Boundaries, Dynamics and Construction of Traditions in South Asia
618 Pages
English
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Boundaries, Dynamics and Construction of Traditions in South Asia

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618 Pages
English

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Explores the dynamic constructions and applications of the concept of ‘tradition’ that occurred within the South Asian context during the ancient and pre-colonial periods.


‘Boundaries, Dynamics and Construction of Traditions in South Asia’ explores the dynamic constructions and applications of the concept of ‘tradition’ that occurred within the South Asian context during the ancient and pre-colonial periods. This collection of essays features a significant selection of the specialized fields of knowledge that have shaped classical South Asian intellectual history, and the aim of this volume is to offer a stimulating anthology of papers on the different and complex processes employed during the ‘invention’, construction, preservation and renewal of a given tradition.


Preface; I. Introduction; Federico Squarcini, ‘Tradens, Traditum, Recipiens. Introductory Remarks on the Semiotics, Pragmatics and Politics of Tradition’; II. Discourse, Conditions and Dynamics of Tradition in South Asia; Sheldon Pollock, ‘The Revelation of Tradition: “sruti, smrti”, and the Sanskrit Discourse of Power’; Johannes Bronkhorst, ‘The Reliability of Tradition’; Timothy Lubin, ‘The Transmission, Patronage, and Prestige of Brahmanical Piety from the Mauryas to the Guptas’; III. How to Produce, Construct and Legitimate a Tradition; Alf Hiltebeitel, ‘Buddhism and the Mahabharata. Boundaries and Construction of Tradition’; Laurie L. Patton, ‘Trita’s Tumble and Agastya’s Ancestors: On The Narrative Construction of “Dharma”’; Romila Thapar, ‘Creating Traditions through Narration. The Case of Sakuntala’; Jonardon Ganeri, ‘A Dynamic Tradition of Truth-telling: Moral Innovation in the “Mahabharata”’; Francis X. Clooney, S.J., ‘From Person to Person: A Study of Tradition in The “Guruparamparasara” of Vedanta Desika’s “Srimat Rahasyatrayasara”’; Christopher Minkowski, ‘What Makes a Work ‘Traditional’? On the Success of Nilakantha’s “Mahabharata” Commentary’; Francesco Sferra, ‘Constructing the Wheel of Time. Strategies for Establishing a Tradition’; Elisa Freschi, Alessandro Graheli, ‘Bhattamimamsa and Nyaya on Veda and Tradition’; Cezary Galewicz, ‘Why should the Flower of Dharma be Invisible? Sayana’s Vision of the Unity of the Veda’; IV. Experiencing Boundaries within Tradition: The Case of the Sanskrit Grammarians; Madhav M. Deshpande, ‘Ultimate Source of Validation for the Sanskrit Grammatical Tradition: Elite Usage versus Rules of Grammar’; Maria Piera Candotti, ‘“Loke, vede, sastre”: Grammarians’ Partition of Tradition and Related Linguistic Domains’; Vincenzo Vergiani, ‘Dealing with Conflicting Views within the Paninian Tradition: On the Derivation of “tyadrs” etc.’; V. Violating Traditions and its Boundaries; Federico Squarcini, ‘Traditions against Tradition. Criticism, Dissent and the Struggle for the Semiotic Primacy of Veridiction’ ; Antonio Rigopoulos, ‘The Nonconformity to Tradition of the Mahanubhavs’; Fabrizia Baldissera, ‘Tradition of Protest: the Development of Ritual Suicide from Religious Act to Political Statement’; VI. Thinking about Traditions in South Asia Today; Christoph Emmrich, ‘When Two Strong Men Stand Face to Face. The Indologist, the Pandit and the Re-Making of the Jaina Scholarly Tradition’; Bruno Lo Turco, ‘Evaluation or Dialogue? A Brief Reflection on the Understanding of the Indian Tradition of Debate’; Fernando Tola, Carmen Dragonetti, ‘Unity in Diversity: Indian and Western Philosophical Traditions’

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Exrait

BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS
AND CONSTRUCTION OF
TRADITIONS IN SOUTH ASIA

Cultural, Historical and Textual Studies of Religions

The volumes featured in the AnthemCultural, Historical and
Textual Studies of Religionsseries are the expression of an
international community of scholars committed to the reshaping
of the field of textual and historical studies of religions. Titles in this
series examine practice, ritual, and other textual religious products,
crossing different area studies and time frames. Featuring a vast
range of interpretive perspectives, this innovative series aims
to enhance the way we look at religious traditions.

Series Editor

Federico Squarcini, University of Firenze, Italy

Editorial Board

Piero Capelli, University of Venezia, Italy
Vincent Eltschinger, ICIHA, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria
Christoph Emmrich, University of Toronto, Canada
James Fitzgerald, Brown University, USA
Jonardon Ganeri, University of Sussex, UK
Barbara A. Holdrege, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
Sheldon Pollock, Columbia University, USA
Karin Preisendanz, University of Vienna, Austria
Alessandro Saggioro, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy
Cristina Scherrer-Schaub, University of Lausanne and EPHE, France
Romila Thapar, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
Ananya Vajpeyi, University of Massachusetts Boston, USA
Marco Ventura, University of Siena, Italy
Vincenzo Vergiani, University of Cambridge, UK

BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS
AND CONSTRUCTION OF
TRADITIONS IN SOUTH ASIA

Edited by Federico Squarcini

Anthem Press
An imprint of Wimbledon Publishing Company
www.anthempress.com

This edition first published in UK and USA 2011
by ANTHEM PRESS
75-76 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8HA, UK
or PO Box 9779, London SW19 7ZG, UK
and
244 Madison Ave. #116, New York, NY 10016, USA

© 2011 Federico Squarcini editorial matter and selection;
individual chapters © individual contributors

The moral right of the authors has been asserted.

Graphics and layout © Mario Caricchio

Cover photography © Clelia Pellicano

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above,
no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into
a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means
(electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise),
without the prior written permission of both the copyright
owner and the above publisher of this book.

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A catalog record for this book has been requested.

ISBN-13: 978 0 85728 430 3 (Hbk)
ISBN-10: 0 85728 430 4 (Hbk)

This title is also available as an eBook.

Preface

Contents

I.INTRODUCTION
FEDERICOSQUARCINI
Tradens,Traditum,Recipiens.
IntroductoryRemarks on theSemiotics,Pragmatics andPolitics ofTradition

II. DISCOURSE,CONDITIONS ANDDYNAMICS OFTRADITION INSOUTHASIA
SHELDONPOLLOCK
TheRevelation ofTradition:†ruti,smr¢ti,
andtheSanskrit Discourse of Power
JOHANNESBRONKHORST
TheReliability ofTradition
TIMOTHYLUBIN
TheTransmission,Patronage,andPrestige
of Brahmanical Piety from theMauryas to theGuptas

III.HOW TOPRODUCE,CONSTRUCT ANDLEGITIMATE ATRADITION
ALFHILTEBEITEL
Buddhism andtheMahåbhårata.
Boundaries andConstruction ofTradition
LAURIEL. PATTON
Trita’sTumble and Agastya’sAncestors:
OnTheNarrative Construction of Dharma
ROMILATHAPAR
CreatingTraditions throughNarration.The Case of‡akuntalå
JONARDONGANERI
ADynamicTradition ofTruth-telling:
MoralInnovation in the Mahåbhårata

7

11

41

62

77

107

133

159

175

6

BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

FRANCISX. CLOONEY, S.J.
From Person to Person: A Study ofTradition inThe Gurupara∫paråsåra
ofVedånta De†ika’s ‡rœmat Rahasyatrayasåra
CHRISTOPHERMINKOWSKI
WhatMakes aWork ‘Traditional’?
On theSuccess ofNœlakañ™ha’s MahåbhårataCommentary
FRANCESCOSFERRA
Constructing theWheel ofTime.Strategies forEstablishing aTradition
ELISAFRESCHI, ALESSANDROGRAHELI
Bhå™™amœmå∫såand Nyåya onVeda and Tradition
CEZARYGALEWICZ
Why shouldtheFlower of Dharma beInvisible?
Såyaña’sVision of theUnity of theVeda

IV.EXPERIENCINGBOUNDARIES WITHINTRADITION:
THECASE OF THESANSKRITGRAMMARIANS
MADHAVM. DESHPANDE
UltimateSource ofValidation for theSanskrit
GrammaticalTradition: EliteUsageversusRules ofGrammar
MARIAPIERACANDOTTI
Loke,vede,†åstre: Grammarians’Partition ofTradition
and RelatedLinguistic Domains
VINCENZOVERGIANI
Dealing with ConflictingViews within the PåñinianTradition:
On the Derivation of tyådr¢†etc.

V.VIOLATINGTRADITION ANDITSBOUNDARIES
FEDERICOSQUARCINI
Traditions againstTradition. Criticism,Dissent andtheStruggle
for theSemiotic Primacy ofVeridiction
ANTONIORIGOPOULOS
TheNonconformity toTradition of theMahånubhåvs
FABRIZIABALDISSERA
Tradition of Protest:the Development ofRitualSuicide
fromReligiousAct to PoliticalStatement

VI.THINKING ABOUTTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIATODAY
CHRISTOPHEMMRICH
WhenTwoStrongMenStand Face toFace.TheIndologist,
the Pandit andtheRe-Making of theJainaScholarlyTradition
BRUNOLOTURCO
Evaluation or Dialogue? ABriefReflection
on theUnderstanding of theIndianTradition of Debate
FERNANDOTOLA, CARMENDRAGONETTI
Unity in Diversity: Indian and Western PhilosophicalTraditions

203

225

253

287

325

361

389

411

437

485

515

571

589

607

Preface

This collection of essays is meant to explore the various forms that
the theme and the notion of‘tradition’took within the South Asian
context, during ancient and pre-colonial periods.
Designed by the editor to cover a significant selection of the
specialized fields of knowledge that shaped classical South Asian
cultural history, the aim of this volume is to offer a stimulating anthology of
papers on the different and complex processes employed during the
‘invention’, construction, preservation and renewal of a given
intellectual tradition.
In this regard, the contributors have expertly analysed a large
variety of aspects, namely the transmission of traditional canons–both
textual and practical–, the dynamisms and the strategies chosen for
the renewal of a tradition, its internal and external dialectics, the
procedures of its legitimation, the theoretical and pragmatic mechanisms
of its survival, the criticisms of traditional knowledge systems, etc.
Attention has also been paid to problems related to the primacy
exercised by highly specialized traditional experts, to monopolies in the
transmission of knowledge, to its means of cultural and political
justification, and to the connections between a specific traditional field of
knowledge and the surrounding social arena.
Hence the following essays, thematically arranged according to a
sixfold partion (see, supra, the table of contents), are dense and rich
in scholarship and I hope they will notably contribute to the
contemporary Indological understanding of the crucial institute of
‘tradition’.
Such is the ambitious aim of this volume and I would like to
express my deep thanks to those who duly deserve praises and tribute
for such intellectual venture.
First of all, I wish to thank all the authors of the essays published

8

BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

in this collection, since without their positive response to my
invitation to the project this volume wouldn’t be of any value.
Furthermore, I am indebted with Patrizia Cotoneschi (Firenze
University Press) and Pankaj D. Jain (Munshiram Manoharlal) for
accepting the many challenges that this co-publication project
implied.
Finally, I wish to thank Maria Piera Candotti, Piero Capelli, Mario
Caricchio, Alessandro Graheli, Bruno Lo Turco, Nancy Nannini
Aluigi, Cristina Pecchia, Marina Rustow, Francesco Sferra, Lara
Tavarnesi, Vincenzo Vergiani, for their generous help in revising and
completing the ponderous amount of work that such a large
collection required.
In spite of my huge efforts to achieve a unified editorial profile,
while respecting the specific editorial choices made by the authors, I
feel that I succeeded only in part. Yet, any shortcomings or faults in
this work can only be attributed to myself.
I really hope that these flaws will not greatly undermine the
reader’s expectations.

Federico Squarcini
OXFORD-DELHI-FIRENZE
September 2002/December 2005

I.
Introduction

FEDERICOSQUARCINI

Tradens,Traditum,Recipiens.
IntroductoryRemarks on theSemiotics,Pragmatics
andPolitics ofTradition

The theme of‘tradition’in the South Asian context, with the
variety of its expressions, is the subject of this collection of essays. It is a
fundamental topic on which many have reflected and much has been
written. However, because of its very centrality, I believe that it can
never receive enough attention. In fact, the function performed by
the device of ‘tradition’has been and is still indispensable for the
great majority of the South Asian forms and systems of knowledge
and meaning, since it is their main foundation of guarantee and
validation. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the details and the
dynamics of this function in order to effectively grasp the logic of
those forms and systems of knowledge.
These are, in short, the principal motives that have led me to
return once again to the theme of‘tradition’.
Now, in order to counterbalance the terseness of the above
statements, it would be appropriate to explain the intentions, goals and
reasons that have guided the construction of this volume on
‘tradition’. However, a mere list of programmatic declarations would
not do justice to the complexity of the theme and to the wide range
of contexts that have been examined and discussed; it would actually
generate various kinds of misunderstandings.
This does not mean that the organisation and arrangement of the
following collection of essays did not follow any‘guideline’
–namely, a precise programmatic intent. Quite the contrary. Yet I believe
that, instead of making a mere list of such guidelines, in these
introductory remarks I should dwell upon other aspects, which I consider
methodologically more relevant to the study of tradition.
This attempt to reconsider a complex concept such as‘tradition’
–with its many variants–it is therefore prompted not so much by
a precise project of definition, as by the desire to radically rethink

1

2

BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

the method and the interpretative criteria we adopt today to
imagine and represent the functions of‘tradition’.
We should consider, to start with, to what extent ourquestions on
‘tradition’are compelling and appropriate. Such questions, although
1
despotic, are necessary. They operate like semiotic grids for the
understanding and reduction of complex historical phenomena.
Therefore, if we try to reflect upon our method, we should once again
ask ourselves questions such as ‘What is a tradition?’, ‘What are its
boundaries?’, ‘How can it be defined?’, ‘How does it define itself?’,
‘How does it tell the story of its origins?’,‘How does it justify and
legitimate its existence?’, ‘What needs are met by its coming into
existence?’,‘What are the dynamics of its reproduction?’,‘How and why
does it come to an end?’,‘What are the means by which it maintains
its distinctiveness and vitality over the course of time?’.
Moving on to a different level of analysis, we may then ask
ourselves to what extent such questions are relevant to the field of South
Asian cultural context. By doing this, though, we run the risk of
finding ourselves in a double bind. On the one hand, if we start thinking
about the logic underlying such questions, we will realise that we are
unable to discuss their relevance in an abstract way (in fact, these are
all questions that need to be addressed through the scrutiny of
specific data and materials in order to be adequately explored). On the
other hand, we will find out that these questions deal with
problematics that have been identified after the generalisation and
universalisation of particular data. In other words, these are questions of a
‘universal’nature but originated from the analysis of specific material
conditions. Before they assumed the general abstract form that allows
us to address them again to a particular circumstance, such questions
were context-related.
2
Thus, to avoid the temptation to resort to naïve ‘essentialism’,
acute hermeneutic awareness is strongly needed. It is not so easy, in
fact, to see how such way of reasoning can lead to a vicious circle that
could have a paralysing effect on research. And in order to overcome
this cognitive impasse, it is not enough to investigate to what extent
certain questions can be effectively related to the statutes, processes and
dynamics of an ‘alien’tradition. We should rather ask ourselves how
plausible they are in regard to our traditions as well as those of others.
Instead of focusing only on their trans-cultural adequacy, we
should also explore their intra-cultural validity. This implies that we
deal with broad methodological issues, concerning both the
epistemology and sociology of a tradition’s legitimation processes and of
the dynamics of cultural transmission.

1
None can avoid here to still ponder Gadamer’s reflections on the role of
questioning (Frage) linked to historical understanding. See Gadamer 1986: 368-384.
2
An epistemic fallacy not so infrequent in contemporary human sciences. See
Fuchs 2001.

