[INDOLOGY] Tagore, Aurobindo, and Malhotra

Dominik Wujastyk wujastyk at gmail.com
Mon Jul 27 13:18:19 UTC 2015

The email by Collins and especially his line ​"​It is not
controversial to note that Indology has at times been part of this
misunderstanding​," prompts me to reflect again on what we mean by
​"​Indology​" and whether Collins' damning assertion could be valid.​

For two centuries, Indologists have been amongst those scholars and
historians who have made the greatest contributions to the
exploration and understan​​ding of pre-modern India. ​ In a way, this
is a circular statement.  People who call themselves indologists did
this work; and those who did this kind of work are commonly called
indologists by others. ​ By "indologist" I mean those who have
learned Indian languages, including classical languages, who have
spent significant parts of their lives reading Indian literature in
Indian languages, and deepening their understanding of the
extraordinary world of early Sanskrit, Tamil and other cultures.  By
"indologist" I include anyone of any skin colour, religion or
nationality, living anywhere in the world.  By "indologists" I mean
people who have discovered manuscripts of works like the ​​
Buddhacarita and the ​​ Saundarananda, the ​​ Arthasastra, the ​​
Bhelasamhita, ​Rajatarangini, ​ the ​​ Yogasutravivarana, works that
were thought completely lost, but have been recovered and published
and made available as part of the growing mosaic of ancient Indian
literature.  By "indologists" I mean people like Burrow, who was the
first to write grammars of two Dravidian languages, and who
deciphered the ​Niya ​ Kharoshti ​​ documents and published a grammar of
their language and a ​​ translation of their content.  Or Rajendralal
Mitra or Kielhorn, or Peterson or Haraprasad Shastri or PV Kane or
PK Gode or Boehtlingk or Roth​ or Edgerton and Sukthankar. I mean
people like Prinsep who was the first person in more than a
millennium to make it possible for anyone in the world to read the
original words of King Ashoka.  Or V. Raghavan and his successors who
revealed the manuscript wealth of India.  Look, I'm rambling a bit, and I
expect many far better examples could be found​, and one could
include many more contributors from the ​20th century.​

In this sense, it ​​*is* indeed very controversial to say that ​"​Indology
has at times been part of this misunderstanding.​"​ Indology, if
understood as ​outlined​ above, is not the problem, it's the solution.
To gain a clearer and truer understanding of India's past, what else
would you want than people who learn the languages, who learn the
śāstras, and who spend decades immersing themselves in the world of
ancient Indian culture​, stripping away their preconceptions, trying
to understand ancient India in its own terms and in its own
context​?  That's what indology means​ and what it does​ .

Who would you rather see exploring India's past and interpreting
India's past to itself and to the world?  Computer scientists?
Businessmen?  Physicists?  Are those the most appropriate
qualifications for doing indology?   ​(Think about this the other way
round, for a moment.  Should a Sanskritist take over CERN? Or become
Economics Minister in Greece?)​

Think what our understanding of India would be like if you wiped
away the work of indologists since the sixteenth century (I'm
​starting from da Orta), if you erased all the discoveries I mention
above, and all the thousands of others I didn't mention?  What would
you have?  Really.  I mean it.  What do you think you would you have
left?  What would Mr Malhotra have for his bedside table?   Not much.

It is obtuse to attempt to frame the devoted practitioners of a
profession as the very people who are most hostile to the object of
their profession.  The opposite is true.

Of course we all understand perfectly well that some Indian
intellectuals have been and are engaged in a program to explore
India's present, past, and position in the world, including the
postcolonial predicament.  The same can be said of intellectuals in
many countries, including other countries like America, that threw
off colonial power.  But American cultural historians don't spend
all their time drumming up hatred for ​Indian​ scholars of American
history and culture, just because they're​ Indian.  Why would they?

Broadly speaking, indology applies to Indian sources historical and
textual methodologies that were developed in Europe from Herodotus
onwards, with many developments from the time of Isaac Causabon
onwards (c. 1600, his overturning of the antiquity of the Corpus
Hermeticum through careful study of philosophical vocabulary).
These methods have become the tools of the modern and globalized
historical method.  To reject the use of these methods would be
Luddite, like refusing to travel in a riksha in Delhi because the
internal combustion engine was invented in Europe.

The India revealed by indological research *is* different from the
India of the contemporary imaginary, both Indian and international.
But that is because ancient India *was* a very different place from
contemporary India.  If a contemporary Hindu fails to recognize the
India he knows and loves in the discoveries of indology, it is
because ancient India was truly a foreign country, not because
indological methods have lied.  But it is a country well worth

Dominik Wujastyk

On 26 July 2015 at 23:19, Al Collins <nasadasin at gmail.com> wrote:

> Dear list,
> I do not wish to belabor this point further, but Dr. Zydenbos has
> misunderstood it once again and so I assume it
> needs clarification. Otherwise, I agree with him that our business is at an
> end.
> The main thrust of my argument has been that we need to contextualize
> Malhotra within a post-colonial discourse or psychological/cultural
> struggle that is far larger than the individual projects of one wealthy
> diasporic Indian. And also broader than the question of plagiarism. In
> comparing Malhotra's situation to that of Tagore, Aurobindo, et al, I mean
> only to suggest that all of these persons were struggling to extract an
> authentic Indian vision of life from its entrapment within a
> Christian/European perspective that radically misunderstood (even while at
> times idealizing) it. It is not controversial to note that Indology has at
> times been part of this misunderstanding. Malhotra's concepts of
> "digestion" of Indian ideas by the West, and the need to "reverse gaze" are
> not new to him, and have been explored by Indian intellectuals and artists
> since the beginning of the Bengali Renaissance. (They are in various ways
> also issues for other colonized cultures.) Perhaps Malhotra is only a twig
> on the tree where Aurobindo and Tagore are massive branches, but still it
> is the same organism to which they all belong.
> Al Collins
> Al Collins, Ph.D., Ph.D.
> https://pacifica.academia.edu/AlfredCollins
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