Originally published as:
Adhikary, N.M. (2013). Communication theory and classical Sanskrit texts. Rural Aurora, 2, 112-125.
This article presents an appraisal on such attempts that have not only explored the relevance of ancient Sanskrit texts to the discipline of communication, but also enriched it with new insights. Communication theory has been witnessing a paradigm shift thereby promoting theorization of communication from multicultural and multidisciplinary perspectives. Such endeavors have forwarded the discourse of communication from Asian and Hindu perspective too. Various scholars have made attempts to develop theories of communication based on classical Sanskrit texts. In this course, some classical Sanskrit texts have been studied by communication scholars. However, most of such texts are yet to be explored from the viewpoint of communication studies.
Keywords: Communication, Hindu Perspective, Communication Theory, Asian Perspective, Sanskrit Texts
Communication Theory and Classical Sanskrit Texts
Dr. Nirmala Mani Adhikary
Kathmandu University, Nepal
Drawing on classical Sanskrit texts from the viewpoint of communication discipline is in continuum with a new trend in the theorization of communication that has witnessed a steady growth in recent decades. As Dissanayake (2009) observes “a great upsurge of interests in the study and research in Asian theories of communication” (p. 7) has been witnessed in last few decades. The published works in the field are increasing.
Studying communication as a modern discipline has been problematic in the context of non-Western countries like Nepal and India. Whereas communication is familiar to them as a process which is inherent to every human being, it is a new thing for them as a modern discipline of knowledge. They find reasons to own it, but the discipline’s Western standpoint prevents them to consider it as an indigenous discipline of knowledge. On the one hand, there are considerations that “the concept of communication has been with us since the creation of man” (IGNOU, 2005, p. 23), and it is considered that “a lot has been said on the process and methods of communication in our literature” (ibid.). There seems a readiness to accept communication as native concept, and an effort to draw some historical linkage to own it. On the other hand, communication, as a modern discipline, originated, evolved and gained academic recognition in the West, particularly in the United States of America (Dissanayake, 1988b, p. 3; IGNOU, 2005, p. 23). Following statements in the context of India are noteworthy:
• “‘Communication’ is a word coined in the recent past to explain a particular idea of study. Therefore, in our ancient literature this view was not dealt with separately.” (IGNOU, 2005, p. 23)
• “Since the present communication concept and discipline has developed in the west, we do get carried away by its Western perception and hence become ineffective in the Indian situation. … And thus consequently suffer the loss of inspiration.” (p. 24)
Nevertheless, such practice has been questioned and criticized. Even statements as following has been given in the context of India: “It is necessary … that we ground ourselves firmly in our culture, beliefs and ethos. We need not copy the western models blindly” (ibid.).
The Western models and theories of communication have been criticized as “reflective of the biases of Western thought and culture” (Kumar, 2005a, p. 25). The problem with Western communication theory, according to Dissanayake (1988b), is that it is functionalist, mechanistic, positivist and it regards communication as an external event, individuals as discreet and separate, and each part of the sender-message-receiver process as different. Reddi (1988) also criticizes Western models for neglecting “the structural and sociological factors present in countries such as India” (p. 73).
According to T.B. Saral,
most western studies of communication are confined to the study of what may be termed ‘surface structure’ features, such as verbal language, body language, nonverbal gestures, facial expressions, etc. But it is often the ‘deep structure’ features that make a critical difference to our understanding of communication. The ‘deep structure’ is shaped by the cultural and metaphysical assumptions about the definition of truth and reality, the place of an individual in the universe, and one’s relationship with other living and non-living elements of the environment, the concepts of time and space, and so on. (qtd. in Kumar, 2005a, p. 25)
A comparative study of two communication models, one each from the East and the West, shows that communication theories and models developed in the context of the West cannot represent and describe the communication theory and practice of countries like Nepal and India (Adhikary, 2008b). Thus, there is need of developing theories and models from different cultural locations and philosophical traditions followed by comparative understanding of them. A comparative study of different concepts of communication is a must for the improved understanding of the process and the advancement of the discipline.
The discipline is certainly enriched if different philosophical traditions open themselves to each other’s differences and if each examines itself in the light of that recognition. “If we are to widen our field of inquiry productively and to secure greater insights, we need to pay more attention to concepts of communication formulated by non-Western societies as well” (Dissanayake, 1988b, p. 1).
