Sanskrit and Language Politics Then and Now: Muruganandham

Guest post by MURUGANANDHAM*

When all the arrangements were made by the corporate media and Hinduist forces for ensuring that Modi became the next Prime Minister, the democratic forces and progressive political organizations were still trying hard to make people understand his real agenda of imposing corporate capitalism and Brahminical Hinduism, in a rapidly fascist manner, in the guise of “development”. Middle class voters were lured by the media and believed him to be the harbinger of “development”. After taking over the rule at the center, Modi’s government has taken up the burden of disproving the undue trust placed on it by the unfortunate Indian middle class – through an array of anti-people activities like cutting of the gas subsidy, privatization of the public sector and substantial hike in train-fare, not to mention the red-carpet rolled out to FDI investments in defense and railway sectors. The Modi government has also been quite manipulative, and has tried to distract people’s attention from these vicious schemes, by working out cultural and social programs with attractive sounding slogans.  The imposition of Sanskrit week, Hindi usage for official purposes, Guru Utsav and more recently the Svach Bharat Abhiyan are only some of those programs which rely purely upon empty rhetoric, hardly having any logic or working mechanism. Invoking people’s imagination towards the “national” symbols is a constant resort of the rulers for political mobilization. More often than not in the Indian context, Sanskrit has been used for this political end in order to sustain the eternal hegemony of Brahminical forces. The present politics behind imposing Sanskrit as the symbol of national heritage and culture by the BJP government certainly demands a much broader understanding of the historical role played by Sanskrit and other languages in shaping the societal structure and cultures. The language which was once denied to the people is now promoted to be the language of all Indians. Let’s attempt to unearth this irony of imposing Sanskrit as the language of “ALL” so as to reveal the ridiculousness of these announcements and the urgent need to oppose them.

We first need to look at the status of Sanskrit in the ancient Aryan Society in order to understand the real paradox of epitomizing Sanskrit as the language of  “ALL”. First of all, Sanskrit is often said to have brought civilization and refinement to the Indian culture and languages. But, many historians like Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya agree to the fact that when the semi-nomadic Aryan tribes entered the northern part of Indian subcontinent around 18th-11th centuries BCE, the Indus Valley Civilization had already established an urban society based on agriculture and trade. The deciphering attempts of archaeologists like Henry Heras, the Russian scholar Yuri Knorozov, Asko Parpola and Iravatham Mahadevan have closed in on the finding that the language used in Indus valley could probably be related to a proto-Dravidian language. After their invasion, the Aryan tribes occupied the north across the five rivers, replacing the Indus Civilization and driving the people living there towards the south and east. These races also mingled in course of time. Around 250 Dravidian words found in Vedas and the incidents narrated therein stand as testimony to these historical hypothesis. The Aryans called others ‘Dasyits’ or ‘inferiors’ as their gods, cultures and languages were different from those of the invaders. Irrespective of the exactness of these findings, it is clear that neither Sanskrit nor Brahmins civilized the subcontinent, for pre-Vedic civilization had undoubtedly existed before the Aryan settlement.

The verses sung by the Aryan tribes during their settlement in North India and development of their ritual sacrifices in a royal set up were later collected into four Vedas. After their settlement across the North, they set up a social structure based on Varna and made the oppression of fellow human beings as the very foundation of Hinduism through the Smritis and Shastras, particularly the Manu Smriti. The Shudhras and women had no right to listen or speak Sanskrit, nor they had the right to study Vedas as dictated by Manu: “He (the twice born) must never read (the Vedas) in the presence of the Shudhras.”—Chapter 4, verse 99, “Women have no business with the text of the Veda.”—Chapter-9, Verse 18, “If the Shudhra intentionally listens for committing to memory the Veda, then his ears should be filled with (molten) lead and lac; if he utters the Veda, then his tongue should be cut off; if he has mastered the Veda his body should be cut to pieces.”—Chapter 13, Verse4.

After these Vedas and Smritis developed the classical Sanskrit in which the “epics” Ramayana and Mahabharata, grammars, dramas and commentaries were written approximately up to the tenth century AD. If Sanskrit had anything worthy till this point, it was the anti-Brahminical/non-Vedic school of thoughts propounded by Samkhyas and particularly by Charuvakas who put forth the philosophy of equality based on Lokayata (Materialism) against the Vedic/Brahminical principle of discrimination. The Buddhist texts produced and translated into Sanskrit by the sages and philosophers like Asvaghosh and Nagarjuna also stand as remarkable contributions to the corpus of non-Vedic thoughts recorded in Sanskrit. At the same time, Buddha himself preached his principles in Pali, the language spoken by the common masses, thereby abandoning Sanskrit entirely and attracting a huge number of followers. But Brahminism reincarnated itself from its great down-fall either by crushing these thoughts violently or by adopting their basic traits within itself. A perfect example is found in the parts of Mahabharata insisting non-violence and elimination of Charuvaka as a villain. Sanskrit also thus sustained its hegemonic status with Brahminical Hinduism as its representative language. But it continued to be the exclusive property of Brahmins and upper-castes. Even the characters of menial nature (servants, slaves and women) in Sanskrit plays spoke in Pali, NOT IN Sanskrit.

