Sheldon Pollock

10 Excerpts from Sheldon Pollock’s interview to Tehelka

The following are excerpts from an interview that Sheldon Pollock, currently the head of the Murty Classical Library of India gave to Tehelka some time in 2011. Videos of the interview titled “Sheldon Pollock on Hindutva and the Life and Death of Sanskrit” are available in two parts at the following links:

Items in italics are verbatim quotes from Prof Pollock.

  1. Sheldon Pollock mentions that he took up Sanskrit Studies as part of his interest in Classical Studies. As a classicist he wished to co-opt Sanskrit with Latin and Greek studies.
  2. ‘Saraswati came to my dream, and asked me to be her lover.’
  3. The Mahabharata speaks of fratricide and in a way symbolizes civil war.
  4. The Ramayana can be seen as sort of creating others.
  5. Pollock compares Hindus’ “fascination” with Sanskrit with the fascination of Jews with Hebrew, and the Catholic’s fascination till recently with Latin.
  6. He mentions that Japanese Buddhists reciting Sanskrit Sutras ‘without understanding them’, and also claims that there was a debate in medieval India if Vedic mantras were needed to be understood for efficacy.
  7. Sanskrit was a very elegant language for poetry and philosophy.
  8. ‘You know this whole spoken Sanskrit movement fills me with a kind of nausea. The point is not to be able to go out in the streets of Bangalore and order a cup of chai in Sanskrit, the point is to establish serious phi-logically grounded, historically-sensitive, theoretically …self-aware scholarship on Sanskrit to make it into an instrument of the creative preservation of the past and creative critique of the past.’   
  9. Pollock speaks about how unlike Europe where Philosophy was separate from mythology and poetry, the great Indian philosophers were also great poets and mythologists.   
  10. Everyone speaking Sanskrit is an insane idea