[INDOLOGY] Fwd: What's "Vedic"?

George Thompson gthomgt at gmail.com
Mon Jul 15 20:32:37 UTC 2013

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: George Thompson <gthomgt at gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Jul 15, 2013 at 4:29 PM
Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] What's "Vedic"?
To: Jarrod Whitaker <whitakjl at wfu.edu>

Dear Jarrod,

I've been very busy with other things, but I want to add another response
to your question, just in order to keep your thread going.  I think that it
is a discussion worth having.

I myself do not spend much time any more worrying about Vedic dates. Vedic
texts are oral texts that grew by accretion over many generations.  The
earliest historical evidence for a Vedic language is roughly 1300 BCE, in
the Mitanni texts, where there is clear evidence of a linguistic split
between Old Indic and Old Iranian.  So I would hesitate to say that
Vedic is older than 1300 BCE, for lack of any historical evidence of it.

Also, Iranists, as far as I know [I haven't kept up with the most recent
research there], do not consider the dialect of the Gathas [oldest Iranian
text] to be very old.  There is also an Old Avestan text, independent of
the Gathas, the Yasna Haptangaiti, which is remarkable for preserving
ritual formulaic mantras that are very reminiscent of RV formulaic
mantras.  These comparisons with Old Avestan texts suggest that Old Vedic
[RV, etc], are of a comparable date with these Old Avestan texts: fairly

But we are comparing many things, none of which have firm dates.

I say: let it go.  We don't have firm dates.  We can only give very
approximate ones.

But like Jarrod and Howard I would like to hear the views of others.

On the other hand, our first historical evidence  of writing in India is
mid-third cent. BCE [the Asokan edicts].  These edicts are written in a
post-Vedic, and even a post-Sanskrit, dialect.  We may assume, of course,
that good Vedic was still spoken at that time in some quarters, and of
course good Sanskrit was too, but it was a different Sanskrit than the Old
Vedic Sanskrit of the Rgveda, by many centuries.

This is the framework that I would work within, in terms of dating Vedic
texts.  I don't count later
commentaries on earlier Vedic texts as "Vedic" if they don't exhibit the
linguistic features of clearly Vedic texts.

For this reason the Sanskrit epic texts, as we have them, are all clearly
later than all Vedic texts, also as we have them.

Earliest Buddhist texts, in Pali, also oral, are clearly post-Vedic as well.

So, by mid-3rd century BCE nobody, as far as I can tell, was producing
genuine "Vedic" texts.

My best wishes, with the hope that this helps.

George Thompson
On Mon, Jul 8, 2013 at 12:17 PM, Jarrod Whitaker <whitakjl at wfu.edu> wrote:

> Dear Colleagues:
> I need some friendly help and criticism. I am currently writing an article
> on warfare in "Ancient India" (1500 BCE-600 CE) and because I need to break
> up different periods, I am having trouble settling on dates and labels.
> Here is the paragraph I have written:
> "I will delineate four heuristically useful, but rather arbitrary
> historical periods: 1) the early Vedic period, 1500-1000 BCE (represented
> by the R̥gveda and parts of the Atharvaveda, and involving pastoral
> migrations and limited permanent settlement of the Āryan tribes in the
> north and northwestern parts of the Subcontinent); 2) the
> middle-"classical" Vedic period, 1000-500 BCE (represented by the
> Yajurveda, Brāhmaṇas, early Upaniṣads, and involving a transition from
> pastoralism to permanent territorial control, the rise of systematic class
> stratification that is realized through complex ritual, social, and
> political relationships, and ending with the rise of city states across the
> Indo-Gangetic Plain); 3) the late Vedic period, 500 BCE to 1 CE
> (represented by late Upaniṣads, Sūtra-Śāstra (smr̥ti) texts and the Epics,
> and encompassing the rise of the Mauryan dynasty [300-185 BCE], and the
> rise of heterodox ascetic movements; namely Buddhism and Jainism); and 4)
> early "historical" period, 1–550 CE (represented by Epics, further Śāstra
> literature, earliest Pūraṇas, and involving the rise of Bhakti devotional
> movements, and ending with the collapse of the Gupta Dynasty [300-550 CE])."
> I realize my use of "Vedic" is broader than usual (my dates are of course
> designed to break up the article into clear, manageable sections). Many
> sources want to end the "Vedic period" with roughly the 2nd Urbanization,
> which is equated with the Upanisads as "Vedānta"/Śruti (see Example*
> below). The term "Vedānta" is of course an emic concept that closes the
> "sacred canon" and hence "Vedic" is often synonymous with Śruti. But the
> use of the term certainly doesn't end the production of extensive texts on
> Brahmanical values, customs, rituals, and ideologies/theologies. If "Vedic"
> is synonymous with "Brahmanical", then Smrti literature and the epics would
> be no less "Vedic" than Śruti literature These issues become further
> complicated when we factor in a broad separation of early and late
> Upanisads, the composition of early and late Śrauta and Grhya literature,
> and include Bronkhorst's recent work, which throws a sizable wrench in the
> works (or spanner, depending on your current geography) as his argument
> would push some of the middle/classical Vedic period into my late Vedic
> period. (I also don't want to imply that Vedic texts and practices somehow
> disappear at 1 CE, because I no longer use the label "Vedic" in the above
> paragraph for the Common Era.)
> Anyway, I am happy to take suggestions here for inventive and/or
> authoritative ways to think through this. And since I would rather pin my
> dates on someone else (always good to lay blame elsewhere), is there a
> recent "up-to-date" source that offers a reliable and/or reasonable insight
> into these issues, while designating some broad historical periods?
> Perhaps we could compile over this list a general impression about the
> labels, relative chronology, timeframes/dates, and issues that you use with
> your students and in publication (including the sources to which you
> default).
> Perhaps the key problem is trying to come up with neat historical boxes
> for a general audience...
> Cheers
> Jarrod
> Example*
> Here is an example of two different frameworks from Erdosy (1995):
> Allchin: Pre-Vedic Indo-Aryan migration (2000 BCE), Vedic Aryan migration
> (1750-1500 BCE). Early Vedic (1750-1500 BCE), (Middle) Vedic (1500-1000
> BCE), and Late Vedic period (1000-600 BCE).
> Erdosy (same volume): Early Iron Age (c.1000-600 BCE) for material culture
> and Late Vedic for literature in the same period.) Early Historic or Second
> Urbanization (c.600-300 BCE), and Post-Vedic (c.600 BCE-300 CE).
> Jarrod Whitaker, Ph.D.
> Associate Professor, South Asian Religions
> Zachary T. Smith Faculty Fellow
> Graduate Program Director
> Wake Forest University
> Department of Religion
> P.O. Box 7212
> Winston-Salem, NC 27109
> whitakjl at wfu.edu
> p 336.758.4162
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