This answer claims:

It is also said that Müller was hired by the British East Indian Company only to distort Hindu scriptures.

But did Müller actually distort Hindu scriptures? If yes, how exactly did he do it? Are there any examples where the original Sanskrit verses say one thing but his translation/commentary says something else?

  • He generally followed the commentaries of Sayanacharya and Shankaracharya in his translation of the Vedas and Upanishads, but in places where he didn't agree with the commentators, he provided his own interpretation. He didn't seem to have malevolent intentions.
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 19:40
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    Related Were Hindu scriptures tampered with by the British? Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 17:13
  • @Sarvabhouma Please explain why you removed the 'translation' tag. The tag has direct connection with the main question, it's not a meta tag. Commented Feb 19, 2019 at 15:10
  • How is translation giving the topic of the question? It is about Max muller changing the meanings of the words. Translation can't be a single tag on the question and doesn't give a proper idea if seen. It is a dependent tag. meta tag means a tag which can't stand alone as a tag. See stackoverflow.blog/2010/08/07/the-death-of-meta-tags Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 1:42
  • @Sarvabhouma Even if I removed all the other tags, the question can still stand on the translation tag. This is why said it's not a meta tag. 'Translation can't be a single tag on the question and doesn't give a proper idea if seen' - disagree, as the question title itself contains the word "translation". This question is about both Müller AND his translations. 'mistranslation' is probably more appropriate if that's what Müller really did. For now, I'm rolling back to Rev 2. In future, please leave a comment before rolling back edits and take it up on meta if you disagree with a new tag. Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 2:32

1 Answer 1


As per Rajiv Malhotra, Max Muller played double game. Although he tentatively proposed some (strange) theories, Rajiv Malhotra says later scholars used his speculations and solidified concept of Arya and Dravida and destroyed dynamic nature of Varna Dharma. His interpretations can be considered as distortions which were later used by other scholars.

Rajiv Malhotra says the following in Chapter 5 of Breaking India book:

Max Müller's interpretation of Vedic literature in terms of a clash between two racial groups, led him to search for physical features in the Vedas that would identify the groups physically. And so, Müller tentatively interpreted nose-length as one such differentiating feature.

Sir Herbert Hope Risley (1851–1911) was a powerful colonial bureaucrat at the Royal Anthropological Institute, and developed the Nasal Index based on Max Müller's speculation. This Nasal Index, much like Phrenology, became a tool of Race Science in an effort to classify the traits of Indian communities. During the four decades of his stay in India, Risley made an extensive study of Indian communities, based on the Nasal Index. His goal was to separate the Aryan communities from the non-Aryan communities.

His taxonomical classification and massive documentation of Indian jatis froze the dynamic quality and mobility found in the jati system within the varna matrix. Various colonially inspired studies transformed jatis into racial categories rather than identities based on occupation. The Nasal Index not only separated the jatis into Aryan and non-Aryan, it also classified those considered non-Aryan as distinct from mainstream Hindu society. Risley compared the black plantation-workers in America with the so-called non-Aryan communities in India. This foreshadows the Afro-Dalit-Dravidian projects of today, which are essentially the expansion of Risley's project of ethnic fragmentation of India.

Rajiva Malhotra says Rigveda 5.29.10 was used to classify Indians tentatively as Aryans and Non-Aryans.

Max Müller's interpretation of the Rig Veda claimed that only the first three varnas are Aryan, while the fourth, shudra, is not Aryan. However, he explicitly admitted that there was no evidence of physical differences between Aryans and non-Aryans in Sanskrit texts. He made only one incidental reference to physical differences – that noses were described differently for different tribes in the Rig Veda. He based this notion on a single Sanskrit word, anasa (Rig Veda: V.29.10), that was used infrequently. Müller himself drew no important conclusions from this casual observation. But his prejudice was passed on through others who were more eager to do the dirty work openly. One of the common threads throughout the West's study of India has been the manner in which subsequent scholars pick and choose from someone else's work, often out of context, and with their own arbitrary assignment of priorities. This is what happened between Max Müller's writing and its manipulative use by Risley years later.

Rajiv Malhotra also says Max Muller publicly criticized such theories but privately encouraged such interpretations.

The younger Risley was greatly influenced by the senior and legendary figure of Max Müller. The development of racist theories between these two men was an important step in shaping the future identities of people across India. Publicly, Müller was cautious and wanted to protect his image, so he criticized the use of linguistics for racial profiling. But indirectly and privately, he encouraged it in various ways. For instance, Müller gave the following input in a private letter to Risley, prior to Risley's census of 1901:

It may be that in time the classification of skulls, hair, eyes, and skin may be brought into harmony with the classification of language. We may even go so far as to admit, as a postulate, that the two must have run parallel, at least in the beginning of all things.

In the same letter, he encouraged Risley by saying that students of ethnology have regarded 'the skull, as the shell of the brain' to be an indicator of 'the spiritual essence' of the person. In other words, Max Müller spoke from both sides of his mouth when it came to racial implications of cultural and linguistic factors. This ambiguity was often deliberately nuanced in codified terms, which enabled more blatantly racist men like Risley to proceed further.

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    And till now I had thought at least Muller interpretation is quite upto the mark.
    – TheLittleNaruto
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 17:31
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    'Müller himself drew no important conclusions from this casual observation' - So Müller is being blamed for what Risley later did? 'Müller gave the following input in a private letter to Risley' - Is there a copy of the full letter? Do you know of any examples other than RV V.29.10? Can you also add the correct/traditional interpretation of RV V.29.10 from say Kashyap R. L.? Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 17:59
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    @sv. Will give link for full letter. The epub i have doesn't show reference for the letter. Looks like Rajiv Malhotra himself says Sayana interpretation of this verse. Actually, Risley's list of castes is still used by Indian government for various purposes.
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 5:12

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