Review of The Battle for Sanskrit
Author : Rajiv Malhotra
Rating : 10/10
Overview of Content: The book is well structured and runs into 11 chapters. Also adding to the voluminous nature of the book are the detailed appendixes and superb footnotes.
The book starts off by giving a background to the creation of the book i.e. the deal of the North American wing of Shringeri Matha with Sheldon Pollock and its implications for Hindus worldwide. To those who have not heard Rajiv Malhotra’s online talks, the deal would have made Sheldon Pollock the custodian and official voice of this great Hindu matha ( setup by Adi Shankaracharya no less).This puts into perspective the nature of the new (and old) Western Indological attack on Hinduism. Chapter 2 gives a brief but good overview of the previous major assaults by Western thinkers and scholars, mostly late 18th and 19th century and contrasts this with the new assault coming from the US of A. The nayak or hero of the book, Sheldon Pollock makes his appearance towards the end of the second chapter.
Chapter 3 onwards every chapter deals with one aspect of Sheldon Pollock’s work.eg. Chapter 5 shows how Pollock views Ramayana as an oppressive text and also explains the theory he uses to portray it as oppressive (Aestheticization of power). Chapter 7 deals with Pollock’s attempts to show that Bharatiya regional languages are locked in a perpetual state of conflict with Sanskrit. Hence Sanskrit is a villain who needs to be reformed. And how is this reformation going to happen? By getting rid of all that is scared i.e. anything which springs from the Vedas etc. Chapter 8 presents Malhotra’s view on how things can be viewed from our perspective. In this chapter the views of traditional Hindu scholars such as Prof. Satyanath,are presented to refute Pollock’s arguments.
Chapter 9 is very interesting as Pollock’s motivation behind declaring Sanskrit as a dead language are explained in detail. Chapter 10 dissects the hero of the book i.e. Sheldon Pollock. It makes a sad but unsurprising read that the clueless Indian elite gave Pollock the Padma Sri and he is a feted speaker at the secular gatherings such as the Jaipur literature festival. Chapter 11 is the concluding chapter where Rajiv Malhotra offers ideas on the way to rejuvenate Sanskrit and thus decolonize our minds. Some of the recommendations have been made previously by Dharampal etc.
I have read nearly all of Rajiv Malhotra’s (RM) books, bar one (Indra’s Net). He is what I would call an “Iterative Kshatriya”, someone who fights, learns and fights again. And gets better and better with each battle. I am a lay reader and not knowledgeable enough to comment on his conceptualisation of Uttarapaksha, Purvapaksha etc. Many would be aware that there is quite a lot of heated debate going on between RM and traditional scholars. A quick Google search will educate you on the various aspects of the debate. One point that has been raised is that RM is not right in his conception about our side of things. But the book is primarily an exposition of a key enemy generals tactics. Whatever discussion occurs representing our side is really to give a contrast between our position and theirs.
The book has to be seen in the overall perspective of the other books RM has published. RM is a reconnaissance scout who is tracing the contours of the intellectual kurukshetra. The key value of the book is that it identifies one of the key shadow enemy generals of this intellectual “Kurukshetra” i.e. Sheldon Pollock. And dissects in minute details the main weapons, strategies and firepower possessed by Sheldon Pollock. Of course with the publication of this book, Sheldon Pollock is probably the most well-known “Sanskritist” and not in a good way either.
Translating Sanskrit or regional language texts into English is a risky affair as Malhotra has demonstrated with the example of the critical edition of the Ramayana. What happens next is that Western Indological vultures descend on the text and pick and choose the bits they want. The crucial aspect is that the ownership of the texts automatically passes from Hindus to the Westerners once a text is translated in English. Consider this situation: India manufactures a path breaking missile, however very generously we decide to give the blueprints (or the Intellectual property) to Pakistan and of course the USA. Without exaggeration this is what happens when our manuscripts are translated into English. The damage that the western distortions of our culture has done and continues to do is immense both in human, cultural and financial terms. We have been undergoing a cultural genocide especially in the last 200 years, which has intensified post-independence.
If we imagine the intellectual world to be a kurukshetra where weapons are words and books, we are now fighting on the enemy’s turf and on his terms. Western Indologists will draw their Hindu opponents deeper into the chakravyuh by escalating the verbosity and absurdity of their theories and analysis. These are semites- they have over 2000 years’ experience of fighting on words. This situation is another reason why the Indology practised in the West and that practised in India has radically differing aims and outputs.
Is it then surprising that Sheldon Pollock is advocating a scenario similar to the East India Company’s strategy- hire an army of native sepoys, who are brave and resourceful and let them do the dirty work. These sepoys who are fluent in Sanskrit and English will then wreak havoc on the traditional way of life. Knowledge of English will then become the arbiter of expertise in Hindu studies.
Those working at various Indological institutions in India (MS, LD, BORI etc.) are genuine scholars and researchers. However purely based on the verbosity and control of English, Western Indologists become the superior arbiters of our heritage.
To nullify this situation we need to practise an “Area Denial Strategy”. The best option is to choke the supply of English translations and kick start the process of publishing commentaries/translations in Sanskrit and regional languages. Extracts of these are then published in local newspapers and plays performed on them. Thus both oral and written aspects are respected. This process was interrupted by the Christian occupation of India since 1800’s. This will have multiple advantages:
- It will breathe new life into the regional languages which are now being choked by the weed that is English (a Congress weed).
- The re-Sanskritisation of regional languages will also reciprocally enrich Sanskrit.
- Gradually the popular vocabulary of the masses will also be rid of the English infestation.
But most importantly in terms of the intellectual kurukshetra, we will have formed our own chakravyuh, where we can intellectually cut them to pieces. Their expertise in our languages is a “gained” one which can easily by disputed by a competent Hindu scholar. Essentially the situation now consists of fighting a defensive holding action (what Malhotra and others are doing) and creating a new battle in this ongoing Mahabharata. This is the stage where we take the offensive.
As a vast corpus of Sanskrit texts is outside India, we don’t have much control over what happens outside. But we can control who comes over here and then accesses the manuscripts. And most importantly we can intellectually tear apart their faulty and agenda driven interpretations.
Another concurrent step (one repeatedly suggested by RM in his talks) is to setup an indigenous ecosystem of journals. And make them the final word on the subject. The papers, in my opinion, should be written in regional languages and Sanskrit and should include a critical evaluation of work done by Westerners. To gain acceptability and credibility, scholars would need to publish in our desi journals. And as a rule quoting Westerners should no longer be a badge of honour.
Sidenote : I told a budding western Indologist some years back, that the study of Bharata should be done by Bharatiyas not foreigners. He was little bit outraged at that.
The book’s typesetting, binding, paper are all industry standard and the font chosen is quite pleasing to the eyes. Overall a high quality product in content and aesthetics. Sometimes RM does get a little repetitive in his writings (found this in previous books as well), but this might be to reinforce the message.
Typo: One aitihasik typo in the book: on pg. 192, Vikramaditya VI is identified as ruler of empire of Karnatas (Vijayanagara) empire. There was no such king. Probably it refers to the Chalukya kings. RM is citing Pollock here, so it might be a gaffe in Pollock’s book.
My recommendation is to buy the book.