How I prioritize my work, battles, feedback, critics

By Rajiv Malhotra

Here are my thoughts, and the ways I solicit and deal with critical feedback in order to strengthen my work.

Principles:

  1. Being from software R&D background, I understand the value of debugging a system in order to strengthen it. We used to hire outsiders to try and defeat the system, in order to learn its vulnerabilities. Even when considered ready, it was first released to a few beta sites for further debugging. Once out with customers, the maintenance team must be good at receiving feedback, and dealing with it in a new release. So I am not one to run away from problems with my work. But there is a system to this.
  2. Errors are not all of the same type. Some are serious errors in the deep architecture and these can require major redesign. Some have isolated impact that is contained within one module/feature only. Some can be bypassed such that the system works despite the error. Some are merely inconvenient or even cosmetic. There are certain "error reports" that are not errors at all, but the complainant wants a different functionality or a different approach than intended by the system design; the issue raised is not a bug but a matter of preference; maybe we don’t want to offer that feature for whatever reason – that’s our call.
  3. Errors must be graded, stratified and not all treated equally. Some are urgent, others can and must wait, some will be addressed in the next system (or book in this case) to be developed, and many are to be entirely ignored.
  4. Ultimately, the system developer decides what matters most to his client base. He must figure out the priorities for his success. An outsider might not know all the factors that go into his decision and his priorities. There are many considerations and levels of tradeoffs. In other words, someone unfamiliar with all the facts can be a nuisance if his opinions are based on what he sees from within his mental burqa.
  5. In writing my books, I go out of my way to face critics. Everyone knows this about me. Some of these encounters get captured on videos you can watch, but most are in private settings. I go deep into “enemy”/opponent territory to understand their reactions, and this is for my own good. For the first 10-15 years I spent much time going to every Hinduism related academic conference/meeting and engaged the top tier scholars of every stripe. For my books, I send every draft to at least 10 critics for detailed peer review – in some instances I pay the critic to allow him to spend quality time and give me a critical analysis. In this feedback I am not looking for accolades, but quite the opposite. I am hardly sitting in my comfort zone the way most of our folks are. My works are the product of multiple encounters over many years with all sorts of people across the ideological spectrum. I can do this only because this has been my full-time work for nearly 25 years. Also, I thrive in debates and discussions to honestly introspect on serious issues, and I do not approach a topic with a closed mind. This is why I am able to innovate.
  6. The major impact I seek from a book is where I focus on getting feedback, not on side issues. I want to write a book only when there is some big paradigm change I want, and one that is badly needed. I am not interested in quibbling about whether someone translated a particular verse correctly, unless that has impact on the overall paradigm. Remember that I was a chief design architect of large, complex systems, and now I seek intellectual situations with equivalent significance. I am not concerned with every small module of code being correct – many others are able to do that and they are probably better at it than me.
  7. For example, in Pollock’s case, my major contribution is to have (a) decoded some of his most important theories/frameworks, (b) articulated these in ways that more people can understand, and (c) offered some preliminary responses or red flags from the dharma standpoint. I am not interested in minute errors here and there that would not help to demolish some major thesis of his. I will let others do that. Unfortunately, almost nobody on our side has even as of now properly understood his theories/lens; most of our folks still focus on relatively trivial issues in his work.
  8. Pollock does not consider himself a Sanskrit language expert, and nor do I consider TBFS an analysis of his Sanskrit skills. Pollock is a major philologist today; philology = “making sense of texts” using some theory of interpretation. I critique him in his approach to philology. This is his deep work. It’s his work’s architecture. As a systems architect, this is how I analyze it. Finding a mistake here and there in his Sanskrit makes little impact on his philology – that would be pedantic for my purpose. For one thing, such errors are easily corrected without altering his philology. It is his philology that I am after. The famous Sanskrit expert in Bangalore who wrote a review of my book did not understand the difference between philology and use of Sanskrit as a language; hence much of what he said is of little significance.
  9. Those few individuals who then took his review and turned it into a sort of public fiasco were even further removed from what would matter to my work, or to Pollock’s. These noisemakers are twice removed from where my priorities lie. This is why I call them pests because in my priority scheme, they are best ignored. Their issues do not belong do not impact whether or not I am able to pierce holes through Pollock’s political philology and liberation philology. Pollock’s impact in Indology is for having introduced the most widely accepted philology system and trained an army in its propagation. The impact I desire is to put enough reasonable doubt in his system that it does not become a de facto standard in Indology. Unfortunately, prior to my intervention, he was being very successful in making deep inroads into our Sanskrit studies establishment. The same Sanskrit folks who are embarrassed because they were sitting around staring at their navels, are now jealous and upset that I am doing what they were being expected to do all their careers.

Algorithm: With this background, below is my algorithm on how I choose to ignore/filter those I consider pests, hecklers, attention seekers, shallow noisemakers, opportunists, etc.

1. Does a given feedback relate to Pollock’s thesis and my counter-thesis? If so, it is priority 1 and gets my attention. If not, it is below priority level 1.

2. If below top priority 1, what is the effort required to rework it compared to the benefit to my target readers? In other words, will fixing this error help in a big way to educate my readers for their own analyses/critiques of Pollock’s philology? If of marginal/pedantic value, then it gets demoted below priority level 2, to level 3 or lower.

3. Is the critic genuine or someone seeking publicity, opportunistic, bringing down someone else just to hoist himself up? If so, I don’t want to encourage such behavior, and hence I would further lower the priority to level 4 or less.

The pests don’t like being ignored. They angrily demand as their birthright that I must deal with every single issue they raise as if they control my priorities. But are they my boss? Do I work for them? Do they have enough experience in this field to decide my priorities? Do they know enough about my workload and what is on my plate to be able to optimize how I should best allocate my time and resources? I have my own algorithms and keep updating them heuristically based on what makes me better at my game. I learn from the best khiladis in the world, not failures, would-be players, junior players, and especially not from persons lacking strategic minds.

Yesterday I did two important interviews with Vijaya who visited me for the day. These will get edited and put on Youtube. I told her that I spend as much as 50% of my prana dealing with type 4 persons who waste time. I request my supporters to help me get rid of the pests so we can focus where our collective yajna takes us.

I asked her: who are the ones in out texts that destroy the yajna of someone else. She said they are rakshasas. She also suggested Karna as the prototype who opportunistically switches sides as he is not rooted in dharma. This made me think: Just how grounded are such hecklers in the dharma? If they are not transformed by guru and by sadhana, then what is their motive for claiming to be “champions of Hindu dharma?” Are they trying to ruin the yajna without having one of their own? Are they loose canons?

In my interviews taped yesterday, I thanked the type 2 genuine supporters. I can continue on my journey with their encouragement.

Part 2 of review of TBFS by Shrinivas Tilak

This is a reproduction of the second part of the review of TBFS done by Shrinivas Tilak for the magazine Hindu Vishva

Refutation of Sheldon Pollock on Sanskrit and sanskriti by Rajiv Malhotra

Shrinivas Tilak*

In my review of The Battle For Sanskrit (HarperCollins 2015) in Hindu Vishva (January-March 2016), I discussed author Rajiv Malhotra’s fair and faithful presentation and rigorous examination (Purva paksha) of Professor Sheldon Pollock’s allegations that Sanskrit is dead, politically motivated, and socially oppressive. In this follow up article I present Rajiv Malhotra’s (hereafter RM) spirited and energetic refutation (Uttara paksha) of Professor Pollock (hereafter Pollock) in the form of nirnayas (considered verdicts or decisions) delivered on points of order pertaining to Sanskrit and sanskriti raised in Pollock’s various writings: Nirnaya on Sanskrit and Prakrit, Nirnaya on Shruti, Nirnaya on Kavya and Shastra, Nirnaya on Sanskrit and Sanskriti, Nirnaya on American Orientalism.  

