Sanskrit : A Language of Obscurantism

Prof. A.M. Dharmalingam,

M.A., LL.M.

That Sanskrit has fallen on evil days in modern India is inevitable for, it started in ancient times with evil. The ancient unspoken but perfected language in which all the ancient arts and sciences, literature and liturgy, were enshrined, was religiously made the monopoly of the Hindu priesthood and denied on pain of severe punishment to the layman. It has been stated that if a Sudra attempted to learn Sanskrit, molten lead must to poured into his ears and his tongue cut. With what severity the monopoly was held by the Brahmins can be noted from the fact that in 1951 after free India adopted the Constitution, a notification was published in the Mysore Gazette calling for applications for the Maharaja's Sankrit College in Mysore City run under the auspices of the Palace from teachers and students from the Brahmin caste only (The Sanskrit College in Bangalore was, however, open to all classes and a Jain was the Principal then). This notification came after the Supreme court struck down the Communal G.O. of the Madras State in the famous Champakam-Dorairajan case. A strong protest letter was published by me in the "Deccan Herald" then, stating that the notification was ultra-vires of the Constitution and two weeks later a correction appeared in the Gazette to say that applications may be made by all people. This is how, Sanskrit, though a rich language came to be looked upon by the non-Brahmins with indifference, though they were obliged to use that language for their marriages and other functions. This was insult added to injury.

Superior culture ?

Besides calling Sanskrit a Daiva Bhasha (divine language), another evil was deliberately perpetrated by the Sanskritists by calling the living Dravidian and other languages, mlechha or paisacha bhashas. The contemptuous treatment of the living languages with rich and hoary literatures of their own was a sore disease in the body-politic of India, and the harm done to the Dravidian languages by Sanskrit was not inconsiderable. The mono polistic knowledge of Sanskrit obtained by the priestcraft was used only to maintain religious orthodoxy, Super stitious rituals and ceremonies, and for exploiting the huge masses of ignorant Sudras. We are being told that Sanskrit is the abode of the great Indian heritage and the vastly superior culture. What really is this heritage and culture? It is a culture that was used to maintain reaching the hard conservatism and theocratic polity.

Karnataka Government's move to reduce Sanskrit from the status of a first language to that of a third one and an optional subject at that, is the right thing to do and is most welcome to right the wrong done to Kannada for centuries. It is not proposed to abolish Sanskrit as a subject for study. It is to be given a place next after English and Kannada. It would not be honest to hide the fact that most of the students, who are mostly Brahmins, are allowed to score the highest marks in this subject by way of simple questions and very liberal valuation of papers, and thus go up in the aggregate marks. It is a fact that students belonging to the backward communities, struggle to get even 50% marks in Kannada and look poor and down-trodden in comparison with Sanskrit students, and in the severe competition for seats in the technical colleges where 70 to 90 per cent marks are necessary, in the general pool, they get simply floored.

Till about the sixteenth century, European scholars were writing their books in the unspoken ancient Latin and it was a mark of status and learning to master Latin or Greek. But those days were over when people in Europe began to honour and cultivate their own living languages like English, French etc. Latin is now limited to some religious services and learnt mostly by the Catholic priesthood. Similarly Sanskrit has been used all along for religious and superstitious purpose and never for the advancement of science, socialism or secularism. It has been used as a mysterious language brought from heaven to exploit the ignorant masses and keep them as low caste Sudras. Kannada and other languages stood denigrated and belittled as barbaric native vernaculars.

