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TELEVISION SERIALS - RELIGIOUS REVIVALISM THROUGH LANGUAGE
P. M. Girish, Ph.D.
It is a fact that television has faster and greater impact on society. In a democratic, secular and linguistically diverse country like India, television has a more significant role to play than it does now. Indian television today, has grown into one of the biggest networks in the world. It is claimed that the programme service of Indian television is aimed at the benefit of a unique pluralistic society in which the past and present, the modern and traditional blend with national languages and the multiplicity of dialects. To address this socio-cultural mosaic, Doordarshan, the Indian television network has, over the years widened the scope of its programmes and extended its hours of transmission (Mali, 1989:454). But directly or indirectly, these programmes reflect certain trends. This paper presents an analysis of these trends.
Discourse analysis, a critical approach of the study of language, deconstructs the connections between language, power and ideology, which are often hidden beneath the structure of language, used in the TV serials. According to Althusser (1986), ideology is located in the imaginary relationships of individuals with the real conditions of existence. He proposed that ideology has material existence manifest in the material practices of the people. This paper focuses on the discourse structure of language in mythological serials dubbed in Malayalam, and attempts to evaluate the language ideology of the promoters. This ideological enquiry focuses on language revivalism as well as the preponderant influence or authority of one language over another, as revealed in the TV serials.
2. Secularism Vs Revivalism
The national television network is aimed at fostering social, economic and cultural awareness; promoting the spirit of national integration and projecting the progress made by Indians in various fields. During the last two decades successive governments at the Center have been using mass media, particularly, television as an instrument to propagate and inculcate the spirit of nationalism. Media persons view media as a sub-system. Because mass communication, including television, can be regarded as sub-system of culture, a sub-system represents an important variable in the process of social change. It also represents power, and legitimizes the political and economic sub-system, thereby providing the web that holds society together. Whosoever controls the media has, to some extent, controlled the society.
Both historically and technologically, the methods and the means of communicating messages have been very crucial to the integration and the unity of a culture and society (Reddy, 1989:396). But the recent trend is contrary. The Constitution of India declares that India is a secular country. However, most of the programmes telecast as TV serials do not consider the values of secularism. Secularism is understood largely as a code of morality without any religion's identity in its way. This assumption on the part of the producers and administrators helps the growth of revivalism that brings in religious overtones into the present culture, presented as the exemplary model by the TV serials.
The serials on Ramayana and Mahabharat, the two great Indian epics, were the most popular programmes, till recently on Doordarshan. These serials have broken all previous records of programmes on Indian television. After the great success of these serials, other serials, namely, Sreekrishna, Ohm Namsivaya, Jai Hanuman, Japam Tapam Vritham, Jai Matha, and Jai Ganga Maiye have been telecast. All these are based on Hindu Mythology as depicted in the Epics and Puranas. The promoters of these serials take advantage of the religious archetype of the viewers at the expense of the literary qualities of the source materials. To attract the viewers, in addition to archetypes, visual potentialities are effectively used with the help of modern technology. The promoters attract more and more regional viewers, and the serials produced in Hindi, and mostly aimed at Hindi viewers, are dubbed in the regional languages.
3. Authority Influence of One Language Over Another
Language can represent not only the objective word, but it can also conceive of abstract thoughts. According to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, thinking and perception are not only expressed through language, but are actually shaped by language. When the source language of the Epics is recreated by Doordarshan, it promotes authoritative influence of one language over others.
Historically, Sanskrit is considered to be the ancient language in India. Important religious, instructive, philosophical, and literary works have been written in Sanskrit. The great epics Ramayana and Mahabharatha are composed in thousands of Sanskrit couplets. Vedas and Upanishads are time-honored Hindu sacred books, which originated in Sanskrit and are rendered in other Indian languages. Consequently, Sanskrit is also perceived to be representing Hindu religion.
The Mantras of the Vedas are to be rendered in an accurate pronunciation, according to the practice and sanction of several Hindu scripture texts. All mythological TV serials appear to made it a point to ensure accuracy in rendering mantras while they depict rituals. This apparent claim enhances their prestige in the minds of the devout viwers of these serials.
Apart from other functions, the ritual forms may be used to preserve the religiosity of a social group. It is used in cultural or social practices such as wedding, upanayana, and funerals. It creates a spiritual or religous atmosphere. Following this religious practice, the TV serials provide no translations for Sanskrit words in the original Hindi texts of the serials. The assumed reason is to create an authentic religious or spiritual atmosphere which includes, in Hindu religious contexts, maintaining the sacredness of the religious text.
Actually, Doordarshan Hindi is a stylistically Sanskritized form of the language. Critics say that the use of Hindi on national television programming has rendered Doordarshan a focal point for regional linguisitic discontent. Also because television is controlled by the Center, critics charge that Doordarshan's use of Hindi constitutes cultural "imperialism" radiating from Delhi, bringing into question the legitimacy of Federal rule (Farmer 1996: 100). The mythological serials that are continuously promoted now become another mode of the very same process. There is another point of view of Doordarshan Hindi by Mitra (1993), a well-known media person, who says that the present form of Hindi is an offshoot of Sanskrit and it is, therefore, able to establish a certain binding with Hindu religion as well.
In the past few years, Mahabharata on Doordarshan has also been able to reproduce Hindi as the language of Bharat (India) (ibid, 1993:124). Almost all mythological serials on Doordarshan have been circulated using a Hindi dialect that is archetypical of north-central India. In short, these serials reproduce Hindu-Hindi authority influence by circulating Sansrktized Hindi and mythology that are typically connected with Hindu ideology and Hindu practices.
