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Pollock’s obsession with Sanskrit’s past instead of what it really says

 Pollocks obsession with Sanskrits past instead of what it really says

Gone are the days where civilizational battles were almost exclusively fought face-to-face with your life on the line and your people in tow. Appropriate to the Information Age, a newkurukshetra (battlefield) has emerged where the front is our minds and our cultural identity is the prize.

The latest book, The Battle for Sanskrit, by Hindu intellectual and cultural strategist, Rajiv Malhotra, has immersed many Hindus into the crosshairs of Western thinkers who have interpreted the dharmic knowledge systems with lens’ outside the confines and frameworks of the dharmic traditions themselves. With their influence, governments, institutions and the masses have been categorically been misinformed about the very nature of dharma and its manifestation in India and beyond.

Upon further exploration of Sheldon Pollock’s perspectives, the primary target of intellectual critique in Rajiv’s book, a particularvideo struck a nerve. There were several assertions by Pollock, albeit craftily made, that run counter to the ethos of Sanskrit andsanskriti.

“We do not study ancient Indian past to find the cure for cancer in a Vedic text. There is no cure for cancer in a Vedic text, there’s no recipe for cold fusion in the Veda. Knowing something about the past is radically non-instrumental if I can put it that way.”

Sanskrit grammar is condensed into the minimal amount of words as possible for a reason. The codified language where a single word can have innumerable meanings keeps the door open for innovation in understanding and application. It means that Sanskrit is designed to withstand the shifts in time and culture. It is not bound to context as a vast array of Sanskrit terms especially those found in sastrahave built in meta meanings that may have more relevance in one era than another. Therefore, claiming that it is a relic of the past it with no relevance to the present and especially future is to belittle it. It is to kill its intrinsic truth.

According to Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, individuals and societies succumb to the lower realms of consciousness as they cannot unearth the eternal and divine from all things. Their purview of the world before them is filtered by this consciousness. This is explained repeatedly throughout the Upanishads and Puranas yet routinely ignored by secular enthusiasts and academics. The reason is theyhave to ignore it (and systematically so) in order to preserve the ‘integrity’ of their historical consciousness. For them, denying Sanskrit’s inherent and independent sacredness is a categorical imperative.

Finally, the Western discomfort with the past is something to be deeply analyzed. For the West, the past is something to be overcome and generally associated with our less evolved states of being. This thinking is not only dangerously limiting, it is also a byproduct of a historical consciousness that anchors itself to the realm of the finite. How then can such thinkers be handed the keys to the matters of the infinite?

This relegates Sanskrit and sanskriti, by association, to an entirely secular experience riddled with worldly motives, as Pollock exclaims, and not something that descends from and and imbued with divinity. Not something that represents the experience of hundreds of millions in the past, in the present and the centuries to come.

Author: Palak Shah
Published: March 10, 2016
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