In the aftermath of the controversy on India’s link language, that is fanned time and again, it is imperative to understand the context of linguistic politics. While linguistic diversity is an old phenomenon, the linguistic territorialism is a recent one in Post-Independence times where states were compartmentalized based on languages leading to imperialistic claims of superiority and manufactured antiquity.
Almost up to the early 19th century, Sanskrit was the link language of India without much brouhaha even when there were many dialects of other languages thriving, this was primarily possible as they were aware of their roots. But today there is a lot of resistance to Sanskrit from a few sections, who make a living, negating its antiquity and detest to acknowledge the fact that all our regional languages have their origin in Sanskrit or Prakrit, which again is an unrefined form of Sanskrit itself.
Koss koss pe badle paani
Char koss mein vaani
Today, linguistic sentiments get stoked easily with fraying claims of linguistic superiority almost bordering on separatism on one side and imperialism on the other side, both of which are dangerous as it would hand us out as cannon fodder to politicians and external Breaking India forces who readily exploit it for dividing people.
While linguistic diversity and a common link language are important at the same time, it cannot be achieved without a sincere and concerted attempt from all stakeholders at understanding the regional ethos and traditional attachments that is often embedded in the regional languages.
But the question really is _ how did we lose our link language and why?
The decision of the English Education Act of 1835 by the then Governor General William Bentick that was in line with Thomas Macaulay’s memorandum on Indian education, was largely legislated to stop printing Sanskrit and Arabic books and restrict traditional system of education by suffocating them without funds, to vehemently promote English education. But why did the British take so much of calculated effort to bring English in such a linguistically diverse country like India? Prior to the legislation of the Act, the native educational system was very localized where every little Grama or Nagara had a system of school in the form of a Gurukula or the most learned person in the Grama taught the children in his vicinity. As per the British’s own survey records India’s literacy rates before the introduction of English Education Act was a whopping 100% in South India and around 93% in Northern India before 1835 but when the British left India in 1947, the literacy rate was at an all time low of 18%.
For the British to take control of administration of the land they ruled, it was very important for them to take control of people by shaping their minds and thinking. Hence in order to churn out a breed of Indians who would be English in tastes and morals with no links to their roots, they passed the English Education Act and set up Departments of Public Instruction, mind you and not Department of Education! Because the goal was to have people learn only to the extent of obeying their masters under a centralized system.
On one hand while the British officially legislated an act to outrightly curb and curtail the common link language that was Sanskrit and suffocated the native education system, on the other hand they craftily started employing missionary workers who came as linguists, scholars, historians, philosophers and philanthropists with the claim of saving the regional languages.
With one stone of English Education, the British were able to arrest two birds, they not only disconnected the roots of the people, brewing divisions and animosity of race and language but silently looted the treasure trove of intellectual wealth that was preserved in our Manuscripts. Unfortunately, today most of the Indians think that Manuscripts are only about religion, but the Europeans swept clean all the secrets of Science, Mathematics, Astronomy and Medicine from our Manuscripts. This is precisely the reason why revolutionary innovations and inventions in the field of Science and technology were made post 18th century.
The British leveraged on the local languages and penetrated societies to establish their sovereignty and the western narratives, which enabled them to completely take control of social, political, cultural, economic, administrative, spiritual and religious aspects of the natives to suit their calculated imperial aspirations.
Most Manuscripts in North India were already burnt down or destroyed during the Islamic invasions, hence the focus of the British missionaries was predominantly South India that had plenty of ancient Manuscripts. Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andra and Karnataka had rich influences of Sanskrit, hence many native Sanskrit scholars were deployed as ‘Dubash’ or translators. The Bengalees, Tamils, Malayalees were most vulnerable as they fell to the forts of Williams and George early, as these were port cities where the English often landed.
