Rig Veda, ta'ntra, nUl, and sUtra

jpo at uts.cc.utexas.edu jpo at uts.cc.utexas.edu
Fri Apr 4 13:22:51 UTC 1997

On the metaphor of weaving and on the meaning of "ota" and "prota" in the
Upanisads, I cite here my note on Brhadaranyaka Up. 6.1 in my recent
translation of the Upanisads. The note is based on the extensive and
wonderful study of Wilhelm Rau (Weben und Fleichten im vedischen Indien,
Wiesbaden: Teiner Verlag, 1970) to which George Thompson refers:

"The terms ota and prota are undoubtedly technical terms borrowed from
weaving. They have been traditionally translated as warp and woof. The
problem with that translation is that then the third term--that on which
the weaving taken place and which is the basis of all the questions--makes
little sense, since the warp and the woof are not woven on anything but by
themselves form the cloth. We have then to think of the third either as the
loom or as a place where the loom is fixed (both rather unattractive
options). Rau (1970, 17) has shown that these terms (derived from A-ve,
which is an equivalent of apa-ve, and pra-ve) refer to the back-and-forth
movement of the shuttle in the process of weaving. Similar meaning of the
prefixes apa and pra are found in the common terms apAna (breathing in) and
prANa (breathing out). So both ota and prota refer to the weaving of the
woof or weft, the former referring to the movement of the suttle towards
the weaver and the latter to its movement away from the weaver. Then the
third item upon which the weaving takes place is clear; it is the warp."

This meaning also makes sense because the warp is the fixed and permanent
element, whiche the woof represents movement and change.

Patrick Olivelle

Patrick Olivelle
Director, Center for Asian Studies
Chair, Department of Asian Studies
WCH 4.134 (Mail Code G9300)
University of Texas
Austin, TX 78712-1194

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