Vakyartha Sadas – Format and Background Content

The Oral Tradition

The knowledge systems of Indian Civilisation have primarily been in the oral form. The principal bodies of knowledge – the Vedah[1]are distinctly oral. Most of the principal texts of Vedanta (the Upanishads for example) are primarily in dialogic form. Misled by the form of the text – it is generally misconstrued – that the sastras are “textual”. Almost all the Sastra texts are in the dialogic form – via the purvapaksha (analysis of the opposing viewpoint), uttarapaksha (the response) / siddhanta (the final establishment of the “right” position) structuring of the texts. The Nyaya Sastra for example details the immense scope of the nature of debate and the scope of knowledge pursual via the debate form. The oral tradition and dialogue is the central “form” of Indian traditional knowledge. That Indology has conveniently ignored this fundamental native form (for close to 250 years) is something truly striking. Whatever be the reasons (lack of sanskrit knowledge, lack of debating skills in sanskrit, the European obsession with “text” and philology, the general lack of adhikara, the limiting forms and structure of the western humanities and social sciences) it is probably time that some of this be corrected.

The notion of Vakyartha (the meaning of a sentence)

The attempts at finding “true” meaning of a given sentence is in essence the process of vakyartha. The pada-vakya-pramana jnana – the knowledge of word, sentence and logic – via the pada sastra (vyakarana), the vakya sastra (mimamsa) and the pramana sastra (nyaya sastra) is the central governing process behind the pursuit of meaning. Specific “sanskrit” sentences are analysed in “myriad” – and sometimes truly mind-bending and creative ways – albeit – always in strict adherence to the sutras of the aforesaid sastras. The benchmark, valuation and growth of a traditional scholar is primarily via the participation and performance in vakyarthas. knowledge of sastras (via the sutras) has to be mostly via the oral tradition and in many cases, needs to be committed to memory – this is a preliminary prerequisite for exploring the nuances and forming arguments as a vakyartha session evolves.

Approaching (Videshi) Western Indology – vakyarth-i-cally

Given that Western Indology has nothing to “offer” from an oral debating perspective – what does one do to bring back adhikara (rightful interpretation) to Indology.

We (the sadas organisers) thought it appropriate to address the misinterpretations and misrepresentations of principal texts by Prof. Sheldon Pollock – not only to showcase the vakyartha form but also to highlight the flaws in western approaches to interpreting Indian Sanskrit texts. It is to be noted that much of Prof. Pollock’s research and theses depend on these misrepresentations and misinterpretations.

The Timeline and the “Process”

Following a deep study (months) of Pollock’s work (immensely helped by Shri Rajiv Malhotra’s opus – “The Battle for Sanskrit”) we spent a few weeks categorising and classifying the types and classes of meanings derived and also identified the primary texts and knowledge systems that were “interpreted” philologically. Though there are a quite a few theses that we thought we could address – we wanted to showcase some of the fundamental themes.

The notion of “separating” via manipulation of traditional categories – paramarthika-vyavaharika, shruti-smrti , sastra-kavya categories – gives immense power to Pollock’s interpretations of Indian text and history. Much of his “scholarship” is based on the “excavation” of such (mostly absent) dichotomies. These are then re-contextualised and various theses propounded.

How such separations are used to interpret and theorise about sastras (sastras as being fundamental to all Indian ills and much more) and mimamsa (used to create divisions between Hinduism and Buddhism and also the creation of various theses on nature of political power and brahmin hegemony) are also addressed as separate topics.

The Topics Addressed

The three principal topics “framed” for the vakyartha sadas are

Topic A – Manipulation of Categories (4 subtopics)

Topic B – Misrepresentation of Vedas and Sastras (3 subtopics)

Topic C – Misrepresentation of Mimamsa (3 subtopics)

We (the organisers) fervently hope that the Vakyartha sadas – organised as part of this conference helps showcase one of the most authentic “forms” of Indian knowledge and we hope that it encourages the traditional scholarly community to more actively engage in Indology scholarship – in addition to that pursued as part of the tradition.

This we feel – will help in bringing adhikara back to scholarship about India

[1] We are not using diacritics in this brief – mostly for purposes of convenience and effective dissemination of content. Many readers find its usage disorienting and distracting.