It was M.N Sriniwas who first talked about the concept of sanskritization in Sociological literature .He tried to explain the structure of caste system and stratification in Indian society. He showed how the members of lower caste emulate the way of life of the upper castes in order to attain a better status in the caste stratification, and they are succeeding in their efforts also. As a result there is a distinct change in caste of lower castes
Later on sociologists modified this concept to interpret the process of cultural mobility in the context of the conventional Social fabric of India
Giving the interpretation of Sanskritization Dr.M.N Sriniwas has written in his book Social change in Modern India that Sanskritization is that process through which some lower Hindu caste or tribe or any other group changes direction towards an upper caste by changing its customs and traditions, rituals, Ideologies and life Style”
Dr.Sriniwas has also written that “Sanskritization does not only mean to adopt new customs and habits but to inculcate new thoughts ideas and values that are related to purity, piety and spiritual life. These are described in detail in vast literature of culture.Karma,religion,sin, virtue, illusion, world salvation etc are some of the popular spiritual ideas and when Sanskritization takes place the members of lower caste use these terms in their daily speech generously
The impact of sanskritization is many sided .Its influence can be seen in language, literature, ideology, music, dance,drama, style of life and ritual ln his book ‘Religion and Society among the Coorgs’. In his study of the Coorgs, he found that the lower castes . Adopted some customs of the Brahmins and gave up some of their own, which were considered to be impure by the higher castes in order to raise their position in the caste hierarchy. For example, they gave up meat- eating, consumption of liquor and animal sacrifice to their deities. They imitated the Brahmins in matter of food, dress and rituals. To denote this process of mobility Srinivas first used the term ‘Brahmanisation’. Subsequently he replaced it by Sanskritisation. Srinivas preferred the term ‘Sanskritisation’ to ‘Brahmanisation’. Sanskritisation is a broader term, while Brahmanisation is a narrower term. In fact, Brahmanisation is subsumed in the wider process of Sanskritisation. For instance, the Brahmins of the Vedic period consumed alcohol (soma), ate beef, and offered animal sacrifices. But these practices were given up by them in the post-Vedic times, perhaps under the influence of Jainism and Buddhism
The process of Sanskritisation is characterized by imitation, change of ideals, social mobility, social change etc.
The concept ‘Sanskritisation’ has been integrated with economic and political domination, that is, the role of local dominant caste in the process of cultural transmission has been stressed.
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.
Sanskritisation occurred sooner or later in those castes which enjoyed political and economic power but have not rated high in ritual ranking (that is, there was a gap between their ritual and politico- economic positions).
Economic betterment is not a necessary pre-condition to Sanskritisation, nor must economic development necessarily lead to Sanskritisation. However, sometimes a group may start by acquiring political power and this may lead to economic betterment and Sanskritisation. Srinivas has given the example of untouchables of Rampura village in Mysore who have got increasingly sanskritised though their economic condition has remained almost unchanged.
The British rule provided impetus to the process of Sanskritisation but political independence has weakened the trend towards this change. The emphasis is now on the vertical mobility and not on the horizontal mobility.
. Describing social change in India in terms of Sanskritisation is to describe it primarily in cultural and not in structural terms. Srinivas himself has conceded that Sanskritisation involves ‘positional change’ in the caste system without any structural change.
Factors that have made Sanskritisation possible are industrialization, occupational mobility, developed communication, spread of literacy, and western technology. No wonder, the spread of Sanskrit theological ideas immersed under the British rule. The development of communications carried Sanskritisation to areas previously inaccessible and the spread of literacy carried it to groups very low in the caste hierarchy.
Dr. Richa Srivastava,
JEMTEC, School of Law