1.Introduction

1

3

It is true that in the past some have voiced extreme views in the
attempt to free themselves from this impasse. Thus, it has sometimes
been claimed that the notion of‘tradition’is absolutely alien to the
classical South Asian civilisation or, on the contrary, that the
interpretative model of‘tradition’is the only possible way to explain
certain South Asian cultural processes.
While these formulations are objectively untenable, they can still
serve us as the extremes within which we can carry out new
investigations. Of course, this does not mean choosing the far too obvious
solution of the ‘middle way’. Instead, we should start from the awareness
that allour questions concerning what ‘tradition’in South Asia is
about, are guided by some kind of interest and, therefore, through
them we alwaysbuild for ourselves preconceived models of
understanding. After all, while being aware that it is impossible to set aside
completely one’s preconceptions, we should nonetheless remember that
every cognitive act always implies some kind of investigative strategy.
A renewed interpretative effort to undestand the function of
‘tradition’could start from the willingness to include the analysis of
those elements that earlier strategies had underestimated or
discard3
ed. Otherwise, it could recourse to a polythetic interpretative model
which would allow us to confront the data obtained from different
fields and cultural contexts through a flexible system of
trans-codification. In both cases the results achieved could lead to significant
changes in the evaluation of the data itself as well as in the setup of
the investigation.
The interpretation of the discursive strategies through which a
tradition justifies itself is a good opportunity to test this logic.
It is well known that the representatives of a given tradition try to
justify and legitimate their convictions–which are always exposed to
judgment and criticism–through the reflexive strategy of the
‘discourse on tradition’, with its array of principles and related notions.
As is widely attested, this practice is usual in the classical traditions of
the Mediterranean area. Now, it is reasonable to think that the
analytical model through which the developments of this‘discourse’are
interpreted and classified, takes possession of aspects of the tradition
under scrutiny, from its terminology to its idioms. However, an
interpretative method which is, if not‘universal’, at least widely applicable,
cannot be elaborated on the basis of the suggestions originating from
a single cultural milieu.
It is quite evident here that when a model, or method, is modelled
solely on the data drawn from a specific context, it has a dangerous
tendency to force other ways of thinking reflexively on one’s own
tradition into that same mould–even though those ways developed

3
Such was the initial approach of the historiographic project carried out by the
collective of‘Subaltern Studies’at Delhi University, as can be seen from the first volumes they
published. See,exempli gratia, Guha 1982; 1983; 1984.

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BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

independently. And yet, the limitations of such a process are only
revealed when one examines the forms that the practice of reflexive
discourse on tradition has taken elsewhere.
4
In the classical South Asian intellectual world, for instance, this
practice was not only well-established, but its peculiarities were such
that they could be used to extend our way of understanding and
representing the trajectories that the‘discourse on tradition’can take.
This is precisely the reason why the materials and the reflections
produced by the South Asian representatives of this ‘discourse’must
necessarily become an integral part of the dialectical processes that
shape and organise the ways in which the notion of‘tradition’is
conceived today.
Therefore, in accordance with this spirit of reconsideration of the
method, the criteria and the categories pertaining to the
phenomenon of‘tradition’, I believe that it is necessary to establish a
preliminary framework within which contextualise and problematise the
variegated picture offered by the essays collected in this volume.
It is a good custom to start from the fundamentals–namely, the
analysis of the meanings of words and of their semiotic, pragmatic
and political implications–and then to use these outcomes in order
to face the range of questions and issues that arise when examining
the notion of‘tradition’.

1.De traditione. The semiotics,pragmatics andpolitics of a notion

Let me start from the etymology and semantics of the noun
5
‘tradition’, which derives from the Latin action noun traditio-≠nis,
which in its turn means
either‘consignment’or‘transmission’or‘passage’or‘surrender’.
The lemma traditio-≠nisis connected with the verb tradere,
composed of trans(‘across’, ‘beyond’) and dare(‘to give’), of which the
present tense is tradoand the past participle traditus. This last term
designates something that has been materially‘handed down’. Hence the
Italian term‘tràdito’, mainly denoting what is preserved and handed
down by a succession of manuscripts. This is because the verb tradere
primarily designates the physical act of ‘consigning’, ‘entrusting’,
‘transmitting’,‘transferring’,‘handing down’, and‘narrating’. The use
of traditioin the terminology of classical Roman law is further evidence
of the concreteness of tradere: in fact, it denotes a gesture that is meant

4
The centuries-old debate on the‘valid means of knowledge’(pramåñavåda) is
precisely the symptom of a conflict both on the possibility of legitimate knowledge and on the
exclusive control over the criteria that give power to the means of legitimation of
knowledge. See the end of§3 of my paper in this volume.
5
Regarding the following definitions and technical usage of the terms here
mentioned, I have consulted different reference works, such as the Dictionnaireétimologiquede
la langue latine (Ernout, Meillet 1985), the Lexicon latinitatisMediiAevi (Blaise 1975), the
Lexicon totius latinitatis(Forcellini 1940), the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (1900-2001).

1.Introduction

1

5

to ensure the correct and legitimate reception of a possession by an
6
heir. Bequeathing property to one’s children is the clearest example
of the physical nature of tradere, as is attested in the Roman institution
of traditio ficta, namely the act of the legal consignment of a possession
–subdivided into traditio brevi manuand traditio longa manu. The
practical implications of this notion are also shown by some of its figurative
usages, as is the case of traderein the sense of‘betray’. This usage was
influenced by the pejorative meaning of the notion traderealready
7
present in the text of the Bible, and then further reinforced by the
association with the ruse by means of which Judas physically‘handed
over’ –by cheating and, therefore,‘betraying’–Christ to the hostile
alien authorities.
In one and the same word,‘tradition’, thus co-exists the
meaning of the factuality, concreteness and objectivity of giving and
the transitive and dynamic sense of transferring. This is further
corroborated by the fact that the kinetic meaning of the verb
tradereis complemented by the conservative and static meaning
expressed by the Latin word traditio(corresponding to the Greek
παραδοσις), which implies both the concreteness of ‘giving’
(datio) and‘delivering’(trado[trans-do]).
However, the meaning of traditiothat prevailed is that of a
particular form of uninterrupted datio, namely the continuous transmission
of an original datio, considered so unique and important to be
perpetually re-enacted. Such an act of tradere, regarded as a pragmatic action
of giving–without a pause, or a break–from hand to hand, follows
a kind of positive compulsion to repeat. Therefore, it has been seen as
the ultimate guarantee of integrity since it ensures, to those who rely
upon such a vehiculum, the immediate contact with the originalis
–being a foundational instruction or an initial event.
Thus, the word traderecovered many semiotic contexts. Yet, since
it has vital importance, the act of traderedemands a more in-depth
investigation into its different social and political implications. This is
inevitable insofar as any instance of traderealways involves two social
agents as well as an object or a content. In fact, any act of
transmission requires the presence of somebody who hands over (a tradens,
literally‘someone who gives a certain thing[res]’), of the given object
or content (traditum) and of a recipient (recipiens).
This division of the act of tradereinto its three elementary
components provides a preliminary attempt to reveal the factors and
inter

6
In Roman law,‘consignment’(traditio) was acknowledged as the easiest way of
transferring the ownership or possession (possessio) of an asset because it consisted precisely in
the act of its material consignment. See Schiavone 2003: 307-308; Adriani 1956.
Furthermore, Schiavone 2005: 5-38.
7
In the Bible, the act of‘handing over’is sometimes associated with leaving someone
in difficult conditions or in the hands of hostile people. See, exempli gratia,Deuteronomy,
23.16; 1 Samuel, 23.11-20; 30.15; Job, 16.11-12; Psalms, 30[31].9; 62[63].10-11; 77[78].48, 50,
6162; 117[118].18; Isaiah, 19.4; 51.23; Jeremiah, 18.21; Ezekiel, 35.5; 39.23; Amos, 1.6; 1.9; 6.8.

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BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

ests that constitute, inform and influence a ‘tradition’ –namely, a
specific act of transmission. This is precisely the reason why, even
though the object of tradere(traditum) may well be an independent
entity–a material thing, a verbal statement or a doctrine, that has
significance in itself–, it is always necessary to situate it within its
systemic context in order to fully understand its meaning.
Consequently, the traditumhas to be examined simultaneously from
8
the semiotic, pragmatic, mediological and political standpoint.
Seen from this perspective, any act of tradereis a crucial gesture
closely connected to the social–and, hence, political–sphere, from
which it cannot actually be separated.

2. From the concrete practice of giving to the abstract institution of datio
andthe manner of giving again

In addition to the systemic and relational dimension of tradere,
one must take into account also other aims of this gesture, which
concern the act of tradereitself as well as its socio-political consequences.
While there are always objective reasons for choosing to traderea
particular object or content to others, there are also concrete
benefits connected to such practice. These concern both the individual
who performs the act and the one who is affected by it. Apart from
the immediate interest they may have in handing over (tradere) a
particular object or content (traditum), these two may wish to present
themselves, on the one hand, as the sole authors of the gesture itself
and, on the other hand, as the only depositaries of the particular
object or content that has been handed over. In this way they both try
to assert their own exclusive claim on a part of the process of tradere.
They know that, once the value and goodness of the datio originalis
have been ascertained, the crucial thing is to make use of it, preserve
it and give it again ideally intact.
This is the concrete task of future transmitters (tradentes), who
therefore become the more or less conscious actors of a reiterative
institution specialising in the transmission of the given object.
While this is surely valid for the transmission of material things, it
acquires levels of complexity when it comes to the transmission of
statements or doctrines, since in this context the symbolic dimension
is more relevant and therefore those who are engaged in the act of
transmitting can change their social status –from mere agents into
professionals of tradere. Corporate and professional interests –both
concrete and symbolic–prompt these transmitters, or mediators, to
operate in such a way that their particular way of transmitting and
giving again a certain object rapidly imposes itself as the onlycorrect way
of tradere. It is with this aim in mind that they come to establish their

8
See, for some illustrations of related analysis and theoretical apparatus, Assmann
1999; Debray 1997: 15-70; Boyer 1990.

1.Introduction

1

7

own particular way of consigning the traditum. Therefore, the
emphasis placed on the correlation and mutual dependence between the
original datio–that must be‘given again’–and the necessary
practices for its acceptance, preservation and restitution become an
integral part of their policy. The first gesture would be nothing, they say,
without the last and vice versa, to the extent that the mediumbecomes
the content and the aim, in a logic according to which practice and
content are somehow interchangeable.
It is precisely such dynamics that originated the process of
transition from the empirical and practical power of a concrete ‘act of
transmission’ –a power derived from the sum of the intrinsic and
concrete value of what is transmitted and the established symbolic
status of the transmitter–to the abstract normative dimension of
the modes of tradere, in which the emphasis is placed on the forms of
the action rather than on its contents. This causes a crucial change of
status, a sort of semantic inversion comparable to the shift from the
concrete use of an object to the abstract representation of the notion
of property. Here a simple individual gesture of transmission
happens to be qualified beyond its merely objective value. Then, from the
initial need to provide a stable foundation for one’s own conduct
arose a number of devices, by means of which a certain group of
tradentestried to move certain events or doctrines from the status of
a particular factumto that of a universal principiumor
decretum(corresponding to the Greek δο,γμα).
This is especially true in the cultural and religious spheres, unlike
the legal domain, which focuses on the transmission of clearly
defined material goods. In these contexts, the belief according to
which a good teaching, if badly transmitted, may be corrupted soon
became widespread. This is a common-sense principle, but it gains
full force particularly in connection with some kind of strife, for it
makes it possible to discredit a teaching simply by questioning the
quality of its transmission or the authority of the transmitter –by
claiming, for instance, that he was not acknowledged by the
commu9
nity of the tradentesas a qualified transmitter.
In religious domains, when a deity gives an object or a teaching
to some chosen individual, this act has various consequences: not
only is the goodness of what is transmitted guaranteed and its
survival assured, but it also makes the recipient an elected and
privileged individual, drawing special attention to what he has been
given. Remembering and narrating the act of the original datiothen
becomes the means to increase the value assigned to the transmitted

9
It is particularly appropriate here to recall the customs of the Vedic poets,
according to which a bard was considered able to genuinely grasp and express meanings
an‘correlations’(bandhu) both on the basis of his compositional skills and of the consensus given
to him by his colleagues (sákhyå), without which he would lose the right path
(nahípravéda sukr¢tásya pánthåm [10.71.6]) and succumb to words that are sterile, literally‘fruitless
and flowerless’(vÌcam†u†ruvÌ∫aphalÌm apußpÌm [10.71.5]). See R¢gveda, 10.71.1-11.

1

8

BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

object or content. This is certainly true in many religious contexts,
that are full of narrations in which teachings, truths and visions are
handed down, or accessed, and that soon rise to the exceptional
status of symbolic depositumor testamentum. They become special cases
of divine transmissions, which need to be preserved and‘committed
10
to memory’because of their unique value.
In this way one goes from the concrete practice of giving to the
symbolic institutionalisation of both the given and the givers.
Moreover, now the act and the forms of giving are a‘unique locusof
truth’since they are decisive in ascertaining the possibility of preserving
or corrupting the traditum. As far as religious truths are concerned,
every traditum–precisely because of its additional value–is claimed to
be in need of‘institutional guarantees’that preserve it from the various
forms of corruption, deriving both from its use and its misuse.
Therefore, it becomes necessary to have recourse to that system of
tutelage known as‘tradition’. Once established, this is thought to ensure the
11
correct preservation, use and retransmission of the original datio.
If what I have said so far makes sense, it will be useful not only to
consider the representations that traditions –as well as those who
study them–have produced, but also to pay critical attention to the
interests and the positions of the individuals operating within the
traditions themselves. Indeed, as they are“interested producers of
sym12
bolic systems”, they deserve the utmost attention. It is their strategic
actions that build up the legitimacy of the institution of tradition. A
strategy that leads towards a ‘policy of perception’which deals with
practical and cognitive aspect. Through this policy they aim, first and
foremost, at fixing the image of the unity and continuity of their
activ13
ity and, subsequently, at establishing the devices by means of which
this image is committed to memory and reproduced.
Then, the various processes of selection of what is to be
remembered and what is to be forgotten take place via the impersonal
activ

10
This is especially true in the South Asian classical context, where the precepts of
extraordinary people (ancestors, seers, wise men, etc.) are received as special items and are
constantly referred to. That which they hand down for posterity to remember is
significantly designated with the word smr¢ti,‘that which is remembered or memorised’. Not that
everything remembered obtains the prestigious status of smr¢ti,but anything transmitted from
Vedic sources can become an object of memory. See, for few examples of traditional
approaches to the defintion of smr¢ti,‡abara, ‡åbarabhåßya, vol. 2, pp. 72-74 (in
Mœmå∫sådar†anam, ed. by K.V. Abhyankar, Anandashrama Press, Pune 1970-1976); Kumårila,
Tantravårttika, vol. 2, pp. 94; 104 (in Mœmå∫sådar†anam,idem); Jayantabha™™a, Nyåyama∞jarœ,
vol. 1, pp. 372-373 (ed. by K.S. Varadacharya, Oriental Research Institute, Mysore 1969).
11
No tradition, therefore, can renounce the synthesis of praxis and theory, that is, to
the development of specific practices of symbolic incrementum, through which the mere
gesture of consignment is equal to a noteworthy practice, which also renders its executors
noteworthy. Because of this, the executors (now true tradentes) develop an interest in
preserving and guarding that very act of consignment.
12
Bourdieu 1991: 4-5 (footnote 9).
13
See Bourdieu 1991: 5; 29.
14
See Assmann 1997: 5-58; Douglas 1990: 109-125.

1.Introduction

1

14
ity of the established institution of tradition.
3.Which notion of‘tradition’for the intellectual history ofSouthAsia?

9

After suggesting this tripartite model of conceptualising the
notion of tradition, I will now consider to what extent it can be
adapted to the South Asian data.
Since early times, the empirical experience of the appropriation of
a new word –either as a lexeme or a sememe–through an act of
transmission is reported in positive terms in the cultural history of
South Asia. Handing down a lemma is discussed here as an example of
the practice of‘transmission’(åmnåya) of something that was not
possessed or known before. It is an unquestionable practical experience
that is significantly referred to in the incipitof the ancient Sanskrit
15
treatise on etymology attributed to Yåska. Talking of the lexical
heritage that has been‘transmitted’(åmnåta), Yåska emphasises both the
factuality and the guarantees offered by this institution that has made
it possible to acquire formerly unknown lemmas and meanings. His
discourse is structured around the same elements of the triad
described above: tradens,traditumand recipiens.
From this very example, the notion of ‘tradition’to be used for
the South Asian context would appear to be easily conceivable and
very close to that described in the preceding paragraph. But,
although the subject of ‘tradition’has been much discussed in
Indological studies –variously interpreted and dealt with from
different angles–, new researches and changes in the cultural attitudes
16
over the last decades demand us to discuss it again.
While revisiting‘old’interpretative criteria–such as the
opposi17
tion between ‘great’and ‘little’tradition–, various studies have
18
chosen to talk about the‘happening’of a tradition, the‘negation’
19
of tradition on the part of some Orientalists, the need to critically
20
understand the historiographic role to be assigned to traditions, the
21
forms of entropy that can affect a tradition, the theme of the

15
See Yåska, Nirukta, 1.1 (samåmnåyaΔsamåmnåtaΔ Ùsa vyåkhyåtavyaΔ Ùtam ima∫
samåmnåya∫nighañ™ava ityåcakßateÙnighañ™avaΔ kasmåtÙnigamåime
bhavantiÙchandobhyaΔsamåhr¢tya samåhr¢tya samåmnåtåΔ Ùte nigantava eva santo nigamanån nighañ™va
ucyanta ity aupamanyavaΔ Ù).
16
As a matter of fact, the studies on tradition in South Asia have recently increased,
and not just in number. See the detailed re-articulations of the notion of tradition
presented in Kaviraj 2005: 124; 125; 126-127; 128-129; 130. Furthermore, Manring 2005; Saberwal,
Varma 2005. Indeed, over the last decade the subject of‘tradition’has been widely
reconsidered by various specialists. See, exempli gratia, Brockington, Schreiner 1999; Gopal,
Champakalakshmi 1997; Champion 1996; Mohanty 1992; Halbfass 1991; Moore 1979.
17
See Agehananda Bharati 1978; Singer 1972; Singer 1959.
18
See D’Sa 1994.
19
See Sugirtharajah 2003: 75-76.
20
See Ludden 2002: 5-9.
21
See Inden 1986.
22
See Rudolph, Rudolph 1967: 269-293.