Dissanayake emphasizes that
at this stage in the development of the scholarly study of communication, it is indeed important for everybody concerned to seek to broaden the domain of inquiry by exploring the concepts of communication that have been formulated in non-Western societies as a means of promoting a greater degree of understanding of the nature of human interaction. (1988b, p. 2)
The project of exploring indigenous communication theories seems rational when one of the basic characteristics of communication (that is, inseparability of communication with culture) is kept in view. Robert T. Oliver says, “Mankind is less separated by language barriers … than it is by cultural differences” (qtd. in Kidd, 2002, p. 4). It is vital to know about people and the respective culture if we are to understand their communication concept and practice. “An awareness of the relationship between culture and communication as well as an understanding of the differences between cultures is helpful – and at times essential – in communicating successfully” (Adhikary, 2008a, p. 19). So philosophical, religious as well as cultural background of the society should be considered while studying communication. Hence considering a universal meta-theory of communication is not reasonable.
Though communication as modern discipline knowledge has its root in the West, different societies have understood and defined communication in their own ways. Studying the communication is not an exception rather is always within the cultural milieu. Thus, instead of adhering to any single concept of communication, multiple concepts of communication are imperative because the concept of communication differs from one culture to another.
If the project of theorizing communication is to be undertaken in the domain of Vedic Hindu tradition of thought, there are so many texts which have relevance to communication discipline. Vedic Hindu tradition of thought inherits many schools of philosophy, and hence it incorporates vast resources that can be studied in relation to communication discipline. The need is to reinterpret and recontextualize the texts in the new light. “Many theories and models of communication would come out if communication discipline has enthusiasm of encountering different Hindu philosophical traditions” (Adhikary, 2008b, p. 286). Such endeavor certainly pays for the communication discipline by opening new avenues for theorizing communication.
Communication and Hindu perspective
Attempts have been made to study communication from Hindu perspective even though such works seem very few in numbers. In the context of evolution of studying communication from Hindu (or ‘Indian’) perspective, the timeline goes at least to five decades back (Majumdar, 1958). The three earlier studies (Majumdar, 1958; Gumperz, 1964; Yadava, 1979) had commonality in terms of research approach as well as the research problem. They were field research in Indian villages, and they sought to study the impact of religion/caste on communication practices.
Oliver (1971) analyzed distinctive features of ‘Indian’ and ‘Chinese’ rhetoric, and identified unity and harmony as the bases of rhetoric and communication in Asia. He argued that the manner in which Asians communicate is different from that of the Westerners. Hence, there is need to understand communication in the context of culture, Oliver emphasized. He further argued that by understanding the Eastern rhetoric the Westerners can better understand their own ideas of rhetoric and communication.
In 1980, the East-West Communication Institute in Hawaii hosted the first International Symposium on ‘Communication Theory: Eastern and Western Perspectives’. The symposium bears significance for it marked first institutional initiatives regarding theorization of communication in different perspectives. J.S. Yadava presented a paper in the seminar and argued that Sadharanikaran is that concept which, in Hindu perspective, refers to what is meant by communication today. [Yadava’s paper has been included in a book (Kincaid, 1987) along with other papers presented in the seminar.] Tewari (1980) claimed Sadharanikaran as the “Indian theory of communication.” Both Yadava and Tewari consider Natyashastra as the source-book for theorizing communication in Hindu (or “Indian”) perspective. [There are authors, including I. P. Tewari and J. S. Yadava, who prefer to claim the Sadharanikaran theory as “Indian” communication theory. But, in my view, terming Sadharanikaran as the “Indian” theory is politically incorrect. Replacing it by ‘Hindu’ would be broader approach. Kumar (2005c) has termed it “Indian/Hindu” theory.] In Yadava’s words,
Bharat Muni, who is credited with the writing of Natyashastra codified the principles of human expression. … Besides giving practical description of various aspects of dance and drama to the minutest details, the document is rich about the basics of human communication. (1998, p. 188)
Drawing on the concept of ‘Rasa’ directly from Natyashastra and the concept of ‘Sadharanikaran’ from Bhattanayaka’s interpretation on Natyashastra, it is said that Sadharanikaran is the word that was used to name the process which has been termed as communication by Western scholars.
Bhartrihari’s Vakyapadiya is also a preference in this regard. Bhartrihari is much accredited for philosophical dealing on communication, especially the word (Vak). Dissanayake (1988b) sees “a refreshing relevance” of Vakyapadiya “to modern communication studies” (p. 8). He claims, “Indeed, the basic thinking reflected in the Vakyapadiya is in perfect consonance with some of the modern conceptualizations in the field of communication” (ibid.). And, the essential communication message of Bhartrihari “has almost a contemporary ring to it and a refreshing relevance to modern communication studies” (ibid.). He further claims, “Indeed, the basic thinking reflected in the Vakyapadiya is in perfect consonance with some of the modern conceptualizations in the field of communication” (ibid.).
