Sanskrit and faith-based development: Searching for Sanskrit speakers in the Indian Census
Patrick McCartney © 2020 All rights reserved
This essay has two parts. The first discusses Sanskrit’s relative rankings within the 2011 and 2001 Indian censuses. The second is a discussion of how Sanskrit is operationalized for strategic soft power applications related to faith-based development.
Part 1: Sanskrit in the Census
As far as historical linguists and sociologists are concerned, Sanskrit became a second language around the beginning of the post-Vedic Period (ca. 500 BCE). This shift, from being a “mother tongue” to becoming a second language is described as a shift to a post-vernacular phase. Yet, regardless of the theological presumption, that the perceived devabhāṣā is eternal, Emeritus Professor of Sanskrit, Madhav Deshpande, explains it has undergone significant historical changes.
One of the key justifications for Sanskrit being used as a tool for the development of society is its perceived linguistic purity. However, it is argued that only a “pure” Sanskrit can deliver the utopian world it is used to inspire.
What, exactly, might a pure Sanskrit sound like?
This is a particularly vexing question, not only for the descriptive linguist who is aware that even in the earliest layers of the Vedic corpus (Ṛgveda), hundreds of loan words from other languages and language families are found. How did they get there? More troubling is how this historical “impurity” affects the metaphysics that form the moral framework. If the earliest stratum of Sanskrit is not “pure,” then the Sanskrit promoted and spoken today is even less so. Put another way, its linguistic fuel, or, dare I say, śabda śakti, is more like the fuel pumped into the tank of one’s Bajaj Discover motorbike, rather than the fuel that will be used to power India’s first rocket to the sun, Aditya-L1, later this year. How, then, could this reclaimed hybrid form of Sanskrit possibly be used to generate the intended moral reformation?
It was during the post-Vedic Period that vernacular Sanskrit, otherwise known as bhāṣā, begins to show significant changes, simplification, and loss of archaic forms. In the contemporary revival movement, simplification is essential to increase its acquisition as a second language. This is at the point where vernacular Sanskrit can be feasibly equated with a Prakritized version, or a Sanskritized form, of say, Hindi.
“There is a village in India, somewhere, where everyone speaks Sanskrit.”
“Do you know where?”
“No, not exactly.”
“Do you know what it’s called?”
“No, not really. I’d have to google it. It’s in the south, I’m pretty sure. Near Banglore, maybe.”
Many readers would be aware of the rumors about a village, somewhere in India, in which all the inhabitants apparently only speak fluent Sanskrit. Communities supposedly shifted from their Prakrit to Sanskrit. There are countless lists on the internet waiting to confirm anyone’s bias about the truth of these claims. What are we to do, then, with these lists and these claims?
While, certainly, there is an intangible right enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the Indian Constitution that enables people to speak, learn, and promote their heritage language, there are other issues in relation to Sanskrit, which are intriguing, and invite further inspection.
In late 2018, the raw enumerated data regarding mother tongues was released in several excel spreadsheets. Over the past 16 months, I have rationalized this data to find which districts and sub-districts returned the highest numbers of tokens related to Sanskrit as a mother tongue (L1), second language (L2), and third language (L3). All these data are found in the C-16, C-17, and ST-15 tables on the government’s Census website.
While the data does not prove that people do speak Sanskrit, it shows us where those who have an affinity to, and an aspiration for, might be. It is, in some ways, a map of affect in relation to Sanskrit.
Before we get into comparing the 2011 and 2001 census results, this first table is based on archival research. It shows all the total mother tongue L1-Sanskrit tokens returned for every Indian census, beginning in 1881.
Based on the 2011 tokens, this map shows the total mother tongue L1-Sanskrit tokens for each state. Maharashtra 3802, Bihar 3388, Uttar Pradesh 3062, Rajashtan 2375, and Madhya Pradesh 1871 make up the top five states.
If we compare the better performing states in 2011, notice the dramatic changes that occurred since 2001. Did Uttar Pradesh have a mass exodus of Sanskrit speakers to other states? While it was clearly the highest ranking state in 2001, and suffered a significant 57pc reduction, it still ranks third in 2011. This table shows the predominance of Sanskrit tokens are located in the Hindi Belt.
Having compared the 2011 and 2001 censuses, it is clear that, from one census to the next, a district might lose upwards of 90pc of its tokens. This is even more curious a thing, in some ways. Let’s look more closely at Uttar Pradesh. This next map shows the District-level mother tongue tokens from 2011. Kanpur Nagar 932, Sitapur 722, and Sultanpur 323 are the top three districts. Interestingly, places one might associate with Sanskrit, say, like Varanasi 55, do not have high numbers of tokens.
