Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Fwd: Rajiv Malhotra on the Insiders versus Outsiders debate

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From: S G Naravane

Rajiv Malhotra on the Insiders versus Outsiders debate
My book frames these issues in terms of two opposing lenses: the lens of insiders, who are those with loyalty to the Vedic worldview, and lens of outsid...
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My new book, The Battle for Sanskrit, offers a critique of a category of western Indologists whose work is based on the writings of Sheldon Pollock. I respect Pollock as a hard working scholar, but I am troubled by his approach to the Sanskrit tradition because it undermines some core ideas that most practicing Hindus greatly value. In this blog, I want to touch briefly on some of the substantive points where I disagree with Pollock's work. I refer the reader to my book for evidence of his positions and my arguments against them.
My book frames these issues in terms of two opposing lenses: the lens of insiders, who are those with loyalty to the Vedic worldview, and lens of outsiders, who are those who dismiss (or at least marginalise) the Vedas and look at the Sanskrit texts primarily through Marxist and postmodernist theories of social oppression and political domination.
Adopting the insider perspective, my main objections to Pollock and other outsiders concern the following methods and views:
  • The methodological separation between the secular and the sacred in studying Sanskrit tradition;
  • The claim that racial and ethnic oppression, class discrimination and gender bias are intrinsic to Sanskrit and its conceptual matrix in the Vedas;
  • The side-lining of the oral tradition as a dynamic part of Indian history and thought;
  • The politicising of the genre of kavya;
  • The outright dismissal of the positive value of shastra;
  • The insistence on a dramatic split between Sanskrit and the vernaculars;
  • The determination to show maximum split between Hinduism and Buddhism;
  • The distortion of the Ramayana as socially abusive and as harbouring anti-Muslim rabblerousing.
Pollock's fundamental assumption and the governing methodology of his work involves making a sharp separation between the realm of the sacred, or paramarthika, from the realm of the mundane, or vyavaharika. He sees the transcendental basis of the Vedic tradition primarily as a form of irrational mystification, encoding it its very core hierarchical and anti-egalitarian views and proscription. As a consequence, he sees advances in Indian history as having come about by moving away from this base. Pollock refers to the 'long prehistory of Sanskrit' as a period of 'sacerdotal isolation', in which he says the Vedic rishis existed in a state divorced from a logical understanding of the empirical world.
This view is indicated in the title of his magnum opus, The Language of the Gods and the World of Men; Sanskrit, Culture and Power in Premodern India (2006), a book that should be required reading for anyone wishing to engage with Pollock at a serious level. For Pollock, the defining historical event is what he sees as Sanskrit moving out from the grip of Brahmin elitism, which he feels consisted of meaningless rituals and otherworldly fixations, into the world of politics under royal patronage. Once it gets turned into a political device for kings, Sanskrit becomes stultified and regressive because the royalties become decadent due to internal corruption and social injustice.
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