Some thoughts on Sanskritization or Tantrification?

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at
Sun Jun 15 21:22:27 UTC 1997

On Sun, 15 Jun 1997 Palaniappa at wrote:

> Parpola's work related to this issue. This is what Asko Parpola says in his
> book Deciphering the Indus Script (p.168-169) in talking about the Dravidian
> phonological and syntactic influences on Rgvedic language. "One further
> reason why some scholars have been unwilling to accept these structural
> features as Dravidisms, in addition to the small number of Dravidian loan
> words (which are also called into question), is their early and sudden
> appearance. This, however, is exactly what can be expected if the Dravidisms
> were adopted indirectly, through another Aryan language that had been subject
> to direct substratum influence of Dravidian for a longer time.We must bear in
> mind that the Rgveda was largely composed in the plains of the Punjab
> relatively late, and redacted even later. The language, as well as the
> contents, of the Yajurveda reflects an entirely different tradition, which
> probably evolved in the Punjab and was incorporated in the Veda only during
> the acculturation that may be assumed to have taken place after the descent
> of the Rgvedic tradition from the Swat Valley. Epic Sanskrit, which contains
> a larger number of Dravidian loanwords than the Vedic texts, is likely to go
> back to the same 'Proto-Yajurvedic' dialect of Old Indo-Aryan".

I do not have the necessary expertise to comment on Prof. Parpola's views
on the yajurveda, nor have I read his work in detail, so I will say only
this much - A lot of assumptions go into the above passage, and the 
strength of the argument rests, in a very crucial sense, upon the strength
of the assumptions. 

Not that I doubt these assumptions entirely, but I think that in a fair
discussion, alternative assumptions must be considered and ruled out
for sound reasons, before one takes something for granted. 

> What this seems to tell me is that the Yajur Vedic materials are a result of
> a combination of pre-Rg Vedic and Rg Vedic materials and as you indicated, I

What you consider to be pre-Rg Vedic could just be non-Rg Vedic, no? A
very strong case has to be made where chronology is concerned.

> should be talking about differences between 'Rgvedic' and 'tantric' materials
> instead of 'vedic' and tantric'. (What I was trying to do was using two
> 'onvenient' words to distinguish the cultural elements of the later Aryans

It is the very convenience of the words that I am afraid of. And why the
word 'tantric'? If 'vedic' in your original analysis has to be replaced
with 'Rgvedic', then 'tantric' might have to be replaced with 'non-Rg
Vedic', which is 'Vedic' nonetheless. In my opinion, 'tantric' only
confuses things even more, simply because the word has been attached to a
number of late texts and traditions, which can only be traced back to
medieval times. Bringing in a mature concept of 'tantra' to an analysis
of Rgveda and yajurveda seems far-fetched to me. 

I am always wary of a simple model that tries to fit a complex reality and
then tries to answer every aspect of a complex thing in terms of its own
simple paradigms. Yes, a simple model has its advantages, but along with
the merits of a simple model, one also has to recognize the limitations it
faces, precisely because of its simplicity.

> As for CT attestation about chanting of the Vedas in Tamilnadu, they seemed
> to have done it very publicly. ParipATal 11 describes brahmins making 'havir'
> offerings in the fire on the banks of Vaiyai river and the brahmin girls
> warming themselves by the fire after bathing in the river in the month of
> 'tai'. (Of course, Manu classifies all Tamils, along with Chinese etc, as
> fallen Kshatriyas. So they might not have had as much reservation about the
> Tamils hearing the Vedas.) According to R. Ghose, to this day, verses from
> the Vedas (including rudram and camakam) are chanted in the TiruvArUr temple
> in a hall outside the sanctum sanctorum, which seems to me  to be a public
> place as well. So I do not know if the concept of secrecy was attached to
> vedas. But it will be good if other Indian groups characterized the vedas as
> secret texts.

One is not saying that the practitioners of the Vedic religion tried to
form an ultra-secret society like the KKK or something. All I am saying is
that in almost every religion, at least in the early days of its history,
there is a feeling of belonging to some sort of privileged group, with
access to some knowledge/practice that is not available to those outside
that group. And those outside the group do perceive them to be a closed
society. Look at the history of Mormons in the USA. Nowadays, there is not
much about them that is secret, although they still restrict access to
their church services, but there was a time when almost everything about
them was extremely secret.

Coming back to the Vedas in Tamil Nadu, it is not as if Brahmins would
only recite the Vedas in the privacy of their own homes, but they would
restrict access of Sudras to the places where they recited the Vedas. Do
remember that the inner precincts of the Tiruvarur temple were off-limits
to certain sections of society till fairly recently. 

As for maRai, well, you might have something there, but also keep in mind
that Tamils did not come into serious  contact with Christians till very
late. Words and their connotations change over time, and you have to show
that the common-man's conception of the word 'maRai' did not change in an
essential way over 2000 years or more, right from 1000 BCE (a conservative
estimate for the Vedas) to 1000 CE and later. 


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