Sanskritization / Brahmanization / Hinduization

Bibliography on Sanskritization / ‘Hinduization’ / ‘Brahmanization’        [as updated 12 May 2006]

This bibliography includes a selection of works discussing Sanskritization in more than one sense.

A. The term was originally popularized by M.N. Srinivas in his dissertation, where he used it to characterize the gradual upward movement in the social status of a caste by means of the deliberate adoption of social and religious practices (such as vegetarianism, employment of brahmin priests, use of meatless offerings, Sanskrit mantras, and other elements of Brahmanical cultic practice) that are associated with brahmins or deemed prestigious because they are approved or promulgated in Brahmanical literature (or by brahmin authorities in other fora), regardless of whether the Sanskrit language is used to express those ideals.

B. It has subsequently been found useful to analyze broad historical trends, including the assimilation of regional, tribal, caste-specific, or ‘folk’ beliefs, legends, and practices into Brahmanical literary and ritual tradition (Eschmann’s studies of the cult of Jagannath is a classic case), often fostered by rulers who sought to legitimize their authority by linking it to Brahmanical institutions (such as ritual and textual traditions) and by importing and patronizing brahmin groups.  The spread of the use of Sanskrit as a language of high-cultural expression is one of the important and characteristic features of this process, but not an indispensable one.

Process A might be seen generally as a “bottom-up” process (in which the assimilative initiative comes from outside brahmin or other high-caste circles) while Process B more often has a “top-down” character.

The term ‘Sanskritization’ has been criticized on various grounds, and alternatives have been proposed, all of which seem to suffer from similar limitations.  One fundamental criticism is that these terms might seem to imply that the Brahmanical/Hindu/Sanskritic culture is a totalizing, monolithic entity that is capable of overwriting other, “weaker” traditions, which are inherently disparate and vulnerable.  In fact, I think the term (and the concept[s] that it denotes) still has great utility, provided that we remain fully cognizant of the many ways in which the “other” traditions have through history and still today left their imprint upon Brahmanical Hinduism.  In fact, in spite of many broad continuities over time, it is this reciprocal give-and-take between what are considered established Sanskritic elements at any given time (i.e., as belonging in theory to a pan-Indian Hindu tradition) and those that have more localized currency in time, space, or social register that give Hinduism its famous appearance of “unity in diversity.”

Both modes of Sanskritization bear comparison with similar processes elsewhere, such as Hellenization in north Africa and western Asia (esp. after Alexander), the interactions of Christianity with local and folk traditions, and so forth.  All of these are particular large-scale cases of syncretism (or syncretization), another potentially useful but hotly contested model.

Since the two processes as I describe them here are always intertwined, the sources below are not sorted into corresponding groups.  Be aware that the sources for Process A are not up-to-date, and in any case this list is not comprehensive.  (I have now added some suggestions from Amod Lele [marked with *], plus some additions of my own.)


Barnabas, A. P. 1961. “Sanskritization.” Economic Weekly 13.15: 613.

Berreman, Gerald D. “Sanskritization as Female Oppression in India.” In Barbara Diane Miller, ed., Sex and Gender Hierarchies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 366-391.

Brown, Carolyn Henning. 1974. “Comment on Hertel’s ‘Dimensions of Sanskritization.’” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 13.2: 223-224.

Dumont, Louis and D. Pocock. 1959. “On the Different Aspects or Levels within Hinduism” [review article of Srinivas 1952 and C. G. Diehl, Instrument and Purposee (Lund: Gleerup, 1956)]. Contributions to Indian Sociology 3: 40-54.

Erdosy, George, ed. 1995. The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia. Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Eschmann, Anncharlott, Hermann Kulke, and Gaya Charan Tripathi, eds. 1978. The Cult of Jagannath and the Regional Tradition of Orissa, South Asian Studies, no. VIII, S. Asia Institute, Heidelberg University. Delhi: Manohar.  See esp. ch. 4: “Hinduization of Tribal Deities in Orissa: The Śākta and Śaiva Typology” (79-97); and ch. 5: “The Vaiṣṇava Typology of Hinduization and the Origin of Jagannātha” (99-117), both by Eschmann.

Fisher, William F. 2001. Fluid Boundaries: Forming and Transforming Identity in Nepal. New York: Columbia University Press [esp. ch. 8: “Beyond Sanskritization”].

Hertel, Bradley. 1973. “Some Dimensions of Sanskritization: Belief, Practice and Egalitarianism among Hindus of the Gangetic Plain.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 12.1: 17-32; “Errata: Some Dimensions of Sanskritization.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 12.2: 255.
1974. “Reply to Brown.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 13.2: 225-227.

Hiltebeitel, Alf, ed. 1989. Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees: Essays on the Guardians of Popular Hinduismm. Albany: SUNY Press.

Houben, Jan E. M. ed. 1996. Ideology and status of Sanskrit. Leiden: Brill.

Jaffrelot, Christophe. 2000. “Sanskritization vs. Ethnicization in India: Changing Indentities and Caste Politics before Mandal.” Asian Survey 40.5 (Modernizing Tradition in India): 756-766.
2003. India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India. New York: Columbia University Press.