Nirnaya on Sanskrit and Prakrit

Agreeing with Pollock that Vedic Sanskrit was used mainly for ritual purposes, RM explains in his The Battle For Sanskrit (hereafter TBFS) that a simplified form of Sanskrit nevertheless served as a basis for languages derived from Prakrit and spoken by ordinary people. Sanskrit has always functioned as a meta-language for these languages (RM rejects Pollock’s use of ‘vernaculars’ for languages derived from Prakrit) facilitating a bi-directional flow between the two. This interaction has remained a continued source of decentralized and open architecture encompassing unity and diversity in India. Sanskrit has also acted as the template of sanskriti with its various angas (limbs)--architecture, dance, theatre, sculpture, poetry, etc. Rejecting them in favor of modern, westernized cultural practices as demanded by Pollock would alienate Hindus/Indians from their traditional roots. Furthermore, Sanskrit has made available its rich vocabulary for engaging in discourse in sciences and in other fields that are meaningful and necessary in everyday life activities (natural sciences, mathematics, linguistics, medicine, ethics, and political thought). RM laments that Pollock fails to acknowledge this power and potential of Sanskrit. Merchants and monks who travelled long distances for trade and commerce were able to engage in conversations, debates, and lectures with locals spreading in the process Sanskrit (and often some Prakrit-derived languages) across India and beyond. Since Vedic metaphysics held a deeper place in the lives of people it was replicated in different places with local geographies and kingdoms substituted in place of those mentioned in such source texts as the Ramayana.

Nirnaya on Shruti

RM vigorously contests Pollock’s suggestion that mantras, being in some cases meaningless in the conventional sense, could be discarded. RM argues that such action would amount to rejecting the important place the concept of vac has in Hindu cosmology. Such a step would entail loss of a key adhyatmika (inner science of self) resource. Chanting of mantras has also been an integral part in the performance of yajna, which plays a significant role in social cohesion. Discarding the practice of chanting mantras in yajna or in meditation as demanded by Pollock would result in loss of the integrative power of traditional rituals of Hindus rendering them more intellectually dependent on (and subservient to) the West.

RM further clarifies that chanting of mantras from the Shrutis, as part of meditative practices, serves a useful purpose for the sound vibrations (spanda or spandana) that are produced are beyond (or above) the limited literal or conceptual meanings Pollock associates with them. Spanda is the dynamic aspect of shakti, the energy of Shiva, the supreme Self. In Hinduism spanda is not a fantasy or a merely philosophical concept, it can be experienced and felt directly as expounded in the Spanda Karikas, a classic text of Kashmir Shaivism, from the 10th century CE attributed to Vasugupta.

Nirnaya on Kavya and Shastra

While Pollock deliberately breaks shastras from kavya in his deliberations, RM takes them together following the traditional convention. While acknowledging that the kavya and shastra are two distinct types of works, RM insists that this distinction is only a heuristic device and not a clear-cut or absolute boundary as posited by Pollock. Indeed, many kavyas demonstrate keen awareness of knowledge of various types from shastras. Conversely, shastras are often expressed in a poetic format and often display an excellent literary quality. Indeed, Sanskrit spread through its cultural applications via such shastras as ayurveda, astrology, philosophy, mathematics, and performing arts. Pollock selectively quotes from one chapter of Kalidasa’s Shakuntala as an example of the politicization of Sanskrit kavya. Had he added the traditional lens to his gaze, observes RM, Pollock would have recognized that Hindus appreciate such works for their aesthetics independently of (or in addition to) any political motive or framework. Pollock talks about Bilhana’s Vikramankadevacarita, in the eleventh century, as another example of political kavya. But he does not mention Bilhana’s Caurapancashika (The Love Thief), which is appreciated for its romantic aesthetic. One should also consider the reproduction of Ramayana in Tamil (twelfth century, by Kamban) and in Avadhi (sixteenth century, by Tulsidas) as non-political kavyas expressive of bhakti (TBFS endnote # 263).

Nirnaya on Sanskrit and Sanskriti

RM is particularly keen to controvert Pollock and company’s sinister attempts to break Sanskrit away from sanskriti. Sanskrit is better studied, he argues, using traditional methods and models that are compatible with its function both as a language of rituals and sacred discourses as well as worldly matters. He denies Pollock’s charge that traditional Sanskrit scholars are averse to the critical study of Sanskrit or to using tools of philology, cognitive science and history developed for this purpose.
People of India or Southeast Asia did not approach Sanskrit exclusively through the lens of politics; rather, they saw it in the context of cultural practices and spiritual realization. This is in conformity with ongoing Indic ethos—an interconnected network of Sanskrit, sanskriti, and dharma. As to Pollock’s charge that women in India are/were denied access to Sanskrit; the fact is that women have internalized Sanskrit, and for many of them, the intimacy with it is based on oral culture rather than written materials. While Pollock et al think of Sanskrit as a 'religious' language, it is fascinating to find out that Indian women have preserved the oral and worldly dimension of Sanskrit to this day.
In Chapter seven of TBFS (‘The Web of Sanskriti as a Potential Alternative Hypothesis’) RM presents the ‘web of sanskriti’ as an alternative approach to the notion of Sanskrit cosmopolis put forth by Pollock.  RM demonstrates how grass-roots spirituality can play a meaningful role in the spread of languages and culture. In Chapter ten (‘The Re-colonization of Indian Minds’) RM suggests ways of correcting the distorted perceptions of Sanskrit, sanskriti, and dharma that have spread beyond academia into media, industry leadership, government, and even among many traditional centers of Sanskrit learning (pithas) in contemporary India.

RM foils Pollock’s attempt to divide and set the people of India against each other through agency of the caste system. RM points out that select elements of Vedic metaphysics, the web of sanskriti, and the Sanskrit language could be replicated in different places because they enjoyed a deep place of respect in the hearts and lives of local populations. Sanskrit and its texts expressed the fabric of cosmic reality and Indians (kings, brahmins, merchants, or farmers) were naturally drawn and inspired to explore, discover, share, and celebrate the manifestation of this reality in their personal and social lives.

Nirnaya on American Orientalism

Pollock’s call to ‘liberation philology’ (designed on the lines of a movement called ‘liberation theology’ that challenged Roman Catholic collusion with oppression in the nineteen-sixties and seventies) for secularizing Sanskrit is an important plank of American orientalism. RM strenuously objects to this allusion because it obscures a significant difference between ‘liberation philology’ and liberation theology, which was a movement internal to Christianity and fully accepting of its fundamental principles. Indeed, this latter was largely a call for a return to these principles. However, Pollock rejects the Vedic roots of the Sanskrit tradition altogether and regards them as no more than relics of primitive thinking or attempts to blind people to their oppression. Furthermore, his liberation philology seriously misrepresents the texts it purports to illuminate, and distorts both the evidence and the function of these texts in the lives of real people, both in the past and the present.

As an alternative to Pollock’s ‘liberation philology,’ RM proposes what he calls a ‘sacred philology,’ [I would prefer to call it ‘sadhana philology’] a philology rooted in the conviction that Sanskrit cannot be divorced from its matrix in the Vedas and Upanishads or from its orientation towards the transcendent realm. RM’s proposed alternative is quite different from the stance of the Western, secular academy that Pollock represents because sacred philology would involve a respect for and a practice of tapasya and meditation that constitutes the basis of all four dharmic pathways to liberation originating in India (i.e. Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism) (TBFS 282-283).

After a fair and faithful depiction and scrutiny of Professor Pollock’s views on Sanskrit, i.e. Purva paksha without bias (puravgraha or pakshapata) and their refutation (Uttara paksha) Rajiv Malhotra provides his own well thought out and crafted plan to preserve and promote Sanskrit and sanskriti (to be discussed in a subsequent issue of Hindu Vishva).  


* Shrinivas Tilak (Ph.D. History of Religions, McGill University, Montreal, Canada) is author of The Myth of Sarvodaya: A study in Vinoba’s concept (New Delhi: Breakthrough Communications 1984); Religion and Aging in the Indian Tradition (Albany, N. Y.: State University of New York Press, 1989); Understanding karma in light of Paul Ricoeur’s philosophical anthropology and hermeneutics (Charleston, SC: BookSurge, revised, paperback edition, 2007); and Reawakening to a secular Hindu nation: M. S. Golwalkar’s vision of a Dharmasāpekşa Hindurāşţra (Charleston, SC: BookSurge, 2008). Contact <shrinivas.tilak@gmail.com>

Interview with Rajiv Malhotra: A point by point response to R. Ganesh


By Ravi Joshi

This following interview of Rajiv Malhotra discusses the critique made by R Ganesh of Rajiv’s latest book The Battle for Sanskrit which deals with the scholarship of American Indologist Sheldon Pollock.

Rajiv Malhotra is a prominent researcher, writer, speaker and public intellectual on current affairs as they relate to civilizations, cross-cultural encounters, religion and science. Among the issues on which he has raised awareness is that Indian civilization is studied through biased and distorted lenses by western scholars. He has authored many best-sellers, including his latest book, The Battle For Sanskrit.

