Here is another response to Shatavadhani Ganesh from Ragini Sharma.
I am writing in response to your recent review of Rajiv Malhotra’s new book, Battle for Sanskrit. I am sorry to say, but Rajiv Malhotra (RM) certainly did not need or deserve, what appears to me, your dramatic put down. Your insinuation that he has been ‘unprepared’ or ‘hasty’ in the kurukshetra is simply ridiculous given that RM has spent 25 years doing his purva-paksh of western Indology. How many years, may I ask, have you spent in doing that? Your review comes across as passive-aggressive when you first chide him to not “act in haste” but at the same time you state that you “wholeheartedly applaud his efforts and we shall stand shoulder to shoulder with him.” I don’t know about others, but to me your response to RM’s major review of Pollock’s political philology is not one would expect from someone who claims to support RM.
I am unsure what you were trying to achieve or to prove by your extensive explanation of the qualities of a ‘great scholar’. Your insinuation that Malhotra is not a great scholar is not something one would expect from someone who is willing to “stand shoulder to shoulder” with RM. Your suggestion that in order to do purva paksh of Indology of outsiders, the insiders must first understand the full corpus of Hinduisms underlying philosophy seems to me a scheme for you to excuse yourself for not doing purva paksh of Indology yourself. Have you read Pollock’s work the way RM has? What is your response to Pollock’s political philology of Hindu dharmic texts? That is what RM’s sole purpose is – to engage Sanskrit scholars.
Your insinuation that RM suffers a “narrowness of mental outlook” is shameful given that RM has written four major books, is the main protagonist of another major book and thousands of tweets, blogs and articles in numerous spheres – a rather incredible depth of work. As well, RM has appeared in hundreds of interviews to engage with, explore and clarify why Hinduism is under attack from every side. There is a huge awakening among Hindus about the issues, threats and challenges facing dharma due to his hard work. Do you deny his major contributions or his influence?
That you are a varisht Sanskrit scholar is evident in your article but it seems self-serving rather that as a review of RM’s TBFS book. What I mean is that your article skirts around the main issue that RM raises – that of Pollock’s political philology. YOU DO NOT STATE WHAT IS YOUR ASSESSMENT OF POLLOCK’S WORK and that makes me wonder if you have read Pollock’s work in the depth that RM has. Does your ego prevent you from giving credit where it is deserved? I could at this point cite a verse from the Bhagavad Gita on the perils of ego but that would be rude, just as you were to RM in this review.
You go on to say that Malhotra’s intent is “noble”. What makes you think that RM needs your approval of his intent? Who are you judge his intent and what is the role of intent in scholarship? Can we let his work speak for itself as should yours? RM has clearly laid out the purpose of his book in the concluding chapter of his book. Prominently he talks about the need for a “home team” of insider Sanskrit scholars, like you, to provide the uttar-paksh which he openly acknowledges he is not trained to do since he is not a Sanskrit scholar. He clearly stated that he is only providing the purva paksh in this matter.
Your lecture to him on Hinduism having a tradition of ‘dissent’ is well known to RM (he’s written extensively about it) and most others – that is not the point of RM book on Sanskrit. The point of TBFS book is to impress upon insiders that outsiders like Pollock, who do not have shraddha etc. have gained control on the discourse on Sanskrit and by extension, on Sanskriti. His assertion is not that outsiders do not have a right to write on Sanskrit/Sanskriti but rather that the adhikara to explain the meaning of the sacred Sanskrit texts such as the Ramayana belongs to the insiders. The need of the hour, according to RM, is for the insiders to provide a robust response to the outsiders about the meaning of dharmic texts such as the Ramayana.
The stark differences between the understanding of our dharma/Sanskriti by outsiders and insiders hit me recently when I viewed Pollock’s Tehelka video interview. In this interview he was asked how he came to develop an interest in Sanskrit. Pollock’s shocking response was something to the effect that he wished that Goddess Saraswati had come in his dream as his lover to entice him. I don’t think I need to process this further, you get the picture.
Also, I would like to add that in the appendix, in the section on “Partially incorrect claims” in which you have critiqued RM’s work, I draw your attention to your point #7 on the “four levels of speech”. You state that Malhotra’s explanation that there are four “levels” of speech is incorrect. You state.
They are not four ‘levels’ of speech but rather the four ‘stages.’ From conception to utterance, an idea is said to pass through four stages – paraa (before thought), pashyanti (thought), madhyamaa (on the verge of utterance) and vaikhari (utterance). The ancient seers were able to go from paraa to vaikhari instantly (see Vicaraprapañca of Sediapu)
I would like to inform you that perhaps you are incorrect and RM is correct in his explanation. I say this not because I am a Sanskrit scholar but because of how His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has explained these terms, and I quote Sri Sri below.
There are four levels of speech:
1. Vaikhari is the level of speech that we are all using now to communicate.
2. Madhyama is subtler than Vaikhari, where you don’t need language to communicate, but just intentions or feelings help to communicate. It is like you would communicate with people who don’t understand your language or with babies who throw tantrums to tell you that they are hungry or sleepy, or communicate through different signs. Madhyama is subtler than speech, even animals and trees use Madhyama to communicate.
3. Pashyanti is where you simply recognize the knowledge without words or language. It is like deep intuition. Sometimes, when you go deep into meditation, you may hear some chanting or words, or you might get some ideas. When ideas come without language, it is called Pashyanti. A seer would recognize a little bit of that, from somewhere deep. All scientific discoveries happen from the Pashyanti level.
Para, beyond Pashyanti, is the universal language or the source of all expressions. In deep Samadhi or total stillness, you are connected with Para. No verbal communication is needed. Actually, real communication happens from Para, it is just the vibration that communicates. All the other talking that we do, from the Vaikhari level, is only to keep the mind engaged. The mind cannot capture communication from the level of Para, only the soul understands it. Para is the language of the soul. The mind needs some entertainment; the entertainment of the mind is Vaikhari, the language that we speak.
This indicates that it is not essential that speech necessarily goes through the four stages as you have stated and instead, speech can be viewed as "levels". In this way His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's explanation is aligned more with the way RM has explained speech.
My intention here is not to put you down but to show that while you were so quick and loud in challenging RM on his interpretation of Sanskrit, there are others who are equally able to challenge your explanation. Such diversity of interpretations is welcome in our tradition!
The point that RM is making in TBFS is that the threat to Sanskrit and Sanskriti is from outsiders such as Pollock who have taken control of the academic discourse on the meaning of Hindu dharma shastras and that the insiders need to wake up and work together to provide a strong response and to reclaim the adhikar to speak for Hindu dharma, including Sanskrit, as the language of many our shastras.
From what I have heard from RM, he respects you as a Sanskrit scholar and he has invited you on numerous occasions to join the home team towards this collective yagna. I do hope you will join the ‘home team’ towards this worthwhile effort. Will you walk your talk of working shoulder to shoulder with RM? I do hope so. Om Shanti.
Ragini Sharma, MSW, PhD Candidate