Re: [INDOLOGY] Vālmīki’s first śloka

David and Nancy Reigle dnreigle at
Sat Nov 19 21:10:18 UTC 2016

Dear Matthew,

Thanks for this information. I have never read the *Saundarananda*, or for
that matter, even the kāvyas of Kālidāsa. However, this case may be a
little different.

According to the story, Rāma uttered this first ever śloka spontaneously,
upon seeing a male *krauñca* crane killed by a hunter when in the midst of
courtship or mating. So these aorist verbs presumably would have been what
he and others then used in speech. They would not have been deliberately
employed to display erudition.

The specific past sense that the aorist tense signifies was a matter of
question in classical Sanskrit. Ramkrishna Gopal Bhandarkar in his 1868
Preface to his *Second Book of Sanskrit* acknowledges this, and says that
he read the *Aitareya Brāhmaṇa* to determine its specific usage when the
language was still living. He found that the aorist was there used “when
the persons in the story are represented as speaking with one another,” as
we have here in Vālmīki’s first śloka. By contrast, writes Bhandarkar, “In
this work, wherever stories are told, the so called Imperfect or the
Perfect is always used, and the Aorist never occurs.”

So Vālmīki’s first śloka, in its usage of the aorist, agrees with the
normal usage found in the *Aitareya Brāhmaṇa*, taken as representative of
when the aorist was a still living form.

Best regards,

David Reigle

Colorado, U.S.A.

On Sat, Nov 19, 2016 at 1:02 PM, Matthew Kapstein <mkapstei at>

> Dear David,
> Bob is of course best able to respond in the case of *Rāmāyaṇa,* but my
> impression is that the post-Vedic
> use of the aorist is not so rare as you suggest. A good example to
> consider is Aśvaghoṣa, particularly in
> *Saundarananda*, in which he displays his virtuosity in the conjugation
> systems by making plentiful use of unusual
> aorist forms. In *kãvya* I rather doubt that this alone can be taken as
> evidence of antiquity. Rather, the aorist
> seems to be deliberately employed to display erudition.
> best,
> Matthew
> Matthew Kapstein
> Directeur d'études,
> Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes
> Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies,
> The University of Chicago
> ------------------------------

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