Sheldon Pollock is an American sanskritist well-known for his writings on the intellectual and literary history of India. He also studies comparative intellectual history and occupies a prestigious professorship at Columbia University. He was the general editor of the Clay Sanskrit Library and is the founding editor of the Murty Classical Library of India. He is the primary focus of Rajiv Malhotra’s latest book The Battle for Sanskrit where his work is critiqued systematically.

The Battle for Sanskrit is Rajiv Malhotra’s latest book challenging the ongoing western approach to the discourse on India. It seeks to alert traditional scholars of the analysis of Indian texts made by an important school of thought that is led primarily by Sheldon Pollock. The scholars of this school are intervening in modern Indian society with the explicitly stated purpose of removing ‘poisons’ allegedly built into Sanskrit texts. They hold that many Sanskrit texts are socially oppressive and serve as a political weapon of the ruling elite; that the sacred aspects need to be refuted or side lined; and that Sanskrit has long been dead.

R Ganesh is a Bangalore-based Sanskrit scholar and practitioner of the art of avadhana. He is an author in Sanskrit and Kannada and an extempore poet in multiple languages. He has performed avadhanas in Kannada, Sanskrit, Telugu and Prakrit. He is known for extempore composition of poetry and chitrakavya. He also gives public lectures on dance (natya sastra), music, art, culture, literature, poetics.

Ganesh recently wrote a scathing attack on Rajiv Malhotra’s book, The Battle For Sanskrit (TBFS). The attack became personal against Rajiv Malhotra’s competence. This raised another controversy at a time when most of us expected all lovers of dharma to rally behind the defense of our sanskriti and take up the battles articulated in TBFS. Ganesh has divided some of the activists and this needs to be healed.

To put the matter to rest, I decided to interview Rajiv Malhotra on some very specific and concrete claims made by R. Ganesh. The goal here is to set aside personality issues and delve into the subject matter of Pollock, Hindu dharma, TBFS and Ganesh’s views.

This is a long but important interview, so for ease of reading I divided the issues into the following thematic categories:

1. The qualifications required to do Rajiv Malhotra’s work

2. Issues concerning methodology and Ganesh’s overall approach

3. Disagreements concerning the interpretation of our sanskriti

4. Who is being logical or illogical?

5. What should be the future course for our sanskriti?

Theme 1: The qualifications required to do Rajiv Malhotra’s work

Q: Someone reading Ganesh’s review could easily think that he is poisoning the well by branding you unfairly. Some of Ganesh’s supporters have made this negative branding even more explicit. What is your response to charges that you are unqualified to do your work?

In the opening para itself, Ganesh cites a theme from the Mahabharata to give us some obvious advice: “Act not in haste! A loss of sagacity (viveka) is the worst calamity. Fortune and prosperity comes to one who analyses and calculates.” Ganesh then applies this wisdom to say that I am unqualified for the work I am doing: “In the battle for Sanskrit, Rajiv Malhotra is like an enthusiastic commander of a committed army whose strengths and weaknesses he himself is sadly unable to reconcile.”

The commander of an army that he refers to is like a CEO, and must be evaluated as such. He is not supposed to be like a techie or some narrow subject-matter expert. He cannot be a frog-in-the-well. My movement requires me to be able to identify and define the immense variety of specialized battlefields we must engage. I must study the strengths/weaknesses of the main opponents we face, not only as individuals but also the workings of their institutional support apparatus. Any such leader must know the opposing side’s history, ideology, motives, strategic plans and tactical maneuvers. He must know how opponents have infiltrated and installed their own supporters among us, including many who serve them unconsciously and even imagine they are operating with good intentions for our civilization.

This CEO type of leadership is not just a matter of book knowledge, and is certainly not limited to book knowledge about our own systems. It also demands extensive experience in direct close combat with the best warriors of the opposing side. Such a leader must be psychologically strong like a kshatriya. He must be articulate with good debating skills. To debate the West on its own turf requires considerable real-world experience in the global intellectual kurukshetra, which is not to be confused with meetings of “like-minded people” in India. One must have experience leaving one’s comfort zone of supporters, and confidently walking directly into the line of enemy fire, even when surrounded by a hundred or more heavily armed opponents. Such a warrior must be able to win arguments and come out stronger for the next battle.

For my specialized area of work, the battlefield is situated globally, the gatekeepers are mostly hostile towards us, and we have a ragtag army to start with. I am sure Ganesh will agree with the importance of intellectual combat experience in the western battlefields, just as his avadhanas provide him the field-experience in his domain of expertise. Has Ganesh known enough about my background in this specific kind of battlefield over the past quarter century, to be able to justify his sweeping dismissal of my effectiveness?

Ganesh then amplifies his dismissal of my personal competence, by citing some words of the legendary Prof. M Hiriyanna. Ironically, even though Hiriyanna is very well-known in his own right, Ganesh establishes Hiriyanna’s credentials by quoting that the Harvard professor Daniel Ingalls praised him as a “great scholar”. I will not dwell upon this inferiority complex many Indians have, a complex that compels them to cite a westerner’s pat on the back as the gold standard of legitimacy. I have extensively written on this signature quality of many Indians. Why should one of our great avadhana leaders need to cite Harvard’s Ingalls to prove the greatness of Hiriyanna?

Ganesh cites Hiriyanna saying that “It will be a serious deficiency if the Pandit passes through his career as a student altogether oblivious of this new knowledge…” Ganesh wants to make the valid point that we must not be living in old knowledge and that an expert must also learn new knowledge. Hiriyanna is quoted saying that “there was a lack of historical perspective in what he [the pandit] knew.” Hiriyanna rightfully complained that “Pandits confined their attention only to the subject in which they specialized, and even there to a few chosen books related to it… But thoroughness is no antidote against the narrowness of mental outlook.”

Ganesh goes through many such elaborate quotations not only to demonstrate that he has such book knowledge, but to make the case that my knowledge is obsolete because I am stuck in old knowledge. However, he cites no evidence at all to prove that such lofty quotes apply to me. Ganesh assumes that quoting someone about the criteria for failure automatically proves that the criteria apply to me. This is a ridiculous level of illogical reasoning.

In fact, had Ganesh taken the time to read my works, he would know that I emphasize new knowledge acquired in several ways, including the following methods:

  • I regard the “rishi-state” of higher consciousness as a method our exemplars have used to constantly refresh knowledge, and not get frozen in time;
  • I have read a vast corpus of literature by our opponents pertaining to a broad spectrum of topics in the humanities and social sciences;
  • I engage opponents in debate as often as I can because this is an important form of knowledge acquisition;
  • I promote and participate in the use of modern scientific empiricism to study old knowledge with open minds, in order to benefit both the science and our improved insights about the tradition; and
  • I advocate the adaptation and writing of new smritis for our times.

Ganesh’s obvious statement about the need for new knowledge should not require him to cite quotations by an Indian X and validating the Indian by citing a Harvard professor Y. It is an example of very pedantic, commonsense points made in his article. He then gives us a tutorial on sanatana dharma that mentions rather well-known things. None of this pertains to Pollock’s work or my purva-paksha of Pollock.

I wish to turn his argument back on him: The complaint he cites about pandits being ignorant of the latest knowledge from new sources is applicable to those traditional scholars who are not up to date in knowledge of Western Indology, which is the subject matter of our discussion.

Furthermore, our tradition has always encouraged and even valorized innovative thinkers who seemed to lack formal training in some field, but who successfully challenged those with eminent “credentials”. His branding me right up front as unqualified is unscholarly and elitist. Ganesh says that “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).”

My response is as follows:

  • On what basis can he conclude that I lack first-hand experience of sanskriti? He fails to define the scope of sanskriti and then show that I am deficient in it. This would require him to do detailed pariksha of my background, my sadhana, my guru, and so forth - something he has not done. This goes to show that Ganesh has a somewhat reductionist view of what our sanskriti is, and he makes sweeping judgments of others whom he hardly knows.
  • His argument about the distinction between rupa and svarupa is irrelevant. Yes, in metaphysical contexts, the aim is to transcend rupa into understanding of svarupa but that has nothing to do with the context of defending dharma socially and politically from hostile interpretations.
  • His reference to my book’s pages 44-49 shows a lack of basic understanding of my book. In those pages I do not discuss the “enemies” at all, but rather our home team’s internal shortcomings. This is a standard SWOT analysis done to assess one’s competitiveness. It is based on numerous interviews I did over the years to assess the views and preparedness of various kinds of individuals who ought to be on our home team. Ganesh seems to be unfamiliar with such techniques, and dismisses it as “an elaborate but hazy diagnosis of the problem.” He wants to pass judgment on everything whether he has a clue or not.
  • Pollock also resorts to this kind of hubris many times. It reminds me of a corporate slogan: “If you cannot dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit!”

