[INDOLOGY] Orality and memory culture in the transmission of the Vedas: video clips / intended public: students in Indology ...

Dominik Wujastyk wujastyk at gmail.com
Sun Dec 7 11:01:14 UTC 2014

Respecfully, I disagree.

Many generalizations are made about oral literature, but empirical or
quantitative evidence to support such assertions is less common.  By
quantitative evicence, I mean, for example, counting actual volumes of
material, analyzing its uses, the relation of comprehension to volume, and
so forth.  Do we even know, really, the answer to even such a simple
question as "what makes a text easy to memorize?"  For example, one migh
think, prima facie, that the proliferation of very similar sentences and
paragraphs, such as we see in the Tripitaka, would lead directly to error.
But apparently this extensive repetition (which we also see in sastric
texts like the Mahabhasya) was a positive contribution to accurate
transmission, not a negative one.  Another simple question would be, does
the amount of text to be memorized have any impact on accuracy or ease of
memorization?  Or is the volume of text only related to the amount of time
necessary to memorize it?  It seems likely that "memory muscles" would get
stronger the more a person practiced.

In short, there are many questions, including ones bordering on neurology,
that bear investigation as part of an exploration of the factors affecting

The idea that Panini's grammar contains abbreviations etc. simply as a
side-effect of oral transmission seems to me to be such an unfounded
assertion.  We know for a fact that gargantuan amounts of literature were
memorized by Vaidika brahmanas and Buddhist monks.  By comparison, the
Astadhyayi is a tiny text.  I would hypothesize that in a cultural milieu
that supported memorization and where students had sufficient resources of
time, memorizing the Astadhyayi was really quite easy.

My own studies of Panini's system lead me to believe that the various
techniques of abbreviation it uses are motivated by a sense of beauty,
efficiency, internal coherence and perhaps even intellectual playfulness.
Exactly what mathematicians call "elegance
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_beauty>."  I think we can ask
whether the Astadhyayi's internal concision is not better understood as a
product of intensive use by an expert community over a period of time, like
a tool becoming smooth in the hand of an artisan.  Were mnemotechnical
devices not developed so intensively in Paninian grammar because they
provided vaiyakaranas with aesthetic pleasure and astonishment, in ancient
times as much as today?

Dominik Wujastyk

On 7 December 2014 at 10:18, Dipak Bhattacharya <dipak.d2004 at gmail.com>

> Wonder but not unimaginable.
> One can be fairly certain that the many characteristic features of the
> Aṣṭādhyāyī , terse prose-- sentences without finite verb, not an essential
> feature of contemporary ritual sūtras, obsession with brevity (lāghava),
> enumerative ie non-explicative definition, almost total absence of
> argumentation, the abridgement of material worth some thousands of pages of
> discussion, into a few pages of 4004 sūtras,  can be explained only by
> the postulation of an environment of entirely oral transmission of
> knowledge. So at a time not later than the 4th century BCE. The Ṛgvedic
> teaching and training could not be different.
> The real wonder is that the practice continued even after writing material
> became available sufficiently.
> On Fri, Dec 5, 2014 at 10:23 PM, Jan E.M. Houben <jemhouben at gmail.com>
> wrote:
>> Would it really be possible that vaidika pandits learn by heart such huge
>> amounts of text, and are able to reproduce them correctly, syllable by
>> syllable and tone by tone?
>> The following clips demonstrate the predominant orality and memory
>> culture in current Vedic schools.
>> Among these clips, the second is a proof that at least the group of
>> students studying the Saamaveda on that day (pre-dawn hour) in February
>> 2001 did not use any hidden piece of paper to read the text of their
>> lengthy chants: see what happened to their chant when there is a failure of
>> electricity and the light goes off.
>> The chanting tradition followed here is that of the rare Ranayaniya
>> school of the Saamaveda.
>> The fourth clip shows the performance of the Pravadbhaargava saaman
>> earlier studied by the students.
>> Intended public of these clips:
>> students in Indology, Indian Studies, Ritual Studies, History of
>> Education, History of Music, Ethnomusicology.
>> vimeo.com/82963699,
>> vimeo.com/90023730,
>> vimeo.com/90040436,
>> vimeo.com/111214428
>> Prof. Dr. Jan E.M. Houben,
>> Directeur d Etudes « Sources et Histoire de la Tradition Sanskrite »
>> Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Sciences historiques et philologiques,
>> Sorbonne – 54, rue Saint-Jacques
>> CS 20525 – 75005 Paris – France.
>> johannes.houben at ephe.sorbonne.fr <JEMHouben at gmail.com>
>> *https://ephe-sorbonne.academia.edu/JanEMHouben
>> <https://ephe-sorbonne.academia.edu/JanEMHouben>*
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