The 6th Vedic workshop held at Kozhokode, Kerala India from 7th to 10th 2014

The 6th Vedic workshop held at Kozhokode, Kerala India from 7th to 10th 2014

Bhaskaran Nayar. T. P. Mahadevan

Bhaskaran Nayar. T. P. Mahadevan

The sixth international Vedic workshop [hereinafter mentioned as SIVW for brevity] was held in Kozhiokode from January 7 to 10 2014 and there have been a lot of publicity in the Indian media and internet by the interested and involved carried on. Ironically, in facebook[1], twitter[2] and blogs[3] also there have been entries, but when I asked for or tried to get more details they could not give. Incidentally, there has been some opposition to the workshop, as I could note from the internet search[4]. As I could not attend it, because of the clashing of dates with the international conference on Mahabharata [mentioned as ICMB] in Tirupati from 7th to 11th 2014. In fact, I was eager to note how the non-Indians could have acted and interacted in the proceedings of the Vedic workshop. So I just started enquiring and gathering details about it. During the ICMB itself, I was discussing about SIVW with the hundreds of Sanskrit Pundits, professors and scholars came there to present papers. Particularly, I interacted with the research students from Rastriya Sanskrit Vidhyapeeth, Tirupati who registered with the ICMB more than 170. Very few knew about it, but they did not want to attend for many reasons. When enquired, they gave the following:

  1. The delegate fees was very high, perhaps half of the salary they receive in teaching Sanskrit in schools and other places.
  2. They cannot get leave, as they have already in their jobs.
  3. Even if they forego salary cut etc., their Masters / Gurus / Employers did not encourage.
  4. They are not familiar with the Vedic studies, as they have chosen different topics for their M.Phil, Ph.D research and dissertation.

Of 100, only few – two   from Chennai, one from AP and another from Pondicherry know him[5]. Ironically none of the Sanskrit Pundits, scholars and professors responded that they do not know him even after showing his photograph!

Elizabeth Tucker, Cezary Galewich

Elizabeth Tucker, Cezary Galewich

Non-Indian or Foreign domination in the 6th Vedic Workshop conducted in India: This observation is made for the purpose of Vedas, Vedic studies and Vedic research carried on in India and outside. When Max Mueller translated Vedas without seeing or coning to India, and other translators also did, reservations were expressed about their quality of translations. In spite of such doubts expressed and mistakes pointed out, their printed books were, are and being printed, sold and filled in the libraries of Universities, colleges and even in Sanskrit schools. When critical editions have been published for Ramayana and Mahabharata, none has done for Vedas. About the dates of Vedas also none has fixed conclusively, yet different dates are followed for research and historical purposes. Under such circumstances only, this aspects is noted and discussed. The Doctors / Professors who chaired the sessions have been as follows as per their programme:

Vedic workshop - old photo

Vedic workshop – old photo

  1. Masato Fujii,
  2. Michael Witzel,
  3. M. G. S. Narayanan
  4. Alexander Lubotsky
  5. Didhiti Biswas,
  6. Mislav Ježić,
  7. Patrick Olivelle,
  8. Joanna Jurewicz,
  9. Cezary Galewicz,
  10. S. A. S. Sarma,
  11. Michael Witzel ,
  12. Kiyotaka Yoshimizu,
  13. Joel Brereton,
  14. C. M. Neelakantan,
  15. Jarrod Whitaker.
  16. Renate Sohnen-Thieme,
  17. S. S. Bahulkar,
  18. P. Bhaskaran Nayar
Micheal Witzel, F B J Kupier, Fredrik Kortlandt

Micheal Witzel, F B J Kupier, Fredrik Kortlandt

Of the 18, only 6 have been Indians, i.e, 33% and 67% been non-Indians. So, in India, I have to take that even in subjects on Vedas, 2/3rds scholars had to be from outside India and dominate the show. However, the chantings, rites, rituals, rites etc., have to be done by Indians and the non-Indians would go on photographing, videographing, commenting, criticizing and even recommending that such and such rituals should have been performed like this and not like that.

