Sanskritization

Sanskritization Srinivas

In 1950’s, Prof M.N Srinivas introduced the term sanskritization to Indian Sociology. He introduced the notion of Sanskritisation to explain the process of cultural mobility in India, in his book ‘Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India’. During his study of Coorgs in Karnataka, Srinivas found that lower castes in order to raise their position in the caste hierarchy adopted some customs and practices of the Brahmins and gave up some of their own, which were considered as impure by the higher castes. For example they gave up meat eating, drinking liquor and animal sacrifice to their deities. They imitated Brahmins in matters of food, dressing and rituals. By this they could claim higher positions in the hierarchy of castes within a generation.

Definition of Sanskritization

Sanskritization refers to a process wherein a low caste, tribe or other groups collectively change their customs, rituals, ideology and way of life in the direction of some upper dominant caste to acquire higher status in the society. It is a process of upward mobility and is similar to the concept of “reference group” according to which people take the standards of significant others as reference to evaluate themselves.

Characteristics of Sanskritization:

The process of Sanskritisation is characterised by imitation, change of ideals, social mobility, social change etc.

1. Collective Phenomenon 

Sanskritization is not the upward mobility achieved by an individual rather it is a collective phenomenon where the whole caste get higher status .

2. Sanskritization is not Brahaminization

Initially, Prof. Srinivas used the term ‘Brahminisation’ for this process as he thought that the lower caste people must be trying to reach at the place of Brahmins. But later on he found that lower caste are not only following Brahmins but also other caste groups. So, he replaced Brahminisation by Sanskritisation.

3. Beyond Caste Groups

Besides the castes, the process of Sanskritisation has been indicated in tribal communities like Bhils of Rajasthan, Gonds of Madhya Pradesh and other hilly tribes. By the process of Sanskritisation a tribal community tries to prove itself to be a part of Hindu society.

4. Integrated with Economic & Political domination

Sanskritization is the upward mobility in the ritual hierachy and it generally becomes possible because of the upward mobility achieved in the secular hierachy i.e in the economic and political sectors. The dominant castes got the higher status (ritual mobility) because of the factors like land ownership after the land reforms, government jobs, political power , constitutional safeguards etc.

Models of Sanskritization

Sanskritization also needed a medium to transmit in the society. There were mainly three modes in which it took place in the society. These are:

  1. Cultural Model
  2. Varna Model
  3. Local Model

Cultural Model

Castes have been assigned high or low status according to cultural characteristics. Example wearing of sacred thread, denying the use of meat and liquor, observing endogamy, prohibition of widow remarriage etc.The low castes or tribes imitate the culture, beliefs, values and life styles of the dominant caste so as to get the status equal to the upper caste.

Varna Model

In the Varna system the highest status is given to that of a Brahmin followed by Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra.  The lower castes coping the ideals and life style of the superior castes. Where the Kshatriyas enjoy superiority, the lower castes followed their life style and ideals. Simultaneously where the vaishyas enjoy superiority, the lower castes followed their life style and ideals.

Local Model

In every area, some castes are considered to be more respectful than others on account of their economic power. This caste can be referred to as the  “dominant caste”. So the lower caste copies the life style of the local dominant caste in order to improve their status.

Critics to Sanskritization Theory

Yogendra Singh considers that Sanskritization fails to account for many aspects of cultural changes in the past and contemporary India as it neglects non-sanskritic traditions. It may be noted that often a non-sanskritic element of culture may be a localised form of sanskritic tradition. … Sanskritic rites are often added to non-sanskritic rites without replacing them.

Harold Gould writes that often the motive force behind sanskritization is not of cultural imitation per se but an expression of challenge and revolt against the socioeconomic deprivations.

Sanskritisation is not a universal process. D.N. Majumdar in his study of Mahana village, in U.P. shows, that there is no tendency among the lower castes to adopt the customs and manners of higher caste nor does it help in elevating the status of any caste. Additionally, there are more signs of the reverse process namely de- sanskritisation in evidence all over the country. In de-sanskritisation the members of higher caste abandon their dress and rituals. According to him, the shrinkage of distance between castes is not due to Sanskritisation but its-reverse.