

  26. Gode, P. K. 1953. Studies in Indian Literary History. Bombay : Singhi Jain Sastra Sikshapith. Three vols.

  27. Gordon, Stewart. 1993. The Marathas 1600-1801. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  28. Higman, Francis. 1997. "1350-1750? The Perspective of Intellectual History." Journal of Early Modern History 1.2: 95-106.

  29. Janert, Klaus Ludwig. 1965-. An Annotated Bibliography of the Catalogues of Indian Manuscripts. Wiesbaden: F. Steiner. Verzeichnis der orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland. 1 Notes

  30. Kaviraj, Gopinath. 1982. History and Bibliography of Nyaya-Vaisesika , edited by Gaurinath Shastri. Varanasi : Sarasvati Bhavana Library, Sampurnanand Sanskrit Vishvavidyalaya.

  31. Kunjunni Raja 1980 The Contribution of Kerala to Sanskrit Literature. Madras: University of Madras.Second ed.

  32. Ludden, David. 1999. An Agrarian History of India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  33. _____________. 1991. "Orientalist Empiricism: Transformations of Colonial Knowledge." In Breckenridge and van der Veer.

  34. Meulenbeld, Gerritt Jan. 1999. A History of Indian Medical Literature, Volumes I A and I B. Groningen: Egbert Forsten. Groningen Oriental Studies XV.

  35. Michaels, Axel, ed. Forthcoming. The Pandit Proceedings of the Conference in honor of Dr. K. P. Aithal. Heidelberg: S?n Institut.

  36. Minkowski, Christopher Z. Forthcoming. "The Pandit as Public Intellectual: The Controversy over virodha or Inconsistency in the Astronomical Sciences." In Michaels, ed.

  37. Outram, Dorinda. 1995. The Enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  38. Pearson, M. N. 1995. "The Thin End of the Wedge: Medical Relativities as a Paradigm of Early Modern Indian-European Relations." Modern Asian Studies 29,1: 141-70.

  39. Pingree, David. 1970-. Census of the Exact Sciences in Sanskrit. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. Four volumes.

  40. _____________. 1981. JyotiAA.stra : Astral and Mathematical Literature . Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. History of Indian Literature vol. 6 fasc. 4.

  41. Pollock, Sheldon. 2000a. "New Intellectuals in Seventeenth-century India." In Nita Kumar, ed. The Dilemma of the Indian Intellectual, special issue of Indian Economic and Social History Review (in book form, New Delhi/London: Sage, forthcoming).

  42. _____________. 2000b. "Indian Knowledge Systems on the Eve of Colonialism." Intellectual History Newsletter. (A modified version of 2000a).

  43. _____________. Forthcoming. "The Death of Sanskrit." Comparative Studies in History and Society.

  44. Potter,Karl.1992.Indian Philosophical Analysis: Nuaua-Vaisesika from Gangesa to Raghunatha Siromani. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  45. Prakash, Gyan. 1999. Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  46. Preisendanz, Karin. 1994. Studien zu Nyayasutra III.1 mit dem Nyayatattvaloka Vacaspati Misras II. Stuttgart : Steiner. Alt- und neu-indische Studien 46.

  47. Raghavan, V. 1952. Sahendravilasa: A poem on the life of King Sahaji of Tanjore (1684- 1710) of Sridhara Venkatesa (Ayyavali).Tanjore: Tanjore Maharaja Serfoji's Sarasvati Mahal Library.

  48. __________, et al., eds. 1949-91. New Catalogus Catalogorum: An Alphabetical Register of Sanskrit and Allied Works and Authors. Madras: University of Madras. Thirteen volumes.

  49. Rao,V.Narayana,et al.1992. Symbols of Substance: Court and State in Nayaka-Period Tamil Nadu . Delhi: Oxford University Press.

  50. Sastri, Gaurinath. 1968. "Post-Gadadhara Naiyayikas of Bengal (1600-1800 A.D)." In J. C. Heesterman et al., eds. Pratidanam. The Hague, Paris: Mouton, pp. 516-22.

  51. Sastri, T. S. Kuppuswamy. 1904. "Ramabhadra Dikshita and the Southern Poets of his Time." Indian Antiquary 33: 126-42; 176-96.

  52. Shahidullah, Kazi. 1996. "The Purpose and Impact of Government Policy on Pathshala Gurumohashoys in Nineteenth-century Bengal." In Crook, ed.

  53. Shapin, Steven. 1996.The Scientific Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  54. Tubb, Gary. Ms. Suryasiddhantasaravicara of Jai Singh, edited and annotated.

  55. Upadhyay,Baldev.1983. Kasi ki pandityaparampara...1200 CE-1950 CE.Varanasi: Visvavidyalaya Prakasan.

  56. Washbrook, David. 1997. "From Comparative Sociology to Global History: Britain and India in the Pre-history of Modernity." Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 40, pt.4: 410-43.