Demonstration of Veda chanting in progress at 6th international workshop on the Vedas at Iringal Artand Crafts Village, Vadakara, on Wednesday 08-01-2014

Demonstration of Veda chanting in progress at 6th international workshop on the Vedas at Iringal Artand Crafts Village, Vadakara, on Wednesday 08-01-2014 (Coutesy – The Hindu)

Experimental “Yagnas” conducted for research: In fact, traditional Vedic scholars say that chantings, rites, rituals, rites etc., can be performed only for the purpose and not for demonstration, fun or observation, as being done in laboratories. No doubt, scholars like Frits Staal could have recorded “The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar”. Yagnas are conducted in different parts of India, even in homes depening upon the exigencies, but they are not publicized. Nowdays, just for publicity, some sort of “Yagnas for Peace” are conducted. In Kerala, the conduct of different Yagnas have been reported and attracted by the foreigners. At every time, the “sacrifice of animal” had become a controversial issue[6]. Doing Yoga by persons and getting benefits is different from doing Yoga by somebody and that is watched by others either directly or through film or on TV. Such seeing cannot bring any benefit. Here, in the case of “Conduct of Yagnas” for experimental purposes and shooting them, carrying to aboard and screen them as proof, this is the way Yagnas are conducted in India or were conducted 5000 years ago.

map-Simplified plan of the sacrificial area.with abbre.details

map-Simplified plan of the sacrificial area.with abbre.details

Reenacted, demonstrated and imitated Vedic representations could be taken as original, authentic and accurate: Here, in 6th Vedic workshop, Brahmins were asked to chant Vedas and recorded by the foreign researchers. Ironically, the Brahmins were questioned by Brahmins only or act as interpreters, while the foreign delegates were watching, photographing, and videographing. When mantras are meant for chanting at a particular time, place and purpose and they are done for the purpose demonstration, exhibition and display, how the real effect could be produced is not known. In Tamilnadu, the DK-fellows were imitating some of the rituals to show that they could also do without believing God, religion etc. Later, under the guise of Rationalist Society etc., some people started doing such rites. Thus, now for the purpose of International Workshop, such reenactments are carried on. Therefore, the reality is not there, but only, some sort of dramatic performance is taken as real.

Map used by the priests to lay out the sacrificial area -Barsi 2001

Map used by the priests to lay out the sacrificial area -Barsi 2001

Vedic chanting at odd hours: Nowadays, Yoga has become some sort of international business. Even non-Hindus started claiming that it is not Hindu. Thus, we have many Yoga-experts, teachers and gurus of US, Europe and even Arabia. The poor Christian and Muslim authorities many times have to take contradicting stands about their respective believing clergy turning into heathen or kafiri mode. Of course, in Tamilnadu, ot the land of “Dravidas/Dravidians”, Karunanidhi has already accepted and started doing Yoga, that too, from a “Aryan” master! So here also, Vedic job-workers have started doing their work on request or contract basis. Amazing and wonderful programme has been chalked out to accommodate them to chant according their tune.

For example, there were programs like this[7]:

Sl.No

Time

Program

4 08.45 – 09.1508-01-2014 Assembling in the Veda chanting hall 
5 09.15 – 10.15 Rgveda chanting session – Kerala tradition
8 11.30 – 12.30 Sāmaveda chanting session – Kerala tradition 
9 12.30 – 01.30 Yajurveda chanting session – Kerala tradition
11 02.30 – 03.00 Sāmaveda chanting session – Tamil tradition in Kerala
22 03.45 – 04.1509-01-2014 Akshara Sloka demonstration (only Sanskrit and Manipravaala slokas)

How these chanting would demonstrate the reality of chanting, the chanters and the listened within half-an-hour before lunch, after lunch and at odd hours.

