Sanskritisation

Hello everyone!

If you have been following this blog for a while, you’d know that the last few posts were glimpses into culture, from a perspective of powerplay and dominance. And if you’re new to my blog, you can find them here. However, the write ups largely served as a background to understand cultural evolution universally experienced. Or, they were based on the history of the West. Today, I will talk about culture and the exercise of supremacy in the Indian context.

Sanskritisation, a term coined by eminent Indologist M.N. Srinivas, refers to a process of acculturation, of lower castes in India who imitate the rituals and practices of Brahmins or upper castes, and try to climb up the ladder of social mobility. Hence, this process is sometimes also called Brahminization, but is not quite synonymous. In my first post, that you can take a look at to set the context, I had mentioned of the value judgement proposition. Value judgement is people’s measurement of values and assignment of importance to each, such that, the important values slowly become a part of the mass culture. Srinivas, in his book, “Religion and Society Among the Coorgs of India” interestingly noted-

The caste system is far from rigid….A caste was able, in a generation or two,  to rise to a higher position in the hierarchy by adopting vegetarianism and teetotalism, and by sanskritising its ritual and pantheon.

The term was very cleverly expounded, since Sanskrit is the language used to write holy Hindu scriptures, to which, at that time, only Brahmins and certain upper castes had access to. However, Brahminisation was a part of the sanskritization process and Brahmins were not the sole agents of change either. As I have reiterated constantly, people seemingly have an aspiration to achieve a superior status than the one ascribed to them at birth. Their motivation for this upward mobility isn’t difficult to gauge. For centuries, lower castes in India, and communities who were not even allowed to be a part of the caste system, the untouchables, were treated with utmost apathy, indignity and disregard. Not only were they meant to do debased jobs, but they were also denied basic amenities needed for sustaining human life. Some of these practices are said to still be continued in different parts of the country, but that is not within the purview of this article.

Getting back to the topic, some of the effects of Sanskritization were quite interesting. A study in the village of UP showed that a community that was considered to be of a lower caste, had outlawed the consumption of beef, in order to gain respect among the upper caste members. Another caste group, in a different region had replaced “bride price” with dowry. They had also banned their ritual of sacrificing a pig to announce the beginning of a wedding, and replaced it with the sacrifice of a nutmeg! A few communities saw the gradual exodus from monotheism and entrance into polytheism. Everywhere, across the country, rituals and folkways of indigenous tribes, groups and people were changing and becoming more aligned to Hinduism and its practice prevalent then. Although cultural elements depleted to a large extent due to this process, there was a certain extent of accumulation as well. Nevertheless, sanskritisation definitely proved to be instrumental in reducing diversity and unifying cultural trends.

In this article, I have only described the process of sanskritization, elaborating on it with a few examples I pulled out from a paper by A. P. Barnabas, from the archives of The Economic Weekly. However, I’d love for you to open dialogue about the pros and cons of acculturation, which is an assimilation of one culture into a more dominant culture. So hit the comments button below, and let’s discuss!

Link to the article that inspired me to write this- click here!

13 thoughts on “Sanskritisation

  1. T ARAVIND August 27, 2020 / 12:06 am

    Loved the way you took the topic to a conclusive end rather than it being superficial. Looking forward to revisit articles of the same kind through the lens you’ve provided. Keep up the good work. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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