Distortion of history and interpolations

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Thu Oct 17 01:37:13 CDT 2002

On Thu, 17 Oct 2002, Venkataramani K. wrote:

> I don't have the exact citation off hand, as all my books are not here with
> me, but in gist that is what he considered them to be. I may not share the
> view that everything in the puranas is evil, but no one can really deny that
> they have been interpolated. If we take Mahabharata, the critical edition
> brought out by Bhandarkar accepted only 70,000 of the 1,00,000 verses as
> authentic. Ramayana comes in several recensions having verses ranging from
> 24,000 to 48,000. Obviously there has been a lot of interpolation.

You misunderstand the way historians work.  Yes, a part of the way
interpolation is detected is by correlating texts.  If 99 manuscripts of a
text have hundred verses and one has 101, it is reasonable to assume the
extra verse in the 100th copy is an interpolation.  Another is to
cross-reference mentions in other works. If lots of people think a quote
is from a particular work, chances are it is.  If only one does, chances
are it isn't.  Yet another way is to look at the structure of the text.
For example the Markandeya Purana like most Puranas describes the
Manvantaras.  While discussing the 8th Manu, it all of a sudden veers off
into a 13 chapter digression on the godess Durga (Chandi Path) and then
goes back to the Manus.  Thus it is reasonable to assume it is an
interpolation.  (though there is other evidence to suggest the Chandi Path
is amongst the oldest layer of Puranic texts even if it wasn't originally
part of the Markandeya Purana.)  ometimes if they are very lucky,
historians can compare with archaeological evidence.  For instance one of
the topics of a Purana is the dynastys of Kings.  If we can find some
monument of that King we can better judge the authenticity of the account.

These methods are based on the assumption that we are dealing with "books"
i.e. unified literary compositions and this assumption breaks down in the
case of the Puranas.  The academic jury is still out on whether there were
actually original texts of the Puranas or if they just gradually coalesced
out of traditional stories.  Traditionally we believe they were authored
by Maharshi Veda Vyas but even in tradition it is admitted that not all
the texts were directly authored by Him.  Take the Gita for instance.  It
is 700 verses in the Mahabharata of Vyasji. well no it isn't it is the
report of a conversation between Sanjaya and Dhrtarashtra.  Well no it
isn't it is a report of a conversation between Krshna Bhagawan and
Arjuna.  Well no it isn't, in the Gita, Krshna Bhagawan says in former
times He had taught it to Vivaswat (Surya Bhagawan) who taught it to Manu
who taught it to Ikshavaku but the tradition died out so He is repeating
it now.  So who then is the real "author" of the words known as Gita?

If you have ever heard some kathakara, you know that they rarely stick to
the "fixed" text.  Rather than interpolation what they are doing is more
like music where you take a basic tune and improvise upon it.

> In fact, the entire "Uttara Kanda" is considered to be whole sale
> interpretation. Kambar who translated Valmiki Ramayana into Tamil didn't
> translate this canto. It is unlikely that he would have left out an entire
> canto, if it had existed. Later on, an anonymous Tamil poet [presumed to be
> Ottakkootthar] translated this canto and now it has found its way into Kamba
> Ramayana.

We should ask why did the poet feel the need to add it at a late date?
Probably because his mental image of the Ramayana included an uttarakanda
and the work felt "incomplete" without it.

This is the basis of a view I call "traditional" as opposed to
"historical" though it can be informed by history.  The question of what
is "relevant" or "authentic" becomes not how old it is but how much was it
used by successive generations until the present day.

> Even many of the works ascribed to Adi Sankara are considered to be later day
> interpolations.

> Academics agree that only the bhashyas on Brahma sutra,
> Brhadaranyaka and Taittiriya Upanishads and the independent work Upadesa
> Sahari were authored by him.

Slightly misleading phrasing here.  It's more these are the only works
academics unanimously agree are genuine.  People who have studied this
subject often consider others of his works to be genuine but they disagree
on exactly which ones.

Personally I consider all the works published in the Vani Vilasa edition
of the complete works of Shankaracharya to be genuine.  (See also
Viveka Chudamani for instance has been taught and learned by
many generations of Advaitins so it is genuine in my eyes.  Perhaps this
"literary Shankaracharya" is not the same as "historical Shankaracharya"
but it is the former I am interested in.

> Even in Brahma Sutra bhashyam, parts are
> considered to be later day interpolations.

Really?  I have not heard this.  Do you have references?

> The opinion is divided on whether
> he wrote the commentaries on the Gaudapada Karika to Mandukya Upanishad and
> Bhagavad Gita. The rest are considered outright interpolations.

See above.

> Of course, I understand that these are very subjective issues. Most Sankara
> mutts may not agree with these academic observations. It is another story
> that most Sankara mutts have had a broken lineage.

some particularly the North Indian ones but not all.

> I remember having read some very convincing arguments put forth by Swami
> Dayananda Saraswati regarding such things as widow remarriage, Niyoga etc..
> He argued that the shruti themselves don't proscribe remarriage of the widows
> [I am not sure if he argued that they supported them, but I vaguely remember
> him mentioning about the funeral hymns of the Rk veda] and such a ban was
> only brought forth by the smritis later on.

Practically everything came later.  Remember Dayananda only considers the
Samhitas tobe Veda and the Samhitas contain virtually no practical
information on the step by step performance of rituals or concrete
philosophy.  Even the idea that some hymns are "funeral hymns" is an
inference we make from the Brahmanas and kalpasutras not from within the
Rk Samhita itself.

> Some of the Puranas such as Bhagavata Purana and Brahma Vaivarta Purana are
> considered to have been authored only around the 10th century CE or later. I
> believe that neither Adi Sankara nor Ramanujacharya even mentioned about
> either of these, though they are supposed to have mentioned about Vishnu
> Purana. It is unlikely that they would have completely neglected these works
> had they existed during their times. More so with Ramanujacharya.

The works themselves may not have been known (based on the rather big
assumption that they would necessarily have quoted them) but it is evident
that both knew of the ideas contained therein.  I mentioned a while back
Heliodorus the Bactrian Greek Bhagavata who lived in Seleucid times so
those ideas are of considerable antiquity.

[Here I'm replying to parts of your other post.]

> His ideas were no doubt radical, but I am not sure that he invented any.

If this were true then there should be evidence from history of arya
samajist type activities but there isn't any.

> I think what he did was to reject some of the practices as he thought
> that they didn't have a shruti basis.

And yet todays Arya samajists have no problem with observing e.g. Diwali
which also has no Shruti basis.  So either they no longer listen to
Dayanands ideas' or they are being very hypocritical in what they reject.

> Personally, I may not go with his
> ideas such as no deity worship, but I don't believe that "he didn't like
> Hinduism".

Well i was being a bit sloppy there. The word Hinduism is so vague and
ill-defined as to be meaningless.  He didn't like the traditional beliefs
of Indian people.  he was that oddity of modern times a radical disguised
as a conservative.

> Hinduism itself has been very dynamic and changing with times.

The Puranas that were deemed so evil, are themselves an example of dynamic
changing with the times.  they are specially recommended for women,
Shudras, foreignrs etc. who have no right to study the Vedas.  And indeed
they have permeated all levels of society in all places. They ensure that
all can pursue the Moksha which is their birthright.  Setting the Vedas
against the Puranas reveals another oddity of modern thinking, elitism
disguised as populism.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

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