Let’s zoom in more closely on Sitapur District, which was the highest ranked district in 2001. This next map shows the location of Sitapur District within Uttar Pradesh. In the following map, Sitapur District’s sub-districts (tehsils) are compared.
In 2001, Sitapur district returned the highest number of L1-Sanskrit tokens (4222) across the nation. However, for no apparent reason, its fortunes have since reduced by 83pc. In 2011, it only returned 722 tokens. Where did all the alleged Sanskrit speakers in Biswan sub-district go? In 2001, Biswan District made up 19pc of the nation’s total. In 2011, it is 0.3pc.
The following table ranks the nation’s 2011 top twelve districts. Notice that Sitapur District has dropped to fifth place. Maharashtra has four districts, Bihar has three districts, Uttar Pradesh has two districts, and Madhya Pradesh, Rajashtan, and Karnataka each have one district. Also, 52pc of the top ten total is Urban. The main distinction between Rural and Urban is whether a community has a population over 5000 residents.
The next table ranks the nation’s 2011 top ten sub-districts. While Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra both have three sub-districts, Rajashtan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Rajashtan each have one sub-district. At this administrative level, the predominance of Urban tokens is even more pronounced, at 58pc. In Karnataka, 56pc of the state’s total is located in one Bangalore sub-district.
Let’s move across to Madhya Pradesh. The village of Jhiri is known as the “Jurassic Park” of Sanskrit villages. As part of my Imagining Sanskritland project, I have written several articles and made a few short films about Jhiri. It is located in Sarangpur Sub-district, Rajgarh District. Supposedly, the 976 villagers only speak fluent Sanskrit, all the time. They shifted from the kheti bhasha, Malvi, after inviting Samskrita Bharati to come and run a Sanskrit training program almost 20 years ago. Today, however, the sub-district barely returns any L1-Sanskrit tokens. The sub-district total is 18 (sixth in MP) and the district total is 61 (22nd in MP). Yet, this hamlet supposedly remains “lost in time” and is indelibly mentioned on India’s Sanskrit village lists. This next map shows all the L1-Sanskrit returns at the district level for Madhya Pradesh.
Pipariya Sub-district and Hoshangabad District are both the highest-ranked sub-district (26pc of MP’s total) and district (28pc of MP’s total). A quarter of the district’s total, and 5pc of the state total, comes from L1-Sanskrit Scheduled Tribes (ST) tokens. Of these, the L2 languages are a long list of languages that begins with Bhili, Bhilodi, Gondi, etc. Between the two censuses, their numbers have declined, in some cases by over 50pc. For example, the following table shows L3-Sanskrit’s position in Hoshangabad District, in relation to the Bhili/Bhilodi and Gondi language groups as the L1.
How is it that these villages in Hoshangabad District, which supposedly have mother tongue speakers of Sanskrit, are not on any Sanskrit village list on the internet? If we glance back up to the top ten sub-district table, we notice that Pipariya is not the highest ranked sub-district. Both Dighalbank 558 (Bihar) and Pachpahar 531 (Rajashtan) return higher token amounts. Both are also overwhelmingly Rural tokens, as well. Logically, this means that these L1-Sanskrit tokens are located in villages. Yet, they too do not find any mention on any Sanskrit village list on the internet.
The next table shows that, while the L1-Sanskrit total increased by 43pc, and was widely celebrated in the media when the figure was released, the L2 and L3 numbers dropped by 9pc and 48pc. It is possible that these figures reflect a more real-world situation. My position is that the mother tongue Sanskrit figure is possibly more aspirational than literal. If that is the case, then this is a worrying sign for Sanskrit’s future, since it would seem plausible that the linguistic vitality of Sanskrit rests more on the shoulders of its acquisition, as a second language, rather than the aspiration of it being a first language, which, it seems to kind of be, at least, for some people. Yet, bilingualism, especially in India, is a very complex issue.
Also, Sanskrit clusters in such a predictable pattern that it is surprising if variations of the Hindi-English-Sanskrit cluster do not feature. This H-E-S clustering predominates regardless of Sanskrit’s position as either a L1, L2, or L3. For example, considering Sanskrit as the L1, the table below shows how Hindi and English combine to give respective L2 and L3 totals of 69pc and 77pc. In several cases, this rises to above 90pc.
