FWD: RE: FWD: RE: Dates of written Rgveda

beitel beitel at GWIS2.CIRC.GWU.EDU
Sun Mar 12 21:21:50 UTC 2000

Frits Staal asked me to forward this note.

Regards, Alf Hiltebeitel

I happened to see the replies of George Thompson and Michael Witzel to
questions about orality by Steve Farmer and others as well as the last
piece by Georg v. Simson adding new features. I would like to add
something more, on four points: (1) recitation, (2) linguistics,
(3) breath and (4) uniqueness.

(1) The most impressive evidence for oral transmission and memory comes
from the areas of Veda recitation, first of all the Padapatha
(word-for-word recitation) with its extensions and modifications
(vikrti) which incorporate a good measure of linguistic analysis. Second
and much more extraordinary are the ritual recitations of which many are
exemplified in "Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar." If we exclude
the Samaveda, which is amazing in its transmission from beginning to end,
the most astonishing feat is perhaps the recitation for the Asvins which
is described and discussed in detail in Volume I, pages 683-6, with
special reference to techniques of memorization. I have expanded that
discussion in "The Fidelity of Oral Tradition and the Origins of
Science," Mededelingen KNAW, Afd. Letterkunde (Amsterdam), n.s., 49/8
(1986) 251-88.

(2) The chief REASON for this entire development is simple and basic: the
absence of writing. There is no direct link with the problem of  the
origins of writing in the subcontinent because even when writing came to
be used in certain quarters and/or for certain purposes, the Vedas were
not written down. The probably most significant CONSEQUENCE has been the
origin of linguistics and the essential insight in this respect was
formulated in 1953 by Jean Filliozat in L'Inde Classique from which I
translate: "A Semitic type of writing would have been an obstacle to the
origin of phonological and phonetic studies if it had existed at the time
in India." I developed this further (against Goody) in "The Independence
of Rationality from Literacy", European Journal of Sociology
30(1989)301-10 and (with reference to math) in "Greek and Vedic
Geometry," Journal of Indian Philosophy 27(1999)105-27, especially part

(3) There is no DIRECT link with yoga as Georg v. Simson suggests. Yoga
requires concentration and mental discipline, of course, but so do
linguistics, mathematics, chess, (some kinds of) music and countless other
things. It is well known that the recitation of mantras preceded the
meditation on mantras by many centuries. It has nothing to do with the
quoted passage from Patanjali which has been frequently discussed
(Scharfe, Wezler, Ojihara, myself...) and continues to be discussed: it
uses Vedic ritual forms for the expression of  respect for the authority
of a great teacher (acarya), not a seer (rsi) or muni (sage), designations
of Panini that came much later (as Deshpande has shown, the latter
including Patanjali); and certainly not a Yogi. But there is a link
between recitation and some forms of yoga through breathing or prana
because recitation is certainly also a breathing exercise, more so in fact
than the mental concentration on mantras (plenty of cases from Samaveda
and Rigveda discussed in Agni). As for "uniqueness," George Thompson has
already mentioned parallels. The basic problem about claims of uniqueness
(substitute Christianity, Hinduism, science, rationality ...) is that they
can only be convincingly made when ALL possible parallels and alternatives
have been taken into account - a tall order.

I am sorry, this is likely to be my first and last appearance on this
web-site. Perhaps the reader says well and good - and as for me, I have no
time!    Frits Staal On Sat, 11 Mar 2000, beitel wrote:
> >===== Original Message From Indology <INDOLOGY at LISTSERV.LIV.AC.UK> =====
> Steve Farmer wrote (I quote only one sentence):
> >>  If it is really true that premodern Vedic reciters, unlike those found
> >>  every other known premodern civilization, maintained "near-perfect
>  >> ORAL transmission" over two millennia of a highly stratified compilation
> >> like  the Rgvedas, Indologists should be prepared with a credible reason
> >> to explain India's uniqueness.
> The uniqueness (if it really exists) might be explained by the fact that at
> an early date (maybe during the Indus Valley Culture, which then would have
> influenced the later Vedic culture) techniques of concentration and mind
> controll were developed in India that seem to lack parallels in other
> cultures (see the yoga schools spreading over the whole world these days as
> an export from India).
> Another striking example of this uniqueness (beside the oral transmission
> of the Vedic texts) is in my opinion Panini's grammar. Regardless whether
> one assumes that writing existed in his time (ca. 400 BCE?) in India or
> not, the whole, extremely complicated and sophisticated, work is conceived
> in a way that makes it useful under the condition only that you instal it
> in your mind and let it work there as a kind of computer software.
> Otherwise - used as a written text in the same way we use our grammars
> today - it is difficult to survey and rather unpractical. A piece of
> evidence of the orality of this grammar is the fact that the scope of some
> comprehensive rules is marked by an accent, which is to be heard and not
> written (the Panini experts on the List may correct me if I am wrong!).
> With good reason Paul Thieme imagined Panini as a kind of meditating,
> truth-working yogi, cf. Thieme, Kleine Schriften II, p. 1186 f., quoting
> and translating Patanjali I.39.10 ff.: "The teacher (Panini) functioning as
> an authoritative means of cognition, used to produce the sUtra with great
> effort (that is: with the effort of spiritual concentration required for
> the recognition and formulation of a deep truth): holding a cleansing bunch
> of darbha-grass in his hand, being seated on clean ground, his face turned
> toward the east."
> Whereas this picture does not resemble a scholar writing a grammar,
> Patanjali (2nd century BCE) might very well have composed his large
> commentary on Panini by writing it.
> Best regards
> Georg v. Simson

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list