Cultural Change

Cultural Change


Write a critical essay on sanskritisation.


Meaning and defintion of Sanskritisation: The term sanskritisation was coined by M. N. Srinivas. It may be briefly defined as the process by which a ‘low’ caste or tribe or other group takes over the customs, ritual, beliefs, ideology and style of life of a high and, in particular, a ‘twice-born (dwija) caste’.

Impact of Sanskritisation: The impact of Sanskritisation is many-sided. Its influence can be seen in language, literature, ideology, music, dance, drama, style of life and ritual.

1. Language: It is primarily a process that takes place within the Hindu space though Srinivas argued that it was visible even in sects and religious groups outside Hinduism. Studies of different areas, however, show that it operated differently in different parts of the country. In those areas where a highly Sanskritised caste was dominant, the culture of the entire region underwent a certain amount of Sanskritisation. In regions where the non-Sanskritic castes were dominant, it was their influence that was stronger. This can be termed the process of ‘de-Sanskritisation’. There were other regional variations too. In Punjab culturally Sanskritic influence was never very strong. For many centuries until the third quarter of the 19th century the Persian influence was the dominant one.

2. Group or caste and tradition: srinivas argued that. “the Sanskritisation of a group has usually the effect of improving its position in the local caste hierarchy. It normally presupposes either an improvement in the economic or political position of the group concerned or a higher group self-consciousness resulting from its contact with a source of the Great Tradition of Hinduism such as a pilgrim centre or a monastery or a proselytising sect”.

3. Nature or set up of Indian society: But in a highly unequal society such as India there were and still are obstacles to any easy taking over of the customs of the higher castes by the lower. Indeed, traditionally, the dominant caste punished those low castes, which were audacious enough to attempt it. The story below captures the problem.

4. Education: Kumud Pawade in her autobiography recounts how a Dalit woman became a Sanskrit teacher. As a student she is drawn towards the study of Sanskrit, perhaps because it is the means through which she can break into a field that was not possible for her to enter on grounds of gender and caste. Perhaps she was drawn towards it because it would enable her to read in the original what the texts have to say about women and the Dalits. As she proceeds with her studies, she meets with varied reactions ranging from surprise to hostility, from guarded acceptance to brutal rejection.

5. For improvement of Status:

Sanskritisation suggests a process whereby people want to improve their status through adoption of names and customs of culturally high-placed groups. The reference model is usually financially better of. In both, the aspiration or desire to like the higher placed group occurs only when people become wealthier.

6. Social Mobility: Sanskritisation as a concept has been criticised at different levels.

(i) It has been criticised for exaggerating social mobility or the scope of ‘lower castes’ to , move up the social ladder. For it leads to no structural change but only positional change of some individuals. In other words inequality continues to persist though some individuals may be able to improve their positions within the unequal structure.

(ii) Secondly, it has been pointed out that the ideology of sanskritisation accepts the ways of the ‘upper caste’ as superior and that of the ‘lower caste’ as inferior. Therefore, the desire to imitate the upper caste is seen as natural and desirable.

(iii) Thirdly, ‘Sanskritisation’ seems to justify a model that rests on inequality and exclusion. It appears to suggest that to believe in pollution and purity of groups of people is justifiable or all right. Therefore, to be able to look down on some groups just as the ‘upper caste’ looked down on the ‘lower castes’, is a mark of privilege. In society where such a world-view exists, imagining of an equal society becomes difficult. The study on the next page shows how the very idea of purity and pollution are valued or seen as worthwhile ideas to have.

(iv) Fourth, since sanskritisation results in the adoption of upper caste rites and rituals it leads to practices of secluding girls and women, adopting dowry practices instead of bride-price and practising caste discrimination against other groups, etc.

(v) Fifth, the effect of such a trend is that the key characteristics of dalit culture and society are eroded. For example, the very worth of labour which ‘lower castes’ do is degraded and rendered ‘shameful’. Identities based on the basis of work, crafts and artisanal abilities, knowledge forms of medicine, ecology, agriculture, animal husbandry, etc., are regarded useless in the industrial era.

7. Anti-Brahminical Movement and impact on Dalits: (a) With the growth of the anti-Brahminical movement and the development of regional self-consciousness in the twentieth century there was an attempt in several Indian languages to drop Sanskrit words and phrases. A crucial result of the Backward Classes Movement was to emphasise the role of secular factors in the upward mobility of caste groups and individuals. In the case of the domiant castes, there was no longer any desire to pass for the Vaisyas, Kshatriyas and Brahmins.

(b) On the other hand, it was prestigious to be a member of the dominant caste. Recent years have seen likewise assertions of Dalits who now pride their indentity as Dalits.

(c) However, sometimes as among the poorest and the most marginalised of the dalit caste groups, caste identity seems to compensate their marginality in other domains. In other words, they have gained some pride and self-confidence but otherwise remain excluded and discriminated.

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M. Imp.

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