(To be concluded)


[6] Frits Staal, The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, Motilal Banarasidas, New Delhi, 2001, Vol,II,  pp.464-468.

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4 Responses to “The 6th Vedic workshop held at Kozhokode, Kerala India from 7th to 10th 2014”

  1. The 6th Vedic workshop, 2014 and the Agnichayana, 1974-75 – compared | Indology Says:

    […] Study of India and anything that is about India « The 6th Vedic workshop held at Kozhokode, Kerala India from 7th to 10th 2014 […]

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  2. vedaprakash Says:

    How not to translate Vedic texts. Let us be wary of academic mistranslations.
    http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.in/2014/01/how-not-to-translate-vedic-texts-let-us.html

    How not to translate Vedic texts. Let us be wary of academic mistranslations.

    Expanding the study of meanings (semantics), some tend to camouflage translations as a ‘cover’ for study of a civilization (kulturwissenschaft) based on texts.

    This strategy results in taking the meanings of words or metaphors out of context and attribute ‘mythical’ overtones in ancient texts.

    An honest scholar should just concede as Veda itself has done in a number of occasions: ‘I do not know’.

    To gain adhikāra in studying a Vedic text, the scholar should first imbibe, adhyayana, the cultural traditions and treat the text as sacred.

    There is no secrecy involved in the texts. If secrecy was the intent, the traditional transmittal of texts would not have been preserved with such intensity for thousands of years. Why not accept the possibility that the expressions were intended to transmit ‘insights’ as they occurred among the savants whose life mission itself was a journey into the cosmic wonder?

    Some academics seem to translate itihāsa as myths. This is simply a motivated approach, motivated by the strategy to debunk tradition. There is no evidence in any ancient text to assume such a meaning for the genre of knowledge called itihāsa. I leave it to experts in historiography to evaluate the sources of history presented, if at all, in ancient Vedic texts. Deliberations engaged in prose texts are memory markers and aids to placing the performance of a sacred process in context. Many such discussions are evaluations of nuances in the the processes of performance of Yajña, as tradition enjoins. Repetitions in texts are perhaps mnemonic aids which reinforce the precise meanings intended for the use of specific words deployed to delineate the processes.

    Chandogya Upanishad for example cites:

    Eṣa somo rājā, tad devānām annam tam devā bhakṣyanti.

    There is no need for a philologist to wax eloquent on the semantics of each word in this line. Clearly, the kavi is using a mix of metaphors referring to soma as king, as food and for divinities.

    Who are the divinities? This core semantics itself has been a subject of deliberations right from the days of Yāska. Even Pāṇini does not dare to enter into the semantics of chandas and restricts himself to delineating the language features — morphology, syntax, phonetics — of derivative Sanskrit.

    In my view, it will be an act of academic irresponsibility to bypass the traditional pundits and ignore the explanations offered by them.

    Mysore palace has brought out a 36 volume excursus on the Rigveda. The text is in Kannada. For sincere scholars, who are interested in devoting themselves to the study of Vedic traditions and heritage, it will be apposite to start with these 36 volumes.

    One should study these deliberations with care and try to understand the processes which were intended to sustain the sanctity of the Yajña. The gurukulas have to provide such educational opportunities for serious students, śiṣṭā.

    The Vedic universe has many pillars: Ṛtam (cosmic order), Satyam (existential truth), Yajña (sacrifice), Dharma (social practice), Brahman (the sacred word, mantra). Firs step, pause and evaluate if the English pronunciation we have made of these pillars is correct. Many exegeses may be needed to expound on the true import of each of these pillars of Vedic knowledge, not excluding some exercises related to Indrajāla or viśvanīḍa.

    We do not even know what Yajña signifies. Let us announce humility as we enter the domain of studying Vedic traditions and heritage.

