Hijacking Sanskrit Away from Hindu Dharma


This detailed post, which analyzes the work of Sheldon Pollock, Professor of South Asian Studies at Columbia University, is a sequel to the article in this space that exposed the Hinduphobia of his protege Ananya Vajpeyi, and her 'Breaking India' network. We recommend that you read that post here first, to understand the background to this post. We must subject to intense scrutiny, the actual positions and writings of influential people like Pollock, who only appear to be on the side of Dharma, in order to avoid falling into the trap of getting misled and digested. Readers will discover here that what is going on is nothing short of a brazen attempt to hijack Sanskrit away from Hindu dharma.

Additional Background on 'digestion'
'Digestion' is a term coined by Rajiv Malhotra and has been discussed in various threads on this forum. To understand the process of digestion (if you are not familiar with the concept), please refer to these threads on this forum, or better still, join the discussion forum (link at the end of this post).
Difference between Digestion and Conversion
Why are Hindus Celebrating the Digestion of Hinduism? - Part 1 and Part-2
Jesus in India and Digestion of Hinduism

Here is a video link from Rajiv Malhotra's site for his book Being Different, which deals with this subject of digestion.


After summarizing Rajiv Malhotra response to Ananya Vajpeyi's article in the Hindu and elaborating on the ecosystem that is nurturing and promoting Hinduphobic scholars, it is important for us to take a step back and refocus on the bigger picture, starting with her mentor, Sheldon Pollock, who is currently very influential as an 'Indophile' among intellectual circles both in India and abroad. More importantly, he is gaining huge financial backing from wealthy and influential but misguided Indians who believe very naively that he has Dharma's best interest at heart.

This post might be updated in multiple parts over time, owing to the fact that this expose is slowly but surely developing as more scholars begin to scrutinize Pollock's work seriously and share their findings. This blog is a detailed introduction to readers to make them aware of a clear and present danger to India's Sanskriti, and Hinduism due to this well-entrenched and well-funded cabal of Hinduphobic scholars.

Who is Sheldon Pollock?

(picture linked from http://www.columbia.edu)

Rajiv Malhotra started the discussion by noting that Pollock was someone potentially more dangerous than Wendy Doniger, Professor of History of Religions at University of Chicago or Michael Witzel, Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University, because while the latter two were discredited before they had made their way to Indian billionaires and their deep pockets, it was a different case with Pollock. Doniger's and Witzel's sphere of influence was limited to the Indian leftists but Pollock was different in that he could persuade wealthy Indians into pledging huge funding to the Western nexus involved in project Breaking India. This is a hypothesis Rajiv Malhotra is now researching in order to get to the bottom of things.

Rajiv Malhotra says:

Pollock is the most successful person from this club to solicit millions of dollars from wealthy Indians. He is the new "raja of Sanskrit" as some Indian supporters like to call him. Pls see attachment in India Abroad newspaper showering praise for him -- dressed in dhoti etc and called a "pandit". Remember Sir William Jones who was saluted as a pandit by Indians? The PR machinery at Columbia has used many pathways to reach Indian media and wealthy Indians. He became useful to the Indian Left because he dished out "data" on Sanskrit which fit the views of Kancha Ilaiah, Arundhati Roy, and numerous others who were too ignorant of Sanskrit to backup their views. Now he wants to "secularize" sanskrit to make it more "mainstream". 

There is also a write-up on Pollock which appeared in the India Abroad magazine this June. Pollock is one of the recipients of the India Abroad Person of the Year 2013 Award. The document is embedded here.

Sheldon Pollock--India Abroad Award as FRIEND OF INDIA AND MEDI-1

Manish said:

Sadly, our fellow Hindus are quite often incapable of distinguishing a friend from a foe.....

..... Sadder still, we see this inability to distinguish friend from foe, show up not just in academia but in all fields, whether it is diplomacy, geostrategy, international trade, forging joint ventures, securing our energy supplies, cultural exchanges, collaborating in non-academic research ---- everywhere !! Our industrialists and corporate executives are huge huge suckers for the most part when it comes to sepoy like behaviour  (Narayan Murthy, Shiv Nadar, Anand Mahindra, Harsh Goenka --- their public statements and actions show a pattern of naïveté that's stunning).

It is so disheartening to see enemies of Hinduism laughing all the way while making suckers out of Hindus....and even worse is to see these naive Hindus feeling a perverse sense of pride in being suckered.

