In a world increasingly dominated and constricted by Judeo-Christian family of thought, Rajiv Malhotra [RM] through his works (Breaking India, Being Different, Indra’s Net and Battle for Sanskrit) has established a modern framework within which to cast Hinduism. The methodical construction of this framework seeks, in my opinion to develop and revive a comprehensive understanding of Hinduism and more importantly to pose it as a potent pre-existing, eternally relevant and a very Open Architecture for human life
Malhotra’s latest work, The Battle for Sanskrit is garnering some unprecedented attention among Indologists everywhere. Many reviews, comments, video clips by experts to novices abound. One scholar, Shatavadhaani Ganesh [SaG] has decided to throw in his comment in as well, pretending to write a review of the book. It can be found here:
Alas, SaG’s review misses the point of the book and sadly reflects a dominant tamasik aspect of the current state of academic scholarship in India. I did an initial read of RM’s latest work and will go back for a study. I have also read RM’s other works – Breaking India, Being Different and Indra’s Net.
I present some observations on that critque by SaG. Here is a Summary of what I mean to get at:
Overall, SaG is very upset that RM is the Battle General despite his superior Sanskrit scholarship. It hurt his Texas sized ego. Many many flaws in his critique, very unbecoming of anyone claiming to be logical.
SaG just reduced himself to only a “Scholar” not to be addressed by the non translatable word PanditaH of Samskritam
I propose that he is just as dangerous as Pollock himself a Sepoy in denial.
SaG Quote:Malhotra’s intent is noble (and something that we too share) but his understanding of the nature of sanatana dharma as a transcendental system is flawed. He 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). His line of reasoning would reduce this battle to a Communist vs. Theologist type scuffle (and yet he accuses his enemies of being anti-transcendence; see pp. 97, 116). His approach goes against Gaudapada’s observation – “Dualists have firm beliefs in their own systems and are at loggerheads with one another but the non-dualists don’t have a quarrel with them. The dualists may have a problem with non-dualists but not the other way around.” (Mandukya Karika 3.17-18)
There is enough in this opening line to consider SaG an insider. Therefore, formally it also qualifies him to question RM’s understanding of Sanata Dharma. What follows is inconsistent. RM devoted a whole book, Indra’s Net, to show why it is not exclusivist. SaG must take a more complete approach to studying RM and his works. To many current Hindus, RM’s works must be treated as sound bases of Hindu understanding, and qualified insider expositions of Sanaatana Dharma. This reduction of RM’s works to some dvandvas such as exclusivist vs non exclusivist or Communist vs. Theologist is unfair. As Einstein said “Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible, But Not Simpler”
SaG Quote:Malhotra’s understanding of Sanskrit and Sanskriti seems second hand since he puts a premium on form (rupa) as against content (svarupa) and uses pseudo-logic instead of non-qualified universal experiential wisdom to counter the enemies (see pp. 44-49 for an elaborate but hazy diagnosis of the problem).
SaG Quote:Further, he is also confused with some of the basic terms like sastra, kavya and veda. The irony is that Malhotra himself doesn’t know as much formal Sanskrit as the Indologists he is out to battle. Now, this is not a problem for a spiritualist who is unaffected by form. But Malhotra is fighting the battle on the arena of form, so he has no option but to become thorough with Sanskrit and Sanskriti in form.
SaG Quote:“For Malhotra, the starting point of this battle is European Orientalism. And since he tends to ignore the strong internal differences – often clubbing all insider views as ‘the traditionalist view’ (see p. 6, for example) – his argument is rendered weaker. In the Indian tradition, different schools of Vedanta – advaita, dvaita, dvaitadvaita, shuddhadvaita, vishishtadvaita and others – revere the Vedas equally but claim that the ..
SaG Quote:Also, his suggestion for the revival of Sanskrit is to produce new knowledge in Sanskrit. Is this even practical given that scholars from many mainstream non-English languages (like Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, etc.) are finding it hard to make a name for themselves in the academic community, which is under the firm grip of English?
SaG Quote:When Malhotra speaks about American Orientalism appropriating the Indian Left, some of his claims sound like conspiracy theories. Further, he seems to be ignorant of the voluminous writings of D D Kosambi, Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, R S Sharma, and Rahul Sankrityayan, who opposed Sanskrit and/or Sanskriti long before this supposed American collusion (and even when he mentions Kosambi and Sharma, it is in passing).
SaG Quote:Tucked away in the second chapter is a veiled disclaimer – “Both Indian and Western scholars have extensively criticized the European approaches towards India that prevailed during the colonial era.” (p. 52) but this cannot, sadly, absolve Malhotra of his blatant disregard to the past masters (in spite of his ostentatious dedication line to “our purva-paksha and uttara-paksha debating tradition…”) Not stopping at ignoring the remarkable scholars of the past and present, in several places in his book, Malhotra directly accuses Indian scholars of either being unwillingly complicit with the enemies (p. 68), or being irresponsible (p. 15), or being uninterested (p. 44), or being unaware of Western scholarship (p. 1). He lacks empathy for the numerous scholars who are deeply involved in their own research – be it a specific aspect of Sanskrit grammar, or the accurate dating of an ancient scholar, or preparing a critical edition of a traditional text. And to top it all, 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.
SaG Quote:The assiduous efforts of Malhotra in writing The Battle for Sanskrit bears fruit in one department – a meticulous analysis of the works of Sheldon Pollock. While it is the saving grace of the book, it is also an indicator of Malhotra’s obsession with Western academia, to the extent that the reader gets the impression that Hinduism will not survive unless Western academia views it in a better light.
SaG Quote:The battle for Sanskrit and Sanskriti is not a new one. Sanatana dharma has survived years of onslaught from many quarters in many guises. But this doesn’t mean that we should ignore the current threats. Malhotra has given a new shape to the debate and because of his influence, this message has spread widely. As he himself writes, it is hoped that more Indian scholars will get on board and provide fitting responses to Malhotra’s red flagging of problematic areas in Pollock’s discourse.
This is one of the many instances of Malhotra’s monolithic view of Indian culture and tradition.
SaG Quote:The four ‘levels’ of speech (p. 108)
Malhotra’s explanation is incorrect (and he doesn’t give any references for this too). They are not four ‘levels’ of speech but rather the four ‘stages.’ From conception to utterance, an idea is said to pass through four stages – paraa (before thought), pashyanti (thought), madhyamaa (on the verge of utterance) and vaikhari (utterance). The ancient seers were able to go from paraa to vaikhari instantly (see Vicaraprapañca of Sediapu Krishna Bhat).