Colonel Colin Mackenzie was a war strategist for the British, he not only meticulously collected maps, inscriptions, coins, Sthalapuranas (geographical history) but also specially recruited a battery of missionaries to collect Manuscripts of Medicinal sciences, Mathematics and Astronomy and sent it to his German and Scottish and British University friends/employers. It was a takeover with a holistic strategy of colonialism that had little to do with improving local conditions, social or spiritual upliftment or education of the locals for that matter because everything was invested to improve and better the European economy and suzerainty.
So, under Mackenzie’s Manuscript collection program, bunches of missionaries were shipped to India post 1835,, who reached various port cities and began their assignments. This was facilitated by shunning Sanskrit through the English Education Act which made the job of the missionaries collecting Manuscripts easy as Sanskrit and local knowledge was of no economic value now, just like how the weavers were throttled, where they were only supposed to grow raw materials and weave unfinished products which had to go to the European markets and come back as finished goods for purchase by gullible Indians who had to cough up more for their own techniques and raw materials which was packaged as Industrial revolution and development. Not that the missionaries did not come earlier or that Manuscripts were not robbed/copied prior to this, but this time they were more brazen, organized and instituted, so much that our own Manusciptologists and Academicians, Historians alike do not realize or are indifferent to the fact that publication of regional languages was a cover up for the loot.
In 1836 a German missionary called Herman Gundert was sent to collect Manuscripts on Medicinal Sciences, he was appointed for the post of a private tutor in Calcutta, on his way via ship from Bristol to India, he began equipping himself for the job with his team, he learnt Bengali, Hindustani and Telugu and taught them to his fellow passengers as well. But after all these preparations, the ship reached Madras instead of Calcutta, so Gundert immediately started learning Tamil, because there were strict instructions by the Company that their employees learn the local language so that a smooth way was carved to win over the locals for the spread of the Bible. Gundert was sent by the Basel Mission to start his service at Tirunelveli as East India employee, he then joined the Basel Mission in Mangalore. Later the Basel Mission was given a Bungalow near Thalasery to set up a mission station. Hence Gundert moved to Thalasery in the Malabar coast where he learnt Malayalam extensively. He used to have a team of pandits in his home to understand the Indian history, philosophy, classical literature and religion.
Four core operative curriculum for the missionaries are
- Skills – Art, Culture, Orthography of languages, Philology, Philosophy, Sciences.
- Record keeping on history, geography, maps, drawings, linguistic and religion demography.
Gundert took deep interest to compile Malayalam dictionary, Grammar and such other books but this interest stemmed from the sole goal of recceing for Manuscripts alongside translating the Bible into Malayalam, which he did. He visited several villages, met local people, collected words, phrases and proverbs of Malayalam to spread the Gospel in the language of the masses. He published 13 books in Malayalam including a translation of Bible, the Old Testament from Hebrew and New Testament from Greek, he dedicated one of the books for Malayalam proverbs for Christian theological idioms, he collected a lot of local literary material and information from Thalasery, and these archives are kept in Tubingen University of Germany, not in any Indian University.
Today, in Kerala he is venerably regarded as an esteemed linguistic expert and a savior of Malayalam for his deep interest in the local culture and language, if only the ship from Bristol had landed in Calcutta instead of Madras, his preparations of Bengali would have been fully put to use and perhaps his commemorative statue would be standing in Bengal instead of Thalassery, as the savior of Bengali!
Similar was the case with the Andra region of Telugu speaking people where Charles Phillip Brown, born in Calcutta to David Brown, a devout Christian missionary, he picked Telugu as was the order by the then governor general Munro that every British official had to learn one local language. He mastered the Telugu language and script, even changed its orthography, and ultimately used it to spread the word of Jesus and translated Bible teachings into Telugu. He translated the works of a poet called Vemana whom nobody had heard about or seen, the British are very good at manufactured propaganda, however the work of Vemana that CP Brown was so fascinated with is full of hate and scorn for Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and of course Brahmins, idol worship. The work vehemently pitches Veerashaivas as separate from other Shiva worshippers (Hindus) that emphasizes on shunning the authority of the Vedas. In short CP Brown was a mix of Siddaramaiah and Devdutt Patnaik of those times who subtly peddled separatism in the garb of a Telugu enthusiasts. After the famines in Andra, he went back to London and rejoined much later at Madras as a Persian translator, he was a polyglot dubash, a dutiful East India missionary who meticulously worked on cutting off Sanskrit roots from Telugu by shunning the Sanskrit rules of grammar adopted in Telugu. He is today, regarded as someone who did yeoman service to Telugu literature and is dubbed as the savior of Telugu.
