Psychographics. The first time I came across this book- “The Battle for Sanskrit” by Sri Rajiv Malhotra was when YouTube suggested me to watch the video below based on my online behavioural patterns. [Courtesy: Jagrit Bharat]
Having had peeked into few pages of one of his earlier books, “Indra’s Net” a couple of years back, I decided to read this book seriously since the title was very impressive. The book covers some of the key issues that need immediate attention in the field of Indology and Samskrit philology. Today, I had an opportunity to attend the author’s talk about this very book at MIT, Cambridge, organized by MIT Samskritam along with MIT Hindu Student Council and Samskrita Bharati, Boston.
Let me summarize my understanding of the brief two-and-a-half hour session.
The Problem in Hand
To recognize an issue as a potential problem is itself the first step towards finding a solution to it. One such issue is West’s keen interest in studying history, cultures, languages and literature of the Indian subcontinent with an intention of becoming future custodians of vast knowledge repositories of India. This is one of the ways of colonizing the Indian minds. In order to counter this growing problem, Mr. Malhotra has proposed in his book, the need to have a clear picture of insiders and outsiders in a culture. For e.g. a practising Hindu is an insider whereas a person who studies Hinduism for the sole purpose of refuting what it preaches is an outsider. This is when Mr. Malhotra emphasizes the importance of the term—Hinduphobia.
In this book of his, he has extensively studied Prof. Sheldon Pollock, a scholar of Samskrit, the intellectual and literary history of India, and comparative intellectual history and critiqued some of his major works on Samskrit texts. This professor has been in controversy of late, for his association with the Murty Classical Library of India (MCLI) which has taken up the gigantic task of translating great literary works of India from the past two millennia. Mr. Malhotra’s argument is that while countries like China, Japan, etc have their own Indologists for such a project of reinterpreting their texts, why is that we have entrusted it to Western scholars who do not have a background of living the tradition at all! Throwing more light on the same, Mr. Malhotra showed the severity of the problem— most of the prestigious journals and conferences on Samskrit studies are controlled by Western editors. There are scholars who prefer getting their papers accepted or getting a doctorate from an Oxford or a Harvard for their booming careers.
The Germans, the British, the French scholars study Samskrit texts with their own backgrounds to prove the superiority of Western Civilization. Instead of understanding the magnitude of the problem, some of these scholars are given away prestigious awards of India like how Prof. Pollock was awarded the Padma Sri.
The Path towards Solution
Having discussed about all the above issues and many more in his book and today’s talk as well, Mr. Malhotra proposes to form a home team to defend and counter-attack the intellectual barbarism by the west. We have to have strong ‘insiders’ who are capable of doing a purvapaksha of the works of the Indologists of the West and debate their stands with a scholarly uttarapaksha. One such effort has already been initiated by Prof. K. S. Kannan by starting a conference series for Purvapaksha on Western Indology.
At the grassroot level, for one of the questions from the audience, Mr. Malhotra said, we ought to awaken the “Intellectual Kshaatra” in us. We have multitude of challenges facing us— first of all, getting to know our culture depth for which we have look for unbiased sources: living Gurus and original texts, second, sharpening our debating skills like how the Buddhist schools train their disciples even today.
Q & A
There were some mind-boggling questions from the audience. I will try to recall some and summarize the answers.
For a question on ‘insiders’, Mr. Malhotra answered, in the course of writing this book he met many scholars in India of whom some were serious researchers and took his side but many of them were either ‘sold-out’ to the West or were simply incapable of identifying the problem as a problem. In other words, they were the early Arjuna of the Kurukshetra war in the ‘escapism’ mode.
For a question on Dr. Shatavadhani Ganesh’s review on his work, he said he would be answering all those questions raised by the former on his work.
For a question on how as an American Indian could one study Vedanta, Mr. Malhotra’s answer was that he should find a living Guru.
For a question on the reason why Indian Government isn’t funding research in Indology, the author answered that we would have more scholars flocking from the West to Indian Universities taking up prestigious positions and ruling the game in a much powerful way.
For a question on Dr. Rohan Murty’s MCLI project, the author commented that the project has to be more transparent by having eminent Indian scholars review the translated works before they are published.
For a question on the Aryan Invasion theory and Germans adopting the “Swastika” symbol, the author gave a summary of how German Indologists have been claiming that they have ancestral roots to the Vedas and have been trying to distort the historical dates since over40 years by saying that Aryans were the ancient Europeans.
For the last question of the session as to how one can contribute towards this battle for Sanskrit, Mr. Malhotra said that owing to each one’s individual capability, one could contribute towards building the home team.
End of the Talk
The talk was concluded with a book signing session by the author.