Even though it was not the spoken language of the common mass at any historical juncture, literary works, grammatical treatises and commentaries were produced in Sanskrit up to the 8th-9th century. After this time, not much was written in Sanskrit except for the commentaries of early grammars and religious philosophies. But again Sanskrit, as the case with Brahminical Hinduism, spread its presence in South India and upon its languages by infiltration and imposition with spiritual sanctity accorded to the Brahmins and their language. Thus a distinct form of writing called ‘Manipiravala Nadai’ (the writing style employing Tamil and Sanskrit words and letters) developed around 12th century AD. Kannada, Malayalam and Telugu also got influenced heavily by Sanskrit and grew into distinct languages in the medieval age. The royal courts of Pallavas, Cholas and subsequent Hindu dynasties accorded Sanskrit the status of the greatest of all languages and offered it many services, which in turn benefited the Brahmins. But the resistance to Sanskrit and Brahminical ideologies of oppression and discrimination epitomized by it were fiercely confronted by the indigenous cultures and languages across the subcontinent. Pali, Chandal, Paisasa and others in the north and Tamil in the south continued to exist unpolluted by Sanskrit among the common people, and also maintained a rich tradition of oral literatures against its influence. Notably, Sanskrit or Brahminical Hinduism could not penetrate the south and among the indigenous people of north at a deeper level. Tamil country recorded its resistance to Hinduism in manifold respects. Nandanar, a Pariah untouchable by birth, entered the Nataraja temple of Chidambaram in 6th-7th century AD, valiantly opposing the restriction of worship-right to the out-castes in Hinduism. Nandanar was the first fighter for temple-entry right and one among the three to whom Dr. Ambedkar dedicated his book The Untouchables: Who Were They and Why They Became Untouchables? The Siddhas of Tamil composed many verses refusing the Vedic hegemony and advocating a rational form of Bhakti allowing no middle-man (Brahmin) in the way of reaching the truth (Shiva in their conception). This tradition continued up to Vallalar (1823-1874) who famously denounced Brahmins and idols and preached against the caste system. The Brahmins, who claim Muslim rulers as responsible for the killing and exploitation of Indians, burned Nandanar, Vallalar, Andal and many others who opposed their hegemony. They also assassinated 8000 Jains in Madurai taking the Pandia king as their ally. (This was perhaps the first instance of ‘state-sponsored terrorism’!) The available historical records make it apparent that there were many Muslim rulers who patronized Sanskrit and Brahmins.

Let’s come to the core of our discussion: how this language, which was mother tongue only to Brahmins, kept away from the common mass, always represented the Brahminical Hinduism, was never alive as a spoken language and linguistically distinct from the Dravidian and North Eastern languages, assumed to take the pan-Indian identity, motherly status and unquestionable authority in the modern secular state of present India? This story of Sanskrit’s imposition as the “national language” is inextricably linked to the reincarnation of Brahminical Hinduism during the colonial and postcolonial times. The British colonizers were the first to bring the vast territory of the subcontinent into a single empire of British India. The colonial government was most pragmatic in its approach to the native culture and religions, with no other motive but to sustain their rule with minimum or no resistance erupting from within. They were prepared to align themselves with anyone towards this end. Brahmins being the unquestioned superiors among the natives, their version of religion, language, culture and tradition were taken to represent the whole of subcontinent. By its policy of “non-interference”, in fact the colonial government made the Brahminical values spread uniformly across the nation and allowed the conversion of the caste system into more rigid and oppressive structure. With this was spread the sanctity of Sanskrit in its modern version using scientific tools. Orientalist scholars like William Jones, H. H.Williams and Max Muller accorded Sanskrit the parental position in the Indo-European family of languages. It was primarily through Sanskrit that the Brahmins established their remote connection with the European race and thereby positioned themselves above the rest of the natives. Yet, the missionary workers and a few colonial officers like Ellis and Caldwell, who served in Madras Presidency, mingled freely with the common mass and also found the uniqueness of Dravidian languages, Tamil being the most ancient and unpolluted of Sanskrit among them. This alternate discourse of Dravidian language family and nationalist  identities based on political mobilization against the cultural unity claimed by the revivers of Hinduism, posed a great threat to the spread of brahminical hegemony and Sanskrit. At the same time, the hitherto unrepresented and enslaved sections across the country emerged as a group capable of voicing their demands and rights due to the hard-work of progressive leaders coming from these sections. For instance, Mahatma Jyotirao Phule made the first generation school children belonging to Mahar and Mali castes recite their demand for education to the oppressed sections when the Prince of Wales visited India in 1889: “Tell Granma (Queen Victoria) we are a happy nation; but nineteen crores are without education!” thus, the resistance to Brahminism, and monopoly of Brahmins and their Language erupted in various parts of India in the nineteenth century. The Hindu ideologues realized that they could not sustain the monopoly of their religion retaining the older practices advocating discriminatory treatment to the lower castes. In the modern age, the barbaric aspects had to be eliminated or given new meaning to suit the changing circumstances, and that’s exactly what the neo-Hinduistic philosophers like Vivekananda, Arabindo, Gandhi and others did. With this phase of appropriating Hinduism and Brahminical hegemony were shaped Sanskrit and Hindi as representative/national languages of modern India.

