Imapact of Sanskritization and Westernization on India


Dwiiendra Nath Thakur*

Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur Chhattisgarh




Sanskritisation  is a particular form of  social change found in India. It denotes the process by which castes placed lower in the caste hierarchy seek upward mobility by emulating the rituals and practices of the upper or dominant castes. It is a process similar to passing in anthropological terms. This term was made popular by Indian sociologist M. N. Srinivas in the 1950s . This ambitious concept  is again revolving back with the time in contemporary Indian society after the caste based policies , result was ‘de-Sanskritization’ it was no longer beneficial to be an upper caste and so attempts were made to re-claim any lower or backward caste roots.  Westernization is a process whereby societies come under or adopt Western culture in such matters as industry, technology, law, politics, lifestyle, diet, language, religion, philosophy, and/or values. Westernization has been a pervasive and accelerating influence across the world in the last few centuries. It is usually a two-sided process, in which Western influences and interests themselves are joined by a wish of at least parts of the affected society to change towards a more Westernized society, in  the hope of attaining Western life or some aspects of it. The main purpose behind this paper is to analyze the impact of the “westernization” and “sanskritization” in the present modern Indian society.


KEY WORDS: Sanskritization, De- sanskritization, Westernization, Impact, Indian society.




Indian society has been divided into various classes and caste system is very prevalent in India since starting of the society till date. Dr. M.N. Srinivas defined sanskritisation as a process by which "a low or middle Hindu caste, or tribal or other group, changes its customs, ritual ideology, and way of life in the direction of a high and frequently twice-born caste. Generally such changes are followed by a claim to a higher position in the caste hierarchy than that traditionally conceded to the claimant class by the local community and according to him, Sanskritization is not just the adoption of new customs and habits, but also includes exposure to new ideas and values appearing in Sanskrit literature. He says the words Karma, dharma, papa, maya, samsara and moksha are the most common Sanskritic theological ideas which become common in the talk of people who are sanskritized.



The caste system is far from a rigid system in which the position of each component caste is fixed for all time. Movement has always been possible, and especially in the middle regions of the hierarchy. A caste was able, in a generation or two, to rise to a higher position in the hierarchy by adopting vegetarianism and teetotalism, and by Sanskritizing its ritual and pantheon. In short, it took over, as far as possible, the customs, rites, and beliefs of the Brahmins, and adoption of the Brahminic way of life by a low caste seems to have been frequent, though theoretically forbidden.

This process has been called 'Sanskritization' in this book, in preference to 'Brahminization', as certain Vedic rites are confined to the Brahmins and the two other 'twice-born' castes.The book of Shrinivasans challenged the then prevalent idea that caste was a rigid and unchanging institution. The concept of sanskritization addressed the actual complexity and fluidity of caste relations. It brought into academic focus the dynamics of the renegotiation of status by various castes and communities in India. Sanskritization is a term coined by the famous Sociologist, Dr M.N. Srinivas. It refers to the process by which castes lower in the hierarchy emulate the rituals and practices of upper castes, thereby seeking upward mobility. The basic premise of Dr Srinivas was to show that the caste system was not rigid but rather very fluid.


An example of this is the Nadars, formerly called the Shanars. The Shanars belonged to the caste of toddy-tappers in the region around Madras and Travancore. Their position in the caste hierarchy was just above that of the Untouchables. In the nineteenth century via education and a move towards a more respectable occupation, that of merchants, the Nadars (as the Shanars now referred to themselves) gained both economic and social status.


Sociological impact of sanskritization on India:

Caste was something that you were born with if you were a Hindu but it was not something laid out in an official document; there was also no way you knew what percentage of the population you belonged to. As with the relations between Hindus and Muslims the tensions between the castes exacerbated only during the colonial era. The British did not ‘invent’ the caste system but what they did do was to make it the primary basis of social classification. When the British started taking the census, from 1882 onwards, caste was the basic unit of organizing society that they considered. When caste is your identity then you have an incentive in figuring out ‘how many’ people belong to your caste and when you organize politically or economically you do so along these lines.


For the British officers under the East India Company and even later under the Crown the caste system was an ideal way to control society. If there were certain segments of society, the Brahmins or the rajas (kshatriyas) whom everyone was supposed to obey then this was a very efficient way to maintain order. The other side of this dual-headed coin was that as long as people thought of themselves along caste lines there was very little chance of their uniting to fight the external enemy, the British. According to some sociologists the British aided the process of Sanskritization during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as it served their interests. To some extent Sanskritization continued even during the early years of Independence when there was no political or economic incentive to belonging to a lower caste. Things changed in the 1990s with the rise of caste-based politics and religion based politics.


The implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations led to a massive fall out. This article is not going to go into the pros or cons of the Mandal report but rather the impact of the same. The Hindu right wing parties tried to prevent what they feared was a ‘split’ in the so-called ‘Hindu vote bank’ by using the ‘mandir-masjid’ and other issues. The rath yatra and the 1992 Babri masjid demolition were an unfortunate consequence.


There was a rise of caste-based parties which claimed to speak on behalf of one or all backward castes. Even the non-caste based parties found it convenient to appeal along these lines. The result was ‘de-Sanskritization’: it was no longer beneficial to be an upper caste and so attempts were made to re-claim any lower or backward caste roots. The aim of the article is not to question whether or not caste-based reservations should have been implemented in India. Rather it is to point out that the notion that our caste is our main and major social identity can be traced back not to 3000 years but rather to a much nearer time – the colonial era  As an impact of ‘de – sanskritization


Westernization of IndiaTerritorial

Definition of West:

The "west" was originally defined as Western World. Ancient Romans distinguished between Oriental (Eastern) cultures that inhabited present-day Egypt and Occidental cultures that lived in the West. A thousand years later, the East-West Schism separated the Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church. The definition of Western changed as the West was influenced by and spread to other nations. Islamic and Byzantine scholars added to the Western canon when their stores of Greek and Roman literature jump-started the Renaissance. The West expanded to include Russia when Peter the Great brought back ideas from Holland. Today, most modern uses of the term refer to the societies of Western and Central Europe and their close genealogical, linguistic, and philosophical descendants, typically included are those countries whose ethnic identity and dominant culture are derived from European culture.


Further, as a result tradition was in touch and people were in accordance with the Indian tradition. As the time passed by one and India got independence, the scenario started changing slowly and India is considered to be one of the oldest nations in terms of culture and tradition. Epics like ‘Mahabharata’ and ‘Ramayana’ are the real evidences that depict the strong Indian culture. Since ages, it has been a land of sages, saints and various renowned people. Thousands of pious temples built in different parts of the nation reveal that people have been worshiping God and following their culture and tradition since time immemorial. It was the same going on till few decades back. Most of the people were farmers and survived on their pieces of land. They were satisfied with their earning and hardly had any time to think gradually.


Westernization started attracting the Indian citizens towards it like a magnet. Call it an easy way to earn money or to compete with the rest of the world or to imitate the other nations or for other purposes, but anywhere it was taking us away from our culture at a slow pace. The intoxication of westernization was so strong that people started carrying away with it. The things were new, appealing, attractive and something to try upon, but forgetting that these things might become their habit some day and deviating them from their actual goods and culture.

Role of Britishers:

India was known as the ‘Golden Bird’ one time. It was known for its abundance in gold, silver, diamonds and various other precious pearls. ‘Kohinoor’ one of the most expensive pearl in the world was mined from Golconda mines. Kings and rulers in India owned these precious things. Scintillations of such commodities attracted the British people towards India and they placed their feet on our motherland in the early 16th century. Initially their echo chamber behavior pleased everyone without knowing the hidden motives behind it. It was due to such shrewd techniques that they were able to take away tones of wealth in ships to their places. Eventually they took the authority in their own hands and India became the slave of these English people. It was during this time that they introduced many things in India which the general people were not at all aware of. Guns, cars, cinema, foreign clothes, cigarettes etc. were used by them and hence came into existence. Though we cannot completely say that all the things were bad, most of us were a boon for us, but the extra influence of all these things has hampered our Indian culture. As the years passed by more and more western commodities came into the Indian market and people became aware of them. Thus taking them away from their own things.

Mahatama Gandhi, known as the ‘Father of the Nation’ tried to bring back the public from eye catching western things. He started a ‘Swadeshi Movement’, emphasizing on the use of commodities manufactured in the nation itself with its own raw material. He asked people to make use of ‘Khadi clothes’ so that British cloth does not stand in market. It will serve as a boon for the Indian manufacturing unit and will provide more employment. Though it was a great move initiated by Gandhi, but seeds of westernization were so deep sown that after the death of Gandhi the Indian scenario totally changed. India got freedom, and elite group from India started following British trends and implementing them in the nation as well. As a result general public also started following it. Thus drifting the Indian people slowly towards westernization.