Q: What are your thoughts on Ganesh’s strengths and knowledge gaps?

Ganesh is a great scholar but I find him lacking knowledge of the specific meta-narrative in which Sheldon Pollock’s work is located. Without understanding this fully, it is useless and in fact misleading to attempt to do purva-paksha on isolated verses and statements made by Pollock. The following four-tier model explains the layers of knowledge one must bring to bear on such a purva-paksha. It organizes scholarship into categories, from the most general to the narrowest:

  1. Wide sweeping critique of western Indology. Cover lots of old Indologists, from Christian to secular, clubbing all of them under a simplistic profile as “western”. Most postcolonial scholarship has focused on this and some of it has been pretty useful. Few traditional Indian scholars have done serious work here, and most of them regurgitate bombastic, emotional and politicized criticisms. In any case, this is not where my focus lies in TBFS. We already have lots of such material from numerous writers over many decades. But this genre of ideology is not what we encounter today, because western Indologists like Pollock have moved on and other more sophisticated theories have superseded.
  2. Present ecosystem of Western Indology and where the Pollock School fits in. This tier looks at prevailing infrastructure for knowledge production, such as: institutions, ideologies, agendas, distribution channels, etc. This research looks at not only western scholars but also their Indian collaborators and sepoys. What are their strategies at work? Who funds what? What is the purpose of all this work? To do this type of work, one must have expertise in industry analysis. I would say Breaking India is a book in this genre.
  3. Deconstruction of Pollock school's specific lens. Here one must look at this school’s meta-theories, narratives, key vocabulary, plans. What are the implications to dharma being studied in this way? How has this knowledge spread over the past 30+ years? Who is who in their army? This requires a multi-disciplinary approach, and knowledge of heavy English, Western thought and the ability to decode multilayered (including sly/deceptive) writing style that is typical of western scholars who want to look politically correct. I request the reader to please go through my article, The Challenges of Understanding Sheldon Pollock, available at: http://swarajyamag.com/culture/rajiv-malhotra-explains-the-challenges-of-understanding-sheldon-pollock
  4. Text specific micro-analysis. This entails analysis of specific Indian texts as per Pollock school and as per our tradition. This supports our uttara-paksha. It requires serious knowledge of Sanskrit and also of texts in detail.

My interest is in tiers 2 & 3. I saw this huge gap in our home team's work thus far. Most of them regurgitate tier 1 repeatedly. But that writing is too superficial to make any impact. It is also obsolete as even the westerners today have disowned it. Westerners have replaced this old Orientalism with their own new Orientalism.

In a nutshell, Ganesh and most Indian scholars miss tiers 2 and 3 entirely, and do not seem to realize this. Their ideas of western Indology are frozen in the old era of tier 1. They investigate specific issues (i.e. tier-4) in the context of tier-1. Because they miss the middle tiers, which is where Pollock’s original and creative theories and lenses belong, they miss out on what is special about Pollock.

Therefore, Ganesh and I are doing two different types of yajnas. They entail two distinct subject matter areas, with different kinds of opponents and issues. I am aware of my shortcomings, and explain in my book the necessity for more specialists like Ganesh to join as teams. But unfortunately, he sees his corner of the field as though it were the entire global kurukshetra. For some mysterious reason he is blind to his own limitations. Nevertheless, Ganesh and other traditional scholars need to undertake the important work based on the tier 2 and tier 3 analysis of Pollock.

Theme 2: Issues concerning methodology and Ganesh’s overall approach

Q: What was your first reaction to R. Ganesh’s review of your book, The Battle For Sanskrit?

I wish to thank Shri R. Ganesh for showing interest in my book by writing a lengthy critique. Any such critique has the effect to wake up traditional scholars and draw their attention to the prevailing intellectual battlefield.

However, there are many serious errors, misunderstandings and contradictions in Sri Ganesh’s article. I would like to point out a few of the statements that are irrelevant/pedantic or that misrepresent what is written in TBFS. I would also like to clarify my domains of expertise and repeat TBFSs call for traditional scholars to work in collaboration with me in ways that complement one another.

Q: Ganesh dismisses your thesis of breaking India forces, calling it a “conspiracy theory”. What is your response?

Ganesh complains that my notion of western orientalists appropriating the Indian left “sound like conspiracy theories”. Had he written this before my books Breaking India and Being Different became extremely influential, that would be one thing. But in the past several years a large number of Indians in multiple disciplines have read and appreciated that thesis. Someone dismissing it as “conspiracy theories” today is clearly out of touch with the real-world events that are taking place all around us. Our experts must be better informed about the world or else not opine so authoritatively.

Q: Please respond to Ganesh’s charge that your “meticulous analysis of the works of Sheldon Pollock”, 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.”

Ganesh contradicts himself and cannot seem to make up his mind on whether such a systematic purva-paksha is a good thing or not. He accepts Pollock’s importance and the principle of purva-paksha, and yet finds my “meticulous analysis” to be a sign of obsession. This is like someone complaining of the “obsession” of Shankara and other exemplars of purva-paksha to critique their opponents with rigor.

Ganesh also accuses me of “playing the blame game” and advocates that we must “counter Pollock with facts.” This charge assumes that I did not counter Pollock with facts. It is a ridiculous misrepresentation, given I worked so hard to get into the “facts” of Pollock while Ganesh shows no knowledge of Pollock apart from what he sees in TBFS.

Ganesh also misrepresents me when he says that I want Western academia to view Hinduism in a better light. My fight is exactly in the opposite direction: I oppose funding western Indology chairs that hope to win over Western academia. I want Swadeshi Indology to become strong.  The Indian Grand Narrative must be home grown and only then can we export it. Others will not respect us until we respect ourselves with unity. Anyone who has read my works knows all this well.

Q: What is your response to Ganesh’s criticism that: “The first imperative step of establishing pramanas is missing in The Battle for Sanskrit.”

In the absence of common pramanas between Western Indology and our tradition, it is impossible to debate because we may be talking about rishi consciousness but Pollock being a Marxist, disregards that such a thing even exists, and he only cares about socioeconomic dimensions. TBFS is constantly showing that Pollock rejects the claims of sacredness, and hence automatically rejects Vedas and experience of higher states.

The important point raised in TBFS is that the battle has to be initially fought on western terms, since the West is presently “the establishment” and we are their consumers.  TBFS is targeting the heart of establishment. This is an unfortunate state, but realistic. Once we become the main knowledge producers in modern Indology, we can dictate the terms and establish the pramanas for debate. Right now, we live in a society governed by laws and processes that are not based on our pramanas. To enter the debating court, we are being required to fit within Western Universalism.

I am acutely aware of this dilemma and have spent most of my adult life arguing against this state of affairs. But I am also a pragmatist and cannot limit myself to the old style of argumentation just to show off that I am knowledgeable in pramanas. Today’s research methodology must be inter-disciplinary. I like to take the fight to the opponent’s battlefield, and this cannot be achieved as a conversation among insiders only.

Q: You mention that Ganesh is at times confused between your position and Pollock’s position that you criticize. Please give some examples.

I often quote or paraphrase Pollock to explain his thoughts to my readers, but Ganesh takes it as my position and starts to criticize it. For example, he says: “Why this divide between sacred and beautiful?” This divide is Pollock’s divide, not mine. Pollock wants to put a wall between shastra and kavya. I go through great pains to try and explain what Pollock says, and then I give my rebuttal. Just to make it perfectly clear, I do not believe in any absolute Pollock-like divide between sacred/beauty or between shastra/kavya. Unbeknownst to Ganesh, what he says is in agreement with my views; we both oppose Pollock on the issue of sacred/beauty.

Another example is when Ganesh claims that I do not understand what shastra and kavya mean, but does not prove this allegation by citing my writings. Instead, he seems to refer to my paraphrasing of Pollock’s views; he misunderstands these as mine. Ganesh’s following statement is in alignment with what my book says:

“Any organized body of knowledge is sastra; it serves two purposes – to govern and to reveal. A system of grammar is a sastra. It tells us what is the right usage (governs) and shows us new connections (reveals). A sastra may or may not be connected to the Vedas. Any creative work that evokes rasa (art experience; aesthetic delight) is kavya.”

He also writes: “In general, yajña refers to an act of self-dedication or service above self.” But this has always been my view, and yet he claims that I do not understand yajna. Similarly, he gives well-known definitions of terms like darshana, etc. straight from elementary textbooks, without telling us why his quotes are relevant to my book.

