Rig Veda, ta'ntra, nUl, and sUtra

thompson at jlc.net thompson at jlc.net
Thu Apr 3 22:23:56 UTC 1997

Dear S. Palaniappan,

Thank you for forwarding your message to me, and for giving me the
opportunity to send you my apologies for not responding to your earlier
messages.  You are pursuing a very interesting train of thought here.
Perhaps a few Vedic references and some comments will be of use to you.

To my knowledge the most detailed discussion of the topic of weaving in
Vedic is in German, by Wilhelm Rau, called "Weben und Flechten" ["Weaving
and Braiding"].  Unfortunately, I do not have access to it any longer, so I
cannot give you details of his point of view.

However, I can tell you that metaphorical uses of terms for weaving, such
as those that you have cited, can be found throughout Vedic literature,
starting with the RV.  Such metaphorical uses are probably not Vedic
inventions but rather are likely to be inheritances from Indo-European,
since similar metaphors are found in Avestan, Greek [cf. Ariadne's
"thread"], Latin [cf. our English word "text" which derives from Latin
textus -- also think of "textile" and "texture", all derived from texere
"to weave": related to Skt. taks-, which one finds in Vedic with ma'ntra;
also in Avestan], and Old Germanic [unfortunately, again, the best
references are in German].  Various forms of the verb vA-/vi-/u [including
infinitive o'tum] occur in the RV, in a metaphorical sense "to weave a song
or vision" [a rather vivid example is the hymn RV 6.9].

The term sU'tra is attested at AVZ 10.8.37-38, a brahmodya-like pair
[without interrogation] that in my view suggests a metaphorical sense [cf.
the repeated phrase sU'traM sU'trasya with the verb vid- "to know the
thread of the thread", very interesting in light of satya'sya satya'm,
studied by Hanns Oertel, who mentions this passage].

Also, as you suggest, forms of the root tan- [ta'ntu, ta'ntra] exhibit this
sort of metaphorical sense as well.  Here, however, there is the additional
factor of the collocation of the verb tan- with yajJa'm, "to stretch out
the sacrifice"; see also the phrase Rta'sya ta'ntu [discussed by Lueders].
I won't go into details, for fear of "losing the thread."

I apologize if it appears that I am merely throwing details and references
at you.  I myself would conclude from such evidence that the semantic leap
from "weaving" to "utterance" is rooted in an old IE metaphor which the
Vedic poets developed in quite elaborate ways. I myself am not capable of
saying whether or not there is a connection with the Dravidian metaphor
that you are studying.

As for a Skt. term for "world-wide web", perhaps Rta'sya ta'ntu is as good
as any. ;-)

Hoping that this helps,
George Thompson

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