Here is your essay on Sanskritization!
In the traditional society, the occupations practised by castes, their diet, and the customs they observe determine their status in the hierarchy. Thus, practising an occupation such as tanning, butchery puts a caste in a low position.
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Eating beef, fish and mutton is considered defiling. Offering animal sacrifices to deities is viewed as a low practice than offering fruit and flowers. As such, castes following these customs, diet habits, etc. adopt the life of the Brahmins to achieve a higher status in the caste hierarchy. This is moving of a low caste upwards in the social structure. Srinivas termed this process as “Sanskritisation”.
M.N. Srinivas first introduced the notion of Sanskritisation to explain the process of cultural mobility in India, in his book ‘Religion and Society among the Coorgs’. In his study of the Coorgs, he found that the lower castes adopted some customs of the Brahmins and gave up some of their own, which were considered to be impure by the higher castes in order to raise their position in the caste hierarchy. For example, they gave up meat- eating, consumption of liquor and animal sacrifice to their deities. They imitated the Brahmins in matter of food, dress and rituals. To denote this process of mobility Srinivas first used the term ‘Brahmanisation’. Subsequently he replaced it by Sanskritisation.
Srinivas preferred the term ‘Sanskritisation’ to ‘Brahmanisation’. Sanskritisation is a broader term, while Brahmanisation is a narrower term. In fact, Brahmanisation is subsumed in the wider process of Sanskritisation. For instance, the Brahmins of the Vedic period consumed alcohol (soma), ate beef, and offered animal sacrifices. But these practices were given up by them in the post-Vedic times, perhaps under the influence of Jainism and Buddhism.
Today, by and large, Brahmins are vegetarians and teetotalers; only the Kashmiri, Bengali and Saraswati Brahmins eat non-vegetarian food. Had the term ‘Brahmanisation’ been used, it would have been necessary to specify which particular Brahmin group was meant.
In fact Srinivas has been “broadening his definition of Sanskritisation from time to time”. Initially he described it as “the process of mobility of lower castes by adopting vegetarianism and teetotal ism to move in the caste hierarchy in a generation or two”.
Latter on, he redefined it as “a process by which a low caste or a tribe or other group changes its customs, rituals, ideology and way of life in the direction of a high twice-born caste”. The second connotation of Sanskritisation is thus much broader because first Srinivas talked of imitation of mere food habits, rituals and religious practices but later on he talked of imitation of ideologies too (which include ideas of Karma, Dharma, Papa, a Punya, Moksha etc.).
By means of these changes in customs and rituals the low caste or tribal people claim a higher position in the caste hierarchy (Srinivas 1952). Srinivas has admitted that he emphasised unduly on the Brahminical model of Sanskritisation and ignored other models – Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra in his book on Coorgs. According to him, the lower castes also imitated the cultural ways of other higher castes such as Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, and the Sudras in various regions of the country. Further, he says, dominant castes set the model for the majority of people living in rural areas including, occasionally, Brahmins.
If the local dominant caste is Brahmin it will tend to transmit a Brahminical model, whereas if it is Kshatriya or Vaishya it will transmit Kshatriya or Vaishya model. Srinivas also says that small number of Brahmins or other high castes (Kshatriyas, Vaishyas) may gradually assimilate from the culture of locally dominant caste.
It is important to mention that the dominance of a caste is characterised by secular values. Thus, it appears that Brahmin and other higher castes imitate the cultural values of locally dominant castes which are secular in nature. On the other hand lower castes follow cultural ways of both ritually higher castes and dominant castes which include both sacred and secular values.
Features of Sanskritisation:
The process of Sanskritisation is characterised by imitation, change of ideals, social mobility, social change etc.
The concept ‘Sanskritisation’ has been integrated with economic and political domination, that is, the role of local dominant caste in the process of cultural transmission has been stressed.
Besides the castes, the process of Sanskritisation has been indicated in tribal communities like Bhils of Rajasthan, Gonds of Madhya Pradesh and other hilly tribes. By the process of Sanskritisation a tribal community tries to prove itself to be a part of Hindu society.
Sanskritisation occurred sooner or latter in those castes which enjoyed political and economic power but have not rated high in ritual ranking (that is, there was a gap between their ritual and politico- economic positions).
Economic betterment is not a necessary pre-condition to Sanskritisation, nor must economic development necessarily lead to Sanskritisation. However, sometimes a group may start by acquiring political power and this may lead to economic betterment and Sanskritisation. Srinivas has given the example of untouchables of Rampura village in Mysore who have got increasingly sanskritised though their economic condition has remained almost unchanged.
The British rule provided impetus to the process of Sanskritisation but political independence has weakened the trend towards this change. The emphasis is now on the vertical mobility and not on the horizontal mobility.
Describing social change in India in terms of Sanskritisation is to describe it primarily in cultural and not in structural terms. Srinivas himself has conceded that Sanskritisation involves ‘positional change’ in the caste system without any structural change.
Factors that have made Sanskritisation possible are industrialisation, occupational mobility, developed communication, spread of literacy, and western technology. No wonder, the spread of Sanskrit theological ideas immersed under the British rule. The development of communications carried Sanskritisation to areas previously inaccessible and the spread of literacy carried it to groups very low in the caste hierarchy.
M.N. Srinivas has specifically referred to one factor which has helped the spread of Sanskritisation among the low castes. It is the separation of ritual acts from the accompanying mantras which facilitated the spread of Brahmanical rituals among all Hindu castes, including the untouchables. Furthermore, the political institution of parliamentary democracy has also contributed to the increased Sanskritisation, according to Srinivas.
The process of Sanskritisation indicates (a) a process of change (b) upward mobility or aspirations of lower castes to move upward in hierarchy and (c) attack on hierarchy and leveling of culture.