What these data tells us is that it is very difficult to believe the notion that Jhiri, and villages like it, is a “Sanskrit village,” where everyone only speaks fluent Sanskrit, at a mother tongue level. It is also difficult to accept that the lingua franca of the rural masses is Sanskrit, when the majority of L1, L2, and L3 Sanskrit tokens are linked to urban areas. The predominance of Sanskrit across the Hindi Belt also shows a particular cultural/geographic affection that does not spread equally across the rest of the country. Particularly in the south. As well, the clustering with Hindi and English, in the majority of variations possible, to such a statistically predictable level also suggests that a certain class element is involved. Essentially, people who identify as speakers of Sanskrit appear to be nāgarakas (urbanites), who are educated in both Hindi and English. We, at least, have a clearer idea of where and who the Sanskrit speakers are. And, while I haven’t included the statistics here, many of the sub-districts and districts that returned the highest numbers of Sanskrit tokens currently have BJP members serving their interests in local, state, and national legislatures. This data is easy enough to find at the Election Commission of India website.
Part 2: Faith-based development and Sanskrit
Sanskrit, apparently, is the language of Future India. At least, that is the opinion of Soumitra Mouhan, who also asserts that
Sanskrit’s credentials to be a language of future India are definitely better and greater than we have realised so far. Its revival will not only renew and revive the pride in our own cultural heritage, but will also bring about spiritualism and the concept of a meaningful society and polity, thereby bringing order and peace all across the country, a desideratum for any developed society.
The following image shows how Sanskrit’s revival is also framed within a global context on an NCERT-related website. This is where one can freely download NCERT’s approved Sanskrit text books. A curious thing is that, while countless rumours of NASA’s supposed use of Sanskrit as a Vedic Science can be found on the internet, it is virtually impossible to find any mention of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) making similar use of Sanskrit. Even though it is supposedly the most “computerable language,” it only seems to be used to name rockets, missiles, and satellites. As for the claims that there are many empty Sanskrit chairs in international universities, well…
Faith-based development, competitive diplomacy, and transformative travel merge in the various leisure tourism markets of the 4+ trillion-dollar global wellness industry. The production of legitimacy and authority in diplomatic and economic arenas involves interweaving narratives through which nations work to control their own images by implementing strategic communication strategies. Incredible!ndia 2.0, Amulya Bharat, and India Shining are three clear examples of how the Indian nation brands itself through the use of its cultural capital and the showing of good will. The International Day of Yoga is a perfect example of actualizing yoga for strategic soft power purposes. Take, for instance, how in 2019, the slogan #Yoga4ClimateAction was implemented to increase India’s standing in the world. Yoga is India’s gift to world and India is the world’s guru. These sentiments show how faith-based competitive diplomacy can be expressed.
While for some, Sanskrit might be considered a dead language or a symbol of millennia of oppression, for others it is a treasure trove of untapped knowledge that might just save humanity. Sanskrit, and the knowledge contained in dusty untranslated manuscripts, might also help define and chart one’s path toward a utopia-inspired moral horizon. This speaks more about temporalities of becoming, rather than being. It helps link an archaic modernity and potential return to an imagined, previous, Vedic “Golden Age” that is, a priori, eco-sustainable. Take, for example, India’s vice president, M. Venkaiah Naidu, who claims that Sanskrit can offer solutions to the world’s contemporary issues. Naidu went on to say,
The heritage of knowledge that our ancient scholars left for us is in Samskrit. I believe Samskrit has the solution for every problem in the world. That probably is the reason why Samskrit is being studied across world now and researches are being done on the ancient texts in Samskrit.
Himachal Pradesh’s chief minister, Jairam Thakur, believes, that “Sanskrit is a language for the entire world and not just India.” While the national president of Samskrita Bharati, Bhaktvatsal Sharma, argues that Sanskrit is not just a language, but also a lifestyle. And that efforts should be made to make this 21st century, a Sanskrit century. Similar sentiments are shared by India’s Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal, who claims, that “It is essential to learn Sanskrit if you want to understand India and its culture and tradition. By 2050, Sanskrit will be the most prominent language in the world.”
One way to think about the news articles, blogs, and opinion pieces that regularly inform us of “Sanskrit-speaking” villages is how they seem to operate in a similar way to phalaśruti paratexts. Associate Professor, McComas Taylor, who lectures in Sanskrit at the Australian National University, explains how the phalaśruti parts of any text outline the potential rewards for a pursuing a particular spiritual task, like reciting a text, and, also, the dangers and pitfalls for not doing it, or doing it poorly. These lists, that contain promises of heavenly rewards, enable the discourse around the topic being discussed to function as “true.”
