The Battle for Sanskrit – Rajiv Malhotra

The Battle for Sanskrit by Rajiv Malhotra

Rajiv MalhotraSynopsis

There is a new awakening that is challenging the ongoing westernization of the discourse about India. The Battle for Sanskrit seeks to alert traditional scholars of Sanskrit and sanskriti—Indian civilization—concerning an important school of thought that has its base in the US and that has started to dominate the discourse on the cultural, social and political aspects of India. This academic field is called Indology or Sanskrit studies. From their analysis of Sanskrit texts, the scholars of this field are intervening in modern Indian society with the explicitly stated purpose of removing ‘poisons’ allegedly built into these texts. They hold that many Sanskrit texts are socially oppressive and serve as a political weapon of the ruling elite; that the sacred aspects need to be refuted or side lined; and that Sanskrit has long been dead. The traditional Indian experts would outright reject or at least question these positions.

The start of Rajiv Malhotra’s feisty exploration of where the new thrust in Western Indology goes wrong, and his defence of what he considers the traditional, Indian approach, began with a project related to the Sringeri Sharada Peetham, one of the most sacred institutions for Hindus. There was, as he saw it, a serious risk of distortion of the teachings of the peetham, and of Sanatana Dharma more broadly.

Whichever side of the fence one may be, The Battle for Sanskrit, offers a spirited debate marshalling new insights and research. It is a valuable addition to an important subject, and in a larger context, on two ways of looking. Is each view exclusive of the other, or can there be a bridge between them? The reader can judge for himself. – TBFS, 2016

Reviewers’ Comments

This is a bold book, daring to take up some of the basic but unexamined assumptions of modern Western Indology. — ARVIND SHARMA, Birks Professor of Comparative Religion, McGill University, Montreal.

For the past sixty years my primary activity has been to interpret Sanskrit and sanskriti. Indeed, Malhotra and I are sailing in the same boat. This book provokes a debate between the ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ of our heritage. It exposes that many outsiders pretend to be insiders, but their hidden agenda is to convince ignorant Hindus that the Vedas are myths and that the traditional claims are nonsensical. They pretend to know our traditions even better than our highest exponents. Unfortunately, most insiders are either blissfully unaware of these subversive projects or are living in isolation and afraid of debating them. Malhotra’s work is designed after the traditional method of purva-paksha and uttarapaksha which makes it very interesting and thought provoking. I strongly recommend this work to all Indologists, traditional pandits, historians, philosophers and ordinary seekers. — DAYANANDA BHARGAVA, Recipient of President’s Award, former Head of Department of Sanskrit and Dean of Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Jodhpur; presently Chairman, J.R. Rajasthan Sanskrit University, Jaipur.

This book calls upon traditional scholars to get out of their silos, and calls upon opponents to join the conversation as interlocutors. It is a remarkable work of systematic argumentation that provides a forceful defence against the onslaught of Western scholarship. Serious scholars will benefit from its remarkable insights, boldness and uprightness. I highly recommend it as a preparation for strategic debates. — S. R. BHATT, Chairman, Indian Council of Philosophical Research, HRD Ministry, Government of India; Former Head of Department of Philosophy, Delhi University, Delhi.

Rajiv Malhotra belongs to that rare breed of Indian scholars who have been working in the area of Indic civilization for a long time. In this incisive and exhaustive work he brings forth the critical role of Sanskrit, and ignites a meaningful discussion on a long neglected area. I wish the book all success. — R. VAIDYANATHAN, Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

This book makes excellent reading and uses an analytical method to compare the rival positions of Western and traditional Indian camps. The author has done a yeoman’s service by exposing the scholars who are hijacking the pristine glory and contemporary utility of Sanskrit language, literature and culture. — PANKAJ CHANDE, Member of Central Advisory Board of Education, Government of India; former President, Association of Indian Universities; former Vice-Chancellor, Kavi Kulaguru Kalidas Sanskrit University, Ramtek, Maharashtra.

This book rips through the fortress of American Indology and its insinuations that Sanskrit traditions are socially abusive and are driven by the political motives of the elite. The author is devastatingly impressive in the way he exposes the prevailing hegemonic discourse of the West and the role of the large army of Indian sepoys who have been recruited as mercenaries. Rajiv Malhotra has been one of the most effective kshatriyas in the intellectual kurukshetra of today. Every traditional scholar and practitioner of Vedic traditions must read it and join his home team. — KAPIL KAPOOR, former Rector and Professor of English and Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Chief Editor, Encyclopedia of Hinduism; Chief Editor, Encyclopedia of Indian Poetics, New Delhi.