    PS: This note has been provoked by the strategies revealed by an academic at http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/How-to-Enter.pdf

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    • vedaprakash Says:

      A racist book by Witzel, a Harvard Professor. Socially irresponsible publication of a grandiose, brash, ill-informed, problematic scholarship — Tok Thompson
      Subject: A racist book by Witzel, a Harvard Professor. Socially irresponsible publication of a grandiose, brash, ill-informed, problematic scholarship — Tok Thompson. Witzel should be sacked from Harvard University — Kalyanaraman.

      I have made additional comments (appended in Section 3) on Witzel’s motivated attempts to debunk the Vedic tradition using a Vedic workshop as a forum in Kozhikode, India, in January 2014 and with mistranslations (Section 2).

      This workshop which he used as a venue to peddle his published book which has been honestly reviewed by Tok Thompson of University of Southern California (review appended — Section 1), is enough cause for action against this person by the Harvard Corp.

      Witzel is certainly NOT advancing the cause of Harvard University exemplified by its logo. Harvard Corp. should take note of this and take immediate remedial action.

      I have to underscore the dangers posed by academics like Witzel and how Harvard Corp. should seriously consider expelling him from the Harvard University to protect the present and future generations of students who look upon Harvard as the exemplar of social responsibility to a worldwide scholar community.

      The minimum Harvard Corp. should do is to ensure that Witzel is stopped forthwith from any further dealings in a classroom of Harvard University — to avoid further poisoning of impressionable, young minds of students.

      I request the President, Harvard Corp. to treat this as a documented chargesheet against Witzel and take appropriate action to save the reputation of Harvard University.

      S. Kalyanaraman
      Sarasvati Research Center
      January 27, 2014

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  3. vedaprakash Says:

    A racist book by Witzel, a Harvard Professor. Socially irresponsible publication of a grandiose, brash, ill-informed, problematic scholarship — Tok Thompson
    Subject: A racist book by Witzel, a Harvard Professor. Socially irresponsible publication of a grandiose, brash, ill-informed, problematic scholarship — Tok Thompson. Witzel should be sacked from Harvard University — Kalyanaraman.

    I have made additional comments (appended in Section 3) on Witzel’s motivated attempts to debunk the Vedic tradition using a Vedic workshop as a forum in Kozhikode, India, in January 2014 and with mistranslations (Section 2).

    This workshop which he used as a venue to peddle his published book which has been honestly reviewed by Tok Thompson of University of Southern California (review appended — Section 1), is enough cause for action against this person by the Harvard Corp.

    Witzel is certainly NOT advancing the cause of Harvard University exemplified by its logo. Harvard Corp. should take note of this and take immediate remedial action.

    I have to underscore the dangers posed by academics like Witzel and how Harvard Corp. should seriously consider expelling him from the Harvard University to protect the present and future generations of students who look upon Harvard as the exemplar of social responsibility to a worldwide scholar community.

    The minimum Harvard Corp. should do is to ensure that Witzel is stopped forthwith from any further dealings in a classroom of Harvard University — to avoid further poisoning of impressionable, young minds of students.

    I request the President, Harvard Corp. to treat this as a documented chargesheet against Witzel and take appropriate action to save the reputation of Harvard University.

    S. Kalyanaraman
    Sarasvati Research Center
    January 27, 2014

    Section 1

    The Origins of the World’s Mythologies
    By E.J. Michael Witzel. 2013. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Reviewed by Tok Thompson, University of Southern California
    [Review length: 1535 words • Review posted on December 5, 2013]
    This is an astonishing book, but not for the reasons the author intended.
    The Origin of the World’s Mythology utilizes completely out of date and highly questionable scholarship to claim a grand scientific discovery which relies on the author’s “theory” of ultimate mythological reconstruction, dating back all the way to reconstructed stories (i.e., made up by the author) told some 100,0000 years ago. The “theory” (I would say hypothesis) is implausible (in terms of data, scholarship, logic, internal plausibility, etc.), even more so than quasi-academic concepts, like Nostratic, which it relies on as proven fact.

