Four tier model of purvapaksha and how framing RM as kshatriya and Ganesh as brahmin is wrong

By Rajiv Malhotra

The four tier model of purvapaksha

The relevant works of scholarship that critique western Indology in connection with Pollock may be organized as follows. From top tier (most superficial, general) to bottom tier (most narrow, specific):

Tier 1: Wide sweeping critique of western Indology. Cover lots of old scholars, from christian to aesthetic,clubbing all of them under a simplistic profile. Our team's responses are also bombastic, emotional, politicized. We have lots of this material from numerous writers over many decades. I wont spend time on this material except to write a history of western Indology. But this genre of ideology is not what we face today, They have moved on and other more sophisticated works have superseded.

Tier 2: Present ecosystem of Western Indology in specific details, and where the Pollock School fits in. Which institutions, ideologies, agendas, distribution channels, etc are now operative. Not only western scholars but their Indian collaborators and sepoys. Their strategies at work. Requires expertise in industry analysis.

Tier 3: Deconstruction of Pollock school's specific lens. Their meta-theories, narratives, key vocabulary, plans.What are the implications to dharma being seen in this way? How this knowledge has spread over the past 30+ years. Who is who in their army? Requires multi-disciplinary approach, knowledge of heavy English, Western thought and ability to decode multilayered (i.e. sly/deceptive) writing style typical of western scholars who are politically correct.

Tier 4: Analysis of specific verses of Indian texts as per Pollock school and as per our tradition. This supports our uttara-paksha. Requires serious knowledge of Sanskrit and also of texts in detail.

My interest is in tiers 2 & 3. I saw this huge gap in our home team's work thus far. Most of them regurgitate tier 1 repeatedly. But that writing is too superficial to make any impact.

Team spirit:

Tier 4 is not my strength. Traditional scholars must do this.

But they cannot do it properly until tiers 2 & 3 get done and explained to them in a way they can understand. Hence my focus on tiers 2 & 3, as that is the heavy lifting nobody did and that is important to do.
This is called identifying a market gap and filing it. Nothing wrong with this approach.
I can point out many other gaps out there, which our scholars must pursue, so there is no reason to get jealous. There is plenty of innovative work to be done still.

We must work in collaboration and leverage different kinds of strengths. One kind of specialist should not be jealous of other kinds of specialists. Such narrow thinking individuals make poor leaders or even team players.

My response to "issue-specific criticism" of TBFS: One man has made a lot of noise claiming that traditionalists already did what TBFS does, and hence I ought to have highlighted this in TBFS. He lists about 40 scholars under his claim. He calls this issue-specific criticism.

Below is (once again) my issue-specific response:

  • Many eminent traditional Sanskrit scholars praised TBFS saying explicitly that traditional scholars have never done this. A few such powerful statements are in the book's preliminary pages. Many more such letters are on file.
  • Videos of my talks (including one at Karnataka Sanskrit University) show eminent scholars saying there has not been such purva-paksha of the Pollock school.
  • I went around many Sanskrit centers in India asking for help during my research work for this book, but nobody said they knew of any prior work of this specific kind. Some supporters of mine even paid and hired traditional scholars to help me, but these scholars concluded that the study of Pollock that was required was too intensive. It would take at least a couple of years after the availability of his works and supporting western works many of which are simply not available in India.
  • Pollock himself told me he was unaware of anyone having done a rigorous analysis of his work from a critical point of view, especially from a Hindu point for view.
  • The persons claiming that at least 40 scholars they named have done this cannot come up with a bibliography of such works. If they make the claim with so much authority they ought to be able to produce evidence.
  • These critics of mine also claim that they personally already knew Pollock's works. But can they produce any shred of evidence of such knowledge in published form?
  • If they knew what he has been writing for the past 30+ years, why did they not blow the whistle on the Murty Classics Library prior to my exposing this issue?
  • Why did they never bother to complain about Sringeri's impending hijacking?
  • Why did they never write anything about Pollock being Jaipur Lit Fest's number one celebrated Indologist for 8 years prior to 2016?
What is wrong in framing the debate as RM=kshatriya while Ganesh=brahmin.

My 4-tier model on how to do purva-paksha of Pollock is explained above. Please read it in order to follow my points below. I will refer to it. I have explained in this model that without the critical tiers 2 and 3, no sensible purva-paksha of Pollock is possible.

The significance of this is that R. Ganesh and his list of 40 “experts” (who he claims already did purva-paksha of Pollock) simply did not do tiers 2 or 3. I have challenged him (or any spokesperson of his) to post a bibliography of any such works if they exist at all. Note that purva-paksha is not done in secret, but “in the face” of the opponent; this allows the opponent to respond if he wants to. My critiques of Pollock are very public, open and direct. Why is Ganesh claiming to have seen such purva-pakshas by others without being able to produce a single published example?

Unless and until such a bibliography is produced, I stand by my statement that R. Ganesh does not understand the significance of tiers 2 and 3 in my 4-tier model. Therefore, he is limited to producing tier-4 isolated/localized factoids criticizing Pollock, and then he is trying to contextualize them under tier-1. But the critical tiers 2 and 3 are missing. As a result, many of his criticisms of Pollock are out of context, as he fails to fully understand Pollock’s siddhanta/theoretical lens.

The next prerequisite to follow my argument below is that you must please read my article, “The challenge of understanding Sheldon Pollock”, posted at:

The 4-tier model tells you why tiers 2 and 3 are critical, and this article explains in a few pages what the main ingredients of these tiers 2 and 3 are.

