2002 Indic Colloquium
Participant Detail

Back to Schedule and Participants
Back to Colloquium Home

Ashok Aklujkar

Contact Information




Department of Asian Studies
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, B.C., Canada V6T 1Z2



(604) 822-5185

(604) 274-5353


(604) 822-8937


Phone (other)






Web site






Background Information

Ashok Aklujkar is a Professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia.  His research focuses on Indian philosophy and grammar in general and the Indian linguist-philosopher, Bhartrhari in particular.


"If India doesn't have it, too bad; if India has it, so much the worse": the tale of social theory in Indian tradition

With this presentation, I am getting into a topic I would have preferred to tackle ten years after finishing my current projects in the subjects (Sanskrit grammar etc.) which I normally study. The topic has many angles to it, each requiring considerable reading of the relevant literature. I have been able to do only a part of this reading – that too sporadically. However, a forum like the present colloquium in which the learning and logic of many excellent scholars can be confronted offers a rare opportunity to have certain unusual and possibly half-baked ideas tested. The heat of the participants' criticism, I hope, will make me 'shed' some of my thoughts, while it turns at least a few other thoughts into vessels that can 'hold water.'

Is there a generally applicable social theory in the ancient Indian tradition? There are no pre-modern words, in the Sanskrit-to-Apabhramsa tradition, for 'society,' 'civilization,' 'culture,' 'polity' etc., that form the staple of social scientists. Can there be theorizing about society in general in the abscence of such words?

In the larger domain of social theory, particularly acute is the problem of theory of social ethics. Yes, varna-dharma and sadharana dharma are spoken of in the Indian tradition. But do notions such as these have in them the stuff needed to guide humanity beyond the borders of India? Doesn't the acceptance of an ultimate reality that is beyond good and evil undercut the prospects for a civil society? Doesn't the rejection of communal access to this realtiy, that is, the emphasis on exclusively individual attainment of moksa or nirvana, lead to shrinking of one's sense of responsibility toward the society?

Such questions have been asked before. Logically good answers, especially to the questions in the second paragraph, are available in the writings on Indian philosophy and religion. Despite them, however, the impression which the cryptic sentences within quotation marks in my title convey has prevailed. My intention in the present paper is to analyse this phenomenon further, for I believe that such an analysis will lead us to a different, if not deeper, understanding of Indian history, which understanding, in turn, will serve to identify an area in which India can contribute further to global renaissance.

As indicated above, I am getting into a study area for which I do not consider myself as well-prepared as I would like to be. This is because I feel that the area be explored as early as possible on the background of the ancient Indian sources for the good of the world and that the present colloquium should not become just another round of India studies. I will not explicitly refer to 'authorities' in modern or Western social science theories or dwell upon the issues of Indian philosophy and religion that have been dealt with reasonably satisfactorily elsewhere. My method will largely be that of reflection on the impressions I have formed in my pursuit of Indology. As possible help to some of you in approaching the area I have chosen and as sources that suggested some ideas to me, not necessarily as authoritative literature, I mention the following publications:

  1. Chandavarkar, G.A. 1925 (third edn revised and enlarged). A Manual of Hindu Ethics. Poona: The Oriental Book Agency.

    The book has extracts from the Vedas, Upanisads, darsanas, Manu-smrti, Mahabharata, Canakya-niti, Sukra-niti, Dhamma-pada etc., accompanied by free translations. It is not very rich, focused, systematic or accurate in this respect, although in the author's view the extracts should be the book's most useful part. In our times, this book is to be noted only for its Foreword, Introduction and Chapter XIV, especially the last, which is "A note on Principal McKenzie's Book on Hindu Ethics.'

  2. Coward, Harold G. 1989. Hindu Ethics: Purity, Abortion, and Euthanasia. Other authors: Lipner, Julius; Young, Katherine K. Albany : State University of New York Press. McGill Studies in the History of Religions
  3. Crawford, S. C. 1982. The Evolution of Hindu Ethical Ideals. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii.
  4.   Jhingran, Saral. 1989. Aspects of Hindu Morality. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
  5. Maitra, Susil Kumar. 1956 (second edn). The Ethics of the Hindus. University of Calcutta.
  6. Perrett, Roy W.  1998. Hindu Ethics: A Philosophical Study. Monographs of the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy, 17, Univeristy of Hawaii Press.
  7. Vora, Dhairyabala P. 1959. Evolution of Morals in the Epics (Mahabharata and Ramayana). Bombay: Popular Book Depot.

    Topics dealt with: promiscuity, polyandry, premarital sex relations, fidelity in wedlock, post-wedlock sex morals, marriage taboos, status of women, varna system, theory of karma.