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Is Sanskrit a dead language?

Yajvan Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 September 2017 (15:52 IST)
Dr. Sheldon Pollock, in one of his typical enlightened moments, recently declared as a dead language!
 
His paper titled ‘The Death of Sanskrit’, starts anxiously with rise of Hindu identity politics (Hindutva) of 1990’s and its alleged “revisionism” and “Hindu propagandists” distorted claims like “(Sanskrit) was indigenous to India” and “Romantic myths of Primevality”(of Sanskrit).

He presumes that in revival of Sanskrit, the assertive Hindu class seeks to connect with political, economic and social dominance enjoyed by India over millennia and this is based on some mistaken premises.
 
Enormously influential in leukosphere academic circle, Pollock is lurid about Indian republic’s measures for promotion of Sanskrit since 1949 when it was included in the eighth schedule of the Constitution.

“Government feeding tubes and oxygen tanks may try to preserve the language in a state of quasi-animation, but most observers would agree that, in some crucial way, is dead”, Is it not strange that a professor whose career and laurels rests on Sanskrit scholarship, is piqued by Indian republic’s attempts for promotion of Sanskrit?

If this was so wrong morally he should have declined the Indian President’s Certificate of honor for Sanskrit (International) and Padma Shri award (literature and education)! Perhaps he needs such Indian awards to increase his weight among Indian scholars and academics of Sanskrit, who take such recognition on face values.

Pollock is happy with a dead Sanskrit which can be appropriated by any tom dick and harry. A living Sanskrit among people, who own it, feel connection with it, is something difficult for him to digest.

Being a non-Sanskritist Sanskrit professor; Pollock’s primary concern is ‘dead’ Sanskrit and if Sanskrit is alive, it needs to be slaughtered. Dr. Pollock is dead worshipper and wants to worship ‘dead’ Sanskrit, of course ignorantly.
 
From very start it is evident that Pollock is more concerned with furthering his political and social theory. He cherry picks some incidences, quotes and weaves his thesis around it. The perversion that the more outrageous and outlandish a quote he finds, he derives more insightful and significant meanings out if it. This is sad as well as hilarious. The established conservative facts supported by documents are rejected as if to further his racy, phony theories.
 
Professor Pollock says “(Sanskrit) had never been exactly alive in the first place. But the usual distinction in play here between living and dead languages is more than a little naive. It cannot accommodate the fact that all written languages are learned and learned, and therefore in some sense frozen in time (“dead”); or, conversely, that such languages often are as supple and dynamically changing (“alive”) as so-called natural ones.”

He is aware of the spread of influence of Sanskrit in pre-colonial era, naturally his assertion of a which “had never been exactly alive in the first place”, roam in wilderness for explanation.

“Yet the assumption that it was never alive has discouraged the attempt to grasp its later history; after all, what is born dead has no later history. As a result, there exist no good accounts or theorizations of the end of the cultural order that for two millennia exerted a transregional influence across Asia—South, Southeast, Inner, and even East Asia— that was unparalleled until the rise of Americanism and global English.” He continues, “We have no clear understanding of whether, and if so, when, Sanskrit culture ceased to make history; whether, and if so, why, it proved incapable of preserving into the present the creative vitality it displayed in earlier epochs, and what this loss of effectivity might reveal about those factors within the wider world of society and polity that had kept it vital.”  
 
Now these questions are critical and require further prodding.  
 
Don’t we have any ‘clear’ understanding that Sanskrit culture ceased to make ‘History’?
 
Don’t we know when and why this happened, really?
 
Are we so ignorant even today that we don’t know why it proved incapable of preserving into the present the creative vitality it displayed in earlier epochs?
 
Can’t we surmise what this loss of effectivity might reveal about those factors within the wider world of society and polity that had kept it vital?
 
This is astonishing since he acknowledges the disruptive power of the Western colonialism. “Concurrently with the spread of European power, however, this dynamism diminished so much that by 1800, the capacity of thought to make history had vanished. The production of moral-legal texts, for example, which was so extensive throughout the seventeenth century, ceased entirely, and in core disciplines like hermeneutics or literary theory no significant scholarship—that is, significant in the eyes of the tradition itself—was again to be written.” But stops short of entering into that forbidden territory, “How to account for this momentous rupture is a complex question, and one of great importance for history— the history of science, colonialism, modernity—and for social theory.”  

The reason for decline of Sanskrit culture is no secret. Advent of hostile exclusivist-Universalist strains of Abrahamic tradition called Islam and Christianity lead to decline this culture across the region. A person who indicts Hindutva in particular and nationalist Sanatani people in general, gets total paralysis when it comes to assert cause of such massive cultural degradation. This critique of Sanskrit, riddled with numerous contradictions, misrepresentations and caveats come out as a feeble scholarly attempt to create obfuscation, dissonance in the continuing dhramic tradition and steal or discount achievements of this tradition to benefit Western Universalist narrative.
 
Thanks to the great Grammar tradition and Panini in particular, Sanskrit is not a language like Greek, Latin, Arabic or English. It is an art of scientific refining of languages and as refinement tool for knowledge, expression and communication it is immortal.
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