2

0

BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

22
‘modernity’of tradition.
In spite of these propositions, some of the methodological
implications of the recourse to the notion of tradition are still to be
clarified. In other words, the gap between the universal category of
23
‘tradition’and the particular aspects it embraces in South Asian
contexts may still turn out to be too broad and problematic.
Therefore, it is necessary to think again about the theoretical
guidelines and the conceptual framework, so to allow scholars to carry out
a renewed analysis of the data obtained from the South Asian world.
In taking the first steps towards this renewal, it might be worth
concentrating our efforts, initially, on the understanding of the ways
in which the institute of tradition was conceived and described in
South Asian sources, retracing its history from the semiotic,
pragmat24
ic and political point of view.
This will certainly not be sufficient to clarify all the numerous
epistemic, social and symbolic implications of such terms as para∫parå
(‘succession’, ‘sequence’, ‘tradition’), sa∫pradåya(‘sect’, ‘religious
institution’, ‘denomination’), åmnåya(‘transmission’, ‘teaching’),
va∫†a(‘lineage’), aitihya(‘historical tradition’) and
ågama(‘testimony’,‘tradition’). In fact, all these are words by means of which certain
social agents defined and characterised their own tradition, often with
a remarkably thorough self-reflective attitude. However, it is
important to comprehend to what extent these words are not simply nouns,
but rather semantic indicators that have been used over many
centuries as legitimating metaphors, apt to point out the objective
location–and, consequently, the actual criteria of its accessibility–of a
much more abstract and intangible depositum fidei.
I will now examine some of these lexical referents, considering
them in the eyes of the tripartite interpretative model presented
supra(see§1, 2).

4.Starting from words:a few etymological andmediological remarks on
para∫paråandsa∫pradåya

Let’s consider two terms that are crucial for our reflection on the
notion of tradition. These terms are para∫paråand sa∫pradåya, both
of them widely used in South Asia to denote the functions that are
usually assigned to‘tradition’.
An intitial survey of the available lexicographic tools shows that
the feminime noun para∫parå(derived from para-m-para, with a
reit25
eration of the stem para, literally both‘distant’,‘remote’,‘previous’,

23
In the beginning of this introduction I have discussed to what extent its
universality can be said to be partial and particular.
24
In this regard, Sheldon Pollock’s essay published in this volume is an outstanding
example of this kind of approach. Furthermore, Pollock 2005.
25
Consider, on the other hand, the word pårá-, already attested in the R¢gveda, which
denotes the act of‘bringing across, from one side to another’. See Turner 1966: 457.

1.Introduction

2

1

‘ancient’, ‘subsequent’, and ‘different’, ‘other’, ‘opposed’, ‘foreign’,
‘adverse’) means‘one next to the other’,‘one after the other’,‘one
another’or, much more abstractly, ‘that which connects disjointed
parts’. The term para∫paråthen denotes an ‘uninterrupted line’, a
‘continuous series’or a ‘regular succession’, and is variously
combined with different past participles–among others,
para∫paråpråpta–meaning ‘handed down through successive transmissions’.
Other derivations of the same stem are used, for instance, to
designate the way to obtain ‘a life without interruptions (or perpetual)’
26
(tathåparamparamåyuΔsama†nute), or to denote opposite extremes
and convey the sense of distance, as in the section on the names of
27
rivers in an ancient lexicon. Relevant is also the adjectival usage of
para∫parå, referred to what is seen as ‘traditional’or ‘hereditary’
–namely, something from the past, also used as a synonym of
kulakramågata(‘obtained through the transmission of the family
lineage’). Thus, semantically equivalent to the word
paraspara–meaning ‘reciprocal’, ‘mutual’, and itself derived through the
reduplication of para–the word para∫parådenotes the dynamical
and composite nature of the act of giving and transmitting.
The general idea of a ‘system of transmission’expressed by the
word para∫paråis then qualified by specific additional meanings, as
in the case of the compound guru†ißyapara∫parå, that is,
the‘transmission[of knowledge]from teacher to disciple’.
Furthermore, the noun para∫paråis also used as an indicator of an
established version of ‘giving’, displacing the semantic load from the
practical act of transmitting to the symbolic institute of transmission.
28
Such meanings are already attested in the classical lexicons. The
word para∫paråis in fact recorded in the Nåmaliõgånu†åsanaof
th
Amarasi∫ha (c. 5 century CE–also known as Amarako†a–), in the
section that deals with terms concerning Brahmanic novitiate, forms
of asceticism and sacrifice as well as of knowledge and teaching. Here
29
para∫paråis said to denote a‘kind of traditional instruction’. The
word is also found in another section of the same work dealing with

26
‡atapatabråhmaña, 4.2.4.7.
27
See Yåska, Nirukta, 2.24 (påråvataghnœ∫påråvåraghåtinœmÙpåra∫para∫bhavatiÙ
avåramavaramÙ).
28
For further in-depth considerations on the classical uses of the wordpara∫paråit
is worth to consult the Nåmaliõgånu†åsanaof Amarasi∫ha with its commentaries and
glosses (as the ancient‘Ko†a’of Jåtarüpa, the~œkåsarvasvaof Vandyagha™œya Sarvånanda,
up to the Amaravivekaof Mahe†vara), as well as its supplements (as the Trikåñ∂a†eßa, the
Håråvalœ, the Dvirüpako†acompiled by Purüßottamadeva) and other classical lexicons
(such as the Abhidhånacintåmañi,Abhidhånacintåmañipari†iß™a,Liõgånu†åsanako†aof
Hemacandra[edited by Pañdit Durgåprasåd, K农nath Påñdurang Parab,
Pañdit‡ivadatta and published in the 1889 within the ‘Collection of ancient lexicon’
–Abhidhånasa∫graha–by the Nirñayasågara Press of Bombay]).
29
See Nåmaliõgånu†åsana, 2.6.835 (påramparyopade†e syådaitihyam itihåvyayam).
30
See Nåmaliõgånu†åsana, 2.6.862 (paramparåka∫ †amana∫prokßaña∫ca
vadhårthakam).

2

2

BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

30
the vocabulary of various ritual and sacrificial practices. However,
the presence of the kinetic sense of the word is not lost, as is shown by
a further section of Amarasi∫ha’s treatise in which para∫paråis
mentioned among different synonyms for‘indirect’means of conveyance
31
(such as palanquin bearers, dray horses, etc.).
Although the meaning referring to the symbolic value of an
‘established institute’of transmission has prevailed, there are
persistent instances in the ancient sources of the use of the word para∫parå
in its pragmatic and dynamic sense, in which its kinetic aspects are
emphasised. Consider, for example, the practical and social
implications of such compounds as va∫†apara∫paråand kulapara∫parå, in
which va∫†aand kulastress the value of a transmission that takes
place through the guaranteed medium of familiar or dynastic
affiliations; or †rotapara∫paråand karñapara∫parå, in which †rotaand
karñadesignate the sense of hearing and its organ, the ear,
respectively, through which the transmission occurs. Even more suggestive
are the compounds sopånapara∫paråand sopånakapara∫parå,
where –in Sanskrit as well as in Påli–sopånameans ‘step’,
‘staircase’,‘ladder’or‘flight of stairs’. The same pragmatical sense is also
conveyed by related compounds, such as
sopånapåtha,sopånapaddhati,sopånapanti andsopånamårga–all of them of great interest
because of the images they conjure up.
The will to symbolically institute and the concrete fluidity of
movement are, therefore, the two main features expressed by the
32
word para∫paråas used in classical Brahmanic literature.
It should be noted that the word para∫paråis especially
widespread in the ancient Påli Buddhist literature. Here one finds the
first attestations of both a specialised use of this word (exentsively
used until the much more recent ‘historiographic’Buddhist work
Såsanava∫sa–in which compounds such as therapara∫parå,
åcariyapara∫parå,bhikkhupara∫parå,sissapara∫paråand
ganthakåraparamparåoccur in the context of the distinction between
lineages and forms of transmission of the teachings–) and of its being
utilized to express the general sense of sequentiality and continuity
(as in the term para∫paråbhojana, designating a monk’s meal that

31
See Nåmaliõgånu†åsana, 2.7.1049 (paramparåvåhana∫yat tad vainœtakam astriyåm).
32
The term para∫paråfrequently occurs in Brahmanic sources–less so, however,
before the compilation of theMahåbhårata. See, exempli gratia,Vasiß™hadharmasütra, 6.43
(påra∫paryagato yeßåmvedaΔsaparibå∫hañaΔ); Månavadharma†åstra, 2.18 (tasminde†e ya
åcåraΔpåra∫paryakramågataΔ); Kåtyåyañadharma†åstra, 164 (yåvan yasmin samåcåraΔ
påra∫paryakramågataΔ); 891 (ya∫para∫parayåmaulåΔsåmantåΔsvåmina∫ viduΔ);
Artha†åstra, 1.12.13 (para∫parå); 1.12.23 (para∫parå); 1.15.16 (para∫parå); 2.34.11
(para∫parå); 8.2.26 (påra∫paryakrameña uktam); 14.1.32 (matsyapara∫parå);
Mahåbhårata, 3.195.34 (para∫parå); 6.26.2 (para∫paråpråptam); 6.115.27 (påra∫paryeña);
11.23.21 (påra∫paryeña); 12.101.26 (påra∫paryågate); 12.164.12 (påra∫parya∫); 12.326.113
(påra∫paryågata∫); 12.336.2 (påra∫paryågatå); 13.73.13 (påra∫paryågata∫); Råmåyaña,
4.55.5 (para∫parå); 5.14.30 (para∫parå); Bhartr¢hari, Våkyapadœya, 1.159
(anekatœrthabhedåyås trayyåcåcaΔpara∫paramÙ);Œ†varakrñߢa, Så∫khyakårikå, 71.

1.Introduction

2

3

follows a pre-established order or sequence).
Moreover, in these texts it is also possible to come across the
33
apologetic and self-reflective recourse to the device of para∫parå.
Considering that the word already occurs in the earliest parts of the
34
Påli canon, the contexts in which it is used are far from being
homogeneous. Nonetheless, it seems that from the beginning the
word para∫paråis used to denote the specificity and the advantages
of having recourse to the device of the transmission through a
teaching lineage, as it appears from some occurrences in the
35
Vinayapi™aka.
Of utmost interest is the co-existence–in formulaic phrases–of
36
the two words paramparåand sampadåyain Påli texts. Adistinction
is also made among different forms and dimensions of the paramparå,
for instance, between ‘elementary’(dhåtuparamparå) and ‘large’
37
(mahåparamparå)paramparå. Furthermore, various types and
means of transmission are explicitly distinguished, as is exemplified,
38
for instance, in the Divyåvadåna.

33
A powerful apologetic dispositifadopted up until modern narrations of the origins of
Buddhist tradition. See Såsanava∫sadœpa, 1063-1074; 1532-1542; 1635-1659 (these relevant
sections are significantly entitled mahåmahindattherådyåcariyaparamparådi kathå dœpo, åcariya
paramparådikathå dœpo and åcariya paramparå kathå dœporespectively). Further, Law 1986.
34
See, exempli gratia,Majjhimanikåya, 2, in PTS [Påli Texts Society]p. 520
(paramparåya); 3, in PTS p. 74 (upeti gabbha∞ca para∞ca loka∫sa∫såramåpajja
paramparåya); 3, in PTS p. 78; 3, in PTS p. 169 (paramparåya); 3, in PTS p. 170; 3, in PTS p.
200; Aõguttaranikåya, 3, in PTS p. 189 (paramparåya); 4, in PTS p. 191 (paramparåya); 4, in
PTS p. 191 ([…]måanussavena måparamparåya,måitikiråya[…]); Cullavagga, 5.6, in PTS
p. 22 (åvåsa[‘home’,‘place of residence’]paramparå); 5.37, in PTS p. 110
(ve¬u[‘bamboo’]paramparå); 6.4, in PTS p. 25 (åvåsaparamparå).
35
See, exempli gratia,Parivårapå¬i, in PTS, pp. 3; 6; 18; 39; 49; 54; 56; 81-82; 88; 128;
130 (åcariyaparamparå); 139 (åcariyaparamparå); 144; Pacittiya, 6.4.3, in PTS pp. 75-78
(section entitled paramparahojana sikkhåpada∫).
36
See, exempli gratia,Majjhimanikåya, 2, in PTS p. 520 (so anussavena itihitiha
paramparåya pi™akasampadåyadhamma∫ desetiÙ[…]so anussavena itihitiha paramparåya
pi™akasampadåyadhamma∫ deseti); 3, in PTS p. 169 (athakhokåpa™iko måñavo
bhagavanta∫etadavoca: ‘yam ida∫bho gotama,bråhmañåna∫poråñåna∫mantapada∫itihitiha
paramparåya pi™akasampadåya,tattha ca bråhmañåeka∫sena ni™™ha∫gacchanti’.‘idam eva
sacca∫moghama∞∞a’nti,idha bhava∫gotamokimåhå’ti); Aõguttaranikåya, 3, in PTS p. 189
([…]måparamparåya,måitikiråya,måpi™akasampadånena[…]); 4, in PTS p. 191 ([…]må
anussavena,måparamparåya,måitikiråya,måpi™akasampadånena […]); Suttantapi™aka, 1,
in PTS p. 360 (sakkhidhamma’nti na itihitiha∫na itikiråya na paramparåya na
pi™akasampadåya); 1, in PTS p. 400 (sakkhidhamma’nti na itihœtiha∫na itikiråya na paramparåya na
pi™akasampadåya); 1, in PTS p. 482 (na itihœtiha∫na itikiråya na paramparåya na
pi™akasampadåya).
37
See, exempli gratia,Mahåva∫sa, 3.40; 35.40 (yugaparamparåtesa∫purato påvisœ
pura∫); 74.245; 91.82 (katolikaparamparå[note that the term katolikais only found in the
Mahåva∫sa, where it occurs 16 times, also in connection with the word ågama]);
Dhåtuva∫sa, 3 (an entire pariceddhaentitled dhåtuparamparå kathå).
38
See Divyåvadåna, 190.11 (te †ravañaparamparayåcånveßamåñås tasya gr¢hapateΔ
sakå†amupasa∫kråntåΔÙ); 289.16 (eßa ca vr¢ttåntas tena bråhmañena karñaparamparayå
†rutaΔÙ); 478.10 (eva∫ karñaparamparayåsa †abdastayor duß™åmåtyayoΔ karña∫gataΔÙ);
499.11 (båßpasaliladhåråparamparodbhavoparudhyamånakañ™hœanilabalåkulita
galitasajalajaladapa™alå valœmalinake†apå†åsatvaratvaram abhigamya maitrakanyakasya bodhisattvasya
pådayoΔparißvajyaivamåha–måmå∫putraka parityajaya yåsœtiÙ).

