An appeal to Indologists (Was Re: Indo-Aryan invasion)

Robert J. Zydenbos zydenbos at BLR.VSNL.NET.IN
Thu Mar 5 09:31:02 UTC 1998

A few remarks in response to Palaniappan's observations about
Dravidian studies.

> Over the years, I have come to the realization that in
> the pursuit of Indological inquiry, the Dravidian side has been
> ignored in comparison with the Indo-Aryan side.
> [...]
> it may be just due to the sheer volume and
> variety of material available in IA.[...]

It is true that the Indian situation somewhat resembles the
European, where the quantity of historical material of the Romance
languages (starting with Latin) exceeds that of e.g. the Germanic
or Celtic languages. But we must also realise that people are not
aware of just how much Dravidian material there is, or how
important it is.

It is a vicious circle: Indologists tend not to study Dravidian
things, because they do not know how much there is to be done and
how important it is, hence they work on IA things, which as a
result become increasingly well known and Dravidian remains less
known, etc. etc. (Compare it with Indian philosophical studies:
Western scholars tend to study Advaitavedanta rather than Dvaita or
Visistadvaita or anything else, because... etc.)

> It may be due to IA being part of IE family making it
> easy for Westerners to study.

In my own experience, this factor is not so significant as it would

> In any case, in addition to these factors,
> the number of American university programs teaching Dravidian
> languages have dwindled between 1977 and 1997.
> [...]
> I do not know about the situation in other Western
> countries.

Hardly better.

> In an objective
> pursuit of Indological truth, if the study of Dravidian is very
> important, the study of Classical Tamil is absolutely
> indispensable.

Tamil has had the good fortune of being noticed at all, and as a
paradoxical result its importance vis-a-vis the other Dravidian
languages has been, to my mind, somewhat exaggerated. For the study
of ancient India, it is unique; but when we reach the mediaeval
period, which gives us far more data to base solid research on and
is of importance for an understanding of pan-Indian cultural
synthesis, Kannada is not at all inferior to it. (But nobody knows,
because... etc.)

> All in all, I
> do not see much future for an unbiased pursuit of Indological
> knowledge in India. This is where the West and especially the
> American universities can play an important role.

Sympathetic as your thought is, I am rather pessimistic, with the
present trend in commercialisation and reliance on outside funding.
Such funding is from industries and goes to rocket science etc.
(although occasionally we come across a happy exception, like
Volkswagen funding Indology in Germany. Of course Germany is
special). In Europe, entire Indology departments have been shut
down due to 'paucity of funds', although the social sciences,
women's studies etc. are thriving -- in other words, it seems there
is no popular support / political will at present.

> Currently, many of the
> academic specialists in religion, sociology, history, etc., (here I
> include people of Tamil origin) have no language or literary
> expertise. They often depend on others to interpret the texts for
> them.

Which visibly affects their work (irrespective of whether they deal
with Tamil or any other language).

> When the
> pool of good language and literature specialists dries up what will
> the Indologists do? It takes many years to produce an expert in a
> language/literature.
> [...]
> (As the study of Dravidian languages in the West becomes known,
> it may bring more prestige to the field in India,

You may like to know that Western Indologists who do Dravidian
studies are punished. To give one of my own experiences: one of my
theses was a study of contemporary Kannada literature, the first of
its kind anywhere in the world. I approached numerous academic
publishers in America and Europe who were not even interested in
seeing the manuscript. Two German publishers had the decency to
openly tell me what the problem was: from a commercial point of
view, a book on something Kannada was dangerously eccentric, and
either of them would publish it only if I could provide several
thousand DM of printing subsidy, to reduce the financial risk. So
there you go: the living language with the second oldest literature
in the sub-continent, a literature which has won more Jnanpith
Awards than any other, etc. etc. -- it didn't matter. (The book was
published, though, seven years later. The upshot is: the Dravidian
researcher needs a certain kind of mentality, which not everyone
has or can afford to have.)

The only non-Indian colleague I know who did his doctorate on something
Dravidian in the confidence that he could continue his further research
in a conducive academic environment was from Japan. But then, the
Japanese academic world apparently is less affected by market
forces and other fashions. Major work is going on there (like the
large Kannada dictionary project), and it will not be surprising if
also in this branch of Indology the rest of the world will soon
have to look towards, and up to, Japan.

Of course Dravidian studies are essential for a balanced kind of
Indology: fortunately we have reached a stage where nobody will
dare contradict that. But I think we have to admit that the serious
study of India is out of fashion. (This is largely because India is
out of fashion.) Indology is something for independently rich
bachelors to pursue. At present, to have it as a profession is
highly irresponsible, and Dravidology is practically suicidal. How
do you change that, in an increasingly anti-intellectual world?


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