Now, think about the function, or purpose, of all the articles on “Sanskrit-speaking” villages. They promote the idea that these villages are “true.” In a similar way to phalaśruti paratexts, the claims of “Sanskrit-speaking” villages is partly, or entirely, driven by an earthly agenda. As well, people will ultimately believe whatever they choose to, regardless of available contrary evidence.
In a sense, stories of villages where everyone speaks Sanskrit do not need to be empirically true for people to believe in them. More importantly, the “Sanskrit-speaking” phalaśruti paratext articles serve as a source of inspiration. Perhaps, these rumors also act as a buffer to ward off existential anxiety. At least, for some, it is potentially comforting to know that a “real” and “true” India still exists. That MK Gandhi’s idea of the village and Mohan Bhagwat’s idea of “core Indian values” are still intact. This is found in one phalaśruti type article about one “Sanskrit-speaking” village. In the article, Jhiri, which we traveled to in the first part of the essay, is described as “India’s own Jurassic Park.” It is supposedly a village that “is a lost world that has been recreated carefully and painstakingly, but lives a precarious existence, cut off from the compelling realities of the world outside.”
The village holds an ambiguously utopian relation to future India. The Sanskrit village intensifies this affective quality.
Consider the example of this faith-based development narrative that has evolved over the past decade in the state of Uttarakhand. In 2010, Sanskrit became the state’s second official language. Even though this project was implemented a decade ago, and has endured changing governments and allegations of corruption, by 2013 ₹21 crore (usd 275 million) had already been spent on promoting Sanskrit education in Uttarakhand. Regrettably, there is very little to, beyond some phalaśruti articles, to show for it.
It is unclear how much capital was invested in Uttarakhand between 2013–2020. However, recent figures released by the Union Ministry of Culture show that between 2018–20 the nation invested a staggering ₹644 crore to promote Sanskrit. This is 22 times the total combined amount of ₹29 crore spent on the other five classical Indian languages — Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Odia. Not to mention the other scheduled and unscheduled languages that people actually speak.
Recently, an updated policy has increased this top-down imposition of language shift, toward Sanskrit. The new policy aims to create a Sanskrit village in every “block” (administrative division) of Uttarakhand. The state of Uttarakhand consists of 2 Divisions, 13 Districts, 79 Sub-districts, and 97 Blocks. One wonders how much more investment might be needed to transform 97 villages scattered across the Himalayas into Sanskrit villages? Are we to assume that, over the last decade, based on the 2010–2013 expenditure of ₹21 crore, that ₹63 crore has already been spent? On what, exactly? There is hardly a Sanskrit village in even one block in Uttarakhand.
The curious thing is that, while 70pc of the state’s total population live in rural areas, 100pc of the total 246 L1-Sanskrit tokens returned at the 2011 census are from Urban areas.
No L1-Sanskrit tokens come from any village or rural area of Uttarakhand.
This top-down development project aims to reverse engineer India, and the world, through Sanskrit and Yoga. The aim is to reform society toward an imagined Sanskritland.
The aspiration is banal, yet total.
Take, for example, the following song that attendees at Samskrita Bharati language camps learn, which inspires people to work towards helping Sanskrit be spoken in every home (gṛhe gṛhe), in every village (grāme grāme), in every city (nagare nagare), and in every country (deśe deśe). Samskrita Bharati’s vision for future India (and world) inevitably leads to a global language shift, where Sanskrit is spoken everywhere (saṃskṛta sarvatra) as the next lingua franca (viśva bhāṣā). The perceived net-positive outcome (abhyudaya) has India positioned as the global superpower and moral dispenser (viśva guru).
This might seem inherently banal and optimistically utopian, yet it is clearly a strategic part of a yoga-oriented, faith-based, soft power initiative that seeks to compete, diplomatically-speaking, with culturally specific capital that has brand recognition. Evidence of this includes propositions, such as Yoga and Sanskrit can solve climate change. In this way, Sanskrit and Yoga are used to brand the nation.
This narrative is evolving from its green, eco-friendly roots into a digitizing of Sanskrit, ostensibly through a saffron-lite filter. Or rather, green and saffron are forcibly collapsed to present a sustainable development program as a Hindutva development program. A common, albeit erroneous and misplaced, sentiment is that Sanskrit is the best language for computing and artificial intelligence. This is as equally troubled as the “Sanskrit village” narrative. The pair seem to work in tandem. Soumitra Mohan returns, highlighting this sentiment.