A special reference to Hindi is to be made here. Hindi, as it exists now, developed only in the 19th century and was gradually promoted to become another “national language” in the early 20th century. In fact, modern Hindi is a highly Sanskritized version of many languages being spoken by the people of North India. The Devanagari script was assigned to Hindi instead of the Persian script only during this time. With Hindi getting opposed furiously by many regions especially Tamilnadu, Sanskrit was put forth as the icon of India and as the epitome of national identity. In 1956-57, the Central Government appointed a Sanskrit Commission, which inordinately declared: “Indeed, the very land ‘from the snow-covered abode of Siva down to the wave-washed feet of Kumari’ reverberates with the sounds of Sanskrit. Sanskrit’s geography provided the template for the nation’s geography, and the blueprint for its territorial unity.” Surely ridiculous it was, for Sanskrit was no one’s mother tongue except a few hundreds who willingly declared so. In modern India, ironically of course, Sanskrit was projected as the common language just because it was no one’s language. Likewise, Hinduism was told to be the religion because it was no one’s religion, and India was declared to be the nationality of all just because it was no one’s nationality! This was the modern incarnation of Sanskrit and Brahminical Hinduism within the modern (so- called) secular India. Curiously, Dalits, Shudhras, women, and all those sections, who were once disallowed even to listen to it, were invited to study it, master it and accept it as the national language. Obviously however, those who mastered it from these sections were not given the “sacred” jobs hitherto performed by the Brahmins. For instance, Kumud Pawde describes (in her autobiography) how she, a Dalit woman, was first projected as an example for the reach of Sanskrit among the lower castes, but denied any job or respect after she mastered Sanskrit. Likewise, the 206 backward and untouchable caste people who have mastered the Sanskrit Mantras and rituals with diplomas to become temple priests have been denied any right to be appointed in temples with the Brahmins stealthily approaching the Supreme Court against the Tamilnadu Government’s order in this respect. On the contrary, Hinduism was indirectly referred as ‘Indian culture’, ‘morality’ and ‘spiritual values’, since the religious terminology was inappropriate for modern times.

When Sanskrit was turned down as the national language by the majority, Hindi, a proxy for Sanskrit to represent Hinduism, was promoted as the official language. Tamilnadu, Periyar to be precise, was the first to identify the real motives behind promoting Hindi and Sanskrit. Periyar wrote in 1937: “imposition of Hindi or Sanskrit would certainly deprive our self-respect, freedom, civilization and economy.”, and he himself started the anti-Hindi agitation the next year. He also warned that Sanskrit or Hindi would be projected as the language of all, but neither oppressed sections nor their languages would be given equal status. His words were proved most right after the gradual promoting of Sanskrit. Since 1956, crores of funds have been allotted for developing, reviving and researching Sanskrit. This language alone enjoyed the privilege of central government funding and promotion, while developing other languages remains the responsibility of the respective state governments. The present imposition of Sanskrit week and preference to Hindi for official usage is nothing but a more fascist face of imposing Brahminical Hindutva ideologies through these linguistic rocket-launchers.

Understanding this language politics and opposing the supreme status accorded to Sanskrit and Hindi, which are enforced in multiple ways with an aim to enslave the huge proportion of Indian population, is the first formidable step in the long and strenuous path of abolishing Brahminical hegemony and liberating the lower castes, Adivasis and women from the clutches of fascist Hindutva forces.

References:

Aloysius, G. 1997. Nationalism without a Nation in India New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Cardona, George. “On Attitudes towards Language in Ancient IndiaSino-Platonic Papers. Jan. 15, 1990. URL: www.sino-platonic.org/complete/spp015_language_india.pdf

Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad. 1976 What is Living and What is Dead in Indian Philosophy. New Delhi: People’s Publishing House.

Jha, Dwijendra Narayan.2009.  Myth of the Holy Cow New Delhi: Navayana.

Orsini, Francesca. 2002. Hindi Public Sphere (1920-1940): Language and Literature in the Age of Nationalism. New Delhi: oxford University Press.

Parpola, Asko. 2009. Deciphering the Indus Script. Cambridge University Press.

Ramaswamy, Sumati. “Sanskrit for the Nation” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 33, No. 2 (May, 1999), pp. 339-381.

Importantly, the writings of Periyar and Ambedkar.

*Note: This is an edited version of a speech delivered at a forum held by the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (fAPSC) at IIT Madras on 10th October 2014. During the discussion, Prof. Rajesh, a linguist, made two significant points which ought to be mentioned here: firstly, none of the Indian languages originated solely from Sanskrit. Instead, Sanskrit has also gained much from the Indian languages, particularly the retroflex sounds. Likewise, Indian languages have also gained several qualities from Sanskrit. Secondly, Maithili, which is remarked to be a branch-language of Hindi, in fact has writings dating back to 14th century, whereas Hindi developed to become a written language only in the 19th century. Hence, it is wrong to assume Maithili or Bhojpuri or other north Indian languages as the branches of Hindi, the reality is other way around. The article titled “India as a linguistic area” published in linguistic society of America: http://www.jstor.org/stable/410649 and “Sanskrit and the Indian languages – myth and reality (2011)” published in frontier: http://www.frontierweekly.com/archive/vol-number/vol/vol-44-2011-12/vol-44-11-14/sansktit-44-11-14.pdf could be referred in this regard. The contribution of Prof. Rajesh towards a scientific understanding of the topic is gratefully acknowledged. During the discussion, the increasing sanskritization of Hindi in the present scenario was also pointed out as a Hindutva scheme.

