Book Review: Rajiv Malhotra’s “The Battle for Sanskrit”

~ By Khandavalli Satya Deva Prasad

The refined aspect of Bharatiya society is Sanskriti. Its language is Sanskrit. Sanskrit and Sanskriti are almost synonymous. Such is the importance of Sanskrit language. The four hundred sixty pages book The Battle for Sanskrit by Sri Rajiv Malhotra, analyzes in detail the threat posed to Sanksrit and Sanskriti by the latest round of western intervention called American Orientalism represented by scholars like Sheldon Pollock. The earlier form of western intervention was European Orientalism of 19th century. The book gives the details of various canards created by the Pollock school in the garb of lofty sounding theories and concepts.

Malhotra draws the battle lines between the outsiders represented by the American Orientalists and their Indian chelas and the insiders represented by the traditional Sanskrit scholars. The prize of the battle is control over the discourse that decides the fate of Sanskrit. He urges the traditional scholars of Sanskrit , who, till now, kept themselves aloof from the world currents that affect the future perception about Sanskrit even in India, its birth place.

The book’s content is presented in a highly organized and purposive manner.

The first chapter begins with an account of the attempts to hijack Sanskrit and Sanskriti. The writer makes an impassioned appeal to the insiders to form a home team to rescue Sanskrit from the hijackers and reclaim its true legacy.

Then, some details about the hijacker camp are given. The writer says that there are important differences between the methods employed, output turned out and the effects achieved by the old and new Orientalist schools. The American Orientalists are a small but influential, left-leaning group of scholars deploying every trick in their bag to de-link the sacred aspects of Sanskrit literature and secularize it to suit their agenda. This grand project to secularize Sanskrit includes an attack on the transcendental or paramarthika element of Sanskrit lore, attacking ritual which is in the form of yajna, sidelining the vital oral tradition, rejecting the shastras which are knowledge systems, branding Sanskrit grammar as ‘toxic’, and condemning the Ramayana as socially oppressive. The Pollock school is in no mood to consider the significance of UNESCO’s declaration of Vedic chanting as world culture heritage and the crucial importance of oral version of Veda to Indian culture. The Pollock repeatedly appeals for the revival of Sanskrit while at the same time argues for the suppression of its vital features!

Through his ‘Deep Orientalism’, Pollock seeks to prove that Sanskrit had been an inspiration to oppression in India and elsewhere. He goes to extreme lengths to blame Sanskrit for the atrocities committed by Europeans in India, for Nazism, holocaust by the Germans and what not! He cites the Ramayana as the kavya that propagates Vedic social oppression. By purveying this falsehood, he indirectly admits the truth that ancient texts like Ramayana propagate Vedic teachings. It is also proposed that Ramayana was popularized since 11th century just to demonize the Muslims! Such are the scholarly knots into which the Pollockian scholarship ties itself. Biggest of such knots is the theory that the Valmiki Ramayana was written after the advent of Buddhism. In short, Ramayana is interpreted by the American Orientalists as atrocity literature and offered to the outsiders as an excuse to intervene in Indian politics.

Then there is the theory of aestheticization of power. Through this theory Pollock supplies the much needed intellectual ballast to the Indian Left to divide and weaken the society and boost its political power in the process-‘the Indian Left is clearly working with him closely to boost their own political power. His work on Sanskrit supports them ideologically’ (p.90).

Malhotra helps the traditional scholars to gain purchase on the issues involved by formulating the issues in traditional categories. It is useful for traditional scholars to study the threat posed by Pollock’s ilk to Bharatiya Sanskriti in general and Sanskrit in particular by placing him in Charvaka category. And Pollock meets most of the Charvaka requirements like his denial of Paramarthika (sacred) spirit of Sanskrit texts, his espousal of strictly materialistic view of the world, and, above all, his condemnation of Vedas and Yajnas and Pujas as magical buffoonery. After all, the ancient charvakas declared- ‘agnihotram trayo vedah tridandam bhasma gunthanam; buddhi pourusha hinanam jeeviketi brhaspatih’- (yajna, Vedas, staff of the renunciate, and smearing of ashes are the signs of brainless nincompoops donned for livelihood, so says Brahpathi). True to his charvaka proclivities, Pollock pastes the same old charges on Sanskrit and the Veda. The ancient darshanikas accepted Charvaka thought as an alluring but a system of thought harmful to the civilized society.

Chapter seven of the Battle for Sanskrit gives a summary of Pollock’s noxious formulations about Sanskrit and Sanskriti. Then Pollock attempts to pronounce Sanskrit as dead and non-existent. While doing so, studious silence is maintained on how the West plagiarized the Shastras and tried to kill Sanskrit as if to destroy the evidence of its culpability. The neo-orientalist repeats the old canard propagated by the erstwhile colonialist-missionary-indologist combine that there is no such thing as Indian Civilization and Indian nation ad nauseam.

The tenth chapter is devoted to dissect the Pollock phenomena. The writer tells us how Pollock gathered his clout with the academia, media, Indian entrepreneurs and the Indian public. In the next and the last chapter, a way forward is suggested to those who undertake the task to reverse the damage so far explained in detail.
There are five appendices that throw light on some of the topics dealt in the text.

As usual, like Rajiv Malhotra’s other books, this one also features its schematic diagrams that focus on the vital points, copious chapter notes and long, useful bibliography.

The book published by Harper Collins Publishers in the present year belongs to the genre that reverses the gaze on the forces that attack the Bharatiya Sanskriti and society. Included in this genre are the works by such stalwarts as Sri Aurobindo, Lala Lajpatrai, Sita Ram Goel, Arun Shourie, David Frawley, Koenraad Elst among others. The book is a must read for all those who love and cherish the continued existence of Bharatiya culture and Sanskrit, the language that embodies its soul.

(This book review is carried in India Foundation Journal, January-April 2016 issue)

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