    The book’s main claim is explicitly racist. I define “racist” here simply as any argument that seeks to categorize large groups of people utilizing a bio-cultural argument (“race”), and that further describes one such group as essentially better, more developed, less “deficient,” than the other(s).

    The book claims that there are two races in the world, revealed by both myth and biology: the dark-skinned “Gondwana” are characterized by “lacks” and “deficiencies” (e.g., xi, 5, 15, 20, 88, 100, 105, 131, 279, 280, 289, 290, 313, 321 315, 410, 430, 455) and are labeled “primitive” (28) at a “lower stage of development” (28, 29, 410), while the noble “Laurasian” myths are “our first novel,” the only “true” creation stories, and the first “complex story” (e.g., 6, 54, 80, 105, 321, 372, 418, 421, 430), which the Gondwana never achieved.
    Such a grand evolutionary pronouncement, published by Oxford University Press and penned by a Harvard Professor (of Sanskrit), demands attention and careful investigation of its claims. If the author is correct, then indeed the field of mythology, and folklore, will be entirely rewritten. Not only this, but the ideas of a separate, deficient “dark-skinned race” will be, for the first time, scientifically validated.

    The theoretical justification of this work is derived from a sort of straw man contest between ethnologist Leo Frobenius (1873-1938), representing monogenesis and diffusion, and Freud’s errant disciple Carl Jung (1875-1961), with his universal archetypes of the collective unconscious. This straw man argument is not an appropriate one: Jung’s theories have long been derided in scholarship on mythology, and the data have been shown not to support his claims of universals (Dundes, 2005). Indeed, the resounding refutation of universals not only invalidates Jung’s theories, but also stands in direct contradiction to many of the claims of this book.

    His sole factual claim to his grand separation of the races seems to be his assertion that only the light-skinned Laurasians developed a “complete” myth. He makes several claims about what this myth “is,” but these are contradictory, vague, and with many exceptions or permutations (variously: 53, 64, 76, 120, 183, 323). At some points he claims that the only actual differences between the two is that the Laurasian has the world end, and the Gondwana do not (e.g., 283). At other times, however, he claims that the Gondwana actually have no cosmogonic myths whatsoever. For example:

    • “Gondwana mythologies generally are confined to the description of the emergence of humans and their culture in a preexisting world” (5).
    • “The Laurasian stress on cosmogony, however, is entirely absent in Gondwana mythologies” (105).
    • “In Gondwana mythologies the world is regarded as eternal” (20).
    • Describing Gondwana mythology: “In the beginning: heaven and earth (and sea) already exist” (323, restated 361).

    This particular claim is made even more remarkable in light of his own comment on page 474, where he himself discusses the common African myth of the world being created from a god’s spittle and/or vomit.

    In previous publications the author argued that the Gondwana had no flood myths as well. However, in this book the author relates recently encountering Alan Dundes’ The Flood Myth, which disproved the assertion (see the author’s discussion, page 284). Taking pains to explain this change, the author now claims the flood myth “is universal” (wrongly: see Dundes 2005) and not, as he previously decreed, “Laurasian.” This late encounter with Dundes’ scholarship is instructive: Dundes is generally regarded as one of the most important folklore theorists of the last century, yet aside from this one problematic citation of The Flood Myth, no notice is taken of him, not even his classic work on myth, Sacred Narrative. Nor are other seminal recent works in scientific myth scholarship cited, such as Schrempp and Hansen’s Myth: A New Symposium, or even the earlier Sebeok’s Myth: A Symposium. The sustained overlooking of the scholarship on mythology over the last fifty years or more is one of the larger foundational problems of this work.