22 thoughts on “Sanskrit and Language Politics Then and Now: Muruganandham

  1. ahannasmi

    The author sets up a non-existent straw man and then successfully demolishes it (surprise!). This intention is clear right away when he says

    “First of all, Sanskrit is often said to have brought civilization and refinement to the Indian culture and languages.”

    Who are the people who say this? If, as the author claims, this claim is made “often”, it might be easy to produce citations to published works. But, sadly, I know of no one credible who would subscribe to this view. Everyone agrees that the Indus Valley civilization predates Classical Sanskrit, and almost certainly also Vedic Sanskrit. I did all my schooling in the so called “cow belt” during the Joshi era, yet it was drilled into our heads (for good reason) that several Tamil grammatical and moralistic texts predated Classical Sanskrit, and were at least as old as many of the texts in Vedic Sanskrit.

    He then goes on to say that there is “nothing” “worthy in Sanskrit literature up to 10th century history. For someone who pointed out the existence of grammars, I presume this claim is made more out of malice than misinformation. But it undermines his credibility either way. Perhaps the author considers the grammar of Panini (which lies at the foundations even of modern linguistic theories of generative grammars), the ground breaking mathematical and astronomical works of Aryabhata, Brahmagupta and Bhaskara (which became treasured and highly influential treatises all across the Middle East and southern Europe), and the works of Kalidasa as “nothing worthy”. I believe this might say more about about the author’s predisposition about Sanskrit than about the strength of Sanskrit literature. The pacifism and the preaching of equality in various books of the Mahabharata (which he considers only an “epic”, not an epic without scare quotes) are dismissed as having been co-opted in. Alleged violent repression of ideas and their assimilation are mentioned in the same sentence as if they lie in the same category. That is the kind of error that would cause points to be deducted even in an high school essay.

    Then he makes the implicit claim that “women” are “menial” characters in Sanskrit plays. This seems to be a strange characterization when the most famous of Sanskrit playwrights is known principally for the strong female characters of his plays.

    Let me cap this off with what is the most blatant falsehood in this article, something that could have been fixed by a simple internet search on the history of North Indian languages. This is the claim that Devanagari was used for the various HIndi languages only after the 19th century:

    A special reference to Hindi is to be made here. Hindi, as it exists now, developed only in the 19th century and was gradually promoted to become another “national language” in the early 20th century. In fact, modern Hindi is a highly Sanskritized version of many languages being spoken by the people of North India. The Devanagari script was assigned to Hindi instead of the Persian script only during this time.

    If such is the case, I would like the author to tell me why surviving copies of texts as different from Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas (16th-17th century CE) and Malik Muhammad Jayasis’s Padmavat (written in 16th century CE, illustrated manuscripts from at least early 18th century CE are available), among others, are found only in the Devanagari (and not the Persian) script?

    An argument is only as strong as the premises it is based on. In case of this article, there might be an important argument to be made, but whatever that might be, it falls flat because of the author’s blatant disregard for historical truth.

  2. ahannasmi

    The author also refers to Pali as the “language spoken by the common masses”. I am not an expert on the history of Pali, but it seems that the scholarly consensus (even among Buddhists) is that Pali was actually a literary language, different from the languages spoken by the people, but perhaps more similar to it than Classical Sanskrit. Not many people seem to believe that it was a vernacular language, but more of a constructed language combining the features of various other vernaculars, and in that sense more akin to Sanskrit than to the Prakrits (which is the umbrella term for the vernaculars of the era).

    In the light of this, I am not sure if the author really meant “Pali” when he says that this was the language used by “menial” characters in Sanskrit plays. Perhaps he meant “Prakrit”. But that would probably be fatal for his claim that Buddhist monks (after Buddha) wrote in the language of the common people.

    1. Nivedita Menon

      Ahannasmi, on your frequent comments on Kafila, you have shown that you have mastered the art of producing your ill-informed opinions as facts with supreme arrogance, I will only point out three massive errors you make because you think your common-sense is “knowledge” – a) you assert blithely that “Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas (16th-17th century CE) was found only in the Devanagari (and not the Persian) script.”
      In your narrow universe, only Devanagari and Persian exist. But Ramcharitmanas was written in Awadhi, in the Kaithi script.
      b) That Devanagari became a commonly used script for Sanskrit and Hindi only in the 19th century is so well known that you make somewhat of a fool of yourself countering it. The Nagari Pracharini Sabha was set up as late as 1893, to promote the use of the Devanagari script, precisely because till the late 19th century, Devanagari was not widely in use.
      c) You counter the author’s assertion that Pali was spoken by the common masses – again, a fact so well known that…really, you make a fine art of parading your ignorance, no wonder you come in pseudonymously!
      Pali is well known (in scholarly consensus among Buddhist scholars, whom you mention, but I wonder what you read, exactly) as the language of the common people and also a lingua franca of a large region including mainly Magadha (Bihar).

      I suggest you make the ‘simple internet searches’ that you prefer as a substitute for learning and knowledge, a little more complex to begin with. Then perhaps you can go on to reading an article or two a year, then who knows? Entire books? Nothing is impossible.

