Kanakagiri Siddhartha

The Battle for Sanskrit Review

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This is a path breaking work of scholarship, that should serve as a template for future Indian academic writers exploring the subject of the euphemistically named "South Asian Studies" in the western universities. A well researched work with about 100 pages of notes and Bibliography, staying true to the spirit of Purva-Paksha (systematic study of opponent's position) the author emphasizes.

The subject is a study of the perspective of American Orientalists, especially one Sheldon Pollock, a prominent face of American Indologists with deep connections in India, on the language of Sanskrit and the implications of it in the interpretation of Indian traditions.
Rajiv Malhotra starts with an introduction of Indian studies by Westerners beginning in late 18th century when Warren Hastings hires William Jones to codify Indian texts so Indians could be told they were being governed by their own laws, absolving the colonials from accusations of 'moral turpitude'. Thus began an entire era of studying India with the purpose of codifying it for the west.

Codifying it for the west has been a theme of Indology ever since, more so with Pollock, as this book painstakingly explains. Pollock, to his credit does not claim to be a neutral and is an avowed Marxist who is on record saying his objective is "we need a new past and ways to make better sense of it".

In a way, this book is as much a respectful counter argument to a hardworking but biased and bigoted scholar, it is a damning indictment of the following:
1. The whole "South Asian Studies" establishment in US and to some extent, Europe, which for all practical purposes, functions like an old boys club with scant regard to due process, academic rigor and rational approach to theorizing. A few examples:
a) Pollock's entire life's work is based on the singular and ridiculous assumption that Oral traditions in Sanskrit are not important. Really ? If a flood destroys every single written word, both digital and analog in the world, only the Vedas will survive it, and can be reproduced as they were, unchanged for a thousand years. And this oral tradition does not count ?And he does not get questioned ?
b) Pollock uses Philology, Anthropology (however anachronistic), Sociology(even if far removed from Indian context) in his interpretation of Veda, Shastra and Kavya, all the while ignoring that Veda is the basis of the oldest spiritual tradition in human history and no one in the academia deems that odd ? It is impossible to separate Iha-Para in the Indian context.
c) Pretty much every major conclusion proffered by Pollock is disclaimed by an acknowledgement of counter references, and an immediate dismissal of them by calling them "insignificant" , "marginal" , "invisible" (whatever that means), "unintentional and entirely irrelevant" etc. Not only that,he acknowledges choosing an interpretation that is in line with the thematic significance of his work. Is this luxury afforded to all social and religious studies or is reserved only for "Hinduism Studies" ? We all know the answer to that right!
d) He makes sweeping statements like "the social and grammatical orders are related by their very nature" without any proof. Again, accepted as a 'theory' at face value.
e) He often contradicts himself. Like when he claims that Sanskrit spread all over South Asia because the people there were primitive and had no culture and Sanskrit occupied a vacuum and in the next few pages, blames Sanskrit for arresting local literary traditions. Again, no eyebrows raised.
2. The academics, media and Indian and American millionaires happy to fund his projects in return for the connections and networking opportunities it provides.

Rajiv Malhotra studies Pollock's corpus of work, which, for all his talk about "liberation philology" and rescuing Sanskrit from elitism, is strewn with archaic idioms and words like 'Empyreal' , 'Cosmogonic Speculation' , 'Morpheme' , 'Mythopoesis', 'Protocommunist Revelations' etc. I am not saying its wrong to show off ones English language skills, i am just saying one should not play liberator while doing so.

From what Rajiv Malhotra quotes of Pollock's works, I found Pollock's modus operandi to be work back from a conclusion, offering selective references to support it, and oftentimes simply base it on an assumption with no evidence to back it. Also seee 1, c) above.

Pollock's understanding of the basics of Hinduism and Indic traditions is regretfully simplistic, for instance, he uses the term 'Sacredotal Isolation'to imply Vedic rishis were only about chanting Mantras while performing Yagnas. He totally misses the fact that most Vedic Rishis were Grihasthas (married householders), who had to deal with famines, hunger pangs and other worldly problems like any Grihasta. He also calls Vedic people primitive and mystic. Does "Let noble thoughts come to us from all directions" sound primitive ?

One of Pollock's significant theories is Indians were fatalistic, they had no concept of progress and they could not produce new knowledge without ascribing it to the Vedas. He offers Shastras as a proof of this theory. Yes. Multiple Shastras. As a proof that no new knowledge can be produced. Just because they ascribe the content to the Vedas ? If this is not Hinduphobia, i do not know what is.

Yet another of Pollock's theories is that Sanskrit is inherently oppressive. For a moment let us not ask that an A/B test be performed for this theory and prove that this theory applies uniquely to Sanskrit and not to any other language, that would be too much for the "South Asian Studies" folks. Lets just examine the arguments against Sanskrit.
1. Did Sanskrit prevent anyone from learning it ? No.
2. Did Sanskrit lead to oppression, genocide and other colonial evils in all the foreign countries in South East Asia it had a prominent place ? No.
Pollock tries to link Nazism to Sanskrit. He goes to the length of trying to associate an influential Greek and Hebrew scholar, Paul Lagarde, who is said to have inspired Hitler with Sanskrit, unsubstantiated and wholly fictional affinity of course. So secure he is in the knowledge that he wont be questioned as long as his conclusions are useful.
His attempts are studied minutely and refuted by a German scholar, Reinhold Guenendahl. 
Of course, Pollock is a poster boy of Marxist controlled liberal media all over the world. So no one knows about Guenendahl.

Pollock's interpretation of Ramayana is another topic that deserves its own review, but i will just say that the process of working back from a conclusion describes it perfectly.
His understanding of Ramayana and its characters is driven by his Marxist pathological need to find an oppressed, an oppressor and blame Brahmins while at it. Never mind that it was written by a tribal turned Brahmin and its main antagonist is a Brahmin by birth. Remember "thematic significance". It is applied here. 
Just one example: "The status of junior members of the Indian household was, historically, not very dissimilar to that of slaves" says Pollock because Rama goes to forest in Ayodhya Kanda, 
while completely ignoring the fact that Rama disobeys Dasaratha's direct order twice in order to uphold Dharma in the same Kanda.

Pollock also has a bizarre reason to date Ramayana after Buddha. He calls it 'Ashokan spirit' in it, whatever it is. I think it is the old Marxist love for Ashoka, the first king in entire world to declare a state religion. But because that religion was not Hinduism, Ashoka is a qualified secular.

The most insidious objective of Pollock and his theories is his political project of winning India for the left. In collusion with the Indian media, most of which is leftist, he helps create a narrative where Hindus are oppressive, Muslims are the oppressed and the Marxists are liberators. Needless to say, Indian leftist journos quote him ad infinitum irrespective of the context to give their narrative a western stamp of approval.
There is more, i will need a second reading too, this is a dense subject.
There is an urgent need for Indians to read this book and engage political opponents in a spirit of Adi Sankaracharya. 
Thanks to Rajiv Malhotra for this book. Must read.

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May 29, 2020

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