Axel Michaels edited book "The Pandit"

Madhav Deshpande mmdesh at UMICH.EDU
Tue Oct 30 16:35:48 UTC 2001

George Hart's statement that Kaalidaasa, from his name which includes the
word daasa, must be a zuudra is very strange.  There are any number of
Brahmins in Maharashtra and elsewhere who have names like Raamadaasa,
K.r.s.nadaasa, etc. and there is no necessary reason to believe that any
name that includes the word daasa must be a zuudra name.

--On Tuesday, October 30, 2001 7:36 AM -0800 George Hart
<ghart at SOCRATES.BERKELEY.EDU> wrote:

> Dear Prof. Michaels,
> I do agree that it is unfair to bandy terms like racism and casteism,
> and I apologize.  Of course, I did not mean to use the terms
> personally -- indeed, I am quite aware that the scholars represented
> in your book are all excellent.  Sadly, the history of Indological
> studies has, for historical reasons, been dominated by a kind of
> strange bias that has had quite noxious effects, one of which has
> been to feed the causes of Hindu extremism, of casteism, and of the
> myth that Brahmins, as the "scholars" of India, are somehow superior
> intellectually and culturally (and even racially) to others.  This
> is, purely and simply, a construction, fed by Western biases and by
> the fact that the great majority of Western scholars have gotten
> their understanding of traditional India from Brahmins.  I myself
> have a pretty good Sanskrit basis -- I spoke Sanskrit with several
> pandits in Madras for a year, reading alankaara and tarka texts, and
> I have even written a Sanskrit primer, for which I wrote the Sanskrit
> sentences.  I have lived in a Tamil milieu for 35 years (my wife is
> from Madurai), and I know the culture quite well.
> In any case, I do apologize -- I did not wish to brand anyone with
> ignominious epithets; rather I wanted to point to biases in the field
> (which I still feel are there).  I would like to suggest that it
> would be useful to take a look at traditional Indian scholarship from
> a non-Brahmin perspective, including both high and low castes.  Such
> a book would profoundly surprise many people.
> As an addendum, I would remark the following: 1. Brahmins in South
> India are less than 3% of the population; 2. Kalidasa, from his name,
> must have been a Sudra (and how about Sudraka and the Suutas and
> Magadhas who were bards and recited the epics); 3. In many
> non-Brahmin caste groups of Tamil Nadu, some of them quite low, there
> are extraordinarily rich non-Brahmin traditions that are quite as
> rich as anything the Brahmins have; 4. One of the most learned groups
> I have encountered is a group of low-caste people that performs
> villuppaattu -- they use both Tamil and Telugu, and have broad
> learning in Hindu things that few if any Brahmins have.  I could go
> on and on.  Suffice it to say that we should become aware that
> Brahmins represent only one of many important and central learning
> traditions of India.  The days when we thought we could understand
> traditional India by looking at the Vedic and other Brahmanical
> traditions are, in my view, long gone. George Hart
> PS You say that topics like caste and bias should not be considered
> in this group.  I must profoundly and respectfully disagree.  It is
> my belief and experience that the field of Indology is riddled with
> biases and inaccurate ideas.  These DO reflect racist and caste views
> of the past.  There is no way around this.  In my view, it is
> critically important to the field that we do a better job of
> confronting these biases.  One of the ways we can do that is to
> listen to each other and to be open and frank.  The fact that we
> inherit a tradition that is biased does not reflect on any of us
> personally.  Nor does it make books such as the one you edited any
> less valuable.  It DOES mean that we all need to see such things in a
> much wider context.  Your title does not give that context, and that
> sparked my criticism.  I look forward to reading the book -- and,
> again, I extend my apologies, as I did not mean to impugn anyone's
> scholarship or motives, which, I realize, are of the highest order.
> --

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