2

4

BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

Thus, the device of para∫paråis here widely acknowledged and
39
invoked for its legitimising force. This is particularly relevant for
early Buddhist sources, which –being strongly dependent on the
prototypical and charismatic figure of the Buddha–have a much
more compelling need than Brahmanic sources to create a system of
validation of their status. As a consequence, Buddhist texts
sometimes present a self-reflective‘discourse’that is not found, instead, in
the surviving earlier Brahmanic literature.
The other key-word is sa∫pradåya. According to a sütraof
Påñini’s grammar (Aß™ådhyåyœ, 3.1.141), this is derived from the root
då-, belonging to the third gaña(present tense, dadåti) and meaning
‘to give’, through the affixation of the agentive suffix ña(=a)
preced40
ed by the increment yuk(=y). From this etymological explanation,
then, sa∫pradåyadenotes ‘that which transmits’rather than ‘that
which is transmitted’. The emphasis is placed on the symbolic value
of the institute established by the‘act of tradere’rather than on the
contents of such acts.
Significantly, the term dåya, which is the basic semantic
component of sa∫pradåya, is first attested in contexts that deal with the
41
transferring or partitioning of goods and, especially, of legacies.
This sense of material transference, intrinsic in the word sa∫pradåya,
will be maintained, even though it has been accompanied by
figura42
tive and symbolic meanings since its earliest attestations. However,
the concreteness of this ‘institute of transmission’(sa∫pradåya) is
already emphasised in some ancient sources.
An interesting case is Yåska’s mention of the fact that the oral
transmission of the hymns (mantra) and, later on, of their editing and
collection into ‘distinct treatises’(bilmagrahañåya imaΔgranthaΔ),
served the purpose of countering the inevitable gradual
disappearance of individuals –among the new generations of bråhmañas–

39
In fact in these sources it is also associated with men of power. See, exempli gratia,
Sœha¬avatthü, 27.35 (vacanaparamparåya asokaråja sutvå).
40
I wish to thank Vincenzo Vergiani for his help with these points of grammar.
41
See, exempli gratia,Taittirœyasa∫hitå, 3.1.9.4-5. In the later juridical literature, the
topic of inheritance, with the related guarantees, is extensively dealt with. In the
Månavadharma†åstra, in particular, the presentation of the criteria for the‘division of the
inheritance’(vibhåga, dåyabhåga) represents one of the eighteen‘grounds for litigation’
(vyavahårapåda). See Månavadharma†åstra, 9.103-220. Other sections of the same work
dealing with inheritance are Månavadharma†åstra, 1.115; 8.7; 8.27; 9.47; 9.77-79; 10.115;
11.185. The question of how to properly transmit the inheritance has been largely debated
within the Sanskrit juridical tradition until theXII century CE. See, about one of the last
innovative treatise on this matter, Rocher 2002.
42
See, exempli gratia,‡atapathabråhmaña, 1.5.2.7 (sa yadå†råvayati Ùyaj∞am evaitad
anumantrayataånaΔ †r¢ñüpa naåvartasvety atha yatpratyå†råvayati yaj∞a
evaitadupåvartate ’stu tatheti tenopåvr¢ttena retasåbhütenartvijaΔsampradåya∫caranti yajamånena paro
’kß∫yathåpürñapåtreña sampradåya∫careyur eva manenartvijaΔsampradåya∫caranti tad
våcaivaitat sampradåya∫caranti vågghi yaj∞o vågu hi retas tadetenaivaitat sampradåya∫
caranti). The same, with small variations, is in the Kåñva recension. See
Kåñva†atapathabråhmaña, 2.4.4.3.

1.Introduction

2

5

who were capable of having a ‘direct intuition of the norm’
43
(såkßåtkr¢tadharman). Evidently, these individuals were perceived as
lacking the qualities of the ancient‘seers’(r¢ßi).
However, throughout the various contexts in which it is used, the
primary connotation of the word sa∫pradåyais that of the‘repeated
performance’of an act of giving and taking.
The later Nåmaliõgånu†åsanaof Amarasi∫ha lists sa∫pradåya
among other action nouns designating a received doctrine or
teach44
ing. And indeed, among the numerous later definitions of
sa∫pradåya, there is one given by Uddyotakara, according to whom
‘tradition’is the handing down of knowledge from
‘teacher’(upad45
hyåya) to‘pupil’(†ißya).
With regard to the tripartite interpretative model presented in
preceding pages, it is necessary to draw attention to the connections
between some aspects of the above semiotics and etymological
derivation of the word sa∫pradåyaand other related terms.
Note, for example, the verb sa∫pradå- (present tense
sa∫pradåti, past participle sa∫pradatta), the basic meaning of which
is‘to offer completely’,‘to give up’, but also‘to transmit’,‘to impart’
and‘to teach’. From sa∫pradå- the noun sa∫pradåna derives, which
means either ‘gift’, ‘present’, or ‘transmission’, ‘teaching’. In both
cases the full sense of‘giving’(as a datio) is dominant. This suggests
a dynamic that is really very close to what I said above about the
triad tradens,traditumand recipiens. In fact, in the grammatical
literature –and especially in the short, but extremely interesting,
sa∫pradånådhikåra(Våkyapadœya, 3.7.129-135) of Bhartr¢hari–the
various complex implications of the use of the dative case are
explained through a reflection on the role played by the recipient,
namely, the kårakacalled sa∫pradåna. Here the recipient is the
final consignee and, indeed, the real motive for an action addressed
to him, which he has to consent to if the action is to be properly
performed and acquire its full significance. Thus, the focus is on the
individual (sa∫pradåna) to whom something is entirely and
effec46
tively given.
The concreteness that is a connotation of the word sa∫pradåna

43
See Yåska, Nirukta, 1.20 (såkßåtkr¢tadharmåña r¢ßayo babhüvuΔ Ùte ’varebhyo
’såkßåtkr¢tadharmabhya upade†ena mantrån sa∫pråduΔ Ùupade†åya glåyanto ’vare
bilmagrahañåya ima∫grantha∫samåmnåsißuΔ Ù veda∫cavedåõgåni caÙbilma∫bhilma∫bhåsanam iti
cå Ù). Furthermore, Wezler 2001.
44
See Nåmaliõgånu†åsana, 3.2.241-242
(vardhana∫chedane’thadveånandanasabhåjaneÙ åpracchannamathåmnåyaΔsa∫pradåyaΔ kßayekßiyåÙÙ).
45
See Uddyotakara, Nyåyavårttika ad Nyåyasütra, 1.1.1 (sampradåyo nåma
†ißyopadhyåyasa∫bandhasyåvicchedena†åstrapråptiΔ).
46
According to the grammatical commentators, these are the implications to be
drawn from Påñini’s sütra(Aß™ådhyåyœ, 1.4.32[kármañåyám abhipraíti sásampradÌnam]),
for which the technical name sa∫pradånadesignates the beneficiary or recipient that the
agent intends to reach through his action (of giving).

2

6

BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

is further shown by those ritual activities–known as‘transmission’
47
(sa∫pradåna) or even ‘acquisition’(sa∫pratti)–by means of
which a dying father hands over his doctrinal, ethic, symbolic and
practical legacy to his son. All these rituals indicate the need to
ensure both an ideal and concrete continuation of the preservation
of a given order.
In short, insofar as they serve as guarantees, all these systems of
transmission must be able to dynamically preserve what they were
once given. A dual concern which requires a dual effort.
From what can be seen through the semantic history of the word
sa∫pradåya, in fact, only what the tradition (sa∫pradåya) actually
hands down is to be understood as the true testamentumand should
be preferred to any supposed original meaning. This seems to be the
48
sense of Jaimini’s words, which also recurs in the remarks of some
later commentators while they strive to clarify the sense of some
central notions–such as that of the permanence or eternity (nityatva)
49
of the Veda. According to Uddyotakara, this‘eternity’should even
be taken in a figurative sense, namely as an emphatic reference to
the length and certitude of the uninterrupted process of concrete
50
transmission.
51
Besides its employment in the ancient Buddhist literature, the
term sa∫pradåyacirculated widely in Brahmanic circles, as it became
the most common word designating a specific religious tradition or
52
denomination.
What I have presented here, in regards of the terms para∫para
and sa∫pradåya,should be considered on the one hand as the proof
of an explicit awareness of the value and importance of the institute of

47
In the late Vedic period, the ceremony of sa∫pradånawas a form of justification
and symbolic procedure that had the purpose of confirming the heir’s right to receive
what the institute of transmission destined to him. See, for some of the earliest
descriptions of this practice, Br¢hadårañyakopanißad, 1.5.17-20; Kaußœtakopanißad, 2.15.
Furthermore, Olivelle 1993: 123-126.
48
See Jaimini, Mœmå∫såsütra, 1.2.8 (tulya∫ca såmpradåyikam).
49
See Våtsyåyana, Nyåyabhåßya ad Nyåyasütra, 2.1.68.
50
See Uddyotakara, Nyåyavårttika ad Nyåyasütra, 2.1.68.
51
See, for some examples of the use of the Påli sampadåya,Majjhimanikåya, 1.3.9
(mahåsaropamasutta, 6), in PTS p. 192 (so tåya sœlayampadåya attamano hoti
paripuññasaõkappoÙso tåya sœlasampadåya attånukka∫seti para∫ vambheti […]aham asmi
sœlavå kalyåñadhammo,ime pana∞∞e bhikkhü dussœlåpåpadhammåti Ùso tåya sœlasampadåya
majjati pamajjati pamåda∫ åpajjatiÙpamatto samånodukkha∫ viharatiÙ); 2, in PTS p. 520 (so
anussavena itihitiha paramparåya pi™akasampadåyadhamma∫ desetiÙ[…]so anussavena
itihitiha paramparåya pi™akasampadåyadhamma∫ deseti); 3, in PTS p. 169 (athakhokåpa™iko
måñavo bhagavanta∫etadavoca: ‘yam ida∫bho
gotama,bråhmañåna∫poråñåna∫mantapada∫itihitiha paramparåya pi™akasampadåya,tattha ca bråhmañåeka∫sena
ni™™ha∫gacchanti’.‘idam eva sacca∫moghama∞∞a’nti,idha bhava∫gotamokimåhå’ti).
52
As for what I said above on para∫parå, the word sa∫pradåya is often used by
Brahmanic sources, although it is not so frequent as in and after the Mahåbhårata. See,
exempli gratia,Mahåbhårata, 1.82.4 (sa∫pradåya); 2.5.5 (sa∫pradåya); 3.13.18 (sa∫pradåya);
5.27.27 (sa∫pradåya); 10.11.10 (sa∫pradåya); 13.70.50 (sa∫pradåya); Råmåyaña, 2.29.18
(sa∫pradåya).

1.Introduction

2

7

tradition; on the other, as complementing the remarks made above on
the possibility for an agent (tradens) to obtain a certain
status–precisely, that of a recognised tradens–on the basis of the symbolic
significance given to a practical act –the agent’s handing over of a
traditum–that would normally be forgotten right away.
This is to show that my initial interpretative proposal is
substantiated by a variety of descriptive reports preserved in classical South
Asian sources.
In summary, the principle according to which a practical act
accompanied by a semiotic intention will lead to a semantic
increment–that, in its turn, will have practical repercussions–seems to
be at work also for the South Asian context.

5.Thedual role of tradition andthe needfor novelty

From what has been said so far it appears obvious that a given
tradition cannot remain still when faced with historical changes and
the corrosive effects of time –as actually stated in the
Bhagavad53
gœtå. In fact, this is the true reason why its process of continuation
cannot be limited to mere static repetition, on pain of death.
Hence every tradition has devised complex intellectual practices
and strategies, thanks to which, while the elements of the originally
established corpusare innovated and changed–though seeking not
to formally alter the fundamental unitary picture–an attempt is
54
made to preserve the image of integrity and unalterability.
In such contexts,‘new’necessarily means unreliable while–since
55
Vedic times– ‘ancient’is presented as an undisputable sign of
trustworthiness. Within the South Asian intellectual history, in fact, there
are many examples of authors who, by addressing a change under the
guise of ‘novelty’, sought to preserve a particular conception of the

53
See Bhågavadgœtå, 4.7-8 (yadåyadåhidharmasya glånir bhavati
bhårataÙabhyutthånam adharmasya tadåtmåna∫sr¢åjmy ahamÙÙparitråñåya sådhünå∫ vinå†åya cadußkr¢tåmÙ
dharmasa∫sthåpanårthåya sa∫bhavåmi yuge yugeÙÙ).
54
In this regard, the picture presented in Bhågavadgœtå, 4.2 is emblematic (eva∫
paramparåpråptam ima∫råjarßayoviduΔ Ùsakåleneha mahatåyogo naß™aΔparantapaÙÙ).
55
In those times, giving the shape of‘archaic’and‘ancient’was indeed a commonly
applied strategy, as persuasively stated by Witzel:“In all these cases one can notice that one
means to bring about continuity in spite of the great changes carried out under the Kurus,
was the artificial archaization of certain parts of the new‡rauta ritual, the use of artificial,
archaic forms in the poetic and learned language of the poets, priests and‘theologians’of
the Mantra and YV Sa∫hitåperiods, and of text formation and their collection. The new
ritual and its language appeared to be more elaborate and impressive but at the same time,
had to give the appearance of having come down from a hallowed past”. Witzel 1995: 15.
56
Most pertinent here is the case of kalivarjya, as it is dealt with in Sanskrit juridical
texts. See, exempli gratia,Br¢haspatidharma†åstra, 1.23.4 (åtatåyidvijågyåñå∫
dharmayuddhena hi∫sanamÙimåndharmånkaliyugevarjyånåhur manœßiñaΔ ÙÙ). An extended discussion
on the notion of kalivarjyacan be read in Kane 1993: 926-968. Furthermore, Lingat 1999:
189-195; Kane 1997; Sannino Pellegrini 1997; Dumont 1991: 339; Smith 1987: 38-42;
Heesterman 1984: 151-152; Doniger 1980: 37-43; Bhattacharya 1943.

2

8

BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

56
world, in a way that is not so different from what characterised the
recourse to the theme of the ‘classical’in the Mediterranean area
(through which, instead of slavishly repeating the past, often new
visions of the past –and therefore of the present and the future–
57
were promoted).
Far from a descriptive distinction, the opposition between‘new’
and‘old’is a judgemental dicotomy. In other words, whilst praising
its coherence with the past, the tradition is thus obliged to make
known also the twists it has introduced.
Such is the quandary that can be found in classical South Asian
sources. Each time they explain their origins, the way in which they
say they were consigned to the world and the reasons why they are
now well known, they display the inevitable need to highlight the
specificity of their contribution.
But this is the dilemma of every historically positioned
traditional context: being unable to renounce the merit it would gain by
publicising its particular contribution (shaped through the effort of
keeping alive the tradition it has received, both by preserving and
protecting or by innovating and renewing it), it must explicitly state
the importance of its own action.
The result is that the element of‘novelty’is stigmatised
in‘orthodox’texts like the Månavadharma†åstra, which raises a severely
58
admonishing finger against what is labeled as new and recent.
However, ‘novelty’cannot be avoided for two reasons: on the one
hand, by not updating itself, a tradition risks to lose its persuasive
force, on the other, those who, while working within a tradition, do
not sufficiently emphasise the specificity of its role, risk to diminish
its importance.
The theme of novelty and originality becomes an essential part of
traditional discourse, though the fact remains that novelty was never
to be presented as an exnovogiven, but if anything as a renewal,
59
restoration, reformulation of the original.
Considering the above, it is not advantageous to keep thinking of
tradition as if it were a question of

[…]a corpusof norms fixed once and for all in time. Not only does it
experience initial and sometimes disastrous controversies as far as the

57
On this interesting topic, see Settis 2004; Gadamer 1986: 290-295.
58
See Månavadharma†åstra, 12.95-96:“95. The scriptures that are outside the Veda,
as well as every kind of fallacious doctrine –all these bear no fruit after death, for
tradition takes them to be founded on Darkness. 96. All those different from the Veda that
spring up and then flounder–they are false and bear no fruit, because they belong to
recent times [tånyarvåkkålikatayå]”. This is a principle of caution typical of every
tradition, which is not very different in its condemnation of what is‘new’, from what is to
be found, for example, in one of Paul’s epistles (whose attribution is still debated). See
1Timothy, 6.20 (O Timothee, depositum custodi, devitans profanasvocum novitates,et oppositiones
falsi nominis scientiae, quamquidam promittentes,circa fidem exciderunt).
59
See Kaviraj 2005: 129-131.

1.Introduction

unity of the community of believers is concerned, but it constantly
undergoes a process of revision, and sometimes substantial creative
adaptations and changes. Tradition is, from this standpoint, a social
construct; a collective undertaking that has a beginning and in many
60
respects is never finished.

