Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at UK.AC.UCL
Wed Nov 27 22:20:21 UTC 1991

Dear Ronald,
You make some very interesting points, but I think you overstate the
case for associating the use of Devanagari with Hindi nationalism.  Anyone
can be silly about politics (probably most people are!), and any issue
can be politicised.  But historians rarely need to take
much notice.  Are Bob and Sheldon to stop translating the Ramayana
because of the disgusting political antics of the BJP?  To eschew
Devanagari for Sanskrit scholarship seems equally unnecessary to me.
 > Do we in the West really want to take sides in the matter?
I can't see why it is not perfectly acceptable to publish in Devanagari
without taking sides, and furthermore without fearing that others might
think that one had done so.
You are perfectly right about the variety of scripts in MSS, and indeed
I made this point myself in my original posting.
 > Devanagari can be beautiful, but so too can other Indian scripts.
I couldn't agree more, and I would dearly like to see the acquisition of
at least the Bengali and Telugu scripts (and "Saaradaa perhaps) as
essential parts of a serious undergraduate course in Sanskrit, coupled
with some practice in handling and deciphering manuscripts.  When
I was an undergraduate, Richard G. took us all into the Bodleian
once a week, one term, and we read "Sakuntalaa from MSS.  It was great.
 > Converting texts written for
 > example in Newari or Malayalam scripts into Devanagari seems to me to be a
 > political act and from a Western scholarly point of view a
 > retrograde one at that ...
I disagree!  It is a most interesting point, though.  But surely
the main purpose in -- say -- producing an edition is to make the
author's work available to a fresh contemporary audience, and in
a version that is as close as possible to what the author wrote.
(By "version" I mean text, not script.  The substance, not the form.)
If, as you stress, the text is transmitted in MSS in several scripts,
obviously one is going to have to come off the fence.  Perhaps you
could say that an edition should be printed in the script that
the author used, but that is almost never known.  But even if it
were known, say, that the author was Keralan, and wrote Sanskrit in
the Malayalam script, I still think that it would be counter-
productive to produce an edition in this script.  The audience
for the book would be decimated, and this would be no service to
the author, the editor, or the history of ideas.  Just imagine if
T. Ganapatisastri had printed the Trivandrum Sanskrit Series in
Malayalam, or if the Bibliotheca Indica were in Bengali script.
Surely the great advantage of Devanagari is that lots of people can
read it.  Most people in India.  That is reason enough.  To use
another script would be a *more* political statement, saying
in effect, "I don't care if most people never read this".
That's precisely what worries me about editions of Sanskrit texts
in Roman script (e.g. Si).  They satisfy our needs as Western
scholars admirably, of course.  But in the final analysis, at the
end of the day, when all the birds come home to roost, etc., the torch
of Indian scholarship belongs in India, and we do not serve Indians
well if we publish in scripts that are not natural to them.  There
are many excellent Sanskrit scholars who would have a very hard
time reading a romanized edition.
How many copies of Si have sold in India?  How many vaidyas have
read it?  Compare that with the number of editions of something
like the Vaidyajivana, or even the Madhavanidana, which are both
currently in print, probably with more than one publisher.  I
would argue that the Si would have equal appeal in India today,
if it were available in a cheap, reliable Devanagari edition.
It's history in medieval times, as you have revealed, shows that
it has the capability of being extremely popular.
 > ... since any transcription into Roman characters worthy of its
 > salt incorporates an
 > important element of interpretation that is sacrificed by the
 > use of Devanagari.
I am just as puzzled by this as you are about the claim that it is harder
to make typos in Devanagari than in Roman.  Any script can be corrupted
by a typesetter or typist.  I *wish* there were a bullet-proof script, but
of course there isn't.  Similarly, what is there about Devanagari that
prevents markup?  You can split up ak.saras, etc.  Underlining, bold,
size changes, accents, superscript numerals, etc.  Why not?  It looks
ugly, but then it does in Roman too.  It's just a matter of getting
your eye in, isn't it?
Best wishes,

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