Re Ms. Doniger's translations

l.m.fosse at l.m.fosse at
Fri Dec 1 14:44:36 UTC 1995

Vidhyanath K. Rao wrote:
>>[...] I should think that the strictly symbolic interpretation of Vedic
>> mythology suggested here is a rather modern way of thinking.
>I am not sure if Kumarila Bhatta counts as non-modern. Isn't he supposed
>to have explained Prajapati chasing his daughter as Sun coming after the

As far as I remember, the ancient Indians talked about three levels of
interpretation. (adhyatma, adhideva, don't remember the third one) Shankara
often interprets the Vedas in terms of nature mythology. In other words,
their ideas about interpretation were not as simpleminded as the impression
I seem to have given. What I suggested, however, is that their
interpretation was not *strictly* symbolic. In other words, they may have
allowed other interpretations than the symbolic one. I should also add that
there was a continuous development of ideas in ancient India, just as in
Europa. The myths related in the Vedic literature most probably had a
concrete interpretation when they were created, but posterity certainly
read more into the myths than a mere concrete chain of events.

>Re: "Freedom of Expression": I wonder if this idea will fly in the depts
>of Women's Studies, African-American Studies etc. Anyway, I thought that
>lack of sensititvity to one's subjects is a particular fault of `Big Bad
>Masculine Science'.

A certain lack of sensitivity is germane to all critical thought. You can't
tear apart time-honored, but false, ideas and values and at the same time
remain sensitive to the feelings of the "true believers" who rely upon the
old ideas, whoever they are. I understand the reference to Women's Studies
etc. as a reference to the problem of Political Correctness. In my humble
opinion, PCness should be shunned by any serious academic. But of course,
then you may not get a job....

>I am just curious as to what the reaction to the following thought
>experiment is: Imagine a child psycologist explaining why toddlers put
>crayons in their mouth. Crayons, being right circular cylinders covered
>in a thin sheath and having an exposed conical tip, are obvious phallic
>symbols. Toddlers bite on crayons to express their hostility towards
>their fathers.

It could also be construed as a kind of symbolic suicide: "If I don't get
candy, I'll eat crayons till I die". Anybody with theories about immanent
death-wish would love this.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

Lars Martin Fosse
Research Fellow
Department of East European
and Oriental Studies
P. O. Box 1030, Blindern
N-0315 OSLO Norway

Tel: +47 22 85 68 48
Fax: +47 22 85 41 40

E-mail: l.m.fosse at


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