2

9

This becomes obvious by looking at the semiotic and political
history of certain idiomatic expressions–where by‘semiotic’I mean the
history of ‘shared meaning’and by ‘political’the history of the
‘shared legitimacy’of precisely those meanings. If read critically,
these histories show how often there is no true noveltyin the new,
except for the fact of the noveltyof the newreading of the old–which
is the element that constitutes the true innovation.
Seen from this angle, the traditional approach is a ‘new way of
reading and rephrasing the old’that, while it exercises its
interpretative practices (which become the ingredients of an actual
‘culture’) is also concerned with defining, organising and guaranteeing
the legitimacy of its ways of looking at the past and making use of it.
It is a dual crucial strategy that has to be understood
simultaneously, because–as Sheldon Pollock recently stated– “[c]onceptually,
it is obviously as important to understand what enables a tradition to
radically transform itself as it is to understand what enables a
61
tradition to secure continuity[…]”.
There are many examples of such strategy, starting from the
süktas of the R¢gveda–from which one gathers the need to justify the
62
production of new compositions–, passing through the innovation
introduced by certain early grammarians and philosophers of the
lan63 64
guage, from that produced by the authors of mœmå∫såand of
65
kåvya, up until the most recent cases of novelty drawn from the
pro66
duction of the schools of the ‘new (navya) logic (nyåya)’, of the
67 68
‘new grammar’(navyavyåkåraña), and of the new medicine.
These are all evident instances of renewal in certain‘traditional’
intellectual fields, which, under the pressure of changing
surroundings, had to devise new arguments and new narrative strategies. A fact
already noted by Pandurang Vaman Kane:

[…]social ideas and practices undergo substantial changes even in the

60
Pace 1996: 9-10 (my translation).
61
Pollock 2005: 7.
62
See exempli gratia, Elizarenkova 1995: 23-25; Fortson 1998; Galewicz 2000;
Galewicz 1995.
63
See, exempli gratia, Bronkhorst 2005; Houben 2002.
64
See, exempli gratia, McCrea 2002.
65
See, exempli gratia, Bronner 2004: 54-75; Bronner 2002; Ingalls 1976; Ingalls 1965.
66
See, exempli gratia, Ganeri 2005: 44-47; 51-52; Preisendanz 2005: 66-72; 76-86;
Kaviraj 2005: 131.
67
See, exempli gratia, Pollock 2001: 12.
68
See, exempli gratia, Wujastyk 2005.

3

0

BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

most static societies. Many of the practices, that had the authority of the
Veda (which was supposed to be self-existent and eternal) and of such
ancient smrtis as those of Åp., Manu and Yåj., had either come to be
given up or had become obnoxious to popular sentiment. This fiction of
great men meeting together and laying down conventions for the Kali
age was the method that was hit upon to admit changes in religious
practices and ideas of morality. The Kalivarjya texts are also a complete
answer to those who hold fast to the notion that dharma (particularly
69
åcåradharma) is immutable and unchangeable (aparivartanœya).

70
Every historical season (yuga), therefore, must have its dharma,
71
because previous dharmas are not pertinent anymore.
Similar considerations regarding the role of newness in South
Asian traditions have recently led to interesting interpretations of
72
these dynamics and to the distinction of“three kinds of newness”. It
is now clear that in this context the relationship with one’s own
tradition as a reference is always complex, and within this the
contents it has handed down may be unquestioningly accepted and
simply repeated, or restored, questioned, modified and even denied or
abandoned. Essentially, if it is true that we can think of a tradition
“[…]as the way society formulates and deals with the basic problems
of human existence”, then it follows that

[…]since the fundamental problem of life and death is truly insoluble,
it has to be attacked, formulated, and dealt with each time anew under
a different aspect. Tradition therefore is and has to be bound up with
the ever-shifting present. Hence the irritating flexibility and fluidity of
73
tradition.

So, every tradition, by definition, is an established space where
constant negotiation takes place and in which avant-gardes and
rearguards do battle for the last word. A fight that informs the very
processes of transmission and that is carried out both at individual and
collective level. This implies that tradens,traditumand recipiensare all
parts and protagonists of the same agonistic dimension.

6.Novelty,negotiation andthe politics of transmission

It is well known that the relationship between tradition and reason

69
Kane 1993: 967.
70
In this regard, the idea of a‘specific dharmafor any specific time’(yugadharma) is
an extraordinary dispositif, largely used by‘orthodox’author. A useful collection of sources
on yugadharmais presented in Keshnakar 2000: 779-964.
71
It is important to read such formula from the sociological and political point of
view. For example, the idea that a period of social and political crisis had produced the
Brahmanic rhetoric of the‘dark age’(kaliyuga) is particularly relevant here. See Sharma
2002. Furthermore, on the notion of kaliyuga, Lingat 1999: 189-195; Olivelle 1993: 234-237;
Stietencron 1986; Upadhyay 1979: 25; 28-31; 115-116.
72
Kaviraj 2005: 124.
73
Heesterman 1985: 10.

1.Introduction

3

1

–and hence between memory and innovation–implies a complex
combination of continuity and innovation. Because of such
complexity, the dialectical negotiation that constitutes any act of transmission
74
has been the object of long-standing scholarly attention. But, since
the transmission process that stands at the core of every tradition is
dialectically structured –both around the act of preservation and
renewal–, we need to add some considerations of a purely
socio-political nature to what scholars like Gadamer said about the
interdepend75
ence of tradition and reason.
In actual fact, seen from a mediological perspective, the efficacy
of a certain act of cultural production and transmission is always
closely linked to its capacity to generate socio-political distinction
and differentiation. As Régis Debray underlines:

Voilàqui suffitàfaire peu ou prou de toute entreprise de transmission
une opération polémique, requérant une compétence stratégique (à
s’allier, filtrer, exclure, hiérarchiser, coopter, démarquer, etc.), et qui
peut s’appréhender comme une lutte pour la survieau sein d’un système
de forces rivales tendant soitàs’éliminer entre elles par disqualification
soit às’annexer l’une l’autre par phagocytose. […]La transmission
appartient àla sphère politique, comme toutes les fonctions servant à
transmuer un tas indifférenciéen un tout organisé. Elle immunise un
76
organisme collectif contre le désordre et l’agression.

In fact, the aim of the conceptual effort made by the
representatives of a tradition is to succeed in transferring, without any break,
pronouncements and practical convictions from one point to
another of the history of a particular community. Precisely for this reason
a tradition

[…]cannot be only flexible and situational, for its essential mission is

74
Hans-Georg Gadamer’s pages on the‘rehabilitation of authority and tradition’(Die
RehabilitierungvonAutorität unTradition) are still the best available for challenging reading.
See Gadamer 1986: 281-295. In this pages Gadamer presents a particular modusof the
coexistence of reason (Vernunft) and tradition (Tradition), a moduswhich deserve serious
consideration:“Truly, tradition is always a moment of freedom and of history itself. Even the
most authentic and solid of traditions does not develop naturally by virtue of the strong
persistence of what happened once, but it needs to be accepted, adopted and cultivated. It is
essentially conservation[Bewahrung], that same conservation that is at work alongside and
within every historical change. But conservation is an act of reason, certainly an act
characterized by the fact that it is not conspicuous”. Gadamer 1986: 286 (my translation). Thus
Gadamer help us to understand in which sense the institute of tradition is an essential
dispositifin order to take advantage of previously acquired knowledge and experiences
–although it still remains necessary to evaluate the socio-political modus operandiof such
processes of accumulation and transmission. Gadamer’s understanding has been
scrutinized considering the South Asian context and materials. See Halbfass 1990: 164-17o.
75
Because of the limited attention paid to the role played by the political sphere, it is
not possible to embrace Gadamer’s hermeneutic perspective in its entirety. If anything, it
is necessary to make some critical corrections to it, like those J nger Habermas has
pointed out. See Habermas 1979.
76
Debray 1997: 21.

3

2

BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

still to deal in a structured way with the insoluble life-death problem in
all its situational manifestations. It must, therefore, also offer a plan or
order independent of and above the actual situation. It is this
transcendent order that provides man with the fixed orientation for legitimizing
his actions in the middle of the situational flux. In other words,
tradition has to be both immanent in the actual situation so as to keep up
with shifting reality and transcendent so as to fulfil its orientating and
legitimizing function. Thus, we can understand the paradoxical but
traditionally common idea that transcendent law is all the time there,
suspended as it were in the midair, and that it can be‘found’by
agoni77
stic procedures, verbal or otherwise.

Due to such pervasive agonism, every tradition contains a whole
series of simultaneous cultural processes, which demand that the
highest intellectual resources are constantly tapped in order to create
a synthesis between the attempt to preserve power, the constant
effort to gain legitimation from history, the awareness of the constant
need to adapt to reality, the task involving the complex operation of
transmitting those contents understood as being‘right’(in fact, every
tradition represents itself as ‘orthodox’and draws one of the most
important justifying factors from this self-representation) and the
defence of its own truths from the ever-present threat of otherness.
This allows one to draw a more articulated picture of the notion
of‘tradition’, and to place it within a diversified and dynamic social
history of intellectual practice.

7.Rethinking our understanding of the intellectual history ofSouthAsia
from our usage of the notion of‘tradition’

If, as I hope has happened at the end of this excursus, thinking of
tradition–and of its representations–along semiotic, political and
mediological lines can become a valuable opportunity to reconsider
our interpretation of many South Asian sources and materials,
likewise this is also a significant opportunity to reflect critically about the
Indological tradition and on the use Indologists have made of the
notion of‘tradition’. This dual interpretative register is an element
of reflection that cannot be avoided, although this has to be
understood keeping in mind that“[t]o adopt the viewpoint of reflexivity is
not to renounce objectivity, but to question the privilege of the
78
knowing subject”.
In this regard, Jan Heesterman’s appropriate words of warning,
although written more than twenty years ago, are definitely still
valid:

[…]the lingering notion of India’s persistent traditionality owes
much to the observer’s feeling of having lost his own traditional
moo

77
Heesterman 1985: 11.
78
Bourdieu 1996: 207.

1.Introduction

rings, which makes him cast around for the certainty of tradition.
India thus becomes a screen on which to project our nostalgia for a
world we have lost, even when we know that the good old times were
79
not all that good.

3

3

A very similar problem was raised by Romila Thapar, according
to whom

[t]raditions which we today believe have long pedigrees may on an
historical analysis be found to be an invention of yesterday. In other
words, what we regard as tradition may well turn out to be our
contemporary requirements fashioned by the way we wish to interpret the past.
Interpretation of the past have also come to be treated as knowledge
80
and are handed down as tradition.

It is certainly not superfluous here to insist that the use of an
instrumental notion of ‘tradition’has doubtless contributed to the
production of static, artificial and reified images of South Asian
intellectual life. Instead of conceiving the mutual relationship between
tradition and novelty–but also between continuity and rupture,
repetition and innovation, memory and reason–as an inherent and
constitutive feature of the very modus operandiof every tradition,
these reified images have proposed such a relationship, at best, as an
accessory or sporadic element. On the contrary, it is an integral part
of that fundamental dynamic–often forgotten in traditionalist
discourse for obvious reasons of legitimation–to which a tradition can
never renounce, unless it wishes to decree its own demise.
In reproducing such stereotyped version of the institute of
tradition, academics and traditionalists shared much responsibility. In
this respect, the cautionary advice of scholars like Jan Heesterman and
Romila Thapar did not serve the purpose. Although they have invited
us to recognise the vices, bondages and fetters that could unite
representatives of a certain tradition and its external interpreters, still we
failed to take full advantage of such recommendations.
Along this line, I think Romila Thapar’s considerations on the
ways of representing and conceiving this bondage are so relevant that
they deserve to be quoted again in their entirety:

The continuity of culture is generally related to traditions which, in
turn, are made up of cultural forms. Tradition is defined as the
handing down of knowledge or the passing on of a doctrine or a technique.
Cultural history implies looking analytically both at what goes into the
making of a tradition as well as that which is interpreted by historians
as tradition. We often assume that a form is handed down in an
unchanging fashion and that what comes to us is its pristine form.
However, the sheer act of handing on a tradition introduces change,

79
Heesterman 1985: 1.
80
Thapar 1994: 8.

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BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

and not every tradition is meticulously bounded by mnemonic or other
devices to prevent interpolations or change. A tradition, therefore, has
to be seen in its various faces. Even the concept paramparå, which at
one level appears to be frozen knowledge, reveals on investigation
81
variations and changes.

Therefore, as I said in the beginning, the attempt to rethink the
status of tradition in South Asia cannot exclude the broader task of
requalifying the categories used, nor it can overlook the self-reflexive
effort that concerns any scholar who wishes to combine the ars
historicawith the ars hermeneutica.

81
Thapar 1994: 8.

1.Introduction

3

5

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________(1991), Tradition and Reflection.Exploration inIndianThought,
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Heesterman, J.C. (1984), ‘Orthodox’and ‘Heterodox’Law: Some remarks
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________(1985), TheInner Conflict ofTradition: Essays inIndianRitual,
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Houben, J.E.M. (2002), The Brahmin Intellectual: History, Ritual and
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pp. 463-479.
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________(1976), Kålidåsa andtheAttitudes of theGoldenAge, in«Journal
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Kane, P.V. (1993), History of Dharma†åstra, Bhandarkar Oriental
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________(1997), Kalivarjya. Actions Forbidden in the Kali Age, in S.G.
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Ludden, D. (2002), India and South Asia. AShort History, Oneworld,
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Manring, R.J. (2005), Reconstructing Tradition. Advaita Åcårya and
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II.
Discourse,Conditions
andDynamics ofTradition inSouthAsia

SHELDONPOLLOCK

TheRevelation ofTradition:
*
†ruti, smr¢ti,andtheSanskrit Discourse of Power

‘It is the Veda–the sacred
knowledge of sacrifice,
ascetic acts, and holy rites–
that ultimately secures the
welfare of the twice-born’
(Yåj∞avalkyasmr¢ti, 1.40)

In some recent papers that consider the nature and role of
†åstraviewed as a genre, the character of the rules it articulates, and
the denial of history its worldview entails, I have tried to clarify some
of the ways in which social-cultural practices come to be legitimated
(or de-legitimated), and how ‘authoritative resources’ –that is,
knowledge generating and sustaining social and cultural power–
1
are allocated and concentrated (Pollock 1985; 1989b; 1989c). I
would like to continue this analysis here by examining one set of
higher-order categories of Sanskrit discourse, an apparently narrow
topic that I nonetheless believe may contribute directly to this
process of legitimation. This set of categories is in itself, moreover,
basic to the formation and self-understanding of Sanskrit culture,
and yet it has often been misunderstood in Western (and
westernized) Indology.
I want to examine here the significance of the terms †rutiand
smr¢ti, and their relationship with one another, as explained in the

*
This is a corrected version of an essay originally published in S. Lienhard, I. Piovano
1997 (the essay was submitted to the editors in 1988 and reflects the scholarship up to that
date). Had I rewritten it for the present collection I would have modified some of the
interpretive framework–I have long since sought to nuance the logic of‘legitimation’in
premodernity, for example see Pollock 1996; 2006, chap. 13–but the review of the historical
semantics would have remained largely unchanged.
1
I thank Eli Franco for calling my attention to several errors in an earlier draft of this
paper. For the others I have since introduced he is in no way responsible.

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Sanskrit tradition. At the same time, I am interested in the
implications these issues have for Indian intellectual history. At stake in this
discussion is not just an epistemological, let alone philological,
clarification, of †rutiand smr¢ti, although I do direct attention to both
matters since in my view they have never been convincingly explicated.
What is really important here, I think, is that we are encountering a
basic component in the construction of the legitimacy of a vast range
of Sanskrit elite representations (Pollock 1989a).
I would lay emphasis on the matter of ‘construction’. While the
fact of ideological power in Sanskrit culture may by now be
something of a banality to Western Indology, little or no systematic
analysis has been directed toward this ideology in its character as discourse,
toward the history of its formation, the techniques it employs, the
categories it develops and presses into service. It is as a modest
contribution to this analysis that I want to try to clarify the indigenous
conception of the relationship of †rutiand smr¢ti –a complex
question I can only outline in the brief space available to me here–for it
is here we confront, I suggest, one elementary form of ideological
power in Sanskrit culture.

1.‘Tradition’and ‘Revelation’?