Dissanayake considers four vital strands of thought contained in the Vakyapadiya for students of communication:
1. Bhartrihari’s contention pertaining to the role of language in human cognition that there is no cognition in the world in which the word does not figure and all knowledge is, as it were, intertwined with language, the word
2. Bhartrihari’s emphasis on the total sentence as the unit of meaning as opposed to most other contemporary scholars’ stress on the need to recognize the word as the unit of meaning
3. The contextualization of communication pointing out that the contextualization of utterances facilitates in the circumscribing of the field of discourse, thereby eliminating ambiguities of meaning
4. The notion of sphota, which can be taken in the context of linguistic meaning to suggest that which discloses thought.
Drawing on Bharata Muni’s Natyashastra and Bhartrihari’s Vakyapadiya both and integrating insights from these two classical Sanskrit texts in order to theorize communication has a history of about one decade in the case of Nepal. A dissertation (Adhikary, 2003), taking insights from both Natyashastra and Vakyapadiya and integrating them, presents a unique communication model – the Sadharanikaran model of communication, which was the first ever model of communication in diagrammatic form proposed from Hindu perspective. Two succeeding works were published (Adhikary, 2004, 2007a) dealing with the same project- theorizing communication in Hindu perspective and presenting the Sadharanikaran model. Another work (Adhikary, 2007b) was entirely concerned with the study of non-verbal aspects communication as envisioned in Natyashastra.
The Sadharanikaran model and Aristotle’s model of communication were studied comparatively and the fundamental differences were assessed and analyzed in two works of the researcher (Adhikary, 2008b). The two models were studied in terms of structure and scope of two models, human relationships in the process and the goal of communication, and it was shown that the two models differ in all four aspects. It was shown that “Aristotle’s model cannot represent and describe the communication theory and practice of countries like Nepal and India” (Adhikary, 2008b, pp. 285-286).
The construction of the Sadharanikaran model of communication has been instrumental in continuing and furthering the discourse of Sahridayata in the communication discipline (Adhikary, 2009, 2010c, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c, 2012a). Furthermore, by virtue of Sahridayata, the scope of the Sadharanikaran model of communication in promoting peace and conflict resolution also has been discoursed (Adhikary, 2012c).
It has been studied how the process of communication, as envisioned in Hindu perspective, inherits notion of attaining ‘Mokhsa-in-life’ by means of verbal communication (Adhikary, 2007c). Furthermore, that study examined the process of communication as yoga and concluded that verbal communication in Hindu perspective qualifies to be considered as Sancharyoga. A number of research works (Adhikary, 2010a, 2010b, 2011a, 2011b, 2012a) further the discourse of Sancharyoga. Also, it has been discoursed how the discipline of communication can be approached as a vidya (true knowledge) in Hindu orthodoxy (Adhikary, 2010b).
Davis (1988) draws on Panini’s Astadhyayi for studying the nature of intentional communication from Nyaya-Vaisheshika perspectives. “On the basis of Panini’s description of the categories of words in Sanskrit and the way they combined to make up sentences, various theories of the nature of meaning arose” (p. 22). He discusses that the members of Nyaya-Vaisheshika school of Hindu philosophy worked on the theory “which puts meaning closest to the syntactic form of words” (ibid.). Further, he also discusses the nature of intentional communication from the point of view of Bhartrihari.
A body of works (Jain and Matukumalli, 1996; Kirkwood, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1997) has dealt with the Hindu perspective on silence in communication. Such works draw on classical Sanskrit texts in order to understand the unique nature of silence as envisioned in Hinduism. Unlike to Western consideration, speech and silence are not contradictory in Hindu milieu. Rather, the mastery over speech (Vak) and silence (maunata) is the highest attainment of the learned one, who is revered as Muni.
The concept of Dharma has also been drawn on for exploring Hindu concept of communication. According to T.B. Saral, communication in Hindu philosophical perspective is governed by natural law of Dharma:
The Hindu’s concept of the universe is based on the ‘Virat Purush’ (cosmic man) view. A natural extension of this concept is that it espouses the systems approach, the authority of Universal law, the law of Dharma. Dharma is the basic principle of the whole universe and is existing eternally. This natural law of Dharma regulates human existence and governs relations of individual beings; communication too is governed by the same law. (qtd. in Kumar, 2005a, p. 25)
Drawing on Dharma for theorizing communication seems convincing for Dharma has a crucial place in Hindu life. In Hindu context, “Dharma also refers to a whole way of life rather than to mere doctrines or moral teachings alone” (Hindery, 2004, p. 50). Dharma here “is not dogmatic” (Radhakrishnan, 1989a, p. 25). Rather, tt “is the scheme of right living” (Radhakrishnan, 1989b, pp. 417-418).
