A professor from IIT Bombay has criricised the petition started by concerned traditional scholars against the adhikara for translating Indian texts being transferred to American indologists like Sheldon Pollock.
The dissenting professor is of the view that Pollock looks on the shastras very favourably, but Rajiv Malhotra thinks otherwise. Rajiv Malhotra has sent the following email to him and the other professors he had sent the email to. The email thread is reproduced in full below.
However, to join and follow the debate, please read the linked Pollock paper from 1985.
Professor Damani from IIT Bombay wrote:
"He sees all shastras as flawed because he finds them frozen in Vedic metaphysics, which he considers irrational and a source of social oppression. His paper concluded:
"Quite the contrary, if in certain areas the shastric paradigm did encourage or enforce-a certain stasis (as in language and literature), elsewhere Indian cultural history in the classical and medieval period is crowded with exciting discovery and innovation (as in mathematics and architecture). These are not, however, perceived to be such; they are instead viewed, through the inverting lense of ideology, as renovation and recovery (the 80 NyTa'Man., Introduction, vs. 8 (cited in and translated by B. K. Matilal,Nyayavaisesika 1977],p. 93). [Wiesbaden, 516 Journal of the American Oriental Society 105.3 (1985) the unambiguous words of Jayanta once more: "All sciences have existed, precisely like the vedas, from the first creation. People, however, ascribe them to one or another human author who has sought to abbreviate or expand them."85 In the end, consequently, there really is no dsstra of human provenance, the assertions of Kumarila and Rajasekhara (above, pp. 501 and 502) to the contrary notwithstanding. Their scholastic dichotomy seems designed mainly to provide an ad hoc differentiation underscoringthe peculiar transcendenceand infallibility The prevailing conviction is that all .astra of the vedaas. without exception ultimately shares those qualities. 3. THE CRITICAL PRESUPPOSITION: THE TRANSCENDENT SASTRA creative work of Jayanta himelf being a salient example).8' We may in fact characterize the ideological effects of the shastric paradigm more broadly as follows: First, all contradiction between the model of cultural knowledge and actual cultural change is thereby at once transmuted and denied; creation is really re-creation, as thefuture is, in a sense, the past. Second, the living, social, historical, contingent tradition is naturalized, becoming as much a part of the order of things as the laws of nature themselves: Just as the social, historical phenomenon of language is viewed by Mimamsa as natural and eternal, so the social dimension and historicality of all cultural practices are eliminated in the shastric paradigm. And finally, through such denial of contradiction and reification of tradition, the sectional interests of pre-modern India are universalized and valorized.82 The theoretical discourse of sastra becomes in essence a practical discourse of power."
In the same text he says: "Sastra is a significant phenomenon both intrinsically--taken as a whole it is a monumental, in some cases unparalleled, intellectual accomplishment in its own right."
Rajiv Malhotra's reply:
In my book. "The Battle For Sanskrit", I have a 21-page analysis of Pollock's views on shastra starting with his 1985 paper referenced below.
- Shastras cannot deviate from Vedas, thereby making them incapable of new, creative, progressive ideas. In effect, shastras rehash whats in the Vedas - nothing new happens in them.
- The tradition does not (unlike in the west) utilize practical experience/empiricism of scholars - i.e. lack of agency.
- He mentions in passing that certain "advances" did take place in some disciplines, but that even there these were attributed to supernatural agency and not human agency.
- Hence, 1 - 3 along with his other writings make clear that the shastras are frozen.
- In fact, his main thesis is: that only kavya (which he elsewhere argues is separate/in tension with shastras) is the only place where history gets made. This implies that shastras did not make historical impact. (My concern: Are we to set aside all the history of Indian science/technology as useless?)
- Though in this paper he only partially sets up the case for political philology as the correct lens for interpreting Sanskrit texts, this notion comes in full swing in his later writings.
- #6 is, then, leads to his major thrust that Sanskrit and its texts must be processed for political insights into oppression in Indian society. In other words, his approach is largely shaped by this motive to seek political hegemony, domination, social oppression. My book gives extensive examples of Pollock making this case very centrally.
Please give me a couple of days to write a more complete analysis of his views on shastras, especially the 1985 paper being referenced above.
Rajiv has provided an analysis of Pollock's work on the shastras on pages 114-125 and the end notes in his latest book The Battle for Sanskrit. These are presented here.
The Debate on the Battle For Sanskrit ContinuesAn expected Ad Hominem attack by Ananya Vajpeyi
A strong, hard-hitting response from Dr. Nityanand Mishra that exposes Ananya's hollow claims
A purva-paksha of Pollock's thesis on shastras