How notes were kept and books were made?

Jan E.M. Houben j_e_m_houben at YAHOO.COM
Wed Dec 18 16:15:29 UTC 2002

Some additional thoughts on this issue
- In addition to Christan Lee Novetzke's
reference one may mention the traditional
notebooks or sketchbooks used by Nepalese artists
at least until the last century (see 1989 thesis
by Margriet Blom, Utrecht, entitles Depicted
deities: painters' model books in Nepal).
- In the case of early well-known literary,
religious and scholarly texts they may have taken
concrete form in an oral milieu before they were
committed to writing (cf. Falk 1993 on
Mahaabhaarata: only recent parts point to
writing). Early collections of suutras can here
be compared to the aphoristic sayings of
pre-Socratics (Havelock pointed out that their
aphoristic character probably points to the oral
milieu in which they arose rather than being
"fragments" from lost treatises).
- In an article
I tried to show that Saa.mkhya first functioned
in a predominantly oral milieu before it came to
be represented by written texts.
- In library catalogue sections on ;saastric
disciplines we often find so-called
"" (additional or inserted leaves)
which apparently contain remarks on a limited
issue, as for instance some problematic
grammatical suutra in the case of grammar.
- A major question is whether traditional authors
such as Pata�jali and Bhart.rhari in grammar (and
authors in so many other fields) physically sat
down to write or whether they dictated their work
to a scribe. In the latter style of working we
may expect much less written notes than a modern
western author would make when composing works of
similar extent. The traditional Indian way of
working would then be more like that of a 19th
century German Professor dictating his secretary.
This style of working perhaps also shows in the
preference, thoughout the Sanskrit tradition, for
generalized references to standard doxographic
positions rather than references to author date
and place of publication. In the pre-printing era
an author may also have circulated his work in
different versions so that some of the variants
of problematic words which modern editors try to
eliminate may all go back to the author himself
(or to the first scribe). We come quite close to
a series of preliminary versions of a book
expressing the final view of the author in the
case of Naage;sa where the Laghuma�juu.saa and
Paramalaghuma�juu.saa are not only briefer
versions of the Ma�juu.saa but give also
expression to developed and changed viewpoints.
An author could also formulate some of his
thoughts first in writing a commentary or
subcommentary on an existing text before writing
an independent work (in grammar: Bhart.rhari,
first writing a .Tiikaa on the Mahaabhaa.sya,
then his magnum opus Vaakyapadiiya which has the
character of an independent work though it also
comments on issues in the Mahaabhaa.sya).
Best, Jan Houben

--- Allen W Thrasher <athr at LOC.GOV> wrote:
> Has anyone done anything on how people composed
> books in pre-modern
> India, starting perhaps from how they kept
> notes (or whether)?  Has
> anyone noted mss in the repositories that
> seemed to be of in-process
> books rather than completed ones?
> Allen
> Allen W. Thrasher, Ph.D.
> Senior Reference Librarian
> Southern Asia Section
> Asian Division
> Library of Congress
> Jefferson Building 150
> 101 Independence Ave., S.E.
> Washington, DC 20540-4810
> tel. 202-707-3732
> fax 202-707-1724
> athr at
> The opinions expressed do not necessarily
> reflect those of the Library
> of Congress.

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