Sheldon Pollock's works

Sheldon Pollock comes across as a disciplined and charming individual who plays his cards close to his chest, saying the right thing, dropping the right names, and doing what is necessary to keep his projects going smoothly. To use a poker analogy, one has to scratch beneath the surface to detect Pollock's 'tell' - parsing the seemingly India-friendly statements by Pollock to detect those parts that gives his agenda away. Shalini reviewed the pdf to draw some important conclusions:

Start Quote: [Page M121, col 1]
My point is that in the last 50 years - these are hard questions and very few people talk about them openly and critically and knowledgeably, with a sense of the deep past - as a friend of India and a long term observer, words like janambhoomi and karmabhoomi - to take that particular case, have been captured, so to speak, by a certain politics in India today that makes it difficult to use those terms in a non-political way
End Quote

Me: Is the Sangh parivar, the Hindu Acharyas, and in particular the think tanks in the current BJP setup even looking at such statements carefully?

Start Quote: [Page M121, col 1]
Let me give you a silly example. Maybe it will resonate. I have a friend, a kannada writer, (U.R) Ananthamurthy. Bangalore was a big centre - I dont know if it still is - for the Sathya Sai Baba movement. []
Once he was on a plane and someone on the plane was passing out vibhuti, you know, ash that had been touched by Sathya Sai Baba. It was like a commodity. Like a contemporary commodity.
There was an elderly, very traditional gentleman in the plane with Ananthamurthy, dhotivallah type, very traditional. Somebody came up to him and said here is some vibhuti. He said: " No, I don't take it. I am a very traditional man."
The old tradition had a non-commodified sense of this precious material, the sacred ash. And in the present day it has somehow become commodified and I dont say cheapened.
End Quote

Me: So many things absolutely conjecture in this para. First, never miss the profiling done on the "dhotivallah type" as if all dhoti wearing people belong to a certain type of mindset.

Next, who is Pollock to spin a theory about commodifying the vibhuti? What is the basis for arriving at that conclusion? Nothing of the thought process that allowed him to state this has been explained by him. []

Then, the dhotivallah says he wont take it. Why does Pollock believe that his refusal to take the vibhuti has anything to do with commodification? []

This pdf tells us that Pollock's friends in Karnataka include UR Ananthamurthy and Girish Karnad, both known to be Hinduphobic, and virulently anti-Modi. However, identifying Pollock's tell also involves recognizing what Pollock leaves unsaid: and Pollock has absolutely nothing positive to say about Dharma and Sanskriti. Guru posted a two-part video of Pollock's interview to Tehelka, an Indian magazine. The video links can be found here and here

Guru writes in with this:
Though he claims to have a secular interest in researching Sanskrit, we can see he really has other motivations which he tries hard to disguise. His disdain and contempt for Hindu beliefs are very evident throughout the talk.
Earlier on, while describing his journey into Sanskrit studies, he says he wished to say he came to Sanskrit  as Saraswati came in his dream and asked him to be her lover, but he could not. 
Look at the appalling insensitivity towards non-judeo christian cultures. It is really sad that such people who disparage the Vedic Goddess of Learning are going to get grant from 'Sharada Peetam' of all places. []

Then around 3:40 he condescendingly berates the 'Ram janma bhoomi' movement and questions why myths like Ramayana are taken seriously in India to form parties around these when nobody forms parties in Rome around Virgil's Iliad. Note he finds Rama equivalent to Western tradition's mythic hero Virgil of Homer and not to its living tradition's "historical" figure of Jesus.

Even after being a Sanskrit scholar for so long, he happily treats Saraswathi like some Greek goddess Venus looking for mortal lovers. He equates Ramayana to Illiad just to make Hindus look dumb. This type of condescending behavior is deliberate and only miseducated liberals would be taken by it. []

Additional analysis of his interview reveals this:

At around 00:03:07, he refers to the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 and how that event spurred him on to be a torch bearer for secularism in India since he felt that classicism was being used as a very powerful political tool to influence narratives.

At around 00:14:22 Pollock says Sanskrit has to be kept safe from 'enemies of History', from anti-history people. He means that he is the savior to prevent destruction from modern day Hindus.

At around 00:14:36, Pollock talks about re-invigorating Sanskrit and allowing it to re-discover its "creativity" and "intellectual innovation" in a secular manner thus decoupling Sanskrit from Dharma.

At around 00:18:13 In response to the interviewer's question of whether there was energy just in chanting mantras which were according to interviewer's elders, put together scientifically, Pollock's answer is to DISMISS it by saying that energy is in the eyes of the beholder and that he is completely SECULAR.

At around 00:01:39 in part 2 of the interview, Pollock states his anti-Hindutva/BJP position very clearly.

At around 00:03:58, he says that Kannada and Sanskrit have played out their narratives as one which is something of a re-enactment of "Unity in diversity". And, he finds it CORNY to state that. Why?

A Hindu-funded Hijacking of Sanskrit

Rajiv writes back on the forum elaborating further on Pollock's positions especially with regard to Sanskrit. It is reproduced below.

