Useful information on Sanskritisation, its prerequisites and forms

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The term Sanskritisation is spoken of in Indian context as an indigenous source and process of change. Prof. M. N. Srinivas was first to use this term in his book ‘Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India’ which was published in 1952. In his own words, “The caste system is far from a rigid system in which the position of each component caste is fixed for all time. Movement has always been possible and especially so in the middle regions of the hierarchy. A low 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 rituals and pantheon.

In short, it took over, as far as possible the customs, rites and beliefs of the Brahmins and the adoption of the Brahminic way of life by a low caste seems to have been frequent, though theoretically forbidden.” Initially, Prof. Srinivas used the term ‘Brahminisation’ to describe the endeavour by the Coorgs of Mysore, traditionally a low caste people, to adopt the customs and rites of the Brahmins with a hope to raise their status in the caste hierarchy.

But subsequently he found that the other twice-born castes also practiced the Vedic rites. Therefore, he chose to use the term ‘Sanskritisation’ instead of ‘Brahminisation’. He defined the term ‘Sanskritisation’ as ‘the process by which a low caste or tribe or other group takes on the customs, rituals, beliefs, ideology and the styles of life of a high and in particular a twice-born caste.”

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The lower castes were motivated to emulate the customs, rituals, beliefs, ideology and the styles of life of the twice-born castes due to their aspiration to raise their status in the social hierarchy and the hope to enjoy the same political and economic power which the higher castes enjoyed.

The people who become Sanskritised also learnt the new ideas and values, both sacred as well as secular. For example, the Sanskritic theological ideas of Karma, Dharma, Papah, Maaya, and Samsarand Moksha occurred frequently in the words of those people. Therefore, Sanskritisation is viewed as a process of social, cultural and ideological transformation occurring in the sphere of language, literature, art, religion and philosophy. Therefore, Prof. Andre Beteille has rightly remarked that Sanskritisation is the principal medium of cultural mobility in Indian society.”

Pre-requisites of Sanskritisation:

The necessary conditions for Sanskritisation are:

(i) A transformation in the self-image of the caste or group supported by higher status aspiration;

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(ii) Betterment of social and economic status of the aspiring castes,

(iii) The closure of stratification system in respect of social roles, occupations, economic competition and competition for power, status etc. except through emulation of customs and cultural styles;

(iv) The absence of social and psychological pressures among the aspiring castes to identify upper caste status as negative reference group; and

(v)The absence of organised opposition from the upper castes to such behaviour of the lower castes due to the reasons either psychological or structural.

Forms of Sanskritisation:

As an endogenous change Sanskritisation has two different forms; first ‘historically specific form’ and secondly ‘contextually specific form. In ‘historical specific sense’ Sanskritisation meant those processes in Indian history which led to changes in the status of various castes, its leadership or its cultural patterns in different periods of history as a result of their acts of chivalry, rise in economic and power status and political alliances. In the second form, i.e. contextual specific form, Sanskritisation has a contextual meaning or a local meaning and it denotes a unilateral attempt of a caste or sub-caste to move upward in the hierarchy. The nature of this form of Sanskritisation is by no means uniform in different parts of India because the context of cultural norms or customs initiated by the aspiring castes varies widely.

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