method of dating RV, III

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Fri Jun 5 02:31:51 UTC 1998

On Wed, 3 Jun 1998, Jan E.M. Houben wrote:

> We cannot check the stability of the Rgvedic hymns before the brAhmaNas.

In a way, we can check on them. As is well known,the Atharvaveda,
Yajurveda and Samaveda contain very many stanzas from the Rgveda, but in a
much inferior tradition; they have been transmitted in a less faithful way
and 'corrupted' by 'perseveration' (H. Oldenberg, Prolegomena, 1888).

One can study such perseverations (als O. has done, but few after him for
100 years) and then proceed to debate why/how the RV version is better. It
almost always is. (Some discussion in my Canon&Society paper).

As a gereral rule, we can accept the RV as is. The few changes made before
or during the redaction by Sakalya have been well studied (e. g. Cuv > Cv,
and metrically :paavaka for pavaaka, etc. etc.)

Many of the following questions discussed in the Canon&Society paper:
> But when did this entail a living creativity resulting in actual
> entropy?
>... which maintained the stability of a great number of the Rgvedic
> hymns?

> Now to the date of 1900 BCE as the post quem of the Rgveda:
> Evidence is there, once we place the Rgveda in a
> period before 1200 BCE, but the evidence is relatively one-sided. We
> have to assume the Sarasv.Indus-civ. to be incompatible with the
> indications in the Rgveda, etc. Texts seem to allow several scenarios.

Percentages aside, always sveral scenarios, with differing probablilities.

But: "assume" that RV was incompatible with the Indus Civ?  It must be
shown that it *can* be compatible. RV simply does not refer to Harrappan
towns (pur is a wild west style or mud rampart fort)...There a no ocean
going ships of Indus traders i teh RV. All bad philology (or teh lack of
it, e.g. in the hundreds of *untranslated* "proof" passages in
S.P.Gupta,The Indus Civilization,Delhi 1996, pp. 164-174). Cf.J. Houben,
below, on 1000-pilared houses.

A scenario that one could entertain is the "Roman/Arab style" one:  early
Indo_Aryan mercenaries in the Indus cities (if there were mercenaries
then!). Or one can think of occasional "horse traders" in Indus cities,
Pathans, before their day...  But all of this is speculation: no evidence
in the texts, and of course not in Archaeologuy, so far.

I do not think one can imagine IAs in the country-side, side by side with
Indus farmers & cattle herders: something of this would have transpired in
a few RV hymns... A simile or two: "this is like... selling your lame
horses to...the muuradeva-s in town", or whatever.

> And what was the methodological strength of Max Mueller's guestimate that the
> Rgveda was pre-1000 BCE?

I think we do not have to discuss Max Mueller any longer, this is like
pre-Linnean biology or pre-Copernicus astronomy. Interesting only for a
history of Indology.

> Alternative datings: Rgveda at 4500 BCE (Jacobi, calculated on basis of
> astronomic hints in Rgveda).

Well,  there is the old (Jacobi, now Kak's) discussion of the naksatra
passage in Satapatha Br. Needs a long, separate discussion. If SB would be
placed in 2300 or 2900 BC, then the RV should be older. But the SB "date"
can be dislodged easily. Any takers?

> One assumption is that Sarasv./Indus and RV-civilisation were not
> incompatible, either because RV-poets did speak of 1000-pillared
> mansions, or because they later on largely neglected co-existing urban
> cultures ...

See above...

Michael Witzel                       witzel at

phone: 1- 617 - 495 3295 (voice & messages), 496 8570, fax 617 - 496 8571
my direct line (also for messages) :  617- 496 2990

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