A review of some standard scholarly and popular reference works
published over the past fifty years or so reveals a virtually unanimous
consensus on the definitions of the terms †rutiand smr¢ti, which has
been unquestioned despite the fact that these definitions are
confusing and problematic, if not plain wrong. Here are some samples.
Winternitz:“[...]the †ruti, the‘Revelation’, i.e. that literature to
which, in the course of time, divine origin has been ascribed[...]in
contrast to[...]smr¢ti,‘memory’, i.e. tradition,[which]posses[es]no
divine authority”(Winternitz 1927: 161); Renou and Filliozat: “[...]
ce que les Indiens désignent par smr¢ti‘(tradition fondée sur la)
mémoire’, l’opposantà†ruti‘revélation’ […]”the latter in turn being
defined by them as“[...]une‘audition’(†ruti), c’est-à-dire une
révélation: [les textes védiques]passent pour émaner de Brahman, avoir
été ‘expirés’par le dieu sous forme de ‘paroles’, tandis que leurs
auteurs humains, les r¢ßiou ‘sages inspirés’, se sont bornés àles
recevoir par une ‘visiondirecte’”(Renou, Filliozat 1947: 381, 270);
Basham: “[...]Smr¢ti(‘remembered’), as distinct from the earlier
Vedic literature, which is †ruti(‘heard’), which was believed to have
been directly revealed to its authors, and therefore of greater
sanctity than the later texts”(Basham 1954: 112-113); Radhakrishnan and
Moore: “[...]smr¢tis, that is, traditional texts, as contrasted with the
literature of the Vedic period, which is known as †ruti, revealed
scriptures or ‘authoritative texts’”(Radhakrishnan, Moore 1973: xix);
Raghavan and Dandekar: “[...]semi-canonical scriptures called
Smriti, ‘(human) Tradition’ –as opposed to the Vedas, which are

II. Discourse,Conditions andDynamics ofTradition inSouthAsia

4

3

2
Shruti ‘(divine) Revelation’”(Raghavan, Dandekar 1958: 217);
Singer:“The cultural tradition which in India is thought of as being
transmitted from what has been revealed to the seers (†ruti)and
through that which is remembered (smr¢ti)by pandits and storytellers
[...]”(Singer 1959: 151); Gonda: “Die ‡rautasütras beanspruchen,
auf der †ruti –d.h. auf ‘dem Hören’der ewigen Wahrheit durch
inspirierte Weise in der Vorzeit–zu beruhen, die Gr¢hya- und
Dharma-sütras beruhen auf der Smr¢ti–‘der Erinnerung’, d.h. dem
Herkommen [...]”(Gonda 1960: 107); or again, “[...]in
contradistinction to the [Vedic texts]which are regarded as ‘heard’or
‘revealed’, and from the beginning orally transmitted (the eternal
and infallible †ruti[...]),[the ßa∂aõga]were–like the epics, puråñas
and especially the dharmatexts–looked upon as remembered and
handed down by human intermediaries (smr¢ti[i.e.,‘transmitted by
human memory’])”(Gonda 1975: 34, 46); Botto:“La tradizione
indigena riconosce quali fonti del dharmala ‘rivelazione’(†ruti), ossia
l’insieme dei testi vedici in quanto rivelatidirettamente dalla
divinità; la‘tradizione’(smr¢ti), cioe i testi considerati opera umana e
tramandati per via umana, mnemonica”(Botto 1969: 294); van
Buitenen:“†ruti(literally‘learning by hearing’) is the primary
revelation, which stands revealed at the beginning of creation. This
revelation was ‘seen’by the primeval seers [...]Smr¢ti’(literally
‘recollection’) is the collective term for all other sacred literature
[...]which is considered to be secondary to †ruti[...]”(van Buitenen
3
1974: 932-933); von Simson:“Nicht mehr zur Offenbarung (‡ruti),
sonder zur autorativen Überlieferung (Smr¢ti) gerechnet wird die
vedische Sütra-Literatur [...]”(von Simon 1979: 54 [in Bechert et
al.]); Deutsch:“Ancient Indian religious literature was formally
classified as either a‘revelation’(†ruti –that which has been
sacramentally ‘heard’, the eternally existent Veda), or a ‘tradition’(smr¢ti
–that which has been‘remembered’from ancient times)”(Deutsch
1987: 125[in Eliade: vol. 2]).
Let us critically juxtapose‘revelation’and‘tradition’as
formulations of these two keywords of Sanskrit culture, and consider for a
moment some of the problems they cause. What, for example,
warrants the easy equation‘memory, i.e. tradition’?These two categories
are no more co-extensive in India than in the West. In what sense
does smr¢tiliterature quamemory disqualify it for‘divine authority’, or
diminish its‘sanctity’, as something standing in fundamental contrast
to †ruti?Is it true thatsmr¢tiis so called because it is handed down in
the‘memory’of‘human intermediaries’?If it is, how is smr¢tithereby
distinguished from the Veda?For Vedic texts were not committed to

2
In de Bary et al. 1958. In the second edition this becomes:“the body of
semicanonical scriptures called smr¢™i(remembered) tradition–as opposed to the Vedas, which are
†ruti(revealed) tradition”(de Bary et al. 1988: 214).
3
As cited in Coburn 1984: 439.

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writing until the medieval period (beginning probably no earlier
than the fifth century), and even then were never thought to retain
their sacral efficacy if they were not learned according to the oral
tradition (Tantravårttika,vol. 2, p. 123, l. 20). And anyway, why
should memory, which is operative in both cases, serve to
differentiate the degree of authority in the two genres?Furthermore, isn’t the
Veda as much a part of ‘tradition’ –more than a part, the actual
foundation of Brahmanical tradition–and as much the object of
traditional transmission–in fact, its very paradigm–as any other text
of ancient India?Conversely, if the Veda is‘heard’, and only‘heard’,
so is smr¢tiand every other form of discourse in pre-literate Sanskrit
culture. What is ‘heard’, consequently, is also ‘remembered’, and
what is ‘remembered’is also ‘heard’. If, however,†rutiis taken with
Renou to mean‘audition as revelation’, how are we to make sense of
the tenacious belief, however variously it has been elaborated, that
the Veda was‘seen’by the r¢ßis, a belief which Renou adduces in the
very same passage?
I do not want to make too much out of this distinction between
‘hearing’and‘seeing’, let alone deny that‘seeing’may have a
figurative signification. But the Indian tradition, that part which accepts
revelation to begin with (contrast below), is rather clear:‘the r¢ßis‘saw’
dharma’(såkßåtkr¢tadharmåña r¢ßayo babhüvuΔ[i.e. mantradraß™åraΔ,
Durga]) (Nirukta, 1.6.20[p. 52]);“[...] ‘r¢ßi’is derived from the verbal
root dr¢†;‘the sage sawthe stomans’, as Aupamanyava glosses it”
(Nirukta, 2.3.11[p. 83]);“the r¢ßis had visions of the mantras”(rߢñœ∫å
mantradr¢ß™ayo bhavanti) (Nirukta, 7.1.3 [p. 348]). See also Påñini in
Aß™ådhyåyœ, 4.2.7:“såmans‘seen’by particular sages are named after
them, e.g., the såman‘seen’by the sage Kali is called the ‘kåleya’
såman”(though Kaiya™a adloc.
rationalizes‘i.e.‘seeing’means‘knowing’the particular ritual application of the såman’). The r¢ßis are not
4
normally said to have‘heard’mantras.
Similarly, according to Gonda, van Buitenen, and many others,
†rutiwas something‘heard’in a mythic past, and this is the fact that
certifies its authority. But for one thing, the idea of a unique
revelation in the past contradicts a dominant –and certainly ancient–
representation of the ‘beginninglessness’of the Veda in the
Pürvamœmå∫så. In this system the Vedic texts could not have been
‘heard originally’by the r¢ßis, since there is thought never to have
been an origin. This is likely to have been the position of Jaimini
himself (ukta∫tu†abdapürvatvam [Pürvamœmå∫såsütra, 1.1.29,
especially as understood by Nyåyasudhå, p. 269]). This important sütra
deserves special study in its own right. For most commentators, it
refers to the beginninglessness of Vedic recitation,
e.g.,Adhvaramœmå∫såkutühalavr¢tti:“‘The ritual recitation of the Veda, which is

4
Note that ‘fifth Veda’texts such as the Mahåbhårataare also ‘seen’. See
Mahåbhårata, 18.5.33.

II. Discourse,Conditions andDynamics ofTradition inSouthAsia

4

5

here the matter at issue, has alwaysdepended on a previous
recitation, precisely because it is ritual recitation, just like present-day
recitation’ –this syllogism demonstrates that there can never have
been a first reciter of the Veda, whereby the Veda might have been
5
said to have had an author”.
For another thing, what are we to suppose to be the origin of what
smr¢tiremembers?Where, that is, does Gonda’s Herkommencome from,
and when, and how?If the term †rutiis supposed to connote that
certain texts are ‘directly revealed’, doessmr¢ticonnote that other texts
are somehow‘indirectly revealed’, or not‘revealed’at all?And what
does either position entail practically speaking, that is, with regard to
the Enstehungsgeschichte of these texts as indigenously conceived?
It would be easy to multiply these questions, but this should
suffice to show that a number of conceptual difficulties, to which long
acquaintance and acquiescence may have inured us, beset the
definitions of these basic terms current in Western scholarship. And these
are, I should stress, the definitions that Indology believes to be
internal to the Sanskrit tradition, and intended by it, and not external and
analytically constructed. Contrasts of the latter sort between the two
genres of texts are possible and available (for instance, we might
characterize†ruti as‘indirect’,‘symbolic’, as opposed to
the‘direct’,‘rationalist’smr¢tietc.[Renou 1960: 27]), and with these contrasts I do not
take issue, for they are not pertinent to the problem I am raising here.
They tell us nothing about Indian self-understanding, about
indigenous representations of culture and society, and it is there that the
origins, nature, and function of ideological discourse are located.
Can it be that this self-understanding, as reflected in these
culturally central categories, is as confused as Indology’s representation
makes it appear to be?A matter of equal importance is the
implication for us of the oppositionof †rutito smr¢tiexplicitly drawn in every
one of the explanations quoted above and suggested by the
invariable translations divine‘revelation’and human‘tradition’. Difficult
as both of these two Western terms may be to conceptualize
satisfactorily, when paired they constitute for us nearly a bipolarity: two
separate realms of knowledge/practice, distinct in origin, in the
manner in which they derive their legitimacy, and in degree of

5
Adhvaramœmå∫såkutühalavr¢tti,vol. 1, pp. 16-17 (which expands on ‡lokavårttika,
våkyådhikarañav. 366, and largely reproduces ‡åstradœpikå, p. 162). See, further,
‡lokavårttika,codanåsütravv. 143 ff. (with Kå†ikåad loc.); sa∫bandhåkßepaparihåra, vv. 41 ff. Such is
also the view, though from a slightly different perspective, of Uttaramœmå∫så. See‡aõkara
on Brahmasütra, 1.3.30 (on sa∫sårasya anåditvam). As for Jaimini’s Pürvamœmå∫såsütra
itself, contrary to what the commentators claim, however, or indeed the sütraitself–if in
fact this is what it means–Jaimini has not yet said any such thing; he has only established
the beginningless of language, not that of the Veda. If this were not the case, why would
Kumårila have to establish this in the våkyådhikaraña?The difficulty is evident in
Parame†vara’s Jaiminœyasütrårthasa∫graha ad loc., and especially in the Jaiminœyanyåyamålå
of Mådhava, whose analysis is quite at odds with standard Mœmå∫såtheory, as represented
by Kumårila above. Prabhåkara does not comment on the sütradirectly.

4

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BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

authority. Dichotomized as ‘revelation’and ‘tradition’, †rutiand
smr¢tialmost come to represent for us the Indian equivalent of divine
(or natural) law on the one hand, and common (or even positive)
law on the other.
I am not convinced that these terms mean, or ever meant, what
their common Western translations tell us they mean. When we
explore the domain in which they are likely to have originated and
certainly retained a special centrality, we find something rather
different, and instructive. It is in Mœmå∫såthat †rutiand smr¢tiseem first
to have been clearly conceptualized in their relationship to one
another, an inaugural conceptualization that suggests to me the
terms may have been coined in Mœmå∫så, though I do not have
enough evidence to argue that here. And what the terms signify in
Mœmå∫så, first of all, reveals a coherent if increasingly complex
ethno-representation, and, second, helps us to recover the potential
in this representation for expressing and reproducing an element of
the ideology of Sanskrit culture. My argument is that the bifurcation
required by such dichotomous concepts as‘revelation and tradition’
is precisely what the categories †rutiand smr¢tireject; that this
rejection is established in the very terminology that constitutes these
categories; and that, formulated first weakly and narrowly in ‘early’
6
Mœmå∫så, it was subsequently more strongly and broadly argued out
by Kumårila, whereupon it was generalized throughout Sanskrit
culture as one trope of the Sanskrit discourse of power.

2.TheOrigin of‘Tradition’

The elaboration of the concept dharmabeyond its primary field of
reference–Vedic ritualism, or‘sacrifice, recitation, and gifts’, as for
instance the Chåndogyopanißad(2.23.1) defines the three components
of dharma–was a development of crucial, if as yet apparently
unappreciated, significance in Sanskrit social-cultural history. Far from
accepting the paradox as Jan Heesterman has formulated it –that
the Vedas have really nothing to do with dharma, and so have
‘ultimate authority over a world to which they are in no way related’
(Heesterman 1978)–we should rather, in keeping with actual
historical sequence, reverse the paradox and so cancel it:
the‘world’out7
side of ritualism had originally little to do with dharma. Iwon’t
address this question any further here except to note that when
dharmaultimately spilled over the conceptual confines of‘sacrificial
ritualism’and came to encompass virtually the entire range of activities
of Sanskrit society –and, by reason of its very exclusion, of
non

6
For‘new, later’(and thus‘old, early’) Mœmå∫så, see e.g., Någe†a on Mahåbhåßya,
4.3.101.
7
I consider the expansion of the realm of dharmaat somewhat greater length in
Pollock 1990.

II. Discourse,Conditions andDynamics ofTradition inSouthAsia

4

7

Sanskrit society–some explanation of the relationship of the two
domains had as a consequence to be provided by the custodians of
vaidikadharma.
This is the context within which the analysis of the terms †rutiand
smr¢titake on importance for intellectual history. The signification of
these categories is dependent upon the relationship in which they
were held to stand to one another. In fact, this relationship
determines the choice of technical terms used to refer to these entities, and
their use would appear to postdate the conceptualization of their
relationship. The first discussion of the topic in Indian philosophical
history illustrates these points. While many of the arguments
developed in this discussion have long been familiar to Indology, their
significance for the meaning of smr¢tihas clearly not.
8
The Pürvamœmå∫såsütra, after having shown dharmato be that
which is known by means of the Veda alone, and established the
Veda’s transcendent and inerrant nature (1.1), and then argued that
these traits apply to the entire Vedic corpus, narrative and hymnic
portions no less than commandments (1.2), has to address the
problem posed by the fact that texts other than the Veda–and practices
other than what is explicitly enjoined by the Veda–had come to
count as dharmain daily life (this for example is the explanation of
the sa∫gatiin the ‡åstradœpikå, 1.3.1). What legitimacy can be claimed
by such texts and practices that are not part of the Vedic canon, that
is, not explicitly enunciated in Vedic sources?
“The basis of dharmais sacred word, and therefore what is not
sacred word has no relevance [vis-à-vis dharma]”(dharmasya
†abdamülatvåda†abdam anapekßa∫[v.l. -kßyam]syåt
[Pürvamœmå∫såsütra1.3.1]), is the prima facieview necessitated by the postulates
previously established. As‡abara explains it, texts and practices relating to
dharmathat have no foundation in the Veda can have no valid
foundation at all. Nor can some memory of the Veda provide the necessary
foundation, because such a memory is not
possible:“Something[phenomenal]that has not been experienced, or [something
transcendent]that is not transmitted in Vedic texts cannot be the object of
memory. These[other texts and practices in question], which relate
to the transcendent and yet are not in the Veda, cannot truly be
rememberedsince they can never have been previously cognized”. The smr¢tis
cannot be based on sheer‘memory’(smaraña) because memory
presupposes experience, and the only previous experience of something
that counts as dharmais, as proven in Pürvamœmå∫såsütra(1.1.2), the
Veda. Furthermore, it is not just the continuity of cultural memory
that authenticates it; our‘memory’of the Vedas themselves is not
validated merely by its unbroken tradition, but by the fact that the Vedas
are actually perceptible to us. It is this actual perception of Vedic texts

8
Within this essay, Jaimini Pürvamœmå∫såsütrais cited by number, while ‡åbarabhåßya
and Tantravårttikaare usually cited by volume, page, and line number.

