Early Giithaa sculptures

Narayan S. Raja raja at IFA.HAWAII.EDU
Thu Dec 31 03:00:19 UTC 1998

On Wed, 30 Dec 1998, Robert Zydenbos wrote:

> Right here, on the Indology List, and in this thread, there was a list
> member who claimed that the Bhagavadgiitaa was written at the beginning
> of the Kaliyuga. On the basis of what? This is the kind of
> antihistorical attitude I was referring to.

Anyone can say anything.  But did anyone
take her/him seriously?  Has it ever been
an issue in India?

(In a mythological sense, of course,
the Bhagavad Gita was indeed written
at the beginning of the Kaliyuga.
It's true in the same sense that "Siva
rides on a bull called Nandi").

> > In my experience, Hindu scriptural literalists
> > are negligible in number.
> Quite the contrary. It happens over and over that I try to start a
> historical discussion with traditional pundits about, e.g., the relative
> dating of puraa.nas, and the reply will be that such a question cannot
> arise because all puraa.nas have been written by Vedavyaasa, who is
> Vi.s.nu himself, hence they are all equally old.

Traditional pandits are a valuable resource
in the same sense that a traditional mahout
(elephant handler) or snake charmer is a
valuable resource.

The mahout handles elephants every day.  He can
handle elephants for us.  He can tell us how much
food they eat, how long they need to sleep, etc.
He can help us with a rogue elephant.

But if we discuss the origin of elephants, quite possibly
the mahout will tell us that they all descended from
Indra's elephant, Airavata.  The mahout is not a reliable
source of information about the origin of elephants.
A pity, of course.  But it merely means we should talk to
a zoologist instead.

We face a serious problem only if zoology
professors teach that elephants were descended
from Indra's elephant, Airavata.

In actual life, there do exist traditional pandits
who are also capable of a historical discussion.
These are like modern zoo veterinarians.  They can
handle the elephant and also discuss its comparative
anatomy.  But I think that's a bonus.

Best wishes,


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