      1. jayantshaq

        This comment just forces me to write. Nivedita, as one of the most visible (and audible) editors/administrators in Kafila, which aims to be a liberal forum, your frequent ad hominem attacks do it great disservice. The points that you have made against Ahannasmi’s assertions would, in my rather humble opinion, work at least equally well if some phrases such as “ill-informed”, “supreme arrogance”, “narrow universe”, and “parading your ignorance” were expurgated, as were the last paragraph. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his/her points, it’s hard not to note their stark measuredness of expression, when compared to yours.

        While I do care about the subject matter of this article, what I care about much more is Kafila itself, which has been a great presence in my life over the last half-decade and is, I believe, a forum that India desperately needs, specially in these times. To see its liberal bearings erode is a source of great sorrow to me. I quite expect this comment to not be published, in keeping with your unfortunate censorship policy, but maybe–I live in hope–it will give you food for thought.

      2. arhat

        Kaithi script is functionally very similar to nagari/devanagari. They belong to a very similar family of scripts.

        The nastaliq script used to write persian in the subcontinent is extremely different

    2. Muruganandham: the author.

      ahannasmi, the hindu fanatics+fascists are so good at producing your fancies as etternal truths. no wonder you proclaim your ignorance so publically and so furiously!
      1. if you want to know who claims sanskrit to be the source of civilization and culture, you can refer to the July 30th-2014 circular of MHRD (removed from it’s website soon after) to celebrate sanskrit-week. the discussions in the constituent assembly on what should be the official language of India (in 1949), the report of the sanskrit commission (1957), Gandhi’s 1942 book on India’s language problem, all refer to Sanskrit as the “mother” of “our” culture, civilization etc. “straw man(sanskrit)” has been established as the unquestioned authority of “Indian culture and civilization”, but it was not my making, a mechanism invented only by your (Neo)hinduist ancesters to spread brahminical values in disguise!
      2. your claim of Panini’s grammar to be the basis of modern generative grammar is, as usual with your group, a far-feched attribute. there are at least a dozen alternate theories about Panini’s time, influence and derivation. there were several contemporary works and grammarians to Panini, as Tholkappiyam in Tamil, which nullify your claim of sanskrit’s unique contribution. Sadly for you again, most of the mathamatical and astronomical works you claime to have been produced in Sanskrit and spread to Arab are traced to have emerged from China and translated/adapted to Sanskrit. even those claimed to have originated in Sanskrit are inextricably linked to the brahminical rituals. Regarding Kalidasa’s plays, the women characters have been attributed with so many extra-textual qualities only through an array of modern interpretations by modern sanskrit scholars, particularly by comparing Kalidasa with Shakespeare and Greek playwrights. Though you may harp on the aesthetic aspects of Kalidasa, his plays also reflect the social behaviours and hyrarchical structure of the “sages”, aristocratic classes and their narrow world.
      3. the references to “peace and equality” found in Mahabharata are in fact the preachings of Buddhism and Jainism, suited for sustaining brahminical hierarchy. you may refer to chapters 10 and 11 of WENDY DONIGER’s Hindu’s an Alternate History (a book you would never want/dare to read!) to know more on the manipulation of ‘non-violence’ and ‘peace’ in Mahabharata.
      4. Enough has been clarified on the Devanagari script and Pali. adding to Nivedita Menon’s sharp statement, the problem of fixing Devanagari as the sole script for Hindi was finalized only in 1949, after prolonged discussion on the script to be used for Indian official languages. you may refer to:
      Christopher King, One Language, Two Scripts; Krishna Kumar, ‘Quest for Self- Identity: Cultural Consciousness and Education in the Hindi Region, 1880-1950′, Economic and Political Weekly, 1990, 25(25), pp. 1247-55; David Lelyveld, The Fate of Hindustani: Colonial Knowledge and the Project of a National Language’, in Breckenridge and van der Veer (eds), Orientalism and the Post-colonial Predicament, pp. 189-214.
      also discussed in Sumati Ramaswami’s article “Sanskrit for the Nation”, Page 358.
      5. the stand taken in the article against supreme position accorded to Sanskrit is nothing a secret, it is rather an anger against being oppressed for centuries, not out of irrational malice or mis-information!
      6. be it a high-school essay or wikipedia article or scholarly books, one crucial thing is most needed to extract and accept the truth: the rational mind, which, pathetically enough, you seriously lack!

  3. Nivedita Menon

    jayantshaq,
    Take a look at the following phrases:
    “claim made more out of malice than misinformation”; “blatant falsehood that could have been fixed by a simple internet search”; “the author’s blatant disregard for historical truth” – all of these are from ahannasmi’s tirade, which apparently reveal “measuredness of expression” to you. Pardon me if you don’t appear to be exactly an unbiased observer, pained by your beloved Kafila’s erosion of its liberal bearings. Especially when you utter not a word about the various blatant errors that ahannasmi parades as “fact” while mocking the author and accusing him of being a liar.
    And this is far from the first time ahannasmi has come in to put down and mock post authors who shake the foundations of his smug common sense, flaunting information he has garnered from his “simple internet searches.”
    Finally – there are about eight Kafila members who post regularly and respond to comments, apart from about five more who come in off and on, each one of them more measured and polite than me. I think there is room in Kafila for one in-house cantankerous and choleric person who matches trolls nastiness for nastiness.