Westerners consider themselves very progressive when meddling in Indian affairs. The values they now defend, such as egalitarianism and feminism, are different from what prevailed in the West during the colonial age, but the underlying spirit of “civilizing the savages” is the same. They now try to wrest control of Sanskrit studies from the “oppressive, reactionary” traditionalists, and increasingly succeed with the help of native informers eager for the status and money that Western academics can confer. Once upon a time, the colonizers brought prized artworks to museums in the West, claiming that these were safer there than in the care of the irresponsible natives. Now, their successors try to carry away the adhikara (prerogative) to interpret Sanskrit texts, so as to make Hindus look at their own tradition through anti-Hindu lenses. For the first time, Rajiv Malhotra analyses the stakes involved for Hindu civilization, which risks losing control over the backbone of its historical identity, and the power equation in the production of knowledge concerning Sanskrit and the dharmic tradition. He proposes a research programme that Hindus will need to carry out if they are to face this sophisticated onslaught. This path-breaking book maps a battlefield hitherto unknown to most besieged insiders. — KOENRAAD ELST, Indologist,  Mortsel, Belgium.

This book provides extensive ground work for traditional scholars, sadhaks, writers and awakened minds to understand the serious threats against Indian civilization. The author’s fearless exposition is driven by his indomitable will, persistence and vigour, long swadhyaya, and cool and patient mind. Works of this calibre appear rarely in a generation. Future scholars will be grateful to Rajiv Malhotra for this wakeup call to retain the sacredness of Sanskrit and its association with Indian life. — DEEPIKA KOTHARI & RAMJI OM, Filmmakers of History of Yoga, Mumbai.

Rajiv’s work is a timely response to the discourse by western academics, and exposes the need for Indian scholars with a deep understanding of our languages and culture, working with original texts, to counter the flawed narrative and create an Indian narrative. — T. V. MOHANDAS PAI, Chairman, Aarin Capital Partners, Bangalore.

Having gone through the pages of this book, I highly recommend that every traditional scholar and Western Indologist should study it and engage the issues it raises. The author provides a solid response to the prejudices against Indian civilization, and his remarkably systematic approach is commendable. — RAMESH KUMAR PANDEY, Vice-Chancellor, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, New Delhi.

While an army of Western scholars has been hurling criticisms and throwing challenges against Indian heritage for two centuries, there has hardly been a commensurate response from the heirs of our heritage. This is largely due to gaps in knowledge at our end: the Sanskrit pandits are often ignorant of nuanced English and the Western frameworks and paradigms; and the modern westernised Indians are culturally illiterate and lack the competence to respond. This book bridges the gaps and enables traditional pandits as well as the Indian literati to comprehend Western Indology from an Indian perspective. It also exposes how westerners have manoeuvred by capturing Indian resources to perpetuate their biased verdicts. The book makes it possible to have dialogues as equals. The responsibility now lies squarely on traditional Indian scholars to take on the issues between insiders and outsiders which this book has framed. Rajiv Malhotra’s contribution consists of this valuable role as a prime initiator of this dialogue. — K. S. KANNAN, Former Director, Karnataka Samskrit University, Bangalore.

The Battle for Sanskrit has immense potential to equip and arm Vedic insiders with the required knowledge not just to battle the outsiders but, more importantly, to preserve their own sanskriti based on its indigenous principles. I humbly request all Sanskrit lovers, scholars and practitioners of Vedic traditions to read this book and join the suggested ‘home team’ for serious intellectual exchanges on the issues concerned. — SAMPADANANDA MISHRA, Director, Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Indian Culture, Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry.

The Battle for Sanskrit wrests open a main gate to the predominantly western constructed citadel known as Indology. Who can remain silent or, worse, collaborate, in the face of groundless allegations that Indian elites are promulgating Sanskrit and its traditions for political gain, thus perpetuating a so-called Sanskrit-born social abuse? As the linguistic key to the highest wisdom of humanity, Sanskrit studies must escape captivity enforced by academic guardians who over-zealously wield the club of Western theoretical methods. The author, besides exposing the colonial baggage still colouring the western approach to India’s Sanskrit heritage, also shines his torch, in fairness, upon the large platoon of Indian sepoys colluding as mercenaries to help keep the Sanskrit potentiality in check. A salient point this book offers us is that the Western approach to Sanskrit is often weighed down by “political philology”—cultural biases, hegemonic filters. Superbly presenting the positive correction to this imbalance, the author advocates our seeing through the lens of “sacred philology.” — DEVAMITRA SWAMI, Spiritual Leader and Author of Searching for Vedic India, New York.