The language deserves to be treated much better than it has been so far, more so when it has been called the best ‘computerable’ language. Sanskrit’s credentials to be a language of future India are definitely better and greater than we have realised so far. Its revival will not only renew and revive the pride in our own cultural heritage, but will also bring about spiritualism and the concept of a meaningful society and polity, thereby bringing order and peace all across the country, a desideratum for any developed society.
This sentiment is paired with the following quote located on the homepage of one of India’s best-known Sanskrit universities, in Benares, Sampūrṇānanda Saṁskṛta Viśvavidyālaya.
Sanskrit is the most ancient and perfect among the languages of the World. Its storehouse of knowledge is an unsurpassed and the most invaluable treasure of the world. This language is a symbol of peculiar Indian tradition and thought, which has exhibited full freedom in the search of truth, has shown complete tolerance towards spiritual and other kind of experiences of mankind, and has shown catholicity towards universal truth. This language contains not only a rich fund of knowledge for people of India but it is also an unparalleled way to acquire knowledge and is thus significant for the whole World.
We see this Sanskrit-inspired eco-tech sentiment manifest in the words of Samskrita Bharati’s founder, C.K. Shastry, who believes, that
Today’s technology is IT; tomorrow’s will be biotechnology, the day after, nanotechnology. What comes afterwards is knowledge technology. India has the potential to turn into a superpower by 2025, for it is home to scriptures and Sanskrit literature which is a great treasure of knowledge. But the problem is we have not yet decoded it.
While it is lazy to subsume all the disparate Hindu nationalist groups into a homogeneous pool, a shared date for the establishment of the Hindu nation, is 2025.
One seemingly intractable issue regarding the decoding of knowledge technology is the overwhelming volume of manuscripts. The amount of trained philologists, manuscript conservators, and available funds and resources is no match for the decoding of even a fraction, let alone, all the manuscripts that exist. The rough estimation is that only about 500,000 manuscripts have been catalogued — out of a staggering, yet conservative, minimum total of 7 million manuscripts. And, of these already catalogued, only a handful have been digitized, translated, and published.
The National Survey of Manuscripts has the unenviable task of locating, cataloging, preserving, and translating these texts. However, to put it into perspective, in just one survey round, across four states, the following numbers of manuscripts were recovered: Delhi (85,000), Manipur (10,000), Karnataka (150,000)and Assam (42,000).
Yet, even with awareness campaigns to promote the documentation and conservation of manuscripts, career prospects are slim. This is compounded by what seems to be a general impression that a serious study of Sanskrit — and subsequent investment of capital to work on this literal mountain of manuscripts — is quickly politicized, or, worse, made into a parody of itself in which policy decisions are put forward that will ultimately undermine efforts to popularize Sanskrit. Four examples are perhaps worth highlighting.
The first involves the aspiration to reverse engineer next generation transport options, as the title of this article suggests, “Decoding Sanskrit scriptures to make Vedic vimans a reality.” For an exquisite discussion of “archaic modernities,” Banu Subramaniam’s latest book (2019) titled, Holy Science: The Biopolitics of Hindu Nationalism, is an excellent overview.
One nation branding issue relates to the general interest and knowledge of Sanskrit and its manuscripts. This is particularly prevalent outside of India, across the global consumer-scape of Yogaland, where India’s “gift to the world” re-orientalizes the biographies of Sanskrit and Yoga through a neo-Orientalist filter to create a neo-Romantic mood among New Age consumers of spirituality and yoga-inflected lifestyles. Regrettably, the rumours and factoids about Sanskrit’s ability to sanitize modernity of its blemishes adds tremendous credibility, regardless of the unintended consequences.
The second example occurred in Pune, at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI). It highlights the internal tensions within India. Founded in 1917, it was during January 2004 that this repository was ransacked and vandalized. The media used broad saffron-colored strokes to paint those involved in this and related incidents as homogeneous extra-judicial agents of Hindutva. Instead, this particular act is better framed as an exercise related more to internal caste-based politics of Maharashtra. This act was carried out by the Maharashtra Seva Sangh, which is part of the new religious/political movement, Shivdharma. Adheesh Sathaye, Associate Professor of Sanskrit at the University of British Columbia, explains, how “this largely lower-caste movement consciously regards itself as distinct from mainstream Hinduism and is particularly hostile towards Brahmanic hegemony. Shivdharma is, in short, a marriage of a passionate folk devotion to Shivaji with anti-Brahman politics.”
