What happens when you don’t understand Sanskrit

So, what does really happen if you are an Indian and don’t understand Sanskrit?

Chances are, you may grow up to be a fake mythologist like Devdutt Pattanaik. It is a matter of shame that Indians grow up reading the interpretation of our mythologies and other scriptures of only western authors and then grow up to become self styled experts in it.

In contrast even though I don’t agree with the opinions of many western scholars on Hinduism, I respect them for the fact that they take so much pain to learn Sanskrit. For an Indian it is easier to learn Sanskrit because there are many common words. But it is not easy for a westerner. I will write a separate post about different kinds of westerners who study Sanskrit. All of them don’t do it because they love Indian culture. Nevertheless, I appreciate the amount of pain they take to master the language.

Pattanaik’s misleading interpretations are detailed in this video. Of course his fans may say, “So what?”. His books are bestsellers and are ubiquitous – found at Railways Stations, libraries, front racks of book stores and even on the tea-poy of your friends’ houses.

Then, so are the books of Chetan Bhagat. He too is a much sought after guest in every literature festival held in India. Yes, I said LITERATURE festival.

Or, you may not realize that your child’s name has a negative connotation. Of course it is a different issue, if like Saif and Kareena, intentionally you name your child after a character who is hated in the society you live in. But quite often people are not aware of the implication of the names. I came across a colleague who had named his son as Diti Kumar. I asked him why he had given such a name. He said, “Oh, it sounds so good. Isn’t it?”.

I said, “It sounds so good. No doubt. But do you know the meaning?”

“No. I never thought about that. One of my relatives suggested it. I liked it. Moreover, it fulfilled the condition of the astrologer that his name should start with alphabet D.”

Rishi Kashyapa had two wives. One was Diti and another Aditi. Both of them were sisters. Diti became the mother of all the Rakshashas, and Aditi of the Devas.

This is not a simple mythological story to explain away the birth of Demons and Gods. It has deep philosophical and psychological roots. Another word for the demons is daitya which is a derivative of dvaita. The word diti also comes from the word dvaita and the word aditi comes from advaita. In advaita vedanta the primordial origin of everything is attributed to the non-dual consciousness.

Advaita vedanta emphasiyses the oneness of everything. If things originated from one thing, things will go back to one thing. In concept, this is something similar to the Big Bang theory of the origin of Universe. Before the Big Bang, the universe was just one atom.

Advaita does not exactly mean one. But it is the nearest our rational mind can understand this concept. Advaita means non- dual. Maybe we have to get to that mystical state of the ancient Rishis to understand what are the alternate meanings of non-dual other than one. If they meant one they could have said ekah, not advaita.

Dvaita or the feeling of duality is the cause of all troubles. When you feel separate, it gives rise to a host of other negative feelings. In its extreme you behave like a demon. At the same time the demons don’t come from different planets. They are just your step brothers. In case of Demons and Gods, the father is one and only mothers, who are symbolic of upbringing, are different. By portraying them as such did the ancient seers try to give a message that it is the upbringing that makes the difference between two who are born into similar circumstances?

By the way mythologists like Devdutt Pattanaik would not know it. Apart from being ignorant in Sanskrit and Indian philosophy, they are more interested in finding out the erotic or the casteist elements in our mythologists.

Or, you may end up buying a book of Devdutt Patnaik and chances are that that like the Bollywood dumbo Sonam Kapoor that is the only book on Indian epic you read in your life time and think this is it. Now, I know it all.

If you know a little bit of Sanskrit, chances are that, if at all you are inspired to read books like Bhagavad Gita or the Upanishads, you will prefer to read its interpretation along with the Sanskrit original stanzas. In such cases you will easily catch if the author has made any drastic deviation from the intended meaning of the stanza even if you are not an expert in Sanskrit. In future if you get to read Bhagavad Gita by Devdutt Pattanaik you will know that it was anything but a book about Bhagavd Gita.

If you know any of the Indian Languages, it is not difficult to learn the basics of Sanskrit. Most of the literary words of any Indian Language have their roots in Sanskrit. Even a classical language like Tamil which is older than Sanskrit and originated independent of Sanskrit has many Sanskrit words integrated into it subsequently. (Teacher in Sanskrit is Acharya – in Tamil it is Achiriyar)

As an Indian knowing Sanskrit connects you with your roots. It makes you understand the words of your own Indian language better. Once you are armed with Sanskrit, no Devdutt Patnaik can fool you with twisted interpretations of Indian philosophical and mythological concepts.

PS : This is the alphabet S post of my April A to Z challenge 2020. My theme this year is ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’ where in I explore various facets of India and also some places and events of India I have been closely associated with.

All posts of the AtoZChallenge can be accessed here.

17 thoughts on “What happens when you don’t understand Sanskrit

  1. I had watched the video and it was quite enlightening. I think the guest who explains the contradictions is a very knowledgeable man unlike the interviewer, who himself often exhibit the same qualities as Devdutt (speaking with half knowledge). As far as I know, Oriya (from pakrit) and Tamil have different roots from Sanskrit and are probably older. They too deserve as much importance in our culture as Sanskrit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True. The interviewer has halfbacked knowledge even though he has also written some popular books.

      Other classical languages also need to be encouraged. But i would recommend that given the option for a third language (other than mother tongue and English) students should choose Sanskrit.

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  2. I need to recollect my thoughts before I can comment on your upfront post. As of now I enjoyed reading it.
    I see language as a means of communication. All the knowledge about language fails its purpose if it cannot convey to the reader/listener its true intent.
    Writing mythology is the new trend and may be it is lapped because we do not have much idea about the original texts.
    That I think is the missing link. We are divided between western ideas and indian concepts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The western scholars who want to write on our epics, study Sanskrit. But our Indian scholars don’t even though it is easier for them. As a result their works are poor copies of those western authors. They also carry the usual bias of the western authors.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That video is a marvellous expose, a treasure. Unfortunately, Bollywood dumbos Sonam and Kareena are symbolic of a significant populace drunk on dregs served by the likes of Pattanaik and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni —another one in the same league more or less. I am grateful to your for sharing the information.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. An insightful, thought provoking post. I aspire to learn Sanskrit in the near future.
    I want to ask you – What are your thoughts about Ananda Neelakantan, who wrote Asura and Ajaya- portraying Ravana and Duryodhana as heroes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sanskrit means refined. It is refined form languages that existed before it. Subsequently many languages were born of it. So, it is daughter as well as mother of many languages. Yes, programmers have been benefited by this language. As it was the language of the intelligentia and the rishis, it is also known as devabhasha.

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  5. I had learnt sanskrit in school for a couple of years, but not enough to read and understand texts. From schools, the focus is simply to pass the exams and not actually to learn the language, which is sad. Students tend to take the subject to score easily rather than to learn it. My mother’s been taking classes lately, hoping to read scriptures. Are there any good online platforms that you are aware of?

    Like

  6. So true.
    The problem is that whatever is presented by popular writers/historians is considered to be gospel truth, even though they may have erred in judgment or presented wrong info… What legacy are we leaving behind for the next generations? We all grow up reading/learning/watching/believing untruths/wrong interpretation.
    Not many understand Sanskrit & local languages.

    Liked by 1 person

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