As regards attack on hierarchy, it is not only the lower castes but even the tribes and castes in the middle regions of the hierarchy which try to take over the customs and way of life of the higher castes.
As regards the upward mobility, Yogendra Singh calls it ‘contextual specific’ connotation of Sanskritisation. This is because it explains the process of cultural imitation by lower castes of upper castes, which could be Rajputs, Jats, Brahmins, Baniyas etc. In some places, tribes are reported to imitate the customs of the caste Hindus.
As regards merely ‘the process of change’, Yogendra Singh calls it the ‘historical specific’ connotation of Sanskritisation. In this sense, it refers to the process in the Indian history which led to changes in the status of various castes or its cultural patterns in different periods of history. It is also indicative of an endogenous source of social change.
So far as the religious aspect is concerned, the Hinduisation of tribals is an example of religious Sanskritisation. In the social field, the low caste individuals are elevating their social status within the caste hierarchy. Coming to the role of Sanskritisation in economic field we observe that the members of SC & ST are entering into higher posts and are obtaining reservation in services. Last but not the least, the life styles of the lower castes have considerably impr6ved.
The usefulness of the concept of Sanskritisation as a tool in the analysis of Indian society has been described by Srinivas himself as ‘greatly limited because of the complexity of the concept as well as its looseness”. Certain deficiencies in the concept may be noted.
Since the reference group is not always a caste but in many cases it is the local ‘dominant caste (which could be a Rajput, Bania, Jat etc.), the context of Sanskritisation varies not only in each model but also within the same model from region to region.
Power and dominance have been integrated by Srinivas with the process of Sanskritisation. This introduces the structural element in the Sanskritisation model of social change. Srinivas has not made this explicit. Srinivas’s model explains the process of social change only in India which is based on the caste system. It is not useful for other societies.
Yogendra Singh maintains that Sanskritisation fails to account for many aspects of cultural changes in the past and contemporary India as it neglects the non-Sanskritic, traditions, which often are a localized form of the Sanskrit tradition. McKim Marnot also found such phenomenon in his study of a village community in India.
Sanskritisation is not a universal process. Srinivas accepts that in Hinduism the lower castes are taking to the norms and values of the higher castes. This fact may be true with reference to a particular community or region but it is not universal. D.N. Majumdar has shown in his study of Mahana village, in U.P., that there is no tendency among the lower castes to adopt the customs and manners of higher caste nor does it help in elevating the status of any caste.
Majumdar has also shown that in the social stratification the movement among the castes is not vertical but horizontal.
As Majumdar says, there are more signs of the reverse process namely de- sanskritisation in evidence all over the country. In de-sanskritisation the members of higher caste abandon their dress and rituals, for example Kashmir Pandits. According to him, the shrinkage of distance between castes is not due to Sanskritisation but its-reverse.
Sanskritisation has been a major process of cultural change in Indian history and it has occurred in every part of the Indian sub-continent (Srinivas). It can be said that the process of Sanskritisation has occurred in specific historical context and led to changes in the status of different castes. As says Prof. Y. Singh, this is the historical specific connotation.
In contextual specific sense, however, Sanskritisation denotes contemporaneous process of cultural imitation of upper castes by lower castes or sub-castes in different parts of India. The nature of this type of Sanskritisation is by no means uniform as the context o cultural norms or customs being imitated may vary from Sanskrit or Hindu traditional forms to tribal and even the Islamic patterns.
He notes how the tribal groups such as the Bhils Gonds and Oraons claim to be a caste through the process of Sanskritisation and claim a place in the caste hierarchy. Consequently, he has been changing his definition from time to time. The definition of Sanskritisation does not mean change in customs, ritual, ideology and way of life of a ‘low’ Hindu caste or tribal in the direction of a high, frequently twice born caste. Rather it means cross imitation of customs and way of life among different social groups.
In other words, Sanskritisation is only an illustration of the operation of the ‘reference group’ process. A reference group is a group which is used as a standard to evaluate one’s attitudes, customs, rituals etc.
The influence of the reference group on the behaviour of a person or group depends on the prestige of that group in the given society. So long as the caste has prestige in the social groups it serves as a model. In the same way a ruling caste or group will also serve as a model when it commands prestige in the society.
As Srinivas himself has observed, “The best way of staking a claim to a higher position is to adopt the customs and way of life of a higher caste. Though over a long period of time, Brahminical rites and customs spread among the lower castes, in short run the locally dominant caste was imitated by the rest” even if it was not Brahmin. Merton (1957) has written about the influence of reference group with respect to the norms and standards and by providing a frame for comparison. Non-members try to adopt the norms of the reference group and also develop the characteristic attitude of that group.
They also aspire to be the members of those groups. Theoretically, Sanskritisation is an ideological borrowing process. It as a process only refers to changes in cultural attributes of a caste and not a structural change.
It might be used as the means available to lower castes for status mobility in a closed system of stratification. But this status mobility during post-colonial phase may be better explained in terms of modernisation as it already gathered momentum having the status mobility. Sanskritisation, to quote Y. Singh, is psychologically or even structurally, a kin to modernisation in so far as the motive forces to challenge the deprivations by Great Traditions are stronger.
As Srinivas himself points out, the Varna hierarchy is clear and immutable. It is evident that Sanskritisation reinforces and consolidates the immutable Varna hierarchy rather than dislodges it or modifies it. Thus, Sanskritisation is not a process by which structural changes in Hindu Society can become possible. Sanskritisation as a concept is irrelevant to explain cultural and, status mobility in independent India. There is greater homogeneity in the cultural values of the members of all castes exposed to the process of modernisation.
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