The third example comes back to the faith-based development issue. In 2017, the Assamese government declared it would make Sanskrit compulsory in all public schools, up to the eighth grade (class VIII). Yet, this politically expedient decision does not address the genuine issues around language planning and promotion of Sanskrit. Not to mention, who will fill all these new teaching positions? More importantly, it discriminates against the economically underdeveloped populations of the state. As Mayu Bora writes, the Asom Sahitya Sabha’s position is that students would benefit more from studying geography and history, or minority languages, like Bodo, which is the language of largest indigenous tribal group of Assam.
The final example relates to Samskrita Bharati’s push, through the New Education Policy, to replace English in the three-language education policy, with Sanskrit, and make English optional. Much importance is made of promoting Sanskrit as a “language of the masses.” However, having attended several Samskrita Bharati camps, I am familiar with the propaganda that Sanskrit was apparently the only language spoken by everyone across the sub-continent, since those wandering sages, went out of India to colonize the world. While this might sound utterly preposterous, it is the official story regarding the history and development of Yoga, as found on the Ministry of External Affairs website.
There is a lineage of authors, including B.G. Tilak, P.N. Oak, Stephen Knapp, and others, who claim as historical fact, a world Vedic heritage. These ahistorical and factually incorrect claims show either complete ignorance of India’s rich and dynamic linguistic ecology, as evidenced in the Nirukta, Ashtadhyayi, Mahabhashya, and other linguistic commentaries, roughly 2500 years ago, or, instead, a willful ignorance fueled by an ideological agenda.
It also demonstrates a willingness to persist with a narrative that does little else than exercise the sort of linguistic hegemony and fundamentalist attitude that pushes people away from learning Sanskrit. Or, it invites those inclined to this theo-political position, to embrace it. However, it does not seem to really exude one idea of an open-minded deshabhakta (patriot), who supports linguistic diversity, as it is enshrined in Article 345 of India’s constitution.
Yet, it seems, political expediency justifies restricting linguistic diversity, as long as it occurs through a development narrative. As union minister Pratap Sarangi, explains “Sanskrit is the language for science, mathematics, and environment […] It is the most scientific language [and] if it is used more often by India, we will become a world leader.”
After all, “Sanskrit is a gift of India for [the] entire humanity,” at least, that is what Ramesh Pokhriyal asserted, just after the Central Sanskrit Universities Bill, 2020 was passed by India’s upper house of parliament, which was done to upgrade three Deemed Sanskrit universities to Central University status.
Amaravāṇī is a wing of Samskrita Bharati that promotes Sanskrit through songs. One example is the song Viśva-bhāṣā Saṃskṛtam (“The universal-language is Sanskrit”). Information about the song on Amaravāṇī’s website claims, that “There are many villages in India where the entire population speaks solely and fluently in Saṃskṛtam!” Such truth claims, as we have seen, are curious things.
Yet, these lofty ambitions to help save the world, ostensibly, from itself, and those pesky 7000 other languages, have humble origins among the mythical villages of rural India. The inhabitants of these rural areas are meant to be grateful that Sanskrit’s perceived civilizing power will finally reach them, in the darkness, even if this ideological benevolence is soaked in a neo-colonial Sanskritization impetus made explicit in ways, such as “Saṃskṛtaṃ sarveṣāṃ kṛte…sarvadā; Sanskrit for everyone…forever.” Strength, it seems, is not found in linguistic diversity.
The idea of the Sanskrit village continues to gain momentum. One of the first things Uttarakhand’s former Chief Minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal, did, having assumed the Union’s HDR portfolio, is announce a plan to upgrade his pet, Sanskrit village development, project from the state-level to the union (national) level.
Finally, 2021 marks the first completely digitized census the nation will undertake. Hopefully, this allows for data to be enumerated, rationalized, and published much more efficiently, and that it will result in the next round of Sanskrit data to be released sooner than the seven-year lag that occurred at the last census. Hopefully, too, there will be fewer glitches in 2021, compared to 1941, which was completely botched, due to it being the first census at which self-reporting of data was introduced.
Patrick McCartney, PhD, is a Research Affiliate at the Anthropological Institute at Nanzan University, Nagoya, Japan. He is trained in archaeology, anthropology, sociology, and historical linguistics. His research agenda focuses on charting the biographies of Yoga, Sanskrit, and Buddhism through a frame that includes the politics of imagination, the sociology of spirituality, the anthropology of religion, and the economics of desire. His social media handle is Patrick McCartney.