Dates of written Rgveda

Yaroslav Vassilkov yavass at YV1041.SPB.EDU
Sat Mar 11 19:06:56 UTC 2000

Dear Dr.Farmer,
        I am afraid, you will not succeed in your attempts to apply to the text
of the Rgveda patterns and approaches developed on the basis of the early written
(or oral poetic) texts of other cultures. The technique of composition and transmission
of Vedic texts is absolutely unique. The concept of stratification which implies any
*redactions* or *revisions* of the earlier texts does not work here. The composition
of a Vedic hymn was a sacred process, its text was produced as a precious
artefact (a gift to a god), the text was often strewn with alliterations and anagramms,
which hinted at the name of the god; nothing could be changed or omitted in it.
Special mnemonic technique made it possible to preserve the text word for word,
sound for sound.There was even a myth stressing the mortal danger of the mispronunciation
of a single syllable in a Vedic text. The "stratification" as regards Vedic texts means
only that some mandalas contain old hymns and other mandalas (or their parts) contain
late hymns; old and late hymns differ in style and language and no late revision of the
old hymns was possible. What particularly makes you think that "various (Vedic) hymns
were repeatedly *reshaped* in early stages of the text's oral development"? As far as
I know, few suggestions of *interpolations* in the RV text, made by some scholars of
the 19 century, referred not to the early "strata", but precisely to some late,
"philosophical" hymns and were not convincing; the aim of this suggestions was to explain
away imaginary "unconsistencies" in the Vedic texts, and the method itself was
uncritically borrowed from the European tradition of text-criticism which had been
developed in the fields of Classical and Biblical studies.

        Now, the problem of dating. There is a consensus between the majority of
scholars: the earliest "strata" is dated approximately by 1500 BC, the latest one -
around 1000 BC. The proposed correction of the date of the Buddha can make the Vedic
hymns younger by a century, let us say, and not more. The first written records in
India belong to the 3rd century BC. Even if we suggest the invention of writing two
or three centuries earlier (it seems possible, in particular, that KharoSTi was
invented in the Achemenian chancelleries of the North-West, acc. to Prof.B.N.Mukherjee),
we have to suggest that during the same two or three centuries the writing was used
only for administrative/household records (as elsewhere). So there always be a gap of
several centuries, during which RV had to be transmitted solely by oral means, without
use of any written text even for "control" purposes.

Best regards,
                                                        Yaroslav Vassilkov

Yaroslav Vassilkov (yavass at
Sat, 11 Mar 2000 19:06 +0300 MSK

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