Language of Exploitation

Sanskrit has functioned all these ages only to encourage religion and its sister, superstition. Sanskrit scholars, including the Sankaracharyas, Jagatgurus, Bhagavans and Swamies were never liberal minded. They saw the finality for everything in its ancient literature and found no need whatsoever for reforms. They never lifted a little finger against the terrible evils of Hindu society. Infact they did everything in thier power to keep the evils alive. Nobody gave a thought to abolish inhuman untouchablitiy, sinister caste system, female degradation that included child marriage, unequal marriage, unlimited polygamy and compulsory widowhood. Sanskritist gloated over the denial of education, property and independence to women and Sudras who have been clubbed together for certain purposes in the sastras. There were 'avatars' in Sanskrit literature for saving an Aryan Princess or an Aryan family or an Aryan mendicant, but never an avatar to abolish any one of the evils noted above. Even the outrageous custom of Sati, infanticide, human and animal sacrifices, ever excited Lord Vishnu to come down in an avatar to abolish any one to them. In short, Sanskrit has served the purpose of sustaining inequality, division and discrimination. India had to wait for the English educated Raja Ram Mohan Roy and the British Governor General to initiate the first reform in Hindu society and that had to be done in the teeth of severe opposition of Sanskritists.

Less Utility

Sanskrit was never of any market value in India to secure jobs or shine in any profession other than priest craft, which was and still is the exclusive domain of the Brahmins. It has been used to show off a man as a Scholar who could quote some slokas as authoritative and final in any discussion. Sardar K.M. Panikkar said addressing the Akil Bharatiya Sanskrit Parishad at Lucknow in 1954, "It is no doubt true that some of those who pass off as pandits and shastris often seen to accept as authorities of anything that is embodied in a classical text and argue against even the most necessary reforms on the basis of some Smriti, whose only importance arises from its being clothed in Sanskrit; that there is often a tendency on the part of those who have spent their lifetime studying old texts to consider that all arguments are concluded when they have found an apt quotation. It is no doubt equally true that conservative minds often turn to the authorities in Sanskrit to buttress their opinion"

Brahmins who mostly patronised Sanskrit have in recent years given it up for the more practical and utilitarian study of English and latterly of French and German. Kerala closed down Sanskrit classes in many schools and colleges for want of the required number of pupils. Such has been the case in many other states. Sanskrit being neither a spoken language nor one familiar to all sections of the people, is at the same time incapable of engendering scientific, democratic or secular thoughts and hence it does not deserve to have the first place in any scheme of education. India obtained all its liberal ideas on liberty, equality and fraternity from European languages. To English we owe our modern concepts and practices of democracy, socialism, communisim and scularism.

Sanskrit and English

It is creditable that Kannada Sahitya Parishad has at last striven to find the right place for Kannada. Being made an optional third language, Sanskrit, as feared by some writers, is bound soon to reduce itself to a library language fit only to be studied by research scholars and linguistic experts. Sanskrit has has its day and has helped Kannada and other languages, except Tamil, to absorb thousands of words from its vocabulary and thus create a sort of unity of the Indian languages, particularly in the sphere of religion and philosophy. It is time that English take over to enrich all the Indian languages with thousands of scientific and technological terms for which there are no equivalent words in any Indian language. Just as it would be foolish not to absorb the English words now in use all over India. It would be an outrageous and retrograde step to invent new and strange scientific and technical terms seperately for all the Indian languages.

Sanskrit has made us to look back to religion and orthodoxy, where as English has made us to look forward to make science and cosmopolitanism. It is undemocratic for the Government of India to broadcast news in Sanskrit for the sake of an infinitesimal minority. A welfare State should spend its money, time and energy on the utilitarian principle of the greatest good of the greatest number.

Karnataka Education Minister Mr. Subbiah Shetty deserves all praise for the steps he has taken to find the proper place for Kannada, the offical and regional language of Karnataka and help forward the unfortunate lot of the backward classes that patriotically and empirically take to the study of Kannada.

Sanskrit is a live force for reaction and obscurantism and it must therefore be properly contained. Let me end this articles by quoting Sardar K. M. Panikkar again, He said, "Unless we win this battle against the forces of reaction and obscurantism, of cow worship and astrology, of pasu puja and panchanga puja, we will remain for all our vaunted independence a backwardand ineffective nation."


Dalitstan Journal,
Volume 2, Issue 5, October 2000,
reprinted from Modern Rationalist, April 2000


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