In his famous essay titled "The Death of Sanskrit", he opens with the following paragraph. His political motives and his attitude towards Sanskrit is not in doubt:
"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.

Yet this man got the [Padma Shree] (perhaps because of this work) received $20 [million] from Narayan Murthy to lead the translation of Indian classics, then became India Abroad's "Person of the Year in 2013.

The climax of his career is now happening. He is potentially going to control the selection of the scholar for a $3.5 million donation from a group in NY/NJ who are working with Sringeri mattha to set up this new Hinduism Chair at Columbia Univ. It will be the flagship of Sringeri mattha in the academy.

Pollock's game plan has gone through three phases:
  1. First he established his credentials as a young Sanskrit scholar by doing translations of Sanskrit texts into English - using dictionaries as he is said to be unable to converse in Sanskrit. These were non controversial works =just to get established. But he is not a sadhak, hence it is textual analysis only.
  2. Then he turned into a Leftist social scientist and started producing a large quantity of anti-Sanskrit works like the above quote. His thesis is that Sanskrit has been abusive against dalits, women, minorities. That the Aryans brought Sanskrit and its texts to India. That Hindu chauvinists are trying to revise history and claim otherwise. The above para quoted says it all.
  3. Finally, he started to champion the revival of Sanskrit but in a specific manner: He wants to secularize it by removing or criticizing references that are Hindu. He considers mantras to devatas unimportant or even a problem. He is leading many projects in USA to bring Dalits to Columbia and train them in Sanskrit - which would be great if it were not done with any political spin. So what he ends up facilitating is a doctored up approach to Sanskrit that is not in line with our traditional approach. He praises this as "modernizing Sanskrit". This is similar to decoupling Yoga from Hindu in the name of "modernizing Yoga". The implication is that tradition is flawed and must be upgraded by de-contextualizing it of its dharma and thereby modernizing = secularizing it.
This is a replay of how Oxford became the world center for Indology in the British era. That was under British rule but now it is under Indian rule.

Indians in the next decade will throng to Columbia to get certified if they want to be taken seriously in India as Sanskrit experts. 

This means such Indians will get a heavy dose of Western hermeneutics which is the theoretical lens used in Columbia and elsewhere in Western academics. This lens sidelines all Indian siddhanta. It replaces the siddhanta with things like:
  • Freudian psychoanalysis
  • Western  feminism
  • Subaltern studies
  • Marxism
  • Postmodernism
  • 'Dalit studies
  • etc
So traditional Sringeri interpretations of their own guru will fade away, and be replaced by the "modernized" fashions. Indian pandits and acharyas will find themselves at a disadvantage and feel like outsiders in such discussions, unless they submit themselves to get trained in hermeneutics -- in which case they will end up brainwashed as Ananya Vajpeyi did.

Our well-intended leaders simply lack enough competence to be able to make such strategic choices without a lot of coaching.

Even if the first occupant of the Adi Shankara chair planned at Columbia University is a good one for us, there are serious issues long term:
  • Subsequent selections as per contract will be 100% controlled by Columbia U.
  • The power center for Sanskrit studies will shift from Sringeri to USA. This means adhikars to run conferences and journals, control translations (Pollock already does that with Murthy's $5 million), produce the next generation of PhDs for deployment worldwide including India.
  • This chair will be cited as a role model to approach all other matthas and Hindu organizations. Taking Hindu money and using it to control their discourse will become a fashion in the name of "collaboration", "globalization", "modernizing", etc.
It seems that we have not learned any lessons from what happened under the influence of Robert de Nobili in the 1600s, William Jones in the late 1700s, and Max Mueller in the 1800s. We are as colonized mentally as ever. Dangle some affiliation with westerners and look at the way many Indians go chasing the limelight.

Sringeri is the last remaining pure center we have from the past era that has never got compromised or violated during the long period of Mughal and then British rules. Now the question is: Are our own folks are paying money to invite foreign domination?

The same folks like Pollock/Ananya who despise"Brahmanical  hegemony" find it desirable to replace it with Western hegemony."

Readers interested in learning and participating in this vigorous discussion can do so by signing up with yahoo and joining the Rajiv Malhotra Discussion group. This particular thread can be followed here. 

A very important discussion has also started on the issue of setting up Hinduism chairs at universities in America using funding from Indians. We are adding it to this thread since it impacts very strongly here too. Sheldon Pollock is also in the process of getting the Shringeri Mattha to set up a chair at Columbia.

Bahu wrote in to say that Dharma Civilization Foundation (DCF) had an announcement to make which was that they were facilitating the setting up a Center for Dharma Studies in partnership with the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) at GTU, California. The announcement also stated that the first two courses were going to be offered in the fall semester of 2014.

Here is Rajiv Malhotra's response and a very important one too.