Theme 3: Disagreements concerning the interpretation of our sanskriti

Q: He accuses you many times of not understanding the diversity of Indian traditions. Can you respond to the following charges he makes?
  • “[Malhotra’s] 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 …”
  • “Western scholars are familiar with dissent but they often lack a framework to reconcile with the differences and transcend them. While Malhotra respects this spirit, he is unable, unfortunately, to express it clearly in his book.
  • “We must also realize that diversity is the way of the world and should learn to tolerate opposing views.”
  • He claims there are “many instances of Malhotra’s monolithic view of Indian culture and tradition.”
  • “He should realize that the same tradition that he is defending has these diverse views.”

One of the most glaring misrepresentations of my work is his repeated assertion that I am against the diversity of Indian traditions. No serious reader of my work has ever said such a thing. In fact, my earlier book, Being Different, which he cites, says the exact opposite: it contrasts Indian diversity with the Western focus on the normative and the Abrahamic emphasis upon "one truth". In fact, a key highlight of Being Different is that it goes beyond the common platitudes we read about our diversity, and proposes a comprehensive theory on why there is diversity.

The contrast between what I call history-centrism and adhyatma-vidya are key building blocks I have formulated to explain not just the diversity in our traditions, but more importantly why this diversity exists. This insight as to the underlying causes of diversity in one civilization and monoculture in the other civilization is worked out in considerable detail in my work.

In my subsequent book, Indra's Net, I develop this thesis further into what I call the open architecture of dharma systems. Not only do I explain the immense diversity, I also examine the profound underlying unity - hence there is no fear of chaos as in the case of the Abrahamic systems. There is no control-obsession in our culture in the sense that the West has. I explain why this unity-diversity is there, whereas most writers have been content merely praising it, without adequately asking what sustains it.

Given that this theory of our diversity has been one of my important areas of work, I find it disappointing that Ganesh misunderstood me. For instance, he does not understand the notion of integral unity as explained in detail in my writings, when he writes: “Malhotra speaks about an ‘Integral unity of Hindu metaphysics’ (pp. 98-102) without caring to look at divergent view from within the tradition.”

By definition, an integral unity allows plurality within a shared architecture. Sometimes, blind orthodoxy blurs the appreciation of any novelty in articulating our heritage. One of the hallmarks of our tradition is its ability to evolve with the changing times. This requires us to be receptive and open to new knowledge from new sources.

Q: What do you think of Ganesh’s criticism of the categories “tradition” and “American Orientalism”? He writes the following:
  • “Often clubbing all insider views as ‘the traditionalist view’ – his argument is rendered weaker.”
  • “He begins to falter when he compares the ‘Sanskrit Traditionalists’ and ‘American Orientalists’.”
  • “There is no single group that one can call ‘Sanskrit Traditionalists’.”

Ganesh’s foundational misunderstanding of my work concerns the nature of unity-diversity, and this feeds into numerous other incorrect analyses by him. He does not understand the cluster nature of various dharma systems in their integral unity. He has not read chapter 2, one of the largest chapters in TBFS, which is devoted to explain this. Frankly, I doubt Ganesh knows much about the category I have designated as American Orientalists, which I emphasize must be differentiated from earlier European Orientalists.

I go to great length to explain that insiders/outsiders and traditionalists/Orientalists are clusters and not homogeneous categories. Pages 30-34 are entirely devoted specifically to define and nuance these terms. Pages 35-43 list nine separate ways in which the traditionalists differ from Orientalists, and give a brief overview of each difference to show its significance. I refer the reader to the tables on pages 24-25 and 76, along with the accompanying text, and invite him/her to assess whether my analysis of this matter deserves to be so flippantly dismissed.

Q: You have made a core point in your book about Pollock’s removal of sacredness from Sanskrit texts. How does Ganesh see this?

TBFS argues against Pollock’s allegation that sacred Sanskrit texts are toxic and that they oppress Dalits and women. He espouses removing the sacredness and I oppose him vehemently on this. It is in this context that I state in my book that: “Traditionally, Hindus have read Sanskrit for the purpose of understanding the ideas of ultimate reality.” To me, this sentence makes perfect sense for the intended purpose and context.

However, Ganesh picks this very same sentence from my book and rejects it summarily without explaining the context of what I am trying to establish. He writes: “The ultimate reality is beyond form – it is immaterial if Sanskrit is used as a means.” It is true that the ultimate reality is beyond form, but how does it follow that Sanskrit can be disposed of as a means to the formless? Sanskrit mantras are important to many sacred practices, and reaching the formless ultimate reality does involve vyavaharika processes in certain practices. Besides, my reasons for questioning Pollock’s removal of sacredness is not only based on his rejection of our idea of ultimate reality; my concern is also that such a removal is a mischievous effort by the Left to accuse sacred Sanskrit texts of violating human rights. Once again, Ganesh is shadowboxing an imaginary position without understanding the context of what I am refuting in Pollock theses.

He writes: “Further, how does he account for the teachings of many poets and sages who were unaware of Sanskrit?” Of course, we all know that many poets wrote in other languages. But Sanskrit’s sacred usages do not imply that other languages are useless. Ganesh seems to think that sacredness of Sanskrit is a claim of its exclusiveness among all languages for sacred purposes. When I say that an entity X has a property Y, I am not saying that other entities cannot have property Y as well.

Furthermore, while it is correct that learning Sanskrit is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for spiritual enlightenment on an individual basis, it is dangerous to dismiss the importance and criticality of Sanskrit to the transmission of the dharmic traditions at a societal level.  Sanskrit is the language in which the Vedas have been transmitted, and it is the language in which our mantras have been revealed; in the very sounds of the Sanskrit language lay pathways to the transcendental realms.

Q: He criticizes your interpretation of mantras. Please comment.

The context in which I mention mantras in my book must be understood before one can evaluate what I say. The context is that I am refuting Pollock when he considers mantras (and other “non-secular” aspects) to be socially toxic and oppressive against Dalits and women.

Ganesh cites my view that: “Meditation mantras…produce effects which ordinary sounds do not.” Ganesh gives a rejoinder by assuming that I must refer to “healing effects” of mantras, but that is a false assumption. He tries to show that mantras cannot heal in Ayurveda; but that is beside the point because their effects can be of various kinds, not necessarily for healing.
Ganesh is arguing about the issue of healing, whereas my book is arguing on a different issue, namely, that mantras and other sacred elements do not cause social oppression. They produce effects. But TBFS does not go into any specific kinds of effects, and certainly makes no medical claims.

Q: Is Ganesh misinterpreting what you mean by transcendence?

Ganesh is bothered by my use of terms like “supersensory experiences,” “higher states of consciousness” and “‘rishi’ state of consciousness”. He dismisses all such statements as “arbitrary”, presumably because they do not fit the jargon he has learned. He is particularly troubled with my statement that: “The idea of selfhood that is transcending the ordinary ego is increasingly accepted in scientific inquiry.” The fact is that cognitive scientists and neuroscientists now discuss states where the subject does not experience a separated, isolated experience of self.

Rather than being inquisitive to pursue such new knowledge, Ganesh hastily tells us that: “All such remarks only weaken his argument since the debate is happening at the level of pratyaksa and anumana.” He must appreciate that western cognitive science does not claim to have “measured” the higher states of consciousness, but claims to have discovered correlates to it that are measurable. This is a big difference to be appreciated. It is also a big breakthrough in modern science. I wish he would be more interested in reading the literature on recent studies, and join in the effort to show that the west is busy digesting our knowledge into their own paradigms.

Furthermore, Ganesh is missing a key point. It is not correct that this debate is happening at the level of pratyaksa and anumana. To concede this point would be to concede the battle to Pollock.  Pollock as a Marxist is by definition materialist and would dismiss the relevance of the levels of consciousness that deal with the para – those which can be experienced through aparoksha gyanam (direct experience) that is not reliant on sensory experience or intellect alone.  But Sanatana Dharma cannot be confined to a materialist understanding of the universe alone – therefore, any materialist interpretations like the Marxist ones and what Pollock champions inevitably distorts and warps the tradition.  To play into the lens Pollock uses would be to concede the battle before it is even fought.  Just because Pollock dismisses the higher levels of pramana we use in understanding our tradition does not mean that we should, too! The whole point of TBFS is to put forth our own interpretations of dharma to debunk his distortions.

Q: He does not like your term “beyond” to explain paramarthika. What is your response?

