Autobiography of a Bhogi: Part 2: An archaeologist, SCUBA diver and a cunning linguist walk into an ashram in Gujarat…


It sounds like the start to a good joke, doesn’t it? However, regrettably, it’s not. At least, not yet. Instead, earlier tonight I randomly came across this link,

which I hadn’t seen before. It contains information about my first article about spoken Sanskrit that I wrote while I was an MA student (2008–10) studying linguistics/applied linguistics and Hindi, Urdu and Sanskrit. Perhaps I am getting nostalgic as I fast approach 40, but finding this link caused me to reflect on the past 10 years of my life.

I’ve always been into old stuff. When I was a kid I was convinced I could read Egyptian hieroglyphs. I took a summer internship at the Adelaide Museum, which evolved into graduating as an archaeologist (1996–2000), because, well, I was obsessed with the adventures of Indiana Jones (the bad ass excavator) and Jacques Cousteau (who pioneered SCUBA diving), so, obviously, the logical decision was to major in maritime archaeology.

Still, like the SCUBA diving, which I have done ~1500 times over the past 20 years, I noticed that I was much more interested in people, instead of their material cultural remains. Even though I would drop everything to be involved with an excavation tomorrow… I found out that, while studying Sanskrit, I was more interested in what people were doing with these texts.

I realised that I was more of an anthropologist than a philologist or archaeologist, and, so, I slowly gave up my ideas of pouring over ancient manuscripts. I love reading these old texts, but people are just more interesting. What fascinated me even more was when I realised that people would quote these texts as a source of authority, but when I went and checked these texts for the actual source of their legitimising truth claim, sometimes, it would not be there... This fascinated me to the point that I became intrigued by the politics of representation related to Sanskrit, which of course spreads into yoga, which evolved into my interest in global yoga and the politics of desire and the economics of imagination.

The article that I wrote in 2011 is a result of going to the Shanti Mandir ashram, as I heard from friends that people who live in the ashram speak Sanskrit. It was during my studies of Sanskrit at the Australian National University, most of which I did online while living in other parts of the world, that I heard about people who speak Sanskrit as a 2nd and possibly 1st language.

If you want a free book about learning Sanskrit, which gives you the entire course for the first year of the online course, then click HERE.

As I looked into this phenomenon it intrigued me even more as there were many opinions about whether or not these stories were true or bogus. I figured that the truth lay somewhere in between. And, the more I looked the more interesting it became.

This lead me to become intensely interested in endangered languages, language revival and linguistic human rights, which lead to completing a second MA (2010–12) (The Endangered Languages Alliance is worth checking out), I thought about making an Indian-wide study of ‘Sanskrit-speaking’ villages the focus of my PhD. Instead, I ended up returning to Shanti Mandir during (2012–16) to collect more data for a PhD in anthropology, where I hoped to answer all the questions left over from the MA. Instead, I ended up with even more questions still unanswered from the PhD!

But, I have been pursuing the Sanskrit-speaking village project on the side. This is one article that you can read about the revival of Sanskrit.

While this article is about another village in Madhya Pradesh that is promoted as a ‘Sanskrit-speaking’ village, and this is a more academic look at the same village, this is the first episode of a low-budget short-film series I’m slowly releasing about Jhiri.

Today, in fact, this latest article about Jhiri has been published. It is not too long, full of colour pictures, and takes a kind of behind-the-scenes look at the project.

Below, is a brief overview of this article from 2011, which is interesting to go back and read again. It’s been an interesting journey to get this far. All I can say is that I’m not necessarily smart, but I had a dream and I’m tenacious… I didn’t let go of it. In fact, when times were toughest as a pitiable graduate student, I clung to my goal even harder. I never let the self doubt knock me down. In fact, during the moments of pure anxiety that left me sleepless and depressed. All I imagined was standing on stage accepting my certificate, looking into the crowd, and seeing my family. The day that I graduated, on my birthday, it was a special moment. One that I will cherish. I never set out to do a PhD. It just kind of happened. I figured that after 5 degrees, and a bunch of student debt, that I couldn’t do a 3rd MA, but I felt like all that effort would go to waste if I just stopped studying and got a normal job. So, I applied for a PhD program and was lucky to get a fee waiver and full scholarship.

Now, I’m doing this pretty cool job exploring global yoga in Japan.


So, anyways, if you are interested about the punch line to that joke, perhaps you’ll find it here, in this

Abstract: According to the Indian Census, Sanskrit was spoken by almost fifteen thousand people in 2001. This paper presents the results of ethnographic fieldwork conducted during 2009 in Gujarat, India. The focus of the study was to generate a clearer understanding of the functions of spoken Sanskrit in a multilingual boarding school in Valsad district, southern Gujarat. The goals were to determine the domains in which Sanskrit is spoken, the number of speakers, their level of fluency, and the attitudes of the speakers towards the functionality, future and prestige of the language. This synchronic study applied typical sociolinguistic methodology of participant observation, reading-passage analysis, and interviews to understand more clearly the relevance of speaking Sanskrit.

If you want to read more you can download it here, for free.

If you are curious, you can check out this 66 min documentary I made during the PhD fieldwork. I purposely decided not to include the guru, Swami Nityananda much as he is generally the focus of every video they make. Instead, I wanted to collect some more mundane aspects of life in this ashram. I also chose not to explain much, and instead let each scene unfold as it did for me, and many people that stay there.


If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the article (not that I’ll get any money, but please consider clapping), then:

FULL TEXT PDF (BUY NOW — AU$4.00 + GST (1445KB) )


Patrick McCartney, PhD is a JSPS Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies, Kyoto University, Japan; a Research Associate at Nanzan Anthropological Institute, Nanzan University, Japan; and a Visiting Fellow at the South and South-East Asian Studies Department, Australian National University, Australia.

Building upon an anthropological premise, Patrick’s work intersects the commodification of desire and consumption of yoga-inflected lifestyles. It explores the consumption of global yoga through the politics of imagination and the sociology of spirituality. Patrick’s current project focuses specifically on the Japanese yoga industry, which includes understanding the aspirations of Japanese yoga consumers and how modern yoga is reconstituted in unique ways into Japanese culture. You can follow this project at Yogascapes in Japan, and also find his articles and films there too.

The Call for Papers for the upcoming Yoga, Movement and Space Conference, November 2–3, Kyoto, Japan is now open.

Patrick McCartney

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