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BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

–their existing during recitation–that constitutes the‘prior
cognitive experience’necessary to substantiate the memory of them
(pratyakßeñopalabdhatvådgranthasya nånupapanna∫pürvavij∞ånam);
no such prior cognition is available to underpin‘non-Vedic’texts and
practices. And no tradition founded on such sort of ignorance can
become true simply by being beginningless (the
jåtyandhapara∫parånyåya, or the principle of the‘tradition of those blind from birth’,
that is, whose knowledge is founded on ignorance and does not cease
to be ignorance for being held to be immemorially transmitted)
(‡åbarabhåßya,vol. 2, pp. 72-74).
The siddhåntais offered in the nextsütra:“On the contrary: By
reason of the fact that the agents involved are the same,‘inference’
could be a ‘source of valid knowledge”(api våkartr¢såmånyåt
pramåñam anumåna∫syåt [Pürvamœmå∫såsütra, 1.3.2]). Insofar as
the same people who perform the acts of dharmarequired by the
Veda also perform acts ofdharma‘not based on sacred word’, we must
assume that the authority for these other actions is conferred, not by
directly perceptible Vedic texts, but by texts inferentially proven to
exist. As‡abara adds, it is not unreasonable to hold that the
knowledge of these texts is remembered, while the texts themselves (i.e.
9
their actual wording) have been lost. In brief, the authority for
practices not validated by Vedic texts perceptible to us can be validated by
Vedic texts inferred to have once existed.
The text of Pürvamœmå∫såsütra(1.3.2) I find a little awkward to
translate, not so much in itself but in view of the reading of it that is
implicitly offered by‡abara, and more explicitly elsewhere, e.g., in
10
Mœmå∫såkaustubhaand Adhvaramœmå∫såkutühalavr¢tti. For
anumånain this context comes to suggest, it seems, not only the
log

9
‘Therefore it stands to reason that this prior cognition exists in the case of members
of the three highest social orders doing the remembering[i.e., insofar as the people who
are remembering are participants in Vedic culture, they are connected with the Veda, and
thus can have had a‘prior cognition’of Vedic texts that would substantiate their
memory], and likewise it stands to reason that they could have forgotten[the actual texts]. For
these two reasons we can infer the existence of texts[now lost], and thus smr¢tiis a source
of valid knowledge’(tadupapannatvåt pürvavij∞ånasya traivarñikånå∫smaratå∫
vismarañasya [sc.,granthasya]copapannatvådgranthånumånam upapadyata iti pramåñam
smr¢tiΔ[‡åbarabhåßya, p. 77, lines 7-8, mispunctuated in the original]).
10
SeeMœmå∫såkaustubha, vol. 1, p. 12 (which in part is also arguing that the logical
operation at issue here is arthåpattirather than anumåna; this is Kumårila’s main concern,
see below at n. 22 infra):‘The meaning of the sütrais as follows: smr¢ti[and practice],
insofar as it arises‘after’ [anu-], i.e., after perception, is referred to as the source of knowledge
termed‘anumåna,’consisting of the fact that people in the Vedic tradition would otherwise
have never so firmly accepted[thesmr¢tis] [were they not derived from the Vedas, which in
turn]necessarily entails the assumption that their basis is †ruti. For this reason smr¢tiwould
be‘valid’’(sütra∫tu smr¢tyådi yato mülabhüta†rutikalpaka∫
dr¢∂havaidikaparigrahånyathånupapattirüpam anu pa†cåt pratyakßottara∫pravr¢ttatvådanumånapadåbhidheya∫pramåña∫
vidyate ataΔpramåña∫syåt). See also Adhvaramœmå∫såkutühalavr¢tti,vol. 1, p. 60:‘Insofar as
it is based on †ruti,‘smr¢tiwould be valid,’for there is an inferential sign prompting the
inference of the†rutitext that forms the basis of smr¢ti, namely smr¢tiitself’(†rutimülakatayåsmr¢tiΔ
pramåña∫syåt yataΔsmr¢timülabhüta†rutåvanumåpaka∫liõgam asti smr¢tir eva).

II. Discourse,Conditions andDynamics ofTradition inSouthAsia

4

9

ical operation of inference itself, but also the Vedic text that is
thereby inferred. In this latter sense anumånacan be substituted for
what is elsewhere called smr¢ti, precisely aspratyakßa,‘sensory
perception’, can take on the signification ‘Vedic texts perceived’(or
even, tout court,pramåña,‘source of valid knowledge’), and replace
†rutiboth in Mœmå∫såand elsewhere.
The semantic weight that I think can be felt in pratyakßaand
anumåna, which helps us toward a historically more accurate
understanding of smr¢ti, is corroborated by other usages in the sütras, of which
I shall discuss only two. TheHolåkådhikaraña of
thePürvamœmå∫såsütraconcerns the generalizability of regional texts and customs. A
convenient example is cited by Bhå™™adœpikå:“The Gautamadharmasütras
are read only by members of the Chåndogya †åkha. Are its injunctions
restricted to them or not?”(Bhå™™adœpikå, p. 61). The prima facieview of
the sütras is: “Insofar as the inference [sc., of a †rutibasis]can be
restricted/localized, the source-of-valid-knowledge [thus inferred]
would be implicated in that[i.e. would have to be considered
restricted/localized in applicability]”(anumånavyavasthånåt tatsa∫yukta∫
11
pramåña∫syåt [Pürvamœmå∫såsütra, 1.3.15]). Here, as Nyåyasudhå
clearly explains,“‘inference’refers to smr¢ti(and åcåra), while‘source of
12
valid knowledge’has reference to †ruti”.
The devatådhikarañaof the Brahmasütras addresses problems
connected with the hypothesis of the corporeality of the gods. The
prima facieview holds that, since their corporeality would entail
mortality and this in turn would be inconsistent with the eternality of the
Vedic texts (for these refer to the gods, and eternal texts can make no
13
reference to the ‘historical’), the gods cannot be corporeal. The
answer: “As for the [argument based on the eternality of]sacred
word–it is false, because[the gods etc.] ‘are produced from’these
[words], as is proved by ‘perception’and ‘inference’”(†abda iti cen
nåtaΔprabhavåt pratyakßånumånåbhyåm[Brahmasütra, 1.3.28]). The
commentaries here unanimously and correctly identify the reference
of the technical terms,‘perception’connoting†ruti, and‘inference’
smr¢ti. This interpretation is corroborated further by the‘responsion’
in Brahmasütra, 1.3.30 (dar†anåt smr¢te†ca), and by a wide range of
additional variations of the formula in the Pürvamœmå∫så-, Vedånta-,
14
and Dharma-sütras.

11
See Adhvaramœmœ∫såkutühalavr¢tti,ad loc.:[anumånasya]vyavasthånåtde†abhedena
vyavasthitatvåt tatsa∫yukta∫ de†abhedasa∫yuktam eva†rutirüpa∫pramåñam.
12
Anumåna†abdasya smr¢tyåcåravißayatva∫pramåña†abdasya ca †rutivißayatvam
(Nyåyasudhå, p. 245, l. 29[commenting on Tantravårttika , vol. 2, p. 173, l. 20]). See also
Adhvaramœmå∫såkutühalavr¢tti,vol. 1, p. 85; Jaiminœyasütrårthasaõgraha, p. 106.
13
What is at issue is the mantrårthavådånityasa∫yogaparihåranyåya, though this is not
mentioned in any of the discussions ad loc. See, also, Pollock 1989c: note 25.
14
dr¢ß™asmr¢tibhyåm; dar†ayati cårtho’pi smaryate;pratyakßånumånåbhyåm;
†abdånumånåbhyåm; dar†ayata†caiva∫pratyakßånumåne (Brahmasütra, 3.1.8; 3.2.17; 3.2.24; 3.3.31; 4.4.20);
pratyakßasa∫yogåt(i.e.,på™hasya pratyakßatvain ‡åbarabhåßyaon Pürvamœmå∫såsütra
5.2.21). See Pürvamœmå∫såsütra, 3.4.28 [vedasa∫yogåt]; 3.1.13 [†rutisa∫yogåt]; also
Pürva

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BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

How is it that‘perception’and‘inference’imply what at the same
time is embraced by the terms †rutiand smr¢ti? ‡aõkara on the
Brahmasütrapassage just cited argues from the analogy between the
concepts: “‘Perception’refers to†rutibecause †rutiis independently
valid[with respect to transcendent things, as perception is with respect
to perceptible things];‘inference’refers tosmr¢tibecause it is
dependently valid[like inference, which originates only in dependence on
perception]”. While this figurative interpretation may be doctrinally
sound epistemology (sound for the Mœmå∫såsystem, at least), I am not
so sure that, historically viewed, it is a convincing explanation.
It seems to me that there is more than analogy at work in the use
of the term pratyakßato refer to †ruti, and anumånato refer to smr¢ti.
Both sets of terms appear to emerge out of the same complex of ideas
represented in the Mœmå∫såreflections on the authority of texts and
practices not explicitly warranted by the Veda. These texts and
practices, insofar as they relate to dharma, secure validity by way of their
claim to be based on Vedic texts –there exists no other source of
dharma–but Vedic texts for one reason or another not accessible to
us. Those that are indeed accessible are perceptible, they are something
we can actually hearduring instruction in recitation (when a student
repeats what is pronounced in the mouth of his
teacher[gurumukhoccårañånüccåraña]) and in daily repetition (svådhyåya). This is what,
in the eyes of ‡abara, validated Vedic memory
(pratyakßenopalabdhatvådgranthasya etc., see above). And this, finally, is what the word
†rutiactually means according to the etymology still current among
traditional teachers:“The Veda, insofar as it is audible to everyone, is
called ‘†ruti’”(vedasya sarvaiΔ †rüyamåñatvåt †rutitvam [karmådau
15
ktin]). Yet other texts and practices relating to dharmacan have
validity in the realm of Sanskrit thought inasmuch as they necessarily
lead us to inferthe existence at some other time or some other place
or in some presently inaccessible mode, of Vedic texts as their basis;
we no longer hear (recite) these texts word-for-word, but their sense
is preservedin memory:“Smr¢tiis so called because by means of it the
dharmaof the Veda is remembered”(smaryate vedadharmo ’nena
16
[karañe ktin]), again according to traditional etymology. In short,

mœmå∫såsütra, 7.3.4 [pratyakßåt]; 1.4.14 [pratyakßa-vidhånåt]; 3.5.33 [-upade†åt]; 5.4.22
[†iß™atvåt]). Compare Baudhåyanadharmasütra, 1.1.6, where †rutipratyakßahetavaΔis
juxtaposed to anumånaj∞åΔ.
15
Panditaraja K. Balasubrahmanya Sastry, personal communication. This is the
understanding of Våcaspatyam, which is what I translate in the text (s.v., p. 5155). No doubt
the original signification of the verbal root †ruand of †rutiin this context is
hearing/learning (sc., from one’s teacher); this connotation is pervasive in Sanskrit, and its antiquity is
shown in the Buddhist fossil eva∫mayåsuta∫, part of the nidånaof a sütra, which
furnishes what (in stark contrast to the Brahmanical use of †ruti) I would call the historical
authentication of the text (see also Lamotte 1958: 142-43). The Pali Dictionary’stranslation
‘inspired tradition, sacred lore’, raises its own set of problems.
16
Panditaraja K. Balasubrahmanya Sastry, personal communication. See again
Våcaspatyam, s.v., p. 5373; ‡abdakalpadruma, s.v., vol. 5, p. 464.

II. Discourse,Conditions andDynamics ofTradition inSouthAsia

5

1

†rutimeans nothing other than‘(Veda) actually now perceived
aurally (in recitation)’, i.e. extant or available; smr¢ti, nothing other than
‘(Veda) that is remembered’, i.e. material that, having once been
heard in recitation, no longer is, but remains inferentially
recoverable from present reformulations (in language or practice) as having
once existed as part of a Vedic corpus. Both refer in their primary
connotation to one and the same thing–the Veda, whether as
something actually recited or as something whose substance only can still
be recalled; pa™hyamånasmaryamåñavedaΔ, as Kumårila puts it
(Tantravårttika,vol. 2, p. 94, l. 2).
This historically original and radical signification of †ruti/smr¢ti
has considerable implications for our understanding of Sanskrit
intellectual history, and I will try below to spell out some of these.
I have been concerned in this section with reviewing Mœmå∫så’s
epistemological analysis of †rutiand smr¢tiin order to reclaim the
original signification of these terms, which is dependent on such an
analysis. This reclamation stands, I think, even if the semantic distinction I
draw for pratyakßaand anumånais found to be overly fine. A
thorough analysis of all the terms in the early literature is desirable, but
not easily done with the research tools available. It has not been
possible to conduct a sufficiently thorough lexical study; the evidence at
hand only suggests that the technical use of the term smr¢tiand its
being paired with †rutibelong to the very latest stratum of Vedic
literature, and became current only in the post-sütraperiod. Since the
epistemological background presupposed in the original meanings of
†rutiand smr¢tiis provided by Mœmå∫så, one might hypothesize that
17
Mœmå∫såitself was responsible for this currency.
The controversy over how we are to explain the unavailability of
the Vedic texts whose memory smr¢tipreserves is long and complex,
with Pürva and Uttara Mœmå∫så, Nyåya, and Vyåkaraña all
contributing to the discussion. There is no space for a detailed presentation
here. Two of the prominent arguments are reasonably well-known.
Early Mœmå∫såholds that the smr¢tisare derived from Vedic
recensions now forgotten or geographically or otherwise inaccessible to us.
Nyåya reasons that these recensions must have actually disappeared
(this position is best articulated inNyåyakusumå∞jali, but it is far
earlier than Udayana). Kumårila concurrently maintains that the smr¢tis
may derive commandments inferred from mantras and arthavådas
that exist in extant recensions but are scattered randomly
through

17
smr¢tiin the relevant sense appears not to occur before Taittirœyårañyaka1.2.1 (smr¢tiΔ
pratyakßam aitihyam anumåna†catuß™ayam) where it is significantly listed with
†ruti,itihåsapuråña, and (according to commentaries) åcåra, though this last equation could use
additional supporting evidence; †rutiperhaps not before Månava†rautasütra, 182.4. These
conclusions are based in part on as yet unpublished materials collected for the Sanskrit
Dictionary on Historical Principlesof the Deccan College of Pune, for which I thank Dr.
Prakash Joshi. Note that the word smr¢ti(sati) never appears in Buddhist texts, Pali or
Sanskrit, in the sense it develops in the Mœmå∫såtradition. For †ruta(suta), see n. 15 supra.

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BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

18
out them, or beyond our powers to interpret properly. We may
assume that this position was formulated in opposition to Nyåya and
thus must be relatively late.
The third view, that of Pråbhåkara Mœmå∫så, may be less
familiar. It argues that the Vedic texts from which smr¢tiderives were
never actually extant, but are only infinitely inferable. Thus
‡ålikanåtha:

In the case of the word †åstra[=Veda], likewise[as in the case of the
word pramåña, see p. 192], there are two meanings: ‘knowledge’and
‘that by which knowledge arises’, i.e. holy word. As for the latter, it is of
two sorts, perceptible or inferable. What leads us to infer holy word?A
statement of smr¢ti, such as‘the aß™akås[the eighth-day ancestral rites]
are to be performed’. How do we infer holy word?First of all, this smr¢ti
is accepted as valid by all members of the three highest varñas
unchallenged. This would be inexplicable unless the statement had some
foundation. Perception and the other sources of valid knowledge cannot
supply this foundation, because they do not operate on what is
potential action. On the other hand, †åstracan be the source of this smr¢ti
statement, since it is through this smr¢tithat we gain knowledge about a
transcendent potential action [apürvakårya,knowledge that we can
gain only through †åstra].
A possible objection here is that †åstra, too, cannot legitimately be
posited as its source, since however zealously one examines †åstra, one
cannot perceive any such statement. A scriptural statement that is not
perceived cannot communicate anything, and if it cannot
communicate anything, it cannot function as the source.
It is true that Manu and the rest[of the compilers of the smr¢tis]did not
actually perceive that scriptural statement any more than we can today.
But, like us, they could make an inference. They observed that a given
smr¢titext was accepted by the mahåjanas, and so they could infer as its
source a scriptural text, which had likewise been inferred by the
compiler of the smr¢tiin question on the basis of some priorsmr¢ti. Thus the
smr¢ti-tradition that provokes the inference[of scriptural foundation]is
beginningless, and given the possibility of this, the inference [of the
19
smr¢ti’s scriptural foundation]cannot be invalidated.

In any case, it should be clear that in Sanskrit intellectual
history the dispute about smr¢tifocused largely on the precise nature of its
derivation from †ruti; the fact of its being so derived was not
questioned, nor consequently the primary signification and implication
of its reference.

18
See, respectively, ‡åbarabhåßya, vol. 2, p. 77; Tantravårttika, vol. 2, p. 76, ll. 4-5 (with
Nyåyasudhå, p. 123, ll. 19 ff.); Nyåyakusumå∞jali,chap. 2 (see, also, Åpastambadharmasütra,
4.1.10+1.4.8); Tantravårttika, vol. 2, p. 76, ll. 4-5; p. 105, ll. 5, 10 ff; p. 112, ll. 12-13; p. 113, ll.
14 ff; p. 145 (inferring smr¢timülafrom åcåra, and thence †rutimüla; possibly also‡abara on
Pürvamœmå∫såsütra, 1.3.2, pp. 78-79 [dar†ana† =ruti]). See also, more generally,
Våkyapadœya, 1.7, p. 173; Govindasvåmi onBaudhåyanadharmasütra, 1.3.
19
Prakarañapa∞cikå, pp. 249-250. On mahåjana, see n. 28 infra. Kumårila’s reasonable
response (see Tantravår™™ika,vol. 2, p. 75, ll. 21-22) to such a position is to ask how a Vedic
text never articulated can ever have been perceived, so as to become an object of memory.