Ganesh misinterprets my statement that “paramarthika is the realm ‘beyond’”. He retorts that “paramarthika is not just beyond but also within.” He assumes that beyond means some spatially removed place out there in the sky, as in an Abrahamic notion of heaven. But I use “beyond” (which I put in quotes in my text for this nuance) in a way that does not have anything to with inside or outside in a spatial sense. It means beyond the ordinary state of consciousness, beyond what is ordinarily experienced by most of us. It is roughly equivalent to the prefix “para” (adopted from Sanskrit into English). To be clear, in the very same sentence I say that vyavaharika, by contrast, is “the ordinary reality around us.” A more technical way might be to say that “beyond” refers to what the six pramanas cannot reveal – these being Pratyaksha (Perception), Anumana (Inference), Upamana (Comparison), Arthapatti (Postulation), Anupalabdhi (Non-apprehension), and Sabda (Verbal Testimony).

Furthermore, Ganesh contradicts his own position in another part of his article when he writes “The ultimate reality is beyond form.” If his view on “beyond” above is valid, then this statement by him would also be falsified.

Ganesh is also concerned that “Malhotra has not given a direct quote of Pollock rejecting the paramarthika.” This shows Ganesh’s inability (or disinterest) in reading Pollock beyond surgical punch lines in isolation. If he has read Pollock’s magnum opus, “The language of gods …”, he ought to be able to track the references to it given in TBFS. He would easily discover Pollock’s reliance upon Vico throughout. TBFS mentions how Pollock translates parmarthika-sat and vyavaharika-sat to correspond to the Latin terms, verum and certum, respectively. Pollock’s arguments that follow based on this mapping lead to his sidelining of paramarthika. This level of understanding Pollock is a prerequisite before Ganesh can begin to write any non-trivial review.

Q: Ganesh says that your statement about four ‘levels’ of speech is incorrect, because according to him, there are four ‘stages’ in chronological sequence and not ‘levels’. Please respond.

He is wrong in his understanding of vac. For example, Sri Aurobindo discusses levels. The significance of levels is that they can exist simultaneously whereas stages are in a strict chronological order, one at a time. Advanced tantra and other yogic techniques take practitioners to higher states where they are simultaneously able to function in higher and lower levels. These are not always mutually exclusive.

In any case, this is an example of a very pedantic issue, as it would not make any difference to my thesis if I were to replace ‘levels’ with ‘stages’. The point TBFS is arguing is that Pollock is wrong in considering the oral tradition to be useless. My argument is that some of the pathways from external speech all the way to subtler forms and the ultimate para level are important, and if one has only text but no orality these would get sidelined. The real point here is that the four levels/stages are unavailable in text mode, but are available in oral practices. This point is unaffected whether these are stages or levels. Ganesh missed the point and quibbles over something very pedantic.

Q: Are you troubled that Ganesh does not buy into your argument on the non-translatability of certain Sanskrit words?

Ganesh disagrees with my notion of non-translatability of certain Sanskrit words. He gives the following rejoinder: “In general, the defining feature of a technical work (pertaining to philosophy, or medicine, or science) is that it can be translated, since it has a precise language of its own (and is not bound to a particular language).”

Ganesh goes on to argue that “anything that comes within universal experience can be translated.” My arguments on non-translatability have been made very extensively in Being Different, with a whole chapter devoted to this. The reader should go through that chapter and decide whether Ganesh is patently wrong in his views on whether certain Sanskrit words are non-translatable.

He then says something that is simply irrelevant to the issue at hand: “Further, even in Sanskrit, the same word has different connotations in different subjects.” Being Different already explains this fact with numerous examples, but this is an independent point unrelated to non-translatability.

Theme 4: Who is being logical or illogical?

Q: Ganesh questions your logical abilities and calls it “pseudo-logic”.  You have pointed out illogical statements made by him. Please explain.

Ganesh is making some illogical statements, ironically with the stated purpose of exposing "Malhotra's pseudo-logic". I offer a few examples.

  • In some instances, he adopts my position and yet says I am wrong. For instance, he quotes me: “Dhyana (meditation) is available without the need for analysis since it is entirely experiential. (p. 98)” Then he disagrees with this, saying: “If this is the case, how do we account for the fact that dhyana has been analyzed extensively on the basis of experience?”
Analyzing an experience after the fact does not mean the analysis is required to have the experience. My statement that dhyana does not require analysis, is not refuted by his valid statement that some people have analyzed dhyana. That they have analyzed does not mean the analysis is mandatory for attaining the experience.
  • Ganesh’s failure to understand the context of my statement leads him to think it is incorrect. He quotes TBFS: “…Natya Shastra was a text developed to enable the theatrical performance of itihasas.” This statement is taken from the section on Integral Unity (pages 98-102) where I am arguing against Pollock’s claim to decouple paramarthika and vyavaharika. In order to refute Pollock’s claim, I cite numerous examples of their unity and one of them is that Vedas, itihasas and Natya Shastra are linked and cannot be decoupled into separate camps with mutual tension the way Pollock does. Ganesh states some irrelevant facts which have nothing to do with the context in which I state my position about the integral unity of our traditions to jump to his conclusion that this is “one of the many instances of Malhotra’s monolithic view of Indian culture and tradition.” He offers no logic as to how he reached this conclusion.

  • Ganesh reaches an illogical conclusion in discussing my reference to the critical edition of the Ramayana that was compiled by MS University. TBFS mentions that the critical edition was later misused by Western Indologists to make incorrect interpretations. This critical edition gave them easier access which they previously lacked. Does this mean we should not do such critical editions? Certainly not. All I am pointing out is that just as China controls the way foreigners can access its intellectual resources, so also we could at least make some policies on when to allow Westerners unfettered access. For instance, we could consider having some scrutiny over their access. They must state the purpose for which they are requesting the access, and we must monitor their works to verify that they have not violated their obligations. Moreover, knowing their motive will help us do a thorough purva-paksha of their positions, and also help produce rejoinders (as uttara). This ensures a balance between freedom and control and firmly establishes the adhikara with our civilization. 
As an analogy, I offer the following: The Kumbha Mela is very open (point X). But western scholars have used this openness to infiltrate it with nefarious designs that I have recently written about (point Y). Because we don’t like Y, the solution is not to stop X (i.e. we should not end our openness). One possible solution is to bring some mechanisms of monitoring, and taking corrective action when required. Simply abandoning the adhikara and letting outsiders have a free run is unwise.

Ganesh does not understand the logic involved in this point. He misinterprets my written words (page 322) when he asserts: “Malhotra opines that it was unwise of M S University, Baroda to have compiled a critical edition of the Ramayana and preparing an English translation (p. 322).” This is not at all what I wrote and I never blamed MS University’s project either. Rather, I blamed western scholars for taking advantage of this openness, and what we can learn from this experience. What I propose is to have some controls, and not passively give away our adhikara.
  • Another example of an illogical analysis concerns my statement about popular culture. In my discussions with Kanchi Shankaracharya, he explicitly agreed with my view written in TBFS that “Kavya is literature that can be merely entertaining, or can also be a means for experiencing transcendence.” In fact, the Shankaracharya emphasized numerous times that we must develop a strategy to popularize our knowledge through visual entertainment such as film, TV and theater. He explained to me the importance of doing this today. 
Yet, Ganesh quotes the above statement from my book, and classifies it under the heading: “Ignorance of Existing Literature and Divergent Views.” The factoid he cites has no bearing on the falsification or otherwise of my position. He uses the approach of muddying the issue by excessive citation of texts as if merely quoting proves anything by itself.

Theme 5: What should be the future course for our sanskriti?

Q: He seems to disagree with you on whether to encourage new knowledge production in Sanskrit. Can you respond?

Ganesh dismisses the idea that Sanskrit’s revival could include producing new knowledge. He writes:

“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?”

Ganesh disagrees with Chamu Krishna Shastry (quoted on page 297) that Sanskrit must once again become a language of innovation and change, absorbing new words from elsewhere, and inventing new ones internally, as and when the need arises. Ganesh retorts that “Innovation is not language-specific. Appropriating works (and words) into Sanskrit is not of practical value since the world is becoming a global village.”

I wish to point out that China and Japan are examples of government programs to produce new knowledge in their native languages. Mumbai based Shri Arnaal has developed software for machine translation of texts pertaining to specific subject matter, such that it would bring about a paradigm shift in the ability of non-English knowledge production. Machine translation is expected to usher in a new age of non-English languages becoming empowered in their own right.

