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Licked by the Mother Tongue: Imagining Everyday Sanskrit at Home and in the World


Dept. of Anthropology
University of Iowa
114 MH
Iowa City, IA 52242


This paper examines the ways in which Sanskrit revivalists in contemporary India imagine social contexts for the production and reproduction of Sanskrit speech. In contrast to the received view of Sanskrit as being a ritual language par excellence, opposed at every step to the domestic sphere and everyday life, Sanskrit revivalists treat Sanskrit as a “mother tongue,” figuring the home as the primary site for the creation of an “everyday Sanskrit” world and the mother as the primary agent of this process of Sanskritizing the domestic sphere. “Domesticating Sanskrit,” the process of bringing the elevated ritual language down into everyday life, at the very same time “Sanskritizes the domestic,” that is, ritually transforms or elevates the home into a “Sanskrit home.” Moving outward from the Sanskritized domestic sphere, activists also imagine other contexts in which one could use Sanskrit, which nonetheless conforms to a notion of a Sanskrit interiority or domesticity. [India, Sanskrit, language revival, mother tongue, middle class, ritual]