SV: Dates of written Rgveda

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Sat Mar 11 20:15:18 UTC 2000

Yaroslav Vassilkov [SMTP:yavass at YV1041.SPB.EDU] skrev 11. mars 2000 20:07:

> The "stratification" as regards Vedic texts means
only that some mandalas contain old hymns and other mandalas (or their parts)
late hymns; old and late hymns differ in style and language and no late
revision of the
old hymns was possible.

I am not sure I agree with this. The Rigveda and the Atharvaveda give us two
diverging versions of the Hiranyagarbha hymn. The version of the RV 10.90 (the
purusha hymn) and the version  that we find in the Vajasaneyi Samhita are
slightly different, and different with a theological significance. Apparently,
these hymns were played around with to a certain degree and up to a point.  But
the end result was that they were frozen, or to put it differently: if there
were variations in addition to the ones we've got, they have been lost to

>The first written records in
India belong to the 3rd century BC. Even if we suggest the invention of writing
or three centuries earlier (it seems possible, in particular, that KharoSTi was
invented in the Achemenian chancelleries of the North-West, acc. to
we have to suggest that during the same two or three centuries the writing was
only for administrative/household records (as elsewhere).

It is worth noticing that Megasthenes claims that there was no writing system
in India (M. was ambassador to the court in Pataliputra in the 3rd century
BCE). We know, of course, that this is wrong, but it proves that writing was
not something that sprung in your face. As matter of comparison, an oral
literature existed in West Africa in the middle ages in spite of the fact that
Arabic writing was well known. But it was used for other purposes.

>So there always be a gap of
several centuries, during which RV had to be transmitted solely by oral means,
use of any written text even for "control" purposes.

Wouldn't it seem likely that commentaries to the Vedas were written down, just
like commentaries to Panini? The question is of course if the Vedic verses were
written in extenso in these commentaries or if they were just alluded to by
their initial words (as is the case in the Brahmanas). The Brahmana reference
system is actually a strong indicator of orality.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

Dr. art. Lars Martin Fosse
Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
0674 Oslo
Phone/Fax: +47 22 32 12 19
Email: lmfosse at

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list