Kulke, Hermann. 1976. “Kshatriyaization and Social Change.” In Aspects of Changing India: Studies in Honour of Prof. G. S. Ghurye, ed. S. Devadas Pillai, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 398-409.
2001. Kings and Cults: State Formation and Legitimation in India and Southeast Asia. Delhi: Manohar.

Lee, Raymond L. M., and R. Rajoo. 1987. “Sanskritization and Indian Ethnicity in Malaysia.” Modern Asian Studies 21.2: 389-415.

Lubin, Timothy. 2005. “The Transmission, Patronage, and Prestige of Brahmanical Piety from the Mauryas to the Guptas.” In Federico Squarcini, ed., Boundaries, Dynamics and Construction of Traditions in South Asia, Firenze: Firenze University Press, 77-103.

Marriott, McKim. 1955. “Little Communities in an Indigenous Civilization,” in M. Marriott, ed., Village India. Chicago: U. Chicago Pr., 171-222.

Marriott, McKim, and Bernard Cohn. 1958. “Networks and Centres in the Integration of Indian Civilization.” Journal of Social Research 1.1: 1-9.

Mcgilvray, Dennis B. 1988. “Sex, Repression, and Sanskritization in Sri Lanka?” Ethos 16.2: 99-127.

Mendelsohn, Oliver. 1993. “The transformation of authority in rural India.” Modern Asian Studiess 27: 805-42. *

Narayana Rao, Velcheru. 1993. “Purāṇa as Brahminic Ideology.” Ch. 4 in Wendy Doniger, ed., Purāṇa Perennis: Reciprocity and Transformation in Hindu and Jaina Texts. Albany: SUNY Press, 85-100.

Pocock, D. F. 1955. “The Movement of Castes.” Man 55: 71-72.
1957. “Inclusion and Exclusion — A Process in the Caste System of Gujarat.” ” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 13.1: 19-31.

Pollock, Sheldon. 1995. “Literary history, Indian history, world history.” Social Scientist 23.10-12: 112-142.
1996. “The Sanskrit cosmopolis, 300-1300: Transculturation, vernacularization, and the question of ideology.” In Jan E. M. Houben, ed., Ideology and status of Sanskrit. Leiden: Brill, 197-247.
1998. “India in the Vernacular Millennium: Literary Culture and Polity 1000–1500.” Daedalus 127.3: 1–34.
2006. The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India. Berkeley: U. of California Press.

Raghavan, V. 1956. “Variety and Integration in the Pattern of Indian Culture.” Far Eastern Quarterly 15: 497-505.

Redfield, Robert. 1955. “The Social Organization of Tradition.” Far Eastern Quarterly 15: 13-21.
1956. Peasant Society and Culture. U. Chicago Press.

Sheth, D.L. 1999. “Secularisation of Caste and Making of New Middle Class.” Economic and Political Weekly 34: 2502-2510. *

Singer, Milton. 1955. “The Cultural Pattern of Indian Civilization.” Far Eastern Quarterly 15: 23-36.

Sinha, Surajit. 1962. “State Formation and Rajput Myth in Tribal Central India.” Man in India 42: 35-80.

Sontheimer. Günter-Dietz. 1989. Pastoral Deities in Western India, transl. by Anne Feldhaus. New York: Oxford U. P.

Srinivas, M. N. 1952. Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India. Oxford: Clarendon Press [esp. ch. 7, “Hinduism”].
1956. “A Note on Sanskritization and Westernization.” Far Eastern Quarterly 15: 481-496.
1959. “The Dominant Caste in Rampura.” American Anthropologist 61: 1-16.
1966. Social Change in Modern India. Berkeley.
1968. “Mobility in the Caste System,” in M. Singer and B. S. Cohn, eds., Structure and Change in Indian Society, Chicago: Aldine (= ch. 2 in 1989).
1989. The Cohesive Role of Sanskritization and Other Essays. Delhi: Oxford.

Srivastava, S. K. 1963. “The Process of Desanskritization in Village India.” In Bala Ratnam, ed., Anthropology on the March. Madras, 266-270.

Staal, J. F. 1963. “Sanskrit and Sanskritization.” The Journal of Asian Studies 22.3: 261-275.

Stein, Burton. 1960. “The Economic Function of a Medieval South Indian Temple.” Journal of Asian Studies 19.2: 163-176.
1967/1968. “Brahman and Peasant in Early South Indian History.” ” Adyar Library Bulletin 31/32: 229-269.
1968. “Social Mobility and Medieval South Indian Hindu Sects,” in J. Silverberg, ed., Social Mobility in the Caste System in India, The Hague: Mouton, 78-94.
1980. Peasant State and Society in Medieval South India. Oxford U. P.

Stern, Robert. 1993. Changing India. Cambridge U. P. *

Tambiah, Stanley J. 1967. Review of Social Change in Modern India by M. N. Srinivas. Modern Asian Studies 1.4: 404-405.
1970. “The Past and Present in the Study of Religion: Continuities and Transformations.” Ch. 21 in Buddhism and the Spirit Cults in North-East Thailand. Cambridge: Cambridge U. P.

Witzel, Michael. 1997. “Early Sanskritization: Origins and Development of the Kuru State.” In Recht, Staat und Verwaltung im klassischen Indien / The State, the Law, and Administration in Classical India, ed. by Bernhard Kölver, with E. Müller-Luckner. Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 29-52.