Response to Shatavadhani Ganesh’s review of The Battle for Sanskrit

This is indeed a thorough and critical review of Rajiv Malhotra’s book The Battle for Sanskrit,  befitting a scholar of Shatavadhani Ganesh’s standing. SG admits the influence of Pollock and the need for opposing people like Pollock who are undermining Sanskrit and Sanskriti. Infact he provides explicit material to strengthen RM critique of Pollock in the appendix “Additional Approaches to Counter Pollock”. I hope SG expands this appendix to a full article.  

Given all this it is somewhat puzzling that SG can not bring himself to fully support RM; he supports the spirit of RM’s mission, though. It seems to me that SG is primarily bothered by RM’s presentation of the finer aspects of Hindu tradition and philosophy – idea of transcendence; blurred boundaries between sastra, kavya, and veda; epistemologies of adhibhuta, adhidaiva, and adhyatma; scope of dharshana and dhyana, etc. And yes, these are finer aspects for a large majority of Hindus, including myself.

Does SG really believe that the current social, political, and even academic environment in India is conducive to such lofty discussions? 

Let me illustrate the importance of what RM is doing using my own example.

I grew up in India in the 80s and 90s in a Hindu family. I went to top CBSE schools and an ‘ivy league’ engineering college in India — a privileged upbringing and best education by any standards. However, nothing in my education at home or in school exposed me to the philosophical underpinnings of the Hindu tradition. At an individual level, Hinduism for me was effectively what RM calls ‘transactional hinduism’ and at a community level it was about festivals and rituals. And at the political level it was about caste, cows and Ram mandir. In effect, a lay Hindu in India is completely unaware of the deep philosophical basis of the Hindu tradition. And if you add to that the idea that origin of modern science and technology in the west involved rebelling against religion, you end up with the mindset that I had just out of college. Forget being proud of my heritage, I had become cynical about it and at best I thought of it as a glorious past which belonged in the past.

And I was not an outlier – most of my highly educated Hindu friends had the same attitude.

Then I came across the work of RM a few years back and it completely changed my views. Suddenly it all made sense. I understood that my previous mindset was an outcome of a massive multi-century social engineering program that was started by the likes of Max Mueller, institutionalized by the British and pretty much continued forward post-independence. If anything it became more vicious due to people like ‘pandit’ Pollock and his Indian followers. Now I am enraged, but not surprised by commentaries in defense of Pollock by people like Ananya Vajpayee in leading Indian newspapers like Hindu! At a personal level, I am no longer ashamed or apologetic about my heritage. On the contrary, I am motivated to go deep into it, not with an attitude of cynicism, but one of shraddha.   

But now I am an outlier!

Most of my friends continue to have the same pseudo-secular anti-Hindu attitude and think of me as fringe or right wing (hence the title of this blog!).

My point is that if SG really wants to elevate the discourse to the level of his critique here, then the first step has to be winning the battle that RM has outlined. I learned a lot from this review and I hope SG uses his deep understanding of the subject to mentor the ‘home team’, not undermine it.

Additional Reading

Other analysis of SG’s review:

  1. By Aditi Banerji on 27 March 2016 (link)
  2. By Raja Bhardawaj on 27 March 2016 (link)
  3. By Druvid A CRITIQUE OF DR.GANESH’S CRITICAL REVIEW OF RAJIV MALHOTRA’S ‘THE BATTLE FOR SANSKRIT’ on March 26 2016 (link)
  4. By Rajiv Malhotra A preliminary response to Shatavadhani Ganesha on 26 March 2016 (link)
  5. By Sejuti Banerjea A Laymans Response To Shatavadhani Ganesh on 26 March 2016 (link)
  6. By SureshVure RESPONSE TO SHATAVADHANI GANESH on 29 March 2016
    (link)
  7. By Rajiv Malhotra – full response posted on April 4, 2016 in two parts (part 1, part2). For me these two articles are the last word on this debate! Must read.

Appendix

With that background, here are some specific comments on SG’s review:

  1. SG makes the following observations regarding RM’s contributions and his mission: 

This is not a new battle. It has been fought before, and won before. We (Malhotra included) have to humbly submit to the fact that we are merely trying to continue the great scholarly tradition.

The battle for Sanskrit and Sanskriti is not a new one.

.. Malhotra writes in several places that he is the first person to undertake such a task (see pp. 27, 44, or 379, for example), which as we know is false.

He provides extensive bibliography of “past masters” who countered the ‘outsiders.’ I am not aware of most of these masters but will now try to seek out their works. As for how much credit should RM get, I have explained his impact above.

I will just add that the scope of this battle is huge and I hope the other scholars would do the same kind of outreach as what RM does — write books explaining things for a common Indian, visit college campuses and make their lectures videos available broadly.

2. SG writes

.. it is noteworthy that Time has been unkind to theories and approaches that have been against the spirit of sanatana dharma.

In principle, I agree with SG here but perhaps this time is different.

The ground reality is that Pollock is being awarded the Padma Bhusan and made the head of Murty Library of Classics! The influence of western indologists is deep and too close to home. 

Moreover, in this age of social media it is not difficult to spread false propaganda. Nevertheless, I do not believe in any sort of censorship. I just want equal representation for both the insider and outsider views. It is then up to an individual to pick his side.

  1. SG writes

[RM] aims to show that Hinduism is exclusivist in its own way and its exclusivism is somehow better than other exclusivist faiths like Christianity or Islam (see his previous book, Being Different).

RM books and lectures do not give me this impression. He has repeatedly and explicitly said that dissent and diversity of thought are unique strengths of the Hindu tradition and must be preserved.

  1. SG writes

That said, Malhotra’s analysis of European Orientalism and its latter variant, what he terms ‘American Orientalism’ is reasonably accurate. When the British scholars came in contact with Indian knowledge systems in the 18th and 19th centuries, they faced a worldview vastly different from theirs. Instead of understanding the Indian view in Indian terms, they force-fitted what they observed into the worldview they were familiar with. Added to this, there was the White Man’s Burden that egged them to ‘civilize’ the people they conquered. This led to a gross misrepresentation of the Indian culture and this would later become, ironically, the primary source for educated Indians to learn about their own culture. This viewing of India through the Western lens has given rise to several erroneous conclusions and Malhotra makes this point numerous times in his book (to the extent that he could have saved many pages had he chosen not to repeat himself).

Very well put. Completely agree. But this is not common understanding and more scholars need to make this point .. repeatedly!

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Author: thisisnotrightwing

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1 thought on “Response to Shatavadhani Ganesh’s review of The Battle for Sanskrit”

  1. Rajiv Malhotra is doing fine work, but he needs to take care of two things:
    1. He doesn’t have to be a one-man army (or a single general of a background research army). Given that he is not really a “Sanskrit scholar”, it’s probably best if he works with someone who actually is one. Ideally a traditionalist, so that he gets support from the old establishment as well. He’ll need all the support he can get if he has to keep the fight up for a long time. It won’t hurt if he gives an impression of humility..
    2. Be aware of how his work is being used. There is always a danger of his arguments being wrongly interpreted or used as motivation for wrong actions.

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