It is noted that Brown used to discuss each and every variant of a manuscript with a bunch of scholars and documented all the details, this makes it clear that there were enough Telugu works already available with various variants too, and that the Telugu works were definitely thriving although handwritten, it was only the missionary zeal of conversion and collection of Manuscripts, and more importantly the intent of publishing the new altered version of the prevailing works to set in imperial narratives that makes the theory of Telugu needing a resuscitation a myth.
Below is the link to CP Brown’s English translations of Vemana’s works, I leave it to the reader’s choice to determine the intent behind the works of CP Brown. https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/vov/
It was the same story in almost every other state.
In the Kannada speaking region too, several missionaries were sent to spread the word of Christ in their own language. In 1836 a German Christian missionary called Hermann Mogling from the Basel Mission came to Mangalore and learnt Kannada. He along with his wife set up the Evangelical Parish in Anandpur in the interior jungles of Karnataka. In 7years he had learnt the language and started the first Kannada newspaper in 1843 called ‘Mangaluru Samachara’. The need for publishing and publications was a predominant requisite in European strategies as fixing mass narratives was always a crucial tool. Herman Mogling worked closely with another missionary cum philanthropist G J Casamajor who guided and funded him in his work. And then there were other missionaries like Garret, Sanderson who wrote dictionaries. Walter Elliot was another missionary who collected and copied 500 inscriptions and collected several Manuscripts, intriguingly, he had fought against Rani Chennamma, the queen of Kittur and was even captured by her, but you see he must have loved Kannada literature!
Mogling and Casamajor started a publishing series called Biblotheca Carnatica, for which they were awarded by the Tibungen University in Germany. Germany is today gripped in Sanskrit and young kids are taught Gayathri mantra and Bhagavadgita at school but hey they saved Kannada and gave a Phd too! They published several Kannada works of local theology with each passing year, while changing the orthography of the Kannada language to make it suitable for printing and this zeal for regional linguistic literary works was furthered by other missionaries like Ferdinand Kittel and Benjamin Louie Rice.
Benjamin Louie Rice was a missionary scholar, his father was associated with the London Missionary Society, he mastered Kannada and published several works. He too brought forth a Bible translation in the Kannada language. It was the usual practice of the missionaries to win over the locals with their languages, read and appreciate their literary and religious works, gain trust, gain access to their Manuscripts and copy/loot/plagiarize them and publish them with altered meanings and then subtly introduce the Bible at the end of it all and gain subservience eternally.
Many of the British officers in the 18th and 19th century who took up position in the Civil Services and in the education department were children of missionaries and were born in India, such was the unrelenting zeal of the missionaries to take the Bible to the locals in their own language that they spent their entire life times for the missionary project by adopting the regional cultures and practices and most importantly their language, with the sole aim of keeping them subservient. And this method was adopted as early as 1578CE where a Christian Pastor started a press in Ambalakkaad in Tiruchur and printed the first Tamil book using wooden fonts, later in the 17th century, Costanzo Giuseppe who took the alias name as Veeramamuniyar, compiled the first Tamil dictionary and wrote a Christian Theological epic on the life and teachings of Jesus.
