First ever video on the BATTLE FOR SANSKRIT that is under way

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Are Sanskrit Studies in the West becoming a new Orientalism?

(in Hindi with some English)

By Rajiv Malhotra

Delivered at Sanskrit Department, Delhi University, January, 2015

I felt honored to be invited by Delhi University's Sanskrit Department to deliver their annual memorial lecture this year.

My topic pertains to my latest book scheduled to come out this year.

Many Indians feel proud whenever their heritage is the subject of study by the West, without bothering to first examine in detail the nature of that study. They fail to ask critical questions like:
  • Is the study fair or is it biased?
  • Are there Western assumptions being superimposed, intentionally or otherwise?
  • Are the conclusions undermining our own traditional understanding?
  • What are the implications and consequences of such conclusions - both in shaping the image of India outside, as well as within India where such Western conclusions often become adopted blindly?
  • Are Indians losing control over the discourse of their own tradition - becoming followers rather than leaders, consumers rather than producers, of the discourse about themselves?

There are many advantages to being studied by outsiders. In the past there were debates between opposing views, and both sides benefited.

But today, Indians tend to be in such awe of Westerners who study them (the inferiority complex craving "we have arrived on the world stage"), that there has been virtually no independent Indian response to some major works by Westerners.

I was recently shocked at the blindness with which wealthy Indians, traditional Hindu organizations and media, all lined up in support of what I felt was an interpretation of Sanskrit in serious conflict with tradition.

For instance, I found the following views pervading the works that are being celebrated by Indians, none of whom could acknowledge having read these Western works adequately. The conclusions I contest include the following:
  • That Sanskrit is inherently an abusive language
  • That Ramayana is a myth designed to oppress, and has anti-Muslim resources built into it.
  • That Sanskrit is a dead language, killed by Hindu kings long ago.
  • That Sanskrit was never a language of common usage, and never in use as a spoken language.
  • That Sanskrit's role as the lingua franca of India must now be replaced by English.
  • Hence Indian vernaculars must get Anglicized and de-Sanskritized.
  • Etc.

This lecture served to bring the issues to the attention of several hundreds of Sanskrit scholars present. None of them have engaged this scholarship, even though they acknowledged its huge influence in India today.

One problem is that such scholarship is written in very dense and high flown English (by mostly Americans and the Indian students trained by them), that hardly any Sanskrit scholar in India is able to figure out what is being said. Hence, there has been no response from the traditional side.

My forthcoming book hopes to change this. I want it to provoke a debate with both sides represented.

If you have interest in the discourse on Indian sanskriti and Sanskrit, and how these are increasingly controlled by Western scholars and institutions, please watch this video.


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