[INDOLOGY] What's "Vedic"?

George Thompson gthomgt at gmail.com
Tue Jul 16 00:07:28 UTC 2013

On Mon, Jul 15, 2013 at 4:32 PM, George Thompson <gthomgt at gmail.com> wrote:

> ---------- 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
> late.
> 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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