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An Essay on Sanskritization

Hinduism was, in essence, away of life. There was a clear recognition “that men are not the same and that there is hierarchy of class, each with its separate duties and distinctive ways of life. There was a general norm of conduct, called ‘Dharma’ for all. But there was also a norm of conduct or dharma appropriate to each class. The norm of conduct or dharma of men of high birth was not that of men of comparatively humbler rank. In course of time, this kind of division became very rigid and mobility from one class to another, particularly upward vertical mobility was completely closed. The four-field class division was transformed into division on caste lines.

One of the axial principles of the caste system is the maintenance of purity in daily living. Different kinds of standards are set for determination of purity. Prominent among these standards are occupation and food. Some occupations are rated to be pure and hence considered to be appropriate for people of upper caste. Some occupations are considered to be impure and hence inappropriate for upper caste people and appropriate for people belonging to comparatively lower caste. Similarly, the idea of purity affects kitchen also – the type of food to be taken, the manner of cooking food, the caste of the people who cook and serve food etc. There are very elaborate rules governing caste rules regarding food and these rules very from place to place and from group to group. Innumerable sub-castes have grown around this yardstick.

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There is naturally a tendency among those who occupy a low place in the social hierarchy to shun those kinds of food which are considered to be empire and to take to ‘pure’ food in order to elevate their social status. They are also anxious to elevate their social status by observing rituals and other ways of life that are social status by observing rituals and other ways of life that are appropriate for high caste people, professor M.N. Srinivas has termed this tendency among low caste people to upgrade themselves as Sanskritization. He gives the following definition of Sanskritization “Sanskritization is the process by which a low Hindu caste, or tribal or other group, change is customs, rituals and way of life in the direction of a high and frequently twice-born caste. Generally such changes are followed by a claim to a higher position in the caste hierarchy than that traditionally conceded to a claimant caste by the local community. The claim is usually made over a period of time, in fact a generation or two, before the arrival is conceded.

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Prof. Srinivas, however, points out that there has been not one model of Sanskritization but three or four and during the early period of Indian History there was some rivalry between the different models. That is apart from Brahminical model there more other models such as, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra.

Prof. Srinivas also points out the role of the dominant castes in setting the model for the majority of people living in rural areas including occasionally, Brahmins. The mediation of the various models of Sanskritization through the locally dominant caste stresses the importance of the latter in the process of cultural transmission. Thus if the locally dominant caste in Brahmin of Singayat, it will tend to transmit Brahmanic model of Sanskritization.

If the locally dominant caste belongs to the lower stratum of caste hierarchy, the upper caste, people may try to conform or abide by the ways of living of the farmer.

In order to bring out the implications of Sanskritization vis-à-vis the social structure he observes as follows: Mobility associated with Sanskritization results only in positional changes in the system and does not lead to any structural charge.

  • In the first place, the term Sanskritization is likely to convey a wrong impression in as much as there are no sanskritic rituals.
  • Secondly, the process of change, which Prof. Srinivas sought to explain in terms of ‘Sanskritization’ can be adequately explained in terms of reference group concept without the complexities created by the use of the term Sanskritization.
  • Thirdly, the complexity of the concept becomes apparent when his concept of Sanskritization also sub sums what he characterizes as investonization.
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