II. Discourse,Conditions andDynamics ofTradition inSouthAsia

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3

This primary signification is confirmed in an important passage
from the Nyåyama∞jarœ, which is noteworthy also in reminding us
that, for all the differences in their analysis of Vedic ‘revelation’,
Nyåya and Mœmåμså, like the entire Brahmanical tradition, agree in
their understanding of the authority of smr¢ti:

At all events, however we are to explain it [i.e. the loss of the texts
from which smr¢tiderives], the Veda alone must be assumed to form
the basis of these [smr¢ti]texts, and nothing else, since nothing else
functions as a valid source of knowledge [with respect to dharma].
Moreover, only on this assumption are we doing justice to the term
universally employed for these texts, namely ‘smr¢ti’. For were they
based on perception[e.g., the perception of a yogin], they would be
Veda-like[since according to Nyåya, the Veda is derived from the
perception of God], and then what would be the point of using the word
‘memory’to refer to them? [...]The Veda is two-fold, that which is
available for us to hear and that which we must infer. ‡rutiis that
which is currently audible[†rüyamåña†ca†rutir ity ucyate], smr¢tiis that
20
which is inferable.

Nowhere in any shastric analysis of the nature of smr¢ti, then, do
we find it juxtaposed to †rutithe way Indology has always juxtaposed
it, as inherently more recent, less authoritative, somehow
independent and human in origin, and standing in opposition, or
subordinate, to †ruti.
Whatsmr¢timeans in classical Sanskrit culture emerges
vividly in the Tantravårttika. Kumårila summarizes his view of the
relationship of †rutiand smr¢tiin the context of discussing one of the
problems I raised above and left unanswered: how the memory of
the Veda (smr¢ti) and the Veda remembered (†ruti) may be
ultimately distinguished, inasmuch as when reciting texts we are
remembering them, and when remembering them we perforce do so in
some stable and, at least potentially, recitative form. Pertinent to
this problem is the question whether the actual sequence of phonemes
(varñånupürvœ) of †rutiis eternal, a long and complex
controversy that must await analysis elsewhere. This feature of
text-invariability, along with transcendence (apaurußeyatva) and
‘autonomous authoritativeness’(svatantrapråmåñyam), continues
undoubtedly to characterize the Vedas and the Vedas uniquely in
the minds of all later Mœmå∫sakas. They address all such features
in their derivation of smr¢ti; what concerns us now is the general
doctrine of its nature and authority, which receives its classical and
orthodox formulation from Kumårila:

20
Nyåyama∞jarœ, vol. 1, p. 372, l. 9 - p. 373, l. 6. The last two sentences are contained
in a pürvapakßa(the position of the Pråbhåkara school), but its provisionality relates to the
controversy recounted above (at n. 19 supra); there is no reason to suggest that Jayanta
doubts the Pråbhåkara philology. His source, incidentally, is likely to have been
Prakarañapa∞cikå,p. 249 (sa ca [†abdaΔ]dvividhaΔ,pratyakßo’numeya†ca).

5

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BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

[Asmr¢titext]condenses rules encoded in a desultory fashion in Vedic
recensions other[than those commonly met with], and which are still
21
actually available to other men. Since they are not recited in the
course of the non-†rautarites to which they refer, they were made
available in compilations that reproduce their sense –their literal forms
were not reproduced for fear that[such a digest]might adversely affect
the tradition of Vedic recitation[see vol. 2, p. 76, l. 6] [in the schools
that preserve the recitation of these texts]. Although the actual Vedic
texts are now hidden to our eyes, these[smr¢tis] ‘manifest’them, in the
same way that[the †rutitexts themselves are manifested]by the various
articulatory sounds.
[The argument that mediation of the Veda via the compilers of the
smr¢tiweakens the claim of Vedic status could apply likewise to
mediation via the teacher of Vedic recitation. However:]Viewing their
teacher [of Vedic recitation]as trustworthy, students accept his
claim that a given passage is recited in the Vedas whether or not it is
recited[by the students themselves]. The statements of the authors
of the[kalpa- and/or dharma-]sütras are exactly like those of such a
teacher. They do nothing more or less than communicate the Vedic
statements in their own particular form. They are consequently not
to be devalued as mere human creations, being no more human
creations than [†rutitexts themselves, which require for manifestation
the human effort of]the expulsion of palatal and the rest of the
articulatory sounds.
For it is one and the same Veda, of equal validity, that men make known
whether they do so by remembering it or by reciting it.
Even the Veda, when not being recited, exists in the reciters merely in
the form of latent impressions it leaves behind, or in memory traces
these impressions generate[and thus the memory of the Veda is
ontologically no different from the Veda as remembered in smr¢ti ].
Consequently, when the content of a Vedic passage is related by
someone, this content is identical as remembered in smr¢tito that recited in
22
†ruti, and so cannot be invalidated by any reasoning.

3. ‘Tradition’Is ‘Revelation’.

In the very construction of smr¢tias a category is encoded its
transcendent legitimacy. In early Mœmå∫så, however, this construction is

21
Here viprakœrñarefers to the fact that rules relating to purußadharma(as opposed
to kratvarthavidhis)are encoded in extant Vedas in a desultoryway, and it is the purpose of
smr¢tito make these easily accessible. See, especially, Tantravårttika, vol. 2, p. 145, l. 23;
Nyåyasudhå, p. 214 infra.
22
Tantravårttika, vol. 2, p. 104, ll. 15 ff. See, also,‡ålikanåtha:‘This[inferred holy
word]is Veda, because it is transcendent speech, and that is all the
word‘Veda’signifies’(Prakarañapa∞cikå, p. 251). For Ajitå(the earliest commentary on the
Tantravårttika), the difference between smr¢tiand †rutiis that in the former, the
memory and the perception it presupposes belong to a second party; in the latter, they
belong to oneself (Ajitå, pp. 32-33). In the context of discussing the question whether,
when contradicting †ruti,smr¢tiis cancelled or constitutes a legitimate option,
Bhavanåtha critiques Kumårila’s vårttika‘For the very Veda[...]’saying:‘Just as †rutiis
manifested by articulation (på™ha)[the way smr¢tiis], so †rutiitself [like smr¢ti]is
inferred, and thus[on neither account]is there any difference between the two. For
even when †rutiis articulated, the fact that it is†rutiis something we must infer. Such is

II. Discourse,Conditions andDynamics ofTradition inSouthAsia

5

5

marked by a certain tentativeness. Not all the texts and acts of the
members of Vedic culture, simply because they are members
(kartr¢såmånya), may be legitimated by the logic of their derivation
from †ruti. A number of conditions are introduced into the equation
of †rutiand smr¢tithat would work to disqualify a text or practice for
canonization and scriptural authority. Such include 1) a smr¢ti’s
contradicting †ruti, 2) its exhibiting evidence of self-interest or 3) an
absence of transcendental content, or 4) its falling outside what in a
concrete and narrow view could be included within the Vedic
‘canon’. But all of these limitations are ultimately eliminated in
lateclassical Mœmå∫så.
Each of these topics is large and important, and
Mœmå∫sådiscusses them at length and with complex arguments that again it is not
possible to recapitulate here. Only a few important lines of
development can be schematically indicated here.
1) The Movement from Contradiction to
Non-contradiction.Contradiction between smr¢tiand †rutiwould inhibit the inference that what
is remembered is (in any of several senses) authentically Vedic
(Pürvamœmå∫såsütra, 1.3.3). It is one of the principal tasks of
Kumårila in the Tantravårttika on the smr¢tipåda, however, to
eliminate the theoretical possibility of such contradiction (which had been
a central interpretative principle in early Mœmå∫så; see for example
‡abara on Pürvamœ∫å∫såsütra, 6.1.13-15; 6.1.20). He does this by a
detailed empirical analysis of each of ‡abara’s examples (vol. 2, pp.
105, ll. 13 ff.), concluding:“Therefore, we scarcely ever find
contradiction between smr¢tiand †ruti[...] [p. 111, ll. 15-16] [...]Given the
possibility that the Vedic source of a smr¢timay be located in some other
Vedic school, we cannot accept the position that it can ever be
total23
ly dismissed”. This liberates the full potential of the legitimation
power of all elite Sanskrit discourse, so long as‘interest’itself is never
explicitly analyzed as a category.
2) ‘Interest’. Early Mœmå∫såholds that no memory can count as
Vedic if some ‘interest’or ‘motive’(hetu,kåraña) is therein evident
(Pürvamœmå∫såsütra, 1.3.4). This is so because the Veda is defined
precisely as that which alone refers, and exclusively refers, to the
realm beyond the realm of interests (apråpte vå†åstram arthavat

what[Kumårila]intends in the vårttika,‘For the very Veda[...]’ [...]Now it is true that
†rutiand smr¢tiare equal in being manifested through articulation (på™ha). And while
the one being †rutiand the other smr¢tiare equally derived from traditional usage
(vr¢ddhavyavahåra), smr¢tiis unequal in having to be inferred[as deriving]from †ruti’
(Mœmå∫sånayaviveka, pp. 83-84). Varadaråja, ad loc., explains:‘The categorization of
the two genres †rutiand smr¢tiis traditional. If one argued that a discourse had to be
inferred to be †ruti, the way smr¢tihas to be inferred to derive from †ruti, this would still
not make the two equal[as being both inferential], since smr¢tilikewise would have to
be inferred to be smr¢ti[thus adding a second stage of inference]’.
23
Tantravårttika, vol. 2, p. 112, ll. 7-8 (see Nyåyasudhå, p. 158, ll. 30-33). Compare also
Nyåyama∞jarœ(p. 375) where the Vedists (svådhyåyåbhiyuktåΔ)hold that no example of
†ruti-smr¢ticontradiction exists.

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[Pürvamœmå∫såsütra, 6.2.18]). But interest in Mœmå∫såis never
24
abstractly defined or even theorized. The failure to conceptualize
interest is a condition for the following:
3) The Convergence ofNon-instrumentality and Traditional Practice as
Such. Non-instrumental action (the fact that some act is done for an
‘unseen’, other-worldly purpose [adr¢ß™årthatva]) is what for
Mœmå∫såessentially characterizes the nature of Vedic
commandments. But as Kumårila came to recognize, there is no transcendent
commandment that does not have some dimension of
instrumentality to it. At the same time, any instrumental act can disclose a
dimension of non-instrumentality: the very fact that a practice is enacted
the way it traditionally is, instead of in any other of the potentially
infinite number of ways, is itself evidence that some transcendent
25
purpose is being served. All of this enables the following:
4) The Enlargement of the Canon. The range of texts that can be
counted as Vedic in origin was vast already in Kumårila’s day, despite
26
his intention to limit them. And he supplies an argument that may
have contributed to this enlargement: It is not an inference from the
‘sameness of agents’(kartr¢såmånyåt) that leads us to postulate a
Vedic source for certain smr¢tis, but an assumption based on the fact
that the learned of the three varñas accept them
(†iß™atraivar27
ñikadr¢∂haparigraha). By the time of Jayantabha™™a, such
‘acceptance’(now mahåjanaprasiddhyanugraha) is explicitly and exclusively
a function of a text’s“conformity with the social norms known from
the Vedas, such as caste”. The only texts now excluded are the
scriptures of the Buddhists and the‘Sa∫såramocakas’, or ritual
murderers, insofar as they “decidedly reject social behavior that is in
28
accordance with caste duty”.

4.Summary andConclusions

From the moment smr¢tiwas recognized as a genre, it secured
legitimacy by way of its derivation from ‘transcendent speech’, a
process of legitimation fossilized in the very name by which the
tradition came to refer to it. Dispute among specialists centered in

24
This is true also in Nyåya. See the extended discussion of the logical necessity of
assuming apürvato explain ritual behavior, and the narrow conception of this behavior,
inNyåyakusumå∞jali, 1.8; 2.3 (Kanchipuram ed., pp. 14 ff; 95 ff).
25
This is what later comes to be known as the niyamådr¢ß™a. See, for example,
Tantravårttika, vol. 2, p. 78, ll. 11-15; p. 128, ll. 3-4 (with Nyåyasudhå, p. 126, ll. 20-21, 25).
26
Including strictures against sectarian ågamas. See, for example,Tantravårttika,vol.
2, p. 122, ll. 3-5 (on the‘fourteen or eighteen’vidyåsthånas); vol. 2, p. 112, ll. 18-19 (on the
båhyagranthas, including the På∞caråtra and På†upata ågamas).
27
The argument itself is subtle. See Tantravårttika, vol. 2, p. 76, ll. 21 ff (with
Nyåyasudhå, p. 124).
28
Nyåyama∞jarœ,pp. 376 ff (especially p. 377, ll. 1-3; pp. 379 ff). The term mahåjana
merits more detailed historical analysis than it has so far received. Contrast for example
Derrett (“[…]a synonym for Bråhmaña[...] ‘important person’” [O’Flaherty, Derrett: 56

II. Discourse,Conditions andDynamics ofTradition inSouthAsia

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7

general only around conceptual issues provoked by this derivation:
the nature of the Vedic texts preserved by‘memory’, and their status
vis-à-vis the Vedic texts‘actually heard’(for example, in the matter of
contradiction between the two); the hermeneutic of recovery of the
‘original’; the reasons for the inaccessibility of this original. It is
likely that this conception of smr¢tiwas developed by Mœmå∫såas early as
29
the sütras; it had become a toposby the classical period. An initial
reluctance to admit absolute equipollence of †rutiand smr¢tiwas fully
neutralized in the medieval period, when Kumårila claimed for all
smr¢tis participation in the inerrancy of holy word. It is thus only a
slight exaggeration to say that, in the elite discourse of traditional
India, there exists no cultural memory –smr¢ti–separate from the
memory of the eternally given.
This‘revelation of tradition’has two faces, which in concluding I
would like briefly to delineate.
Mœmå∫så’s project of founding smr¢tiupon †ruti, that is, of
explaining social-cultural life as deriving from revealed truth,
arguably comprises some vision of the ideal. I do not mean just a
longing for transcendence or utopia, for some communal existence that
the agents believe to be in conformity with cosmic order. I mean
more particularly that it exhibits a perceived needto give goodreasons,
to provide groundsfor the way the lifeworld is organized, and thereby
to privilege, at least in theory, justification and persuasion over
imposition and subjugation. The need to justify presupposes and can
nurture a sense of the need for justice. This positive dimension, the
presence of an emancipatory value at the core of ideological
discourse, is worth recognizing despite the fact that the reasons
Mœmå∫sågives, and argues out with stunning acuity, are bad ones,
that its logic of tradition is finally illogical, and that the justification it
seeks is directed toward achieving an unjustifiable consensus, on
purely sectional interests of the social world.
The fact that these are sectional interests, and that legitimation
by nature emerges from the competition and conflict over
legitima30
cy, discloses for us the dark face of the ‘revelation of tradition’.
Mœmå∫så’s most significant social-historical role, of course, was as
the metalegal framework for dharma†åstra, the explicit program of
domination of Sanskrit culture. And the validation of dharma†åstra’s
code of asymmetrical power –of illegitimate hierarchy,
untouchability, female heteronomy, the degradation of work–depended
centrally upon the Mœmå∫sårevelation of tradition. Manu’s claim
–“this is all based on the Veda”(Månavadharma†åstra, 2.7-8)–

n. 8]) and Chemparathy (“[…]une grande multitude de personnes[…]” [Chemparathy
1983: 69]). Both scholars are referring basically to the same context, and both can hardly
be correct.
29
See Kålidåsa, Raghuva∫†a, 2.2 (†ruter ivårtha∫smr¢tir anvagacchat).
30
An obvious point, but easily overlooked. See further Bourdieu 1977: 168.

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BOUNDARIES, DYNAMICS ANDCONSTRUCTION OFTRADITIONS INSOUTHASIA

would be hollow indeed without this prior revalorization
of‘memo31
ry’itself, which his commentators prominently reproduce.
When tradition and revelation are forced into convergence; when
‘memory’no longer bears the record of human achievement and
‘tradition’no longer transmits the heritage of the historical past, the
understanding of culture and society as the provisional arrangements
of people making and remaking their lifeworld becomes impossible.
Smr¢timay be transmitted in the memory of men, but it has become the
memory of theapaurußeya, the transcendent, whereby the structure of
the human world itself–now the domain of dharmaand thus
incomprehensible without smr¢titexts–is renderedapaurußeya. A culture
and society that have ceased to be the products of human agency cease
to be conceivable as humanly mutable, and it is this conception–the
reification and naturalization of the world–that forms one essential
precondition for the maintenance of social power.

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31
See, for example, Medhåtithi on Manusmr¢ti, 2.6:‘†ruti applies when the actual
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