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Sanskritization


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A term originally coined by the social anthropologist M. N. Srinivas to indicate the process by which individuals, or entire lower caste groups (jāti) seek to emulate the practices of higher varna, particularly brahmins, in order to make their behaviour seem purer or more orthodox. This may involve changes in dietary habits (e.g. a switch to vegetarianism), ritual practices (e.g. a switch to non-animal sacrifices), and social norms (e.g. the rejection of widow remarriage). All this is done in the hope (seldom fulfilled) that such changes will raise their status in the social hierarchy.

The term has come to be used in a wider sense (sometimes called ‘universalization’) to indicate an historical and cultural process by which local deities, myths, and ritual practices, originally outside or on the margins of Brahmanical culture, are assimilated into the latter, and so, from its perspective, both legitimized and controlled. For instance, the Tamil god Murukaṉ was identified with the Sanskritic and Purāṇic Kārtikkeya/Skanda, and so incorporated into the Śaiva pantheon; in a similar fashion, local goddesses were assimilated to Devī, the Great Goddess, in the Sanskrit Devī Mahātmya. Sometimes a distinction is made between ‘Vedicization’—the process by which sectarian works in their entirety are elevated to the status of the Veda (i.e. are regarded as śruti)—and ‘Brahmanization’, which involves a modification of the content of particular texts.

Subjects: Hinduism.


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