    1. Jayant

      Nivedita,

      I have no connection to Ahannasmi/Ennasolaradey, and until yesterday was unaware of his/her existence. So there is no personal bias in what I wrote. Other kinds of bias I cannot speak to. (Of course I realize that you may continue to view my claims with scepticism; that is indeed your privilege.) The reason why I did not address the factual accuracy of Ahannasmi’s assertions was because, firstly, I did not feel qualified to do so, and, more importantly, that was quite incidental to my point, about Kafila being better served by a greater willingness to tolerate dissenting opinion across the board. (Of course I do not need to tell you that one can tolerate and yet refute.)

      You are right, the phrases that you have highlighted are out of place in a scholarly discussion. Yet there is a fine line between combativeness and acrimony, and your respective comments seemed to me to be on opposite sides of it. I do not here speak for any past or future actions of Ahannasmi’s.

      There are indeed lots of Kafila members who are scholarly and civil in their writing as well as their responses (Shuddhabrata’s is the first name that comes to mind). I can only reiterate my opinion that, by its very nature and what (I hope) it aims to promulgate, such an attitude on the administrators’ part becomes Kafila much more than its converse. What I would hope, in short, to see change on Kafila is: removal of the censorship policy except in very odious/malignant cases, and less name-calling. For belying my expectation of seeing the policy instantiated by my earlier comment’s remaining unpublished, I am

      Yours gratefully,
      Jayant Pande

  4. Ennasolaradey!

    So I took up Nivedita on her suggestion of making “simple internet searches more complex” to test her claim “That Devanagari became a commonly used script for Sanskrit and Hindi only in the 19th century is so well known that you make somewhat of a fool of yourself countering it. ” and here’s what I can report back in reverse chronological order startding from 17th century:

    Exhibit A Dated 1630:

    This is, according to http://www.ancientscripts.com/devanagari.html, a manuscript of Bhagvata Purana written in Sanskrit using Devanagari script and displayed in San Francisco;s Asian Art Museum. Dated

    Exhibit B Dated 1583:
    From the Schoyen Collection, the largest private manuscript collection in the world based in Oslo and London: Manuscript #5292 – in Sanskrit on paper, India, 1583. in archaic Devanagari book script, Vedic numeric hand gesture music notation.”
    http://www.schoyencollection.com/music-notation/vedic-hand-notation/uhagana-vedic-numeric-hand-gesture-notation-ms-5292

    Exhibit C Dated about 9th century:
    “Ancient Devanagari scripts kept at Kaser Library at Kathumandu, Napal.
    This manuscript is believed to be 1200 years old.
    http://kjs.nagaokaut.ac.jp/mikami/slide/sevenstackednepaliletter.htm

    I also found numerous other examples of Devanagari script used to write Gujarati language from prior to 16th century. So I have to say that Nivedita’s assertion or the claim in the original post does not hold up to scrutiny.

    If you are truly a liberal, your only allegiance should be to the quest for truth. Using dubious claims to advance your ideological hatred of Hinduism and other aspects of Indic Civilization only exposes you as partisan propagandists. Sure, you can keep doing that in your echo chambers like Kafila but any open-minded liberal with a sense of objectivity would find it hard to take you or the original author of the blog post seriously.

    1. Nivedita Menon

      Ennasolaradey!
      Neengal enna sollaradu?! (Pardon my Tamil!)
      I have passed this comment as the last one of this kind, because we really do not have the time for this kind of parading of misinformation produced by hasty googling and selective reading, with increasing levels of assurance.
      Because I am a teacher, let me deconstruct just the first link you sent as an exercise in how to read the links you unearth.
      When you go to Exhibit A, you find it is on a site called Ancient Scripts. The image is from the San Francisco Museum, but it does NOT say Devanagari anywhere on it, as you can clearly see. All the text around it is written by the person running that site who describes himself/herself honestly as NOT a linguist, but a computer scientist for whom linguistics is a hobby. But even s/he concedes that Devanagari is a descendant of Brahmi. In fact, most of the scripts used for writing the modern Indo-Aryan languages derive from Brahmi – so to say (as you do) that Gujarati “was written in Devanagari script” at any point makes no sense whatsoever. Quite literally, it is a nonsensical assertion. Gujarati is written in its own script, a script that derives from Brahmi, as Devanagari does.
      For the last time – it is very well known now, and this scholarship is what the author of the post, Muruganandham is referring to, that the naming of the Nagari script as “Deva” Nagari, thus claiming it as the language of ancient scriptures (language of the gods, no less), and claiming all other scripts that existed as earlier forms of “Devanagari” is a 19th century Hindu Nationalist project that flies in the face of evidence provided by linguistic scholarship.
      That this political argument is reproduced as “linguistics” on site after site that all refer to one another, with no other citations, proves nothing but the existence of the political project.
      Based on archival historical research, Christopher R. King (in ‘One Language, Two Scripts: The Hindi Movement in Nineteenth Century North India’ Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1994) demonstrates that it was in the 1880s that the governments of Bihar and the Central Provinces decided to allow official work to be conducted in Hindi written in the Nagari script. The Devanagari script was allowed to replace the two scripts—Perso-Arabic and Kaithi —then extensively in use. It was also introduced in the schools throughout these provinces, but no one wanted it, because it was of no practical use to anyone. Instead, people continued to use the Kaithi script. An aggressive campaign was mounted against the Kaithi script and by 1900, “Khari Boli” Hindi written in the Nagari script had received official recognition in Bihar, the Central Provinces, and the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh.
      This is as late as 1900!
      A couple of other references, and these articles and chapters are based on archival research, they are not just political arguments or based on ten minutes of googling:
      Hindu Revivalism and Education in North-Central India by Krishna Kumar in Social Scientist (Vol. 18, No. 10, Oct., 1990)
      Yamuna Kachru’s chapter on Hindi-Urdu in The World’s Major Languages edited by Bernard Comrie.
      Just as introductions. There are entire libraries out there if you’re really interested.
      I cannot be bothered to conduct this exercise for the other links you provide.
      And by the way, I find it amusing that all of you who come in with these unproved assertions based on five minutes of googling, do not dare to put your own names to the nonsense you spout!

