Time for a Sanskrit Non-Translatable Yoga Day

  • Article tells why it important for Indians to realize that Sanskrit words do not have the same meaning in English language. Therefore, it is important to use Sanskrit words.

As we celebrate another year of International Yoga Day, the place and relevance of this great and ancient system in our lives is underscored more than ever, against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic showing us the significance of health and healing. We, as Indians, take pride in Yoga reaching the farthest corners of the world, while the responsibilities we bear, as inheritors of this civilizational asset, remain scarcely undertaken.

Yoga and Ayurveda today, are two of the most important Indian gifts to the world, which are at risk for being digested from their authentic forms to those diluted, dismantled, assimilated systemically and dharmic adhikara usurped by non-dharmic forces. The practices and the language that describe them are based on profound theories built on a Vedic understanding of reality, which even challenges the current understandings of science, the narratives of Western modernity and consumer-driven capitalism.

Threat to Yoga

One of the urgent and major threats dharmic assets face today is that of “Digestion”. Western scholars and Westernized Indians are accustomed to translating and mapping dharmic concepts and perspectives onto Western frameworks, which is a form of digestion of Vedic civilization into their civilization. While this problem exists to some extent in all inter-civilizational encounters, it is particularly acute when dharmic concepts in Sanskrit are translated into Western languages.

Not only does Sanskrit, like all languages, encode specific and unique cultural experiences and traits, but the very form, sound, and manifestation of the language carries effects that cannot be separated from their conceptual meanings. The non-translatable nature of Sanskrit and its deep meanings are compromised by the cultural digestion of dharma into the West through the inadequate translation of vocabulary.

In the course of this digestion, crucial distinctions and understandings are lost, important direct experiences of the rishi-s sidelined, and the most fertile, productive and visionary dimension of dharma eradicated and relegated to antiquity. This loss is often carried out under the guise of modernity.

Raising Awareness 

A large section of Westerners and Anglicized Indians, sadly, assume that the dharmic wisdom embodied in the Sanskrit language CAN be translated into other languages and imported into other religious and/or scientific paradigms without loss of meaning. But, language both reflects and shapes a culture’s thought process owing to its deep structures and categories.

The unique experiences of different cultures are not always interchangeable. Many cultural artifacts have no equivalent in other cultures, and to force such artifacts into Western templates results in distortions. This too is a kind of colonization and cultural conquest. Therefore, words used to refer to those unique experiences must remain intact. Over time, if linguistic terms and categories get lost, so does the diversity of cultural experience.


With Sanskrit, there is also another far more subtle source of non-translatability: among its primary sounds, there are layers of connections and interrelationships forged by common underlying “primordial vibrations”. The complete meaning is thus a composite of the collection, not unlike an algebraic formula.

Therefore, great harm is done when a foreign culture, especially a colonial one, imposes its own simplistic, and often incorrect, translations of Sanskrit. Even greater harm is done when the natives of a colonized culture adopt these foreign translations – a process that is gradual and often insidious, and achieved with elaborate reward systems, (example: upward social mobility) offered by the dominant culture.

The dangers of foreign translation are only the first step in the annihilation of an entire knowledge system. The discoveries of humanity, passed through millennia, practiced and fine-tuned over thousands of generations become diluted, dismantled and destroyed within a generation or two, as seen in the case of Yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s.

This seminal ancient text of profound philosophy and psychology (both of these are again limiting Western words for darsanA and manovigyAnam), on which Yoga is based, is by some, being reduced to a simple form of Western cognitive science.

Poison Pills

A strategic way of dealing with the universalist march of digestion is to introduce elements called ‘poison pills’ into the dharma narrative, such that the vocabulary/terminology cannot be separated from the Vedic context. Poison pills are those non-negotiable elements or tenets that cannot be digested into the DNA of a predator, because consuming them would lead to the destruction of the predator’s constitution.

The presence of poison pills in Hinduism vocabulary will create a conflict within the predatory culture: on the one hand, members of that culture want to appropriate Hindu ideas and practices such as Yoga, meditation, Advaita (non-dual, one-ness philosophies), and so forth. On the other hand, as these contain poison pills (such as karma- reincarnation, divinity of all), they undermine some of the predator’s core tenets.

This use of poison pills for defense will work only if we can prevent the subdivision of Hinduism into parts, because once it gets divided and compartmentalized, the predator can pick what he wants and ignore the poison pills. Therefore, the poison pills must remain non-negotiable and integral parts of Hindu dharma.

Poison pills need to be understood with the same positivity as Shiva’s trishul (trident), used for piercing the veil of falsehood, and thereby liberating mankind from the bondage of ignorance. The poisoning is similar to killing the ego, except now it is the collective ego of the (cultural) West (the predator). Sanskrit non-translatables must be understood in the context of poison pills.

This strategy is a means to regain adhikara, the right of dharmic peoples to control the interpretation of knowledge in their own framework. This is a fundamental first step required to prevent digestion into a Western Universalism and in the long run, prevent a complete cultural genocide.

To know more about the author’s views, visit www.sanskritnontranslatables.com

To visit author’s You Tube channel click Here

Author Rajiv Malhotra is a well-known author, researcher and founder of Infinity Foundation www.infinityfoundation.com

To buy his books on Amazon India click Here and Amazon U.S. click Here  

Also read

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2. Am I a Hindu if I practice Yoga

3. How Yog and Ayurveda might prevent you being infected by Covid19 virus

4. Role of Yoga in mitigating Fear during Covid19 Pandemic

5. Ayurveda is the Science of Life that is Ancient yet Modern

6. Yoga in Bali

7. The growing Yoga community in Istanbul

8. Yoga for a personal and social development in Greece

9. How do you view Yoga as an American

10. Yoga’s Gifts to the Contemporary Western World

11. Why Sanskrit is relevant today and tomorrow

12. What is DHARMA   

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