Process of change: Sanskritisation and Westernisation

Sanskritisation and westernisation was proposed  by M.N. Srinivas to study the process of change in the Indian society. His effort is considered as the first systematic approach in this direction. The theory of change is based on the assumption that the sources of change are present both inside and outside the system. Sanskritisation encompasses the real and desired mobility, caste system and the social and cultural mobility. On the other hand Westernisation is based on the assumption of those changes that happened due to the cultural connect with the western world. Especially with the Great Britain. Let us discuss Sanskritisation and westernisation in detail


Prof. M.N. Srinivas, famous expert of the South Indian Coorg community was the first to use this term Sanskritisation. He studied the people of Coorg in Mysore. And found that the people of lower caste were trying to follow certain traditions of Brahmins. They were giving up their own traditions like non vegetarianism, use of alcohol and animal sacrifice. And they were doing all those things so as to raise their position in the system of caste based hierarchy.

By following the costume, lifestyle and food of Brahmins, they were trying to improve their position and raised a demand to gain a higher position in the caste system. Prof. Srinivas has used a term “Brahminisation” to explain the process of social mobility. But later he thought it more appropriate to use the term “Sanskritisation” instead. He has used the term Sanskritisation in his book “Religion and Society Among the Coorgs of South India”.

According to Prof Srinivas, “Sanskritisation is a process by which any lower class Hindu or any tribe or any other group changes its rituals, traditions, thoughts a d lifestyle usually in the direction of another caste; like Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya”.

Normally, as a result of such changes lower caste begins to make claim for higher position in the local community. Dr. Yogendra Singh has written that Sanskritisation is more comprehensive premise as compared to Brahminisation. According to him, the process which inspired the low-caste people in Mysore to follow the traditions of Brahmins, was nothing but a special example of tendency of lower class people to follow the cultural ways of upper class people. In most of the aspect,  all high caste people were like Brahmins. Although they could be Kshatriya, Vaishya etc in different parts of the country.

Characteristics of Sanskritisation

According to Srinivas,  a relevant caste system moves towards a higher position along with Sanskritisation. But mobility can also happen without Sanskritisation and Sanskritisation can also happen without mobility. But sanskritisation related mobility only results in positional changes in the system. It does not result in structural changes. Which means a caste may move up with respect to some contemporary caste and another caste may move down. The main characteristics of Sanskritisation are as follows:

1. Related to low-caste Hindus,tribe or some other groups

The process of Sanskritisation is related to low-caste Hindus, tribe or some other groups. The group has taken the recourse with a view to enhance its position in the hierarchy of Hindu caste system. Bhil, Oraon, Santhal and Gond and certain tribes of hilly areas of Himalayas are included among them. They have tried to enhance their social position and become a part of Hindu society through sanskritisation. Those people who were never related to Hindu religion or culture,  rather related to other religions come under other groups.

2. Acquire lifestyle of higher caste 

People follow the lifestyle of a caste which is higher than their caste to undergo the process of Sanskritisation. They acquire the traditions, rituals, eating habits, beliefs and values of the higher caste.

3. More than one Ideal

There are more than one ideal or model of Sanskritisation. It means that it were not only Brahmins, but even Kshatriya, Vaishya and any other local superior caste was also followed. And their lifestyles were copied by lower caste or tribal people.

4. Sanskritisation is advanced socialization 

Dr. Yogendra Singh believes that sanskritisation is advanced socialization. It means, any low-caste group undergo the process of socialization towards the lifestyle of any higher caste to get higher position in future. Any caste can succeed in this endeavor when its political and economic power is on the rise. Or it builds relations with any other religious centre.

5. Sanskritisation manifests Social and Cultural changes 

The process of Sanskritisation manifests social and cultural changes. Milton Singer has written, “The theory of Sanskritisation by M.N. Srinivas, is widely accepted anthropological theory of the cultural and social changes in the Indian civilisation. ” This means that Sanskritisation is not only a process towards social change but also a process of cultural change. The change in language, literature, science, philosophy, medicine and religious discourse etc has happened as the result of Sanskritisation and all these also come under cultural changes.

6. Related to a group rather than an individual or a family 

Sanskritisation is related to a group rather than an individual or a family. Any caste or tribal group can try to enhance its position through this process. If an individual or a family tries to do this, then it not only annoys other caste but also the members of its own caste.

7. Brings change in position rather than in fundamental structure 

A particular caste or group can move up with respect  to some other contemporary caste.  But there is apparent change in the caste system itself. Hence Sanskritisation brings changes in position rather than in fundamental structure. It manifests social mobility which creates the possibility of upward mobility of any low-caste. Based on the studies by Bernard Cohen and Harold Gold; Prof. Srinivas has said while low castes are doing the Sanskritisation of their lifestyles, the high caste are moving towards modernisation and secularisation.


While clarifying the meaning of westernisation, Dr. Srinivas has written, “I have used the term westernisation for those social and cultural changes in the Indian society; which have happened as the result of more than one hundred and fifty years of the British rule. Additionally this term encompasses the changes which took place at various levels of technology, institutions, beliefs etc.”

So it is clear that the premise of westernisation included all those social changes and institutional renewals in India, mainly due to political and cultural connect with western nations. Westernisation implies different changes like, costume, lifestyle  etc. According to Dr. Yogendra Singh,  the emphasis on humanitarianism and rationalism is the part of westernisation. That has initiated the process of institutional and social reforms in India. Establishment of scientific, industrial and educational institutions, rise of nationalism, new political culture etc all are byproducts of westernisation.

Characteristics  of westernisation

Prof. Srinivas has mentioned the following characteristics of westernisation:

1. Impartial from moral perspective 

Westernisation is an impartial premise from the moral perspective.  It does not tell us whether the changes in India due to western influence is good or bad. It just tells about the changes and is independent from the values of good or bad.

2. A universal premise

Westernisation is a universal premise in which all the changes related to physical and spiritual culture come. All the changes in the fields of technology, religion, caste, beliefs, lifestyle, transport and communication, literature, education etc are the result of the influence of the west.

3. A Scientific Premise

As the westernisation premise is an impartial premise from the value perspective hence it is a scientific premise. We can analyse any change happening in the society with the help of it.

4. Many forms

We can see English, American, Russian and different European forms or ideals of westernisation. Certain elements are common in all of the forms. As it were the British who helped the Indians in recognising various social, economic, political, religious and physical facets of westernisation. So English Ideals are all prevalent in India. Although American and Russian forms have started to become influential in the present times.

5. Complex and multilevel process 

According to Prof. Srinivas westernisation is a complex process. Its effect can be seen on social, political, economic and technical levels. There have been different effects of westernisation on different aspects of society. Some have been highly influenced and have experienced greater changes as compared to certain other aspects. Some people have acquired western costumes and habits, while some have acquired western ideas, values or technology. The influence of westernisation has not been uniform on every aspect of society.

6. Conscious and subconscious process 

The effect of westernisation on the indian society has been both at conscious and su conscious levels. We consciously and deliberately acquire certain western elements. While some of them influence us indirectly or subconsciously and become the part of our daily life and behaviour.


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