    2. Ennasolaradey, while you are not ashamed to introduce yourself in such a filthy name, you also preach others about political correctness and liberal perspective. while none of your references are worthy and scholarly, you don’t understand a basic logic: the debate here is only about when and how Devanagari became the ONLY script for writing hindi, not about when this script originated. while your references are stock of false-information, it is better for you if you could state anything logical in line with the points stated in the article.

      my sincere thanks to Nivedita Menon for the timely and scholarly replies to the maligning comments made here with no other purpose than to manifest their ill-informed opinions to counter scholarly debates.

  5. Chandra

    Likewise, the 206 backward and untouchable caste people who have mastered the Sanskrit Mantras and rituals with diplomas to become temple priests have been denied any right to be appointed in temples with the Brahmins stealthily approaching the Supreme Court against the Tamilnadu Government’s order in this respect.

    I did not know about this, thanks for putting this in there! After reading an article by S. Anand on the subject, my impression had been that Dalit-Bahujans were generally uninterested in becoming priests at upper caste temples. Does anyone have links on this controversy and the activism behind it?

    1. Muruganandham: the author

      Dear Chandra, the activism for appointing non-brahmins as temple priests has a long history in Tamilnadu, though I am not well-aware of other regions in this regard. The Self-Respect Movement of Periyar had entry of Sudras and untouchables into temples, the right to sing and worship in Tamil and abolishing the monopoly of Brahmins in temples as its foremost objectives aimed towards eradicating brahminical hegemony. Following Periyar’s announcement of sanctum-Sanctorum entry protest in 1970, the Tamilnadu Government legislated a law In 1972, making the appointment of temple priests an administrative service, thereby enabling those qualified in the profession to become temple priests irrespective of their caste. But, the Sivachariyars of Madurai approached the Supreme Court against this law of TN Government. Though it did not object to the law as such, the SC declared that appointment of temple priest was a “hereditary right”, again making the profession the brahmins’ sole privilege though by law anyone had the right to become a priest. Periyar famously remarked on this judgment: “operation success, but patient dead!”. In 2006, the 1972 law was amended again to make non-brahmins as temple priests, and a government school for training the students belonging to all castes was started. Again the Brahmins approached the SC and the case is pending before the SC. Meanwhile, 206 students from lower castes who qualified in Mantras and rituals with diplomas have organized themselves as an association and impleaded in the pending case. The Human Rights Protection Centre (HRPC) and People’s Arts and Literary Association (PALA) are fighting out the Brahmins in the court and on the street in support of the qualified students. Other periyarist and progressive forces also continue to voice their support for the qualified students. If you could read Tamil, you may please refer to:
      http://www.vinavu.com/2010/03/15/hrpc-case-2
      http://www.vinavu.com/2013/02/01/hrpc-chennai-sanctum-untouchability-demo/
      http://www.vinavu.com/2013/04/23/right-to-become-archagar/

      1. Chandra

        Dear Muruganandham,

        Thank you for the details, as well as the further reading. I unfortunately cannot read Tamil, but I’m sure I can have a friend translate. I noticed that the priests are not wearing the traditional ‘poonal.’ Is this intentional on their part, or are they being prevented from wearing the poonal?

        I also wonder if progressive elements in the diaspora could help if some American temples could offer employment to these priests.

        1. Muruganandham

          Dear Chandra,
          regret that only limited reports/readings are available in English. You may read a brief news report of the struggle (in english) here:
          http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-how-can-untouchability-in-temples-be-justified/20130208.htm
          also kindly google for: “Archagar students struggle in Tamilnadu”.
          to my knowledge, there’s no open protest or ban against wearing poonool, obviously due to the strong anti-brahmin movement in Tamilnadu. However, the poonool worn by the non-brahmins is neither recognized nor accepted by the brahmin priests in the temples. most of the students also make it a point not to wear poonool as a mark of protest. by the way, poonool is considered the brahmin’s exclusive birth-right!

          thanks for your interest

    1. As an ordinary student of Indian culture and a sanskritist of some standing I must say that myths need to be exploded without any reservation. The author is under an illusion that all our culture is sanskrit-centred which is not true. Ours is a country with multiples of culture. Which culture is it that is sanskrit-centred? Obviously the elitist and the brahmanical one only. What about our numerous tribal cultures and provincial cultures? It is sheer ignorance to assert that Sanskrit is the mother of all languages. Even a slight knowledge of comparative philology will tell you that is a thoroughly misconceived notion. But certain arguments of the author concerning the ravages caused by obscurantism in our midst today are valid and they need to be taken seriously. The prerogatives enjoyed by a minority of our people during the past several centuries need not be perpetuated anymore.
      Vedanta, surely, is not the only philosophy that our country has developed. More enlightened and rational thoughts are there in plenty in Samkhya, Vaiseshika, Nyaya, Lokayata and several o0ther schools. The least that we should do is not to be ignorant of all these traditions when we speak of Indian Culture.
      – G. Ramakrishna

  6. Sajan

    May I raise a timid voice of protest against this unprovoked attack on Sanskrit, a fairly blameless language with, I’m told, a fairly nifty literature?

