Vakyartha Sadas

It is undeniable even by the most vituperative critics that the multi-decade long efforts of Rajiv Malhotra’s Infinity Foundation has triggered intellectual churn among Indian and Western scholars – among those engaged in  scholarship of India and/India studies in various academic settings across various related academic disciplines, among intellectuals of varying backgrounds and motivations – all those who follow and engage with the lively and vociferous inter-civilizational intellectual discourse of recent decades.

The global Indian civilizational narrative and the emic dialectic in English has been literally rebooted and revitalised by Rajiv’s creatively disruptive outside-in multi-dimensional engagement with the western academic infrastructure as it relates to India oriented studies. The conception of the Swadeshi Indology Conference Series (of which this vakyartha sadas is a part) in 2016 has been very much inspired by his body of work.

It is well acknowledged, that whatever be the absolute epistemological merit of western lenses, they need to be engaged with on their own terms and an effective response formulated by a practitioner/scholar hailing from the traditional knowledge system. Such a formulation is  only possible when these alien frameworks are engaged with for what they are, not based on some woolly understanding from some previous century. This requires an understanding of the evolution of the various schools of thought, the methodologies of context framing, the frameworks of interpretation, the evolution of dialectic, a larger understanding of evolution of human civilisation over multiple centuries across many continents also helps in placing the forces that were and still are in play. 

This larger contemporary  awareness and global-think is lacking in traditional pedagogy as anyone familiar with the workings of today’s vedic pathshala will attest to. The reasons for this are possibly simply because much of the pathshala pedagogy and dialectic has not been updated with the modern purvapksin-s. The intellectual engagement in terms of epistemology and dialectic is frozen, it has remained engaged with opponents at least a few hundred years old. Western conceptualisations of science,philosophy, ethics,mind,body etc. have not yet been formally engaged with by traditional pedagogy on its own terms. A formal understanding of the modern world (analysis deriving from the traditional vidyasthanas) is as yet lacking. There are hardly any organised efforts being made to address this. Efforts by a few scattered scholars, sampradaya leaders, succour providing modern gurus, socio-political interpreters are filling this civilisational need. The lived experience of sanatana dharma and the collective cultural memory provides the substrate on which to test the “modern” in many informal ways. Even ignoring the overtly (and in many cases covert) materialistic, socio-political and manipulative motives of much of  western thought, the anthropocentric nature of environmentally abusive “progress” – the materialistic knowledge that are part of the traditional systems and the cohesive systems of harmonious living and well-being are sadly, also not being re-contextualised for modernity. Again, it has been the western motive which has been pursuing the mining of Indian knowledge.

Many of the principal texts and sampradayas have been studied by westerners both by being immersed in the tradition (using the traditional lenses) or outside of it using lenses alien to the tradition – primarily those driven by western hermeneutics and bounded by western ontology and epistemology. Many of the basic building blocks of dharma and the vidyasthanas have been under attack for a few centuries now. As elucidated above – given the state of traditional pedagogy, the language medium of the dialectic, the theories of interpretation and critical methodology, it is difficult for the traditional scholar to respond using his tools to the arguments and questions posed by this genre of text-critical western scholarship (Neo Orientalism). 

This lens presses into service the social sciences and postmodernist thought and philology, and largely excludes the sacred dimension. This group filters out certain features of Saṁskṛta and saṁskṛti, while selectively exaggerating certain others. The fundamental assumptions and theories shaping this lens are axiomatic for its proponents, and yet, its implications to India as a nation and Asia as a region have not been examined adequately.

This Neo-Orientalist school is the most important left-wing, post-Marxist, post modernist school today that influences almost all discourse about India on most media channels (print/ TV/cinema/internet) both in India and around the world. The immense body of work of this school produced by its main proponent Sheldon Pollock, and the visibly large number of international and Indian scholars who use his theories, has not been analyzed or critiqued sufficiently in any systematic or effective way.

Meanwhile, this large body of influential work (created over the past 30 years) that this school of thought is continually churning out has indeed been exerting a deep influence (mostly negative) on Indian society and the contemporary public discourse. What needs to be called out are its deeply subversive motives – causing deliberate divisions in society (communalism in general on the one hand, and bheda, on the other hand, between various dharmic sects), the slow erosion of saṁskṛti and the systematic break up of dharmic civilization as we know it. 

The oral tradition is a very significant – (if not the most significant) aspect of the tradition of sanatana dharma. The primary texts, traditions, commentaries and very nearly almost all of the “literature” has “oral” origins and has been transmitted orally until the beginnings of the “written” manuscript. The oral structure and form is still the primary dominant form of pedagogy and debate.Even after the written form was available , the oral format and the guru-sishya format of pedagogy remains active. This vakyartha sadas event and its related activity exemplifies the living vitality of this oral tradition. The oral tradition is extremely important both in the sruti and smriti genres of “knowledge” and is a “living” tradition of modern India. Western “research” of indian literature (knowledge systems) has for the most part – completely ignored the traditional formats of study (paddhati) and debate/discussion (vakyartha) for obvious reasons – especially so the Neo-orientalists exemplified by Pollock.

In a truly historic (according to many) and pathbreaking effort- the traditional scholars and practitioners of the oral tradition responded to the theses and claims made by etic (outsiders to the tradition) scholars. The traditional debate on “statement veracity” – vākyārtha – interestingly, is also known as sastra-artha as it primarily deals with statements from the sastra related “texts” only. The statements primarily have to deal with sastra and debate is generally structured around the interpretations and their ramifications.The prevailing asymmetry in discourse (the global academic narrative on the nature of indian knowledge and sastra), the sheer build up of the arguments over centuries, and the lack of a forum for the tradition to respond in its own dialectic was  one of the motivations of the Swadeshi Indology Conference Series. 

In the oral tradition such an “oral” debate is known as a vākyārtha (a discussion or debate on the “meaning” or contents of statements).The traditional scholars were also in agreement that a vakyartha for dharma would indeed allow for a laxity in the strictness of the rules.Responding to the western indologists’ core thesis (translated into sanskrit) would not be a transgression.

In accordance with the themes of the second Swadeshi Indology  conference, the theses of the Neo-Orientalists – specifically Sheldon Pollock were analysed and responded to by the scholars of the oral tradition (in sanskrit). The sadas event was videographed. The video content and the related material is being shared here. A book elaborating on the topics debated in the sadas is also in the works.Scholars, Academics, interested readers  and all who are interested in the pursuit and protection of dharma are requested to engage with this content.

Please share with a wider audience and give us your feedback. Infinity Foundation will pursue more such efforts with the Oral tradition as basis on a wider range of topics , to not only bring back adhikara to the tradition but also to reverse the gaze on dharmic terms. We look forward to your support in any way possible.