This is an important book to ignite the much needed conversation on Sanskrit, its past and its future. Rajiv Malhotra opens a new ground by evaluating what Western Indologists have been writing about our traditions. It is time for the scholars to wake up and give responses impartially. I commend the author for arguing against the view that Sanskrit is oppressive or dead. Every serious scholar of Indology should read this book and join the intellectual discourse on our heritage. — UPENDRA RAO, Chair, Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Rajiv Malhotra deserves kudos for his insightful book, The Battle for Sanskrit, which is a much-needed intervention that gives insiders a seat at the table as equals. Rather than Western Indologists and their Indian supporters becoming defensive, they should welcome this book as an opportunity for honest exchanges. The issues raised here are too important to be ignored any longer. The direction that this battle takes can have far-reaching consequences on approaches to science, technology, social studies and economics. The pompous edifice of Western Indology that has been built over a long time will not crumble overnight. It is now up to the traditional scholars and practitioners to heed the author’s call and develop solid intellectual responses (uttara-paksha) to the challenges. — HRISHIKESH A. MAFATLAL, Chairman, Arvind Mafatlal Group of Companies; Chairman, BAIF Development Research Foundation, Pune.

This book’s meticulously gathered information, and its coherent arguments presented in a lucid and engaging style, will easily make our traditional and modern scholars realise that they can no longer rely on Western scholarly endeavours, however profound and painstaking they may be, for achieving a resurgence of Indian civilization. A book that absolutely must be read, by anyone who cares for the resurgence of Bharatiya-samskriti, which is deeply embedded in Sanskrit! — K. RAMASUBRAMANIAN, Professor, IIT Bombay, Mumbai.

Sanskrit can no longer be the concern of only the traditional pandits. Modern methods of analysis, interpretation and communication have to be brought in and we have to rebuild our own universities—inspired as much by Nalanda as by Cambridge—with science, philosophy, humanities, in fact all knowledge, created, pursued and taught on the same campus. As an unabashed lover of Sanskrit, I welcome this debate that Rajiv Malhotra has brought out into the open about the status of Sanskrit studies in the world, including in particular its homeland, India. This book should trigger a discussion on the scientific qualities of Sanskrit, in particular the tradition’s emphasis on empiricism, and on the similarities and differences between Indian and Western approaches to knowledge. — RODDAM NARASIMHA, eminent aerospace scientist and recipient of Padma Vibhushan, Bangalore.

The knowledge system which has developed in relation to ancient India since the middle of the eighteenth century was (and still is) dominated by Western scholarship. The so-called consensus in this field was essentially a matter of agreement among Western scholars, with Indians playing only a subsidiary role. The situation should have begun to change in the light of the new power equations since the mid-twentieth century. The fact that it has not yet significantly done so is due to several factors operating in the background, the most important of which is the deplorable unwillingness among Western scholars to take note of the viewpoints of an increasing number of Indian professionals. It is basically a confrontational situation, if not that of war. The Western academic institutions dealing with India are full of ‘experts’ who are basically anti-India. Rajiv Malhotra, a well-known independent scholar, has long been known for his deep perception of this problem and his clear, well-argued analysis and criticism of it. I have always been an avid reader of his columns and books. In this volume he throws new light on the power network behind Sanskrit studies in the West. This is a book which will long be cherished by the rational elements among the Indian and Western Indologists. — DILIP K. CHAKRABARTI, Emeritus Professor of South Asian Archaeology, Cambridge University, Cambridge.

The book will be launched at Art of Living headquarters in Bangalore on January 24th. It will be available for sale on Amazon or Flipkart. The book’s website is HERE.

More videos HERE

3 Responses

  1. Also learn from the Chinese and the Japanese.

  2. It is all software! Where is the hard wired stuff. You can never make “”their” mouth shut and hands frozen – Be it bad mouthing Sanskrit, Sanskriti or out right centuries of attempt to convert people en masse.

    RM and the modern “scholars” are wanting in their first hand study and sadhana. I may be wrong. They are proficient in the English language and no scholarly sadhana in Sanskrit or any language of India. All said and done hard ware is a must for the SW to work even if mono-lingual.

  3. Point taken .How to defeat this lobby which is trying to destroy our self-respect and identity?our youngsters don’t care for Sanskrit.This is because all advanced level of education is available in English and other western languages,something that can’t be denied.

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