    For example, aside from a brief early mention (45, 46), the concept of polygenesis is never considered as a potential explanation, yet a mere acknowledgment that different people do sometimes create similar-sounding plots and motifs removes any necessity to view every similar motif or narrative as united in some grand historical scheme (see Thompson 2002). An instructive case in point might be the flood myths of the seismically active coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest, held to be caused by mountain dwarves dancing (a compelling explication of which can be found in McMillan and Hutchinson 2002)—there is absolutely no reason to assume this is derived from the same source as the very different biblical flood myth, simply because they both involve floods in flood-prone areas. Stripped of any emic understanding of the explanatory and rhetorical majesty of sacred stories, myth is reduced to a mere grab-bag of words and motifs.

    I consider my own research specialties, and the many Dene and Inuit/Yupiq mythologies I have heard, and watched, and read. In the Dene, and the Inuit, one finds no apocalypse stories, no end of the world. This should, then, disqualify them completely from the Laurasian. Nor is there “Father Heaven/Mother Earth,” or the time of “nobles,” or a “slaying of the dragon,” or a “drinking of soma,” all of which are expected to be in his Laurasian story (at least as per page 53). But according to the author, all this is irrelevant, since they are simply Laurasians who haven’t told it all, or haven’t been recorded telling it, or have forgotten parts, or there is some other reason. In other words, they are Laurasian because he says they are Laurasian. But when the same question is asked of the South African San, who also do not have all those elements, the answer is that they are Gondwana. The criteria are not applied equally, but rather only as the author sees fit in justifying his hypothesis.

    In chapter 4, the author seeks to buttress support for his hypothesis by using reconstructions in linguistics and genetics. Genetically, he states that specific DNA haplogroups “seem to represent the Gondwana type of mythology” (233). His appeal to linguistics is at least marginally more appropriate, as language is a cultural, not biological, phenomenon. But here, too, he utilizes less-than-scientifically- accepted hypotheses, such as a “Dene-Caucausian” language family linking Basque and Navajo, and “Nostratic.” The all-too-breezy use of non-academic claims can be seen in the following two quotes, located on the same page (193):

    “Nostratic theory has not been accepted by most traditional linguists.”
    “Once we accept the reconstruction of Nostratic, we can establish the natural habitat, the material culture, and theWeltanschauung and mythology of the Nostratic populations.”

    To be clear: if linguists don’t think that languages could be reconstructed back more than 6,000 years, why does the author believe they can, and further, that entire stories can be reconstructed for over 100,000 years?

    Finally, the startling claim that the book proves the existence of two races, going against all other scholarly data, would have profound implications for global society as a whole, yet these implications are never discussed by the author. Instead, in his conclusion he claims that the reason Abrahamic religions have made inroads into the global south in recent times is simply because Laurasian myth is “better” and “more complete” than any ever formulated by the Gondwana themselves (430), a remarkably naïve view of global political history.

    To conclude: this book will no doubt prove exciting for the gullible and the racist, yet it is useless—and frustrating—for any serious scholar. This is a work which should never have reached book publication stage: a whole series of scholarly checks and balances—ranging from Harvard’s venerable Folklore and Mythology Department, to the editors and reviewers at Oxford University Press—should have been in place to guide the scholarly inquiry, which would have prevented the socially irresponsible publication of such grandiose, brash, and explicitly racist claims based on ill-informed, highly problematic scholarship.

    Works Cited

    Dundes, Alan. 2005. “Folkloristics in the Twenty-First Century.” Journal of American Folklore 118:385-408.
    —–, ed. 1984. Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
    McMillan, Alan D., and Ian Hutchinson. 2002. “When the Mountain Dwarfs Danced: Aboriginal Traditions of Paleoseismic Events along the Cascadia Subduction Zone of Western North America.” Ethnohistory 49:41- 48.
    Schrempp, Gregory, and William Hansen, eds. 2002. Myth: A New Symposium. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
    Sebeok, Thomas, ed. 1966. Myth: A Symposium. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
    Thompson, Tok. 2002. “The Thirteenth Number: Then, There/Here and Now.” Studia Mythologica Slavica 5:145-160.

    http://www.indiana.edu/~jofr/ review.php?id=1613

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