Sanskritization As Regressive Counter Culture

November 3, 2010 at 9:15 PMNov (Musings, Slice Of Life)

On 5 July 2009 in Udupi a seminar on ‘Sanskritization and Vishwakarma Brahmins’ was organized where i was invited to give reactions to the day long lectures. Few days ago the organizers called me up and said they intended to bring out a souvenir where they would publish all the lectures and also the reaction. So i had sit and type the reaction i made to the lectures that day. Here i am sharing my paper with you all:

The concept of sanskritization has to be seen as a counter-culture. Sanksritization is in conversation with the hegemony of brahminhood, which all through history has not accepted the people of lower caste as an important part of human civilization, human society. It is the craving among the lower caste people for an acceptance from the higher caste which triggered the trend of following and imitating the rituals and culture of the higher caste. After all who doesn’t need acceptance? Look at the 12th century poet Basavann. He says: Nudidarey Linga Mechchi Ahudu Ahudu Enabeku, (When you speak Lord Shiva should appreciate it and agree to it) which is a mirror to the fact that man wants acceptance from God too and not just from human beings.

The lower caste people, in their innocence, believed heart in heart that through imitation, they could become one among the higher caste people, stand with them and gain acceptance from them. Hence sanskritization is to be viewed as a counter-culture which is, in a way, trying to counter the hegemony of one caste and the hegemony of one culture.

But the counter-culture named sanskritization is a regressive counter-culture and not a progressive one. Any counter-culture or counter-hegemonic culture becomes progressive and not regressive when the very hegemonic space and icon is challenged and broken. By merging or becoming one with the hegemonic icon or space, a counter culture becomes a partner or replacement of hegemony, which doesn’t inaugurate a new history of and for the world.

To quote example from the 18th century Adivasi revolt in Puri Jagannath temple, Orissa, one can say it was an existential revolt which was progressive in nature. The temple earlier belonged to the Adivasis, which later was hijacked by the higher caste people. The God and the temple which once belonged to the Adivasi’s now became an icon of exploitation of the Adivasi’s. So the Adivasi’s went to burn the idol of Jagannatha and temple at Puri saying “Daaru Pratima Na Poojive.”

In this revolt, the Adivasi’s went on to burn the God which was theirs once, for existential reason. The point to be focused here is that though the God and the temple, once belonged to them had become an icon of exploitation. So destroying or burning it down meant destabilizing the hegemony and exploitation too. It did not long to share the space with the exploiter and make space for exploitation to continue. Hence the “Daaru Pratima Na Poojive” revolt can be referred to as a progressive revolt.

Now coming to the matter of Vishwakarma community, according to M.N. Shrinivas, being Sanskritized, it should be noted that the community of Vishwakarmas, during pre-Aryan times, enjoyed Brahminical status because of their association with Brahma who is known as the Srishtikartha. But with the invasion of Aryan’s Vishwakrma people’s Brahminical status started eroding and finally they lost their Brahminical status with Aryan’s abolishing the worship of Lord Brahma. The study of M.N. Shrinivas unfortunately doesn’t go back so far in history and starts somewhere from the time when the Vishwakarmas have already lost their Brahminical status in the society even while practicing Brahminical life style.

Earlier in the day a speaker in this very same stage made fun of M.N. Shrinivas for having renamed his concept from Brahminisation to Sankritization. The speaker said it reflected his inconsistency. I refute this because M.N. Shrinivas earlier in his study saw that the lower caste people were imitating the life style of Brahmins and called it Brahminization and later in the course of his study he found out that there were evidences where the lower caste people were imitating the life style of non-Brahmincal upper caste people too, who in that given geographical area enjoyed a powerful status. Hence he renamed the concept of Brahminization as Sankritization. Gandhi, in an early stage of his life declared that “God is truth,” which he changed to “Truth is God,” at a later stage of his life. At the end of his life, being witness to communal violence of Indo-Pak partition, Gandhi is said to have expressed his desire that all men turned atheists.

This changing nature of belief system of Gandhi is to be viewed as reinventing truths which is a journey into the heart of truth or to use words of Gandhi himself they are “experiments with truth.” Similarly the renaming of the concept of Brahminisation to Sanskritization is not a mirror to the inconsistency of M.N. Shrinivas but his continuing journey to the heart of truth. But unfortunately the journey of M.N. Shrinivas, with reference to his comments on the community of Vishwakarma community doesn’t reach the heart of truth.Thank You.

01 September 2009

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