"This DCF is another initiative with similar characteristic to what I am criticizing at Columbia. The common facts are as follows:

  1. I take some blame for having educated our diaspora for 20 years on the importance of entering the academy with Hinduism studies. But these folks are stuck on Release 1.0 of my proposals, whereas my experience with 20+ such academic initiatives has caused me to move on much further.
  2. Typically, a group of businessmen want to become important, seen by the public to be helping dharma, want limelight as the next thing to achieve personally.
  3. They lack specific competence to evaluate the subject matter expertise and content of the academy -- which requires far greater tapas than any of them did on this type of analysis or would be capable of doing.
  4. Hence they look at superficial things. I constantly hear things  like "they are nice people", "they say good things about Hinduism", etc.
  5. These rich donors do not even know basic things about the history of de Nobili, William Jones, Max Mueller, and the armies of modern anthropologists. They lack understanding of concepts like digestion, sameness, etc. They are so easily duped and impressed.
  6. They dont know, and worse still, they do not want to know, details that would be discomforting and would require getting outside their comfort zones. To use business terminology qwhich they understand, they have not done independent due diligence on the subject matter. In their own field of specialty they would never invest millions on some venture with no due diligence just because the recipient of the investment is "a good person". They know that persona of the other party is not enough to support some project. But here that mental faculty gets switched off. What takes over is the craving for acceptance at the high table of white establishment, maybe a deep inferiority complex that even millions of dollars has not overcome.
  7. To get legitimacy, they rope in some blessing from a well-know Hindu guru, preferably by naming a chair after him or his organization.
  8. But the guru, though extremely well-meaning, has not gone into specific details. He assumes these people have done that already. So he trusts them and gives his blessings. After all, gurus routinely bless those who are sincere devotees.
  9. To do "industry analysis" of this field, one has to survey prior experience in 20 or so similar initiatives. What happened to the programs later on? Did they produce anygame-changing impact in our favor? Was the activity merely for show, lots of meetings, events, gatherings, talks, etc. -- but so what? Did they change the discourse in our favor on any specific issue? The answer is always NO. I have yet to meet any donor who can answer such questions in a satisfactory manner.
  10. Even when the first appointment is pro-Hindu, the long term control is lost. That's how the contracts read in all such cases. A good example is the UCLA chair on Indian History named and funded by Naveen Doshi, a real estate millionaire in LA. After his own friend Prof Sardesai (who was good for us) retired as the first occupant of the chair, UCLA insisted on selecting their own choice, despite Doshi's complaints and threats to litigate. The small print gave them that right. His "nice guy" contacts (God Cops) vanished, and let the "academic system" (of Bad Cops) decide as per it "own procedures". Here's the irony: THE DOSHI CHAIR OCCUPANT TODAY DOES NOT WANT TO EVEN SIT DOWN WITH MR DOSHI FOR A CUP OF TEA, DOES NOT RETURN HIS CALLS OR EMAILS. Doshi ji says there is no cooperation and the Chair occupant is a radical leftist who hates everything Doshi cherishes about Indian history. I feel sad for Navin Doshi, a kind man who meant well.
  11. The single biggest problem I have is that DCF is empowering a Christian Seminary to run the discourse on Hinduism. I dont care who sits on that chair at least short term.
  12. Analogy: Would you like the idea of outsourcing the job of purohit/acharya to the Vatican, if they came with a proposal to do a good, professional job? Believe me, I come across morons who say "Yes, why not, if they can do a good job". Would you outsource the Indian Army work to the Pak army if they came with a cost-effective proposal? I hope no Indian army official is foolish enough to say "yes".
  13. The long-term issue is transfer of adhikar, transfer of prestige of learning centers from India over to Western controlled centers. Its like relocating Varanasi to the Vatican. Already Nalanda-like universities that attracted the brightest from all corners of Asia are now in the West in terms of global influence. Future generations of scholars from Indian ashrams would be sent to these seminary-controlled centers of learning as in the case of Berkeley, or leftist controlled as in the case of Columbia. Hinduism will become like a library of clip art for others to cut-paste and add to their own repertoire, and what unusable will sit in museums.
  14. Next we might expect some announcement that another major guru has set up his chair in Saudi Arabia because some rich sheikhs promised good things and because they can do a great job for us.
  15. How can people be so stupid, even after complaining so angrily that control of yoga has slipped away from Hindus over to Western institutions?
  16. Why are such initiatives not first discussed in open hearings with Hindu intellectuals invited to voice issues, and debate in the true spirit of dharma? Why the hush hush until "it is a done deal" and then announced with a guru's blessings to make it beyond question?
  17. Why is there no uproar comparable to what we saw against the Doniger matter?This sellout from within is far worse because it is sold in the name of helping Hinduism become mainstream.

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