Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
Sanskrit is the language of Indian culture and ethos. The day Sanskrit dies, Indian culture or Sanskriti will also die and Hindus or Indians as a unique people with unique set of values will cease to exist.
Anti-Sanskrit forces have been in action for the last 1000 years – the Muslim invaders, the British imperialists, and finally, the home-grown leftists who rejected the Indic or Dharmic roots of Indian civilisation. Yet Sanskrit somehow managed to survive. While it may not be a vernacular for many, it continues to live through our art, culture, architecture, Ayurveda, Puja, Yajna, meditation and many religio-spiritual practices.
Because Sanskrit learning is not encouraged many reasonably educated Indians continue to accept the mistranslations of many key Sanskrit words. This often results in serious misunderstandings and unfortunately social fragmentation, especially when it is about our ignorance of our history and national identity.
One example is the word “arya” found in the Rig Veda. This word essentially means “noble”, “gentle-man” or as per another school of thought “followers of Indra.” Nowhere does it imply a race. Yet 200 years ago, in the hands of British Indologists, it took a racial connotation as an Aryan race which led to the whole theory of Aryan-Dravidian divide. To this day, it remains a huge political issue in India, and at the same time causing grave social and cultural fragmentation and divide. There are many such examples where mistranslations, intentional or unintended, have led to tremendous strife in Hindu society. (Malhotra & Neelakandan, 2011)
Thus Sanskrit Learning must be actively encouraged to ensure that people read their own texts in the original language, to avoid things getting lost or misrepresented in translation.
“[Sanskrit] opens the door to all the languages of India. I think that is indispensable. The ideal would be, in a few years, to have a rejuvenated Sanskrit as the representative language of India, that is, a Sanskrit spoken in such a way that—Sanskrit is behind all the languages of India and it should be that….. Because now English is the language of the whole country, but that is abnormal. It is very helpful for relations with the rest of the world, but just as each country has its own language, there should… And so here, as soon as one begins to want a national language, everyone starts quarrelling. Each one wants it to be his own, and that is foolish. But no one could object to Sanskrit. It is a more ancient language than the others and it contains the sounds, the root-sounds of many words….Some of these roots can even be found in all the languages of the world—sounds, root-sounds which are found in all those languages. Well, this, this thing, this is what ought to be learnt and this is what the national language should be. Every child born in India should know it, just as every child born in France has to know French. He does not speak properly, he does not know it thoroughly, but he has to know French a little; and in all the countries of the world it is the same thing. He has to know the national language. And then, when he learns, he learns as many languages as he likes. At the moment, we are still embroiled in quarrels, and this is a very bad atmosphere in which to build anything. But I hope that a day will come when it will be possible. So I would like to have a simple Sanskrit taught [in the Ashram school], as simple as possible, but not “simpliﬁed”—simple by going back to its origin… all these sounds, the sounds that are the roots of the words which were formed afterwards. (The Mother, CWM, Volume 12, pp. 414-415)
This is a very serious topic which needs to be addressed and studied systematically. There are numerous instances where Indian science and technology was appropriated by Western Science and passed on as its own.
— For example, 0 (zero) was discovered in India, but the history of numbers talk about Arabic numerals, because the translator was Arabic.
— The so-called Pythagoras theorem was in use in India much before Pythagoras was even born.
— Many Hindu/ Buddhist meditation techniques are being patented and used in the West without referring to their sacred Indian roots.
Both archaeology and Indology talk about India – yet they do not talk to each other. Over the last 2 decades there have been numerous astounding discoveries with regard to Indus-Sarasvati civilization[i], the usage of iron etc., yet Indologists, linguists and philologists are still fixated with the Aryan Migration theory (the latest avatar of Aryan Invasion theory).
To get a coherent picture, Swadeshi Indology (to use Rajiv Malhotra’s phrase), must integrate Archaeology and Indology.
Tradition games, trades and crafts must be encouraged, as it is through them that Samskriti survives. Instead in the guise of animal welfare we have ban on Jallikattu, the traditional bull-festival of Tamil Nadu, whereas there are no such animal welfare inspired bans on slaughter of goats on Bakr-id or turkeys for Christmas. Such asymmetries must be removed from public discourse
All these 7 factors (see part 4 for the first 3 factors) must work in tandem to ensure that we do not become like Greeks or Italians.