Another concrete example is that Prof Bal Ram Singh (a biochemist) and Prof Girish Jha (a Sanskritist) have had productive collaborations where new scientific meanings and significance of Sanskrit terms are being discovered in sophisticated experiments in medicine. Old Sanskrit texts are the basis for their experiments today.

One can also examine how computational linguistics is thriving in the West as a field built on the study of Sanskrit grammar. It is at the cutting edge in computer science. Many persons (most notably BVK Sastry) have pointed out the loss of intellectual capital by the Indian side when this field is being de-Sanskritized by the west with the full collaboration of Indian scholars. This is what happens when we adopt the posture of not developing new knowledge on our own terms, and allow others to further enrich their intellectual platform at the cost of ours.

Finally, I want to point out that Ganesh’s position on new knowledge production in Sanskrit is aligned with what Pollock means by calling Sanskrit dead. Pollock rightfully says that a language cannot be alive by merely parroting old materials. This is precisely what happened to Greek/Latin and hence they became classical/dead languages whose only purpose is for rituals and occasional opera that very few understand and that serve for nostalgia only.

I expected Ganesh to champion Sanskrit as a living language for innovation, and not use it only for performances to entertain audiences.

Q: Explain Ganesh’s disagreement with your proposal that new smritis must be developed for today.

Ganesh attacks my suggestion that we must write new smritis and adapt old ones for this era, and that traditional scholars should play an important role in doing this. He writes:

“How is this practical? If someone were to compose a new constitution of India in Sanskrit, would s/he be taken seriously? For example, refer to the sastras and smritis composed by great scholars like Vasishta Ganapati Muni and Pullela Sriramachandrudu – what is the value given to their works by the laity and by the scholars? One can compose a smriti but what executive authority does s/he have? What are the kind of new texts can traditional scholars develop in Sanskrit? And what to make of compositions in Sanskrit hailing a tyrant like Lenin…”

We clearly disagree on how to interpret the notion of smritis for our time. And yes, the constitution does serve as a smriti whether we like it or not.

The issue of what authority such a new smriti would enjoy is a complex one. Many smritis written in the past did not necessarily become official state policy enforced on the public. They were in many cases a proposal or a particular individual’s view of society at a time and place. They were debated among experts in the marketplace of ideas. Some were merely descriptive (how things happen to be) and not necessarily prescriptive (how things ought to be). Others have the tone of formal authority.

Ganesh is blind to a very serious challenge we face: Today, the Indian Left led by Pollock’s team is in the process of developing new smritis very actively and very politically. They don’t explicitly call them smritis in order to not raise flags prematurely. But anyone who has properly read Pollock ought to know that his call to scholars to do what he terms “liberation philology” is precisely this kind of project of writing new policies for society today. There are plenty of doctrines about Dalit empowerment today that function like smritis in a pragmatic sense. Pollock’s “political philology” is the descriptive part and his “liberation philology” is the prescriptive part. The latter is what leads to calls for foreign interventions in India.

While our opponents have been busy formulating new positions, then turning these into formal policies, and finally using international agencies to make official international laws that can be imposed on India, most of our own brilliant traditional scholars seem clueless and disinterested in entering this battle of new policies. This is analogous to someone who claims to be leading an army, but who does not believe in any R&D for new weapons, even though the enemies all around have been upgrading their weapon systems. Smritis are like weapon systems in ideological warfare, and we cannot afford leaders who just don’t get this.

Q: Is Ganesh accurately representing your stance on Sanskrit as it relates to non-Indian languages?

I advocate against studying Sanskrit texts using the methods developed for the study of Greek/Latin classics, because those are dead languages and officially acknowledged as such. I cited Arabic, Mandarin and Persian as examples of old languages that are treated as living languages by their government and intellectuals. Ganesh misses my point completely. He says: “Malhotra wants Sanskrit to be bracketed with Arabic, Mandarin, and Persian instead of Greek and Latin (p. 377).” Bracketed in what sense?

He says that Sanskrit grammar has been static whereas the grammars of widely spoken languages like Arabic, Mandarin, and Persian have undergone changes over the years. This is true, but it does not impinge upon my suggestion that we should decouple from the methods of Western Indologists that are based on studying dead languages. Whether Sanskrit grammar should or should not evolve beyond Panini is an unrelated issue.

My concluding remarks


I do hope these responses by Rajiv Malhotra will reduce the tension caused by Ganesh’s rash statements, and that both sides will be able to work constructively together. Sanatana dharma needs this today. Many of us also feel that Ganesh might have been misled by some individuals with their own petty politics and agendas. However, given his stature, we hope he appreciates the big picture issues that are at stake here.

Don’t Cry Dona from Chicago

By Naveen Chandra

The article The Repression of Religious Studies by Wendy Doniger touches on many topics of which I chose to answer a few.

A. Intellectual Territorial Integrity Violations

Soon after Rajiv Malhotra’s seminal book, The Battle For Sanskrit, came out, scholars from various fields signed a petition to remove Pollock from the leadership of MCLI, among who was Makarand Paranjpe, a JNU professor of English. He answered in his erudite way outlining the reasons why this petition was signed. Either the Dona from Chicago didn’t read it or didn’t understand it or chose to ignore it or all the above, we don’t know. Didn’t she also do a similar thing in the past? Sheldon Pollock himself invaded the intellectual territory of others on August 27, 2015 when he signed a petition to bar Mr. Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister from going to Silicon Valley, which effort was characterized as “far Left” by the Silicon Engineers who signed a counter petition welcoming Mr. Modi, as “a very strong representation from faculty in engineering disciplines, who, arguably, are best prepared to comment on Digital India as well as the Aadhaar program.’ Obviously Pollock’s efforts were not on par with the engineers’ qualifications with the implication that he was not qualified to comment on Digital India.

Qualifications of Sheldon Pollock Questioned

1. Pollock’s previous experience with Clay Library has to be looked into. Translations by Doniger (“Harsh Ratnavali”) and Pollock ("Raghu Vamsa "and "Rasamanjari") were found to be have many pitfalls (https://hrdayasamvada.wordpress.com). His translation of a verse from Chandodogyopanishad was found to contain many errors (http://www.jagritbharat.com/index.php/bfs/browse-shashtrarth/1210-pollock-s-translational-woes-continue-12-errors-found-in-his-handling-of-a-single-two-line-sanskrit-verse.)

2. It is clear that Pollock is man of contradictions. For example in his paper published in 1985 he at one place says sastras are prescriptive followed by the statement later that there were professions which did not follow any sastras. Elsewhere he says at one place Sanskrit helped the languages of Southeast Asia followed by statement that Sanskrit killed those languages.

3. He works a theory, cites data supporting that theory and ignores data that don’t. His theory was that the sastras were repressive of the society. He says these texts are dogmatic, regressive used for political and social oppression, without providing any evidence. People read an Upanishad or one of the Darshanas or Geeta because they find them enlightening, freeing and progressive. He quotes Kautilya who showed disdain for sastras but does not follow up on this stream of thought and ignores it when concluding.

4. For a man who spent 40 years writing about Hinduism his knowledge of his subject matter leaves many gaps. He missed major paradigm shifts in Hindu philosophy - Vedas, Upanishads, Darshanas, Advaita, Visishtadvaita and Dvaita each represented a change suggesting an evolution of thought. He does not mention this most important feature of Hindu philosophy.

5. He said that the worship of Ram is a ‘cult’ popularized around the 12thC to rally the masses against the Turkish invaders by projecting them as the demonic ‘other’. Is he suggesting that Ravana the villain of Ramayana was a Muslim? Even though Ravana was a Brahmin he did not escape punishment for his misdeeds. Historical evidences to Ramayana date back, as Nandita Krishna says, to Lumbini pillar erected by Ashoka in 249 BCE. Famous Sanskrit books such as Uttararamacharita by Bhavabhuti in 8th and Raghuvamsa by Kalidasa in 5Th based on Ramayana were written well before 12th century. In Sangam literature, in the book Puranaanooru, in verse 378, on page 604, there is a mention of jewels of Raman’s wife Sithai. This could have been anytime between 4th Century BCE and 5th Century CE.

6. According to him Mahabharata is the most dangerous political story in the world because it is a deep meditation on the fratricide in civil war. Mahabharata war was not a civil war. It was a war fought between two clans- Kauravas and Pandavas who were cousins not brothers. His admiration for Moguls is well known and he should know that the history of Moguls is the best example of meditation on the fratricide.

7. His opinion that Sanskrit is a ‘dead’ language whose revival was done by barbarous invaders coupled with carefully read this “The German Holocaust was inspired by the Nazis reading of Sanskrit texts” is not evidence based.

