About The Book
This book is based on the proceedings of a Workshop held in 2011 on Rendering of the Categories of Classical Indian Thought in the English Language: Perspectives and Problems.
Although scientific texts appear to have successfully solved the problem by standardizing technical terms for all languages of instruction and communication, the problem of translation becomes acute when dealing with vocabularies of long standing belonging to ancient cultures, as is the case in India.
More urgently, we know that the thought worlds of ancient and medieval India are still very much alive and with us. Thus to even begin to understand contemporary India and its dilemmas, it is essential to come to grips with the foundational concerns, wisdom and follies of a civilization that has refused to die. What we find, however, is that when it comes to the understanding of our own thought traditions, their rendering into the English language in the colonial (and post-colonial) period, has only served to obscure the great cultural divide between the history of Western thought and our own.
The workshop thus aimed at bringing into focus the problems associated with conveying the central concepts and categories relating to some key areas of Indian classical thought through the well-established lexicons available in English, the language of 'power'. The multidisciplinary gathering included not only philosophers from the fields of Epistemology, Ontology, Aesthetics, Moral Philosophy, Philosophy of Language, Religion and Logic, but also specialists in the fields of Political Theory, History, and Culture Theory from India and abroad.
Prof. Mohini Mullick taught Philosophy at IIT Kanpur. She earned Ph.D. degrees in Western epistemology from Lucknow University and in modal logic from Manchester University as a Commonwealth Scholar. Later she was awarded the Homi Bhabha Fellowship for research in the methodology of social sciences.
Dissatisfied with the manner in which Indian thought and society have been studied and projected in the university system, she undertook a serious exploration into Indian thought traditions. The present work is the result of a workshop on the subject.
She has published numerous articles in scholarly journals and contributed on invitation for many anthologies. Her publications include an edited work: Understanding Social Reality: Goals and Approaches.
Madhuri Santanam Sondhi, an Independent Research Scholar, has a Masters in Philosophy from the University of Edinburgh and diplomas from the universities of Oxford and London. As Senior Fellow of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research she researched the works of philosopher Basanta Kumar Mallik, publishing several books and articles relating to his socio-philosophical theories of the dynamics of societal and civilization interactions, including (with Mary M. Walker) Ecology Culture and Philosophy (1988). From this perspective she studied Gandhi's Hind Swaraj (Modernity, Morality & the Mahatma, 1997) and undertook a comparative study of Martin Buber and B.K. Mallik at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Martin Buber & Basanta Kumar Mallik: Towards Inter-Civilizational Dialogue and Peace, 2008).
The essays we have assembled for this volume were presented at a workshop organized in Delhi in December 2011. Their themes centre on a proposal that initiated the process of setting up this event, and which is reproduced below:
Proposal for a Workshop on the Rendering of the Categories of Classical Indian Thought in the English Language: Perspectives and Problems.
The problem of translation - especially that involving technical vocabulary - has now received wide recognition the world over. Translation studies are a well-established discipline and the literature continues to grow.
Scientific texts appear to have successfully solved the problem by standardizing technical terms that are then absorbed by all languages of instruction and communication. But this vocabulary has been developed largely in the West and in Western languages and has been absorbed into almost all non-Western languages.
The problem becomes acute when we are dealing with vocabularies of long standing belonging to ancient cultures, hence well established in their own spheres of discourse. Despite this, not nearly enough attention has been paid in this country to the dangers and pitfalls of rendering ancient and not so ancient Indian texts -largely written in Sanskrit, as also in Pali and the Dravidian languages - in the English language, a language that has come to acquire the status of near monopoly as the medium of instruction and the communication of research. This workshop aims at bringing into collective focus what we believe each individual scholar grappling with Indian categorical thought has some time or other encountered: the problem of conveying ideas, concepts and indeed entire categories that are embedded in their own unique world-view, a view, we might add, that is very much still with us.
Ceaseless talk of multiculturalism and lip service to pluralism and the like have failed in altering this fact, predicated as it is on a hierarchy of the languages of 'power'. The extent to which this dominance has led to a fundamental misconstrue, not to say, suppression of the deepest intuitions and insights of non-Western cultures the present focus is on India - is a matter that requires urgent probing and examination.
There is a growing literature - unfortunately emanating largely from the West itself - that has been drawing attention to anomalies, contradictions and outright distortions in the writings of scholars of Indian thought who use the English language.
The view that philosophy is a universal enterprise and that place and time are irrelevant as coordinates in its practice, has been advanced by a number of scholars. These scholars also believe that we should engage 'creatively' with the texts of the past. Those seeking to return to some unalloyed, pristine meanings are falling prey to the myth of origins. This view should find place in these deliberations as it is an influential post-modern view generated in the West. Inter alia it may be noted that a distinction could be made between an 'organic' evolution of concepts, something which certainly happened in the course of Indian intellectual history, and the conscious imposition of terminology that belongs to languages that are 'in power'. (Even if this is a spurious distinction, it requires airing.)
A counter set of considerations stems from the fact that unlike the Greek civilization, the thought worlds of ancient and medieval India are still very much alive and with us in contemporary India. In this perspective, to even begin to understand contemporary India and its dilemmas and crises, it is essential to come to grips with the foundational concerns, wisdom and follies of a civilization that has refused to die.
In practical terms this workshop could serve as a setting out of guidelines for scholars who are either forced to take a Procrustean approach or do so quite willingly in order to fall in line with what some see as 'universal' philosophy.
Numerous Greek, Latin, German and French words have been absorbed over the years, perhaps centuries, into the English language, precisely because scholars became aware of the fact that no accurate translations are available in English. A smattering of Indian language terms now is also freely used by speakers of English: one immediately thinks of avatara, pandit and guru; there are others. But when it comes to serious discussion of ancient Indian thought categories - jnana, pramana, anumana, darsana and a host of others, terms in the English language are almost invariably used in academic publications even after it is noted that the target term is not an exact one. Thus, Western categories are implanted into non-Western discourses. The term 'religion', it has been argued, is just such an implant.
These matters are in need of in-depth discussion if we are to avoid travesties such as the rendering of the Sanskrit term dharma as 'religion' and sabda as 'letter'.
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