  57. Weber, Max. 1934 (1904-5). "Vorbemerkung." In Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus. T?n: Mohr.

  58. Wujastyk, Dominik. 1998. The Roots of ayurveda:Selections from Sanskrit Medical Writings. New Delhi:Penguin.

  59. Young, Richard Fox. 1981. Resistant Hinduism. Vienna: De Nobili Research Library.
WWW
  1. Digital South Asia Library http://dsal.uchicago.edu

  2. Indological Series Database http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/su/southasia/i-series.html

  3. Philobiblon http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/PhiloBiblon/phhm.html

  4. South Asia Microform Project http://www.crl.edu/areastudies/SAMP/index.htm

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Notes
1. Only at the end of our period, and for the first time, did north Indian languages (Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati and the like) become objects of grammatical description at the hands of European scholars (the grammatical study of South Indian languages has a different history). We are not unaware of the irony that language analysis played a significant role in the creation of modern linguistics (historical-comparative, structural, and transformational). But the focus of this project is the fate of the Sanskrit tradition itself in South Asia. (back to the text)
2. This is true even in the domain of religion. A brief moment of pamphleteering in Sanskrit on questions of Christian missions occurs in the 1840s, but this was unique, and is explained by the fact that the pamphlets in question were responses to the one European critique of Hinduism that was actually published in Sanskrit (see Young 1981). (back to the text)
3. See Shapin 1996 on epistemology, Outram 1995 on sociality, Collins 1998 on the new institutional formations, Blair 1996 on vernacularization and the pedagogical revolution in science, Febvre and Martin 1990 on the rise of the learned journal. Higman 1997 provides a somewhat more enlarged periodization of the ?threshold of modernity? in intellectual-historical terms. (back to the text)
4. Vernacular-language philology (lexicography, prosody, poetics) is sometimes found, more rarely philosophical theology. Modest innovations in the styles and practices of South Asian intellectuals did in fact occur (the new khandana or critique genre,and its doublet,the mandana or apologia; the krodapatra or patrika ?leaflet? addressing a specific shastric problem), though no scholarship on them exists. (back to the text)
5. Material conditions, we should note, appear to have remained generally comparable in the two regions, for example in respect to incorporation into the growing world-system of trade, or levels of industrialization (cf. Bose 1990; Washbrook 1997; Ludden 1999). (back to the text)
6. See for instance Appadurai 1991, Ludden 1991, Arnold , ed. 1996; Baber 1996, Chatterjee, ed. 1995, Cohn 1996, Pearson 1995, Prakash 1999. (back to the text)
7. Published or forthcoming work written during this period that testifies to this conjuncture includes Deshpande Forthcoming a and b; Minkowski Forthcoming; Pollock 2000a, 2000b, and Forthcoming; Tubb Ms.; Wujastyk 1998. (back to the text)
8 To be sure, we already have a reasonably good sense of the major intellectuals of the period. These include:in vyakarana, Sesa Krsna, Bhattoji Diksita, Kaunda Bhatta, Nagesa; in mimamsa, Kamalakara, Sankara, Apadeva, Gaga, Khandadeva, Sambhu, Vasudeva Kiksita; in nyaya, Gadadhara, Jagadisa Tarkalankara, Visvanatha Pancanana, Mahadeva Punatambekara; in alankara, Kavikarnaputa, Rajacudaamani Kisita, Jagannatha, Visvesvara; in dharmasastra, Raghunandana Bhattacarya, Kamalakara, Kinakara (and Gaga), Nilakantha, Anantadeva, Mitramisra; in ayurveda; Nilakantha, Jyesthadeva, Sankara (all Kerala, 16th century); in jyotisa; Nityananda, Munisvara, Kamalakara, Fanganatha (Delhi/Varanasi, 17th century); Jayasimha, Jagannatha, Kevalrama (Jaipur 18th century). (back to the text)
http://dsal.uchicago.edu/sanskrit/proposal.html
Participants:
Professor Johannes BronkhorstPrdent, section de langues et civilisations orientalesUniversite LausanneBFSH2CH-1015 LausanneSwitzerlandTelephone +41 21 692 3005Fax +41 21 692 3045Johannes.Bronkhorst@orient.unil.chDr. Yigal Bronner Department of Asian StudiesTel-Aviv University Tel-Aviv, Israel Mailing address: PO Box 08384 Jerusalem 91083 Israel ybronner@post.tau.ac.ilProfessor Madhav Deshpande Department of Asian Languages and Cultures 3070 Frieze Building University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan 49109-1285 mmdesh@umich.eduProfessor Jonardon GaneriDepartment of PhilosophyUniversity of Liverpool7 Abercromby SquareLiverpool L69 7WY UKjonardon@liverpool.ac.ukProfessor Jan E. M. Houbenɣole pratique des hautes desࠬa Sorbonne45-47 rue des ɣoles75005 ParisFRANCEJ.E.M.Houben@yahoo.comDr. Lawrence McCrea Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University1 Bow Street Cambridge, MA 02138 ljmccrea@fas.harvard.eduProfessor Christopher Minkowski Department of Asian Studies Rockefeller Hall 348 Cornell University Ithaca, N.Y. 14853 czm1@cornell.eduJames H. Nye Southern Asia BibliographerDirector, South Asia Language and Area Center 565 John Regenstein Library University of Chicago Chicago IL 60637jnye@midway.uchicago.eduProfessor Sheldon Pollock Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations University of Chicago 1130 E. 59th St. Chicago, IL 60637-1543s-pollock@uchicago.eduProfessor Dr. Karin PreisendanzInstitute of South Asian, Tibetan, and Buddhist Studies 1090 Wien Spitalgasse 2 Hof 4 Austria Karin.Preisendanz@univie.ac.atDr. Gary TubbDepartment of Religion 1136 IAB mail code 3334Columbia UniversityNew York, NY 10027 gat4@columbia.eduDr. Dominik Wujastyk The Wellcome Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London24 Eversholt Street, London NW1 1AD UK d.wujastyk@ucl.ac.uk
http://dsal.uchicago.edu/sanskrit/participants.html

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