The zeal of the missionaries to search for linguistic literary works and collection of Manuscripts in South India was stemmed by Colonel Colin Mackenzie, he joined the Madras Army in the British East India Company mainly with a motto of gathering information on Hindu Mathematical texts on Logarithms. The first thing he did when he came to India was to get introduced to some Brahmins to obtain information on Hindu Mathematical traditions, as he was commissioned into the East India Company solely for this purpose by Lord Kenneth Mackenzie through his contacts for the same. In 1799, after Tipu’s killing, although the British took down Srirangapattanam, they were unable to decipher any of the documents in local languages. The British were looking for riches accumulated by Tipu. Colin Mackenzie was a brilliant political and war strategist who had proved very resourceful to the British during Tipu’s take down, hence he was appointed as Surveyor to survey the Mysore region and later became the Surveyor General of South India. He ordered the collection of all the Manuscripts in South India and collected some 1568 Manuscripts.
Although it is a known fact that the missionary enthusiasm in collection and publication of literary works was intended to usurp native resources of intellectual wealth for Europe’s benefit, our academic scholars and historians today are in awe of missionaries like Mackenzie, Brown, Rice, Mogling and Casamajor holding them highly for their publishing contributions almost indifferent or ignorant to the loss of intellectual wealth in the form of Manuscript and its original contents.
It has been the same story throughout India from the North Eastern states of Mizoram to Bengal to Madras and Mysore provinces, where they subtly brewed regional and linguistic euphemism by compartmentalizing them geographically and disconnecting their Sanskrit roots. Like GJ Casamajor, David Hare was another philanthropist who set shop as a watch mechanic in Bengal and eagerly learnt Sanskrit but in no time, young children and adults alike were running behind his horse drawn carriage to register in his English learning school. The English hype had to be created for Sanskrit to die a slow death.
The philanthropists and the linguistic scholars sold English and Bible and robbed the native intellectual wealth. But the academicians and even those dealing with the subject of Manuscripts of the day drool in ecstasy and call this plunder and plagiarism as documenting and collecting art blindly heap praises on them for saving their regional languages. More shocking was when a researcher told me that we have to only concentrate on their love for literary works and linguistics and not political aspects, this is almost like saying concentrate only on Priyanka Vadra’s nose and not her political or administrative acumen.
The Christian modus operandi of ripping apart the link language of India which was Sanskrit, with deliberate mischief of brewing regional and linguistic chauvinism that could be easily fanned into regional jingoism whenever required, was done very carefully by constricting the rules of Sanskrit grammar and dropping letters and words that connect them with Sanskrit.
It is the same formula of distinctive regional identity catapulted today for political euphemism in the name of Dravidianism that we see today, attributing the Keelzhadi findings as a distinct Tamil secular civilization, when the Vaigai river which was known as Krutamaalaa in ancient times, is mentioned in Puranic texts.
Below is a verse describing the ancient rivers of Bharathavarsha, that throw light on the ancient geographical borders of India that covers the Rasa river of Afghanistan (Anithaba) up to the Krutamaalaa (now Vaigai) and beyond in the far South. The Chaitanyacharitamruta states that the Krutamaalaa is no other than the Vaigai near Madras.
(Reference from DC Sircar’s Geography of Ancient and Medieval India)
Linguistic compartmentalization was a well charted plan with long foresight. But the problem of linguistic fanaticism which is found amongst both the Northern Hindi speakers and the Southern belt alike is that we are trying to establish a link language with our prejudices of regionalism without earnestly making attempts at building linguistic links. It can only be achieved when Indians across states learn each other’s language enthusiastically by choice and also by exploring and devising newer alternatives in the language policy of our educational system by introducing spoken sessions of regional languages to begin with.
In the past scholars from the South travelled to Kashmir and vice-versa where they shared knowledge and brought out many scholarly works. The British won over the regional masses, in their local language, albeit deceptively, but managed to establish English as the link language. The Nehruvian idea of prioritizing one regional language over the other essentially serves and strengthens the British plot of keeping regional and linguistic disconnect forever.
The way ahead would be to first establish the missing link with cultural and linguistic integration on ground, while connecting with our common Sanskrit roots and this cannot be achieved overnight by wrongly attributing false antiquity to regional languages or its literature for some quick political brownie points to quench the misconceived linguistic fanaticism of a state, for it is gross injustice and dishonesty towards our civilizational history.