4. Language Revivalism
Language is the central media in the process of socialization whereby people are constituted as an individual and a social subject. As Thirumalai (1988:6) writes, "there is a qualitative change in language use as the child grows, even though most of the structures are already acquired and available to him or her. The qualitative change is not simply restricted to the acquisition of some new and complex linguistic structures. The qualitative change must be seen more significantly in the ways the already available linguistic structures are put to use. ... socialization is nothing but the acquisition and use of symbols." If language is studied from the political point of view, inferences will indicate that there is always a hidden content couched in some specific linguistic terms and metaphor in the discourse. Study of these linguistic terms, metaphors, and their use will unravel the original intent.
When one deconstructs the language in the mythological serials, it could be seen that there are keen revivalistic trends in the text of the serials. The aim of television promoters is to attract more and more regional viewers. They dub these into various regional languages. The dubbing uses highly Sansrktized terms, and tries to follow as closely as possible the original Hindi version. This type of Hindi shuns away from any naturalized Arabic and Persian loans as these are stamped as Urdu and hence unacceptable.
This dubbing technique involves modifying or adding to the sound track. Change of language is one of the most complex linguistic operations imaginable. Accents have to be matched to convey similar social effects, and words have to be found that look like the originals. This need for keeping up the "original" flavor, seems to justify the current practice of not translating or replacing the Sanksrit words with the commonly used words from the regional languages. This helps maintain or begin a process of religious revivalism. The revivalist signs can be seen in the language aspects such as address terms and common vocabulary as discussed below.
5. Address Terms
The address system in the serials has a characteristic revivalistic tone. Contrived archaic Sanskrit Puranic terms are invented. Since sri is considered an honorific form, the affix forms of /sri/ is invariably appended to almost all address terms. The list of words are given below with its meaning:
Although the trend is to append /sri /to address terms there are some exceptions in words such as:
6. Common Vocabulary
There are a large number of words in the serials, which reflect Hindu spirituality such as:
This ontological language can reflect the spiritual realm of Hinduism. There are also forms such as:
Here Sunyataa refers not only to nothing in the negative sense of unreality, but positively to that reality which cannot be expressed through conceptualization.
Dharma, the moral ideal and Parama, the ultimate, can also express spirituality. The word Parama is used mostly in these serials. This noun denotes the highest status available, particularly in a Hindu religious context, and the form Parama, serves as the first element in a number of compounds. It also stands as an intensifier in such cases as the following 'Parampitaa' and 'Paramapurush.' All these words are used in the present serials and strengthen the revivalist trend at the language level.
Even though Sanskrit has a profound influence on Malayalam, this does not mean that all the Sanskrit terms used in Malayalam cannot be substituted by a native word. Use of a Sanskrit flavor as used in the serials may be intended to maintain a purnaic atmosphere. If so, can we justify that this usage functions only as genuine stylistic device? In reality, this device also has the inherent potential or assumption that the present day Malayalam may be revised to include these terms to bring in an atmosphere of religiosity.
The uses of old or antiquated words in the TV serials come under archaism. It is a device to create an impression of a make-believe world, that is, a spiritual world far removed from present life. Archaism as an art strategy is used, generally, to create an ideal or otherwise a world of the past. It means, then, the use of a language that is distanced from every day speech to create an impression of a world not really in existence. These words are not used in every day speech or written prose either in Sanskrit or in any other Indian languages. The promoters have been deliberately using archaic forms in the mythological serials to create a Hindu spiritualism. Apart from these forms, all the serials employ the word /ohm/, which artificially creates a spiritual atmosphere of Hinduism.
Power relations through the use of linguistic utterances brought out in a discourse are not something that the individuals may suddenly pull out and use. When highlighted, such utterances become a deliberate force in the hands of those who use them. The linguistic utterances express certain specific content and ideology. Repeated use of such utterances re-inforce that content and ideology. This is what happens in the TV serials discussed in this paper. It appears that the promoters of the mythological serials have been using their power over regional viewers and languages for purposes of revivalism. Should a government undertaking media such as Doordarshan do it? If entertainment through mythology for purposes of culture and religion is necessary, will such presentations focus more on artistice elements of the story rather than on reviving values that may function more as an authority influence over people and other languages? Media may be seen as a panacea for the problems of a democratic country like India. But unfortunately the Doordarshan does not seem to use its power judiciously to promote values demanded in a secular polity.
It must be remembered that the basic inspiration for Indian thought has come from the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and the Epics, among other sources. These great works have exercised a great fascination for many eras on the Indian mind as reflected in the various writings in the Indian languages. However, what the language of the mythological TV serials highlights does not focus on critical Indian thought. It focuses more on other matters.
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Farmer,L Victoria 1996. 'Images, mobilization, and communalism' in Making India Hindu, Edited by David Ludden, New Delhi : Oxford Press.
Malik, Saroj 1989. 'Television and Rural India' in Media Culture and society, vol. II. Nov,4.
Mitra, Ananda 1993. Television and popular culture in India, New Delhi: Saga Publication.
Usha Reddy 1989. 'Media and Culture in Indian Society: Conflict or co-operation' in Media culture and society-Vol II. Nov.4.
Thirumalai, M. S. 1988. Positions on Socialization. Mysore: Central Institute of Indian Languages.
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P. M. Girish, Ph.D.
Southern Regional Language Centre
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