Early excommunications from / inclusions into vedic ...

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Sun Jun 28 14:01:51 UTC 1998


> It looks as though that I have committed a faux pas by apologigimg.
> Professor Witzel, I apologige to you for apologiging. I hope that
> puts the whole thing out of the way.

Funny eh?

O well, if you re-read my sentence: it was more of exasperation with the
present (mostly western) mode of expressing oneself which assumes that one
can fix everything by just renaming certain items ...


> purANAs contain ...
> But that is the case with all such chronicles world over. Just as the
> tendency of a school of Indian Indologists to treat everything in the
> purANAs as infallible is wrong, so is the tendency of other scholars
> to dismiss them summarily as source of information and history (some-
> times the only source however unreliable it may be).

We can all agree on this point, I believe.

Y.Vassilkov has said it all: the Puranic account of the de-Brahmanization
of the NW is just as politically motivated as the Aitareya Br. account of
the Vedicization of the East. Both promulgated by two famous Rsis long
deceased Rsis (at the time of the late Brahamna texts/Visnu Purana and the
Greeks etc.)

Legendary history read that way will show some real but only general
historical trends and developments ; but it cannot be taken at face value.
And that is their value.

No use to reconstruct imaginary lineages some thousand years after the
fact. If one does so, one has to stick with the Romans coming from Troy,
Jesus being of David's (sorry, Adam's) lineage, etc.

This is quite different from following (the European) Pargiter's
footsteps in reconstructing actual historical dates and chronology from
Puranic and Epic accounts. We have been through this before. No one
reconstructs Israeli history from Genesis 1-5 with people living 800-900
years and having sons at that age. If you do so, or use the Puranas in
that way, you are back to my grandmother's 19th cent. grade school books,
which derived universal history straight from the Bible + Greek accounts.
All of this is obvious. But there always is the trend, as you yourself
mention, to take such texts, literally, at their word...

It has been Indologists' aim to extract as much reality from such accounts
(whether Vedic, Puranic or whatever)  as possible, long before any
deconstructionalists. Therefore everyone, I believe, can agree with your
next sentence..

> This shows that information can be extracted even from the motivated
> and slanted accounts.

> By the way, Andhras (that is we) are to the south
> not east.

I am, o wonder, quite aware of the geographical position; I even spent
sometime among the Andhras in a Vedapathasala.

But the AitBr passage talks about eastern tribes and *also* includes the
Andhras (at what exact geopgr. position at that time?) as well.

> > I think that the Europian scholarship should take a more serious and >
> critical look at purANAs.

In the way mentioned above and in many other ways "European" (etc.)
scholars have since long labored on Puranic texts. I mention just one
recent undertaking, the Tuebingen Purana project, with ed. and indexes.
Let the Pauranikas on the list 'defend' themselves....

Y. Vassilkov is right: this is a useless discussion.

Michael Witzel                       witzel at fas.harvard.edu

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