    Though Kendriya Vidyala Sangathan forced us to conjugate Sanskrit verbs to an improper degree in our schooldays, I don’t hold that against the language. True, it is a devilishly complex language, with more declensions and conjugations than is in good taste. But Muruganandham’s quarrel is not with the language qua language. He asks, “how this language, which was mother tongue only to Brahmins, kept away from the common mass, always represented the Brahminical Hinduism, was never alive as a spoken language and linguistically distinct from the Dravidian and North Eastern languages, assumed to take the pan-Indian identity, motherly status and unquestionable authority in the modern secular state of present India?”

    Good grief, is Sanskrit really the Lex Luthor of languages, a lingua frankenstein bent on world domination?

    Frankly, I doubt if Sanskrit – or at least, the classical, literary Sanskrit we are familiar with – was ever “mother tongue to Brahmins”, any more than classical Latin was mother tongue to Romans. I assume Sanskrit was the language of scholarly, brahminical types across India, as Latin (of some sort) was the language of “international communication, scholarship and science” in Europe well into the 18th century. As English is the language of communication, scholarship and science today, not least in South Asia.

    If any language has “motherly status and unquestionable authority in the modern secular state of present India”, wouldn’t that be English rather than Sanskrit?

    If I remember, Sanskrit is only one among 18 languages in the Eighth Schedule, and it is not an official language of the Republic (or any of the states except Jharkhand, where it must be spoken widely). Motherliness apart, Sanskrit is mother tongue to approximately 14,000 Indians, or roughly the population of YS Raja Reddy Stadium, Cudappah.

    The vocabulary of Sanskrit is admittedly brahminical, and I dare say it is easier to discuss metempsychosis in Sanskrit than automobile engineering or telecom regulations. But despite its historic associations and limited vocabulary, what do we have against Sanskrit as a language except the fact that Manu, the law-giver, seems to have used it?

    (I might add that the Manusmriti was probably nothing more than the wet dream of some upper-caste twit; I haven’t seen any historic evidence to suggest that our ancestors were governed by Manu’s Laws, any more than they conducted their sex lives according to the Kama Sutra. Muruganandham, like Ambedkar in Annihilation of Caste, quotes Manu’s charming prescription: “If the Shudhra intentionally listens for committing to memory the Veda, then his ears should be filled with (molten) lead and lac; if he utters the Veda, then his tongue should be cut off; if he has mastered the Veda his body should be cut to pieces” —Chapter 13, Verse 4.” A little excessive, I agree, but for the fact that Manu didn’t write that particular chapter. It’s from an earlier work, the Dharmasutra of Gautama, an unpleasant fellow).

    The author conflates Hindi and Sanskrit to the point I kind of lost track of his argument, but I completely agree that Hindi is a deplorable language. Without a doubt there is some vast conspiracy by Hindi “to enslave the huge proportion of Indian population.” I resent this.

    1. Chandra

      haven’t seen any historic evidence to suggest that our ancestors were governed by Manu’s Laws, any more than they conducted their sex lives according to the Kama Sutra.

      I fully agree that taking Manu to be a description of ground realities is naive, especially when you are covering a history of more than 2,000 years across many different regions. There is internal evidence in the Dharmasastras themselves to show that their prescriptions were not practices– fining women after prohibiting property, acknowledgment of desa-specific dharmas, etc. Patrick Olivelle has raised this point.

      But there’s also the fact that Dharmasastras inspired law here and there. The Peshwa rule of Maharashtra comes to mind, and Ambedkar cited the same example in one of his arguments that Manu DID matter. Anglo-Indian law was also based heavily on dharmasastras, informed by Brahmin dharmasastric pundits. Dr. Menon touches on the second point in her book Seeing Like a Feminist.

      Anand Teltumbde has talked about how Manu is often a red herring in talking about caste today. I do wish that more people realized the normative nature of dharmasastra literature in general.

      A final nitpick : any more than classical Latin was mother tongue to Romans

      Latin actually was a mother tongue to the Romans. In Cicero’s day, it was considered nothing special to know.

      1. arhat

        Vulgar Latin. That’s what the Roman masses spoke. A form of simplified Latin.

        Incidentally, at least down till the time of Panini (5th cent BCE), some kind of Sanskrit *was* known even to the lower orders of society – that is why Panini gives rules for speaking to ‘shudras’ in Sanskrit !

        Incidentally, the prakrit of Ashokan inscriptions is still pretty close to Sanskrit – again indicating widespread knowledge of a fairly Sanskritised prakrit down till the 3rd cent. BCE.

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