8. His statement that Rama didn’t have free will and was a fatalist to accept decisions made by his father assumes that Rama was incapable of making any decisions independently. The events in Ramayana show otherwise- his dealings with Sugreeva, Hanuman and Vibheeshana show him as a very sagacious person and his conduct in War show him as a capable leader and fighter. Sam Harris says,” Decision is already made before you are aware of it. We are not the conscious makers of our actions”, thus nullifying the concept of Free Will. Spinoza thought that there was no Free Will. Thus even the western opinion is divided on this issue. What is Pollock doing criticizing Rama for not having free will?

There are many other issues on which Pollock either does not understand Hindu documents or is willfully misrepresenting them for a higher goal such as breaking up of India. These are enough to show that he is not capable to run a classical library of Indian languages translated into English.

B. Need for Swadeshi Indology

The Battle For Sanskrit argues that South Asian Studies first carried out under the aegis of European Orientalism, and when money ran out there found a new lease under American Orientalism, is nothing but a mutual admiration society that has as put by an observer “little regard to due process, academic rigor and rational approach to theorizing”, as seen by allowing Pollock to formulate theories without evidence as shown above. His theory on oral tradition, his penchant for using outdated works in interpreting ancient Hindu books, his dismissal of ideas that run contrary to his theory without giving a reason or evidence, declaring “social and grammatical orders are related by their very nature” without proof, and his famous contradictions that go unchallenged all point to the breakdown of peer evaluation in the process of publications on South Asian Studies. Is this treatment reserved for Hindu studies alone? Will they make statements like these on other religions? Academic freedom allows classifying Ramayana and Mahabharata under mythology but no book under Islam, Christianity or Judaism is classified as mythology according to Rajiv Malhotra.

Ursula King spins a theory that Vivekananda borrowing ideas from the west such as compassion erected an edifice of modern Hinduism which otherwise did not exist before. This is well explained in Malhotra’s earlier book, Indra’s Net. In doing so he contradicted Adi Sanakara’s theory of attaining mukti from jnaana path alone. This statement became the lynch pin of the entire western Indology that relegates Hinduism to a meaningless conglomeration of a million unconnected narratives, ideas, processes, personalities events and places. In the worst case scenario these Indologists compare Hinduism to Humpty Dumpty put together by Vivekananda with glue of western ideas. For Ursula King nothing seems to have happened in Hinduism in the eleven hundred years from Sankara to Vivekananda which is either total ignorance or total willful misrepresentation of history to undermine Hinduism.

Besides Advaita in the eighth century two other equally important schools of thought emerged one in the eleventh century called Visishtadvaita proposed by Raamaanujaachaarya and the second one in the thirteenth century called Dvaita proposed by Madhvaachaarya. While Advaita in a nutshell says Brahman and Prakriti are same, only Brahman is Real, Ramanuja says they are both same and real, and Madhva says Hari and Prakriti are different and are real, Narayan and Hari respectively taking the place of Brahman in the two traditions. These fundamental differences are debated by scholars showing a robust evolution of thought in Hinduism totally ignored by western scholars. All three Achaaryas as they were known also gave Bhashyas to Upanishads and Geeta in accordance with their theories. Many other thinkers gave interpretations to the three theories themselves essence of which was there were many ways to attain mukti. Sankara wrote three great poems that are the source of puja even today- Bhaja Govindam, Mahishaasura Mardanam and Kanakadhaara stotram evidence that he advocated Karma and Bhakti besides Jnaana as paths to Mukti.

Those who criticize Hindu society for lack of compassion forget David Copperfield, Les Miserables, Count of Monte Cristo, Brothers Karamazov, Grapes of Wrath and others where Western Society’s inhuman behavior towards other human beings is portrayed in great detail. The violence that marked Europe is conveniently forgotten. The colonialism, oppression, suppression, slavery, imperialism are shoved under the rug from everybody’s view. Of all the societies in the past Hindu society was the most egalitarian and giving. Hindus didn’t borrow compassion from the west. The borrowing of compassion was done in the fifteenth century by the Jesuits who took it to Europe where it became digested and now passes on as a western commodity.

Great many western Indologists come with background of Theology, Seminary training and Evangelical fervor, Ursula King, Wendy Doniger and Richard Fox young being the prominent examples. Thus their interest in Hinduism is not limited to an objective study of but to nitpicking and putting down Hinduism paving the way to conversions.

These later day interpreters of Hinduism pay no attention to earlier thinkers like Bailey, Playfair, Voltaire, Hodgkinson, Thoreau, Durant, Emerson, Toynbee, Romain Rolland, Oppenheimer, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Goethe, Mark Twain and others who showered encomiums on Hinduism, but they instead push their critical view to damage Hinduism with sole purpose of . carrying on culturally genocidal conversion. In this they are ably led by Marxists like Pollock who cling onto outdated theories of class struggle that have failed in the erstwhile USSR beside other countries including India.

The contributions made by Hindus are never mentioned in California text books but only negative aspects thanks to South Asian scholars at Universities. Thankfully, there has been a growing chorus of Hindu voices complaining about this now. The utter failure of Max Mueller in writing the true history when added to the current crop make Hindus cringe at the prospect of foreigners writing their history. If somebody said to Gandhi,”France is ruled by French, Germany by Germans, but let us rule India, as we know better”, what would he have said. Furthermore all academic work done in India is ignored by American Orientalists on one pretext or other.That is why there is a need for Swadeshi Indology, a term and concept developed and proposed by Rajiv Malhotra.

C. Book banning case study; Satanic Verses

The author of The Hindus did not in her own words suffer from the case. The book was not banned. It was sold under the counter stealthily. She likes it that she has upped the Hindu objectors. She made money albeit immorally bordering on intellectual dishonesty, whereas Satanic Verses was banned. Does the author claim her book is comparable to Verses in literary values such as style, creativity and language? Why did Verses fail so much financially and faired so much worse politically but excelled intellectually? Why did her book an instrument in the hands of evangelists did better financially and politically but miserably failed intellectually? Does she stop to think? Which book will survive in the long run? Compare the magnanimity of Hindu objectors that allowed the sale of The Hindus to be continued to the dogged, mindless and vicious campaign that banned Verses, a great literary work. By the way on what side is she and her friends are on banning Verses?

D. What does Rajiv Malhotra say?

Rajiv Malhotra says of Pollock, “I found Pollock's modus operandi to be work back from a conclusion, offering selective references to support it, and oftentimes simply base it on an assumption with no evidence to back it.”

We saw above ample evidence for this. Malhotra asks questions such as did Sanskrit prevent anyone from learning, are Hindus fatalists, are sastras repressive, did Vedas prevent growth of knowledge, are the Rishis same as Christian priests of Europe of a bygone era, what is the true meaning of four ashrams, what is the true meaning of four purusharthas, does Karma prohibit meaningful engagements of individuals in making families and communities prosperous, is Sanskrit responsible for German debacle, is Hindu society chaotic, and many others and asks Hindus to learn about their history, practices and greatness much to the chagrin of South Asian Studies scholars who give answers denigrating Hinduism. Malhotra asks Hindus to do poorva paksha and uttara paksha to get to the truth much to the discomfort of American Orientalists. Malhotra brings to the attention of Hindus the works of Reinhold Guenendahl that refute Pollock but does not get the public exposure they deserve as the space is occupied by more wealthy Americans who control the media.

Naturally a truth seeker like Malhotra gets the ire of a prevaricating Dona from Chicago.

F. Brahmins Blamed Again
Dona from Chicago says the wealthy Brahmins in the US support Malhotra in his battle against her and Pollock. American Orientalists’ favourite target finds its rightful place in this write up. Is there any grain of truth in this yarn? Why didn’t the Dona from Chicago do some home work before she made this baseless allegation? American Orientalists have signed close to fifteen petitions against Hinduism, India, Modi and similar causes some time in the numbers that exceeded 500, including the Dona from Chicago. Many of these are also persons of Indian origin. Did she check how many of them were Brahmins? Isn’t it a bit hypocritical to cry that Brahmins support Malhotra at the same time drawing huge support from them to her cause? She is promoting hatred which is illegal in the US and the FBI would like to take a look at her.

Conclusions: American Orientalists are outdated in their knowledge, are prevaricating, are hypocritical, are unscientific, are irrational, are promoters of hatred against Brahmins, are ignorant of Hinduism, lack academic integrity- these are only a few among other character flaws. I as a Hindu would not want them write about Hinduism.