Archive for the ‘agni’ Category

The 6th Vedic workshop, 2014 and the Agnichayana, 1974-75 – compared

January 16, 2014

The 6th Vedic workshop, 2014 and the Agnichayana, 1974-75 – compared

Controversies during 1975 Agnichayana

Controversies during 1975 Agnichayana

Indians have been very often accused of forgetting the past, recent past but always harp upon the lengthy past, yet, they are made to forget what happened just 40 years back. Thus, going through a GOOGLE search, my old books and journals, I came across the old issue of Illustrated Weekly dated May 25, 1975, Frits Staal’s book, “The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar”[1] and of course details available from the current website of the Vedic Workshop, 2014[2]. In 40 years, how much the connected people, places and nations have changed is noted. In Indian context, I am surprised to note that even Indians have changed much i.e, westernized, and now Americanized in all aspects.

What is Agnichayana 1975 Illustrated Weekly of India

What is Agnichayana 1975 Illustrated Weekly of India

What is “Agnichayana”[3]: The Illustrated Weekly dated May 25, 1975 stated that in Kerala a “renaissance” in yajnas took place over 1,500 years ago to counteract Buddhist influence. However, it is not known as to Budhhism was so dominant in Kerala during 4th-5th centuries. Some scholars pointed out that it was there till 16th century and then declined[4]. From 16th-17th centuries onwards, the Portuguese and other European and Arab presence started here and therefore, the so-called Vedic / Yajnas cannot be said to be the reason for their decline or any necessity to counter its influence. This movement of performance of Yajnas, was spearheaded by Mezhathole Agnihotri, who conducted over 99 yagnas at Yagneswaram. In the past 75 years, about 150 yagnas were conducted at Sukapuram, Perumanam, Irinjalakuda, Taliparambu and Karikatt in Kerala. However, its response was not felt in north India or others.

J F Staal 1975 Agnichayana

J F Staal 1975 Agnichayana

From Somayaga to Agnichayana: The attempts of westerners or foreigners urging Keralite Nambudris to reenact the Yagnas go back to 1962, when Frits Staal persuaded Ittiravi Nambudri to conduct “Somayaga”, but it could not be materialized due to technical reasons. Later, an “International Agnichayna Committee of scholars” from Holland, America, Britain, Japan, India, Austria, East Germany, West Germany, France, Nepal and Finland was formed. The involvement of the foreigners raised many objections, because of the motives revealed at that time. At one side, the experimentation or reenactment of Vedic rituals for the research or foreigners and the counter effctects produced by them thereafter. The critics and opposing groups explicity pointed out that the films and audio recording would be used against India, Hindus and Vedas themselves. However, Frits Staal, because of his association with South India, that too having a Keralite wife Saraswati, could persuade the Nambudris to conduct Yajnas for him.

Asko Parpola in 1975 attending Agnichayana in Kerala

Asko Parpola in 1975 attending Agnichayana in Kerala

The long standing association of Frits staal with India: Johan Frederik (Frits) Staal was Born in Amsterdam, studied mathematics, physics and philosophy at the University of Amsterdam and took his undergraduate degree in 1954. He moved on to studies in Indian Philosophy and Sanskrit at Banaras Hindu University and the University of Madras where he completed his doctorate in 1957. During his long career, Professor Staal served in a number of notable institutions. He was Lecturer in Sanskrit at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London from 1958 to 1962. He was Assistant and Associate Professor of Indian Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania during 1961-62. He was Professor of General and Comparative Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam from 1962 to 1967. He served as Visiting Professor of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during 1967-68. He was Professor of Philosophy and South Asian Languages at the University of California at Berkeley from 1968 to 1991. As a member of Berkeley’s Department of Philosophy, he founded the university’s Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies (originally called the Department of South and Southeast Asian Languages and Literatures) in 1973, and served as its first Chair. He took early retirement from Berkeley in 1991 and served as Visiting Professor in universities around the world[5]. He is survived by his wife Sarasvati of Berkeley, California, a son and a daughter.