Present State of westernization:

If we look into the present state of India, we will find westernization has made a place in each and everything. We cannot even think of running the nation now avoiding these things. These things have now become a necessity. Though culture, tradition, religion is still there and have many followers but its percentage as compared to earlier days as fallen by a big amount. We can have a look at various examples where westernization can be seen at its culmination:

1. Cinema:

Westernization has shown its major effect in the ‘Bollywood’ industry. Starting from the early 40 movies till 2009 the concept, dresses, fashion and script has totally changed. Earlier main focus was made on the India culture, Indian problems depicting an ordinary man. There was decency in dresses; story of the movie had some moral to the viewers. Actors used to have good theatre experience. Money earning was not the sole concern that time. These days the idea has totally changed. Vulgarity and obscenity is displayed every now and then. It is not our culture but a western impact. Stories of the movies are copied or idea is taken from western movies. The main aim is always to compete with ‘Hollywood’. Cinema is influences the youngsters and even the elders a lot. As a result they also start imitating their movie role models. Hence  westernization is spreading one or the other way

2. Opting foreign Countries for Profession:

Why there is a desire in a young Indian to go abroad after studies and continue there with the profession? Why cannot we work for the country that imparted us with such a magnificent education? The only reason is that western countries have mesmerized us. We are going for momentary things and forgetting the real rich source is with us that is our nation.

3. Food and Cloth Items:

Trendy clothes are in vogue these days. But none could find a new fashion based on Indian work. Jeans, shoes, shirts, jackets and every other accessory is foreign made. Adidas, Reebok, Wrangler, Woodland, Van Heusen all these are foreign brands and we make use of them. It is not bad but at the same time completely forgetting our tradition and culture is also not good though. One can find very few ‘Khadi’ showrooms throughout the country. Also various junk food items have also made the hegemony over our traditional food items like rice, pulses, chapattis etc. Younger generation is more affected by it.It becomes the duty of the parents to guide them.

4. Globalisation

Westernization as globalisation is seen by many as progress, as democracy and free trade spread gradually throughout the world. Others view Westernization as a disadvantage. Some have protested that Asian cultures that have traditionally existed on a primarily plant-based diet might lose this healthy lifestyle as more people in Asia switch to a Western-style diet that is rich in animal-based foods.


It is a rousing call to the people of the nation which has rich culture, religion and heritage. People must get aware that they are going far from their basic system. It is high time to put a halt to the westernization and give an edge to our culture.



Prof M.N Srinivas introduced the term sanskritization to Indian Sociology. The term refers to a process whereby people of lower castes collectively try to adopt upper caste practices and beliefs to acquire higher status. It indicates a process of cultural mobility that is taking place in the traditional social system of India.M.N Srinivas in his study of the Coorg in Karnataka found that lower castes in order to raise their position in the caste hierarchy adopted some customs and practices of the Brahmins and gave up some of their own which were considered to be impure by the higher castes. For example they gave up meat eating, drinking liquor and animal sacrifice to their deities. They imitiated Brahmins in matters of dress, food and rituals. By this they could claim higher positions in the hierarchy of castes within a generation. The reference group in this process is not always Brahmins but may be the dominant caste of the locality.Sanskritization has occurred usually in groups who have enjoyed political and economic power but were not ranked high in ritual ranking. According to Yogendra Singh the process of sanskritization is an endogenous source of social change .Mackim Marriot observes that sanskritic rites are often added on to non-sanskritic rites without replacing them. Harold Gould writes, often the motive force behind sanskritisation is not of cultural imitation per se but an expression of challenge and revolt against the socioeconomic deprivations.


M.N Srinivas (1962)  pioneer of sociology in India has  used the term ‘westernisation’ to indicate the change, which took place in India during the British rule in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.Westernisation implies changes in dress, style of eating, manners etc. The change in the medium of instruction. Westernisation started having its impact on the elite because they studied secular subjects with English as medium of instruction.The Brahmins and other castes with tradition of learning and traditions of science in the courts readily took to secular education with English as a medium of education. Another big change introduced in the Indian society by the new system of education is that the schools were thrown open all types in contrast to the traditional schools which were restricted to upper-caste children and which transmitted mostly traditional knowledge.In as much as modernisation in India has come about due to westernisation, therefore, the above-mentioned changes of Modernisation can be taken to be result of westernisation. 



1.       Parvathi Memon, Obituary — A scholar remembered:M.N. Srinivas, 1916–1999, The Hindu Volume 16, Issue 26, 11–24 December 1999.

2.       Barry Bearak, M. N. Srinivas Is Dead at 83; Studied India's Caste System, The New York Times, 3 December 1999.

3.       Social Change in Modern India, Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2000.




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Received on 26.06.2012

Revised on   20.07.2012

Accepted on 16.08.2012

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