Essay on the concepts of Sanskritisation and Westernisation


Srinivas defines westernisation as, “the changes brought about in the Indian society and culture as a result of our hundred fifty years of British rule, the term subsuming changes occurring at different levels-technology, institutions, ideologies and values.” Emphasis on humanitarianism and rationalism is a part of westernisation which lead to a series of institutional and social reforms in India. Establishment of scientific, technological and educational institutions, rise of nationalism, new political culture and leadership in the country are all biproducts of westernisation, According to Srinivas, the increase in westernization does not retard the process of sanskritisation; both go on simultaneously and to some extent, increase in westernisation accelerates the process of sanskritisation.

For instance, postal facilities, railways, buses and newspaper media which are tools of western impact on India render more organised religious pilgrimages, meetings, caste solidarities etc. are possible now than in the past. Srinivas prefers the tern westernisation to modernisation. He contends that modernisation presupposes rationality of goals which in the ultimate analysis could not be taken for granted, Since human ends are based on value preferences and rationality could only be predicated of the means not of the ends of social action. By westernisation he means primarily the British impact.

Sanskritisation and westernisation as concepts are primarily focussed to analyse cultural changes. Srinivas concedes that to describe the social changes occurring in modern India in terms of sanskritisation and westernisation is to describe it primarily in cultural and not in structural terms. The analysis in terms of structure is much more difficult than an analysis in terms of culture. He is correct when he says that sanskritisation involves positional change in the caste system without producing any structural change.


Sanskritisation and Westernisation are representative concepts which oscillate between the logic of ideal- typical and nominal definitions of phenomena. Hence, their connotations are vague and hazy. Srinivas says that sanskritisation is an extremely complex and heterogeneous concept. He argues that it would be profitable to treat it as a bundle of concepts rather than a single concept depicting cultural change in Indian social system. He says that it is only a name tag for wide spread cultural changes and the change processes.

This is why sanskritisation and westernisation fail to contribute to a theory of cultural change. As he says the heterogeneity of the concept of sanskritisation subsumes mutually antagonistic values. Obviously sanskritisation and westernisation are theoretically weak terms but as truth-finding concept they have great appropriateness. Sanskritisation as a process of cultural change was operative in certain areas and in respect of low caste Hindus. Apparently, the term seems to be misleading as the term ‘Sanskrit’ is a complex and complicated one.

Sanskritisation is a meta concept. It is also a primary concept which describes a particular set of substantive processes of cultural changes in India.

Sanskritisation and westernisation are founded upon empirical observations and objective insight into some aspects of cultural change. Sometimes difficulties arise from the complexity of the contextual frame of reference. The concepts do not have identical meaning of similar theoretical implications when used in ‘ historical specific’ and ‘contextual specific’ terms. In historical specifics sense, sanskritisation is a concept loaded with historical connotations, but in contextual specific usage it tends to show many attributes of the functional concept. Sanskritisation fails to account for many aspects of cultural changes in past and contemporary India as it neglects the non-sanskritic traditions. It may be noted that often the non-sanskritic elements of culture may be a localised form of sanskritic tradition. Sanskritic influence has not been universal to all parts of the country and also among all sections of the population.


The term westernization is also not without complications. It is equated with British impact on Indian society and culture. The term westernisation has a pejorative connotation because of its association with formal colonial domination by the Western counties, Westernisation is more value-loaded than the term modernisation. Srinivas considers westernisation as a prelude to sanskritisation. He is of the view that the Brahmans and other higher castes people got into white collar jobs because of their sanskritic tradition. Srinivas thinks that in Indian situation people attempt to be westernised so as to sanskritise their culture and lifestyle.

Westernisation in India commenced with the advent of British people whose culture was different. On 1599 an English Company was formed under the name ‘Merchant Adventurers’, popularly known as the East India Company, to undertake trade and commerce. The culture of the English was totally different from that of the indigenous people of India. Queen Elizabeth granted a royal charter to the British Company to trade in the east, including India in December 31,1600. The East India Company established factories at Surat, Broach, Ahmedabad, Agra and Masulipatnam between 1600 A.D. and 1714 A.D. The Company opened its first factory in Orissa in 1633.

The East India Company gradually attempted to acquire political power and on 23rd June, 1757 the Company army defeated the army of Siraj-ud-Daulah at Plassey. The British rule commenced in India systematically from this time onwards.

The Charter Act of 1813 was renewed in 1833 and Lord Bentick was appointed as the Governor of Bengal. Lord Bentick appointed Lord Macaulay in 1834 as Law Member in the Governor’s Council. Mecaulay was entirely responsible to design the system of education for Indians in India. On the basis of recommendations of Lord Macaulay primary schools were established in British pattern with some modifications to prepare Indians to assist the British in their administration. British system of liberal education which was introduced in India to establishment of 3 Universities in the 3 Presidencies, namely, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai. Western liberal education gradually brought about changes in technology, social institutions, ideology and values. Western liberal education introduced in India humanitarianism and rationalism and was responsible for the development of a lessez faire attitude among the educants.


The British system of education created an awareness of exploitation in the minds of educated ones and was instrumental in generating a rational attitude in their minds. Establishment of scientific, technological, vocational and educational institutions led to the rise of nationalism. A new political culture, indigenous leadership, and trade union movement were the bi-products of westernisation. Professional, administrative and general bureaucracy emerged under the impact of British rule.

Foundation of a new jural system in India was laid down by Warren Hastings. The process of westernisation accelerated the process of sanskritisation which became the corner stone of freedom movement later on. Westernisation mainly implies changes in the dress pattern, dietary pattern or eating, etiquette, household articles and social encounters. When western liberal education was introduced the Brahman and other high caste Hindus first seized with the opportunities of receiving higher education. They developed some sort of secular education so as to shun orthodoxy and conservatism. The school atmosphere was secular and free from religious influences. Westernisation wiped out superstitions, inhibitions and ritual taboos.

Westernisation paved the way for bringing about social reforms, such as removal of untouchability, prevention of Sati and Child marriage. It farther emphasised widow remarriage and opened vistas for women to take up public assignments. It also removed intercaste commensal barriers and encouraged intercaste marriages.

Westernisation was responsible for the rise of nationalism and launching of freedom movement. It also introduced newspaper media which became a vital force in mobilising public opinion against the British rule. Westernisation created scope for greater spatial mobility and societal contact. People took to pilgrimages which in course of time helped them to form larger political organisations and institutions. Travel also promoted caste solidarity and regional and sub-regional solidarities. Such solidarities helped the Indians to organise protest meetings against the British in order to voice their grievances. Westernisation was responsible to bring women from seclusion to agitational fora which later on reinforced the movement against the British rule.


The Western culture and tradition which at that time had undergone fundamental transformation through industrial revolution created a liberal attitude in the minds of educated Indians. The British society had shaken oppression of the church and feudalism and this value was acquired by the Indians who opposed colonial imperialism and oppression. As the British themselves were trying to promote rational individualism in their economy and society so also Indians tied to do the same thing against the British rule. In course of the British rule, westernisation process forged unity among the discrete individual castes so as to counter the British administration.

In course of time, westernisation helped Indians to launch resistance and freedom movements against the British. But British could finally pack off from India from 15th August 1947 handing over the reigns of power to the Indians. Had westernisation not been there how much time the departure of British rule had taken could not be easily estimated.

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