Past perfect, future perfect: Sanskrit revival and the Hindu nation in contemporary India

Hastings, Adi Merwan

     Based on ethnographic and linguistic research, this dissertation addresses the politics of culture in contemporary India as it affects the formerly "sacred" language, Sanskrit, in a movement for its revival as a spoken language of everyday interaction. Specifically, it focuses on one organization, Samskrita Bharati, currently at the forefront of efforts to promote and popularize simple spoken Sanskrit. More generally, the dissertation is about the conditions which make such a movement possible. The framing of Samskrita Bharati's activities as a "language revival" entails the assumption of a return to something. In this case, it is a return to a past (and future) vision of a Hindu golden age; Sanskrit is both an index and a catalyst for this return. The dissertation explores the consonances and contradictions that arise out of what I call "archaizing modernism," an ideology which informs the Sanskrit revival and related cultural phenomena. That is, while revival of Sanskrit is presented as an effort to return to or recall an archaic golden age, the discourses and practices by which it means to do so are imbricated with a thoroughly modernist aesthetic, informing ideas about what "language," "science," and "tradition" (for example) are or ought to be. In this view, Sanskrit becomes a thread linking a distant past and a possible future by virtue of its essential continuity, and yet is simultaneously a radical departure, something entirely new.

Silverstein, Michael