With this background, I will now address what is drastically wrong with many well-intended posts, which say that RM is the kshatriya and Ganesh is the brahmin, and on this basis they must work together.

I find this too limiting and pejorative. I am not trying to be personally defensive. Rather, my goal is to point out a common fallacy in such thinking which is being applied to several instances. Below are my problems with this thinking.

  • By framing in this very abstract and high-level kshatriya/brahmin dichotomy, the person avoids dealing with the tiers 2 and 3 issue. Our folks remain unread, ignorant and superficial about the serious knowledge in tiers 2 and 3 which they better take time to learn. They feel the matter has been resolved with some politically correct appeal to kshatriya-brahmin unity. We can go home, nothing more to do.
  • This is why I complain that most of our folks are emotionally and psychologically weak and unfit to be intellectual kshatriyas. A very common way our folks avoid tapasya and facing challenges is by over-abstracting the situation to such an extent that no action is needed or even possible. “Sir, your atman cannot be harmed, so please do not worry about anything” – this is another example of similar escapism from a real situation by over-abstracting, rather than by dealing with it.
  • The approach of X = kshatriya and Y = brahmin is also divisive. It encourages people to say, “my hero is larger than yours”. The subject matter is lost, and it turns into a personality cult issue. Let us avoid turning the serious debate (which must be based on tiers 2 and 3) into a clash of personality cults, please.
  • I do not see birth-based criteria for determining varna applicable today. Is Dr. Subramanian Swamy a brahmin or kshatriya? Why can’t he be both? Is Bill Gates brahmin (intellectual), or vaishya (businessman) or kshatriya (politically engaged), or all three? In my own career, I started out as a very serious intellectual pursuing theoretical physics and philosophy, and then computer science. Then I became a successful corporate/entrepreneur (vaishya). Lately, I am more like a kshatriya trying to give my tradition a good political representation. But this is actually a hybrid role. Furthermore, I have always been very hands-on – a shudra quality. People who work with me closely are surprised how much I do personally which they feel ought to be tasked to other persons. So why do we wish to pigeonhole individuals like me? Why don’t we encourage individuals to become multi-varna today? It is the age of multi-disciplinary competences. Sri Aurobindo’s theory of planes and parts of being is all about broadening and deepening one’s consciousness.
  • I see varnas as core competences that one might regard as innate potentials. 
  • By the same token, just because your parents were accomplished in competence X does not give you the right to claim that you are by birthright an expert in X. I know idiots who come from great family backgrounds. I also know (and love to work with) individuals with unfortunate personal circumstances who do so much tapasya as to overcome their limits and become highly accomplished.
  • Once we reject bogus claims based on family heritage, we will begin to see just how much nepotism there is in people claiming to be brahmins. How many of them comply with the required lifestyle, the competence in their work, tapasya, accomplishments? Most so-called brahmins I know today are mixed up in vaishya (material pursuits of profession, business, etc.). The same is also true of most kshatriyas by birth. Most politicians (performing what was traditionally a kshatriya role) are corrupt, mixed up in vaishya (business), etc.
Where am I heading in my response to Ganesh? I am trying to clean from the table this nonsensical kshatriya/brahmin framework.

I am trying to refocus the debate back to discuss whether Ganesh and his 40-named scholars have done anything in tiers 2 and 3. These tiers are where all of you must spend serious time and energy pursuing.

I am looking forward to Prof Kannan producing a team of experienced purva-paksha scholars through his conference series. They will know tiers 2 and 3. These will be individuals with whom I will relish discussing for mutual learning. Those with great reputations in some other skills, but with little to bring to the table of Pollock purva-paksha, will get silenced even more, once Kannan has produced a few dozen solid scholars capable of responding to Pollock at the standard required.

Meanwhile, the noisemaker, hecklers, bombastic claimants are simply part of the background wanting the limelight without the required tapasya; they should not be allowed to hijack the serious work that a few persons are engaged in doing.


  1. Your energy is inspiring. Your silent admirer.

  2. This reply should clarify all regarding the brahmin/Kshatriya dichotomy and close the issue for good and focus on the real issues that require concrete action.

  3. Vishwamitra was born into a Ksahtriya family but by perseverance and always in conflict with Vasisth, a classical Brahmin, became a Brahmarshi. Vasisth in turn married Arundhati a Dalit kanya. Parasuram born in a Brahmin family became a Kshatriya and killed many Kings. Vyasa was born to Matsyagandhi a fisherman's daughter. Valmiki a hunter became Adi kavi in Sanskrit. Janaka, a Kshatriya by birth lived like a Brahmin. All these examples show that birth didn't determine varna. It is better to go by Guna and Karma as told by Bhagawan Krishna in Geeta. Three gunas Satva, Rajas and Tamas occur in human beings in different proportions. A person who is 100% Satva can be called Brahman irrespective of birth. You can read Shrdhaatraya Vibhaaga Chapter in Geeta to know more. Karma i.e. profession is another criterion to determine Varna. In today's world intellectuals with satva guna may be Brahmins. In my opinion Ganesh seems to be afflicted by a lot of Tamas Guna, so he can't be called Brahmin. Rajiv who seems to have less Tamas Guna is probably more Brahmin than Ganesh. We have to reform Hindu society along Guna and Karma forgetting the old castes decided by birth. Actually in today's society there are no Vasishtas or Janakas- and nobody is 100% Satvic- and hence there are no Brahmins.A person has to maintain satya and ahimsa and conquer all six enemies Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, Mada and Matsrya to be called a Brahmin. There is none who will meet these criteria unless some Sadhus or Siddhas. So either there are no Brahmins or it is very difficult to find one.