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

Dipak Bhattacharya dipak.d2004 at gmail.com
Sun Dec 7 12:32:25 UTC 2014

To explain the unique phenomenon physiologically disregarding the Indian
context may lead at best to downplaying it, and worse even to a theory of
racial difference. Many earlier philologists did not admit the oral
transmission in case of large prose texts like the Brāhmaṇas. Now the fact
is accepted. So there *was* a unique development in India. As belonging to
this new conscious generation Professor Houben is very welcome.

The contrary views are inevitable but the given aesthetic explanation does
not explain their non-occurrence in early historical China or Greece. There
is no reason to disregard the relatively late emergence of written
literature in India which fits in with the phenomenon.

Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī is an easy text to remember because of its successfully
structured composition. But see Whitney's comments in the 1880s that Thieme
had to contradict. The Aṣṭādhyāyī was not easy for Whitney and Weber. The
actual magnitude in normal language, along with its computer program like
compactness and intertwining of the rules, will be apparent from the Kāśikā
commentary. Normally, that is not got by heart. I did not mention Patañjali
because of his metalinguistic discussions.

Two more points. The pedagogic need and oral transmission both contributed
to the phenomenon. Secondly their continuance in India was most probably
caused by both scarcity and perishability of the normal Indian paper that
is palm leaf in late medieval India and earlier, perhaps, any leaf which
was less durable. Birchbark was expensive for the village scholar.

I tried to treat the matter more extensively elsewhere. I heartily
encourage the dialogue but at the same time can assure that the related
problems and issues are of considerable magnitude not accommodable in a
forum discussion.


On Sun, Dec 7, 2014 at 4:31 PM, Dominik Wujastyk <wujastyk at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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
> memorization.
> 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>
> wrote:
>> 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>*
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> INDOLOGY mailing list
>>> INDOLOGY at list.indology.info
>>> http://listinfo.indology.info
>> _______________________________________________
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