The debate has started on The Battle for Sanskrit

The debate has indeed started on The Battle for Sanskrit, Rajiv Malhotra's latest book. Revisit this page regularly as well will be adding updates.

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:
‘The theoretical discourse of sastra becomes in essence a practical discourse of power.’*

​[...] the new quote is again misinterpreted. Please read theory-of-practice-on- shastras.html from where the quote occurs:

"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:

Dear scholars,

​Someone forwarded me the message below by Prof. ​
Om Damani.

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.​

​ See pages 114-125 of my book, a section titled "Rejecting the shastras as Vedic dogma". ​ Please note that I am not interested in defending the petition. But on the matter of Pollock's writings on shastras I do have a lot to say.​

It is night here and I have some personal commitments tomorrow, so a more detailed response by me must wait for a day or two. But meanwhile, let me say that after extensively reading Pollock on this, it is clear that you cannot selectively take a few quotes from his works. (He often inserts some sentences that oppose his overall views.) On shastras, his position is clear that:
  1. 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.
  2. The tradition does not (unlike in the west) utilize practical experience/empiricism of scholars - i.e. lack of agency. 
  3. 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.
  4. Hence, 1 - 3 along with his other writings make clear that the shastras are frozen.
  5. 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?)
  6. 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.
  7. #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.
I am delighted that you wish to discuss Pollock on specific issues. I am also seeking a discussion with him and he suggested we do this at some time in the future when he has time from present commitments. I have praised him in my book on many counts, while at the same time strongly criticizing on a specific list of his positions. My hope is to expand the discourse by bringing in traditional voices who have thus far been aloof or left out. This would enrich our understanding.
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 Continues

An 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


  1. Pollack must take part in this matter directly not by proxy!!

    1. hehe.. earlier he employed Fox. Don't expect that from him now!

  2. Spiritual Shastra is Unchanging and eternal. Shastras state Antahkarana should be purified. This will be true till the end of time. This is not regressive. Material science/Shastra is subject to change. But even in physics, Newtons law wont be changing anytime soon. Would that make it regressive?

  3. Spiritual Shastra is Unchanging and eternal. Shastras state Antahkarana should be purified. This will be true till the end of time. This is not regressive. Material science/Shastra is subject to change. But even in physics, Newtons law wont be changing anytime soon. Would that make it regressive?

  4. Standup_Hindu:

    Is there any historical document the shows that a KING or Maharaja ordered the Sanskrit be used for political opression? Or is this just speculation? If speculation, what if this involves malicious intent, towards degrading and demeaning, a particular tradition of learning?

  5. Spiritual Shastra is eternal. Shastra states: Clean your Antahkarana. This will stay till the end of time. How is this regressive? This is the rule of the game.

    Just because you cant edit F=ma, you can not call it rigid and regressive.

  6. Pollock seems to mistake ‘authority’ of Vedic Shastras, shastra pramana as if that were proof enough that shastras and all its tradition should be nothing but same as Canonical dogmatism in the western sense and impervious to either addition or subtraction or revision or innovation by the human agency- in other words the Freeze of the human mind.
    His other major thesis Social Oppression is the most significant upshot of all that ‘frozen canonical dogmatism is also nothing original but transposition of Western experience of church canons and its praxis and historical slavery and racial oppression.
    Put simply he is offering no fresh or original insight into Shastras or Indian Scriptures, but an allusion based entirely on historical Western experience.
    Even while doing that, he must give an answer why then Absence of the other Match elements such as Slavery, Slave Trading, Colonialism and Racism did not follow suit- especially since Indian Civilization had a head start over the Western and must have developed such ‘Oppressive devices’ much earlier and to a greater degree. If we imagine this Canonical dogmatism was actually intentional, only to serve as a device of social exploitation, then the shastravadin must have developed earlier Institutions of Slavery and devised means to exploit them
    He also must have credited the Indian culture based largely on vedic Shastra pramana for the absence of Slavery as an Institution, Trading and trafficking humans as commodities of productive forces.
    So the question remains- How come India is not credited for the Absence of the Institution of Slavery, Slave Trading, Racial theories, socio-economic colonialism?

  7. this OM damani is from IITB or JNU.....

  8. We all are aware of the intents behind establishing of indological studies.
    Pty is when an Indian be it individual or company sponsors such activities. In case of Murty's library, Murty (s) while dealing with info at Infosys forgot to recognise the semantics in Indian texts and also the possible unholy geopolitics . It also signifies their complete ignorance of matter. It came just like money game in stock markets. Broad Shabdkosh at BORI began in 1940s and still incomplete for lack of Govt willingness... lack of resources. After half a century of i dependent India we still use Monier Williams and keep using translations by indologists. This obviously shows inaction by Indian scholors and their colonial mindset...if petition does not lead Murthy to rethink on their decision we must institute our own with some flagship university like Banaras Hindu University.