The Greeks were a great culture with monumental achievements, yet the Greece of today, a Christian society has no link with its ancient pagan heritage. The Italy of today, a Roman Catholic nation has no ties to its ancient glorious pagan past. Greek and Roman civilizations are dead, and Greece and Rome of today have nothing to do with them.
To ensure that India does not get separated from its Hindu culture, a lot of deliberation/ reflection is required and a sustained and significant amount of effort has to be made in terms of the parameters discussed above. Only then will the deep colonialism that is inherent in the “modern” Indian way of life be expunged and replaced with true national realization, self-esteem and self-worth.
“Any attempt to remain exactly what we were before the European invasion or to ignore in future the claims of a modern environment and necessity is foredoomed to an obvious failure. However much we may deplore some of the characteristics of that intervening period in which we were dominated by the Western standpoint or move away from the standpoint back to our own characteristic way of seeing existence, we cannot get rid of a certain element of inevitable change it has produced upon us, any more than a man can go back in life to what he was some years ago and recover entire and unaffected a past mentality. Time and its influences have not only passed over him, but carried him forward in their stream.
“We cannot go backward to a past form of our being, but we can go forward to a large repossession of ourselves in which we shall make a better, more living, more real, more self-possessed use of the intervening experience. We can still think in the essential sense of the great spirit and ideals of our past, but the form of our thinking, our speaking, our development of them has changed by the very fact of new thought and experience; we see them not only in the old, but in new lights, we support them by the added strength of new view-points, even the old words we use acquire for us a modified, more extended and richer significance.
“Again, we cannot be “ourselves alone” in any narrow formal sense, because we must necessarily take account of the modern world around us and get full knowledge of it, otherwise we cannot live. But all such taking account of things, all added knowledge modifies our subjective being. My mind, with all that depends on it, is modified by what it observes and works upon, modified when it takes in from it fresh materials of thought, modified when it is wakened by its stimulus to new activities, modified even when it denies and rejects; for even an old thought or truth which I affirm against an opposing idea, becomes a new thought to me in the effort of affirmation and rejection, clothes itself with new aspects and issues. My life is modified in the same way by the life influences it has to encounter and confront.
“Finally, we cannot avoid dealing with the great governing ideas and problems of the modern world. The modern world is still mainly European, a world dominated by the European mind and Western civilisation. We claim to set right this undue preponderance, to reassert the Asiatic and, for ourselves, the Indian mind and to preserve and develop the great values of Asiatic and of Indian civilisation. But the Asiatic or the Indian mind can only assert itself successfully by meeting these problems and by giving them a solution which will justify its own ideals and spirit.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 20, pp. 51-52)
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References used from the Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (CWSA):
References used from the Collected Works of the Mother (CWM):
[i] Saravasti river, one of the most sacred and ancient rivers of Hindus, has always been dismissed as a myth by Indologists. Yet careful study using archaeology and satellite imagery reveal the existence of the river which flowed from Himalayas to Rann of Kutch in the early Holocene and dried up in the time interval between 3000 BCE and 1900 BCE. And more importantly, a large percentage of Indus-Harappa sites discovered so far are actually along the paleo-channel system of the Sarasvati (Ghaggar-Ghautang-Hakra) and hence many Indians prefer to call it the Indus-Sarasvati civilization.
The practice among main-stream historians has been to talk about Indus Valley followed by a Vedic Aryan civilization, especially among proponents of Aryan Invasion/ Migration theorists. Yet as studies over last many decades indicate, both in terms of spatial spread and timelines, there is a significant overlap between Indus-Sarasvati and Vedic civilization, both covering roughly the same area at the same time. Which to a lay person like me, applying the “if it quacks like a duck” principle, means that the Indus Valley civilization is the Vedic civilization.
Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay is an independent Management Consultant associated with Education sector (Rural and Urban Poor). His areas of interest include Indian history and Sanskrit texts. He is a student of Tantra, Vedanta and Value Investing (Equity). He runs 4 websites:
The Tiny Man – http://www.thetinyman.in/ on History and Current Affairs
Hooray For Life – http://hoorayforlife.com/ on Well-being and self-improvement
Mkerj – http://mkerj.com/ on Personal Finance Education
The Advaitist – http://www.mukhopadhyay.in/ on Unexplored Facets of Hinduism
Subhodeep may be contacted at: email@example.com