Discoursing Communication from the Perspective of Mainstream Hindu Philosophy

Discoursing Communication from the Perspective of Mainstream Hindu Philosophy

By: Dr. Nirmala Mani Adhikary & Aditya Kumar Shukla

(Originally published as: Adhikari, N.M., & Shukla, A.K. (2013). Discoursing communication from the perspective of mainstream hindu philosophy. Dev Sanskriti: Interdisciplinary International Journal, 2, 51-56.)


This article presents an appraisal of the discourses on communication from the perspective of maninstream Hindu philosophy. 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. However, most of the mainstream Hindu philosophies are still unexplored by the communication scholars. Recently, a doctoral research has been accomplished on the Bhatta-Mimamsa philosophical study of communication.

Keywords: Communication, Hindu Philosophy, Communication Theory, Asian Perspective


The word communication is translated into languages of Sanskrit origin (including Nepali and Hindi) 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).

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 (Adhikary, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c, 2012a).

The Western models and theories of communication have been criticized as “reflective of the biases of Western thought and culture” (Kumar, 2005, 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).

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, 2008). 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. (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. 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. In fact, philosophical, religious as well as cultural background of the society should be considered while studying communication.

Communication from Hindu Perspective: Early Contributions

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. Yadava presented a paper in the seminar (later published as Yadava, 1987) and argued that Sadharanikaran is that concept which, in Hindu perspective, refers to what is meant by communication today. In the same year, 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.

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.).

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 (Saral, 1983). Here, it is analyzed that communication in Hindu philosophical perspective is governed by natural law of Dharma. The basic argument behind this is made by the extension of the Hindu concept of the universe to the systems approach wherein Dharma is the basic principle of the whole universe and is existing eternally. It is argued that since this natural law of Dharma regulates human existence and governs relations of individual beings, communication too is governed by the same law.

The above mentioned works have certainly incorporated insights from Hinduism. But, they do not primarily draw on any of the mainstream Vedic Hindu philosophical schools (i.e., Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta). Some of them do refer to some Hindu philosophical school in the text. 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. And, Sitaram (2004) has claimed that all the six schools of Hindu philosophy outline unique communication theories. However, substantiating the discussion/claim with evidences from and analysis of classical philosophical texts (such as Sutras, Bhasyas, ect.) has not been done there.

Mainstream Hindu Philosophy and Theorizing Communication

Insights from mainstream Hindu philosophical schools, particualarly that of Vedanta, has been the base of the construction of and further discourses on the Sadharanikaran model of communication (Adhikary, 2003, 2004, 2007a, 2007b, 2008, 2009, 2010a, 2010b, 2010c, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c, 2012a, 2012c). For instance, 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, 2007b, 2009, 2010a, 2010b, 2011b). Furthermore, the theory of Sancharyoga has been propunded (Adhikary, 2007b, 2010a, 2010b, 2011b). Also, it has been discoursed how the discipline of communication can be approached as a vidya (true knowledge) in Hindu orthodoxy (Adhikary, 2007b, 2010b, 2011b).

Recently, a doctoral research has been accomplished on the Bhatta-Mimamsa philosophical study of communication (Adhikary, 2012b). This interdisciplinary research theorizes communication according to the Bhatta School of Mimamsa Philosophy, and presents a unique communication model – named the Bhatta-Mimamsa Model of Communication. In this course, it first explores the Bhatta School of Mimamsa Philosophy from the perspective of communication and examines its relevance for the communication discipline. Then, it draws on the Pramana and Prameya, Abhihitanvayavad and Bhavana Theory as well as the Theory of Knowledge of the Bhatta-Mimamsa Philosophy in order to theorize communication thereby constructing 11 elements of communication as envisioned in the philosophy. Finally, it presents the Bhatta-Mimamsa Model of Communication, in which the 11 elements of communication can be classified under four key-themes (namely, Karta, Sadhan, Itikartavyata, and Sadhya). The model shows how the Bhavakas (communicating parties) accomplish communication and the persuasion for Karma is attained.

Concluding Remarks

Though still not large in number the literature relevant for studying communication from Hindu perspective is increasing. 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: Adhikary, 2011a; Chen & Miike, 2006; Dissanayake, 1988a, 1988b; Gordon, 2007; Kincaid, 1987; Miike, 2007). There is scope for vast discursive universe the discourse on communication from Hindu perspective, yet the discourse has been confined to a limited domain. For instance, such works have drawn on very few Sanskrit texts such as Bharata’s Natyashastra, Bhartrihari’s Vakyapadiya and Panini’s Astadhyayi. Few genres like rhetoric and poetics have been explored in this regard. Some have drawn on religion (‘Dharma’) for understanding communication in Hindu concept. Among the orthodox Hindu philosophical schools, Vedanta seems the preferred one. Whereas, 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.

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. Particularly, most of the mainstream Hindu philosophies are also still unexplored by the communication scholars.

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 explore, reinterpret and recontextualize the texts in the new light.


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