Sankritization as a tool!

Pushpahaas Last Modified Monday, 18 September 2017 (18:18 IST)
Sanskritization is a fairly familiar word in spheres of sociology and social anthropology in India. M N Srinivas, during his studies of Coorg region in 5th-6th decade introduced this term to denote a process wherein “a low or middle Hindu caste, or tribal or other group, changes its customs, ritual ideology, and way of life in the direction of a high and frequently twice-born caste...”.
He further says, “The caste system is far from a rigid system in which the position of each component caste is fixed for all time. Movement has always been possible, and especially so in the middle regions of the hierarchy. A low caste was able, in a generation or two, to rise to a higher position in the hierarchy by adopting vegetarianism and teetotalism, and by Sanskritizing its ritual and pantheon.

In short, it took over, as far as possible, the customs, rites, and beliefs of the Brahmins, and the adoption of the Brahminic way of life by a low caste seems to have been frequent, though theoretically forbidden. This process has been called Sanskritization, in preference to Brahmanisation, as certain Vedic rites are confined to Brahmins and the two other twice-born castes”
To an insider Hindu this is blatantly obvious and outright wrong at once:

Sanskritization can make a Ksatriya, Brahaman or a Sudra, Vaisya only in Government records, which has no social sanctity and veracity and can be made through a false affidavit  

‘Brahamanical’ customs, beliefs and rites are followed not to rise in a Varna order and

Varna order is tightly regulated by birth, marriage and gotra system which is quite impregnable unless it is tempered through legal means.
There is nothing startlingly insightful in Sanskritization because in the first place we don’t analyze the tradition that we ‘live’, anthropologically; this is done by academics and government which scantly use prudence while blindly importing education system.

This import of Western academic system was seen as a ‘true savior’ for a primitive and ravaged colony. The academic importers became celebrated icons and thinkers of new ‘Independent India’. This in reality was true victory of Western abrahamic universalism.

There is no denying of the fact that Sankritization does help us understand some superficial government sponsored social changes in generalities, but to assess its true worth and contribution in entirety we need to go into the politico-historical background of this country.

When we submit that needs to be revisited from political-historical perspective and not merely an anthropological concept, this challenges the Universalist hegemony which among others is shared by colonialists, communists, religious fundamentalists and neo-liberals; all of whom benefit from it.
M N Srinivas is well aware of these things, but he defers to the limitations set by academic discipline of dominant Universalist narrative and chooses to follow the dominant narrative of the discipline. “One of the many interesting contradictions of modern Hindu social life is that while the Brahmans are be-coming: more and more westernized, the other castes are becoming more and more Sanskritized. In the lower reaches of the hierarchy, castes are faking up customs which the Brahmans are busy discarding. As far as these castes are concerned, it looks as though Sanskritization is an essential preliminary to westernization.”
To appreciate Sanskritization comprehensively in correct perspective it is necessary to take stock of political-historical forces that have been dominant during last stage of colonial era in India. One may ask what were political historical conditions that necessitated Sanskritization? Bet before that let us start with a simple question - What were/are favorable conditions that led to Sanskritization?

They were :
Loss of politically dominant state and military power of dhramic people that adhered to dharmic values and rules for centuries.
Rule and dominance of people professing faith in thoughts that were mutually exclusivist- Universalists thought that was based on hate and exploitation of ‘others’.
Decline of dharmic values, education, art, culture in public life with ascendance of hostile rule.
Military and technological advancement of a strand of Abrahamic faith in Europe that grew across the globe colonizing, annihilating and plundering people for last 3 to 4 centuries and later settled in New world order.
Modern scientific humanist universalism that European Universalists want to advance through United Nations and multilateral treaties and agreements.
Now second enquiry should be about Sanskritization in practice, how Sanskritization fares in society.
If Sankritization is seen as a tool to understand a social mobility and changes, this collects information of very superficial nature. It might appear good theory from anthropological perspective also, but in reality it is show of vain scholarship that has little relevance in society. It is relevant only because independent country failed to clean the vestiges of colonial knowledge construct.
Varna order is ordained by Vedas. Varnashrma in values is God itself whose head is Brahmana, Rajagnya, Vaishya and Sudra constitute hands, thighs and legs. If we take Jati, for the Naiyayakas, Jati is Nitya and Jeeva is Anitya!

Sanskritization is a useful tool for studying the neo-educated class of Dhramic people taught in education system that was devised and dominated by Missionaries and academics impressed by western scholarship, this class has little interest or understanding of dharmic values. Such people are steadily increasing ever since independence; but this disconnected class too has little interest or inclination in such conceptions since such outlandish theories psychoanalyze their deep faith and value related issues on pretty superficial imported yardstick.
Many people of non Brahman Varna have taken some Brahmanic customs and rituals since ancient times and it was rarely done with an eye on social mobility. Such conversion to faith was inspired by some Acharya or saintly figure (often belonging to Brahaman varna!) of various religious schools. The anthropological Sanskritization lays too much emphasis on social mobility, class distinction and economic aspects which in reality is not that important an issue.
How Sanskritization affects the dhramic value order and tradition?
This is a fairly complex question. The anthropological milieu in which Sanskritization rests, fails to recognize the rightful place of Dharmic values; it accepts the Universalist narrative that is antithetical to dharmic thought. It demonizes Varnashrama values. This has lead to plethora of problems like –
Decline of genuine traditional scholarship and its practice in Sanatana tradition.
Crystallization of Varna-Jati structure-hierarchy on Abrahamic Universalist understanding which sees people as competing and mutually exclusive forces.
Demonization of strong and mutually supporting dharmic structure and commendation of its sublime philosophical and moral values in constitution and legal code.
Weakening of Kartavyya / dharma based interdependence of Varna – Jati that promoted faceless-disconnectedness among educated class.
Rise of new ‘Prophets’, ‘Saint’, ‘Missions', 'Samaj', 'Organizations’ in India as due to interaction with Abrahamic cults.
Eminence of new saints and their organizations owing to organized, institutionalized socio-political efforts, populist appeal; and declining sphere of influence of Vaidic Sanatana tradition based on duty or dharma values. The path of Bhakti also tried to iron-out various differences for the exclusive devotion to God, but it rarely broke the traditional Varna-dharma order in past.
Inability of new dharmic practioners and political leaders to revive the traditional social orders and structures.
Evolution of competing rights order based on equality and dignity of human beings.
Thus the phenomenon like Sanskritization occurs when alien power structure controls a society and it conveys debilitation and loss of local value universe. However it is important to study this precisely to understand the ways these new values are affecting our tradition.
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