Ikari Japanese student 1975 Agnichayana

Ikari Japanese student 1975 Agnichayana

First refusal and then acceptance to perform: J Frits Staal and Asko Parpola requested Ittiravi Nambudri in 1971 to organize more complicated “Agnichayana”. With efforts going on, it was scheduled to be performed in 1974. But, in 1974 some of the ritualists who were supposed to perform Yagna refused to do so. The performance of ritual for the foreigners, recording of the ritual and dramatization were opposed by the traditional Vedic scholars. Therefore, it was postponed, but with the support of and Erkara Ramam Nambudris, the plan was revived to have it in 1975. The sudden change in mind was due to the commitment in performing Yasjnas or money offered by the foreigners was not known explicitly. In any case, Staal was responsible for creating the awareness about the Vedic rituals in modern times[6].

Animal sacrifice opposed 1975

Animal sacrifice opposed 1975

The “foreign connection” was criticized in 1974-75: The connection, promotion and funding of Yagna reenactment activities were criticized by many during the period of 1974-75. N. V. Krishna Warrior[7] (1911-1989) and Thayyat Sankaran[8] (1926-1985) attacked the Indian Yagna performers and commented about “the desire for dollar”. They were noted poets and critics. This only could be taken as the financial influence affecting the traditional scholars. Another well-known poet and the first Jnanapith Award winner, G. Sankara Kurup, popularly known as “G” condemned the animal sacrifice associated with the yagna activities. The usage of animals in the Yagna fires had been the controversial one and the views expressed have been –

  1. Animals were scarified.
  2. Animals not sacrificed.
  3. Only substitutes used.
Krishna Warrior and Thayyat Sankaran opposed foreign contribution and participation

Krishna Warrior and Thayyat Sankaran opposed foreign contribution and participation

The hypocrisy in Ahimsa, etc were revealed in the opposition of animal-sacrifice: Again opposition started, this time from the public on the grounds that the goat would be suffocated to death, even if it was not sacrificed. However, others argued, “Are you not every day dissecting hundreds of animals in the colleges and butchering thousands in the market, including cows?”. The filming of the event was also opposed by the agitators claiming that the films would be used in their part of propaganda against India. Ironically, the Communist Party (Marxist) spoke of “the political penetration of Dollar Imperialism into India”. The Illustrated Weekly added that, “In the mean while, somebody (said to ge a Jana Sanghi) threatened to burn himself in the sacrificial fire!”.

G. Sankaran Kurup criticized the animal sacrifice

G. Sankaran Kurup criticized the animal sacrifice

The Agnichayana conducted from April.12th to 24th  1975: to The controversial Yagna started on April.12, 1975. On April.24, 1975, the Yagna was over and it was reported that an “Awe-Inspiring Sight” occurred! It was claimed that a Kite, Garuda, the divine bird was sighted flying over the Yagnasalas!

1975 and 2014 compared

1975 and 2014 compared

However, now after the rituals were over in the Vedic Workshop 2014, nothing has been reported so far. After 40 years, the delegates have only enjoyed the 5-star hotel accommodation and other facilities.

Panini stamp issued by GOI in 2004

Panini stamp issued by GOI in 2004

Panini rediscovered by the western Indologists[9]: Staal argued that the ancient Indian grammarians, especially Pāṇini, had completely mastered methods of linguistic theory not rediscovered again until the 1950s and the applications of modern mathematical logic to linguistics by Noam Chomsky.  Noam Chomsky himself has said that the first generative grammar in the modern sense was Panini’s grammar[10].  The early methods allowed the construction of discrete, potentially infinite generative systems. Remarkably, these early linguistic systems were codified orally, though writing was then used to develop them in some way. The formal basis for Panini’s methods involved the use of “auxiliary” markers, rediscovered in the 1930s by the logician Emil Post[11]. Post’s rewrite systems are now a standard approach for the description of computer languages. The ancient discoveries were motivated by the need to preserve exact Sanskrit pronunciation and expression given the primacy of language in ancient Indian thought[12]. Now Michael Witzel elaborated this hypothesis and claimed that Panini grammer is known only to him and he can only interpret the Rigvedic verses!

