ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Engaging with Sheldon Pollock’s Legacy

Historicising Sanskrit

South Asian Texts in History: Critical Engagements with Sheldon Pollock edited by Yigal Bronner, Whitney Cox and Lawrence McCrea, Delhi: Primus Books, 2016; pp 424, ₹1,750.

This is a book that emerged out of a 2009 conference in Columbia University in honour of Sheldon Pollock, perhaps, the most influential North American Sanskritist today. It is unfortunate that it has taken so long for the South Asian edition (the Association for Asian Studies published an edition in 2011) for this is the sort of book that makes one feel immensely learned after reading, in the latest Sanskrit, and to a smaller extent in regional/vernacular, scholarship. The book raises many questions and does take a long time to read and absorb. It is thus tough to do justice to so many distinguished scholars. Such broad-ranging themes of South Asian civilisation and thought should ideally be debated extensively in India, where the challenges of a contemporary, thoughtfully objective and consistent quality scholarship still seem largely elusive.

The volume does justice to the range of Pollock’s interests and mode of intervention. Broadly speaking, as Nicholas Dirks writes in the foreword, Pollock is credited with insisting on describing the materiologies that underpin textual Sanskrit production and interests. In Pollock’s legacy, Sanskrit is historicised; contrary to the oft-perceived timelessness of Sanskrit, there are ascents and descents, long and shifting relationships with the “regional” languages. Pollock’s legacy also involves an appreciation of differentiated forums like the court, the public inscription (and perhaps more problematically for the legacy, the mattas (monastic and educational institutions)), and different genres of polity, literature, shastra (authoritative norm), etc. Sanskrit, long recalcitrant to cultural history—owing to its vast span of time, space, variety of texts, religious authority, loss of key manuscripts, unedited state of many other manuscripts, difficulty of language, etc—is now biographised, and refined to more amenable morsels of textual clusters and historical ebb and flow.

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Updated On : 24th May, 2017


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