Evils of Written Vedas? (paapa)

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Sat Feb 19 21:02:32 UTC 2000

>Deconstruction also requires that words like pApa not
>be simplistically translated to evil. `pApa" is
>whatever is contingent on the body. The idea of learning
>Veda is to rise above such contingence and
>learning to be independent of the written text was a
>part of that training.

This may be Tarak Wani's personal opinion, (NB: unsubstantiated by
quotations or by references to research), but it is not born out by
detailed  investigations.

Rahul P. Das has shown in his c. 150 pp. MA diss. (Hamburg 1985) that paapa
is INDEED  best translated as 'evil' (cf. also, for the historical
development of the term, Tracing the Vedic Dialects in: Colette Caillat
(ed.), Dialectes dans les litteratures indo-aryennes.  Paris 1989, p.

If 'contingent on the body' implies impurity, illness and other evils
'sticking' to one's body, then this is correct (cf. the Atharvavedic
'apamarga' plant & sorcery). But TW's cryptic sentence may also be
interpreted in other (Advaita? etc.) ways.  --
However, how learning the (Atharva)veda texts leads to 'rise(?)' above
'contingence' is very much open to question. Even in modern Orissa,
Atharvavedins are looked down upon,  due to their connection with sorcery,
and also due to some other local social facts.

Of course, nobody disagrees with the fact that the oral transmission of
Vedic texts in South Asia is unique among the world's cultures.

Michael Witzel
Department of Sanskrit & Indian Studies, Harvard University
2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138

ph. 617-496 2990 (also messages)
home page:     www.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/mwpage.htm

Elect. Journ. of Vedic Studies:         www1.shore.net/~india/ejvs

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