Myth and reality of conduct of yagnas in modern period

Myth and reality of conduct of yagnas in modern period

How AIT nurtured and carried on: As apprehended by the Indian critics, the Vedic chants recorded by John Levy and J. F. Staal was mentioned “Ethnic folkways records” when produced and sold as MP3[13]. The note says, “The four Vedas are made up of a large number of texts, composed nearly two thousand years before Christ, by the poets, seers, sages, and ritualists of Indo-European tribes who invaded the Indian Subcontinent. They are regarded as a sacred revelation and have been transmitted orally and recited faithfully by Brahmin males for a remarkable span of history. Extensive liner notes by noted scholar Frits Staal feature detailed descriptions of each of the four Vedas, including their meaning and musical structure. The album was recorded in South India.”

Vedas mentioned as folklore -Staal

Vedas mentioned as folklore -Staal

Thus, the following ideological orientation could be noted[14]:

  1. The oral tradition of hymns, chants, sacrificial and magical formulas were folklore (myths and legends).
  2. They composed nearly two thousand years before Christ, by the poets, seers, sages, and ritualists.
  3. The poets, seers, sages, and ritualists were Indo-European tribes. This linguistic notion was changed to racial and continues even today.
  4. And they invaded the Indian Subcontinent, i.e, the AIT was stressed.
  5. They are regarded as a sacred revelation and have been transmitted orally and recited faithfully by Brahmin males for a remarkable span of history. i.e, females were prohibited!
Books of Frits Staal

Books of Frits Staal

The Vedic Workshop 2014: Now, Frits Staal is not there, but perhaps taken over Micheal Witzel. He has been showing his peculiar interpretation of Vedas and conveying different attitude towards Vedic studies. Asko Parpola, though has changed much now, he is not found in the Vedic Workshop. Following Vedic procedure, he researched but started interpreting differently changing stands. Such change has been from “Aryan” to “Dravidian”, as his friend Iravatham Mahadevan has been doing. We do not know during the rituals, the foreign participants donned the Indian traditional dress or otherwise. In fact, how the Indian delegates appeared is not known. When I contacted one of the sectional president and paper presenter, he informed that the academic session was conducted strictly without anybody’s interference; even in the selection of papers, there was “peer committee” and it was done carefully, the academic proceedings thus went on well just like an international conference. In comparing the sixth international Vedic workshop held in Kozhiokode from January 7 to 10 2014 and the international conference on Mahabharata  in Tirupati from 7th to 11th 2014, I pointed out the ghost of AIT haunting and daunting the paper presenters[15]. The domination the foreigners has been also pointed out[16].

Books of Frits Staal.2

Books of Frits Staal.2

Vedaprakash

© 16-01-2014


[1] Johan Frederik (Frits) Staal, The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, Motilal Banarasidas, New Delhi, 2001, Vol.I and II.

[3] This paragraph is reproduced from the Illustrated Weekly dated May 25, 1975, pp.

V. T. Induchudan, Yajna with Foreign participation, Illustrated Weekly dated May 25, 1975, pp.13-15.

[4] According to K. Sugathan, the Buddhist population had suffered a steady decline over the years. By the 1981 census, there were only 223 in Kerala, which is less than one person in one-lakh population, but the 1971 census showed their number as 605.  Buddhism had a strong presence in Kerala until around 16t{+h} century, but then began a period of steady decline. Historians are divided over the fate of Buddhists after its influence began to wane.

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-kerala/rise-and-fall-of-buddhism-in-kerala/article2862294.ece

[7] N. V. Krishna Warrier (1911-1989) was an Indian poet newspaper editor and scholar

[8]

[10] Advaita and Neoplatonism, University of Madras, 1961.

[11] Kadvany, John (2007). “Positional Value and Linguistic Recursion”. Journal of Indian Philosophy 35: 487–520.

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