There are a few instances when scholars have drawn on Vedic/Hindu philosophical schools in discoursing communication. Whereas Davis (1988) mentions the relevance of Nyaya-Vaisheshika philosophy for studying communication, Jayaweera (1988) emphasizes on the need to apply principles derived from Vedanta philosophy to communication theory. Sitaram (2004) has claimed that all the six schools of Hindu philosophy outline unique communication theories; but he does not elucidate on it. Adhikary (2003, 2004, 2007a, 2007c, 2010a, 2010b) has incorporated insights from Advaita Vedanta and Shabda Vedanta. Recently, a doctoral research has been accomplished on the Bhatta-Mimamsa philosophical study of communication (Adhikary, 2012b).
Though still not large in number the literature relevant for studying communication from Hindu perspective is increasing (including Adhikary, 2003a, 2004, 2007a, 2007b, 2007c, 2008b; 2009, 2010a, 2010b, 2010c, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c, 2012a, 2012b, 2012c; Babbili, 2001, 2008; Davis, 1988; Dhole, 2006; Dissanayake, 1981, 1982a, 1982b, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1988a, 1988b, 1988c, 2006; Gangal & Hosterman, 1982; Gunaratne, 1991; Jain & Matukumalli, 1996; Jayaweera, 1988; Kirkwood, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1997; Kumar, 2005b, 2005c; Mohan, 1992; Rahim, 1987; Saral, 1983; Sitaram, 2004; Swahananda, 2001a, 2001b; Tewari, 1992; Thirumalai, 2001, 2003a, 2003b, 2003c, 2004, 2006; Vasudeva, 1994; Yadava, 1982, 1987, 1998). Most of these works identify themselves as a part of searching the ‘Asian’ communication perspective [For further discussion on the ‘Asian’ perspective on communication, see: Chen & Miike, 2006; Dissanayake, 1988, 2006; Gordon, 2007; Miike, 2007, 2009; Miike & Chen, 2006; Xiaoge, 2000.], whereas some prefer to advocate for ‘Indian’ theory of communication. As evident from abobe discussions, such attempts have not only explored the relevance of ancient Sanskrit texts to the discipline of communication, but also enriched it with new insights.
Though there is scope for vast discursive universe the discourse on communication from Hindu perspective has been confined to a limited domain. For instance: Such works have drawn on very few Sanskrit texts such as Bharata’s Natyashastra (for instance, Adhikary, 2003a, 2004, 2007a, 2007b; Tewari, 1980, 1992; Thirumalai 2001, 2003a, 2003b, 2003c, 2004, 2006; Yadava, 1982, 1987, 1998), Bhartrihari’s Vakyapadiya (for instance, Adhikary, 2003a, 2004, 2007a, 2007c; Davis, 1988; Dissanayake, 1981, 1982b, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1988b, 1988c), and Panini’s Astadhyayi (for instance, Davis, 1988). Few genres like rhetoric (for instance, Gangal and Hosterman, 1982; Oliver, 1971) and poetics (for instance, Adhikary, 2003a, 2004, 2007a; Tewari, 1980, 1992; Yadava, 1987, 1998) have been touched in this regard. Some have drawn on religion (‘Dharma’) for understanding communication in Hindu concept (for instance, Gumperz, 1964; Saral 1983; Swahananda, 2001a). Among the orthodox Hindu philosophical schools, Vedanta seems the preferred one (for instance, Adhikary, 2003a, 2004, 2007a, 2007c, 2010a, 2010b; Jayaweera, 1988). However, only a doctoral research has been conducted on any of the mainstream Vedic/Hindu School of philosophies, which is on on the Bhatta-Mimamsa philosophical study of communication (Adhikary, 2012b).
By virtue of its rich discursive tradition, Hinduism has far broader scope of study corpus than explored by now. Thus studying Hindu perspectives on communication at the onset needs a broader outlook because diverse and enormous sources are available in this regard. However, most of them are to be explored yet.
The word communication is translated into Nepali (into Hindi and other languages of Sanskrit origin too) as sanchar. The word sanchar has a number of meanings in Sanskrit, and one of them is equivalent to what is understood as communication in the modern sense. It is not that sanchar is the only word in Sanskrit which could be used as an equivalent word while translating the English word ‘communication’. However, interestingly, in all languages of Sanskrit origin, the word has been chosen to denote ‘communication’. Perhaps, it signifies the mutual understanding, for which communication (sanchar) itself is aimed, prevailing among the people sharing common religious and philosophical tradition and consciousness of cultural identity. Meanwhile, the study of communication/sanchar in the universities of Nepal and India had not been the study of sanchar in the indigenous sense despite the fact that communication tradition (s), rich and refined both in theory and practice, has been an inseparable part of Bharatavarshiya (including Nepali and Indian) culture(s). Discoursing communication from Hindu/Indian/Nepali perspective becomes truly indigenous/native if and only if it is firmly rooted to the Bharatavarshiya culture.
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