Dates of the written Rgveda

Steve Farmer saf at SAFARMER.COM
Tue Mar 21 03:05:30 UTC 2000

Prasad Velusamy wrote:

> Dr. Farmer,
> A request. Can you post the list of references on Vedic
> orality? Thanks, Prasad

List of apparent references on Vedic literacy, you mean?
I wish I had a definitive list. Then we could look at them
calmly, one by one, and decide together how credible they
are. I'm an outsider - a comparative historian - forced to
reexamine this question for reasons different from those of
Indologists. I need your help. (Falk collects some of these,
but not all, BTW.)

I originally responded (here I attempt to fix my botched

> There are what appear to be references to writing in the Pali
> scriptures -- same as references in Manusmrti. I know that ways
> exist to discount such citations, just as in the case of
> references to script in Panini. But at a minimum the prima facie
> evidence has to be dealt with, I'd think. E.g., in Nighanikaya 27.23,
> we read:
>    ...some of those beings [i.e., the Brahmins], not being able to
>    meditate in leaf-huts, settled around towns and villages and
>    compiled books [ganthe]. People saw them doing this and not
>    meditating. "Now these do not Meditate' is the meaning of
>    Ajjhayaka. Which is the third regular title to be introduced.
>    At that time it was regarded as a low designation, but now it
>    is the higher. This, then, Vasettha, is the origin of the
>    class of Brahmins in accordance with the ancient titles
>    that were introduced for them (Walshe, trans.).
> Is this a misreading? Buddhaghosa apparently claims that the
> passage refers to compiling the Vedas. Are there other, similar
> examples? Since a rank outsider like me ran into this passage by
> accident, I suspect there must be others.
> Again, I have no firm opinion on the issue at present, although
> I'm interested in the answer.

Stephen Hodge replied:

> Well, I did say "as far as I know" !   I have not made it my business
> to check the entire Pali canon since it is not my main area of
> research.  However, it seems likely that DN 27 belongs to a fairly
> late textual stratum, post-dating the Buddha's era and the immediate
> period following it by some time.  This is based on internal liguistic
> evidence -- it uses some terms that would have been anachronistic --
> and doctrinal grounds.   The Pali term "gantha / gandha" (S: grantha)
> means any literary product or composition, though it (later ?) often
> also means a book.

What are the internal linguistic evidence and doctrinal grounds
that suggest it is late? How anachronistic is it? It certainly
must precede the 1000 CE date that we've been given.  On
"gantha/gandha," Hodge writes:

> > Given the ambivalence of the term, it would
> > perhaps be better to look for any mention of the act of writing,
> > scribes, writing materials and so forth.

I'm putting forward the only evidence I know. If there are more
explicit passages in the Pali canon, I'd like to see them myself.
But this one, at a minimum, seems suggestive -- as do the
passages in Manuscriti I've already pointed to. Question: Does
anyone know any more?

It would be interesting to reexamine the passages in Panini,
which are of course much earlier. I'm content to step back and
listen to those who know far more than I do.

Regards to all,
Steve Farmer

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